Duncan Smith department promoting ‘negative perceptions’ of benefit claimants

A group of MPs has slammed the government for using official statistics inaccurately to spin stories about benefit claimants.

The length of time disabled people are having to wait to find out if they are eligible for benefits is unacceptable, an influential group of MPs has said.

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has also been accused of using official statistics to promote negative perceptions and prejudices about benefit recipients.

The new report by the Work and Pensions Committee found that some Personal Independence Payments (PIP), a disability benefit that replaces the Disability Living Allowance, were taking six months or more to process.

The report by the MPs also warned the DWP to be more careful in the language it used in its press releases and ministerial comments to ensure they were not promoting “negative preconceptions and prejudices about people on benefits”.

The committee criticised the use of statistics in the past by the secretary of state Iain Duncan Smith and Conservative Party chairman Grant Shapps. In one example cited by the committee, a Conservative party press release which quoted Grant Shapps referred to DWP figures which purported to show nearly a million people had dropped their incapacity benefit claim rather than face a work capability test. It was subsequently discovered that two sets of figures had been misleadingly conflated.

IDS was also reprimanded for claiming that the threat of the benefit cap had persuaded 8,000 of claimants to get a job. The UK Statistics Authority (UKSA) ruled that there was no statistical evidence to support this claim.

Committee chair Dame Anne Begg MP warned the DWP against using statistics to “prop up established views or feed preconceptions”. She also criticised the government for causing unnecessary stress to disabled claimants.

“Many disabled or sick people face waits of 6 months or more for a decision on their PIP eligibility. Even those with terminal illnesses are having to wait far longer than was anticipated. This not only leaves people facing financial difficulties whilst they await a decision, but causes severe stress and uncertainty. It is completely unacceptable,” she said.

Commenting on the report, Public and Commercial Services union general secretary Mark Serwotka said the long delays faced by disabled and sick people were “completely unacceptable”.

He added that the “misuse of statistics about our social security system is one of the biggest scandals of recent years and has fuelled the sickening vilification of people who rely on benefits”.

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