The truth is out there
Local councils have been using discredited lie detector tests on benefit claimants. But we’ve discovered a new truth detector – and initial tests on 10 government statements suggest it works.
Warning: This section features a brief flicker effect. If you are sensitive to flashing lights, use the non-flicker version.
“I think the Work Programme is now for the first time ever working with people, who were once on sickness benefits and who are now not, going back to work.”
Iain Duncan Smith, on BBC One's Andrew Marr Show, 6 April 2014
Only one in 10 people have been helped back to work by the Work Programme, and just one in 20 people on sickness benefit who were on the programme found work (the target was one in six). In half of the areas where the scheme is being run, people would have been more likely to get a job if they hadn't taken part in the programme.
Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary, Liam Byrne, said: “The government missed every single one of its minimum targets and in nearly half the country, the Work Programme is literally worse than doing nothing.”
The DWP claims that 32% of new applicants for Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) were judged capable of work between 2008 and March 2013. But this figure does not include successful appeals, which are running at 43% – an all-time high, and the highest for any benefit. The Public Accounts Committee attributed this success rate of appeals to “poor decision making”.
DWP data collected between June 2011 to December 2013 show that, out of 235,070 attachments to the Work Programme from the three main ESA payment groups, just 5.1% achieved a “Job Outcome” – employment sustained over at least 13 weeks. The Job Outcome figure for the long-term sick or disabled, who were transferred on to ESA from previous Incapacity Benefit, is 1.8% for the same period.
The DWP itself estimated that without intervention, 16.5% of ESA claimants would find work by themselves within two years.
“The DWP has led the way in openness and transparency…”
DWP spokesperson, May 2014
As well as criticism from the Work and Pensions Committee, The National Audit Office (NAO) also complained of a “fortress” mentality among those assigned to the Universal Credit programme and “a culture of ‘good news’ reporting that limited open discussion of risks and stifled challenge.”
The NAO said that there was no “detailed view of how Universal Credit is meant to work”, and the Public Accounts Committee described the team as “isolated and defensive”.
The DWP has refused to release four documents requested under the Freedom of Information Act, which would reveal the scale and nature of problems with Universal Credit, and show whether the DWP had misled the public in saying that the scheme was “on track and on budget”.
They justified the refusal to make these documents public on the grounds that they would have a “chilling effect” – inhibiting the candour of those contributing to such reports. The First Tier Information Tribunal disagreed, saying at a hearing in early 2014 that, on the contrary, there was a “strong public interest” in the documents being published.
The DWP sought leave to appeal this ruling but this was refused in April 2014, which meant that, under the FOI Act, the DWP would have to publish the reports or appeal the refusal of consent to appeal. Rather than publish, they appealed for leave to appeal directly to the Upper Tier Tribunal, which, at the time of writing, is still deliberating.
“We've seen a rise [in claims for Disability Living Allowance] in the run-up to PIP [the new Personal Independence Payments]. And you know why? They know PIP has a health check. They want to get in early, get ahead of it. It’s a case of ‘get your claim in early’.’’
Iain Duncan Smith, Daily Mail, 8 April 2013
Iain Duncan Smith claimed there had been sharp rises in the north-east (an increase of 2,600) and north-west (4,100 claims for the benefits over the past 12 months, more than double the 1,800 in the previous year), both places where the roll-out of PIP began in April 2013.
This was apparently backed up by Esther McVey, Minister for Disabled People. Earlier that week, the Mail had reported McVey talking of an “extraordinary ‘closing-down sale’ effect, with rocketing claims as people rush to get their hands on unchecked ‘welfare for life’,” before the introduction of PIPs.
There is always a flow of people moving off benefits into work. By using terms like “getting in early” and “closing down sale”, IDS and Esther McVey were claiming that these flows had increased by more for those affected by the change from DLA to PIPs than for other claimaints.
This was the opposite of the truth. In the period IDS was referring to – August 2011 to August 2012 – the figures show that the number of working-age claimants fell by 500 in the north-east and by 3,600 in the north-west.
In response to a complaint by Disability News Service, the DWP admitted that Iain Duncan Smith had been quoting the total number of people claiming DLA, rather than the number of working-age claimants. Duncan Smith's figure included pensioners and children, who are not even affected by the change from DLA to PIP.
“Under the current system of DLA [Disability Living Allowance], 71% of claimants get indefinite awards without systematic reassessments.”
DWP Press release 3 February 2014
In response to a complaint from the charity, Parkinsons UK, the UK Statistics Authority took this up with the DWP, who said that the figure of 71% referred to the total proportion of the DLA caseload which had an "indefinite award" as at August 2010.
Based on the DWP’s own statistics, UKSA said: “We consider that the statement ‘71% of claimants get indefinite DLA awards without systematic reassessments’ should have been phrased differently, to convey the fact that it refers to the total 'stock' figure rather than the proportion of new claims which result in an indefinite award (23 per cent in 2010).”
“More than 50% of decisions on entitlement [to Disability Living Allowance] are made on the basis of the claim form alone, without any additional corroborating medical evidence.”
DWP press release, 3 February 2014
The Department of Work and Pensions implies that people are getting benefits too easily and on the basis of insubstantial evidence. This was one of the key claims underpinning IDS’s decision to abolish DLA and replace it with the new Personal Independence Payment (PIP) benefit instead.
But the DWP’s own statistics show that 90% of claims for Disability Living Allowance (DLA) are backed up by medical evidence and assessment.
After a complaint by the campaigning organisation, Parkinsons UK, the DWP admitted that these statistics were “ambiguous and had not been rechecked by the Department's analysts as is the usual practice”.
Steve Ford, Chief Executive of Parkinsons UK, said: “Using misleading statistics to justify switching from Disability Living Allowance to the shambolic Personal Independence Payment is simply a mechanism to deny many people access to the benefits they desperately need.”
‘Nearly a million people have come off incapacity benefit before going for the test. They’ve taken themselves off.’
Conservative chairman Grant Shapps, quoted in the Telegraph, 30 March 2013
Grant Shapps was commenting on figures released by the government which claimed that: “More than a third of people who were on incapacity benefit dropped their claims rather than complete a medical assessment, according to government figures. A massive 878,300 chose not to be checked for their fitness to work under tests brought in when the benefit was replaced by Employment Support Allowance in 2008.” These exact words were used by various newspapers and other media, indicating that they came from a press release.
The claim was based on two sets of statistics that had been erroneously and misleadingly conflated, according to Andrew Dilnot, chair of the UK Statistics Authority. There was no evidence that people had “taken themselves off” in order to avoid the Work Capability Assessment.
The figure of 878,300 referred to all those who had applied for ESA since it was introduced in 2008, but who withdrew their claim before having a face-to-face assessment. People drop their claims for many reasons – they may have applied as a precaution when they became ill and then withdrawn the application when they recovered, or returned to work even if their condition didn’t improve.
A large group of church leaders pointed out that there was no evidence that people withdrew their applications rather than undergo a medical test, as Shapps had implied. In fact, the figure refers to each time an individual stopped claiming ESA during the assessment period since October 2008. Many of these claims were for short-term problems; others finished when a partner’s income increased, removing them from eligibility. There is no evidence that people withdrew their applications “rather than” undergo a medical test”, which implied that they would have failed.
Sheila Gilmore, MP, Member of the Work and Pensions Select Committee, said in a letter to the Telegraph on 28 Apr 2013, “People generally drop their claim for perfectly innocent reasons – often people become ill, apply as a precaution but withdraw when they get better.”
Universal credit is “proceeding exactly in accordance with plans”.
Iain Duncan Smith addressing MPs in March 2013
"We will deliver this in time and in budget."
Iain Duncan Smith addressing MPs in September 2013
“There's no debacle on Universal Credit.”
Iain Duncan Smith to the Commons Work and Pensions Committee, December 2013
Universal Credit has run into serious trouble on every front: IT, budget and timing, as well as on its central aim: to give people an incentive to work.
- Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith admitted on 5 December 2013 that full introduction of Universal Credit would miss its 2017 target. ITV News (9 Dec 2013) described the project as “on the blink”.
- In its annual assessment of the government’s major infrastructure projects in May 2014, the Major Projects Authority (MPA) scrapped Universal Credit’s former amber/red status (indicating a high risk of failure) and created a meaningless and previously unknown category for it of “reset”.
- The DWP has appealed against a series of information tribunal rulings in an attempt to block publication of four reports that contain further indictments of Universal Credit. This is despite the Work and Pensions Committee saying, in April 2014, that there is a “lack of transparency” on the Universal Credit programme.
- A Commons Work and Pensions Committee report (9 April 2014) says: “There remains worrying uncertainty about the new Universal Credit (UC) IT system. … This includes how it will work, how much it will cost, and who will develop it.”
- Universal Credit was supposed to be rolled out nationwide in October 2013, with a million users predicted by April 2014. By November 2013, according to DWP figures released in February 2014, it was being claimed by fewer than 3,610 individuals in the UK.
- The National Audit Office’s September 2013 report accused the DWP of having a “good news” culture, a lack of transparency, inadequate financial controls on the project and, perhaps most damagingly, a lack of any detailed plan in relation to Universal Credit.
- The Public Accounts Committee says that £425 million had been spent as of November 2013, the majority of which it expects to be wasted.
“For adults with disabilities the courts have upheld all of our positions on [the bedroom tax] against much of the complaints.”
Iain Duncan Smith in the Sunday Politics Interview, 9 March 2014
Here are just four of the many successful appeals against the bedroom tax, brought by adults with disabilities: Surinder Lall v Westminster Council; anonymous disabled woman v Redcar & Cleveland Borough Council; Margaret Rose v Islington; anonymous couple v Herefordshire Council.
1. Surinder Lall won his bedroom tax appeal against Westminster council, saying his spare room was used to store vital equipment to aid him in his life and work, as he is blind. (The Guardian, 26 September 2013).
2. A disabled woman, who was unable to share a bedroom with her husband, won what was thought to be the first successful appeal against the bedroom tax in England. A tribunal found that the local authority, Redcar & Cleveland Borough Council, who claimed they were under-occupying their three-bedroom house had “not taken into consideration her disabilities and her reasonable requirements”. (Mirror, 3 October 2013).
3. Islington Council threatened Margaret Rose with a cut in benefits of up to £30 a week for having an “extra bedroom” – actually a box room used to to store the clothes and equipment for her 32-year-old severely disabled son, Steven, who comes home for two or three nights every week. The Social Security and Child Support Tribunal judge said she sympathised with Mrs Rose, and ruled that she should not be financially penalised for having an extra room. (Islington Tribune, 22 November 2013).
4. A tribunal overturned a decision by Herefordshire Council that a couple’s housing benefit had to be cut because they were “under-occupying” their two-bedroom flat. The judge ruled that the disabled man and his wife do need to sleep in separate bedrooms due to the husband’s disability. (Disability News Service, 11 October 2013).
“Around 1 million people have been stuck on a working-age benefit for at least three out of the past four years, despite being judged capable of preparing or looking for work.”
Iain Duncan Smith quoted in the Daily Express and the Daily Mail, 24 April 2013
The Economist describes IDS’s assertion that a million people who could be expected to work are choosing not to, as relying “on an extreme sleight of hand”. It’s true that a Department for Work and Pensions report, Duration on working-age benefits claims, gives a figure of just over a million people who have been claiming one of the main working-age benefits for between three and four years – but it’s not true that they have all been “judged capable of preparing or looking for work”.
For a start, 187,000 are in the the Work Related Activity Group (WRAG) “in the hope that they may be able to undertake work-related activities that might help them back into a job at some point in the future” [our emphasis]. This could include people who are suffering from a life threatening disease, are in-patients in hospital, are receiving weekly dialysis or are having chemotherapy.
A further 117,000 have not yet had a Work Capability Assessment, so cannot possibly have been “judged capable of preparing or looking for work”.
Others have only recently been moved from Incapacity Benefit into the phase where they will be reassessed. But, according to the DWP’s own statistics, fewer than one in three of these are likely to be found fit to work, and of those, many will successfully appeal.
“Already we've seen 8,000 people who would have been affected by the [benefits] cap move into jobs. This clearly demonstrates that the cap is having the desired impact.”
Iain Duncan Smith, quoted in the Daily Mail, 13 April 2013
The Welfare Reform Act 2012 limited the total benefit a household can receive to £500 per week for a family and £350 per week for a single person with no children. Before this benefit cap was even piloted in April 2013, Work and Pensions Secretary, Iain Duncan Smith, claimed that it was giving people a “strong incentive” to look for jobs and changing their behaviour.
The TUC complained that this misrepresented the DWP’s own statistics, and, replying in an open letter, Andrew Dilnot, chair of the UK Statistics Authority (UKSA), stated that IDS’s claim was “unsupported by the official statistics published by the Department [for Work and Pensions].”
Jonathan Portes, director of the National Institute for Economics and Social Research and a former chief economist at the DWP, told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme, "The actual analysis published by the Department for Work and Pensions makes it quite clear that they do not attempt to analyse any impact of behavioural change and that there is as yet no evidence one way or the other that there is behavioural change."
Questioned by the House of Commons Work and Pensions Committee in December 2013, IDS said: “[UKSA] said that whilst we could not prove that they had gone in [to work] or could not prove that they had not, but I should therefore not make the link other than that I believe it to be the case that those people are going back into work is hugely to do with the fact that we introduced the cap.”
Which seems to translate as: “I’m just making it up.”