From the TUC

Are disabled people swinging the lead?

25 Oct 2011, by in Society & Welfare

We all know the type of story:

  • £33,000 benefits cheat who had SEVEN jobs while claiming he was wheelchair-bound Daily Mail, 24 August
  • 500,000 on sick are fit to work Daily Express, 3 April
  • Two in three benefit claimants are fit for work Daily Telegraph, 11 February
  • A benefits cheat who claimed she needed crutches to walk framed herself with her holiday snaps – zooming down a WATER SLIDE in a bikini The Sun, 23 August

How fair are they? Are stories like this becoming commoner? What effect is this having on disabled people?

This type of story certainly gives the impression that lots of disabled people – perhaps most – are claiming benefits they aren’t really entitled to. In fact, fraudulent claims for disability benefits are very rare: DWP statistics show that fraud accounted for just 0.5 per cent of spending on Disability Living Allowance and 0.3 per cent of spending on Incapacity Benefit.

Politicians and journalists repeatedly say that the number of people getting disability benefits is rising because they are being awarded to people with trivial conditions. This is far from the truth.

Using General Household Survey data, Richard Berthoud found that

most of the growth in the prevalence of limiting long-standing illness, and most of the rise in the disability employment penalty, has affected people at the more severe, rather than the less severe, end of the spectrum. This suggests that the underlying trend is a true one, not simply associated with people’s reports of, or responses to, trivial conditions.

Declan Gaffney has looked at the caseload for Incapacity Benefit. Politicians of all parties complained for years about the growth of IB, which is why it has been subjected to “crackdowns” by Peter Lilley in John Major’s government, successive Labour Secretaries of State, and now by Iain Duncan Smith. Declan has used the caseload data to divide IB claimants into two groups: those who also receive Disability Living Allowance and those who don’t.

Roughly speaking, IB claimants who also get DLA are likely to have more severe health conditions and impairments than  those who don’t. And over the years, Declan shows, the number on both benefits has risen, while the number on IB only has fallen:

This chart would be very hard to explain if IB was becoming easier to claim. (There’s more detail on this issue in a briefing available on the TUC website.)

So the newspaper articles (and the comments of many politicians) that give the impression that disability benefits suffer from high levels of fraud and malingering are very unfair. Are articles like that becoming more common? And what effect are they having?

A new report from the Strathclyde Centre for Disability Research and Glasgow Media Unit helps us to answer the first of these questions. Bad News for Disabled People: How the newspapers are reporting disability is based on a comparison of coverage of disability in five newspapers in 20045 and again in 201011 and the results of a series of focus groups. They found:

  • The proportion of articles describing disabled people sympathetically fell. The proportion of articles treating disability as an equality issue also fell.
  • There were more articles focusing on disability benefit and fraud –the focus group members thought that fraud was much more common than it actually is and used these articles to justify their beliefs.
  • There were more articles describing disabled people as a burden on the economy.
  • The language used to describe disabled people had deteriorated, with “suggestions that life on incapacity benefit had become a ‘Lifestyle Choice’” and some articles using words like ‘scrounger’ and ‘skiver’. People with mental health conditions and other ‘invisible’ conditions were particularly likely to be shown in a negative light.

Opinion polling for Scope, carried out in September illuminates the effect this is having. Scope found that 47 per cent of disabled people believe that public attitudes have got worse over the past year. Two-thirds of disabled people say that they have experienced aggression, hostility or name calling. Two statistics in the poll suggest that the growing emphasis on fraudulent claims for disability benefits may have something to do with this:

  • 65% thought others did not believe that they were disabled;
  • 73% said they felt others presumed they did not work.

Both figures had risen significantly from the previous poll, in May.

The political assault on disability benefits isn’t just a matter of cuts in the incomes of some of the poorest and most vulnerable members of our society, it’s helping to create a harsher social atmosphere.

20 Responses to Are disabled people swinging the lead?

  1. Bill Kruse
    Oct 25th 2011, 5:51 pm

    This may provide a suggestion of why it’s happening; “… Hitler and the Nazi party were able shamelessly and facilely to use the miseries inherent in a severe inflationary situation to drum-up nationwide opposition to authority and to persuade many thousands of people that the fault and the blame lay directly in many places where it palpably did not” from When Money Dies by Adam Ferguson, on the Weimar inflation and its background. Well, in the relentless persecution of the disabled and the unemployed together with the absurd suggestion they’re to blame for our economic ills we’re quite clearly seeing something along the same lines today. What’s happening reminds some people of the Nazis because it’s demonstrably the same techniques being used.


  2. David Gillon
    Oct 25th 2011, 10:38 pm

    The consistent attacks on disabled people and the deterioration in our acceptance by the general public go hand in hand when considered as an example of the echo-chamber effect –

    Though a more traditional term might be witch-hunt, and doesn’t it often seem as though we’re facing the House Un-Able Activities Committee – “Are you now, or have you ever been, a disabled person?”

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  4. Coastliner
    Oct 26th 2011, 12:41 pm

    If reporting / press focus on sickness benefit scroungers (and there are lots of them) is causing a worse social atmosphere, the sooner all these malingering freeloaders are weeded out the better for all genuinely disabled people.

  5. Hindle-a
    Oct 26th 2011, 4:52 pm

    Coastliner-interesting comment.Funny though, that all genuinely disabled people seem to disagree or are you saying that they are the “malingerers”I do not happen to have a disability but would be glad to be educated as to how contributory ESA receivers are going to benefit from complete removal of this benefit if they have not recovered after a year.My wife has a disability and illness(no doubt a double malingerer)she wonders how she is benefitting from at best a 20% reduction in income.The State has repeatedly “agreed” she is “genuine”.If the State wants to waste monies retesting continuously to ascertain whether her legs miraculously start working or her kidney,eyes,ears regenerate how is that beneficial to anybody apart from the privateers making money from needless reviews and to satisfy the misanthropy of the ignorant?The media coverage does not work in the way you State,it is resulting in weeding out the prejudicial ignorant public by emboldening them to feel to verbally abuse (and worse) people with disabilities.State sanctioned,media sanctioned hatred does not help anybody.

  6. Briar
    Oct 26th 2011, 5:53 pm

    Yet see how aggressively and shamelessly Coastliner swings his verbal cosh at the disabled – there is little reason to suppose he does not hate them as much as do the thugs who attack disabled people physically. A better illustration of the corrosive effect of the media’s attacks could not be provided.

  7. David Gillon
    Oct 26th 2011, 9:38 pm

    Coastliner claims there’s a lot of it about, nudge, nudge, wink, wink. Yet even DWP, which has turned spinning statistics against disabled people into a particularly sordid artform, admits the disability benefit fraud rate is only 0.3%, and that their own errors waste more money.

    The problem is what many people see as fraud, are simply disabilities they refuse to believe in. We had the perfect example during a phone-in after I’d been interviewed about my experience of disability hate crime (including false accusations of benefit fraud). Someone rang in ranting about people who walk with crutches, but obviously can walk without, who can spend time in their gardens, even dance. I was able to point out he was pretty much describing me, but that being able to do any of those things doesn’t mean I can sit at a desk for more than a few minutes or stand for even less. Try finding a job you can do when you’re forced to spend most of your life flat on your back! People simply don’t see the complexity of disability, see my crutches and you’ll assume there’s something wrong with my legs, whereas in fact the damage is to my spine. And if you can’t see even something as basic as that, then how much more genuine disability are you failing to see, or refusing to acknowledge?

  8. Coastliner
    Nov 1st 2011, 3:31 pm

    Having worked on a run down council estate for the last twelve years I have dealt virtually every day with people who are bleeding the benefits system in one way or another either through their ‘disability’ or some other such scam. I am entitled to express an opinion just as much as anyone else without others trotting out their ‘people don’t understand because they can’t see my disability’ schtick. The only way this country is going to develop for the better in the future is for benefits to return to being what they were created for – a safety net for those desperately in need. Some people have been scamming the system so long that they actually believe they really are disabled. Reform is long overdue – it looks like being a painful process but the bullet has to be bitten and the dependency culture ended.

  9. Bill Kruse
    Nov 1st 2011, 4:32 pm

    This is not welfare reform though, it’s a scam to shovel money from the public purse into private pockets. Your observations, while welcome, don’t apply to what’s actually happening. Those labelled unemployable on health grounds are no more able to perform in a commercial environment when they’re labelled ‘fit to work’ than when they’re labelled unemployable. This is obvious. The so-called testing is so fraudulent that Atos wouldn’t even let Humphrys in to watch it in his laughable and ridiculous ‘documentary’ on the welfare state. There isn’t any real welfare reform happening, it’s just more transference of assets from the poor to the wealthy.


  10. David Gillon
    Nov 2nd 2011, 1:08 am

    Coastliner may be ‘entitled’ to make his claims, but seeing as we’re the ones endangered by the hatred claims like that arouse I think we’re fully entitled to respond with the real facts. His claiming the truth is a ‘schtick’ is particularly revealing.

  11. Hindle-a
    Nov 2nd 2011, 7:54 pm

    David G-yes,I agree.It is as if there is a sort of template they use -“council tenants,disability,dependency culture,widespread fraud”The obligatory “I agree with a safety net” trope but only for the desperately needy.The language used,the change of tack when challenged and the avoidance of any facts at all reveals all you need to know.

  12. Coastliner
    Nov 5th 2011, 2:07 pm

    ‘Britain on the Fiddle’ – BBC1 last Thursday at 8.00 p.m. – I rest my case.

  13. Bill Kruse
    Nov 5th 2011, 2:34 pm

    If that’s your case you don’t have one. This was tabloid television at its worst. Neither of the two men portrayed are being prosecuted – don’t you think they would be if there were actual wrongdoing? Plus it was full of factual errors about benefits and benefit claimants. It was nonsense from start to finish.

  14. Coastliner
    Nov 5th 2011, 6:43 pm

    The programme just illustrated what is the tiny tip of the scrounging iceberg.

  15. Bill Kruse
    Nov 5th 2011, 8:12 pm

    Coastliner, the program was pure propaganda! If there were any evidence, don’t you think they’d have actually found some and shown it instead of relying on misinformation and innuendo?

  16. David Gillon
    Nov 6th 2011, 2:03 am

    Panorama was a disgrace to the programme’s good name. What it illustrated was the appalling number of people who don’t understand disability, or the benefit system, but are willing to accuse people of disability benefit fraud on the basis of their ignorance.

    We have a word for that, that word is bigotry, and disabled people are being attacked for it every day.

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  19. Nathaniel Mathews
    Nov 11th 2011, 7:51 pm

    Great piece, I’m sharing this. I work in benefits advice. I was aware that IB had shot up under the Tory government, as this provided an opportunity to massage unemployment figures by taking people out of the labour pool. I had not realised however how dramatically the single IB claimant count fell so rapidly even before ATOS and ESA had even started. The hiding of official error under the cloak of fraud losses has always seemed despicable lazyness by journalists.

  20. Bill Kruse
    Nov 11th 2011, 8:54 pm

    What’s happening now that’s vaguely similar (I hear) is putting the aging population who should be on JSA onto pension credits once they’re over 60. The figures are being massaged that way instead.