Press Release: Grant Shapps rebuked by UK Statistics Authority over use of disability benefit statistics

Responding to the UK Statistics Authority rebuking Grant Shapps over his use of disability benefit statistics, Edinburgh East MP and Work and Pensions Select Committee member Sheila Gilmore said:

The UK Statistics Authority has now confirmed that Grant Shapps and the Tory press deliberately misused statistics on disability benefits.

The Sunday Telegraph claimed that 900,000 people on Incapacity Benefit had dropped their claim rather than undergo a medical assessment for the new Employment and Support Allowance (ESA), implying that they were never really ill in the first place and had been playing the system. In reality the true figure was a mere 19,000.

This is part of a campaign by the Conservatives to undermine public trust in welfare. It allows them to prioritise cutting benefits ahead of taxing the richest in their attempts to reduce the deficit. That’s why in the same year that disabled people hit by the Bedroom Tax are having their weekly income slashed, 13,000 millionaires are getting a tax cut of £100,000.

To counter this I’ve been calling for the Work and Pensions Select Committee – of which I’m a member – to question DWP Ministers on this issue. This practice of deliberately misusing benefit statistics has to  stop.

Notes to Editors:

  • Original Telegraph article is here.
  • Letter from UK Statistics Authority is here.
  • See previous stories on this here, here and 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 matthew.brennan@parliament.uk.
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Article for Total Politics: MP calls for inquiry into apparent misuse of welfare figures

Today I’ve written for Total Politics on my calls for an inquiry into the misuse of statistics on disability benefits by Ministers and the press. I’ve reproduced it in full below.

People with disabilities

In recent months I’ve become increasingly concerned about the use of statistics on benefits claimed by disabled people, both by Ministers and the press. As some of you will have read, I complained to the Sunday Telegraph last month when they suggested that 900,000 people on Incapacity Benefit had dropped their claim rather than undergo a medical assessment for the new Employment and Support Allowance (ESA).

The true figure was a mere 19,000. I’ve since escalated this to the Press Complaints Commission and they are now set to force the paper to print a correction and apology.

While this is welcome, it won’t stop the continual stream of stories that appear in the right wing press. Just this week we had Iain Duncan Smith in the Mail and the Express referring to one million workshy benefit claimants, when in reality, one third have been certified as medically unable to work for the time being (although this may change in the future) and another third are single parents looking after children of school age.

That’s why I’ve decided to call for the Work and Pensions select committee – of which I am a member – to hold an inquiry into this issue.

However persuading the Tories on my committee won’t be easy. The government that they support relies on this practice of misusing statistics to give it political cover. In its attempts to reduce the deficit, cutting welfare is seen as more of a priority than taxing the richest. That’s why in the same month that disabled people are being hit by the Bedroom Tax, 13,000 millionaires are getting a tax cut of over £100,000.

Conservative Central Office have clearly decided that, as the government has failed so spectacularly on the economy, welfare is now their only hope of getting the public back on side. Thus my Select Committee colleagues know that any deviation from the strivers versus scroungers narrative is unlikely to be tolerated.

So getting an inquiry won’t be easy. But I’m determined to try.

And this isn’t for Labour’s political advantage.

It’s for people like my constituent John, who uses a wheelchair. He stands to lose his DLA and specially adapted car, forcing him to give up his job.

It’s for people like my constituent Marjorie, who worked hard all her life, took early retirement in her late 50s, but is now being asked to find an extra £14 per week in rent.

If ministers and the press continue to use misleading figures unchallenged, then when the time comes, the government will be able to make further cuts to benefits, and more people like John and Marjorie will suffer.

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Recycling – Tory style

The Tories are good at recycling – recycling of old policies that is!  This week Cameron was suggesting that council and housing association tenancies should not be ‘for life’ . To justify this we get talk about people living in ‘subsidised’ housing who are well enough off not to need the subsidy.  Back in the early 1980s exactly this argument was used to justify removing the direct subsidy to council house rents – anyone else remember the tales of ‘people in council houses with Jags at the door’?   Rents did rise as a result of this, although because the subsidy was never that huge on the whole council and HA rents remained ‘affordable’.  Since then the subsidy has only come to assist new build housing, but that does help with all rents since it makes it possible to build more houses without having to raise existing tenants’ rents too high. The other ‘subsidy’ made is to people to help them afford rent ie Housing benefit – but that’s a subject worthy of a post of its own.

And don’t imagine that this was just Cameron talking off the top of his head as some of the Lib Dems in the Coalition have tried quickly to say. The current English housing minister Grant Shapps was on the Today programme one morning explaining and defending the policy. He and others have been floating such policies through Tory think tanks and policy papers for some time. Maybe the LibDems should have had a look at some of these before ‘signing up’.

Grant Shapps

Tory Housing Minister Grant Shapps

I know that even if introduced this wouldn’t apply in Scotland – but it’s yet another pointer to where the Tories are headed.

As a solution to housing supply shortages it would have limited effect anyway – in Edinburgh (and many English cities will be similar) over three quarters of  council tenants are on housing benefit. Some of these are in work but with incomes so low that they qualify for HB.  Many of those not on HB are retired people with modest works pensions which make them ineligible for HB – and surely even Cameron & Shapps aren’t proposing moving this group on?

The people who really need a subsisided affordable rented house most are actually those who are in work or who want to get into work. In my last post I mentioned how often the Tories talk about ‘making work pay’.  Having access to affordable rented homes is a big help. As so often at the moment with coalition policy announcements it’s not clear that the left and right hands are talking to one another (and that’s inside the Tory party itself).

If  those who ‘work hard’ or are fortunate enough to find employment are pushed out of council and HA housing it will further reduce the sector to being a ghetto of ‘welfare housing’ – something the sector has been working hard to get away from in the last few years with the emphasis on mixed tenure communities.

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