Why is the DWP not under continual criticism for the way it collects and presents statistics? The intention is always to put forward the best possible impression of the Department – and never to present the facts in a clear, usable way.
The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has been accused of manipulating statistics in an attempt to hide the ongoing barriers, cuts and harassment experienced by disabled people seeking support from a key disability employment programme.
The claims followed the release of new figures which showed the number of disabled people approved every year for support from the Access to Work (AtW) programme had fallen by 15 per cent under seven years of Conservative rule.
The scheme has been repeatedly praised as an effective way of supporting disabled people in work and ensuring they keep their jobs, and provides funding for work-related support such as aids and equipment, communication support, travel to work, physical adaptations to a workplace, and hiring support workers.
Deaf and disabled campaigners cast grave doubt last night (Wednesday) on the figures and suggested DWP was attempting to camouflage continuing cuts to people’s support.
Although the figures show the number of people who had support packages approved in each year, they do not include those who continue to receive AtW support without the need for reassessment, or show how many people lost their support or had it cut after being reassessed.
This means it is impossible to know how many disabled people are currently receiving AtW compared with previous years, or how the average level of support packages have risen or fallen.
Ellen Clifford (pictured, right), Inclusion London’s campaigns and policy manager, said DWP’s document “takes creative use of statistics to a whole new level of unreality”.
She said the motivation for changing the way the statistics were collated could only be to disguise what was really happening “because they now provide a much less clear picture of how many people the scheme is benefiting… The manipulation of figures in this way suggests the DWP has something to hide”.
The Conservative-led Coalition government wants us all to believe that the number of disabled people getting support to get or keep a job is rocketing.
But the businessman it is using to front its PR campaign founded a company that has been convicted of discrimination against the disabled in the recent past.
According to the government’s press release, Sir Stelios Haji-Ioannou, the founder of Easyjet, said: “Already over 100,000 disabled entrepreneurs employ an equivalent number of people in their business start-ups.
“I encourage disabled people out there who have a germ of an idea for a business, but are unsure of how to go about it, to take advantage of the support the government has on offer to help you make your business fly.”
It seems, if you are disabled, EasyJet’s business has been to keep you on the ground.
The government reckons the number of people using its Access to Work scheme has risen by more than 10 per cent, to 31,230 – and has claimed that disabled people are moving into jobs, training or work placements at a rate of more than 100 every working day.
But the press release does not elaborate on how many of these jobs are permanent, how many are merely temporary placements, how many are self-employment start-ups that will receive funding for a short period and will fold when the grants run out, and so on.
Apparently it is all part of a campaign launched by David Cameron last year, called DisabilityConfident.
From what’s on show here, it seems disabled people have precious little reason to be confident.
It is said that you can get the measure of a man, not from his words, but from his actions. Iain Duncan Smith brought bodyguards to the Commons Work and Pensions Committee yesterday. (Monday)
Why did he need the muscle? Probably because he knew how his behaviour would be received. This is a man who is absolutely not going to accept criticism, in any form at all.
The man whose benefit reforms were mocked by Ed Balls last week as “In Deep Sh…ambles” batted away concerns about inaccurate statistics as somebody else’s fault and, when confronted with a whistleblower’s claim that jobseekers were being sanctioned indiscriminately, said he wanted to see the evidence.
That’s a bit much, coming from the man who is still withholding the mortality statistics of people going through the assessment regime for Employment and Support Allowance. Where is that evidence?
Our evidence that he had a bodyguard comes from Paula Peters on Facebook, who attended the meeting. She wrote: “The police, and they were armed, hustled him into the room. He had a bodyguard in the room with him! What the hell for? We are entitled to watch proceedings and follow due process.”
Dame Anne Begg, chairing the meeting, pointed out that the UK Statistics Authority has received more complaints about the Department of Work and Pensions’ use of statistics than any other government department.
His response: “Yes, but I’ve had two letters. One was about two years ago, concerning something about the use of them on immigration, but they let that one sit – and the last one was where we had a discussion on the use of where I referred to those going back to work on the back of the benefit cap. They said that … I should not make the link. I believed it to be the case – that those people were going back to work due to the fact of reducing the cap; that’s my belief. They said it should not remain as a flat statistic, which we’ve accepted.”
So in that one respect, he admitted that he was wrong.
But he also said: “We have published, over the period that I have been there, over 500 statistical releases. We’ve also started the innovation of ‘ad hoc’ releases – which, actually, we were congratulated for by UKSA… We try and publish as regularly as possible… We try to sell a positive message, and I know there have been issues around negativity with regard to disability benefits.”
Pressed on the fact that Grant Shapps had claimed nearly 900,000 people shuffled off ESA because they weren’t willing to take the work capability assessment, the Secretary of State denied responsibility: “We didn’t actually – and have never – given them that idea about those figures. It was something that they put together and released themselves. I wasn’t even aware that they were going out with that comment at the time… I have had conversations with him and others about being careful to check with the department.”
Committee member Debbie Abrahams wanted to know about the claim by a whistleblower in Job Centre Plus, that JSA claimants were deliberately being set up to fail, contrary to the Civil Service code, with ploys including making appointments without telling the claimant, in order to create an easy opportunity for a sanction and thereby distorting statistics – not after they had been collected but in the collection itself.
She said the whistleblower had tried to raise the issue with managers at all levels, but had been rebuffed each time.
“Well, I’m not aware of that,” drawled Mr Duncan Smith, “and I have to say that I would like to see his evidence for that. With respect, he is making an allegation about some of the incredibly hard work that job advisors do. There’s always one or two people who have a different view about operating in an organisation. I happen to believe that, unless it is proved to the contrary, people in Job Centres do a very good job, work very hard, and they apply sanctions within the rules.”
Challenged on this by Dame Anne, he started to claim that sanctions are always issued because of failure to comply with the strictures imposed on claimants, provoking an interruption from Debbie Abrahams that caused his mask to slip momentarily. “I have listened a lot to what has been said – and moaning about this… You’ve had a fair crack at this.”
So there you have it. Statistical errors are nothing to do with Iain Duncan Smith. Sanctions are always applied fairly and never to distort the statistics.
And anyone who thinks otherwise is “moaning”.
Paula Peters, in her Facebook post, said that disability minister Mike Penning met people from organisations representing the disabled. She reported his words as follows:
“Our disabilities are our fault.
“Diabetes is a lifestyle choice.
“Everyone who claims benefits is frauding the system.
“Everyone who uses the access to work programme is frauding it.”
The public verdict on the meeting has been universally negative. Nicola Clubb (again on Facebook) summed it up well: “I have just watched an hour’s worth of IDS and the DWP evidence to the Work and Pensions Committee and they let him and his three cronies off the hook.
“They did not push him him to explain his use of dodgy stats, they just asked him about a couple of pieces of data released by people.”
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It goes on to say that the number of people receiving support under the Access to Work programme between April and June this year increased by 10 per cent on the same period last year, to 22,760. Access to Work “provides financial help towards the extra costs faced by disabled people at work, such as support workers, specialist aids and equipment and travel to work support”.
Apparently the new stats show the highest level of new claims since 2007 – 10,390; and more people with mental health conditions than ever before have taken advantage of Access to Work.
The press release also states that young disabled people can now get Access to Work support while on Youth Contract work experience, a Supported Internship or Traineeship; and businesses with 49 employees or less no longer have to pay a contribution towards the extra costs faced by disabled people in work. It seems they used to have to pay up to £2,300 per employee who uses the fund.
Isn’t it more likely that the DWP and Work Programme providers, faced with an influx of disabled people into the programme from the ESA WRAG at the end of last year, encouraged them to set up as self-employed with their own businesses in order to get them off the claimant books?
Does it not, then, seem likely that a large proportion of the 22,760 getting help from Access to Work were offered it as part of a self-employment package that also, we are told, includes start-up money (that admittedly tapers away over time) and tax credits. The attraction for WP providers is that they would earn a commission for every claimant they clear off the books in this way.
So it seems likely that a large proportion of the 22,760 may now be self-employed in name alone and that these fake firms are included in the 102,000 new businesses lauded by BIS.
Is it not logical, therefore, to conclude that these are not government schemes, but government scams – designed to hoodwink the general public into thinking that the economy is improving far more than in reality, and that the government is succeeding in its aim to bring down unemployment?
Some might say that this conclusion is crazy. Why would the government want to release information that directly indicates underhanded behaviour on its part?
The answer is, of course, that it would not. This government wants to convince an undecided electorate that it knows what it is doing and that the country’s future is safe in its hands. But its right hand doesn’t seem to know what its left is doing – with regard to press releases, at the very least.
Therefore we can say that, in trying to prove that it is competent, the Coalition government has in fact proved the exact opposite.
So someone really needs to watch what they’re saying – if they don’t want people all over the UK to come to unintended conclusions!
AFTERTHOUGHT: The BIS press release adds that the government’s ‘Plan for Growth’, published with the 2011 budget, included an aim to create “the most competitive tax system in the G20”. By “competitive” the Treasury meant the system had to be more attractive to businesses that aim to keep as much of their profits away from the tax man as possible. It is a commitment to turn Britain into a tax haven and the VP post earlier this week shows that the government has been successful in this aim. What a shame that it also means the Coalition government will totally fail to meet its main policy commitment and reason for existing in the first place: It can’t cut the national deficit if the biggest businesses that operate here aren’t paying their taxes.
I doubt many people who aren’t Liberal Democrats will have read the agenda for their conference, currently taking place in Brighton. That’s probably for the best because it includes a policy motion on disability that would leave you dizzy. They really don’t know which way they’re facing on this one.
But no worries, eh? It’s only the public who’ll suffer because of it!
The motion starts by noting that the Welfare Reform Act has been passed, including changes to Employment and Support Allowance (ESA); the introduction of Personal Independence Payments (PIPs) to replace Disability Living Allowance (DLA) – and the plan to use this to cut the benefit by 20 per cent by 2015-16 (therefore stopping people from receiving it); the feeling of exclusion from the welfare reform policy development process amongst the disabled community (hang on – the Lib Dems supported the Act; isn’t it a bit late to be moaning about how it excluded the people it was supposed to be working for?); and the conclusions of the report Reversing Recovery on the impact of the Act.
It also notes the rise in disability hate crime “as reported in a survey conducted by the disability charity Scope”, but makes no mention of the fact that this has been fuelled by inflammatory reports of so-called “scroungers” in the right-wing press.
So already they don’t know which way they’re going with this.
It goes on to welcome – welcome! – the introduction of Universal Credit. This is the benefit that will cap the amount households receive, ensuring that even people in the Support Group of ESA claimants will lose benefit if the total they get is more than an arbitrary prescribed amount. They are welcoming a change that will put more people in poverty and misery.
And it welcomes the Government’s decision to allocate an extra £15 million to the Access to Work budget, on the recommendation of Liz Sayce in her review of specialist disability employment programmes. This is the woman who had all those Remploy factories closed. She is no friend to disabled people.
Now we get really confused.
The motion asks the LD conference to state its belief that “society and government have a duty of care towards sick and disabled people and that the goals of government policy must be the empowerment of sick and disabled people in order to tackle and reduce their dependency on others and, fundamentally, to enable them to enjoy full and equal citizenship.” Empowerment? Full and equal citizenship? Read it again and boggle at the hypocrisy in the words from a party that has helped reduce the disabled to a hated and ridiculed underclass.
“Current welfare policy is failing sick and disabled people and […] the Welfare Reform Act does not do enough to remedy this situation.” Because it is the Welfare Reform Act that has created the situation! “Sick and disabled people unable to work or unable to find employment should be supported by the welfare system for as long as they are unable to work or find employment and […] mechanisms such as the current method of time limiting […] contributory ESA are counterproductive and harmful.” Nearly half of all people found “fit for work” by Atos, the company running the WCA regime for the DWP, now have NOTHING to live on. That’s no money at all. And the Lib Dems voted in favour of that.
The next bit criticises the last Labour government for relying on advice from private companies with a potential financial interest in affecting policies about the sick and disabled. It reminds me of a Biblical extract in which Jesus says that, before you can remove a mote from another person’s eye, you need to take the plank out of your own. Isn’t the current government – of which the Coalition is a part – welcoming the wholesale introduction of the private sector into all manner of public services – with open arms? Look at the privatisation of NHS services, which is kicking up a gear with the arrival of Jeremy Hunt’s red and blue lists. Look at David Cameron’s declared intent to privatise everything but the security services and the judiciary. And the Lib Dems are blaming Labour for relying on private sector advice? Get the plank out of your eyes, boys and girls. Or better still, get out of government and take the Tories with you.
The next part states: “Policies which force sick and disabled people to be dependent on others may prevent them from being able to enjoy equal citizenship and leads to exclusion from society,” – which begs the question: Why do you support such policies?
“Further action by government is required to prevent victimisation of and discrimination against sick and disabled people by employers.” This will never happen under a Conservative-led government.
Let’s move on to what they want. Some of these are in fact good ideas but the hypocrisy in the Liberal Democrats calling for them is staggering. The motion asks the LD conference to seek:
“An independent review of the impact of the Welfare Reform Act.” Isn’t it a bit late for that? Wasn’t the impact checked before the Act was passed? Are they saying the Tories lied to them about what would happen? Are they admitting they were reckless as to the effect on disabled people?
“A review of WCA assessment centres to ensure they have adequate disabled access andeasy access by public transport or that mechanisms are in place to provide home visits oralternative assessment venues.” What, because access to assessments is the main problem? It’s a practical idea, and I understand access has been an issue – unnecessarily – but again, this is something the Liberal Democrats should have considered before they allowed the stupid and vindictive legislation through. Did they actually read the Welfare Reform Bill before it became an Act of Parliament?
“The establishment of a public consultation on the assessment mechanisms for DLA, ESA and PIPs, with special emphasis on eligibility for support for those with time variant conditions.” Again, this is a good idea but its time was before the Act was passed. Even if the majority of Liberal Democrats go back on their original support for the Act, the Conservatives will never allow it to be changed. They want the disabled to live in poverty and misery.
“The results of this consultation to be used by the DWP to reform its sickness and disability policies.” This will never happen with Conservatives in charge.
“Additional support and effort to be targeted at enabling sick and disabled people to remain in work and at removing barriers of access to work through expansion of schemes such as the Access to Work Fund.” Again – this will never happen with Conservatives in charge. They want to cut another £10 billion from the benefits bill, on top of the £18 billion that is already being hacked away.
“The Government to ensure that it continues to take a balanced approach to the advice it receives, and that it prioritises the advice of organisations representing sick and disabled people.” Continues? This Coalition government has never taken a balanced approach to advice, and will never prioritise the advice of representative organisations above that of private business and its own hatchet-people. This is dangerous idealism.
“The Citizen’s Advice and non-profit-making advice services to receive increased government funding during the transitional periods for any future substantial changes to the welfare system.” As a CAB trustee, I’d like to see this happen. As a realist I know it won’t.
“The Government to examine the impact of means-testing and income-related support elements of disability welfare policy and, when funds allow, to reform policy to reduce the number of cases where sick and disabled people are made dependent on partners and carers and to ensure that, where this does happen, this does not lead to exclusion from society.” The operative phrase here is “when funds allow”. A Conservative-led government will ensure that funds are never available to allow the reforms suggested here. The programme, in case the Liberal Democrats weren’t paying attention, is about shrinking the state down to almost nothing. This is being done by ensuring that the national debt stays high, providing an excuse for cut after cut.
“A public awareness campaign to tackle prejudice and other attitudes detrimental to the well-being of sick and disabled people.” This is against Conservative Party policy and will not see the light of day in this Parliament, unless done in a half-hearted and cack-handed manner that will do more harm than good.
So what do YOU make of all that?
I think it will win loud applause in the conference chamber. The Liberal Democrat leadership will enjoy that, hoping that the media will report it as an attempt to moderate the excesses of the right-wing Tories.
But they know that it won’t achieve anything in real terms.
Like so much Liberal Democrat posturing – as part of the Coalition – it’s nothing more than words on paper and hot air.
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