Conservative party chairman Grant Shapps has been caught using false statistics to back up the government's welfare reforms, pointing to the wrong set of numbers to imply there were nearly a million benefit cheats.
In a Sunday Telegraph article from March, Shapps is quoted saying: "nearly 900,000 people who were on incapacity benefit dropped their claim to the payments, rather than undergo a tough medical test."
It continues: "This is a new figure, nearly a million people have come off incapacity benefit... before going for the test. They take themselves off."
However the UK Statistics Authority said the Tory chairman had "conflated" figures to get that total.
The figure of nearly one million Shapps quoted was in fact the number of new applicants to Employment and Support Allowance who had dropped claims between October 2008 and May 2012. They had not been awarded ESA.
The actual number people who were on incapacity benefit who dropped their claim to the payments was 20,000.
UKSA chair Andrew Dilnot, responding to MP Sheila Gilmore's enquiry, said: "Having reviewed the article and the relevant figures, we have concluded that these statements appear to conflate official statistics relating to new claimants of the ESA with official statistics on recipients of the incapacity benefit (IB) who are being migrated across to the ESA."
He goes on to answer Ms Gilmore's further inquiry over why so many new applicants dropped their claims, questioning Shapps' claim that applications for ESA were dropped because of the government's 'tough new test.'
He writes: "In your letter, you also expressed concern about the apparent implication in the Sunday Telegraph article that claims for ESA had been dropped because the individuals were never really ill in the first place. The statistical release does not address the issue of why cases were closed in great depth, but it does point to research undertaken by DWP which suggests that 'an important reason why ESA claims in this sample were withdrawn or closed before they were fully assessed was because the person recovered and either returned to work, or claimed a benefit more appropriate to their situation'."
Sheila Gilmore told the Huffington Post UK the letter "confirmed that Grant Shapps and the Tory press deliberately misused statistics on disability benefits.
"This is part of a campaign by the Conservatives to undermine public trust in welfare. It allows them to prioritise cutting benefits ahead of taxing the richest in their attempts to reduce the deficit. That’s why in the same year that disabled people hit by the Bedroom Tax are having their weekly income slashed by £14, 13,000 millionaires are getting a tax cut of £100,000.
"To counter this I’ve been calling for the Work and Pensions Select Committee – of which I’m a member – to question DWP Ministers on this issue. Hopefully then this practice of deliberately misusing benefit statistics will stop."
In a rebuke to the chairman, the UKSA copied the letter to Iain Duncan Smith, Bernard Jenkin MP, and the Chair of the Work and Pensions Committee, Dame Anne Begg MP and to the National Statistician, Jil Matheson.
Iain Duncan Smith has already been criticised by the UKSA for misusing figures to promote the effectiveness of the coalition's benefits cap on getting people into work. A petition calling on MPs to hold Duncan Smith's use of statistics to account has now attracted more than 50,000 signatures.
David Cameron has also received a ticking-off from the official statistics watchdog over his claim that the Government was "paying down Britain's debts".
The Prime Minister's assertion in the Conservative Party political broadcast sparked a furious complaint by Labour, which described his comments as "deliberately misleading" as the debt was actually rising.
Chair of the UK Statistics Authority Andrew Dilnot confirmed that public sector net debt has risen from £811 billion in 2010 when the coalition took office to £1.1 trillion at the end of last year.
Responding to Labour's complaint, Mr Dilnot said it was important that politicians distinguished correctly between accumulated and annual public sector borrowing - which has come down under the coalition.
Grant Shapps' office has not yet responded to a request for comment made by the Huffington Post UK
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