David Cameron has announced that he wants to reassess every person on Incapacity Benefit to see if they are fit for work within three years of a Conservative election victory. Let’s do some maths. (No, wait, come back!)
Numbers of Claimants
According to the BBC article, 2,600,000 people are in receipt of Incapacity Benefit. If these 2.6 million people are to be reassessed within 3 years this means that:
866,667 people will have to be examined each year; or
16,667 people each week; or
3,333 people every day (ignoring the effect of bank holidays).
For the sake of easy arithmetic, let’s assume that processing each claimant takes the doctor or nurse assigned to the task an hour. (That’s the time spent reading the paperwork relating to the claimant beforehand, the time spent with the claimant, and the time spent completing the report afterwards, for which an hour would seem barely adequate.) This would mean that, across the UK as a whole, processing every claimant will require
3,333 staff-hours per day.
Let’s assume that each DWP doctor or nurse works for
7 hours a day (0900-1700, with an hour off for lunch – I’m assuming they don’t take tea breaks, or toilet breaks).
Assuming they do nothing but see claimants all day, and that everything runs like clockwork, each medical assessor will see
7 claimants a day.
For all 3,333 claimants to be seen each day, this requires a total of:
476 medical assessors across the UK (assuming no medical assessor ever takes a holiday, or maternity/ paternity leave, or falls ill, and that every medical assessor is instantly recruited, and so can begin work at 0900 the morning after a Conservative election win).
These medical assessors will have to be paid. Tracking down precise salary information is tricky. Doctors applying for work on the DWP contract are promised
a competitive salary, contributory stakeholder pension scheme, generous holiday allowance, employee private medical cover, Life assurance, Personal Accident Insurance, Season Ticket Loan and a flexible benefits scheme that allows you to purchase discounted products and services
which seems to be erratically capitalised, and also sounds quite costly. Nurses applying for work are promised
No Nights. No Shifts. No On-Call […] Excellent benefits
£28,500 – £32,700 pa depending on experience and location
Let’s assume that all of the 476 medical assessors are to be nurses, and that they all earn the exact median point of the salary range
The cost of the 476 medical assessors alone will be:
£14,565,600 per annum.
This excludes the cost of reception staff, administration staff, security staff, and so on.
Each of these 476 medical assessors will require a consulting room in which to examine claimants. According to their website, Atos Healthcare (the private company contracted by the DWP to provide medical services), currently maintains a
nationwide network of over 140 medical examination centres
in which they carry out
600,000 face to face medical assessments
per year for the DWP.
This means that, on average, each medical examination centre carries out about
4286 examinations per year; or
82 examinations per week; or
16 examinations per day (ignoring the effect of bank holidays).
If each medical examination centre carries out 16 examinations per day, then processing the 3,333 claimants per day required by David Cameron would require the opening of an additional
208 medical examination centres.
So, let’s review. David Cameron is proposing
a minimum £14,565,600 increase in the annual public sector wage bill;
a 148% increase in the number of publicly-funded medical examination centres;
an unknown increase in the number of civil servants in the DWP to process the additional paperwork;
an unknown increase in the number of civil servants required to process an unquantified number of appeals against the removal of benefit.
This is all based on the presumption, for which he has advanced no evidence, that a staggeringly high proportion – one fifth – of those receiving Incapacity Benefit are capable of work, and that these hundreds of thousands of fraudsters (assuming they exist) will be flushed out by this process. This is despite the fact that every single IB claimant has already been through multiple medical assessments of the kind he is proposing, and has been repeatedly found to be incapable of work.
Of course, the real reason this all seems to extraordinary is that David Cameron isn’t seriously proposing any of it. He’s an intelligent man, and he knows fine well that this is an attention-grabbing, populist policy that hasn’t got a hope in hell of actually working. He doesn’t need it to work – in fact, it would be a nightmare for him if it did work, because it would substantially push up the unemployment figures in the middle of a period when the numbers are already very high, and that would have a drastic effect on the perception of the health of the UK economy, and so would affect things like the exchange rate, and the cost of borrowing, in a really bad way. No, David Cameron doesn’t actually want this policy to work, he just needs it to get knee-jerk approval from the kind of people who think that, because the media can find a few people claiming IB fraudulently each year, then that obviously means that all 2.6 million people on the benefit must be ‘at it’. He needs it to satisfy the kind of idiot mentality that thinks that a back-of-an-envelope solution to a complex problem is going to make everything instantly all better.
And he knows, thanks to a shrieking, celebrity-obsessed print media, and broadcast journalists who are pusillanimous to the point of utter uselessness, that no-one is ever going to hold him to account. No-one will ever ask him, or his opponents, the single most important question to ask of any politician proposing any policy on anything: nice soundbite – but how would that actually work in practice?