It's rather sad to see Gerri Peev, who I remember as being a fine jounalist on the Scotsman, put her name to a tediously predictable 'benefit scrounger' bashing article for the Daily Mail. There's actually nothing new in the revelation that the majority of initial applicants for the new Employment and Support Allowance are failing to get it, but Gerri - loyal to her new masters' cause - dutifully pretends to be dumbfounded.
"Out of about 840,000 who tried to obtain the £95-a-week Employment and Support Allowance, 640,000 were told they were fit for work, or withdrew their applications before they took the tests – suggesting they were ‘trying it on’.
Incredibly, 7,100 tried to claim because they had sexually transmitted diseases and nearly 10,000 because they were too fat. Only 178,000 – one in four – were given the payment after convincing doctors they were actually unable to work.
The disclosure by the Department for Work and Pensions raises fresh questions over how many of the 2.6million people on the existing incapacity benefit are really incapable of being employed."
Well, that's one side of the equation. But what about the other "fresh questions" that it poses, but which the Mail seem unaccountably incurious about - for starters, what if a lot of the unsuccessful applicants were not in fact "trying it on"? What if (as anecdotal evidence strongly suggests) the assessing contractor Atos have instead been wrongly certifying large numbers of people as fit to work as a direct result of the incentives built into the system for them to get the overall number of claimants down?
A week or two back, Jon Snow raised with Iain Duncan Smith the case of a woman in the middle of treatment for breast cancer, who was repeatedly found to be fit for work before common sense finally prevailed at an appeal - but by which time she'd been put through an unimaginable amount of completely unnecessary additional stress. To his credit, IDS made clear that he'd now put procedures in place to ensure that this could never again happen to cancer patients. But in a sense that rather neatly left unanswered the real thrust of Snow's question, which was about the culture at Atos, one that is clearly geared towards finding reasons to reject claims, rather than towards making the most accurate and objective assessment possible of each individual's capability to work. Until that culture is addressed, neither the Daily Mail nor the government is in any position to credibly draw convenient inferences from the current high rejection rate.