“Eight out of ten people tested for new incapacity benefits were found to be fit for work, official figures revealed yesterday.”
Daily Mail, 25 January 2012
Monday’s decision by peers to block the Government’s proposed cap on the amount households can claim in benefits has received a lot of attention in the media, and it continues to exercise a number of newspapers and commentators this morning.
The Daily Mail in particular devoted many column inches to the story. On its front page, the Mail celebrates the former Archbishop of Canterbury who “blasts clerics who oppose welfare reform”, while on its inside pages the paper claims that one in five of those “tested for new incapacity benefits” were found “fit for work”.
Regular Full Fact readers will know that this is a claim that has been repeatedly misreported in the past.
So are today’s claims any more accurate?
Unfortunately, a cursory look at the statistics released by the Department for Work and Pensions shows that the paper’s report suffers from the same inaccuracies that we’ve highlighted on numerous previous occasions.
Indeed the first line of the Department’s press release notes that: “The latest figures show that 57 per cent of people who go through the Work Capability Assessment are found fit for some form of work.”
Apparently ignoring this, the Mail has arrived at its figure of ‘eight out of ten’ found fit for work by adding to this group those who were placed in the Work Related Activity Group (WRAG) after their assessments – some 21 per cent of applicants. Together these two groups account for 78 per cent of those assessed.
However as we have stated in the past it is quite wrong to describe those placed in the WRAG as ‘fit for work’.
Last year the Government published details on the conditions that entitled Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) claimants to be placed in the WRAG. These included those:
- “Suffering from a life threatening disease in relation to which there is medical evidence that the disease is uncontrollable.”
- “An in-patient in a hospital or similar institution.”
- “[Receiving] regular weekly treatment by way of by way of haemodyalisis or chronic renal failure.”
- “Receiving treatment by way of intravenous, intraperitoneal or intrathecal chemotherapy.”
Clearly most in this group could not be expected to work at the time of their assessment, but have been placed in the WRAG because, with the right support, they may be able to return to work at some point in the future.
This is an important distinction, and it is for this reason that the DWP in its statistics separates the WRAG from those claimants found “fit for work”. Sadly this distinction has not been recognised by many newspapers.
There is also a secondary problem, which is that many of those initially refused ESA go on to appeal the decision. The statistics released by the DWP show that some 38 per cent of appeals are successful. If we account for this, then the proportion found fit for work by work capability assessments falls to 53 per cent.
The Mail does breakdown the statistics into those found to be “no longer eligible for the hand-outs” and those who “could carry out some sort of work with the right support” further in to its article.
However it only does this after erroneously claiming that eight out of ten were fit to work in both the headline and the first line of the article.
The Work and Pensions Committee, academics and Ministers themselves have voiced concerns over the accuracy of press coverage of welfare reform after Full Fact highlighted the issue. That the Mail has made and corrected this same error in the past makes it all the more disappointing to see it resurface again.
We will be contacting the Mail to ask that they print a correction.