It is the 40 years since the first Disability Act was enacted and to mark the occasion the BBC commissioned a survey into the public's attitude to disabled people. Interestingly 90% of people thought the Government should do more to help disabled people into work. I found this outlook really refreshing as I recently wrote a piece for the Guardian discussing the need for the Government to recognise that disabled employment must be a two-way conversation: disabled people must be willing to work but employers must be willing to hire. Despite the Government refusing to discuss the fact that it is harder for disabled people to find work, it was great that the average person recognises it as a problem.
Where the BBC survey results were less positive, were in its findings that 40% of people think disabled people would "refuse work even when they have been found capable of doing it". This figure rose to over 50% amongst young respondents and those on low incomes.
Clearly there is a negative perception of disabled people in the UK, which can undoubtedly be attributed in part to right-wing media representation of the disabled. The Daily Mail is notorious for this. A recent front page screamed, "75% of claimants are fit to work", and carried on: "Tough new benefits test weed out the workshy".
You expect this kind of thing from the Daily Mail. But what shocked me is that the 75% figure came from a press release from the Department of Work and Pensions. And the figure is wrong. So it amounts to blatant Government propaganda.
The Government has reached its 75% figure by adding together the 39% of people found 'fit to work' and the 36% of people who have removed their claim during the assessment process. This 36% figure is problematic as there is much anecdotal evidence that those withdrawing their claims are those suffering from mental illness who found the process too frustrating and had a negative impact upon their health condition. So the truth is that the Government has no idea what happens to these 36% of people, as it doesn't track those who withdraw their claim. Which also means that the Government has no idea why they stop the claims process, although of course the Mail is quick to claim its because they were merely 'trying it on'.
But let's turn our attention to the number of successful appeals against ATOS's 'fit to work' decisions. When you follow the 'Notes to editors' link on the DWP's very own press release it reveals a more in-depth report which shows that every month on average 40% of appeals against ATOS are upheld and the appellant is awarded ESA. On average, one third of claimants found 'fit to work' appealed against their decision and 40% were successful with their appeal. So if you do the math, once the whole process including appeals is complete, the DWP is wrong to say 39% are fit to work. In fact, 34% are found fit to work. So overall, at best 70% of ESA claimants are 'fit to work' although my guess is that this would be lower still if those 36% who dropped out of the process were given the right initial support to continue with their claim.
Let me remind you that the Government has access to this data, I've taken it directly from its own report. Yet although the release quotes Grayling saying he is "determined to get the medical test right" the successful appeals against the test are entirely omitted from his ESA headline statistics. 5% may be a small difference, but it is a difference none-the-less when you think that this current Government is so focused on transparency and providing accurate information to its citizens.
So it is seems that the Government has decided to spin the statistics associated with who is and isn't fit to work. Perhaps it suits its current agenda for the public to think that the majority of ESA claimants are 'scroungers'? Perhaps ministers realise they can only get the public to accept their massive welfare cuts if the public think the money is going to the undeserving.
And this might explain why, in today's BBC survey, the number of people who think disabled people choose not to work rises amongst those people who are most struggling to get by in life or get a job. So the Government at least seems to be doing well at one thing: pitting one set of welfare cut losers against another.