Ministers silent after being caught ‘pulling lies out of thin air’


theweeksubMinisters have refused to apologise after being caught “pulling lies and false information out of thin air” in a bid to justify their cuts to spending on disability benefits and services.

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) this week refused to comment on new information provided by Disability News Service (DNS) that shows ministers have repeatedly used figures that give a misleading impression of the comparative level of spending on disabled people in the UK.

At least two Conservative ministers have said in parliament and elsewhere 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.

They claim that only two of the other 33 OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) countries spend more than the UK on disability, with the figures even included in the coalition’s Fulfilling Potential disability strategy document, published earlier this year.

But the OECD figures they have been quoting refer to spending on only one element of disability benefits, and ignore expenditure on employment and support allowance (ESA) and incapacity benefit (IB).

A DWP press officer claimed that this was because DWP statisticians had decided that some of those people on ESA and IB “will not necessarily be disabled”.

But DNS pointed to comments made publicly by both Lord Freud, the welfare reform minister, and Esther McVey, the minister for disabled people, in which they use the OECD percentages and then link them to the UK’s £50 billion a year spending on disabled people.

According to a Freedom of Information Act (FoIA) response to DNS, that £50 billion includes expenditure on disability living allowance, care services… and IB and ESA.

This means ministers are claiming – wrongly – that the £50 billion a year the UK spends on disabled people is almost double the OECD average.

But when it comes to total spending on disability, including “benefits in kind”, such as social care support and rehabilitation services, OECD statisticians have confirmed to DNS that the overall OECD average – including countries such as Mexico, Chile, Greece, South Korea and Turkey, which spend very low amounts on supporting disabled people – is 2.4 per cent, against 2.92 per cent in the UK.

And when 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 actually lower than average, 2.92 per cent against its neighbours’ 3.29 per cent.

But despite DNS passing this information to DWP press officers, they have refused to put the new numbers to departmental statisticians, stating repeatedly that they “stand by the use of those figures”.

Because of this refusal to comment on the new information – and the apparent willingness to leave misleading statistical information uncorrected – DNS has now filed a complaint with DWP’s director of communications, John Shield.

Andy Greene, a member of the steering group of Disabled People Against Cuts, said: “This government’s continued attacks depend on being able to peddle these myths to the public.

“They are extremely accomplished at pulling lies and false information out of thin air, but this time they’ve been caught out, and their silence is telling.

“The public need to start holding ministers to account. We want action over this, we want answers. And those found to be responsible for initiating this need to go.

“It has gone on too long. Disabled people around the UK need to take action, and stand up to these lies and attacks.”

22 August 2013