Wednesday 24 April 2013

Crossing the line into organised propaganda

EDIT: May 30th
The posting of this blog led to stories in both the New Statesman and Liberal Conspiracy. The issue had been strongly followed up by Sheila Gilmore MP among others and prompted a petition by disabled activists Jayne Linney and Debbie Sayers demanding an inquiry into Iain Duncan Smith which attracted no less than 98,000 signatures.  All of this has had an astounding resolution.

  1. May 9th Iain Duncan Smith was officially rebuked by the UK Statistics Authority
  2. May 17th The Work and Pensions Select Committee announced it will conduct an inquiry into Iain Duncan Smith's use of statistics as part of its annual assessment of the DWP Annual Report and Accounts (ARA). In preparation the committee plans to hold a session with the UK Statistics Authority to see how the department should correctly be using their statistics.
  3. May 30th Grant Shapps was also officially rebuked by the UK Statistics Authority

This month saw sweeping changes to the welfare system which impacted on disabled people. In particular Disability Living Allowance was replaced by Personal Independence Payments and the Bedroom Tax came into play, which disproportionately affects households with a disabled member.
Elsewhere Employment and Support Allowance (ESA), the benefit paid to those too ill or disabled to work continues to provoke controversy, with a discredited assessment (WCA) and a backlogged appeals process.

It was maybe not surprising then that, perhaps fearing a reversal of public opinion, ministers from the Department of Work and Pensions decided to act by releasing a number of press releases to support their actions.

This would not be a problem IF they were accurate. It would have still have been acceptable albeit  slightly upsetting if, as is often the case, the statistics were "spun" in their favour. However what actually happened was in my opinion unprecedented and unforgiveable. We saw a string of stories which were completely untrue and highly damaging. I put that a line was crossed into organised propaganda.

It seems others may agree. The former chief economist of the DWP finally spoke out talking of "a consistent pattern of ministers trying to manipulate statistics to their own political ends". MPs have also called for an official inquiry into the manipulation of official statistics by the Committee of Work and Pensions.

In Order these are the Stories.

Over the Easter Weekend on March 30th, two damaging stories came out, one surrounding DLA and the other ESA.
This was proved to be totally misleading.  This is the sum total of people who had abandoned their claim over a 4 year period since the beginning of ESA and is simply the usual amount of those people with shorter term conditions who rapidly move on and off the benefit. This is confirmed by the government's OWN analysis which says

“Current data does not allow anything conclusive to be said about the destinations of closed and in progress cases, nor to infer what would have been or would be the outcome of assessment."

“An important reason why ESA claims in this sample were withdrawn or closed before they were fully assessed was because the person recovered and either returned to work, or claimed a benefit more appropriate to their situation” 

Unfortunately truth is irrelevant. The 900,000 figure has now entered benefit folklore and is brought up by the general public whenever disability benefits are mentioned as proof that many people are abusing the system and will abandon their claims if challenged.

Please see my previous blog post for more details.

  • 2)  Esther McVey, Minister for the Disabled appeared in an article for the Daily Mail. In this she gave a strong impression that many were claiming unnecessarily and even fraudulently. She also said there had been a rush on claims in the run up to PIP to avoid assessment.
It was reported that she would "go after bogus disabled... some of them DO get better!"
She "says many who get DLA and are officially assessed "disabled" are no such thing: Only three per cent of people are born with a disability, the rest acquire it through accident or illness, but people come out of it. Thanks to medical advances, bodies heal."

This was just short of accusing DLA claimants of fraud and/or mindbogglingly ignorant. People who acquire disabilities later in life are just as disabled as those who are disabled from birth. Many such illnesses and disabilities are incurable and life long despite current medical science: for instance Parkinsons, MS, lupus, amputations, paralysis, blindness, schizophrenia, autism but to mention a few off the top of my head.
Furthermore she is being deliberately misleading as under the current system those who have more short term conditions will be given shorter DLA awards of 1 or 3 years.

She then went on to say:
The decision to introduce new tests has produced an extraordinary ‘closing-down sale’ effect, with rocketing claims as people rush to get their hands on unchecked ‘welfare for life’ before McVey’s axe falls on April 8.
Again, this has turned out to be untrue. While the total number of DLA claims has indeed increased, the number of DLA claims among working age people (ie those affected by the changeover to PIP) FELL. So this is in fact the direct opposite behaviour to that claimed by the minister.

Making one untrue statement using misleading figures to back it up is bad. Doing it twice having had it pointed out is completely unforgivable.
  • 4)  On April 24th, Iain Duncan Smith gave a press release claiming that "one million who are fit to work have lived on benefits for 3 of the past 4 years".
This is the front page of the Telegraph and news in the Daily Mail and the Express.

Once again the headlines are untrue. The claimants are not "fit for work" nor even "capable of trying to find a job". Upon reading the articles it becomes clear that the figures include people who are in the Work Related Activity Group (WRAG) of ESA. 
By the DWP own figures on ESA "fit for work" decisions, these people have been found unfit for work. Unlike people in the support group though, it is felt that they will eventually recover at some time in the future. Right now though, they cannot work. 
When the WRAG was first conceived of, it was felt that it would take 2-5 years for people placed in it to return to work. It is therefore perfectly feasible that WRAG claimants have been claiming ESA for 3 of the past 4 years without being "stuck" or fraudulent.
Once again figures are being used to stigmatise disability benefit claimants.

In 4 weeks, 4 misleading news articles.

In 2011 the Work and Pensions Select Committee severely criticised  the way the government was releasing official statistics. It reported this was leading to negative views of long term disability benefit claimants not only in the tabloid press but the mainstream press as well. It noted that many newspapers had subsequently had to publish corrections.

At the time the minister replied "the government could not control the editorial approach of tabloids" and was often "bemused" by the stories which ran.
I would put that this excuse no longer washes.

Current ministers are releasing untrue statistics and making false statements. The proposed investigation must go ahead at the earliest opportunity and the practise stopped. A whole section of the population is being demonised for political gain. It must not continue.

Your help

A petition has been started by disability campaigners Jayne Linney and Debbie Sayers to the Work and Pensions Committee asking them to commit to hold Iain Duncan Smith to account for his (mis)use of statistics.
It has had a huge response with 38,000 signatures at the last count.
You can read an article about it's success in the Guardian here (when it still only had 16,000 signatures).
To add your signature please go here. Thank you.


  1. Hi
    Hearing all these awful lies being told about people on benefit especially the disabled, my dad is disabled and I care for him and I feel very strongly about what is being done to us. It is stressful enough being ill, unemployed or a carer without being persicuted by people who no nothing about our daily life.
    I enjoy reading your blog I'm glad that people are standing up for themselves we cannot continue to have no voice I just wish we could be allowed a proper debate on tv to show the true hardship of being poor.

  2. Re Grant Shapps, it is even worse because he was actually quoted as saying the 900,000 had closed their claim for "Incapacity Benefit" inferring that long term claimants were closing their claims rather than being reassessed.
    Duncan Smith in his outburst at Owen Jones on Question Time ranted that 2.5 million claimants had not been seen for 10 years, so Shapps' rant just backs up Duncan Smith by inferring that huge numbers of long term claimants knew they shouldn't be claiming IB and closed their claim before being caught.
    Obviously, the facts show that neither Shapps nor Duncan Smith were telling the truth, but the public will not know that.
    (The actual figure for closed claims for IB is 19,700...many of whom will also have recovered)

  3. This also smacks of *incredibly* poor and lazy journalism; in a free press, it should be the journos that chase these 'facts' and figures down and challenge their authenticity, but all they do is politely regurgitate whatever the MPs tell them, with no thought to question their authenticity or expose the lies. Why not fire this article at the editors of the newspapers/media outlets you've fingered in this article?

    1. But there is no free press in this country! That's been obvious for so many years now that people like myself don't buy any newspaper - we just read those that don't have an on-line paywall!

  4. DuckyTuesday (Canada)25 April 2013 at 12:34

    Thank you for your astute revelations. Politicians in many countries tend to manipulate the facts in order to garner support for changes in policies and reductions in funding for the disabled. The "average" taxpayer is led to believe that the changes in expenditures will reduce the abuse of the system and put their own hard-earned tax dollars to proper and responsible use. The sensational nature of the misrepresentations tends to obscure the true meaning behind the numbers. And, of course, those with disabilities are often less able to speak out for themselves. I really appreciated your article. Thank you.

  5. All of your article is too sadly true. A list of the lies in a weeks worth of papers would make really depressing reading, at least they depress me every time I see them and I guess we all feel much the same. One of IDS's people has put up a working Universal Credit Calculator to show how much better off you will be in work. Worth a look, especially to find out that disability payments are considered to be things that need means testing.
    Maybe that bit of law passed when I was asleep or something.