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The truth about sicknote Britain

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Mark Easton | 14:45 UK time, Thursday, 28 April 2011

According to one screaming tabloid headline today: "Blitz on benefits: 887,000 fiddlers exposed". Echoing stories in many of this morning's papers, the Daily Express says that three-quarters of Incapacity Benefit (IB) claimants are "workshy spongers feigning serious disability". Shocking, if true.

But it isn't true.

pills on a prescription

The red-top press has worked itself up into a lather of indignation and fury over statistics that are variously described as evidence of "Britain's sicknote culture", "greedy skivers" and "benefit cheats". So, let's examine the facts.

The source for all this is the latest batch of data from the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) on applications for Employment Support Allowance (ESA), a benefit introduced two-and-a-half years ago by the Labour government. Today's figures relate to the period between October 2008 and August 2010 - a time, for the most part of course, when Labour was in power.

The key point, though, it that these are new applicants - people applying to see if they might be eligible for additional financial support.

Some will be trying it on, knowing they are quite well enough to work but hoping to hoodwink the assessors into giving them sickness benefit. But I suspect many are simply individuals who don't want to miss out on a welfare payment to which they may be eligible. There is nothing 'dodgy' about seeing if you meet the criteria for something.

The DWP exhorts the public to ensure their full benefit entitlement. For instance, the department has regularly encouraged people to ensure they "don't miss out" on council tax benefit while the Mayor of London also has a scheme called "Know Your Rights".

So, it could be argued, that applicants for ESA are doing what they are told. Unsurprisingly, many people learn that under the tough new medical assessments, they do not qualify. Others, on realising that they have to undergo detailed checks, withdraw their application.

Are these people really workshy spongers? One can easily imagine someone who believes their depression or back pain has contributed to their unemployment and wanting to see if their condition entitles them to the slightly more generous payments under ESA than JSA (Jobseekers Allowance). That would seem to be common sense, not greed.

Government campaign image

Some newspapers, though, appear to have misunderstood the point. The Daily Express, for instance, says the figures "suggest that more than £4billion of taxpayers' money is wrongly paid out" to scroungers. But, of course, nothing has been paid out to any of the applicants because they are not yet receiving the benefit.

Extrapolating the data from new applicants to those already receiving IB risks comparing apples and oranges because those in receipt of IB have already been through an assessment.

The government has just begun rolling out its programme for re-assessing existing IB claimants amid controversy over the fairness and accuracy of the medical checks, but it would be a surprise if the proportion deemed "fit to work" was anything like the 39% of new applicants who have not been previously assessed.

To recap then: the figures reflect the results of a Labour welfare reform for new applicants to a relatively new benefit. This has nothing to do with a coalition "blitz on benefit cheats" or a "government crackdown on welfare scroungers", however much Ministers would like to spin the stats. I would also note that today's stories bear an uncanny resemblance to reports six months ago on the previous tranche of ESA data which said almost exactly the same thing.

Far from providing evidence of sicknote Britain, the figures could be seen as evidence of citizens following government advice to ensure they "don't miss out".


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  • Comment number 1.

    cheers for the informative post, its becoming necessary to assume an average newspaper story is likely rubbish and work backwards, thanks for doing your job unlike, it seems, most journalists

  • Comment number 2.

    thanks for this, it offers the viewpoint many reasonable humans share. I wish people didn't get sucked in to the tabloids.

  • Comment number 3.

    Do the figures include those who were first denied the ESA by the "medical", but who appealed and then got the benefit? It doesn't seem clear from the article if this is the case or not. I recall reading an article suggesting that a large percentage of the "medical" results were overturned on appeal.

  • Comment number 4.

    Whilst the tabloids sensationalise these and many other matters it is undoubtedly true that there are many thousands of people on incapacity benefit who are capable of work.
    In addition the previous Government encouraged mass immigration for either multicultural society reasons and/or to improve their election chances rather than tackle the unemployment/underemployment problem.
    Eventually somebody would have to do something sensible about the many people who could/should be working and it would have been preferable to do it when the economy was growing and in 'reasonable health' rather than when we have a massive deficit and cumulative debt problem.
    Lqbour as with many other matters preferred to put their heads in the sand and leave it for somebody else to sort it out. Pensions is another similar issue left by Labour.

  • Comment number 5.

    Why is this journalist so naive & ill informed, l live in an area were many people are on benefits & let me tell all the Liberals & luvvies at the BBC that these people are working the system & faking the medical tests. When will the ruling elite in this country realise how naive they are people are working the benefits system everyday & these peolpe know exactly how to get past the medical test. Wake up & realise come & live in these areas for 2 years on a low wage & see perfectly fit able people sitting at home all day on DLA or IB, laughing as idiots like myself trudge off to work because l am to honest to work the system more fool me & more fool the BBC.

  • Comment number 6.

    You can't blame the work shy scroungers. After all they have deliberately been pushed onto these benefits so the sheer magnitude of unemployment in the UK is hidden.
    There is of course two further problems:
    a) The sheer amount of money you have to earn to be better off at work than on these benefits. Many, unless you are in charge of a bank, can't possibly earn as much. In fact on double the national average income I don't (assuming I have to travel to work - which I do - run a car, keep half reasonably clothed, pay my own accommodation, pay my own council tax etc etc etc).
    b) There is also the problem that our government keeps spending our tax on foreign goods and services rather than buying British. This means we are paying to employ foreign workers (Germany, India, America, China, Egypt...) AND also paying for these work shy scroungers.
    c) One last thing, frankly I'd rather pay these work shy scroungers than see the very rich taking massive (10 million a year plus) pay packets and then not paying any tax.

  • Comment number 7.

    I found this article disappointing. Rather than giving us the "The truth about sicknote Britain" it was short of factual information. For example how about telling us the actual number people currently receiving IB/ESA and how this number compares to the number of claimants in previous years or possibly even comparing the UK's percentage of claimants with those of other countries.

  • Comment number 8.

    @Richard M

    As immigrants cannot vote in national elections not sure how immigration would improve Labour's election chances.
    There is no evidence to show that many thousands on incapacity benefit are capable of work. The statement is just like the one made in the 80s that the Conservatives encouraged men over 50 to apply for and receive the invaldity benefit so as to get them off unemployment register in order to manipulate the unemployment figures .
    All Govt's since the 80s have failed to deal appropriately with the issue of pensions. Many final salary schemes have deficits due to the Tories letting companies take payment holidays when the funds were in surplus (thus forgetting that the fund value can go down as well as up). The risk of market crashes is being transferred by employers to their employees by closing such schemes and moving staff to money purchase schemes where they take the risks of a market crash reducing the value of their pensions. And it was Labour who ordered the various pension reviews in order to try and find a solution (which we still don't have).
    Blaming Labour is a nonesense as ALL parties make the same mistakes. The Tories reduced financial regulation following the Big Bang and Labour continued that tradition and the current Government will do the same as they are all cowed by the fact that taking on the financial institutions in this country and globally is just to hard to do.

  • Comment number 9.

    Peter above claims that people are "working the system and faking the medical tests". I'm in receipt of ESA because I have breast cancer. Please explain how I faked that? I also don't think I particularly look like a person with cancer, so the Peters of this world probably think that I too am a workshy scrounger. Based on a working week of 40 hours, ESA translates to around £2.40 an hour. Try living on that, why don't you?

  • Comment number 10.

    428,800 people filled in the claim form then withdrew when they discovered they would have to undergo a medical assessment.

    Not because they were tested and adjudged fit to work, and nothing to do with 'seeing if they met the criteria', but just because they found out it wasn't free money.

    They are the real scroungers of sicknote Britain.

  • Comment number 11.

    The tabloids - and it seems far too many others - are of course wilfully mis-interpreting a set of statistics which, quite frankly, are meaningless when taken out of context.

    What they do tell is the story of the hard-line approach being taken by the DWP through it's 'medical assessors'. These are commercial companies paid on a results basis as well as for their throughput.

    In their contracts there are incentives for 'weeding out' people whom the contractors can 'prove' are capable of working. Unfortunately, due to the need to assess so many people, both new applicants and those currently being forcibly transferred from Incapacity Benefit to ESA, the contractors are it seems unable to employ either properly qualified medical practitioners (especially in mental health) or staff for whom English is their first language.

    The net result is a culture of 'if in doubt rule them fit' - even to the point where people confined to wheelchairs are being classed as 'no physical problems' and individuals who are still out-patients to mental health institutions as having 'no barriers to normal work'. Reports from GPs and consultants are either ignored or mis-represented on the assessment score sheets.

    And so the system is being overwhelmed by appeals against the rulings made by the contractors. Which will cost the DWP even more than whatever money it has saved by out-sourcing the assessments!

  • Comment number 12.

    Universal Declaration of Human Rights 1948
    Article 23.
    (1) Everyone has the right to work, to free choice of employment, to just and favourable conditions of work and to protection against unemployment.

    It's a pretty sick bunch of people who peddle this "benefit cheat" rhetoric. There's plenty of unemployment where I live. For many, it leads to misery and ill health followed by an early death.

    Nothing to get jealous about.

  • Comment number 13.

    This is very, very far from 'unpicking the facts' that is the billing for this story. This is an opinion piece - a series of opinions and assertions. It would be nice if - for once - BBC journalists did do some proper analysis, research and fact checking, rather than publish opinion pieces masquerading as analytical, objective journalism. This, to me, read like the sort of article that a politician would write.. My verdict: you must do better; any average research student could!

  • Comment number 14.

    Having sat in the barbers today and scanned a redtop for the first time in years I was astonished at how little news was in it. They should be subject to a "comic" tax - take out the footie and the babes/celebs and all you have are ads and a few "shock horror" stories.
    So to sickies. Can someone explain why we spend vast sums on the NHS and the number of Motability users just keeps escalating ever upwards? In the sixties and seventies mainly limbless war vets had them - and they were well deserved, and stuck in awful plastic Reliant 3 wheelers. Today Motability has mushroomed to the biggest "Fleet" in the country, and you can choose just about any car you want (from hundreds of free cars to luxury cars with additional payment from the end user). And, of course, nearly all foreign built. Abuse is rife. Or did I miss another World War? No disrespect to the truly needy Motability users intended.
    Similarly with benefit/sickline cheats and cheats in general. In the real world (outside BBC-shire) there are girls selling pregnant urine samples to help others get up the social housing queue, skivers claiming benefits "doing the double" and working tax free for cash, doctors writing sicklines in return for favours/services, sublets on council housing, it's an endless list. In the old days a "reporter" would have done some legwork and written a story, exposing the scams, today it's all researched on the web or cut-and-pasted from PR releases with a spin.
    There are many needy who are entitled to, and deserve support. Sit outside a JobCentre for ten minutes and count the number of smokers getting out of taxis to sign in fortnightly and tell me who are the mugs?

  • Comment number 15.

    Not sure about this article I'm afraid. Just as the tabloids have an agenda to be sensationalist, articles like this always seem to me to be just as biased, setting out to prove the opposite.

    Some of the arguments in other comments seem to me quite compelling, and suggest that this problem is wider than you suggest.

    By all means display some hard facts to disprove something which is completely untrue; but the surmise you use here is just as bad as the DM's, and tries to sweep the problem under the carpet.

  • Comment number 16.

    Mark seems to be taking a very here and now view.......the IB bulge is real enough even if new ESA applicants are on a spectrum from very deserving to not at all.

    It suited Mrs Thatcher to decant some of the dole queue onto the sick. Doctors had no interest in being difficult or prolonging arguments to save DWP's money. Incented to sign off and say goodbye. Well past time to dump IB and start again with a proper filter. ESA sifting follows naturally from the very belated attempt to sort this out. Well done Blair and Brown for finally tackling it and well done Cameron's mob for carrying on into the difficult "back catalogue" phase.

    Better benefits for the seriously disabled (ESA or otherwise) should be a priority. This needs to be a *much* smaller group of people than the current counts.

    Crack on !

  • Comment number 17.

    Wow some proper journalism on this subject. Well done.

  • Comment number 18.

    Do you know what makes me sick? People claiming IB for depression. I suffer from depression. No, really. But I cannot physically bring myself to so much as suggest I couldn't work because of it. I battle through my days and I have complete empathy for other sufferers of this disease, there is not one moment to find pleasure out of a day and that is a terrible thing to go through. You CAN work though. I do. It causes me physical pain to get up and do over 40 hours a week. Deal with it, we're British for goodness sake. Put the yucky stuff in the bin, apply the stiff upper lip and keep going. I think we've created a culture whereby we think because work is harder or worse for us than the general population we are entitled to benefits as much as someone in a wheelchair. Well we shouldn't be, we have a duty to work unless physically (not mentally) incapable. And those with bad backs can just sit (or stand if they prefer) on a checkout. I'm sick of all this, people need to stop crying and get on with it. Stop giving excuses. Life is awful, life is uncomfortable, life is unpleasurable. Your welcome pack is in the post.

  • Comment number 19.

    Mr Easton makes an assumption that anyone already claiming IB is genuine about their condition. I'm sure there are fakers.
    But the real issue here must be PRIDE. He assumes that it is OK for anyone to have a test to see if they are eligible, Surely if you really are too sick to work then you definitely know it.
    An individual should feel shame about receiving money from a society where the majority work hard and contribute a large amount of their income.
    People have lost the feeling of shame over the past few decades. It's our current culture of 'you're entitled to everything, you don't need to apply effort' that has put us in this situation.

  • Comment number 20.

    I am so bloody sick of all this. Since this government came into power they have routinely been briefing against the weakest and most vulnerable people in society - the sick and disabled. Yes, there are some fakers but the DWP itself admits that actual fraud for DLA is less than %0.5 percent. These figures are available on their website. More money is lost through clerical error per year in the DWP than to fraud.

    I am ill with an incurable and incredibly painful neurological condition. I need oxygen on occasion, morphine, sumatriptan injections and several other meds to manage my illness. I *look" normal but I am constantly in excruciating head pain. My medication makes me so sleepy that every day a battle just to stay awake and most days the pain is such that I just stay in bed. I may need to lie down or vomit at any moment of any day. I often wake in the middle of the night screaming in pain. Nobody would hire someone in my condition.

    The tests the DWP use to identify "sick" people are a scandal. Disabled people are being denied benefits because they no longer take one's doctor or specialist's words into account. No, they use "health professionals" (usually nurses) who do not know the client and have only basic information about sickness and disability. Very sick people, including some terminally ill people) are being denied benefit and the appeals rate is 40% (80% when represented by an expert). The high number of appeals shows their tests are not working. I myself was found "fit for work" only to have this overturned on appeal. I was even told that because I need oxygen and morphine I should not have been called to be examined.

    This government has been scapegoating the sick and disabled as if we caused the financial crisis. The PM refers to us as "scroungers", the tabloids smear us at every opportunity and we are constantly told we can no longer afford to take care of the disabled and sick (but there's plenty to go into Libya and buy new aircraft carriers). The level of disabled hate crime has risen sharply.

    The government is sending the message that all sick/disabled people are scroungers and contribute nothing to this country. People like me are frightened about the future and society seems to be telling us we are no longer worth it. Why is it that, whenever economic crises hit, the weakest in society are always targeted? We are human beings, too, and deserve to be treated as such. We are not all "scroungers", but sick and disabled people who want to live as normal a life as possible. It's shame the government and public sees us as expendable..

  • Comment number 21.

    Mark Easton could have written this about me. Last April I sought advice from the DWP about whether I could claim benefits as I could no longer be self-employed because, so I thought, of the arthritis in my back preventing me doing my job. The DWP told me I was entitled to contribution-based ESA - note that I had paid into the system, and was entitled to benefits on that basis. I therefore claimed the benefit and got my £65 a week.

    A couple of months later, when I was still claiming ESA, I had an assessment which told me I was fit for work. No doubt there might have been a job I could do - but I'd been self-employed for seven years, and certainly couldn't follow my profession. My back, at this stage, was worsening steadily and my mobility had reduced to almost nil. So I appealed the decision.

    When I eventually got to see a physiotherapist, he diagnosed a slipped disc, and 8 weeks later with treatment and exercises, I became restored to full health. So I signed off ESA and signed on JSA, as I couldn't return to my self-employment: I'd lost the strength in my muscles needed to stand and massage all day, and so I thought I'd return to office work.

    This, apparently, means that I have dropped my appeal. I would love to have the opportunity to show those at ATOS that I was unfit and that I am now fit. I would also love to be able to get the £20 per week difference between the "appeal" rate of ESA and the "agreed" rate of ESA, but I guess that's now denied me.

    I now have job offers for office work. No thanks at all to the DWP, because they decided that I wasn't entitled to JSA even though I'd been entitled to ESA. If I hadn't had the support of my husband and family I don't know what I'd have done, and I pity those who get thrown off ESA to find they're not entitled to JSA. What then for them? This happened to a friend of mine who has terminal breast cancer - but that's another story.

    We're not all scroungers. Some of us have paid in to the system and are entitled to receive benefits on this basis. What else is a self-employed person to do if they can no longer follow their profession on medical advice? For us there is no sickness benefit, only ESA. Yet to claim this benefit gets us lumped with the lowest of the low. Maybe the media ought to look a bit harder at the people concerned, rather than the "statistics" peddled by the politicians.

  • Comment number 22.

    90% of spongers on benefits are perfectly capable of working, appreciate there are few jobs but can't they sweep the streets or decorate old peoples houses? They prefer to sit watching Jeremy Kyle on their 50" HD TV's whilst smoking 40 a day on the backs of decent tax payers like me...

  • Comment number 23.

    Good article, but isn't it somewhat hypocritical when the BBC's own site carries the same virulent article with inflammatory title: "Benefit applicants - '75% fit to work or drop claims' and carrying on in the same vein as the red tabs you so decry?

  • Comment number 24.

    Typically there's a lot of scaremongering, mis-information and the usual need for the red tops and other Tabloid papers to make scurrilous accusations/allegations and being too lazy or incompetent to bother to investigate and ascertain facts. No-one in their right mind would/could or should object to sensible reform of all benefits so long as its is just that, fair, sensible reform. If it becomes just a cost cutting exercise with no relation to individuals personal circumstances then it becomes unfair to all. It shouldn't be that dificult to sort the wheat from the chaff when it comes to re-assessments for ESA/IB. The problem then is, where do all the jobs come from for the ones deemed fit for work and put on to JSA? Unemployment figures suddenly go through the roof so what will happen next? Do folk get 'farmed off' to training schemes on minimum wage to make unemployment figures look better? Will there be 'real' long term jobs? Minimum wage is just that, its not a living wage, some benefits will need to be retained as a top up so savings in benefit, though there would be some, would only be small in comparison to expectations from govt.
    To those who assume all IB/ESA claimants are scroungers/wastrels and spongers, frankly if you can prove that, use the fraud hotline and report people otherwise go away. Unless you're medically qualified or have an illness/disability yourself then you have no idea how an illness or disability can affect someone, the same condition can have completely different outcomes for people.
    The upshot is, if you have a genuine illness/disability then you'll get the help and support you need and entitled to.

  • Comment number 25.

    Reading this article just reinforces one question I often ask when I am on this does the BBC get away with being so outragously left-wing? This isnt just the odd article or headline, this is a constant drip-feed of left-wing idealism. The television news output is bad enough but this website does not even try to hide it. Is there anyone in the BBC editorial department who has any impatiatiality?

  • Comment number 26.

    Yet more evidence that many of our national newspapers will manipulate stories to fit their own predetermined agendas and their readership's innately prejudiced values.

  • Comment number 27.

    I applied for ESA about 18mnths ago. I have been receiving payments, but the medical assessment was a joke. The assessor told blatant lies in her report. I have appealed and it has been refused. I have sent in numerous letters of proof from my GP, specialist and ex employer who finished me off because of my health, but they are still clinging to the assessors report. I am waiting for the tribunal now. I was told in September that this would be probably be in January 2011, but am still waiting.
    The stress of this going on all the time and the attitude of both the system, press and many comments I read is awful. If anyone thinks I'm going through this to scrounge they must be mad.
    My standard of living isn't living it's existing, I'm having to sell my home and go into rented. Rented is much more expensive than my mortgage by about £300 per month so that really does not help the tax payer at all.
    I do hope that I will one day be able to return to the land of the living and be able to earn my living again, as I was comfortable and had savings, obviously they went before I got benefits.

  • Comment number 28.

    18. At 18:40pm 28th Apr 2011, Christogay wrote:

    Do you know what makes me sick? People claiming IB for depression. I suffer from depression. No, really. But I cannot physically bring myself to so much as suggest I couldn't work because of it.


    This is a very worrying stance.

    To suggest that because, whether through stoicism or simple stubbornness, you opt not to claim a benefit to which you may be entitled, that that benefit should be withheld from others, is an insupportable position.

    If you can manage despite your depression, then you clearly do not merit additional assistance. But you should not delude yourself into thinking that your condition matches all others with a similar diagnosis.

    There ARE people who physically CANNOT work due to depression - and they DESERVE the benefits they are entitled to claim.

    I just hope that your claimed condition does not worsen to the point that you do require extra help, only to find that the benefit has been discontinued due partly to other voices claiming as you do now.

  • Comment number 29.

    Some people are so condescending. My depression was my depression. I took time off work because my work was making it worse. Some people will be able to work through cancer, others will find that it completely removes their ability to work. Every illness has differing degrees. As to the story repeated without question by so many papers today, thank goodness someone is finally questioning it.

    I had an eye condition which could have blinded me. The treatment effectively did for a month until it began to work. I couldn't look at any light, use a screen and the painkillers for the agony made me sick. I tried to claim as I had only £293 to live on for the following month. I was told that because I had received sick pay I wasn't eligible. So does that make me a scrounger? I didn't actually get any money.

  • Comment number 30.

    This report assumes the decisions are correct in saying people aren't entitled to ESA. it ignores the huge number of appeals - so many that lots have to be heard at new venues and/or on Saturdays, and many are successful, especially if people are represented, though government cuts in legal aid will make sure that there will be no help with benefit problems

  • Comment number 31.

    Thank you for the first sensible article I've seen written about these new figures. Though I do agree with the previous poster who points out that the BBC site has the same knee jerk reaction

  • Comment number 32.

    Mark is there anything in the breakdown showing how many appeals were lodged and then how many were won. I remember there was a welfare rights officer in Glasgow? I think who represented 3 deceased claimants who had been found fit but subsequently dies of their illnesses. Do these case show up?

    Peter you are a great walking xray machine if you can look at someone and tell what illnesses they have. When are you volunteering for the medical services after all I'd love it if someone could diagnose my epilepsy. Angina, asthma, crhones, cancer, diabeties, arthritis, ME, MS, lukemia and other illnesses aren't visible and if you can spot them then you'd be a great asset to the NHS.

    I just hope you never have to claim ESA after all you cannot submit a claim without a "unfit for work line" from your GP, are you saying all GP's are fools who hand out lines to everyone. the people who have been medically retired and then found fit for ESA really struggle to comprehend that this is a government policy to save money an despite working for the last 20 years no they can't get ESA unless they are prepared to fight for it and live with the label "Benefit Cheats" dished out by the blinkered media. So its nice to see a blog that challenges the view held by the mass of sheep following the red tops

  • Comment number 33.

    I agree very much with 18:40pm 28th Apr 2011, Christogay.

    Christogay suffers from depression, but just gets on with it. I suffer from chronic back pain, but just get on with it - I'm self employed and I have to try to arrange my work to cause the least discomfort. It's not easy, but let's just show some grit and not give into ailments which make work tougher it would be.

    There's no mechanism for a benefit to compensate for someone being limited by illness such that they can't earn as much as they would when fully well. There probably never will be. So sufferers of many illnesses could have to take jobs that are not what they would like to do. So be it I'm afraid. Better that than sitting back on IB or similar.

  • Comment number 34.

    Those saying that fraud is endemic amongst those already on sickness and disability benefits should really take a look at the DWP's own figures which state that less than 0.5% of DLA is paid out in fraudulent claims...hard to see how the 'crackdown' planned by the DWP will make the well publicised £1.4billion of savings unless they plan to remove benefits from those genuinely in need....surely not. Compare that to the much higher rates of fraudulent claims in Income Support of 2.9% or Jobseekers Allowance at 2.8%. The only benefit which has an overall fraud rate of 0% is the state retirement pension. The much maligned Incapacity Benefit has a estimated fraud rate of a mere 1% which just shows that the 50-66% they are aiming to remove from this benefit will include many who are absolutely entitled to this benefit but are paying the price for not having a voice that politicians and the general public will listen to.
    Those who are saying only pay to the 'properly disabled' please feel free to post your medical training to make the distinction between properly and improperly disabled people.
    We are all in this together according to the Prime Minister, so were the passengers on the titanic but the richer ones certainly did better than those in third class didnt they, thought for the day there.

  • Comment number 35.

    28. thank you for picking up on that comment, it helps no one to bring it down to I can cope with x,y,z so why cant everyone. There is no accounting for degrees of severity in any illness when you look at it in that manner.

  • Comment number 36.

    In stead of picking on those who allegedly scam the benefit system we would all be better off if the resources were used to address those who scam the work and tax systems. Vastly inflated salaries for essentially mediocre performance, golden handshakes, golden handcuffs, bonuses and perks and the 'legal' means which allow and encourage tax avoidance push benefit fraud into insignificance.
    Newspaper proprietors may not claim DLA but they certainly appear to pay themselves very well often at the expense of their employees. How many of them cough up the amount of tax there businesses ought to pay or find themselves a tax haven home to alleviate the stress of PAYE. How frequently do they use their power, position and contacts to ensure that their status quo is maintained knowing the average JSA claimant has no such privilege at their disposal.
    Papers will always slam benefit cheats because newspaper owners don't claim benefits. Let them show an equally zealous concern for tax avoidance and they might gain some credibilty.
    Fraud if it exists, is always wrong but clearly some types of 'fraud' (or at least moral dishonesty) are more wrong than others

  • Comment number 37.

    I had to go through an esa assesment. I didn't pass. I was diagnosed by 2 psyciatrists and my GP with Post traumatic stress disorder and deep depression. This took 6 months to establish and to get the correct balance of medication. I am to have counseling from both the NHS and the charity COMBAT STRESS.

    The ESA assesment took 40 mins by a registered nurse not somone qualified to assess me for mental health issues. The interview made me breakdown in front of her. She said I was fit for work. I just need some space to get well. I want to work. I am NOT A SCROUNGER. By the way, I am also horrified that they send a letter to you GP advising them NOT to write out another sick note. All this stress for a few extra pounds a week not hundreds.

    I have only just come to terms with getting a grip on life to be told by someone who does not know me to put me under so much stress.

  • Comment number 38.

    So, @Colin, you seem to think everyone with an illness is capable of "sucking it up" and working. Would you hire someone like me who would need to take morphine, powerful injections and O2 at work? Most employers would not, and O2 tanks are a hazard in many workplaces. I cannot even take my O2 tank on a bus. My condition is so painful that my neurologist says women who have it claim it is more painful than childbirth. What job would you say I could do? Remember I need to lie down most of the time, I vomit several times a day, often literally scream in pain and my medication makes me fall asleep and has destroyed my short-term memory.

    I know a lot of people want to act tough and say "I can do x, so why can't you, too?" But this is not the kind of society I want to live in. We (used) to take care of and value our sick and disabled, but it no longer seems that way.
    If we are going to tell very ill/disabled people to "just get on with it" and many of us simply cannot, what then? We see what happened in societies where sick and disabled people were considered non-human. Do people like you really want to take our society there?

    The way this country is turning into a compassionless, "I'm alright Jack" place is making many already sick people more sick. Try being a bit more compassionate and thinking of people first and money second. I know money seems to be more important than compassion and common decency for most people, but it doesn't make you less of a man to care about those weaker and less fortunate than yourself. It's called being a good human being.

  • Comment number 39.

    The DWP and/or related Ministers feed tabloids these ready-made "news items" as press releases -- which is why they appear simultaneously, and are near-enough identical.
    Strange how the same technique used to be derided as a symptom of totalitarian regimes......

  • Comment number 40.

    a good opening article

    there is nothing wrong with supporting, setting goals, even checking out people on benefits - in an ideal world there would be realistic and healthy work for many disabled people, the majority of whom want to give back to society. For some it is very difficult to play a part in the workplace so the goals might be lower;

    IT IS WRONG TO START THE DEBATE WITH SUCH A PEJORATIVE FOCUS... OBESE CLAIMANTS... CHEATS... it leaves me thinking the decision has already been made, i think the majority of claimants are genuine

    might it be ok for some to work 3 days per week but need some support
    or 6 hrs
    or only volunteer (and in doing so earn some credits)
    some of the above need a more flexible person centred benefits system...

    I ran my own business, worked 50 - 70 hr weeks, had a severe breakdown, 5mnth in hospital... lots of medication (a blow) and am now someone who struggles...
    I volunteer as a teaching assistant 2days/wk, i am a tenant director at a social housing association (my landlord - who i also did lots of volunteering) and i am taking an nvq l3 supporting teaching and learning in schools... i want to work...
    BUT i might not be able to do a 40hr week the system as it stands now holds me back... i have recently felt more anxiety and depression than for a long time due to this...

    FINALLY a big problem it seems to me is that many people, journalists included seem to feel that depression / mental health issues are 'not real'... so lets get real here should society make suicide easier? make suicide less of a taboo? do our scientists know enough about mental health? are our ways of working making us breakdown? are treatments good enough? is suicide the cheapest option for society? it seems many people have decided i am scum for needing benefits...

  • Comment number 41.

    And when since did anyone read the Express to get the facts? Whatever next: economic projections by Hello magazine? Nobody "reads" the Express for information, just to have their own prejudices reinforced. There may well be those who work the system, but quite frankly they are welcome to it if they are happy to jump through all those hoops for the grubby pittance at the end of it. No dignity, no shame, just a few bottom of the social heap scumbags getting what they don't deserve. We should pity them for the paucity of their aspirations.

  • Comment number 42.

    re 18 christogay

    i believe this person is spreading a lie about depression, it is the difference between a bad cold and flu... with serious debilitating depression you just cannot get on with it... you may be cutting yourself... attempting suicide... certainly incapable of looking after yourself... it is important to challenge this lie - if someone said you should just get on with it if you had cancer... it would be offensive garbage... this is too

  • Comment number 43.

    "20:23pm 28th Apr 2011, Static wrote:
    So, @Colin, you seem to think everyone with an illness is capable of "sucking it up" and working..."

    Of course not. Why must everything be so black and white to some people? Where did I say the word "everyone"?

    I'm saying that there are many people who can work, but have to accept that they can't have the same job as they would have if fully well. Some of us get on with it, and others don't. It's not just about money, it's about an attitude to life.

    Of course there are those who genuinely cannot work or who could do very little, and they are those who are entitled to proper benefits.

    Did I really have to spell that out?

  • Comment number 44.

    Christogay, I am pleased you have been able to work through your depression. I, however, have not been able to, because the stress I experienced in my job (working for the DWP) made this impossible. I'm not talking about feeling unhappy, or a bit low, I am talking about being unable to cope with the changes which were being made, not being able to get through the day without crying in the toilet, self-harming, being unable to sleep because of anxiety about going to work next day ... I managed to continue work for a time, but if i hadn't got medical help and been told I must not go back, I would probably have killed myself. Even now, 3 years and several changes of medication later, my depression is still with me, and I'm about to try another change of medication in the hope that this will help without giving me equally crippling side-effects. Like many others who are being targeted by these "reforms" I have worked and paid into the system just so that I can get help because I can't work. The fear of being expected to work before I am well isn't doing much to help me get better either.

  • Comment number 45.

    "The DWP exhorts the public to ensure their full benefit entitlement. For instance, the department has regularly encouraged people to ensure they "don't miss out" on council tax benefit while the Mayor of London also has a scheme called "Know Your Rights"."

    I know this is probably an old fashioned view held by someone whose total time on benefits amounted to two days but i was under the impression that benefits were a safety net so if you can survive without them (as you must be if your entitled to but not claiming) then do so rather than a entitlement that we should all make sure we are claiming up to are maximum potential

  • Comment number 46.

    The logic of many on this blog is as follows: There are some people who cheat the system to get benefits. Therefore anyone who gets benefits must be cheats.

    How do you catch the cheats without demonising the deserving? I've been searching the papers for an answer. Perhaps I've missed something.

  • Comment number 47.

    To some of the commentariat who post here: if you can argue that those with depression, cancer or other sometimes permanent conditions should be forced to work, I will argue your children should be forced to work. After all, they are a sponging, good-for-nothing drain on the world, are they not?

  • Comment number 48.

    Personally, I find the information provided as the basis of the article to be so utterly meaningless, just the kind of thing that politicians spout on about and the kind of thing the press (all press - not just the right wing press) will harp on about. As always the devil is always in the detail, and to be honest there isn't anything here.

    Tackling benefit fraud is going to take a little more that just interviewing people and targeting people that are genuinely defenceless, we need more detective work and less focus on cheap political point scoring. Now if somebody could tell me how many people have been prosecuted for gross benefit fraud and jailed in the last 12 months, now that would be more interesting.

  • Comment number 49.

    Whilst i agree my depression is my depression and everyone's ability to cope with depression I also feel that the word depression is greatly overused and as such related to to many brief episodes in life that are bad. The analogy that the whole country is in 'A' depression so often gets transferred as the same type of depression in the public's mind when it comes to the illness that results from psychological break down. Its nice to hear people say ah just suck it up get on with life but what when your first bout is at the age of 11 and the first act is ligature strangulation. try sucking up that kind of depressive illness took 10 more years before they even gave me my first treatment. Ive spent 21 years on dangerous drugs far more addictive and damaging than illegal drugs, these psychotropic drugs in most cases are changed for another one as side effects show and the body's ability to function normally diminishes. All this for a few quid a week when ive worked for some of the best computer and gaming companies in the industries... I dont think so.... Ive sucked it up and each time fallen further and harder.

    Stop picking on me I can do that all by myself!.

    Placebo Meds lyrics for all us blaggers out there.

  • Comment number 50.

    After 6 months of illness and with my company sick pay used up, I was advised to claim ESA. I dropped my claim purely because the means testing meant that, although I qualified, I would have received no money!

  • Comment number 51.

    Not everyone has a disability you can see. There are those who live with pain every day - mental or physical - does it matter which? I have two arms and legs but have a breathing problem - so sometimes I can't breathe. One day I will die because of it. Hard luck? I guess I chose the wrong place to be born - in the middle of a high industrial area, before the Clean Air Act came in. I really could do with the DLA component to help me get to the supermarket in my car (not a Motability vehicle and live in a semi-rural area). But like many, was refused DLA. I have worked all my life - fair? hmm. I'm thinking about that one...

  • Comment number 52.

    #18 Christogay

    If you truly have depression, then I admire you for being able to withstand the rigours of such a destructive condition.

    However, your stance towards others with depression is disgustingly narrow-minded. Like all conditions, depression varies in its intensity. Saying you have depression is like saying you have cancer - it's a huge umbrella term that tells you little without specifics. Someone with early stage breast cancer, for example, would not be as debilitated as someone with late stage pancreatic cancer.

    Similarly, there will be others out there with more severe depression, or corollary mental health problems resulting from depression. Just because you share a condition with someone does not make you qualified to judge them - that is why society places its trust in these quantifiable assessments.

  • Comment number 53.

    i'm unemployed and perfectly able to work. i can't find a job. i'm a highly qualified university graduate and the only thing i can do is work selling door to door which often doesn't even pay enough to cover my rent for a month after working 10 / 11 hours a day. you've got to be kidding if you think i'm doing that. it's the government's fault (previous government) that we as a country are in this terrible mess and surely the government should take some responsibility to help those it has let down.

    yeah. i'm totally ripping off the system.

  • Comment number 54.

    Mark Easton is stretching the point, "there is nothing dodgy about filling in a form to see if you are eligible"....sure you can even fill in a form to see if you are eligible for job seekers allowance even when you are in full time employment. You are clutching at straws Mark. The fact of the matter is that our government borrows from China to pay a sizeable chunk of our own population to do nothing whilst importing immigrants to work. Its madness whichever way you cut it. BBC journos are so overpaid they live on a different planet. Right, I'm off to China now to claim my sickness benefit.

  • Comment number 55.

    Flaghippo (Item 40) raises a point that everyone dodges but will soon, I believe, become a standard 'way out'. The general drift in our society is leading towards an inevitable acceptance, even if not yet admitted, that the cheapest solution for the sick is suicide - probably based on a cost benefit analysis. The tragedy is that there seems to be a growing acceptance that, like the NHS, the sick cost too much. They - and the NHS - certainly cost a lot but it seems strange we could afford it all 50 years ago and now we can't.
    I thought we were supposed to have got richer in the last half century. Well, just how wrong can a feller be!

  • Comment number 56.

    I genuinely feel for disabled people who are wronged by the system - cancer patients, those with chronic pain etc. But I only speak from my experiences, and what I have seen disgusts me. People are are "depressed", yet quite clearly more chirpier than I am, given £95 a week whilst I work for rubbish money whilst getting 33% taken away in taxes and NI. Not to mention council tax, transport, rent etc. - additional costs that these claimants never pay. I have even come across a few in my area who are recovering alcohol and drug addicts - by all means give them help to get them clean again, but don't give them "disabled" status either - it demeans the true meaning of it.

  • Comment number 57.

    @53. At 21:49pm 28th Apr 2011, Chris Rushton

    I suspect you are out of a job because you didn't bother to read the application forms when applying. Read the article - it is on people claiming disability allowance, ESA or its various forms. NOT JOBSEEKERS ALLOWANCE.

  • Comment number 58.

    The "drop out" figures should not be included with the other data (just like fraud and error figures should not be linked together). You can be eligible to claim ESA after being ill for two days out of seven consecutive days, but ESA has a 13 week assessment period. Many people will therefore recover within that 13 week period. These will have been totally genuine claims.
    As has been said, this still does not address the deeply flawed ATOS WCA and the staggering waste of taxpayers' money by succesive governments, when a fairer and more cost effective solution is right in front of using hospital consultants in conjunction with gp's/ot's/mental health workers etc.
    No surprises either that Grayling does not mention the 4 in 10 who successfully appeal.
    The more intelligent person will see through the government's and rags' propaganda but unfortunately there will always be some who allow themselves to be brainwashed. That is sad, but for the decent people who care about a compassionate society, the fight will go on. Until the government actually does something constructive to stop the discrimination by employers against people with disabilities and chronic illnesses, as well as the totally arbitrary cuts, then it will remain clear that this attack is ideological.

  • Comment number 59.

    More liberal-lefty media-at-prayer Guardian reading twaddle.

    Complete contempt for this apologetic nonsense.

    Occam's Razor.

  • Comment number 60.

    "The key point, though, it that these are new applicants - people applying to see if they might be eligible for additional financial support."

    Surely it's possible to determine whether you're eligible for this benefit before you submit an application - at least with 90% certainty, because presumably you've already sought medical advice on your condition (for purely health reasons), and would have asked for/been offered at least an opinion on your eligibility from your doctor.

    So are those who don't persevere with their application - or "fail" their medical - suddenly blessed with a miraculous improvement to their health, or were they just chancing it in the first place? My opinion is that a significant majority will have fallen in to the latter category.

  • Comment number 61.

    I recently saw someone carrying a walking stick, I say carrying because it didn't seem to be being used to support the carrier. Can anyone explain why this was happening? Just wondering...

  • Comment number 62.

    50. At 21:32pm 28th Apr 2011, alwallgbr wrote:

    After 6 months of illness and with my company sick pay used up, I was advised to claim ESA. I dropped my claim purely because the means testing meant that, although I qualified, I would have received no money!

    You should have continued with your claim as you may have been entitled to contribution based ESA - paid to people who have worked for at least the last 2 tax years. Granted after 12 months you would have been subject to means testing but at least your stamp would have been paid. As it is your now part of the statistics that "£13million is benefits is unclaimed in the last year" that figure was put out by the government.
    There is a new medical assessment now brought in where if you can self propel in a wheelchair your fit for work - who is going to employ someone in a chair if the job / workplace isn't suitable. Its like the disability advisor who sent me for a job in a butchers shop - I have uncontrolled epilepsy and could easily have killed someone in a seizure if I was using blades but so what according to the system if I didn't turn up for the interview I'd lose my JSA. Its things like that which can't come through in statistics - this is just another tactic by the ConDems to stigmatise benefit claimants. Sad to say its working

  • Comment number 63.

    THANK you. Only point I'd question is reviews being turned down less often. I work in the nhs, and my clients are frequently having their ESA stopped after reviews, including one who can't leave the house. It's common to get a different response on appeal. So maybe it saves money through the people who don't appeal - probably the most vulnerable - but how much gets spent on administering all the appeals?
    Something I always think is why wouldn't there be so many ill or disabled people? If I think about colleagues who've had periods of long term sick - it's really common.

  • Comment number 64.

    The medical assessment is demeaning and degrading. It is conducted by a private company and all the applicant's medical data is passed to benefits agency staff to make the decision about fitness to work.

    In short, people are being forced to divulge their medical history to doctors and nurses employed by a private company who then make a full report to people with no medical knowledge and no guarantee of doctor-patient confidentiality. People are being compelled to discuss what are sometimes very private and personal matters under threat of loss of benefits.

    I am just at the end of my illness and ready to return to work. I will however be attending one of these assessments purely to tell the doctor my opinion of his vital lifesaving work.

  • Comment number 65.

    I'd rather a million people "scrounged" than one who was genuinely suffering was left without the care they need, frankly, and I'm quite appalled this attitude isn't more frequently encountered. Granted it's quite grating when you're working 60+ hours a week and someone getting a "free ride" seems to have disposable income you can only dream of but really, look at the bigger picture and half of China will be saying the same of all of us. We seriously need to grow up and stop pointing fingers. Plenty of people who want to work can't find jobs - what difference does it make if some don't want to either? Every "scrounger" they force into work is another job gone for someone who actually wants it. And Christogay's comment about mental illness is extremely chilling - this stigma and ignorance is the exact reason many don't get help before an issue becomes longterm or outright dangerous. When do you stop being "miserable" and start becoming "depressed"? Everyone hears voices now and then, right? Just grit your teeth and plod along, you still CAN work. And you block out more and more until you can't see how your deteriorating, the effect it's having on those around you, let alone your judgment and productivity in "work" which is apparently your single measure of a person.

  • Comment number 66.

    Thank you for being the first BBC journalist to even attempt to look at the facts behind the government issued press releases. Ironic of course, because the BBC has led with the same tone of article as the red tops today and has done since this government came to power. I know many disabled people who now say they watch the news on Al Jazeera or Russsian TV to get a more balanced approach.

    For all those complaining about paying their tax to "scroungers" - you need to wake up to the fact that you have been deliberately manipulated by a prolonged government propaganda campaign. Surely people are not really so dumb as to believe that 75% of people could have got through the existing system? First, the GP has to sign you as unfit for work. Then, there have always been medicals conducted by an outside DSS agency, with regular review dates. The difference is these medicals were carried out by proper doctors who took time to go into the medical history, read GP and Consultants reports. The farce that is being perpetrated now is a private company, ATOS, being paid hundreds of millions a year and bonuses to find people fit for work using a computerised tick box system administered by barely qualified nurses or doctors who are too hopeless to get a job anywhere else.

    The aim is pure and simple - to privatise the welfare state. What people should really be angry about is paying £500 million to a company carrying out deliberately inaccurate testing and then leaving the taxpayer to foot the bill for the expensive tribunals to put the decision right, having actually had the benefit of seeing the medical evidence.

    Incapacity benefit is based on having paid National Insurance Contributions. So when you are complaining about paying too much tax, just be aware that when your turn for illness, accident or disability comes, which it will, all your NI contributions will count for nothing. You will be treated as undeserving scum, same as everyone else. Out of every 600 people reported on the Benefits Hotline for benefit fraud by someone who thinks they know someone who is faking it, 599 are subjected to having their income stopped while they are investigated and then cleared. It seems everyone thinks they are an expert these days and can judge who is ill and who is not, just by looking at them. Amazing. What do we need Xrays, scans, complicated and often painful medical tests to be interpreted by specialists with years of experience for, when everyone is suddenly an expert in conditions they have never heard of and c

  • Comment number 67.

    Thanks for a rational article. I'm not sure all of the people posting comments bothered to read it though; much better to recyle your prejudices! Please keep investigating and explaining what lies behind the headlines.

  • Comment number 68.

    An excellent article that goes a long way to dispelling the cankerous attitude of the press. Thank you.
    Even so, the seeds of sicknote Britain were sown by
    government(s) who ought to be ashamed they urged people to claim all they could. Nice if you're born into money and privilege and these politicians have proved themselves incapable of comprehending what real life outside Westminster is about.

  • Comment number 69.

    The simple truth is that there will always be those with genuine needs and those who play the system. Frankly I'd rather see one person who was in genuine need helped if that meant ten getting something they shouldn't. In my view one genuinely disabled person who wants to work but is incapable is worth more than a hundred abusers!!!

  • Comment number 70.

    As I understand things the government's Work Capability Assessments now ignore disability aids such as wheelchairs, for example if someone uses a wheelchair they are seen as not having problems with mobility, could I ask, has anyone seen a manual wheelchair user using their wheelchair in the snow and ice?

    When a claimant attends a WCA it usually takes place in either a hospital or health center environment, these places invariably have flat, polished and obstruction free floors however out on the street our pavements are in most cases not flat, obstruction free wheelchair friendly environments. When a new car is being produced there is a European car safety testing body who put all new cars through a series of tests before the car being tested is legally allowed to go into production so why are the testing environments used to test the walking capabilities of those claiming mobility related disability benefits not of a similar nature?

    It seems more and more that in the government's eyes if you are not in paid employment, contributing to the profits of your employer and in the course of doing so paying tax, you are seen as no longer worthy of any sort of respect and going by the venomous rheteric of this government nothing more than benefit scrounging scum. The Nazi's used propaganda in pre-war Germany to raise the anti-semitic hatred against the Jews, they also ConDem ed the disabled who could not contribute to their building up of military strength, producing weapons and ammunition etc, through the use of forced labour to the gas chambers. Whilst this government might not be building gas chambers they certainly are not adverse to using propaganda to stir up anti-disability benefit claimant feelings amongst the country's tax payers.

    Would this government be happier if those who cannot contribute to wealth creation through work, who instead are looked on as a drain on the country's wealth took voluntary euthanasia to ease the plight of those poor bankers who have to share their bonuses with the Chancellor in the form of minimal increases in their taxes?

    Maybe the DWP will introduce a new qualifying requirement for disability benefits, all those in receipt of disability benefits will be required to wear a yellow star of David pattern cloth patch on their outdoor clothing with the words, Disability benefit claimant. I think if they thought they could get away with it they would.

  • Comment number 71.

    oh pen-ding you just reminded me of a really horrible thing they did to me last year i think .. must have been as ive just about getting over the breakdown it caused.

    DWP doing their usual hamfisted research tried to do me for 2 years worth of benefit fraud for getting PHI (personal health insurance) payments through a manged company they didn't under stand firstly simple English managed and management... they failed to get the paperwork or at least ask for it properly from the company confused they type of company and sent me a letter telling me i was to be interviewed under caution and possibly arrested, they funny thing is this happened shortly after getting an MP Andrew lansley involved with a email entitled @how to destroy a disabled mans quality of life in one easy overpayment' after the DWP tried to take £140 pm out of my incapacity payment because after bringing up 2 kids we hadn't realised that we became individuals and not a married coupler...! anyways the overpayment was for £1100 ish we asked to pay it back at £10 a week at which point the nice lady told my wife I had to give up all pets tv phone internet smoking and state at the floor as they were determined to take back the money at £140 pm. they did for 2 months.. until a minister intervened.. then they mailed me a breakdown because i gave them a bad day... Maybe as commentators have said Suicide is a hidden social policy.

  • Comment number 72.

    If you are on jobseekers and you cant continue on it because of strees and anxiety they tell you to sign off and sign on the sick. But the sick benefit people have been told to slash the numbers on the benefit and fail claimants so you get stuck in the middle. No one asks to g on the sick but long term unemployed end up there.

  • Comment number 73.

    Wow, there are some truly chilling comments here. I was signed off work while pregnant for "anxiety". I looked normal, sounded normal and was relatively cheerful while not required to face the cause of my anxiety (my job as it happens) a few small different twists of fate and I'd have applied for ESA, and yes, it would have been speculative, I MIGHT have been eligible, so I would have claimed to find out - it depends on so many factors (number of national insurance contributions or average weekly wage, position of saturn in your lunar birth chart, high tide times etc etc etc) so it becomes very difficult to KNOW if you will be eligible and the only way to find out is to apply. And those finger pointers among you would have called me a sponger without knowing how mentally ill I actually was - and simply saying "anxiety" was a very polite and gentle way of dealing with a a very vulnerable person.
    I must admit, I was horrified to find the previously mentioned article on the BBC website, but glad this has appeared to balance it off somewhat. These figures will never be published accurately but it's nice to hear a few shouting the salient points (only 0.5% fraud according to DWP) and hopefully a few more will start listening and questioning the Red Tops brain-numbing idiocy.

    oh and @static, don't let the idiots on here make you feel bad. Only take on board the opinions of those who have earned your respect. There are plenty people out there who would rather pay enough tax to have 100 people wrongly getting payouts than stop 1 deserving person getting it. Those with the narrowest minds have the widest mouths and maybe we need to sort that (some kind of disability benefit maybe for the terminally ignorant??)

  • Comment number 74.

    @61, Wazeri: Could have been purchased on the behalf of one who needed it, maybe because they could not make it there- or could not easily make it there- themselves.

  • Comment number 75.

    "65. At 22:34pm 28th Apr 2011, MKD wrote:

    I'd rather a million people "scrounged" than one who was genuinely suffering was left without the care they need"

    I wouldn't. But then I pay taxes.

  • Comment number 76.

    69. At 22:59pm 28th Apr 2011, HumanCashPoint wrote:

    The simple truth is that there will always be those with genuine needs and those who play the system. Frankly I'd rather see one person who was in genuine need helped if that meant ten getting something they shouldn't. In my view one genuinely disabled person who wants to work but is incapable is worth more than a hundred abusers!!!


    I would sooner see the one person who was in genuine need helped and the ten attempting to get something they shouldn't by abusing the system denied help.

  • Comment number 77.

    It seems that Mark Easton is obtaining his information through the wrong end of a telescope. I live in a small rural area where the many benefit payments have to be paid out two days a week to cut the queue. One of the claimants, to my knowledge, has not worked for twenty years and is quite happy to stand outside the local with a fag and a pint smiling at the world. Then the travellers arrive, park their 4x4's and collect more of my taxes and drive off to do whatever they do. All are clearly "fit" for work but not of the sort which involves PAYE apparently. So Mr. Easton, forget the government's ironed out information and visit a few towns and villages on the appropriate days of the week and watch the IBs hobble in and skip out of the post offices.

  • Comment number 78.

    Mark I've really appreciated your articles & editorials over the past month or so. Good straight-forward analytical reporting & journalism. In a time with outrageous political spin I'm bewildered that the state of general media reporting - across the board - has become so lame.
    Are we to allow a coalition government to be beyond accountability just because Mr Cameron & Mr Clegg back each other up?
    Thanks for the facts & thanks for the truth. It's important that journalists like you are still endeavouring to champion reality.

  • Comment number 79.

    I think an important point that needs to be made is the way in which these 'medical assessments', which asses ones fitness for work, are carried out. ATOS assessors have chosen to, or are instructed to, present their 'medical reports' as something akin to a Daily Mail article. A report based on half truths and lies which is then passed on to a Decision Maker who then uses this information in coming to a decision. Is it any wonder that so many are found fit for work? Such uninformed decisions certainly lead to some catchy headlines but do nothing to support people in need of aid.

    The other problem that strikes me with the assessments is that it may actually be the benefit cheats who are kept in the system and the genuine claimants who are kicked out. The people who have the audacity to make up illnesses specifically to make a claim are surely the ones who excel in the art of deception. They go into the assessment well prepared for all the questions and know exactly how to 'score' the necessary points.

    There are so many articles published in which we are led to believe that because of their scheduled 'medical examination' these cheats have a sudden crisis of conscience and can no longer keep up the act thus dropping out before the assessment. They have no reason to drop out since the worst they may be told is that they are fit for work. They may on the other hand use their in depth knowledge of the benefits system and get away with being declared unfit for work. I can only assume that if you decide to lie to get into the benefits system and are told you are fit to work the shame is hardly going to kill you and would not put you off applying.

    But what about the huge majority of honest people who are blatantly not fit for work who are sent packing. All of a sudden every single one of these people has to pay for the actions of a tiny minority. People who disagree with the decision are allowed to appeal but the last thing people who are genuinely ill are up to doing is making phone calls to the DWP; visiting their MP and visiting their CAB office in order to prepare an appeal. It is surely the cheats who have the energy for all of this. What a cruel system but how brilliant the government is made to look. Their intentions are so obvious and they certainly have chosen the easy targets.

  • Comment number 80.

    The whole truth of this matter is that the welfare system needs to be made fairer.

    There are some people who are born or become ill and can not or no longer work in ANY position - these people should be given the top rate benefit, they will never be able to earn high salaries.

    Some people are able to work and do so, then become ill and unable to carry on in that field of work. This doesn't mean that they can't work at all, just that they can no longer do the job they have been trained to do and have experience for - These people should be given a benefit that doesn't require weekly signings for a period of time, and given training in areas they will be able to work in. Then they should go back into the workforce.

    People who have mild disabilities or illnesses and can do some work should be supported through training, job-share schemes, flexi-time and income support when they are having difficulties.

    People with no disability or illness should be given jobseekers allowance and ehlped to find suitable employment.

    The main thing that needs to be done is to make the system fair, and allow people to find SUITABLE employment. Just because someone can sit in a chair for a certain amount of time does not automatically mean they can do office work or work in call centres, someone with 'tourettes' would be no good in a call centre environment, although they could physically manage to sit in the chair and be on the phone, they could not be trusted not to give the company they are working for a bad image.

    Suitability is the key to all this, and training should be given where it is needed, otherwise the system will never work as it should.

  • Comment number 81.

    I am glad to see a well researched and well presented report, before the reforms x amount of prescriptions were issued, i wonder how many will be issued after the welfare reforms, if the number is still a similar number one wonders if people who are genuinely sick are still getting prescriptions for sickness but at the same time being penalised financially, you would expect prescription numbers to drop dramatically if as the Government claims most on sickness benefit are just work shy.

  • Comment number 82.

    Unfortunately there are those who feel that they are entitled to hand outs from all and sundry. My sister was like that. Am not sure if she ever did more than a few months work in her life but expected family and state to pay for her. I personally objected to watching whatever she got being frittered away on cigarettes and drink, but very little on nourishing food. Hence I did not have much sympathy when she ended up with lung cancer brought about by not looking after her body properly and knowing that both her maternal grandparents died of lung cancer due to smoking.

  • Comment number 83.

    "10. At 18:04pm 28th Apr 2011, newsaholic_professor wrote:
    428,800 people filled in the claim form then withdrew when they discovered they would have to undergo a medical assessment.

    Not because they were tested and adjudged fit to work, and nothing to do with 'seeing if they met the criteria', but just because they found out it wasn't free money.

    They are the real scroungers of sicknote Britain."

    I must correct you on this. These people are most likely to have been suffering short term illness, if your illness lasts less than the assessment phase and you go back to work then your claim is abandoned before assessment.

  • Comment number 84.

    To say we gave people the right to gain ICB and therefore we should not grumble that they go for it is only to say that we should not give this right.

    We have no rights except those that we legistlate.

    Peter Lilley decided to remove a target audience of 175,000 from the unemployment register because they had such health problems that they could never work some 20 years ago. Soon there were many more than the target audience claiming ICB and Peter tried to arrest the development but Labour took office and openned the taps as the more on ICB the less on JSA. The figure grew to 3.5m.

    Tony Blair dared to intervein in domestic politics and said he couldn't believe 3.5m were so ill that they couldn't do a days work in their life. Peter Mandelson suggested that Labour stop shouting about low unemployment when no other country hid half of their unemployment in ICB.

    The tide turned and Labour stopped feeding the ICB count and started reducing it using private medical teams to give a second opinion. They respected their paymaster and gave favourable second opinions leading to a lot of tribunals where truely ill folk overturned the second opinion.

    The simple solution is to make ICB and JSA payments equal and let those needing health expenditure get extra help rather than a blanket increase for those 2.5m on ICB. Why should one unemployed person get more than another?

  • Comment number 85.

    JLRRAC 23.03pm

    The test is even worse than that. If you have mobility problems, cannot walk far or are in severe pain when you do, you will now be assessed as using an "imaginary" wheelchair, even if you do not possess one, cannot afford to buy one, and certainly will not be provided with one. If you are assessed as being able to manually propel this imaginary wheelchair 5Om, you will be classed as fit for work.

    Also the ATOS testing centres are not in hospitals with nice smooth floors. In fact 29 of the testing centres are unbelievably NOT ACCESSIBLE to wheelchair users. Several are up or down flights of stairs which many others, not in wheelchairs, cannot manage, with no lift. Yet if you do not manage to get to the examination room, you will be counted as having failed to attend and benefit is immediately stopped. If you do manage to climb the stairs, at great difficulty, pain, exhaustion, angina, breathlessness etc or later consequences, you will be found fit for work. In fact, you only have to be able to manage 2 steps to be found fit.

    This is technically illegal due to the fact that public premises including banks and shops should have disabled access, but it is apparently ok to ignore this legislation for a disability assessment centre if you are a private company.

    I know of one tribunal centre where the hearing was held down a long series of corridors with heavy fire doors. The door to the tribunal room opened onto a very long winding staircase which dropped down into the basement room visible below. There was no bannister and a sheer drop on the right hand side into the room.

  • Comment number 86.

    I have to correct the facts True Scot re. Motabilty Scheme.

    No vehicles are 'Free', yes it is the more basic models that do not require an additional one-off payment (advance) which is entirely optional. However ALL vehicles then require the higher rate component to be re-directed to Motability every month so payment is made for the car and not to the individual.

  • Comment number 87.

    Excellent - glad you are reporting responsibly on this.

    Shame the lead article on the BBC website was far less responsible, devoting most of its space to the right-wing spin.

    Not at all a coincidence that this was leaked out when it was, either - they must have thought nobody would notice...

  • Comment number 88.

    Thank you for this balanced article. It is quite mindblowing the way the tabloids take figures and re-write them with any truth they want to believe.
    I am currently unemployed and I can tell anyone who thinks its a "breeze" being on benefits, that it is not. £65 a week doesn't go anywhere. After paying for gas and electric and tv license, food and internet there is nothing left. And without internet it is impossible to find and apply for jobs these days. I suggest all those who insist that people on benefits are enjoying some kind of paid holiday try living on the amount available for a few months.

  • Comment number 89.

    Dear ATOS,

    I'm one of those you will be examining for DLA and Income related ESA, as well as deciding on whether I can have my NHS pension early on ill health grounds or not at some point in the near future. If 'not' then I'll most likely become homeless as up until recently, I was the major bread winner and need the pension to pay my mortgage with.

    I am a 50 year old Registered Nurse recently dismissed from a full time post as I am no longer considered safe enough to work in the clinical area due to disorientation and spatial perception problems that can vary from day to day. I've had a lot of shrugged shoulders from clinicians in regards to my condition and have basically had to 'get on with it' on my own since I am not actually dying yet.

    I'm reading a lot about ATOS being paid extra by the UK Government to discourage benefits claims but my problem is, I cannot do my work any more, I have a benign brain tumour that will not be treated in the foreseeable future as it hasn't grown large enough yet and cannot be surgically removed, only radiated when I will get worse. I have been lucky enough to be in full time employment for 32 years, but now have to give up this role. I will not be able to re register as a Nurse since I have not been able to practice in that role for over a year, remain unfit to do so and have not fullfilled the required practice hours and study leave.

    Also a friend of mine, also considered another 'scrounger' has undergone 2 major surgeries in the last 2 years for removal of her brain tumour (they still haven't been able to remove all of it and she has damaged facial nerves as a result and she's only 41 years old), has just finished 6 weeks worth of radiotherapy to her head, has facial paralysis, is in pain, suffers from severe fatigue and depression. She is about to lose her job due to being long term sick (she was refused her occupational pension btw - works for a city council) and also she has had to appeal a decision by your good selves against your stopping her ESA, because naturally enough someone has decided she can now work full time as radiation therapy is not considered by your good selves to be as invasive or as toxic as chemotherapy, as a stand alone treatment. By the way, has any of your staff ever experienced radiotherapy for protracted periods to the brain at all, whilst simultaneously still recovering from two craniotomies done in the previous 18 months?

    Can I ask just one thing.

    If according to the press reports that I am now going to be considered a benefits scrounger, given that your good selves have a mandate to put off as many claims as possible for DLA (I only want the mobility bit), ESA - which I hate having to apply for as it's been the most undignified experience I have had to go through - plus any other disability/ill health benefits, and seeing that I am no longer considered safe to work in clinical practice, still have long term health problems, live in an area of high unemployment AND have turned 50 in the last year.

    Will you give me a job?



  • Comment number 90.

    There is a lot of hidden unemployment in the UK. It is a sad fact that too many people are on benefit.

    The mistakes date back decades.

    In the 80s, the Conservatives fought the unions but they also killed industries that were big employers in regions that have never recovered. Did we ever replace those jobs? No. Did we do enough to retrain the workforce to make them employable? No. Did Labour hide the problem by making the state the biggest net employer for the last 10 years? Yes. We wasted the opportunity of the boom years. Instead of investing in the people the government ran up big deficits supporting a benefit system that hides the problem.

    It is a sad fact that in many low income households - no adult has ever had a job! It is demeaning to take benefit but we have created an underclass through the benefit system. A system that is being abused, by some, not all.

    In one of the above posts someone asked to compare the percentage of people on incapacity benefit in the UK against the number in other countries. We all know the fact our percentage of the working population claiming incapacity is higher than the OECD average. But is this statistic due to the fact that the British working-class has a higher percentage of scroungers or is it poor health due to lack of jobs and prospects for low-skilled.

    We have not created enough jobs and have not trained the working population adequately. Now we have a large section of the working population that is unemployable and has to take benefits. This is not a new problem and there are no easy solutions.

    I have to make it clear that there are many on incapacity benefit who deserve the payment and have clear needs that should be met. I feel for the woman in the above posts who mentioned her battle for cancer. Anyone with a legitimate claim for benefit should be angry with those that abuse the system not the people who feel aggrieved that their tax goes to pay incapacity benefit to a subset, not all, that don't deserve it.

    Our society faces many problems.

    The population is ageing and the pension time-bomb is massive. We face the prospect of people having to work well past the current retirement age to fund a shorter retirement. At the same time high youth unemployment will cast a painful shadow over society for years to come.

    All of which makes the task of solving the long-term benefit culture even harder.

    We can't ignore the problems that we face, even though the politicians would like us to. Lets face it, being honest in politics doesn't get you re-elected at the next election.

    So lets change the debate rather than deny the problems.

    How do we get out of this mess?

  • Comment number 91.

    Having had the assesment, even to the layman it is so blatently there to catch people out and in no way is there any aim in the process to assist genuine applicants, it is embarrasing, demeaining and a patronising process start to finnish.
    One question they ask is "do you own a dog" i asked the lady what has that got to do with my health, she then asked do i take the dog for a walk how often and for how long, I told her i take the dog for a walk 2 or three times a week for about 10 or 15 mins. i let her go through the screen a bit further, after she had filled in the box's i asked if they have a vet to assess the dog, she looked at me unsure of what to say, i told her the few and short walks were due to the dogs limitaions as she was getting on in years, my walking ability is fine .

    Why couldn't they ask a straight forward grown-up question like do you have any problems or limitaions in you mobilty regarding walking.

    At the time going through this process it was very stressfull, Shortly after my assesment i had a diagnosis from PROFFESIONAL MEDICAL PEOPLE WHO KNOW ME AND MY BODY BETTER THAN A SEMI- RETIRED NURSES TRAINED TO
    FILL-IN screened prompted questioners, unfourtunately it turned out i have an untreatable terminal cancer, apart from a few joint pains and serious tiredness problems i would come out of this assement fairly fit and healthy.
    I believe the doctors should start challenging these assesments and the DWP because at the end of the day they are questioning the doctors proffesional competence and integrity, the decision and medical advice he has made about his patient and knowing all the details are dismised by a form filler in 30mins.

    I am 54yrs old, worked as mechanical service engineer since i was fifteen, raised 4 great daughters my wife is a bit older and is a retired RGN.

    After paying all our tax & insurance for years, the time comes when you need assistance and it's just not there. Due to other circumstances a few yrs ago, we look after 3 grandchildren all still under fifteen. As i am now not able to take-on a fare share of the workload.
    I now have to watch the slow breakdown of of my 64yr old wife who has had to return to a part-time job, is raising a second young family and also deal with the problems that that my health is causing.

    I could solve this problem quite easily, we can pass the 3 grandchildren into care, that will cost the goverment a min of £2000.00 a week, i can try and sell the house which still has a mortgage and then we can find a 1 bedroom something and what happens after that is her problem not mine, (not sure about this but i think if we get divorced we could be better-off because i can then claim my council tax) who cares.

    We do not need massive finnancial assistance but we certainly need more to function as a family continuing to CONTIBUTE to community and society.

    I doubt this will get posted as it is a bit of a rant, what i would like people to realise is the butterfly effect kicks in when they get it wrong and the results of this assessment method are so inacurate IT SHOULD NEVER BE USED TO DETERMINE ANY FINNANCIAL DECISIONS.

    Anyone with learning or mental health problems should not be allowed within 100yds of these assesments and should have a HEALTH WARNING sign to stay away

    I have no problem with a system to get the shirkers, freeloaders etc. but this method is just not fit for purpose and should be stopped immediately. IT WILL NEVER WORK PROPERLY.

    All the best evryone (especially if you have an assessmentb due)

  • Comment number 92.

  • Comment number 93.

    I'm really glad Mark has taken up this subject - it's vital the media wake up to this.

    However, first point - it's not just the tabloids. The Telegraph and his very own BBC carried just the same stories yesterday, parroting the DWP press release which, as ever was misleading.

    Secondly, under pilots of those moving from IB to ESA, just as many WERE found fit for work, though rather more went into the support group. Around 66% were found capable of work. This is the truly shocking bit. People with serious and complex conditions are routinely being found fit for work daily.

    But Labour and now the Conservatives like it this way. They know very well that it isn't working, that assessments don't work and that the criteria have been tightened to the point where only those with 6 months or less to live (not even those who are terminally ill but with longer than 6 months to live automatically qualify) or those who are so profoundly physically or mentally ill that they cannot function will qualify.

    This humanises the process and gives examples of exactly the kind of people found fit for work under an ESA assessment :

  • Comment number 94.

    Thanks for that piece Mark. Good to see one journalist is pointing out what should be blazingly obvious. Terrifying to see it spun in this way isn't it? The ground is being prepared it would seem.

  • Comment number 95.

    It is a very great pity the tabloids do not study the various pieces of legislation connected to UK State insurance schemes. Perhaps then we would be given facts about 'benefit' payments rather than ill disguised lies.

    If I am dismissed from a job and have paid up my National Insurance contributions to date then I am entitled to make a claim to receive contribution based payments. Those payments, if I am eligible, last for up to six months, and are a right I have within the law. Normally I would probably claim job seeker's allowance, but, if my GP says I am unfit to work, then I can claim employment support allowance. Either way I am entitled to claim and to receive payments if I am eligible, remain eligible and stick to the rules of my claim. I will probably be a member of the largest group of claimants, those with claims running for less than six months.

    No amount of veneer applying, lie telling, vapid or lurid story telling, or queasy number crunching is going to alter the fact I am totally within my rights. I may, for six months, be an inconvenient blemish to politicians with nothing better to do than feed right wing press whingers with fanciful nonsense, but nothing alters the simple fact that I am right and they are wrong, all of them.

  • Comment number 96.

    Not a surprise this set of headlines comes out a few days before an election about which Lib-Dems / Conservatives are panicking. With R. Desmond of Express expecting a knighthood or even a peerage and Murdoch expecting to control UK media, they are buying support by spreading scare stories.

  • Comment number 97.

    '23. At 19:06pm 28th Apr 2011, MLP wrote:
    Good article, but isn't it somewhat hypocritical when the BBC's own site carries the same virulent article with inflammatory title


    For 'news' these days one can attempt to get near accuracy (truth being a lost cause) only by reading around between such as red-top press that has worked itself up into a lather of indignation and fury over statistics, and irony free broadcasters who do exactly the same thing but feel they have the monopoly on 'truth' because, well, they just do.

    When it seems that, scratching the surface, it all boils down to tribal affiliations. One presumes the Daily Mirror is not rolled into the above net cast? And the only commentators invited on in support will be from 'qualities' whose ABC ratings don't reflect public popularity so much.

    Luckily, if I have reason to doubt their motivations and/or competencies, I am under no obligation or compulsion to fund them.

  • Comment number 98.

    Any assessment process of this kind is going to produce both false positives and false negatives. It's mostly a question of which you regard as the greatest evil. If you produce a system where almost everyone who really deserves the benefit gets it, that implies a considerable number of those that don't deserve it will too. If you produce a system that keeps "cheats" very low then it will, inevitably, reject a considerable number of people who do deserve it.

  • Comment number 99.

    (As intended for posting at 09.48 this morning but blocked by some sort of hicup in BBC on-line services.)

    The timing of these benefit claimant numbers releases to coincide with a couple getting married is somewhat open to question but then we have seen in the past how events have been used to bury bad news. The bad news that is being buried now is that involving those genuine seriously disabled and ill are being denied their entitlement to benefits.

    Does anyone remember Tony Blair being rushed to hospital with alleged heart problems whilst PM? I might add we have seen the same ruse used in Egypt by their former president as he tried to avoid being imprisoned whilst facing criminal charges in Egypt. Odd isn't it that we never again heard of Blair having heart problems, what were the government trying to distract the country from? Likewise we saw tanks at airports in London again I pose the question what were they trying to distract the country's attention from?

    I would not be in the slightest surprised to hear this government legislate for mandatory termination of those deemed unfit to work for life who have a life expectancy of more than six months.

  • Comment number 100.

    Having read some of the responses above I see we get the 'press' we deserve. I'm afraid the word 'newspaper' has fallen into disrepute.


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