Tuesday, 8 May 2012

Lies, damned lies and ESA statistics

Advice and disability bodies have repeatedly expressed concern about the DWP's presentation of statistics about Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) figures.  As you may know, ESA is the replacement benefit for people with long term health and disability issues which involves very harsh eligibility criteria

It is felt that the way that DWP selectively presents the figures, along with their commentary, fuels public bigotry towards people with disabilities and paints a picture that most claimants are not really sick, just workshy.  Given the repeated objections from many different organisations, either the DWP really don't get it or they are deliberately putting out this misleading spin on the figures.

The DWP press release issued in April 2012 was in the same vein: http://www.dwp.gov.uk/newsroom/press-releases/2012/apr-2012/dwp042-12.shtml

In particular the claim that 54% of those assessed are found "fit for work".  This is arrant nonsense.
The press release triggered an unpleasant and misleading article in the Daily Mail about which towns had the highest numbers who were swinging the lead (apparently it's Basildon).  Interestingly, as far as I can see, the Mail's article appeared before the statistics were officially released.  So how did they get hold of the figures for their story?

The DWP press release fails to factor in the 38% who succeed when they appeal - 38% of 46% is 17.48%.  This strongly suggests that even on the DWP's figures, 63% are "unfit for work".  That aside, what the DWP won't acknowledge publicly is the feedback from their own staff about the terrible health problems of many found "fit for work" who then try to claim Jobseekers Allowance, not to mention the well-documented evidence about poor quality medical findings from their contractor, ATOS. 

Above all, (and of course there's no way the DWP would agree with this), the Work Capability Assessment used for ESA is not actually an assessment of people's ability to work; it is an assessment of whether they have scored points for a limited number of activities and whether they have "limited capability for work", not whether they are fit for work. 

As an example, if you can sit in a chair for 31 minutes before you need to move because of discomfort, you score nil points under that heading, if you can scrawl your name with a pen, you get nil points for that and if you can understand a simple message from a stranger such as: "There's a fire in the office, get out", but you can't understand "How do you change the settings on this photocopier?", you score nil points for understanding communication.

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