The Conservatives have refused to apologise after home secretary Amber Rudd “lied” in a televised general election debate about the amount of money the government spends on disability benefits.
Rudd, who was standing in for prime minister Theresa May – who had refused to take part in the debate on BBC1 last Wednesday – claimed the “welfare bill” for disabled people had risen to £50 billion.
She had been responding to a comment from the deputy leader of the SNP, Angus Robertson, who had said: “Some of those people on the lowest incomes have been massively hit by welfare cuts, and I think the time has come to end punishing disabled people, end the bedroom tax, and leaving people with the lowest incomes with too little to pay for the essentials.”
Rudd (pictured) responded: “On the direct point of payments to help people who are disabled, we are a party who will always support those in most need, and the welfare bill for helping people on disabilities has gone up seven billion in the past seven years and is now at 50 billion.”
The figure of £50 billion is one that work and pensions ministers have previously used to exaggerate the amount spent on disability and sickness benefits when criticised about the impact of their austerity cuts and welfare reforms.
Last November, the work and pensions secretary Damian Green told MPs that the government was “spending £50 billion a year on disability benefit, which shows that we want a practical system that cares for people with a disability”.
He had made a similar claim on his own website in March, when he argued that the government was “committed to supporting those most in need, and currently spends around £50 billion every year on benefits alone to support people with disabilities or health conditions”.
But the Department for Work and Pensions’ (DWP) own figures – based on a freedom of information response secured by Disability News Service 18 months ago, and subsequent DWP spending figures – show that spending in 2015-16 came to about £37 billion at the most.
The figure only reaches £50 billion by including spending on areas such as adult social care, concessionary travel and disabled facilities grants.
DNS approached the Conservative party press office to ask if Rudd or the party would correct the figure and apologise for deliberately inflating the number in a live debate just a week before the election, but it has refused to comment.