28 April 2011

The DWP  have released the latest set of employment and support allowance (ESA) figures and once more used them to paint a deeply dishonest picture of claimants as dishonest malingerers.

Yesterday’s press release by the DWP, widely quoted by media including the BBC, claims that:

“Latest statistics released today show that three-quarters of people who apply for Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) are continuing to be found either fit for work or stop their claim before completing their medical assessment.”

The press release goes on to list the statistics for claims between 27 October 2008 to 31 August 2010 as follows:

  • Support Group – 6%
  • Work Related Activity Group – 16%
  • Fit for Work – 39%
  • Claim closed before assessment complete – 36%
  • Assessment still in progress – 2%

The press release prompted, as the DWP knew it would, another frenzied round of hate-provoking, misleading bigotry from the press, including the Daily Express. 

Beneath the headline  ‘Blitz on benefits: 887,000 fiddlers exposed’ the Express claimed that: 

‘The astonishing figures, released by the Department for Work and Pensions yesterday, suggest that more than £4billion of taxpayers’ money is wrongly paid out every year to workshy spongers feigning serious disability.’

In reality, the figures are misleading in three important ways.

The figures are based on initial claims and take no account of appeals.  36% of claimants who are found capable of work appeal the decision and 39% of those appeals are successful. 

So, for example, in January 2010 17% of claimants were placed in the work-related activity group (WRAG), a total of  9,900 people. 

However, after appeals are taken into account that figure rises to 20% being placed in the WRAG, a total of 11,500 people.

Closed before assessment
The DWP continues to avoid examining why claims are closed before assessment, so that they can allow the media to claim it is because people were frightened of being ‘caught out’ at their medical.

In fact, given that there is no sanction for failing the assessment other than your benefit stopping, fear of being ‘caught  out’ seems a very unlikely cause.  Many claimants will simply have had short-term conditions from which they have now recovered, some will have died, some may be claiming different benefits instead.

But no proper research will be done by the DWP on this issue so long as it can be used as a way of smearing claimants.

Unfair criteria
The work capability assessment does not assess ‘capability for work’,  it assesses whether you pass a set of criteria drawn up by committees with the sole intention of reducing the number of people eligible for benefits. The WCA is increasingly viewed by disability charities, advice agencies and almost every agency outside of the DWP and the media as a deeply unfair and unreasonable way in which to decide whether individuals are able to take up full-time work.

Worse to come

These figures all related to what is now the ‘old’ WCA.  The new assessment, which came into force in March 2008, will increase the percentage of claimants found capable of work, we believe by a dramatic amount.  At some point, we can only hope that even the British public will begin to have doubts about whether more than three quarters of people who make a claim for ESA are ‘workshy spongers feigning serious disability.’

You can read the DWP press release and download the latest ESA statistics here.


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