Monday, 27 January 2014

Here We Go Again

Where's the Benefit has already asked What does it mean when one million people are found fit to work?, but when that story hits every press outlet, and when the DWP Press Office has been tweeting repeatedly about it today, it becomes apparent that DWP are launching yet another campaign aimed at demonising disabled people as benefits scroungers.

There is something everyone should understand about Employment and Support Allowance before going any further into dissecting the disablist bile that spews from DWP. Employment and Support Allowance was designed to cover two distinct forms of sickness and disability. In dealing with long term sickness and disability it functions as the successor to Incapacity Benefit, but unlike Incapacity Benefit it was deliberately designed to also cover short term sickness and disability, acting as a safety net for people who exhaust the provisions of Statutory Sick Pay or who fall ill while claiming JSA, but who are not expected to be disabled or sick over the longer term. Anyone who is made redundant from a job for medical reasons is also required to claim ESA rather that JSA, even if it is patently obvious that they will never pass the WCA. In other words, the design of ESA means that there will be a steady stream of people who are turned down for ESA after the Work Capability Assessment, or who withdraw their claims before getting to WCA. This is the system working as intended, it provides no evidence whatsoever of even a single case of fraud. 

In addition to these designed-in reasons for being rejected at WCA we then have to include people who are awarded ESA on appeal after initially being rejected. This runs around one claim in six, so something like 166,666 out of that million being trumpeted by DWP were actually disabled people who should have been awarded ESA if Atos and DWP were operating the WCA correctly. We then have to consider the likely existence of people with legitimate claims for ESA who withdraw their claims before WCA because of the hostile environment cultivated by DWP. It is difficult to determine how large this group is, but it certainly exists as I am in that situation myself, I passed WCA and was in receipt of ESA, but the WCA experience was so traumatic that when it came time to renew my claim I found myself facing panic attacks. If that can happen to someone with a primarily physical disability, then the likelihood is that it will affect many more people with mental health issues and that the number of people involved is significant.

Beyond that, the Work and Pensions Select Committee, in examining support provided to benefit claimants made it very clear that someone denied ESA and put onto JSA instead may still be very significantly disabled, so in fact were perfectly entitled to make a claim on ESA. This will overwhelmingly apply to people previously in receipt of Incapacity Benefit, and their being refused ESA reflects not the rooting out of some long term fraud, but the increasingly harsh and medically illogical WCA regime.

Does @DWPPressOffice address any of this? No, instead we get:

Almost a million new Employment and Support Allowance claimants found fit for work since 2008 - a third of all claims

The link in the tweet is to the DWP’s press release, which opens with:

“Almost a million people who applied for sickness benefit have instead been found fit for work, new government analysis reveals today” under a banner headline saying almost exactly the same thing. Now DWP will probably argue that at no point do they mention fraud, but the press release is clearly constructed to allow people to leap to that conclusion before providing any context that might allow them to understand that that is not in fact the case. After criticism from the Work and Pensions Select Committee, the National Audit Office, and basically everyone else but their own ministers, DWP have become very good at saying things without actually saying them, which then allows DWP ministers to claim that they are shocked, shocked I tell you that anyone could read their press release and assume it was claiming that 1 million disabled people are attempted frauds (2 million if we count those who withdrew their claims). Repetition is emphasised in communications training, if you want a particular point to get across, you make it multiple times, and here DWP have shoved that 1 million claimants were fit for work message down our throat twice before we are out of the first paragraph. I think they are trying to tell us something….

The press release also notes:

“A decision on whether someone is well enough to work is taken by DWP decision makers based on all of the available evidence. Many claimants will be assessed by an independent health professional as part of the process. All the supporting medical evidence from GPs and specialists is taken into account.”

This is a view of the WCA process that for many disabled people will find sadly lacking in its connection to reality.

A little later @DWPPressOffice also tweeted this:

Over 121,400 people in London who tried to claim ESA were actually found fit for work after thorough assessments:

The line about ‘thorough assessments’ was met with derision by those who know the details of the WCA at first hand. The link in the tweet is to an Evening Standard article with the lovely headline ‘One in three Londoners on sickness benefits deemed 'fit to work', figures reveal’, though the article itself gives a fairer assessment of the situation by pointing out the opposing views of disabled people. That @DWPPressOffice thought it appropriate to post the link is particularly odd, essentially DWP is quoting the press quoting the DWP as though that somehow makes their case stronger. The ‘who tried to claim ESA’ is a particularly interesting way to construct a sentence as it carries a built-in implication that they had no legitimate right to make the claim.

The deepest irony about all this disability hate is that DWP have picked the 27th January to up the ante, and 27th January is Holocaust Memorial Day, which remembers not just the Jewish victims of the Holocaust, but all the other victims of the Final Solution, including the 200,000 disabled victims of Aktion T4!, the extermination campaign against German disabled people. Painting disabled people as frauds says a lot about an organisation, but doing it on Holocaust Memorial Day may have shown us that DWP is beyond redemption.


  1. Thanks for this David. If the DWP weren't about implying fraud or playing into scrounger rhetoric, then they would be reporting the stats that actually measure their success. Like how many disabled people - on whatever benefit - have been helped into long-term employment? That's what they claim to be about, but it's rarely mentioned - perhaps because the system has proven entirely unsuccessful in that regard.

    1. That's a particularly good point. A healthy organisation is also open about its mistakes and seeks to improve, which the canned denials attached to every story of a DWP cock-up show is simply not the case at DWP.

      It's interesting that DWP linked this story to Disability Confident in their press release, but as I've said repeatedly the Disability Confident initiative fills me with a deep unease with it's clear decision to sweep active disablism in the workplace under the carpet, while painting employers as simply lacking in confidence to employ all these 'special' and 'inspiring' disabled people.

  2. its without doubt the worst government we have seen that abuse the sick and disabled daily and lie about figures of they cant or wont put up how many die doesn't this tell us something they lie they tell porkies to put it politely jeff3

  3. Incapacity Benefit did cover short-term sickness and disability. It was payable to people who had been incapable of work for 4 or more days and were not entitled to Statutory Sick Pay. After 28 weeks, you qualified for the higher rate IB if you passed the Personal Capability Assessment, and after one year, you were paid the long-term rate.

    There have been problems with these point-based functional assessments, especially with the face-to-face part, ever since they were first introduced in 1995 when IB was brought in. (In 2005, 37% of claimants failed the PCA, and more than 50% of appeals were decided in favour of the claimant.) And they have always been a poor indicator of work capability.

    I really don’t understand why it is supposed to be news that one third of ESA claimants have been found FFW; and why the Government thinks that this figure vindicates welfare reforms.

    As others have pointed out, the pertinent question is not how many have been declared fit for work, but how many have found jobs. It would be particularly interesting to know how many ex-IB claimants are no longer ‘languishing’ on benefits. Strangely enough, the DWP’s press release doesn’t include this information.