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theweek120by150Another government minister has used misleading figures to try to whip up anger about the scale of spending on disability living allowance (DLA), in order to try to justify the coalition’s programme of cuts and reforms.

Last week, Esther McVey, the Conservative minister for disabled people, claimed in the Mail on Sunday that coalition plans to abolish working-age DLA had led to a huge increase in applications by people desperate to claim the benefit before it was replaced by the new personal independence payment (PIP).

The article – based on an interview with McVey – talked of an “extraordinary ‘closing-down sale’ effect, with rocketing claims as people rush to get their hands on unchecked ‘welfare for life’ before McVey’s axe falls on April 8”.

But the interview was based on figures, published by the government in late February, which actually show the number of working-age claimants fell by more than 1,600 between February and May 2012.

This week, McVey’s boss, the Conservative work and pensions secretary Iain Duncan Smith, repeated the claims, even though his department had been alerted to McVey’s use of the misleading figures.

In an interview with the Daily Mail, Duncan Smith talked of a scramble to “get ahead” of the tougher new PIP regime before it came into force.

He said disabled people were trying to “get in early, get ahead of it. It’s a case of ‘get your claim in early’.”

He claimed there had been sharp rises in the north-east (an increase of 2,600) and north-west (4,100) of England, both places where the roll-out of PIP began this month.

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) took nearly three days to reply when Disability News Service (DNS) asked for the source of the figures Duncan Smith referred to, and then only emailed a link to the DWP’s own statistical search engine, with no further information.

After DNS complained, DWP’s chief press officer eventually released a statement, which admitted that Duncan Smith had – just like McVey – been quoting the total number of people claiming DLA, rather than the number of working-age claimants.

The figures actually show that working-age claimants in the north-east fell by 500 and dropped by 3,600 in the north-west, from August 2011 to August 2012 (the period he was referring to).

The DWP spokesman said: “We use the total DLA claims because this relates to the total benefit spend, which is the figure most quoted by the media.

“As you can see, the latest statistics do show an increase in caseload of 14,000 over the quarter and 49,000 since August 2011. This is what Secretary of State [sic] was referring to.”

But because these figures refer to the overall growth in DLA claimants, they are irrelevant to the working-age population that will actually be affected by the cuts and reforms.

DWP’s figures show the number of working-age DLA claimants rose by just 550 across the entire country in the quarter from May to August 2012, and dropped by 5,650 over the year.

The disabled activist and blogger Sue Marsh said: “If the reforms are just, the government should have no need to misrepresent the facts or mislead the public.

“They fact that they do – and continue to do so, even when 100 per cent proven wrong – shows the contempt they have for sick and disabled people.”

Marsh said that public attitudes towards social security and sick and disabled people were hardening “as a direct result of this kind of distortion”.

She said: “As someone who knew little about the political process or parliamentary procedures when I started writing, I’ve been genuinely and repeatedly shocked at just how corrupt our system of government has become, how hard it is for minority voices to be heard and the willingness of media outlets to reinforce damaging claims.”

11 April 2013