More information on the government’s distortion of information on disability claims has come to light, thanks to a pointer from Declan Gaffney via Twitter. While the new information changes the focus slightly, it makes the government’s deceit, in the picture Grant Shapps and others are trying to paint, even worse than was at first obvious.
Shapps & co, along with their friends in the press, have claimed that 878,300 people decided not to pursue their claims for benefit because a change in the benefits system meant that they’d have to be assessed for their level of disability – and that this showed how much malingering there was under Labour and how necessary this government’s attack on disabled people is (though of course they euphemistically call it ‘reform’).
The additional data is a Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) spreadsheet showing the caseloads and outcomes for the Work Capability Assessment (WCA) process for Employment Support Allowance (ESA). This spreadsheet tells a completely different picture from that which Shapps & co have been peddling.
The change from Incapacity Benefit to ESA took place in 2008. If, at Shapps is trying to portray, a huge number of claimants decided to drop their claims because they knew they’d be discovered as cheating, you’d expect to see a graph something like this, showing large numbers of ‘faking’ claimants getting spooked by the fact they’d have to undergo assessment under the new system and withdrawing their claims:
This is the picture Shapps was trying to paint.
In fact, we see a completely different picture:
In this graph, the red line shows the total caseload of WCAs and the blue shows discontinued claims. As you’d expect, in both cases you see a ramping up when the rules first come into force, as it takes time to switch over from one system to the other.
But then you see an almost constant blue line, with around 20,000 a month (or 60,000 a quarter) being discontinued. This represents nothing more than ‘churn’ – a turnover of claims withdrawn because of perfectly normal things like people getting better, or finding a job they can do even if they’re ill. As Declan Gaffney points out in his article, every month around 130,000 people come off ESA anyway – it’s not a lifetime benefit, it’s something you claim for as long as you need to. Because of the huge numbers of cases always in the pipeline and the amount of time it takes for them to be assessed and decided, some of the people who no longer need to claim haven’t even had their WCA yet – and they become part of that month’s ‘20,000’.
Now look at the relationship between the two lines. Until around April 2011, they stay more or less in sync, with the ‘total caseload’ red line obviously higher, but the blue line tracking it proportionately.
From April 2011, the caseload line rockets – but the blue line stays constant. This shows how the current government intensified its WCA scrutiny of disabled people – but the number of discontinued claims stays the same, and even goes down slightly toward the end of the data while the red line climbs steeply.
If, as Shapps is claiming, the scrutiny was revealing large numbers of people on disability benefits who shouldn’t really be claiming, you’d see the blue line keep pace with the red – or even start to close the gap.
But you don’t – all you see is the same old ‘churn’.
Imagine we were talking about death rates in a particular city. It’s a huge city, so every month 10,000 people or so die of various causes. Then the government opens a new hospital. A year later, someone looks at these figures and uses the total of people who had died since the hospital opened to support a headline:
New hospital kills 120,000 people!
It would only take a look at the data to see that the death rate was the same as usual, and that the headline was nonsense – but a lot of people wouldn’t know where to look, or want to bother to look, and so might be fooled. You might have mobs attacking the hospital to burn this ‘deadly edifice’ down – all because of the cynical, knowing abuse of information.
This is exactly what Shapps is doing with his ESA claim, with the support of the usual suspects in the media. If people are fooled, it can lead to increased attacks on disabled people as the ignorant assume they’re probably just idle lead-swingers – and even of those not moronic enough to attack people physically, many will be fooled into standing by while the government conducts its no less deadly financial assault on the vulnerable (disabled or not).
This makes Shapps’ ploy even more cynical, even more damnable and even more criminal than it first appeared. The ‘man’ should be railroaded out of office faster than you can say ’employment support allowance’.
But in this government, it probably means he’s in line for a promotion.