A committee of MPs has blasted cabinet minister Iain Duncan Smith and Tory chairman Grant Shapps for contributing to “negative views” of disabled people. The pair both played central roles in abuses of statistics designed to attack welfare claimants.
In a report released today, the DWP select committee states:
“The Government is doing a great deal to promote a positive image of disabled people but this risks being undermined if the language used in DWP press releases and ministerial media comments about benefit statistics adopts a tone which feeds into negative views about people on benefits, including disabled people.”
“Government statistics should be used objectively to shed light on policy implementation, not to prop up established views and preconceptions.”
Grant Shapps was quoted in an official Tory press release implying that disabled people were coming off benefits in droves because they weren’t really ill:
“878,300 people claiming incapacity benefit—more than a third of the total—have chosen to drop their benefit claim entirely rather than face a medical assessment, new figures have revealed.”
But it later emerged that the release fudged two unrelated measures together and failed to make clear that many people recovered from their genuine illness before they were sent for a test — as opposed to pulling out because they were milking the system.
In evidence to the committee, DWP’s top spinner John Shield (who has since jumped ship to the BBC) lay the blame squarely with Shapps’ team at CCHQ:
“This is really simple. I knew you would ask, so I have checked with the press office. In no way, shape or form was anyone involved in the production of this. They were not, and I have been assured that this is purely a piece of party output [...] no one in the press office or in communications had any role in that; it is a party matter.”
But Shield was unable to deny DWP’s involvement with a second incident highlighted by the committee. Last April Iain Duncan Smith claimed of the government’s household benefits cap that “Already we’ve seen 8,000 people who would have been affected by the cap move into jobs”.
But the UK Statistics Authority found that the release was “unsupported by the official statistics published by the Department” and that the original statistics stated explicitly that the figures cited by IDS “are not intended to show the additional numbers entering work as a direct result of the contact [with DWP]”.
And then there’s the press release that had to be amended after describing benefits as “welfare hand-outs”.
Picture: Anna Strumillo