Daily Mail corrects "fit for work" benefits story

3 February 2012

Last week Full Fact complained to the Daily Mail after it claimed that eight out of ten people tested for eligibility for Employment and Support Allowance were found "fit for work".

As we pointed out at the time, the Government figures actually explicitly stated that 57 per cent were found "fit for work" by Work Capability Assessments (before appeals), while a further 21 per cent were also eligible for the benefit as part of the Work Related Activity Group (WRAG).

The Mail reached its figure of 80 per cent by conflating the WRAG with those actually found "fit for work."

Although the article did go on to correctly break down these figures, we felt the first line remained inaccurate and could misinform readers, particularly when accompanied by a headline claiming that the same proportion "CAN work".

So we are pleased that the Mail has today published the following clarification in its page 2 corrections column:

An article last week, based on Department of Work and Pensions statistics, said that eight out of ten people tested for new incapacity benefits had been found 'fit for work'.

We are happy to clarify that this figure included 57 per cent of claimants who were deemed fit for work immediately and a further 21 per cent who, with support, will be able to work in the foreseeable future.

The online version of the article has also been amended to remove the inaccurate claim, although both versions continue to sit under a headline that claims that 80 per cent of ESA claimants "can work".

As the Mail told us in response to our complaint, they continue to believe this is accurate because the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) press release states that those in the WRAG "can do some work with the right help and support." The Sun ran with a similar headline under the same proviso.

As the Government makes clear: "If you are placed in the Work-Related Activity Group, you will be expected to take part in work-focused interviews with your personal adviser. You will get support to help you prepare for suitable work."

However the DWP also makes clear that in the WRAG "the claimant's capability for work is limited by their physical or mental condition and it is not reasonable to require them to work."

So while those in the WRAG - which can include hospital in-patients, those receiving chemotherapy and those with chronic renal failure - may be able to return to work 'with the right support', this capability for work shouldn't necessarily be taken for granted. The WRAG can also contain, for example, those diagnosed with a terminal condition.

Whether these important caveats will be obvious to anyone without an understanding of the data who saw the Mail and Sun headlines last week is questionable, and we will continue to press the DWP to make the distinction between the "fit to work" and "WRAG" groups more obvious in future releases.

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