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Church leaders rebuke government ministers for ‘misuse’ of benefit data

11 June 2013

PA

THE Bishops of Bradford and Leicester have signed a letter to the Prime Minister which accuses members of his Government of misusing data "to undermine the credibility of benefit claimants".

In the letter, which was sent to Mr Cameron on Thursday of last week, the Bishop of Bradford, the Rt Revd Nick Baines, and the Bishop of Leicester, the Rt Revd Timothy Stevens, write that government ministers "have given misleading and inaccurate information about those on benefits", and calls on them to apologise.

One of the examples it gives is from 30 March, when the chairman of the Conservative Party, Grant Shapps (above), "stated that 878,300 people had dropped claims to incapacity benefit 'rather than completing a medical test'". This had given the impression "that those who withdrew their application had submitted false claims or feared that they would not be eligible for benefit if tested". The letter says that there was "no evidence that people withdrew their applications 'rather than' undergo a medical test".

The letter cites two other instances in which it says that ministers "misused and misinterpreted" data, "at the same time as major changes to the benefits system" were being introduced.

It continues: "It is disturbing that these three instances conform to an apparent pattern of misleading and sometimes wholly inaccurate information from the Government when dealing with the issue of social security; a practice that has added to the misunderstanding and stigma which continues to pollute the debate around poverty in the UK.

"We are concerned that these inaccuracies paint some of the most vulnerable in our society in an unfavourable light, stigmatising those who need the support of the benefits system. No political or financial imperative can be given to make this acceptable."

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