New official figures have undermined one of the government’s key justifications for reforming and slashing spending on a vital disability benefit.
The disability living allowance (DLA) statistics were only passed by the government to selected newspapers this week and led to stories highlighting what was described as a huge rise in the number of claimants over the last eight years.
But a close examination of the figures suggests the growth in claimants has been far lower than the government has previously claimed, an increase it has used to justify plans to replace DLA with a new personal independence payment (PIP) and to cut spending on working-age DLA by 20 per cent.
In the government’s consultation on DLA reform, it argued that the number of claimants had risen by 30 per cent in eight years, a growth rate which it suggested was not “affordable and sustainable” in the long term.
But its new figures show that the number of DLA claimants up to the age of 65 has risen by just 23 per cent over those eight years. And seven per cent of this rise is due to “demographic factors”, such as population changes.
Excluding children gives a figure for the growth in the number of working-age claimants of DLA of just 13 per cent in eight years, far lower than the 30 per cent increase used by the government to justify its sweeping reforms and cuts.
The Department for Work and Pensions refused to comment when asked whether the figures fatally undermined the government’s justification for working-age DLA cuts and reform.
Anne Kane, policy manager for the disabled people’s organisation Inclusion London, said: “Even if DLA figures had risen by the 30 per cent government claimed, it would be no justification for the savage cuts that are planned and which will condemn many people to greater poverty and disabling barriers.
“But if government is spinning the figures to create an impression of significantly greater levels of rising claims than is actually the case, that is of additional great concern – particularly given the prejudicial media coverage that’s already appeared and the role that ministers should be taking to prevent damaging stereotypes.”
The government’s statistics were used this week by newspapers such as the Daily Mail for inaccurate stories that are likely to stir up further hostility towards disabled people.
Less than two weeks ago, disabled activists criticised newspapers and the government over the “appalling” coverage of new statistics on claimants of out-of-work disability benefits.
In the wake of those stories, Dame Anne Begg, the disabled Labour MP and chair of the Commons work and pensions committee, wrote to employment minister Chris Grayling to ask him to contact newspaper editors “to ensure that the reports they carry… are factually correct and that they avoid pejorative terms such as ‘shirkers’ and ‘scroungers’ which are irresponsible and inaccurate”.
This week, the Mail took the new DLA figures and described the increase in claimants as “shocking”, stressing how much the benefit costs the tax-payer.
The Mail said the growth in the number of young men claiming DLA “strongly suggests” that the benefit has “been abused by those who are fit to work”. What it failed to say was that DLA is paid to those both in and out of work.
The Mail also pointed to the growth in the number of young people “living off their disabilities”. But DLA actually covers just some of the extra costs disabled people face because of their impairment.
The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC), which refused to speak out in the wake of the coverage two weeks ago, has also declined to comment on the latest Mail story.
An EHRC spokeswoman said: “It is not an issue we are looking into at the moment. They are entitled to what they want to write. They do it every day. It is just not an issue that we are dealing with at the moment.”
When asked why the commission was not speaking out on this issue, she added: “That’s the way it is at the moment.”
11 August 2011