Wednesday, 10 August 2011

Case #5: DLA Is Bad News For The Coalition

Now is a good time to bury bad news.

With the rolling news media and print media being saturated by riots, everyone and their mother's theory for why there are riots (all of them are true, but unnecessary), has anyone been looking at what the government has been doing? I mean, apart from the holidays the leadership were very reluctant to leave. There are still ministers and civil servants busy doing their stuff. What have they been getting up to? I can't very well check everything myself, but I can look at what I know and started opening all my bookmarks and closing them rapidly as I glanced through them. Then I saw on the DWP ad hoc analysis page a report published on Monday- "Disability Living Allowance: Growth in the number of claimants 2002/03 to 2010/11". I've had some faux-conspiracy failures on applying Occam's Razor before, but though this came out on Monday the front page of the PDF is dated 'July 2011'. Maybe it means really late July though rather than it simply being the case that the government wanted to delay it while they were trying to hasten the Welfare Reform bill through the House of Lords (which failed and they had to delay it until Parliament opens again for business proper in September). But then I get through the thing and the author signs off the written part with:

This report was written around three months ago, when the Welfare Reform bill was going through it's Second Reading in the House of Commons (EDIT: then delayed again when the attempt to rush it in the Lords failed in July). Why has it taken all this time for it to come out? Maybe because whilst the author takes great care not to draw the ire of ministers in charge of Welfare reform, it mentions something I've talked about on The Files before: 

There have been substantial increases in the receipt per head among those aged 65 and over as a result of the “maturing” of DLA. This distorts the overall picture of growth. In order to receive DLA, a claimant must claim before the age of 65 but then can continue to receive the benefit beyond 65 if they remain eligible. Therefore, with a few exceptions (some people who had received Mobility Allowance before 1992), there were no claimants aged 65 or over when DLA was introduced in 1992. However, DLA continues to be paid over the age of 65 provided the conditions of entitlement continue to be satisfied. This has meant that the maximum age of claimants has been increasing each year, and a growing proportion of people aged 65 or over receive DLA. For example, at the start of 2002/03 the maximum age (with the aforementioned exception) was 75, but by the end of 2010/11 it had reached 84. So irrespective of any demographic change, or any increase in the propensity of this group to claim DLA, there would be an increase in the number of people in receipt of DLA aged over 65 due to this “maturing” effect. This effect can be expected to continue into the future, though with diminishing impact as number of people declines with age (it is expected it would plateaux around 2020).
I have some issues with the way the data is being presented but the underlying concept is sound and is exactly the issue I've raised about pension-age DLA claimants. It is devastating to the government case for DLA reform which whilst making no mention of pensioners, uses them in drumming up popular support for reforms by including them in the total figures showing how 'unsustainable' DLA is. There is a strong motive for why this report's publication was delayed for months.

As for the figures being presented in the report: I pointed out that pensioners went from taking a 33% to almost 38% and made up 46.6% of the increase since 2002. The report completely downplays this because of the way it presents the data. Despite pandering and trying not to step on her bosses toes, Liz Whiting's report was still inexplicably delayed. What is wrong with the way the data is presented? I've not prepared graphs but they shouldn't be needed to illustrate it.

Since 2002, DLA claims have gone from 2.4 million to 3.1 million. This is a rise of 29%. How I presented the data was to look at the percentage of the rise: pension-age claimants make up 46%, nearly half of it. They were but a third of the total number of claimants.

How the report presents the data is a rise in the form of a percentage itself from the total number and to divide that not into percentages, but into fractions that are displayed as percentages. If that's confusing, don't worry; it appears to be deliberately so. I can think of no other reason why it has been done like this and I may edit this post later to add graphs in to highlight it. Claims rose 29% and the report divides this 29% into fractions:

EDIT: after reviewing this post I've decided some form of graphical illustration is needed and added some more explanation in. In the report it says..

The headline growth over this period is 29%. Of this, 21% can be attributed to an increase in receipt per head, part of which is due to the maturing of DLA. The remaining 8% is due to a growth in the population and a change in the age and gender structure of the population.
Then a little later..
If those aged over 65 are excluded, then the number of DLA claimants has increased by 23% - and this increase has been the same for both males and females. This is largely driven by an increase in receipt; 16% of total growth is due to an increase receipt per head and 7% is a result of demographic change. The remainder of this analysis focuses on people under the age of 65.

 Under 65s make up 23%, no not of the rise, of the 29%- so pension-age claimants make up 6% (no, not of the rise, again). But 6% as a fraction of 29% is nowhere near 46% or almost 1/2 of it, it's closer to 20% or 1/5. The numbers they're using are the same as mine and neither of us have got our maths wrong (EDIT: a look at figure 1 in the report reveals it is not using the same numbers available on the DWP tabulation tool, looking at the Pension Age rise specifically), so what's happened? I actually can't believe they had the audacity to use this trick: whilst pensioners make up a disproportionate number of claims and rising, they are still in the minority and with the way the report is using percentages as fractions rather than as percentages it cancels out disproportionate pension-age claimant growth.

The author didn't just exclude over 65s whilst coming out with these figures for what DLA growth is like with over-65s excluded too; they measure them against what the total growth would be if that didn't include over-65s either and then neglected to mention this. I took the total DLA count as of November 2011 and subtracted it with the total from February 2002 to get a percentage rise. Please note that this method delivers a different percentage from the report's 29% growth because (I think EDIT: no, it turns out to be an artefact of using a pie chart, I might have to find a more accurate format) that used the method of taking the quarterly figures and averaging them into annual rises which it added together. The point here is to show what exactly was done regarding the comparison of growth that includes over-65s and when it excludes over-65s:

Click to enlarge

If the author intended to show accurately how over-65s have affected growth, they would have simply excluded them from the growth portion like this and left them in the overall total

But instead they removed them from the overall total, which has the effect of comparing the under-65 claimant rise with the under-65 claimant total only rather than the overall total. This downplays how much over-65s contribute to the overall rise.
In 2002 the claimant count for under 65s was 1.4 million. In 2010 it just pipped 1.8 million. That's a rise of 400,000 though strictly speaking you can see in the table data that it was 50,000 less. Pension-age claimants were 0.7 million or 719,000 claims in 2002 and by 2010 this rose to 1.0 million or 1,0487,30 claims. A rise of around 300,000. Get that: group B that is half the number of group A grew by more than 75% of what group A did. It's massive. By using percentages as fractions and playing with the labelling, the report has utterly disguised this. 

Case File #5 has nothing to report or conclude on this, just questions. I am currently mulling over whether to include such things in my submission to the Work and Pension Select Committee inquiry into DLA reform. Submission must be 3000 words or less. EDIT: I think what I've noticed since yesterday warrants a further post on the way figures are being used and the actual source relating to the pension-age stuff.


  1. I suspect they are getting ready to tell us to may people are getting DLA, but do not worry PIP's will be better.

    Lose a leg no problem limp along on one, lose two bum it.

    But yes we know the government or rather all governments are good at misusing facts and figures.

    Rob the crip

  2. It's not just the way the figures are being handled. Obviously they've been used in a way to downplay the significance of having to acknowledge positive forcing from the over-65s, but that wasn't enough and they decided to delay the report too. With this issue raised beyond this blog now, it's something the DWP must answer.

  3. Well spotted Mason Dixon,Autistic.Keep plugging away.