Activists have warned that repeated government references to the need to slash the disability benefits bill could lead to a rise in disability hate crime.
The government is making it increasingly clear that the more money it can save from its benefits bill, the less it will have to cut from other areas of spending.
Speaking to journalists at the G20 summit in Canada, the chancellor, George Osborne, highlighted incapacity benefit and housing benefit as two large budgets that the government wanted to cut.
The comments followed his emergency budget, in which he stressed the cost of spending on disability living allowance (DLA).
Anne Novis, a leading national campaigner on disability hate crime, said she was “appalled and dismayed” at the government’s “targeted hostility” towards disabled people.
She said: “The ignorance around what DLA is and how it supports disabled people with the recognised extra cost of being a disabled person is perpetuating a myth that disabled people have it easy, get everything free and have an easy life.
“It reinforces the attitude that some have towards us that we are a burden on the state and should be got rid of or marginalised into more poverty by such extreme measures.”
Novis said the government appeared to have no understanding of the importance of DLA to disabled people and how crucial it was in promoting independent living.
She said disabled people were experiencing increasing physical and verbal assaults “due to everyone believing the myth perpetuated by many MPs and ministers that disability and sickness fraud is extremely high, when this is not the case”.
DWP figures show that estimated DLA fraud for 2009/10 was £60 million, just 0.5 per cent of the money spent on DLA. Estimated incapacity benefit (IB) fraud was also just 0.5 per cent, or £30 million.
These figures compare with far higher levels of fraud among claimants of income support (2.8 per cent, £240 million), jobseeker’s allowance (2.5 per cent, £120 million) and carer’s allowance (3.9 per cent, £60 million).
Stephen Brookes, joint chair of the disabled members’ council of the National Union of Journalists (NUJ) and another leading anti-hate crime campaigner, emailed NUJ colleagues this week to say he was becoming “deeply concerned” at the growing numbers of “sensational headlines and stories about disability ‘scroungers’ and ‘benefit cheats’”.
He said the government was spreading the message that “if only they can stop ‘disabled benefits cheats’ then other cuts won’t have to be so bad”.
Brookes warned that such stories could create a “serious discriminatory attitude which will clearly lead to abuse of disabled people”.
29 June 2010