MPs set to quiz minister over ‘misleading’ benefit stats


theweeksubMPs are set to hold a one-off evidence session to question a work and pensions minister about the department’s “misleading” use of benefit statistics.

Conservative ministers including work and pensions secretary Iain Duncan Smith and Esther McVey, the minister for disabled people, have faced repeated criticism over the way they have used official figures – particularly on disability benefits – to try to justify the government’s welfare reforms.

But Disability News Service understands that the Commons work and pensions select committee has now decided to ask a work and pensions minister – ideally Duncan Smith himself – to answer key questions about how ministers have used those statistics.

Before they question the minister, the committee plans to hold a closed session with the UK Statistics Authority (UKSA), so that UKSA can brief the MPs on how the Department for Work and Pensions should be using official statistics.

The decision to hold the session was prompted by the Labour MP Sheila Gilmore, who has accused Conservative ministers of “knowingly misusing figures on benefits that disabled people rely on” as part of a campaign to undermine public trust in the welfare system.

She had pushed for a full inquiry into the misuse of statistics by ministers, but the committee – chaired by the disabled Labour MP Dame Anne Begg – is now believed to have settled on a one-off evidence session.

Neither Dame Anne nor Gilmore were available to comment this week.

McVey and Duncan Smith were both caught last month quoting increases in the overall number of disability living allowance (DLA) claimants – including older people and children – to try to explain why they needed to cut the number of people claiming DLA.

But they failed to point out that the number of working-age claimants – the only group who will be affected by the cuts – had actually been falling.

Duncan Smith quoted DWP figures which showed an increase in the total number of DLA claimants of 49,000 from August 2011 to August 2012, rather than figures for working-age claimants, which fell by 5,650 over the same period.

In August 2011, the government claimed official statistics showed the number of DLA claimants had risen by 30 per cent over eight years, when the growth in the number of working-age DLA claimants – excluding demographic factors – was just 13 per cent.

DWP ministers have also been accused of making misleading use of employment and support allowance statistics, in an attempt to justify cuts and reforms to incapacity benefits.

In November 2011, a member of the committee accused DWP of “pandering to the Daily Mail” over the issue of incapacity benefit reform, after it published a misleading press release about the results of its “fitness for work” tests.

A written submission to the Leveson inquiry on press standards by disabled people’s organisations including Inclusion London, the UK Disabled People’s Council and the Disability Hate Crime Network, pointed to strong evidence that disabled people were facing an increase in targeted hostility as a result of newspaper stories based on benefits figures used misleadingly by DWP ministers.

16 May 2013