Ministers ‘misuse’ figures to show UK ‘is world leader’ on disability spending


theweeksubWork and pensions ministers have been making misleading use of international statistics in a bid to justify cuts to disability benefits and services, an analysis by Disability News Service suggests.

Esther McVey, the Conservative minister for disabled people, has told MPs how OECD (the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) figures show the UK government “are world leaders” in spending on services and benefits for disabled people.

And Lord Freud, the Conservative welfare reform minister, told fellow peers in June this year that the UK spends “almost double the OECD average” on disabled people, spending 2.4 per cent against the OECD average of 1.3 per cent in 2009.

McVey has repeatedly used the OECD figures over the last eight months to justify her government’s cuts to disability benefits.

Lord Freud also claimed in June that only two of the other 33 OECD countries spend more than the UK on disability.

The figures have also been used in McVey’s Fulfilling Potential disability strategy document, published earlier this year.

But the two ministers have only been able to make these claims through a selective and misleading use of the OECD statistics.

It is only the latest example of senior Conservative figures using misleading statistics in an attempt to justify their cuts to spending on disability.

The OECD table they have been using features one set of figures for spending on “disability”, and another for “sickness” spending.

But McVey and Lord Freud have only been quoting the “disability” figures, and ignoring those for “sickness”, which includes spending on employment and support allowance and incapacity benefit.

Once the disability and sickness figures are taken together, the UK does far less well.

Rather than there being only two OECD nations that spend more on disabled people – as claimed by Lord Freud – there are now six that are more generous than the UK: Denmark, Finland, Iceland, the Netherlands, Norway and Sweden.

The ministers also fail to point out that the OECD average includes spending by countries such as Mexico, Chile, Greece, South Korea and Turkey, which spend very low amounts on supporting disabled people, and therefore skew the figures.

And if a comparison is made between the UK and all of its immediate OECD neighbours – Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, France, Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Iceland and Ireland – the UK’s spending is lower than average.

Where the UK spent 2.9 per cent of GDP on “disability and sickness” in 2009, its nine OECD neighbours spent an average of 3.2 per cent.

Andy Greene, a member of the steering group of Disabled People Against Cuts, said he takes “everything Lord Freud says with a pinch of salt”, and that the government had been shown to repeatedly “exaggerate”, “manipulate” and “lie” with its use of statistics.

Two months ago, DPAC released a report which it said showed how DWP and its ministers had made 35 claims that had “no basis in the facts”.

Greene said: “It is no surprise that the government would use and misuse and misinterpret figures, because that is what they do on a daily basis.”

The Department for Work and Pensions has so far failed to comment.

15 August 2013