Why are there more DLA claimants?
This morning the DWP published a new report on Disability Living Allowance: Growth in the Number of Claimants 2002/03 to 2010/11. Surprise, surprise, the story was
leaked briefed in advance to the Mail and the Star and the Sun; and to the Express, who again win the One Notch Prize:
HANDOUTS FOR DISABILITY HAVE SOARED 185%
The disability movement has spent a generation fighting for equal rights; DLA, which compensate for some (but not all) of the extra costs of disability is about levelling the playing-field, not giving us a special advantage. So that word “handouts” is guaranteed to bring out my inner bull that’s just had a tempting glimpse of red handkerchief; but, leaving that aside, how accurate is that figure?
Well, in one sense, entirely accurate. In 1992/3, when DLA was introduced, there were 1,117,000 claims; 2010/11, there were 3,182,470, an increase of 2,064,770 – 184.7%.
But that’s a bit misleading, and misleading for reasons that the DWP report is at some pains to explain (which makes you wonder how the Express could have missed them.)
Firstly, the total population has grown during that time, from a touch over 56 million, to a tad over 60.5 million.
Secondly, and more importantly, the population has got older at the same time as it has grown:
It’s strange isn’t it, how the people who always bang on about the importance of the ageing population when talking about pensions forget all about it when it comes to disability benefits, even though it’s well know that older people are more likely to be disabled or have health problems.
That’s why the DWP uses the concept of “receipt per head” to sort out different types of increase. They use a data set that only goes back to 2002/3, but they helpfully provide “aligned” figures back to 1992 in a separate file. Between 2002/3 and 2010/11, total growth of DLA was 29%, but total growth due to changes in “receipt per head” was 21% and part of this is due to a “maturing” effect.
DLA can’t be claimed after the age of 65, but people who were receiving it before then continue for as long as they need it; this means that, in 1992, the oldest recipient was 65, but now there are people aged up to 84 getting DLA – another reason for the growth in claims. If people over 65 are excluded, the total increase in the numbers is 23% and total growth due to changes in “receipt per head” was 16%.
It’s very difficult to take comparisons back before 2002/3, but if we look at DLA receipt per capita, we can see that it has grown:
Why is this? Well, the first thing to note is that DLA is a benefit paid to people both in and out of work, who mainly have severe and long-lasting impairments and health conditions. Secondly, DLA replaced two existing benefits but introduced a new lower care rate that reached people with lesser but still significant extra costs (it’s been this group that has been most helped by DLA – by far the most positive welfare reform introduced by a Conservative government in the last 40 years). Both these factors mean that we should expect to see the numbers on the benefit and the proportion of the population rising over time.
That’s why the highest increases in take-up of the care component took place in the early years of the benefit, and the increase was particularly noticeable for the low rate:
The other point to note is that there has been a strong age profile to the increase in DLA. I’ve already mentioned the growing number of people over state retirement age who get DLA, the other big bump is at the other end of the spectrum. Some papers are referring to an increase among “young men”, but if we look at the increases analysed by age group we can see that what has happened has been an increase in the numbers qualifying as children or young teenagers:
Until recently, governments have gone out of their way to make sure that disabled children can qualify for DLA; one of the best things the last government did was, in 2001, to extend the number of severely disabled children who qualified for the care component. Families with disabled children have substantial extra costs and are more likely than other families to be poor. It would be a tremendous shame if the current government plans to reverse this policy intent. (Their benefits are currently threatened by Universal Credit: see Sam Royston’s post for more details.)
Some newspaper stories are ‘blaming’ the last government for the increasing numbers on DLA. In fact the largest increases were in DLA’s early years, though there was also a surge a decade ago when the number of people who qualify was extended – like the creation of DLA, this wasn’t an error, it was a policy, it isn’t something to be ashamed of:
One of the central points in the DWP report, and one that we are bound to see repeated by government mouthpieces, is that
Overall the number of DLA claimants has grown by 29% since 2002/03
But this year is actually something of a low point. If we look at how much DLA claims grew over the same period, we find that the rate of increase has been coming down substantially:
Finally, there is one way to completely misinterpret these figures. Disability Living Allowance is a “costs” benefit – it helps disabled people cope with the extra costs associated with disability and health conditions. It is not an out-of-work benefit – increased take-up of DLA is not a sign of people having a good life avoiding work, getting DLA does not reduce the differential between in-work and out-of-work incomes, it does not interfere with government attempts to “make work pay”.
Today’s stories have all the marks of a “softening up exercise.” The government plans to replace the DLA with a new benefit called Personal Independence Payment, whose raison d’etre is to reduce spending substantially – by over a billion pounds a year by 2014/15. The government has never produced any evidence whatsoever to show that disabled people can meet the extra costs of disability for a billion pounds less. But if the demonisation of unemployed people can be extended successfully to disabled people they’ll never have to.