Mail and Telegraph race to see who can smear more disabled people

Declan Gaffney uncovers the Daily Mail and Daily Telegraph’s latest smearing of disabled people, and asks whether the DWP had anything to do with them.

As we’ve pointed out on this site before, there isn’t a great deal of expertise involved in placing misleading press stories about benefits in right-wing papers on behalf of the government.

It’s particularly easy if the stories involve statistics, which the majority of journalists will happily swallow whole without asking any awkward questions. Given prevailing levels of innumeracy and gullibility, there’s really no excuse for failing to get the lobby singing from the same spreadsheet.

So how do we explain these contrasting statements about disability benefits in today’s Telegraph and Mail?

The Mail say:

‘Almost 200,000 people were granted a disability benefit last year without ever having a face-to-face assessment. A staggering 94 per cent of new claimants for Disability Living Allowance started receiving their payments after only filling out paperwork.’

The Telegraph say:

More than 30,000 people were given additional benefits on the basis of nothing more than filling in an application form.

Figures from the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) showed that 94 per cent of new Disability Living Allowance (DLA) claims last year were approved without a face-to-face assessment of their needs by officials.’

Technically, ‘more than 30,000’ and ‘almost 200,000’ could be referring to the same figure, which might just possibly correspond to the 94% figure both stories cite. But that’s not what’s happening here. The two papers highlighted different figures because the underlying story which both papers are trying to reproduce involves passing off statistics about one thing as if they were about another.

This sort of thing goes on all the time, but in this case the spin failed to hold the story together because it was transparently ludicrous.

The claim is that most disability living allowance claims are based solely on claimants filling out a form: this in turn is intended to make the case for cutting DLA expenditure and caseloads by 20%, in accordance with the June 2010 budget. Iain Duncan Smith says in the Mail “At the moment, hundreds of millions of pounds are paid out in disability benefits to people who have simply filled out a form.”

In fact figures released today by the Department for Work and Pensions (pdf) indicate that the amount of DLA expenditure on new claims which were based only on a form was £30m in 2010. £30m is not hundreds of millions. Likewise, the percentage of new claims based only on a form is 16 per cent, which is not 94 per cent.

It is certainly true that an estimated 94 per cent of new claims didn’t involve a specific medical examination. But to suggest that all of these claimants had ‘simply filled out a form’ would be grossly misleading.

42 per cent of awards were also based on a report from a general practitioner; 36 per cent on another source of evidence such as information from a hospital report, a social worker or allied health professional or from assessment for employment support allowance. In other words, there’s a lot of evidence from ‘face-to-face assessment’ in play, it’s just that most of it doesn’t involve DWP officials.

As for the 16 per cent of claims which were based only on a form, these were presumably cases where a DWP decision-maker had judged that no further evidence was necessary.

The underlying story reported by both newspapers is based on a deliberate and painfully obvious attempt to conflate the small minority of awards where DWP decided only a form was needed with the large majority of awards which didn’t involve a specific medical examination by someone working for DWP.

As for the contrasting figures cited by the Mail and Telegraph, while we can’t locate a source for them, the disparity is likely to be the consequence of this conflation.

This looks awfully like a case of desperate, amateurish spinning in the face of figures which refuse to tell the story government wants people to hear. Let’s just hope that no public funding was involved: perhaps the Taxpayers’ Alliance, inevitably quoted in today’s Mail’s story, should investigate?

See also:

How the disabled took all the jobs – Declan Gaffney, September 1st 2011

DWP admits disability reform based on dodgy figures, as reported by Left Foot Forward – Declan Gaffney, August 11th 2011

DWP faces legal challenge over welfare cuts – Neil Coyle, July 2nd 2011

The ‘inexplicable’ rise in Disability Living Allowance explained – Declan Gaffney, February 14th 2011

Government plans to cut DLA could cause extreme hardship – Sue Marsh, January 24th 2011

22 Responses to “Mail and Telegraph race to see who can smear more disabled people”

  1. Deb

    RT @leftfootfwd: Mail and Telegraph race to see who can smear more disabled people http://t.co/9VLDeROc

  2. Nicole Gorman

    RT @leftfootfwd: Mail and Telegraph race to see who can smear more disabled people http://t.co/9VLDeROc

  3. Ann Lawson

    See how the Mail and Telegraph make up their numbers to smear disabled people: http://t.co/j4y3xtxj by @djmgaffneyw4

  4. Nathan

    See how the Mail and Telegraph make up their numbers to smear disabled people: http://t.co/j4y3xtxj by @djmgaffneyw4

  5. David Knight

    Mail and Telegraph race to see who can smear more disabled people http://t.co/SbILGOLx

  6. liane gomersall

    RT @leftfootfwd: Mail and Telegraph race to see who can smear more disabled people http://t.co/6VzNWQoa

  7. vanessa teal

    See how the Mail and Telegraph make up their numbers to smear disabled people: http://t.co/j4y3xtxj by @djmgaffneyw4

  8. AfterAtosAssessment

    RT @leftfootfwd: Mail and Telegraph race to see who can smear more disabled people http://t.co/eTfEv7Uq

  9. Les Tricoteuses

    Mail and Telegraph race to see who can smear more disabled people | Left Foot Forward http://t.co/fBovSsWE

  10. teddy mcnabb

    RT @leftfootfwd: Mail and Telegraph race to see who can smear more disabled people http://t.co/eTfEv7Uq

  11. Jos Bell

    @RichardExell @jos21 See how the Mail &Telegraph make up their numbers to smear disabled people: http://t.co/JMQT5aL5 on @leftfootfwd

  12. Socialist Health Asn

    @RichardExell @jos21 See how the Mail &Telegraph make up their numbers to smear disabled people: http://t.co/JMQT5aL5 on @leftfootfwd

  13. James Daniel Fisher

    #Bullying … RT @leftfootfwd: Mail and Telegraph race to see who can smear more disabled people http://t.co/I5zlWYyo

  14. Sam Barnett-Cormack

    It’s also unclear, from the ad-hoc analysis, whether the “claim form only” number really represents claim form only, as the data is based on self-reports from DMs as to what was the main source. It’s unclear if they were told not to specify the claim form as the main source if they had any other sources, even if it was still the “main” source. I’ve emailed the contact listed for the report to ask for clarification.

  15. Wheelie catholic

    Mail and Telegraph race to see who can smear more disabled people | Left Foot Forward – Mozilla Firefox http://t.co/DOOqaK4M

  16. Chris Salter

    RT @leftfootfwd: Mail and Telegraph race to see who can smear more disabled people http://t.co/7LsgYmpt #ppnews

  17. Crimson Crip

    RT @danielelton @BendyGirl See how the Mail &Telegraph make up their numbers to smear disabled people: http://t.co/jb8OA52d on @leftfootfwd

  18. Kevin Richards

    Nasty press doing deeds of Nasty Right : Mail and Telegraph race to see who can smear more disabled people http://t.co/4fmnrFyl

  19. Laurence

    RT @leftfootfwd: Mail and Telegraph race to see who can smear more #disabled people http://t.co/uO665SRN

  20. 2wolves

    RT @danielelton @BendyGirl See how the Mail &Telegraph make up their numbers to smear disabled people: http://t.co/jb8OA52d on @leftfootfwd

  21. treborc

    I’ve had a medical every three years or the forms sent to me asking for medical evidence, but it’s hard to see how my spine will get better the three disc’s have been removed. my legs are still with me but what a mess.

  22. Lauren Pang

    See how the Mail and Telegraph make up their numbers to smear disabled people: http://t.co/j4y3xtxj by @djmgaffneyw4

Leave a Reply