Edinburgh East MP and Work and Pensions Select Committee member Sheila Gilmore MP has today written to the UK Statistics Authority following a letter from Tory Work and Pensions Minister Esther McVey in which she admits that the number of sick and disabled people wrongly declared ‘Fit for Work’ by a Government benefits test could be far higher than previously thought.
The benefit in question is Employment and Support Allowance (ESA), which replaced Incapacity Benefit in 2008. The assessment process often involves a face-to-face assessment, and data on the number of people awarded and refused the benefit is published every three months.
Sheila Gilmore raised concerns about these figures in September, and in her reply Esther McVey admitted they are ‘not clear’ and promised to ‘ensure greater clarity in future’.
In practice the number of people being awarded the benefit initially has been artificially inflated by taking into account the results of informal appeals against refusals. This process is known as ‘reconsideration’, and involves people who have been found ‘fit for work’ asking DWP civil servants to look at their cases again. If the decision remains the same then claimants can lodge a formal appeal with HM Courts and Tribunal Service, and separate statistics have previously been published on the number of people on ESA following this further stage.
Sheila Gilmore said:
I regularly meet sick and disabled people who are unable to work but who have been declared able to do so following a flawed ESA assessment.
Up to now we thought that the assessment was getting about one in ten fit for work decisions wrong – far too many in most people’s eyes – but now we know the Government have been fiddling the figures, the reality could be much much worse.
Up until now Ministers led us to believe they were publishing figures that showed the number of people awarded benefit immediately after assessment and before ANY appeals. It now turns out that informal appeals to officials – as opposed to formal ones to judges – were being taken into account.
This has clearly masked the true extent of the failings in the ESA assessment process.
I have now raised this issue with the UK Statistics Authority. Hopefully this will encourage Ministers to fix the test to reduce the number of incorrect decisions, and stop them fixing the figures to downplay the problem.
Notes to Editors:
- Sheila Gilmore’s letter to the Department for Work and Pensions dated 27 September 2013 can be found here.
- The reply from Esther McVey dated 2 November 2013 can be found here. The key section reads: ‘From your correspondence, it is evidence that this is not clear in the publication. We welcome feedback on how we can improve our statistical publications, and we will ensure greater clarity in future publications.Data on all ESA decisions that are revised following reconsideration, which would be required in order to update the tables in the publications, is not available at an individual level.’
- Sheila Gilmore’s letter to the UK Statistics Authority dated 20 December 2013 can be found here.
- Sheila Gilmore is a member of the Commons Work and Pensions Select Committee. You can view the committee’s website here.
- For more information please contact Matt Brennan, Parliamentary Assistant to Sheila Gilmore MP, on 020 7219 7062, 07742 986 513 or firstname.lastname@example.org.