The right way to look at the deficit

Ed Miliband gave an interview to Martha Kearney on the World at One yesterday which has been widely regarded as being in car crash territory. He was talking about what he would be doing now and mentioned a temporary VAT cut. Kearney repeatedly asked him if this meant borrowing would go up in the short term, and Miliband failed to provide a satisfactory answer (he’s now said it would). Opponents responded gleefully to the interview. Here’s the idiotic Grant Shapps:

‘Ed Miliband is too weak to admit what his Shadow Chancellor, Ed Balls, has already said: that Labour’s plans mean more spending, more borrowing and more debt, exactly how Labour got us into this mess in the first place.’

The commonly held view then is that more borrowing is bad (even if it leads to growth), so the only thing to try to do is grow the economy while pursuing austerity at the same time (very difficult if not impossible). With this in mind I thought I’d share a good quote I came across today giving a different perspective on the deficit debate. Here’s economist L Randall Wray:

“Deficits are mostly nondiscretionary–the outcome of the automatic stabilizers. We could ramp up government spending today, and cut tax rates, and might find deficits actually go down. Or up. Or stay the same. Who cares? Not Moi. Functional. Finance. That is what we advocate. Sensible policy, not arbitrary deficit or debt ratios. Full employment. Low inflation.”

Short and sweet and makes a refreshing change from the usual nonsense we hear. How great would it be to hear this come out of a politicians mouth? Basically we are worrying about the wrong things. The size of the deficit is not important. Unemployment, housing, incomes, education, health. These are the things that really matter, and by making economic policy all about the deficit, we are setting ourselves up for massive problems down the road.

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Iain Duncan Smith defies all logic (again). And then there’s Liam Byrne…

Iain Duncan Smith was interviewed for today’s Sunday Telegraph, and is sounding increasingly deranged. Under ever increasing pressure to reduce the welfare bill (an impossible task given the Coalition’s fiscal stance), Smith appealed to wealthy pensioners to ‘hand back their benefits’ if they didn’t need them. So rather than changing the rule on universal benefits (which is a bad idea in itself), he is resorting to trying to make little old ladies feel guilty about their winter fuel payments as though it is costing the nation billions (it’s not). That’s not what I wanted to write about today though. Duncan Smith also said this:

“We want to say to people, you’re claiming unemployment benefit but you’re actually in work paid for by the state: you’re in work to find work. That’s your job from now on: to find work.”

Duncan Smith’s tried this line before. We people objected to job seekers being forced to work for nothing in Poundland he said (of Caitlin Reilly):

“She was being paid for it (working at Poundland), what do you think the taxpayer was paying her for God’s sake? Her job seekers allowance. The taxpayer is paying her wages.”

IDS persists with this idea that the unemployed need to be constantly harassed to get off their lazy arses and look for work, and it informs every aspect of the Coalition’s employment policy. The elephant in the room though is always the tyranny of the maths – 2.5 million unemployed is a much bigger number than the (less than) 500,000 vacancies currently available.

Duncan Smith’s views on unemployment and the unemployed just doesn’t stand up to more than 5 seconds scrutiny, so it got me wondering if maybe he just hasn’t met many unemployed people, and I thought I’d see if there was a negative correlation between an MPs view on unemployment and the unemployment rate in their constituency. Maybe if unemployment is very low where your voters live, it informs your view on the problem and those who are unemployed? So I downloaded the March 2013 JSA claimant rates from Nomis by constituency to see how much of an issue unemployment is in the constituencies of Cabinet and Shadow Cabinet MPs. Here’s the average claimant rate in Cabinet and Labour front-bench constituencies:

JSA Claimant Rate

The claimant rate nationally is currently 3.9%, but in the constituencies of the Coalition “Cabinet of millionaires”, the average rate is just 2.2%, while in the constituencies of Labour front-benchers the average rate is 5.2%, much higher than the national average. Looking at the rates in individual Cabinet Minister’s constituencies we see a pretty common pattern. Unemployment in the constituencies of Cabinet members is typically very low – David Cameron, 1.4%; Nick Clegg, 1.5%; George Obsorne, 2.0%; Theresa May, 1.8%; Michael Gove 1.7% etc. So it may be that in these parts of the country the issue of unemployment is secondary to other issues like planning, wind farms etc. So my hypothesis that low unemployment at home leads to skewed attitudes towards the issue looks plausible.

There are in fact only two members of the Cabinet who have above average levels of unemployment in their constituencies – Welsh Secretary David Jones (who he?) and – wait for it – Iain Duncan Smith! I was surprised to discover that in Chingford and Woodford Green, 4.2% of the working age population are in receipt of JSA. So if Duncan Smith spends any time in his constituency at all, it must be obvious that not all of these people can be lazy scroungers and that there must be an issue around a lack of jobs. Does he think the people of Witney (Cameron’s constituency) are all “hard-working families who want to get on”, while his constituents are all skivers and scroungers? Only someone wilfully blind could dismiss the lack of jobs as the problem and instead blame the attitude of individuals couldn’t they?

But what of Labour? We saw above that unemployment is significantly higher in Labour constituencies than Coalition ones. Does that mean they have more empathy with those who are unemployed and a better understanding of the issue? Ed Miliband (5.9% JSA rate) has talked about returning to the idea of full employment, while Ed Balls (3.2% JSA rate) proposes a new jobs programme for young people. Labour’s ideas are timid and also place a too much of a focus on the individual, but they at least acknowledge the need to actually create jobs. Again then, there’s an argument that higher unemployment in Labour seats makes them more attuned the problem of unemployment.

But there’s one front-bencher’s constituency that has much higher unemployment than any others, with a whopping 9.6% of working age adults claiming Jobseeker’s Allowance. He more than any other must understand that is a chronic lack of jobs that has kept unemployment high surely? So who is this person? Step forward MP for Birmingham Hodge Hill Liam Byrne. This is the man who led Labour’s decision to abstain from the Bill retroactively made legal the Government’s sanctioning regime and consistently tries to ‘talk tough’ on welfare, giving credence to the idea that there are hundreds of thousands out there who are on the take. How can he come out with this garbage representing the constituency he does?

So what can we conclude? In general we might think that if an MP’s constituents are unemployed in greater numbers, the greater will their concern be for the unemployment issue and vice versa. If you are a welfare spokesman though, it seems you have to check your brains in at the door, and compete to see who can talk the toughest. Is that what they mean by good politics?

APPENDIX

JSA Claimant Rates by Constituency March 2013

LABOUR      
MP Constituency Number of Claimants Claimant Rate
Ed Miliband Doncaster North 3,594 5.9
Harriet Harman Camberwell and Peckham 5,403 6.2
Ed Balls Morley and Outwood 2,159 3.2
Douglas Alexander Paisley and Renfrewshire South 3,294 6.0
Yvette Cooper Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford 3,475 5.0
Sadiq Khan Tooting 2,329 3.2
Rosie Winterton Doncaster Central 4,354 6.8
Andy Burnham Leigh 3,030 4.7
Stephen Twigg Enfield, Southgate 2,015 3.4
Chuka Umunna Streatham 4,158 5.3
Jim Murphy East Renfrewshire 1,340 2.4
Hilary Benn Leeds Central 7,521 7.0
Angela Eagle Wallasey 2,719 4.9
Caroline Flint Don Valley 2,761 4.6
Maria Eagle Garston and Halewood 3,474 5.5
Liam Byrne Birmingham, Hodge Hill 6,810 9.6
Ivan Lewis Bury South 2,567 4.1
Mary Creagh Wakefield 3,301 5.3
Jon Trickett Hemsworth 2,849 4.7
Tom Watson West Bromwich East 3,907 7.6
Vernon Coaker Gedling 2,215 3.7
Margaret Curren Glasgow East 3,811 6.7
Owen Smith Pontypridd 1,932 3.6
COALITION      
MP Constituency Number of Claimants Claimant Rate
David Cameron Witney 920 1.4
Nick Clegg Sheffield, Hallam 944 1.5
William Hague Richmond (Yorks) 1,208 1.8
George Osborne Tatton 995 2.0
Danny Alexander Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey 1,738 2.8
Theresa May Maidenhead 1,194 1.8
Philip Hammond Runnymede and Weybridge 968 1.4
Vince Cable Twickenham 1,283 1.7
Iain Duncan Smith Chingford and Woodford Green 2,151 4.2
Chris Grayling Epsom and Ewell 1,010 1.5
Michael Gove Surrey Heath 1,121 1.7
Eric Pickles Brentwood and Ongar 1,194 2.0
Jeremy Hunt South West Surrey 876 1.4
Owen Paterson North Shropshire 1,954 3.1
Justine Greening Putney 1,772 2.6
Michael Moore Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk 1,962 3.4
Ed Davey Kingston and Surbiton 1,525 1.7
Patrick McLoughlin Derbyshire Dales 675 1.4
Maria Miller Basingstoke 1,825 2.6
Theresa Villiers Chipping Barnet 1,986 2.6
David Jones Clwyd West 1,722 4.1
Kenneth Clarke Rushcliffe 1,180 1.9
George Young North West Hampshire 1,124 1.8
Francis Maude North Warwickshire 1,585 2.8
Oliver Letwin West Dorset 688 1.3
Grant Shapps Welwyn Hatfield 1,758 2.4

How far to the left or right of the main parties are you?

When asked what was her greatest achievement, Thatcher famously answered “Tony Blair and New Labour.” The truth of this statement is neatly illustrated by this chart taken from Political Compass:

UK Parties at different times

This is the true impact of Thatcherism. It has been the narrowing of political ideas to such at extent, that on most issues, the main parties are now virtually indistinguishable in outlook. Politics has now been reduced to ‘branding’. David Cameron said this morning “…we are all Thatcherites now”, which didn’t go down well, but in terms of the political class he’s absolutely right. The wider public, not so much.

The knowledge that Labour have drifted to the right is obviously not new, but I think this chart really brings out the transition they have made from a left, slightly libertarian party, to a party almost as wedded to neo-liberalism as the Tories and marginally more authoritarian. For the Tory’s part, for all their efforts to paint Ed Miliband as ‘Red Ed’ and the Labour Party as representing the ‘nanny state’ or the surveillance state, their actual differences in political outlook are superficial at best.

This lack of political choice presents a real problem for voters. Here’s another chart from political compass that shows the political stance of the parties running in the 2010 general election:

UK Political Parties chart

The left-right axis represents economic stance, and all three main parties tended towards neo-liberalism. While Labour and Conservative Parties went into the election with pretty authoritarian manifestos, the Liberal Democrats actually managed to retain some weak libertarian tendencies. The Greens where the only national party in the lower left quadrant.

The media talk of parties seeking to ‘claim the centre ground’, where most voters sit, but if that were true, the ‘centre ground’ is not actually the centre ground at all, but a brand of free market economics twinned with a strong inclination towards authoritarianism.

I find this hard to believe. Voter participation at general elections is falling consistently as the years go by, and those that do vote often vote for the lesser of two (or more) evils. Since voting for the first time in 2001, I’ve voted for Labour, the Lib Dems and the Green Party, but only once have I voted for someone who I actually wanted to win and who had a chance of winning (he lost). Here’s where I score on the Political Compass test:

From this, I should be voting Green, but they don’t have a chance of winning where I live, so what to do? There are those that think we need a new party of the left and others who think the Labour Party must be pressured into returning to its roots, but whatever the answer, there are a huge number of potential voters who’s views lie to the south-west of where Labour sit at the moment. As it stands, they are relying on there being enough people that either hate the Tories or are disgusted with the Lib Dems to get them over the line, but they could be so much more if they had both the courage and the inclination. Right now, they seem to be lacking in both.

P.S. I’d be interested to know the Political Compass scores of anyone reading this, if you feel willing to share in the comments below (mine was: Economic -8.75; Social -6.82) 🙂 .

“Squeezing the poor”

This post by @Ramanan_V prompted me to seek out Nicholas Kaldor’s “The Economic Consequences of Mrs Thatcher”. Kaldor was an eminent Cambridge economist and member of House of Lords at the time when Margaret Thatcher came to power in 1979, and this short book is a collection of speeches made during the first four years of Thatcher’s time as PM.

In ’79 when Thatcher rose to power, the UK economy was in trouble, with rampant inflation and low growth with rising unemployment. In the months preceding the ’79 election, Britain had experienced its “Winter of Discontent”. In his first budget in June 1979 Thatcher’s Chancellor, Geoffrey Howe increased VAT to 15%, reduced the top rate of income tax from 83% to 60% and announced reductions in public spending.

While there were many differences in both economic environment and policy between Thatcher’s early years and today, from Kaldor’s speeches, we can draw some interesting parallels between the justifications made for government budgetary decisions made then, and the justifications for austerity being made today. Here are a few examples from Thatcher’s first year in office.

On the incoming Conservative Government (13.6.79, p12):

“…up to now Conservative Governments in this country were predominantly pragmatist… This time it is different. This time we have a right-wing Government with a strong ideological commitment which is something new in this country…”

The new Thatcher broke with the post-war consensus and steered a different course, one which was continued through the Major, Blair and Brown years and a course which the present Government is now trying to accelerate before it’s too late.

On the tax changes in Howe’s ’79 Budget (19.6.79 p19):

“In this Budget the tax remission to a millionaire or to a man with £50,000 a year, is well over £6,000 a year – enough to allow him to get a second Rolls-Royce. Lord Boyd-Carter says that all this is small beer: a small price to pay for the enormous advantages which efficient entrepreneurship and risk-taking can bring us…

In 1979, the Tories cut the basic rate of tax slightly, while at the same time increasing VAT (on many items from 8% to 15%) and significantly cutting income tax for the highest earners. Sound familiar?

On ‘Squeezing the Poor’ (19.6.79 p21):

“The two main contentions of the Chancellor, that the economy must be ‘squeezed’ in order to get rid of inflation and that top people must be better off in order to induce them to work harder and become richer, in themselves imply that some people must be worse off. These people must be the poor people.

[The poor economic forecasts] will not reflect ‘a shortage in demand’ but a ‘growing series of failures on the supply side of the economy’.

Today we have tax cuts for the rich and bedroom taxes and real terms cuts to benefits and wages for everyone else, while poor growth is blamed on ‘the world economy’ and talk of the need for labour market reforms. The similarities to ’79 are unmistakable.

Here’s, Kaldor on ‘The Momentum of Decline’ (19.6.79 p23):

“These policies (in response to inflation in the 1920s) led to the unprecedented crisis of capitalism in the early 1930s, to Hitler and to the Second World War. We can only hope that on this occasion the outcome will not be so tragic. But the tone of the Chancellor’s speech was strongly reminiscent of what was said by Dr Bruning, by Herbert Hoover and by Philip Snowden in his Budget speech. There is one common theme in all those speeches: we must first suffer agony to be able to make a clean start.”

A bit dramatic perhaps, but the idea that austerity is something we must endure in order to renew our economy prevails.

Finally, here Kaldor on ‘An impotent government’ (7.11.79 p38):

“As far as output, employment and economic growth is concerned, the [Comprehensive Spending Review of its time] adopts a wholly fatalistic attitude. All it says is that ‘the prospects are poor… both in this country and the rest of the world’. This reminds me of a statement attributed to Neville Chamberlain during the Great Depression that the government is no more capable of regulating the general demand for labour than it is of regulating the weather. After a long circle, we now seem to have returned to the same point.”

This is very reminiscent of the current Government’s desire to blame all ills on the Eurozone and to stand idle while unemployment remains high, incomes stagnate and the housing crisis worsens.

The point of quoting the above then is to demonstrate that we’ve been here before (and not so long ago). The likely effects were predicted before the policies were implemented (as with Cameron and Osborne’s austerity). While in Thatcher’s time, the result was three million unemployed and the destruction of British industry, today, unemployment has not gone so high, but only because now we have zero-hour contracts, part time work and working tax credit-supported self-employment instead. The long-term impacts though could be equally as damaging.

Who’s winning the welfare war?

Two significant events this week – the start of long-awaited cuts to certain benefits, and the conviction and sentencing of Mick Philpott – has led to the outbreak of a war of words over the rights and wrongs of our welfare system.

Grant Shapps and Iain Duncan Smith kicked things off last weekend, with Shapps pointing at some Government figures and then lying about what they told us about welfare and IDS telling Jon Humphrys he could live on £53 a week. This led to the heart-warming sight of a petition set up to challenge IDS to prove it garnering almost 450,000 signatures in less than a week. There were also stories about some of IDS expense claims, like £39 for one breakfast and £110 for a bluetooth headset added to the ridicule.

Then came Mick Philpott and the Daily Mail’s nasty front page on Wednesday:

daily mail philpott

There was also this fairly objectionable and fact-free piece in the Telegraph by Allison Pearson. At first, the linking of Philpott’s crimes to the welfare system were confined to the right-wing press but then George Osborne decided to give everyone the benefit of his wisdom on the matter saying:

“Philpott is responsible for these absolutely horrendous crimes… But I think there is a question for government and for society about the welfare state – and the taxpayers who pay for the welfare state – subsidising lifestyles like that, and I think that debate needs to be had.”

In response to this assault on the welfare state, many on the left pushed back admirably, providing detailed and fact-laden rebuttals to some of the propaganda being put out by the media and the politicians. Owen Jones in particular repeatedly called out those on the right who sought to score political points from the Philpott tragedy:

Bloggers also played an important role in getting some facts about welfare out there. In particular this post and this one struck me as being important contributions.

So I would say those of us defending the welfare state definitely have the facts on our side, but this brings me to the question posed in the title above – Who’s actually winning the welfare war?

People on the left like John Harris have been cautioning for a while that polling shows people in favour of more cuts to welfare, and George Osborne certainly thinks he is on the right side of the argument. At the same time, there are also voices from the right urging caution over appearing to be “foaming-at-the-mouth” over welfare. Owen Jones on the other hand sounds more optimistic, tweeting:

At the moment I’m somewhat less pessimistic about where this will go. The reason is amply illustrated in this video clip from one of Stewart Lee’s standup shows:

The truth is, an awful lot of people seem to be impervious to facts or reasoned argument. Here’s another (mindboggling) example. Look how Richard Dawkins patiently explains the evidence for evolution, while the creationist lady just keeps repeating “where is the evidence” (I like to imagine Dawkins just going into a room on his own and screaming after these type of interviews 🙂 ).

Bringing it back to this week’s welfare debate then, after tweeting a link to Johnny Void’s excellent post explaining in detail how it would be very difficult to make a profit from benefits by having more children, someone replied to my tweet to say:

The Daily Mail also ran a poll on Thursday asking whether people thought benefits contributed to Philpott’s crimes. Around 70% agreed. Now often, when the Mail runs hateful articles, the comments underneath show people in disagreement with the article’s content, but under this one, the three most popular comments were:

“It was not the benefits that killed the children but sure as hell he was the master of abusing the benefit system and he is the prime example why we need the benefit changes introduced and more to come hopefully.”

“Sound right to me. Why should I pay for the lifestyle choices of others? My wife an I stopped at 2 children because we could not afford more!. How many more are there claiming large amounts of money pushing out kids year after year?”

“This is what happens when there is benefits system that makes it pay to breed, the more kids the merrier. Limit all benefits payments to two children only NOW!”

Now to me, these comments (particularly the third one) are batshit crazy, but it seems to be what a lot of people actually think, hell, a lot of people I know personally think like that. I don’t think people are impervious to facts, just that it takes no time at all to repeat a lazy stereotype about welfare, but much longer to rebut it. It seems to be much easier to spread fear and resentment with a few lies and some unrepresentative extreme case than it is to persuade through coherent argument and facts and figures.

I think those who defend welfare (and public services in general) need to come up with some better strategies for dealing with misinformation of this kind, because there is undoubtedly a lot more of it on the way. Owen Jones is doing a good job, as are a number of Guardian columnists and notably some relentless disability campaigners who are trying to fight back, but the Labour Party don’t seem know which way to face at present. I’d be interested to hear if people agree with me, or are more optimistic. We all need a bit of hope!

What to do about Britain’s ‘welfare culture’

There’s been a lot of talk this week by politicians and in the press of the problem of Britain’s welfare dependency, its something for nothing culture which is slowly but surely destroying the nation. Some even seem to think this ‘evil’ can drive people to kill their own children. So this is surely a national emergency that we must tackle without haste. The Government say this is exactly what they are doing. They are ‘making work pay’. George Osborne says:

“For too long, we’ve had a system where people who did the right thing – who get up in the morning and work hard – felt penalised for it, while people who did wrong thing got rewarded for it. That’s wrong.”

Quite right. Before now it was too easy to just sit back and rake it in on £71 a week Jobseeker’s Allowance. And who hasn’t thought about doing it themselves? I know I’ve often thought about jacking in my job and replacing it with a jet set lifestyle on benefits, thinking about the sports cars and holidays in the Caribbean that £71 pounds a week could buy me. What luxury!

Seriously though, we must make work pay. Thank god George Osborne knows what he’s doing then. To make work pay for those at the bottom he must be increasing the minimum wage right? Wrong! Increasing working tax credits then? Nope! But at least the Government have increased the income tax threshold. Surely that will benefit those at the bottom the most? You’d think so, but you’d be wrong again. When Universal Credit comes in people will be assessed based on their post-tax income so for every £1 they gain from the tax threshold increase, most or all of it will be clawed back through benefit reductions.

So instead of demonising those on welfare, or implementing policies that actually achieve the opposite of their stated aims, what would a real solution look like?

It seems blindingly obvious that there are at least three glaring issues to be dealt with:

1. There are not enough jobs. Even at the height of the boom this was still the case.

2. Many of the jobs that are out there are low-paid, temporary or part-time.

3 Housing is short in supply and damn expensive

Issues 1 and 2 can actually be fixed with one policy – a job guarantee. We need to accept that the private sector (efficient and awesome as it obviously is) will never be able to produce enough jobs for everyone that wants one. As productivity increases over time and more and more jobs become automated this problem will only increase.

If the private sector cannot create the jobs, the government must step in and be prepared to hire all those left behind. It should not be beyond the wit of man to design a jobs programme that provides great social benefit without going into direct competition with the private sector.

Job guarantee jobs should pay a living wage. This will tackle problem 2 by forcing the private sector to up its game by improving the wages and terms and conditions it offers.

And problem 3? Housing. We could try to hassle people into moving into smaller homes by charging them extra for a ‘spare’ room, or we could actually tackle the real issue – lack of supply of affordable housing. Government should directly fund local council on a per capita basis to build 100,000 council houses nationally per year. The Government wants to cut the housing benefit bill by £2bn (although they’ve actually increased it by more than £3bn). This should achieve that and then some. It might also create one of two jobs I would have thought. And as we would be building the damn things, lets make them environmentally sustainable homes as well. This will reduce incidence of fuel poverty amongst residents of social housing.

To conclude then, the hallmark of this Government has been a crushing timidity on the big issues, coupled with a nasty desire to reach into people’s live and moralise about their views on how people should behave in the fictional world they have built where jobs are plentiful and if people would just pull themselves together, the country would be back on its feet in a fortnight. With a little ambition and a willingness to take off the fiscal straight-jacket our politicians seem to have donned, it’s easy to envisage what at alternative path might look like. Anyway rant over.

Why do people drop their claims for ESA before assessment?

This week, some of the Coalition’s nastier benefit reforms become live, and because of this, we were subject to the spectacle of both Iain Duncan Smith and Tory Party Chairman Grant Shapps taking to the airwaves to give their spin on the reforms. On Monday, IDS came under fire for stating that if he had to, he could live on £53 a week. This gave rise to the inevitable petition, which, at the time of writing has garnered almost 150,000 signatures.

Shapps’ ‘contribution’ to the debate involved pointing to DWP figures showing that 878,000 claimants of Employment and Support Allowance had ceased their claim before undergoing the Work Capability Assessment. Shapps heavily implied (and this slant was run with in many of the media stories, e.g. here) that these claims had stopped because people were not actually sick and knew they would fail the assessment. As with much of what Shapps say though, to get to the truth, you have to go to the source.

Figures about assessments for Employment and Support Allowance are released quarterly here. So what does it say about the reason why 878,000 have ceased their claims?

“Current data does not allow anything conclusive to be said about the destinations of closed and in progress cases, nor to infer what would have been or would be the outcome of assessment.”

So at best there seems to be no evidence about why they have ceased their claim, so Shapps inference seems baseless. But it gets even worse for Shapps because the same publication does refer to some qualitative work also published by the DWP that did look at the reasons why people ceased their claims. It said this:

Most of the interviewees in this research whose claim had been closed or withdrawn before it was fully assessed said they had ended their ESA claim as their health condition had improved. Examples of the types of conditions that had improved included diabetes, mental health problems, including stress and depression, and conditions alleviated by routine operations. These people tended to be working or looking for work, often in the same type of work as they had done before, though not commonly with the same employer.

Some had proactively withdrawn their claim, informing Jobcentre Plus of this, while others simply stopped submitting medical certificates or did not return their ESA50, in the knowledge this would prompt Jobcentre Plus to close their claim. Nobody interviewed consciously ignored an invite to a WCA as a means of closing their claim.

A smaller number of customers had their claim closed by Jobcentre Plus because they had difficulty completing and returning the ESA50, submitting medical certificates, or attending a WCA, even though they did not really want to end their claim. In some cases, this was because the customer’s condition made co-operating with the assessment process difficult, while in others, other life events, such as bereavement, made it difficult for them to progress their claim.”

So the evidence (allbeit based on interviews with a relatively small number of claimants) suggests people do not stop their claims for ESA because they are not genuine, but because their conditions improved (not surprisingly as the period between initial claim and assessment can take months) or worse, because the process of claiming was too arduous for them given their medical condition. Shapps’ interpretation of the data was just another lazy attempt to smear some of the least fortunate in society and to provide some cover for his Government’s shameful welfare policies.