Last year the DWP released figures which claimed that 75% of people who had applied for Employment Support Allowance (ESA) were in fact fit for work. This led to lurid headlines in the Daily Express which declared that 75% of people on sickness benefits are ‘skiving’.
The minster Chris Grayling was quoted at the time as saying: ” We now know very clearly that the vast majority of new claimants for sickness benefits are in fact able to return to work. “
If not an outright lie, this was a very deliberate attempt to mislead the public. Which is lying really. And he hasn’t stopped lying since. One Tory MP, Philip Davies went even further claiming: “These figures lay bare the extent of the abuse that was going on under the previous regime”.
36% of this abuse was carried out by people who’s claim was withdrawn before a decision on entitlement was reached. This was seen as evidence of fraudulent behaviour. In fact, the DWP’s own research indicates that it was the precise opposite.
A DWP report quietly published last month (PDF) interviewed people who made a claim for ESA and had either been unsuccessful or had withdrawn their claim. This report explicitly states that: “Most of the interviewees in this research whose claim had been closed or withdrawn before it was fully assessed said they had ended their ESA claim as their health condition had improved.”
In other words they did the honest thing and stopped claiming sickness benefits because they no longer needed it.
This is not something that should have surprised the DWP because back in 2010 a report revealed (PDF) that 41% of ESA claimants who ended their claim did so because they got better and went back to work. A further 30% went onto JSA and only 3% claimed that their health was still so bad they were still unable to work.
So both the DWP and the Tories knew this when they attempted to portray people who had ended their ESA claims as skivers.
The recent report also reveals that many claimants are staggeringly honest, something that’s unlikely to feature on the front page of the Express any time soon. One claimant who ended their claim before their assessment said:
“I was feeling better and I really wanted to get back into normal society and get a job. So I signed myself off. I went into the Jobcentre and told them that I was fit to go back to work.”
The latest report also reveals one of the key reasons people make a claim for ESA is because the Jobcentre told them to: “The ESA claim was often initiated on the advice of, or with the assistance of, a Jobcentre Plus adviser; often following a referral from the individual’s General Practitioner (GP)”
So the abuse claimed by the Tory MP and the Daily Express appears to have been carried out with the direct connivance of the DWP themselves. It seems that there is an increasingly no man’s land for claimants, whereby one DWP official says they are too sick to work, but another DWP department says they aren’t sick enough to claim ESA.
This group are often the most vulnerable to benefit sanctions as they may be unable to complete the jobseeking activity demanded of all Job Seekers Allowance claimants due to health reasons. This is likely to be further compounded should they be referred to the Work Programme where they could face six months workfare or face losing their benefits.
The report found: “Very few customers remembered Jobcentre Plus advisers asking about their health and very few had their health conditions taken into account on their Jobseekers Agreement.”
With more and more people being denied sickness benefits due to the brutal health testing regime overseen by Atos ‘Healthcare’, the number of sick and disabled people facing sanctions is likely to soar.
Whether by accident or design the system punishes the most vulnerable. Those who are intimidated by the thought of appealing decisions, or too sick, too isolated, or just too beaten down by poverty and ill health to make a fuss are the ones likely to face sanctions or lose vital benefits. The pretence is that the constant health testing and sanctions regime is designed to give people the push they need to get them back on track and working to increase the profits of the rich like good little subjects. The sad truth is that all these little pushes are causing many people to fall off the cliff.
More and more benefit claimants are ending their own lives under the pressure of poverty and the endless attacks on welfare. Perhaps it’s time the DWP was honest about their intentions and included suicide as a successful outcome for the poverty pimp bastards like Atos and A4e who carry out the department’s dirty work.