Tuesday 30 November 2010

The Government Is Implicated In Creating Negative Attitudes To Disabled

This is a guest post by Sharon Brennan, originally posted here
It is the 40 years since the first Disability Act was enacted and to mark the occasion the BBC commissioned a survey into the public's attitude to disabled people. Interestingly 90% of people thought the Government should do more to help disabled people into work. I found this outlook really refreshing as I recently wrote a piece for the Guardian discussing the need for the Government to recognise that disabled employment must be a two way conversation: disabled people must be willing to work but employers must be willing to hire. Despite the Government refusing to discuss the fact that it is harder for disabled people to find work, it was great that the average person recognises it as a problem.

Where the BBC survey results were less positive, were in its findings that 40% of people think disabled people would "refuse work even when they have been found capable of doing it". This figure rose to over 50% amongst young respondents and those on low incomes.

Clearly there is a negative perception of disabled people in the UK, which can undoubtedly be attributed in part to right-wing media representation of the disabled. The Daily Mail is notorious for this. A recent front page screamed,  "75% of claimants are fit to work", and carried on: "Tough new benefits test weed out the workshy".

You expect this kind of thing from the Daily Mail. But what shocked me is that the 75% figure came from a press release from the Department of Work and Pensions. And the figure is wrong. So it amounts to blatant Government propaganda. 

The Government has reached its 75% figure by adding together 39% of people found fit to work and the 36% of people who have removed their claim during the assessment process. This 36% figure is problematic as there is much anecdotal evidence that those withdrawing their claims are those suffering from mental illness who find the process too frustrating and to have a negative impact upon their health condition. The truth is that the Government has no idea what happens to these 36% of people, as it doesn't track those who withdraw their claim. Which also means that the Government has no idea why they stop the process, although of course the Mail is quick to claim its because they were merely 'trying it on'.

But lets turn out attention to the number of successful appeals against ATOS's decision. When you follow the 'Notes to editors' link on the DWP very own press release it reveals a more in-depth report which shows that every month on average 40% of appeals against ATOS are upheld and they are awarded ESA. On average one third of claimants found 'fit to work' appealed against their decision and 40% were successful with their appeal. So if you do the math, once the whole process including appeals is complete, the DWP is wrong to say 39% are fit to work. In fact, 34% are found fit to work. So overall, at best 70% of ESA claimants are 'fit to work' although my guess this would be lower still if those 36% who dropped out of the process were given the right support to continue with their claim.

Let me remind you that the Government has access to this data, I've taken it directly from its own report. Yet although the release quotes Grayling saying he is "determined to get the medical test right" the successful appeals against the test are entirely omitted from his ESA headline statistics. 5% may be a small difference, but it is a difference none-the-less when you think that this current Government is so focused on transparency and providing accurate information to its citizens.

So it is clear that for some reason the Government has decided to spin the statistics associated with who is and isn't fit to work. It seems to suit their current agenda for the public to think that the majority of ESA claimants are 'scroungers'. Perhaps they realise they can only get the public to accept their massive welfare cuts if the public think the money is going to the undeserving. 

And this might explain why, in today's BBC survey, the number of people who think disabled people choose not to work rises amongst those people who are most struggling to get by in life or get a job. So the Government at least seems to be doing well at one thing: pitting one set of welfare cut losers against another.


  1. Last month I wrote a post about abandoned ESA claims looking at some of the many reasons why a claim might be legitimately abandoned. The post is here but I think one of the best points was actually made in the comments: Non-disabled people on JSA who acquire temporary impairments such as a broken leg are transferred to ESA whilst they are unable to meet the JSA requirements of being available for work. It's a legitimate claim but they are, predictably, recovered before the long-term ESA process completes.

  2. My problem is I can't work in the way required by capitalism, not that I can't ever work at all. My medical condition affects my brain function and motor skills and it also fluctuates. This means while I have better functioning some days than others and some times of day than others but I am always slow. Employing me at any job would mean other workers having to carry more of the load, or it would mean I'd really push myself to try and keep up. I could do this for a short time but pushing myself always worsens my condition illness, sometimes leaving me unable to look after myself for many weeks, which means I would have long periods off work and would be sacked. So either way, not a good worker under capitalism. But take a non-profit driven system, 'from each according to their abilities, to each according to their needs' (Lenin, I think), and I can 'contribute'. This is partly why some people think disabled people are 'workshy' - because there are some of us who could do some work, but not when the employer relies on our labour power to make money or to keep costs down.

  3. >> Non-disabled people on JSA who acquire temporary impairments such as a broken leg are transferred to ESA whilst they are unable to meet the JSA requirements of being available for work. <<

    It actually goes beyond that. If you are made redundant for medical reasons, even if those medical reasons are specific for the job you have just been made redundant from rather than your general employability, then you will be put onto ESA rather than JSA, I have a family member in precisely that situation at the moment. It's setting up a whole cohort of ESA applicants who are directed onto the benefit by DWP, but are unlikely to remain on the benefit or are very likely to 'fail' the WCA because they either aren't long term disabled or have medical conditions which only limit their employability in narrow areas. When they manage to find work or are moved, completely appropriately, back onto JSA, those figures are used to beat us with, yet this is the way the system is designed to work.

  4. Every time I've been abused in the street it's been for being a benefit scrounger, if you consider that that has been going on for at least a decade, that I don't actually get out that much and that I didn't claim any disability related benefit until the past year then the conclusions that there is a simmering jealousy of disabled people en masse, not just disabled benefit claimants, that is all too ready to tip over into abuse are a) blatantly obvious and b) extremely worrying and it seems impossible to construe government actions as anything other than deliberately and knowingly pouring petrol onto a burning fire. I call that the worst kind of disablism, and from civil servants and ministers their actions skirt awfully close to misfeasance in public office (if the law was actually intelligent enough to recognise disablism happening under its nose). As I understand misfeasance, a defendant is liable for it if they owed a duty of care toward the plaintiff, breached that duty of care by improperly performing a legal act, and the improper performance resulted in harm to the plaintiff. DWP have a duty of care towards us, they have improperly distorted figures for political ends and the shift in public perceptions causes us harm in our daily lives.

  5. I am a disabled lady of 51 years. When I worked, I did it to the best of my ability,and had a successful working life, UNTIL, I began to have progressivley more time off due to my disability worsening. After a year of illness, going to medicals, occupational health etc. I was finally deemed unfit for the job I was employed for and laid off under medical grounds. I am now on DLA etc. Oh yes, forgot to mention....I worked for the DWP as a benefits fraud officer. Makes you laugh doesn't it?