BBC confirms ‘Tory mouthpiece’ accusation with updated lies about ESA


I have complained to the BBC and the UK Statistics Authority about this disgrace.

Today (January 25) the BBC published a scurrilous little screed claiming that “nearly a million people who applied for sickness benefit have been found fit for work”. Needless to say, the figures come from the Department for Work and Pensions and aren’t worth the time it took to type them in.

The story states: “The DWP claims 980,400 people – 32% of new applicants for Employment and Support Allowance – were judged capable of work between 2008 and March 2013.

“More than a million others withdrew their claims after interviews, it adds.”

It goes on to say that disability campaigners had stated that the work capability assessment tests were “ridiculously harsh and extremely unfair”, but says nothing about the fact that an almost-identical story was withdrawn last year after it was found to be riddled with inaccuracies – if not outright lies.

Even more bizarre is the fact that the story does provide the factual reason for claims being withdrawn. They “either returned to work, recovered or claimed a benefit “more appropriate to their situation”.

In other words, these people used the system in exactly the right way, yet the DWP – and the BBC – are pretending that they were trying to fiddle it in some way.

To explain what happened last year, let’s look at a letter from Sheila Gilmore MP to Andrew Dilnot, head of the UK Statistics Authority, and his response. You can find it on page 39 of the DPAC report on DWP abuse of statistics.

The letter from Sheila Gilmore states: “On 30 March 2013 an article by Patrick Hennessy entitled ‘900,000 choose to come off sickness benefit ahead of tests’ was published in the Sunday Telegraph. Please find a copy enclosed. I believe that the headline and the subsequent story are fundamentally misleading because they conflate two related but separate sets of statistics. I would be grateful if you could confirm that my interpretation of what has happened is correct.

“The sickness benefit in question is Employment and Support Allowance (ESA). People have been able to make new claims for ESA since October 2008, but those in receipt of the benefits it replaced – Incapacity Benefit, Severe Disablement Allowance, and Income Support on the grounds of disability – only started migrating across in April 2011.

“The article implied that many of this latter group were dropping their claim rather than having to go through a face-to-face assessment, with the implication that they were never really ill in the first place and had been ‘playing the system’.

“However I have checked the figures published by the Department for Work and Pensions and it would appear that the figure of 900,000 actually refers to all those who have made new claims for ESA since its introduction over four years ago, but who have since withdrawn their application before undergoing a face-to-face assessment. These people were not claiming the benefit before and generally drop out of the system for perfectly innocent reasons – often people become ill, apply as a precaution, but withdraw when they get better.

“Of the 600,000 people who have been migrated from Incapacity Benefit over the past two years, only 19,700 have dropped their claim. This is the figure that should have featured in the headline, but the 900,000 figure was used instead.”

Mr Dilnot replied: “Having reviewed the article and the relevant figures, we have concluded that these statements appear to conflate official statistics relating to new claimants of the ESA with official statistics on recipients of the incapacity
benefit (IB) who are being migrated across to the ESA.

“According to official statistics published by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) in January 2013, a total of 603,600 recipients of IB were referred for reassessment as part of the migration across to ESA between March 2011 and May 2012. Of these, 19,700 claims were closed prior to a work capability assessment in the period to May 2012.

“The figure of “nearly 900,000” referenced in the article appears to refer to the cumulative total of 878,300 new claims for the ESA (i.e. not pre-existing IB recipients) which were closed before undergoing assessment in the period from October 2008 to May 2012.

“In your letter, you also expressed concern about the apparent implication in the Sunday Telegraph article that claims for ESA had been dropped because the individuals were never really ill in the first place. The statistical release does not address the issue of why cases were closed in great depth, but it does point to research undertaken by DWP which suggests 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’.”

What he was saying, in his officialese way, was that the Conservatives had wrongly ‘conflated’ monthly figures into a cumulative total; they had misled the press about the figures’ significance; and the press release (which then mysteriously disappeared) ignored a clear caveat in the DWP’s own report that the reason the claims were dropped each month had nothing to do with fear of medical assessment but were because people recovered and went back to work, or else were switched to another benefit deemed more suitable to their circumstances.

Now the BBC has resurrected this story, with brand new, larger numbers that add in the totals for 2013 without telling you whether these were all new claims, or repeat claims, or a mixture; they are all treated as new.

The claim that 980,400 people had been found fit for work after medical tests – the feared Atos work capability assessments – is also extremely questionable – as the BBC well knows.

Its own Panorama programme, ‘Disabled or Faking It?’, investigated whether the DWP was knocking people off-benefit in order to hit financial targets – in essence, making people destitute in order to show a budget saving. A Channel 4 Dispatches documentary, ‘Britain on the Sick’, proved that this was happening. Both were shown at the end of July 2012.

I have complained to the BBC and to Mr Dilnot about the deeply offensive and defamatory way in which these lies have been resurrected, in order to encourage the general public to hold people who are genuinely ill in hatred, ridicule and contempt. If you believe this cause is just, go thou and do likewise.

This behaviour is even more appalling when one considers the rise and rise of hate crime against the sick and disabled.

Members of groups such as DPAC or Black Triangle may even wish to take libel action against the corporation and the DWP on the basis of this report.

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55 thoughts on “BBC confirms ‘Tory mouthpiece’ accusation with updated lies about ESA

  1. Darren

    In fairness to the Beeb, Mike, when they say things in the format “So-and-so CLAIMS such and such…” it tends to mean that they’re saying “We think it’s a load of hogwash too, but we have to report it.”

    1. Mike Sivier

      As a reporter myself, I know that this is not true. The job of a news reporter is to report FACTS – not hearsay. If a member of the public came along with an allegation, a reporter would have to investigate it to see if it stands up, otherwise whoever the allegation was about could take the reporter – and the firm for which they worked – to court. There’s been no fact-checking here and they absolutely did NOT have to report it.

  2. steve o'connell

    Who trusts anything this bunch of lying, cheating, thieving scumbags say? I would have to check if they said grass was green!

      1. Da Wurzel

        There is a difference between the BBC & the Tories that being the BBC would sell their own grandmother for a story but the Tories would always sell someone else’s.. The BBC are worse as they swop colours depending on who’s holding the cheque book

  3. Ian Duncan

    It’s quite clever, doing the old Daily Mail trick (and probably others have done it) where the headline is bollocks but buried in the story is a truer reflection of reality, where it only repeats DWP claims and makes no comment on their accuracy. They did a similar thing on the NHS recently where the headline implied A&E departments were under strain because of something very unlikely and deep in the story it refuted itself. I wish I could find it but it seems to have disappeared.

    And if you listen to Radio % Live you could be forgiven for thinking all was well in the UK…

  4. ajh

    As seen as I saw it I thought here we go again.A reheated nonsense that also appeared(in the previous case as breaking news on Sky)at the weekend and old statistics.It is obviously a propaganda ploy and timed for that affect,no doubt it will repeated.Not mentioned of course is that over 90% of people being transferred are not deemed fit to work,despite the non test deliberately introduced to lower numbers which would skewer the message somewhat that indeed people ,particularly the long term claimant are,actually really ill/disabled.

  5. Barry Davies

    The claim that people were taken off benefits following medicals is not true, the esa has two parts the one that most people are placed in is the work related group which expires after 12 months. People on this may not have returned to work, or indeed might never have been unemployed as you can claim it whilst off sick from work, but the DWP claims that they have, clearly no one out of work who is medically unfit to work can not claim jobseekers allowance and as such are left with no support whatsoever. The claimed medicals are in the main a very biased idiot sheet looked at by nurses who according to the nursing and midwifery Council are not working as nurses, and who have targets to meet regarding the amount of claims they process every hour, they are expected to ensure that only a small amount of claimants get help. The outcome of this has been people on life support machines or receiving terminal care being placed on the work related group, even though it would not be possible for them to work. The Same French Information Technology company rejects claims for Disability living allowance PIP on the same basis. Medical conditions preventing you from working don’t have any meaning to the people carrying out the assessments or apparently slugs like IDS and Camoron.

  6. robert fillies

    Yes Mike, just watching BBC news 24 at 18.00 and the first part relating to Ed Balls and his proposal to increase the 45p tax rate to 50p, the after talk was like a Conservative Party Political Broadcast.This has been very apparent over the past year or more, but seems to be getting worse as the run up to the forthcoming elections is upon us, and of course the General Election in 2015.

  7. truthmeister

    The headline figure is partially true, but highly misleading. 980,400 new claims have been found to be fit for work. However, as the DWP’s figures show, that figure is for “initial functional assessment – the first assessment of the Employment and Support Allowance claim.”

    You have to deduct all the cases that were overturned on reconsideration or appeal. To give some idea, the Ministry of Justice stats show that more than 279,000 ESA appeals were successful, just between April 2010 and September 2013. Chris Grayling confirmed that there were more than 120,000 successful ESA reconsiderations, just between May 2010 and November 2011.

    If you look at the latest figures, they show record numbers of new claims, repeat claims and IB reassessments being awarded as well as record numbers being put into the Support Group for all 3 categories.

    Highlighting those facts, as well as the 35,000 increase in claimant count over the last 3 months, does not seemingly sit well with the clear agenda to create suspicion about ESA claimants in the general public.

    I also find it sinister that the DWP have allegedly said to the BBC that “More than a million others withdrew their claims after interviews”. Since when exactly have you had to have an interview in order to close a claim? Most people who close their claim will simply ring up the DWP and tell them that they have recovered and ask that the claim is closed (even more so as less than 1 in 5 assessments are being completed within the designated 13 weeks according to Mark Hoban last year, thus giving claimants even longer to recover before an assessment is requested). The way this story has worded things gives the impression that over a million people have been interviewed and as a result they closed their claim because they knew they were not eligible or were deliberately trying to cheat the system, but have then changed their mind after intervention from the DWP….which is of course total nonsense.

    Shame on both the BBC and DWP for painting a totally inaccurate and misleading picture!

    1. Graham Hughes

      I did not re-apply for DLA when my previous time limited award ended. Not because I was not eligible or because I was worried I would be discovered trying to cheat the system. I think the fact that I have several medical conditions diagnosed independently by two different specialists and supported by two more and by my GP, the fact that the appeal tribunal awarded me 30 points, placed me in the support group and recommended I not be reassessed for two years (the maximum term they can recommend), the fact that a previous tribunal awarded me 45 points under the old descriptors (again after ATOS gave me 0 points) and apologised that I had wrongly been put through the appeal process, and the fact that the appeal panel had to cut short the hearing out of concern for my well-being and were debating whether to call an ambulance, shows I would have a genuine claim for continued qualification for DLA. Even after the tribunal, it took my excellent MP months to get the decision implemented. If she had not acted on my behalf I could not have done it. I simply could not cope with it any more.

      The, after all that I could not face starting it all again for DLA. Now if the BBC, the DWP, or the tories think my case is a good example of the system working as it should so be it but I don’t share that view.

      1. matthew culbert

        Yes you right enough about this.It is a soul destroying process.My buddy has a mental health problem.Even getting him to go to appeal is murder.He ends up doing all benefits and crashing on peoples sofas.There are any number like him.I have ot insist he cant let the bastards grind him down but..hell it is an uphill struggle.

  8. Alan Evans

    When would a normal company be allowed to continue to operate when it has been seen to had had numerous paedophiles working for them,why hasn’t this scum been shut down and why has there not been a public inquiry.
    Their awful attacks to people on benefits should not be allowed and while we are at it,why do people pay license fees to a company who they dont have a contract with,you wouldnt do it with anybody.Time for people to start standing up to these corrupt corporations.

  9. Pingback: BBC confirms ‘Tory mouthpiece’ accusation with updated lies about ESA | Jay's Journal

  10. jonjamesmcardle

    Hi Mike,

    Another sterling article!

    The reason we can’t take libel action is that third parties have no legal standing – the subject of our joint submission to Leveson – and for an action to be brought there must be a named individual(s) who have been the victims of the allegation which must lower their social or professional standing in the minds of society. If Leveson was implemented we would be able to get the BBC to publish a full correction and pay a fine and perhaps compensation.

    Fat chance under the Westminster vermin. For the forseeable we have no to law.

    In solidarity


    For Black Triangle

    Cc DPAC

    Sent from my iPhone

  11. Graham Hughes

    What gets me is that someone being found fit for work is automatically equated with them not being genuine claimants even though the whole point of the assessment is to determine if your illness or disability is of sufficient severity to warrant assistance. Being fit enough to work should not be a barrier to receiving ESA, the benefit allows for recipients to work up to 16 hours in the WRAG and with no limit in the Support Group.What is supposed to happen is that if someone is unemployed through sickness or disability they can claim ESA then are assessed to see if their condition is severe enough that it causes them a barrier to returning to work. If it doesn’t they go on JSA. if the severity is such that they would not be fit for work at all they go in the Support group. if they are fit to work but their condition causes them difficulties in doing so they go in the WRAG and receive tailored help and support to get back to work. The people in the WRAG are supposed to be fit for work. Why would you put resources into helping someone get back into work if they weren’t ft enough to go? If they aren’t fit to work they should be in the support group.

    The report quotes Mike Penning as saying, “With the right support, many people with an illness, health condition or disability can still fulfil their aspiration to get or stay in work”. But those people aren’t getting that support. They are wrongly being denied ESA, which, in theory at least, should be providing that support because the assessment system is failing those claimants and forcing them onto JSA where they have to compete with those who have no illness or disability. That is the story here, not the regurgitation of the tory line to discredit those who have to seek recourse to the Social Security system.

    .Unless those claimants have no diagnosed medical condition to support their claim they are all genuine claimants irrespective of whether their claim is successful or not. This is a blatant attempt to feed into the populist ‘scrounger’ rhetoric, Otherwise, what is the point of the story? Claimants don’t get benefit they aren’t entitled to? That is hardly worth a page on the BBC’s website is it?

    1. Martin Mcgowan

      actually the work related activity group (WRAG) is comprised of people who at this time are unfit for work but are expected to be fit for work within three years with help and support.

      1. Mike Sivier

        That’s one year, Martin.

        Mrs Mike was in that group. You get benefit for 365 days. She got NO support or help. Her benefit was cut off with NO prior warning or advice on what to do when it happened because of an “error on the system”. I had to point out that the errors were all made by the DWP and they eventually put her on income-related ESA, while we wait for her appeal against being put in the WRAG – from February 2013 – to be sorted out.

        Still waiting…

      2. Graham Hughes

        Only because the current incumbents at the DWP have changed the rules to fit their ‘strivers versus scroungers’ agenda. it is not how ESA was supposed to work. There is provision for people in the WRAG to work up to 16 hours a week (subject to various rules) so, clearly, when the benefit was conceived it was not felt that being capable of work should be grounds for refusing claims. So now we have the bizarre situation of eligibility for a benefit which is intended to allow people to be able to work while claiming it being assessed by WCA which regards even the most minimal ability to work as grounds to turn down claims from the people it is intended to help.

    1. Mike Sivier

      Obviously readers will know that I am more familiar with RTU and his work than I ever wanted to be. Therefore this is more for the benefit of others than myself. 😉

  12. Joseph Smith

    That’ll be the coalition broadcasting corporation then. Sucking up to the political masters to ensure certain “issues” are smoothed over or get buried, very deeply. I saw this article and my first thought was more lies, this ones even bigger than the good(?) news on unemployment. Sign the e petition and get licence fees reduced by £75 per year. I think the BBC just lost the last remaining threads of honesty and decency, whilst the licence payer pays for the sex scandals being covered up, and the ludicrous fees paid by the BBC for elderly celebrities for less than 50/60 hours work per year. Finally, the number of repeats which licence payers have already paid for.

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  14. martha

    just got so cross with a complete stranger at a dinner who said he thinks the BBC is left wing. He just couldn’t see that the Beeb is now the official mouthpiece of the Coalition government spewing out vile lies and propaganda. He hadn’t even heard about all the thousands of deaths of disabled people and didn’t believe me. Where have people like him been for the last couple of years? Why do some of us know the truth about the devastation that is being carried out by the Coalition when so many people don’t seem to have a clue? It’s because they think the BBC is left wing and so swallow every lie they are told. They are brain washed and smug about their ignorance too grrr!

    1. one voice

      Yep !the DWP ( DEPT.for WONKY PROPAGANDA ) along with their mouthpiece The .BBC…(.BIASED BROADCASTING CLODPORATION } !

  15. Joanna Terry

    Hi Mike, I also made a formal complaint to the BBC about how they use stat.s It will be interesting to see what the result is.

    1. Ian Duncan

      You’ll probably get the same as I usually get: a couple of paragraphs of disingenuous, patronising waffle and a politely worded ‘fuck off’.

      The Beeb is way too big for it’s boots these days.

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  17. Natalie

    I was just wondering what your advice would be on the best way to contact the BBC and to complain?
    Not only am I interested in doing so, but many followers on my own blog would be interested in adding our voices to the cause.

    1. Mike Sivier

      Auntie Beeb isn’t the easiest to get in touch with. Rather than providing an email address, you have to go through a series of web pages, and then a series of forms.
      Go to the bottom of any BBC page and you’ll see a horizontal line with a BBC logo on the left and some links. ‘Contact the BBC’ is third down on the right-hand side.
      Then you have to look for the link to complaints, and then you have to go through their procedure.
      It’s a good idea to save what you type to a text editor file, so you’ve got proof of what you’ve written because you don’t get to keep a copy of it after you’ve finished.

  18. Ian Duncan

    Here’s the BBC’s complaints line, at least you can make your feelings known quickly this way if you hear some bias and want to get your point across:

    03700 100222

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  23. ghost whistler

    Problem with complaining to the BBC is that you just get put onto an answering machine with a very limited window to articulate your case (or get cut off). I doubt it makes a blind bit of difference; it certainly hasn’t when i’ve complained about the attitude of BBC Radio Bristol’s offhand treatment of these issues.

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