As I wrote in this piece for Guardian Comment is Free, the government's State of the Nation report offers a woefully misleading representation of the nature and purpose of DLA. "There is a high degree of persistence among claimants of many low-income and out-of-work benefits", it says. "For example … around 2.2 million people, including 1.1 million people of working age, have been claiming disability living allowance for over five years".
People who are not disabled and have no experience of the relevant benefits tend not to understand the difference between, say, DLA, ESA and IB. After all, why would they? But not knowing is one thing. Being misled is quite another. The government should know better and do better. This is not an issue of political ideology, but one of fact. The government is not giving people the facts. The State of the Nation report implies, wrongly, that DLA is for people who do not work, to name but one instance of many. Take the website of the Centre for Social Justice, the think tank founded by Iain Duncan Smith (which appears to have a very subjective take on what "social justice" should entail). On this page, for example, it says (scroll down to point 6):
"One of the most striking observations I made during my time there was the extent of a benefits culture and a lack of any form of work ethic. There were many people whose aspiration went no further than getting the maximum amount of benefits they could. Indeed one of the service users used as his trump card when trying to chat up a woman that he "was now on full DLA, the works". This is the type of culture we must overturn. Once they have those benefits it is almost impossible for them ever to earn enough money working to make it worth their while to get off benefits."
Excuse me? Aside from the current reliance on anonymous quotes to prove ideological points (I no more believe in the existence of this "service user" than I do of the people who have told Nick Clegg they want a simpler test for DLA, but no doubt they're all mates with David Cameron's "40-year-old black man"), DLA has nothing to do with people's employment status or work ethic. People who are eligible for DLA are eligible whether or not they work.
Yet MPs and the likes of the CSJ are still merrily implying that people on DLA could stop receiving it if only they got jobs. The minimum wage does not go up, and the price of basic esssentials does not go down, just because someone's basic needs cost more than other people's.
But people really do believe this. Read the comments on any newspaper article about DLA and you will see just how many people think that DLA claimants do not work - and that, as a result, they are "scroungers". Even a member of my own family, who knows why I receive it, interrupted my explanation of my worries about what the government is doing to tell me about someone they once heard of who got signed off sick from work when they weren't really that sick. Which, again, has absolutely nothing to do with DLA.
And it gets worse. I've just been sent a copy of Breakthrough Northern Ireland, a report by the CSJ. Here's a quote:
"Mental ill-health leads to worklessness
The majority of people claiming illness-related out-of-work benefits do so on
account of mental and behavioural disorders. This includes
z Over 42,000 people claiming Disability Living Allowance (DLA)..."
Once again, DLA is being wrongly described as an out-of-work benefit. It's got to the point where I don't know if politicians are deliberately lying about DLA so the public supports their plan to reassess everyone and drastically cut the caseload, or if they actually believe the misguided statements they're making. I made a Freedom of Information request to try to find out how the State of the Nation report came to do this, but with no luck - they gave me the basic memos and briefs, but claimed they had no written details of the appprovals process (ie any amends, and who requested them), and they avoided sending some of the info under various exclusions. What I can tell you is this: the State of the Nation report was written at very short notice, and the original brief said it should be "fact-based". Again, you've got to wonder who actually knows the facts any more.
The other day, I received an email from someone who had contacted her MP over concerns about what is happening to the DLA application process. His reply talked about the need to lift people off benefits and back into work. And who is her MP? Danny Alexander, chief secretary to the treasury. It is clear that the treasury, and the public purse, are now in the care of people who either don't know, or don't care, what DLA is for.