Is it true that 900,000 people chose to withdraw incapacity benefit claims before being assessed?

by richardhutton

Is it true that 900,000 people chose to withdraw incapacity benefit claims before being assessed?

No it is not.

This is a claim made by Conservative MP Grant Shapps during this week – and repeated by the Telegraph:

“The 878,300 who decided not to have an official assessment of whether they were fit for work was more than a third of the total number of people claiming sickness-related benefits”

According to the DWP’s own statistical analysis, from January this year:

“Since the start of the reassessment process up to May 2012 a total of 603,600 incapacity benefits claimants had been referred for reassessment”

These are Incapacity Benefit claimants set to be assessed by the Coalition government. So, it would be pretty difficult for 800,000+ to have withdrawn claims prior to assessment. It adds:

“8 per cent of incapacity benefits claims that were referred for reassessment had not completed the WCA process by November 2012; of these 3 per cent were closed before a decision was made and 5 per cent were still in progress. 38 per cent of claimants were placed in the WRAG”

This data was only released two months ago.

The Employment Minister, Mark Hoban, discussed the time taken for work capability assessments to be completed, in a Parliamentary questions & answers session, during March 2013: roughly two-thirds of assessments had not been completed within 13 weeks – which clearly allows many temporarily incapacitated people time to recover health. During 2011, 310,270 assessments were completed: 208,360 took longer than 13 weeks. During 2012, 240,260 assessments were completed: 196,050 took longer than 13 weeks.

Hoban added: “figures exclude any time spent in the assessment phase after the WCA decision is made—as is the case for appeals. Claims that are closed before the WCA is completed, and those awaiting a WCA decision, are also excluded”.

It is possible that Shapps meant Employment Support Allowance, rather than Incapacity Benefit – which has had no new claimants since January 2011. From the same January 2013 statistical release cited abve, the DWP note that: “30 per cent of claimants had their claim closed before having a face to face assessment”. However, it goes on to say:

“A sizeable percentage of Employment and Support Allowance claims were closed before a face to face assessment took place and a small proportion were still in progress at the time the data were extracted.

Current data does not allow anything conclusive to be said about the destinations of closed and in progress cases, nor to infer what would have been or would be the outcome of assessment. However, the DWP has published research that investigated why some cases closed before assessment. It found that:

‘An important reason why ESA claims in this sample were withdrawn or closed before they were fully assessed was because the person recovered and either returned to work, or claimed a benefit more appropriate to their situation'”

In other words, the 800-900,000 figure being cited by Smith, Shapps, and the Telegraph is baseless, and almost certainly a complete fabrication. This has not stopped media publications repeating it extensively. As the Telegraph article notes: “The statistics emerged ahead of a raft of controversial changes to the benefits system which will come into force this week “.

These statistics will have been part of a press briefing by the DWP. They function as a Trojan horse, designed to help the government gain sympathy for the appallingly severe impact that its welfare reforms will have upon disabled people. Fraud is rife, certainly – but not among disabled people.

Sue Marsh also received a short interview from Sky News on this announcement, which is well worth watching (via LatentExistence) – probably the key point being the government’s claim that 50%+ of people subject to assessments have been declared fit for work – people who had previously been found ill under the same assessments:


Update: I wasn’t the only person to spot Grant Shapps’ claims for the falsehood they are. For a different analysis of how Shapps was distorting the data, see Declan Gaffney’s short piece: ‘Grant Shapps owes us all a correction and an apology’.