Steve Griffiths is a campaigner against the vilification and impoverishment of people who are unable to work due to sickness or disability
The regular DWP press release on the outcome of employment and support allowance assessments by the much-criticised Atos will appear at the end of the month.
As they do every quarter, they will use statistical misrepresentation and errors in law to claim that the vast majority of people claiming ESA are found ‘fit for work’.
This will unleash a storm of fact-twisting media vilification of people who are sick or disabled and unable to work, like this one from the Express last year, claiming ‘75 per cent on sick are skiving’:
In a shocking indictment of the ‘sick note’ culture endemic across the country, the number of invalid claims is estimated to cost taxpayers £9 billion a year.
Officials who carried out fitness tests on people claiming incapacity-related benefits found that 39 per cent were well enough to get a job. And a further 36 per cent simply abandoned their claims as soon as they were told to undergo new work capability assessments introduced to weed out scroungers.
Less spittle-flecked publications across the board will claim, like the BBC, that:
‘Only seven per cent of people claiming sickness benefits were unable to do any sort of work … new figures have shown’.
But the DWP press release opens with a mis-statement of the legislation:
‘The figures also show that a further 17 per cent can do some work with the right help and support’.
This interprets those assessed as belonging to the ESA work related activity group are as having been found ‘fit for work’. Yet the legislation states clearly that people qualify for ESA, including the work related activity group, because it is ‘unreasonable to expect them to work’ because of their ‘physical or mental condition’. It is a misrepresentation that goes unchallenged almost daily.
Secondly, the 36 per cent whose claim was ‘abandoned’ before their assessment was complete are routinely represented as found ‘fit for work’.
Now the insinuation, picked up by the Express story and many others responding to ministers’ dog-whistle, is that though they were not actually assessed, since they were about to be found out by the new and rigorous work capability assessment, these cowardly skivers withdrew their claim before the assessment.
We are not talking about journalists who are likely to be hugely persuaded by evidence, so we would not expect them to pick up on research published by the DWP itself (pdf) this year on that very question:
Most of the interviewees in this research whose claim had been closed or withdrawn before it was fully assessed said they had ended their ESA claim as their health condition had improved.
Examples of the types of conditions that had improved included diabetes, mental health problems, including stress and depression, and conditions alleviated by routine operations.
These people tended to be working or looking for work, often in the same type of work as they had done before, though not commonly with the same employer’.
In other words, most people discontinuing their claims just got better. Eureka. We await the front page headlines across the tabloids.
That seems to give the proportions found fit for work a bit of tweak downwards: from the DWP’s supposition of 13 out of 14, to six in ten if we exclude those not assessed at all.
The remainder who are indeed found technically fit for work have been subject to an assessment process which has been widely criticised by charities, campaigners and academics, though by few politicians since both main parties have been heavily implicated in the marketisation of the regime – it was John Hutton and James Purnell, after all, who embedded David Freud, Channel Tunnel finance deal-broker, at the helm.
The flawed process of assessment has resulted in an extraordinary rate of success in appeals against disallowance of about 40 per cent, not just since ESA was introduced, but over the full fifteen years of welfare ‘reform’. These are levels of successful appeal that would be intolerable in the criminal justice system.
But in the case of welfare, once known as ‘social security’ but no longer for obvious reasons, normal standards of evidence on the part of the media-political complex that governs us have long been thrown overboard. It is a point brought home powerfully by this month’s exposure (“Responsible Reform”) of government abuse of the process of consultation on DLA reform.
Those in power have had it easy with an unchallenged quarterly open goal of ESA statistics which is way offside. It’s starting to gain the seasonal quality of a deep-rooted cultural event, the gentlemen of the press primed by ministers to put the boot in on people who are sick or disabled, watched by the New Labour politicians who kicked it all off, unsure whether it’s still all right to join in.
• Employment minister Chris Grayling does not appear to understand his own disability reforms – Daniel Elton, January 13th 2012
• Five reasons to oppose the welfare bill – Daniel Elton, December 12th 2011
• Last chance to have your say on Employment Support Allowance – Sue Marsh, April 11th 2011
• ESA cuts will exacerbate poverty and remove help for disabled – Neil Coyle, March 8th 2011
• Report finds disabled “wrongly denied” benefit – Sarah Ismail, March 23rd 2010