Saturday, 20 April 2013

Grant Shapps owes me an apology

EDIT: May 30th
Grant Shapps was officially rebuked by by the UK Statistics Authority for misrepresenting the benefit figures I highlighted in this post.
Furthermore, after work from Sheila Gilmore MP and 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, the Work and Pensions Select Committee announced it will conduct an inquiry into his department'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.

A few weeks ago Grant Shapps announced to great fanfare that nearly 900,000 people had  abandoned their ESA claims RATHER than take the assessment.
The papers ran with it and comments were thick with people condemning those terrible fraudsters who had been taking advantage of the system and had run rather than been found out.
This number has now passed into benefit folklore. It doesn't really matter what benefit you're talking about, PIP, DLA, Housing Benefit or ESA, this 900,000 figure pops up and angry people start saying that reform is necessary because of these scroungers who were robbing genuine people and "the taxpayer".

There is just one problem.
I am one of the 900,000.
And I am angry.
In fact I have rarely felt so sick and personally insulted.
I felt badly enough about it that once I felt well enough I wrote to my MP and told her my story and asked her to pass it on to Grant Shapps.
Because I felt upset when he made these comments. And I now feel upset every time someone raises it again... and again... and again... and again...

Here is what I wrote to my MP.

I would like Mr Grant Shapps to know about people like me.

I have a serious and progressive illness which I have had since the age of 17. I was told I would never be able to work. Despite this and against medical advice I went to university and did a degree followed by a funded PhD. I then worked as an international standard researcher for 5 years before the illness finally reached a point where I could no longer continue. 

During that 5 year period I had a 9 month long patch where the illness worsened for a while. I ran out of SSP and was forced to claim ESA. During this time I was receiving aggressive medical treatment and I eventually recovered to a point where I felt I could return to work and so did so (even though I was still very ill and on aggressive drugs). Due to the time frames involved this occurred before I was called up for a medical assessment.

I am one of the 878,300 people Mr Grant Shapps thinks dropped their claim through fear of assessment. I am one of those he has without shame accused of fraudulently claiming ESA.

It would appear that I am not alone and that in fact according to DWP research I am fairly typical of those who abandon their claim. Their statistical analysis of ESA dated January 2013 says of those who drop their claim before assessment:

“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. However, the DWP has published research that investigated why some cases closed before assessment. It found that:

“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”

In other words the majority of claimants dropped their claim not because they were fraudulently claiming the benefit and were about to be found out but because they did the right thing and went back to work at the earliest opportunity. Mr Grant Shapps' statement that the claimants dropped their claims through fear of assessment is totally unsubstantiated.

Ever since Mr Grant Shapps made that announcement I continually see this figure bandied around and people talking about the shirksters or fraudsters who dropped their claim. Quite frankly it hurts every time I see it. I did my best. I did the right thing. I worked for as long as able. I worked while very unwell. I do not appreciate the way the government has just treated me. I feel that I and the others like me deserve both an apology and a retraction to combat this now widespread belief.

To be fair to my MP I got an extremely fast reply but sadly not to my satisfaction. 
Firstly Grant Shapps was not contacted. I strongly feel he should be. He should KNOW what effect his words have had on the ground.
Secondly she says she is sorry if I "feel the statements reflect negatively on those who have valid reasons for being unable to complete the assessment". I don't "feel they do". They do! Full stop!
Thirdly that isn't an apology. You're sorry I feel a certain way, not sorry for what has been done, nor even acknowledging that the statements are wrong in the first place.
I then get an extract from the Harrington report which confirms what I had said in my letter, ie that the majority of ESA claimants cease ESA claims and return to work.
Then I'm told the government is spending lots on disabled people and is supportive.

I am NOT happy.

I have written back today with an illustration why.

As an example I give to you a selection of comments made under a standard benefits story about ESA this week. It was nothing to do with the story yet this made up nearly a quarter of the comments and was used as an indication that ESA needed to be tougher. These comments are now nothing out of the ordinary and are to be seen on any benefits story even if it is about DLA and PIP rather than ESA. This is why a correction needs to be made:

David Lacey:
But 800,000 have left the register rather than be tested. Why?”

Mark Williamson:
I’d completely agree that those that have left the register more than likely had something to hide, and you’d have to be really naïve to think that there are a lot people who are just workshy, lazy thieving toe-rags.


So why did nearly a million disappear from the register when they were about to be tested? –Because they
 knew they had been depriving the few disabled of their entitlement.

Grant Shapps’ comments and every comment made as a result are a slap in the face to what I accomplished in my years working as an extremely ill and disabled person and the perseverance I applied in order to return to work at the earliest opportunity. I repeat what I said in my previous letter. Grant Shapps needs to apologise and make it clear to the public that his statement was misleading

I know I am fighting a lost cause. It is clear that Grant Shapps' comments have done the job they were intended to do.

However I also want to make it clear that he has insulted me and every other person who did the right thing and dragged themselves back to work as soon as they were able to (and sometimes before!). We continue to be insulted with every comment someone makes as the result of his actions.

I want Grant Shapps to know this.

I am owed an apology.

The public is owed a clarification and an explanation of why he misled them.

I am not holding my breath on either account.

Note. Apologies for the delay between the story and the post. Unfortunately it has taken this long to be well enough to write about it.


  1. Me to Spoony doc... I whent back to work asap and started my own business... I had my esa test but only because they insisted even though i was signing off two weeks latter... Im one of the ones that where found fit so i must have been faking even though they knew i was working.... Makes me mad being one they can use against us... Snapps needs pulled up alongside IDS and McVey for their twisting of stats... Big hugs Dxxx

  2. It is very difficult to fight when you are ill. Even tho the media & Shapps appear to have won, that victory is an unworthy one based on politics, lack of compassion & lack of understanding anything other than the accepted conservative view of illness. If one day Shapps has someone in his family who is long term ill, and needs support, he will change his tune if he ever finds his compassion. When a myth is perpetrated via the media you find it escalates; the truth is too complex & nuanced for most people to face.
    I've tweeted to Shapps, as you will see. He should be able to see he has to apologise, though, like you, I doubt he will.
    I've had my own long term battles with ill health and the pervading culture of striver or skiver; a sound bite which the unthinking masses can grab hold of. They need to be told who to hate and media, and people like Shapps, provide that with their stupid soundbites.
    Keep on keeping on. Standing for truth, mercy and compassion is right, even though it makes you angry. I share your anger.