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The ‘Working Welfare’ Report By Reform Got Its Percentages Wrong

February 8, 2016


Spotted here.
The report “Working welfare: a radically new approach to sickness and disability benefits” was prepared by Reform which claims to be ‘politically independent’ and is led by Andrew Haldenby, former head of the political section in the Conservative party’s research department.  The report is seen by many disability groups as being based on nothing more than the ideological aims of the Conservative party.  Report writer Charlotte Pickles, senior research director at Reform, was Iain Duncan – Smith’s DWP ‘Expert adviser’ for two years after her appointment in May 2010 at the time of the General Election, she also worked for over 3 years as Policy Director for the Centre for Social Justice (CSJ) between 2007 and 2010.  The CSJ was co – founded by Duncan Smith and Tim Montgomerie in 2004.

Fellow senior researcher, Ed Holmes, worked as a consultant for 4 months with the highly controversial firm Maximus, recently slated by the National Audit office for ongoing problems in assessing Employment & Support Allowance claimants for their fitness to work.  Since Maximus took over, the cost of assessments has escalated by an estimated 65% with costs rising £115 to £190 per assessment.  Holme’s background also includes 5 years with ‘Policy Exchange‘, once described as Cameron’s favourite think tank.    

Remaining researchers, Hannah Titley and Ben Dobson, appear to lack the necessary experience and credentials to get to grips with the reality; namely Iain Duncan Smith’s catastrophic mismanagement of sickness benefit reforms which have done so little to help sick people back in to work.

With such a strong lean to the right, it is hardly any surprise that the report zealously over defends the IDS ideology, the writers appear unaware of the root cause of 5 long years of IDS chaos, it’s been a sea of 1.1 million sick people having to appeal for their benefits, over 1 million having to claim the same benefit more than once because there’s no prospect of employing people who are profoundly unwell.   

Perhaps if the researchers had paid a little less attention to their ideologically driven assumptions, they wouldn’t have drawn the following misguided conclusion:
“In the quarter to May 2015, just 1 per cent of claimants in the ESA Work Related Activity Group (WRAG) – those deemed able to carry out activity to help them move towards work – left the benefit.”

What the researchers have (incorrectly) done is assume that 16,940 claimants have come off Employment & Support Allowance in Work Related Activity Group by simply looking at the DWP’s ‘off flow’ figures for the May 2015 quarter.  The 1% figure would relate to the 177,010 claimants who came off Employment & Support Allowance in the same quarter (16,940 being approximately 1%) rather than the 476,500 claimants actually in the Work Related Activity Group as of the May 2015 quarter, making the percentage 3% rather than 1%.

Getting the percentages wrong is a poor start,  how about the rest of it?   

It’s duff research, the researchers haven’t done their home work.  
Wrong on several counts.  In the first instance the researchers have paid no attention to 31,240 Employment & Support Allowance designated ‘unknown’ in the same May 2015.  The DWP annotation is clear “where the claimant is not in receipt of any benefit payment then the stage of benefit is shown as unknown“.  This means that where the claimant, whatever phase they are in, is not in receipt of a payment (some only being credited with National Insurance contributions), they will be shown as ‘unknown’.  The researchers have no way of ascertaining how many of the 31,240 claimants marked ‘unknown’ in the May 2015 quarter were in fact in the Work Related Activity Group.

Secondly, they make an incorrect assumption over claimants shown as an ‘off – flow’ in the ‘Work Related Activity Group’ as always having been in the group. The group or ‘phase’ is only shown relative to the payment the claimant was in receipt of at the time they ‘off – flowed’ from Employment & Support Allowance.

Thus a claimant who was initially in the Assessment Phase, then placed in the Support Group before being reassessed in to the Work Related Activity Group, then leaves ESA, will ‘off flow’ in the group or phase they were in relative to the end of their claim (the example I’ve just cited would be a Work Related Activity Group off flow).  The phase statistics provide no indication of the history of the claimant prior to their claim ending.
Reform incorrectly associate off – flowing Employment & Support Allowance claimants in the Work Capability Group with claimants who have consistently been in the group by their failure to acknowledge an adverse appeal exit.  Let’s say we had an ex – incapacity claimant who qualified for Employment & Support Allowance and is then subsequently placed in the Work Related Activity Group.  Assuming he or she goes through the appeals process and is found fit for work by the appeal tribunal.  The same claimant will show as an off flow in the Work Related Activity Group because that would be their last payment before their claim ends due to the adverse appeal finding.

Reform put very little in relevant context.  What the full figures show, save for what I’ve already pointed out on the Work Related Activity Group off flow figures, is that between December 2011 and May 2015, the following off flow figures are recorded by the DWP:

  • A total of 2,180,0130 claimants ended claims for Employment & Support Allowance; of which:
  • 466,430 were designated as ‘unknown’ status.
  • 1,275,940 were in the Assessment Phase
  • 236,090 were in the Work Related Activity Group
  • 201,540 were in the Support Group

A substantial number of claimants do come off Employment & Support Allowance, the vast majority in the Assessment Phase. Equally, the figures show 236,090 to have exited their claims when in receipt of a Work Related Activity Group payment.

Reform mention the static number in the Work Related Activity Group (476,500 as of the May 2015 quarter) without looking at the numbers assessed in the group via a Work Capability Assessment.

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