The shadow minister for disabled people has called for an urgent investigation into a fall of more than 22 per cent in the proportion of older people receiving a disability benefit designed to help them with their daily living costs.
New analysis of government and Office for National Statistics (ONS) figures by Disability News Service (DNS) shows that the percentage of those aged 65 and over who receive attendance allowance (AA) fell by 22.3 per cent in the six years after the coalition came to power in 2010.
In August 2010, more than 16 per cent of people aged 65 and over were receiving AA, but by August 2016 that had fallen to 12.6 per cent, a drop of 22.3 per cent in six years.
Last week, DNS reported for the first time that the number of older disabled people receiving AA had fallen from 1.6 million in August 2011 to 1.435 million in August 2017, a fall of about 165,000 (just over 10 per cent) in six years.
But DNS has now compared these and earlier government figures with population statistics from ONS from 2010 and 2016, which show the number of older people rose from 10,043,926 in mid-2010 to 11,516,330 in mid-2016 (there are no figures yet for 2017).
Taken the ONS data together with the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) figures, which show the number of AA recipients fell sharply between August 2010 (1,624,660) and August 2016 (1,447,460), reveals the striking new figures.
Marsha de Cordova (pictured), Labour’s shadow minister for disabled people, said: “It is deeply troubling to see a completely unexplained 22 per cent fall in the proportion of people over 65 getting help with the personal care and support they need.
“I fear that this will have led to vital support being lost by vulnerable people.
“The DWP clearly needs to investigate this as a matter of urgency. We cannot allow people, for whatever reason, to be left without the personal care they need.”
Tracey Lazard, chief executive of Inclusion London, said the fall was “shocking” and “cannot be justified in any way”.
She said there appeared to be a “huge under-claiming of support” among older disabled people, which she suggested could be due to “the kind of public narrative of scroungers and fraudsters and the horrific lived experience of going through benefit assessments”.
She said: “It’s no doubt that these are big drivers for this drop even if there wasn’t a concerted policy decision to reduce that benefit.
“We are now living in a climate and society that is actively discouraging people from claiming what their rights [entitle them to].
“I think it’s a damning indictment of the culture and society we are living in. People are too scared to claim.”
She said the government needed to analyse the figures and engage with disabled people’s and older people’s organisations to “explore why this is happening and what we can do”.
AA is non-means-tested and designed to help with disability-related daily living costs, and is available to those 65 or over who do not already receive personal independence payment (PIP) or disability living allowance (DLA).
Those on the lower rate of AA receive £55.65 a week, while those on the higher rate receive £83.10 a week. Some other benefits can also increase if a claimant is receiving AA.
The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) this week refused to offer any explanation for the huge drop in the number of AA claimants.
A DWP spokeswoman would not say why DWP thought the proportion of those aged 65 and over claiming AA had fallen so sharply, whether it was previously aware of this fall, if the department was concerned, or whether it would analyse the figures and find out why the number had dropped.
But she said in a statement: “As previously mentioned, those over pension age with a severe disability do not have to make a claim for attendance allowance if they are already on a disability benefit when they reach 65.
“The numbers of those claiming DLA and PIP who are aged 65 or over has been increasing.
“The combined spend for AA/DLA/PIP (65+) rose from £10.5 billion in 2010-11 to £10.8 billion in 2016-17 in real terms*.
“This group also benefit from the financial support available through the state pension triple lock and may benefit from pension credit.
“There are also a number of universal pensioner benefits such as the winter fuel payment, older person’s bus pass, free prescriptions and free TV licences (for those aged 75 and over) which this group may also be entitled to.”
*If DWP’s figures are accurate, this still appears to represent a fall in spending per person aged 65 and over of more than 10 per cent, even when taking into account the increased numbers receiving DLA and PIP