Iain Duncan Smith was recently subject to a humiliating rebuke from the UK statistics watchdog after lying about the impact of the benefit cap. Now it’s the turn of former get rich quick scammer Grant Shapps after he claimed that almost one million people had come off sickness and disability benefits rather than undergo the notorious Work Capability Assessment carried out by IT firm Atos.
Shapps’ claim was a shabby attempt to smear those with serious illnesses or disabilities as fraudulent, by attempting to claim hundreds of thousands of people came off benefits rather than face an assessment. As pointed out by the chair of the UKSA, Andrew Dilnot, the figures Shapps used actually largely related to the number of new claims dropped before an initial assessment between 2008-2013.
Assessments usually do not take place until several months after a person has made an initial claim for out of work sickness and disability benefits ( now called Employment Support Allowance or ESA). This means large numbers of claimants with short term conditions, such as a broken leg, go back to work before the assessment is complete and therefore end their claims.
The truth is that the number of claims ended before assessment shows that most ESA claimants are honest, and end their claim for benefit when they no longer need it – the very opposite of what Shapps was attempting to suggest.
According to the New Statesman between: “March 2011 and May 2012, just 19,700 (somewhat short of Shapps’s “nearly a million) abandoned their claims prior to a work capability assessment in the period to May 2012”
It’s hardly surprising that Grant Shapps – a man who made his money running a string of spam websites under a false name – should be caught fibbing. But what is even more telling is why he is fibbing.
Against a backdrop of disabled people facing soaring hate crime, Shapps is trying to whip up the mob by misusing figures which he claims proves most sick and disabled claimants are fraudsters like him. Claimants who may have the most severe disabilities, life threatening or terminal illnesses like cancer or serious and complex mental health conditions. Claimants who are already having their lives plunged into chaos by the other changes to benefits such as the bedroom tax and council tax benefit reform.
It is not enough for Shapps and his Government to strip away what little financial security many sick and disabled people have with heartless and needless cuts. He also seems to want claimants falsely labelled as criminals in not just the gutter press but also in the streets.
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