Labour’s new shadow minister for disabled people has accused the government of “talking up” the issue of disability benefit fraud as it attempts to push through its sweeping welfare reforms.
Anne McGuire, herself a former minister for disabled people, told Disability News Service that she was “highly critical” of the “context” the government had created around its welfare reforms.
She was particularly critical of the focus on “benefits cheats”, when the government’s own figures show that only a “tiny proportion” of disability benefits claims are fraudulent.
She said: “People who cheat on disability benefits are not disabled people, and [the amount of fraud]is a tiny proportion.”
Government figures estimate that the overpayment of incapacity benefit due to fraud is just £20 million a year, or 0.3 per cent of spending.
She also attacked the government for not doing more to address offensive and inaccurate stories about “cheats” and “scroungers” in the media.
She said: “They certainly do not appear to have done anything to mitigate the wilder accusations in the tabloid media. That is something I will be wanting to raise in the Commons.”
She was speaking days after being appointed as her party’s new shadow minister for disabled people.
McGuire also criticised ministers in the Department for Work and Pensions – including the disabled people’s minister, Maria Miller – for failing to work more closely with disabled people on the welfare reform bill.
She said: “We had two major welfare bills, I was minister on one of them, but we worked with disabled people at all points in developing the policies and in the parliamentary process.
“I do not yet have the confidence that the government – the Department for Work and Pensions ministers – are listening and responding to some of the concerns.”
And McGuire said there was “great concern” about government plans to scrap disability living allowance and replace it with a new “personal independence payment”.
She said her party would “continue to challenge” the government on the bill, which is currently passing through the Lords, but was unable to say which disability-related elements of the welfare reforms her party might target for possible concessions.
19 October 2011