Wednesday, 1 September 2010

No wonder people think we're all scroungers

The coalition government's attack on disabled people isn't limited to reassessing benefits or encouraging members of the public to shop "scroungers". Something rather more terrifying is going on: the government and associated entities are repeatedly, and persistently, describing Disability Living Allowance as an out-of-work benefit - which helps convince the general public that it's a waste of "their" hard-earned tax.

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.


  1. Carer Watch has been campaigning to protect the Disability Benefits. You can see entries here many comments have been added especially to the 1st 2 articles.

    Please feel free to add one of your own.

    Also, ESA campaign

  2. I say this as a card carrying Lib Dem; they (the Tories) are purposely misleading or lying (for want of a better word), to the public about DLA, so they can get a mandate from the public to get rid of it. The worrying thing is that my party doesn’t seem to see anything wrong with this!

    On my membership card the Preamble to the Constitution is written, which includes the following: “no-one shall be enslaved by poverty, ignorance or conformity” quite ironic really.

    I am genuinely starting to wonder where the equality and fairness the Lib Dems stood for, for so long has gone. The social conscience seems to have been replaced with a Thatcherite fu*k you attitude. A fine example of this comes from Lynne Featherstone, someone who before the coalition spoke very loudly and proudly about equality. Have a look at this comment/question on her blog from a disabled voter, she has completely ignored it. No surprise given the coalitions attitude towards the disabled:

    I strongly feel that if the disabled community does not, on mass, come together, and start a campaign against the misinformation and lies then we will see a dark time of inequality for many years to come.

  3. I agree people are totally baffled by the benefits system. I am getting stories that seem almost unbelievable in the amount of cruelty shown by the DWP. Today I have a story about a terminally, blind man, almost unable to walk who because of pride overstated his case at medical and is not getting full benefits and may be found fit for work

  4. This is fantastic blogpost and one I completely agree with. There seems to be a growing sense that disabled people either don't want to work or that people aren't really disabled at all, when really society should be celebrating and recognising that people who are disabled or have long term illnesses are some of the most driven, focused people in society.

    I've written something similar on my own blog about the misconceptions surrounding the recent furore about people claiming IB or ESA for a decade or more. Using the governments own fraud statistics that show benefit deception has dropped to 0.8 per cent, I show that of the estimated £460 million spent each year on incapacity benefit for the 889,000 long-term sick, only £3,600,000 was misspent.

  5. "...1.1 million people of working age, have been claiming disability living allowance for over five years".

    Guilty as charged! I've been claiming for six years now. You'd think that'd be enough time for me to stop being disabled, but no! Still in the wheelchair, still can't wash my own hair, tie my shoelaces or use a pen. Still choking on my own saliva. I must just be a lazy parasite.

    The thing that concerns me the most is the possibility of Experian employees being paid bonuses for exposing benefit fraudsters. That's like offering juries cash incentives for guilty verdicts.

  6. Danny Alexander's attitude now is particularly disgraceful, given that he was one of the loudest critics in Parliament of the ESA application process before he got a sniff of power.

    If the Lib Dems were hoping to convince us that there exist politicians who are not irredeemably evil and only in it for the power, they have failed utterly.

  7. There's another problem too for people who receive DLA but are not able to work. The folks in the government who often talk about "getting the disabled back to work" seemingly have no understanding or appreciation that there are those of us who are completely unable, due to severe illness, to work in any capacity at all. It's very alarming that they wont accept this, as well as distressing.

  8. Hold on a second. If, of 2.2 million claimants, only 1.1 million are of working age, doesn't this mean that a full 50% of DLA claimants are not required to work anyway?

    (Incidentally, I saw a friend the other day, who informed me that my mental state is obviously deteriorating. This is almost completely down to the assaults on the disabled of both this government and the last. I'm sure some of this is intentional; I honestly believe that they want as many mentally fragile people to lose hope and kill themselves as possible. I can think of no other reason for the utter cruelty this coalition is exhibiting.)

  9. I agree with all the points raised. The woman who wrote to me about Danny Alexander says she is requesting a meeting with him and will get back in touch to say how it goes.

    Everyone who has commented, please, whoever your MP is, write to them. Send them a link to this post.

  10. This stuff makes me so angry, and I don't even live in the UK anymore. I'm so sorry this is going down.

  11. As a person forced out of work after 8 years of mental bullying from my line manager all the while loosing my dad to cancer and nearly loosing my mum too, and after two full mental breakdowns I have been most affected by the constant assault on my legitimacy of having benefits as much by the previous and present government as the ignorant and ill informed public.

    Even after I was forced to leave my place of work the bully continued to bully and harass me, but now online, yet my complaint with my previous employers over his conduct wasn't upheld. Eventually it got so bad I had to call the police which I provided DWP for after the bully falsely reported me for benefit fraud has part of his harassment so they could see just what I was dealing with.

    I am very much in agreement with Gwenhwyfaer I too have felt this to be a systematic assault by governments knowing full well what a fragile state the mind is in when dealing with any form of mental health, to me it smacks of eugenics and decreasing the surplus population of those not fit for wage slave and market debt.

    I am on IB and only recently DLA. I get no support and my doctor has refused to get me refereed to CBT despite a psychiatric recommendation for it. So I have been left to rot feeling a constant threat to my benefits/security giving me constant anxiety and inability to function.

    Socialism is for the rich, capitalism is for the rest of us.

  12. It is commonly mistaken for an out-of-work benefit, however, and I'm sure we've all heard of this, the people who are claiming out-of-work benefits who can (and should!) work and have been claiming out-of-work benefits for their entire life are constantly trying to get things like DLA 'added' to their list of benefits - this makes it even easier for them to stay out of work and to be classed as 'can't work' rather than 'should work'. It infuriates me!

  13. Surely if you are disabled and can work you claim DWA? DLA is for people who are so seriously sick/disabled they cannot work and should be left alone to survive as best they can. Unfortunately the people who leave alone are social services and the like who should be providing support. DWP and their benefit henchmen continue to harrass and persecute regardless. The able bodied have no idea what it is really like to live on benefits and be cared for by the NHS etc. Able bodied friends, relatives etc. who have mindlessly echoed the official line to me and then find themselves in my situation due to accidents/illness soon change their tune and come pleading to me to help them make sense of the system and get their rightful dues. As a disabled rights activist who will fight to my dying day against the unjust, inhumane, politically motivated shambles I am always obliged to help them.

  14. Anonymous, there isn't any benefit called DWA is there? There used to be something called Disabled Working Allowance but that was years ago. And DLA is to help cover some of the extra expenses incurred through disability, and is not related to ability to work or not, as this and other posts here explain.

  15. I was going to post a response to Anonymous, but IH beat me to it. Seemingly Anonymous didn't understand the point of the post that is "DLA is not an out-of-work benefit."

    DWA was replaced by Working Tax Credits, particularly the disability premium of WTC. But most hospitals I visit still have DWA printed on the list of exemption benefits on the form on the back of their prescriptions so you could forgive some people for thinking that DWA still exists. Seriously hospitals, it's been like a decade: Get some new stationary.

  16. Actually I got a form from my local NHS trust just the other week that was asking if I was registered disabled and to quote the number.

    I had to gently remind them that the old system died with employment exchanges about 20 years ago. LOL

  17. Dear Anonymous,

    Kindly check your facts before commenting. DLA is for people with CARE AND MOBILITY NEEDS and is NOT AN OUT OF WORK BENEFIT. It is paid to people WHO NEED IT REGARDLESS OF WHETHER THEY WORK.

    It is comments like yours that make me want to scream and cry. How many times do I have to explain this? DLA is not an out of work benefit. I don’t know what DWA is. I do know that the DWP awarded me DLA so they seem to think it is fine for me to have it while also working.

    As a disabled rights activist could you please check your facts before spouting this kind of nonsense?

    Anne Wollenberg

  18. When people are well looked after they are able to do a bit in the community. I'm long-term sick with depression and anxiety - one of those invisible illnesses that is so easy to deny the existence of. With help, medicine and plenty of rest I am now better than I was a couple of years ago, and I'm now able to do a little bit of voluntary work. However, 4 hours a week with no compulsion to come in on time or at all if I'm not feeling well is hardly the same as getting a full-time job with all the compulsion that would bring. I would not be able to do paid employment. I am frequently exhausted, and compulsion makes me anxious and panicky.

    Many of my friends are also signed-off with mental health problems, but the ESA people are declaring them fit for work. I don't know how much my friends are affected by their health, but I expect they are similar to me - could do a little voluntary work but could not hold down a paid job. And where are the jobs anyway? Job-seekers are just another type of scrounger in the eyes of politicians and the media.

    The attitude of some parts of society is awful. I daren't even leave the house too much in case someone is spying on me. The media makes me paranoid. I do try to avoid it, but that's not totally possible. People are always saying, "pull yourself together and think positively," (surely the most unhelpful advice to give to someone with depression) or "you'd feel better if you had a job," as if that was the cure for all illness.

    My boyfriend struggled for many years to get the right level of benefit. Trying to help him adversely affected my health as well. He found it very hard to access services that might help him. We always had to take his DLA to the tribunal and they would then grudgingly give him the lowest rate they could. They didn't believe in his severe depression and backpain because it could not be seen, and his illness and lack of self-worth prevented him from making a fuss. They said he had more painkillers than a cancer sufferer so they did not believe he could still be in pain - but he was.

    One time they even refused him DLA because he wanted the money. And what else is it meant to be for? If someone did not want the money (even if that person needed it) that person would not apply for DLA.

    My boyfriend has now been dead for 2.5 years. I think the pain became more than he could bear. The reason for the backpain was shown up at the autopsy - his spine was crumbling. He was 29.

    To the DWP he is just a statistic of someone they no longer have to pay. They don't care, but I know he he needed that help all along. The people in the offices don't see the human tragedy of people struggling every day. Our lives are made very much harder by having to fight for every benefit and every bit of help, but a little more compassion would help enable us.

  19. Pink Fluff, I'm really sorry to hear your story. I know there's not much I can say but I wanted to reply.

  20. Oh wow, Yes, I can relate to your story too.
    I applied for ssi disablity, but keep getting denied. I wish I could DIE, then they can take my autopsy and see that I was not lieing about my pain and health problems, and I do not have the health to fight for help, it was hard enough to let my pride go, and to ask for help.
    I won't ask again, I am too tired ot ask anymore.
    I just hope life hurries along and gets over with, as pain is too much to live with every day!
    I wish you all the best.
    My life didn't work out so well,
    if anyone reads this, just understand, how very important your health is, if you do not have your health, there is no reason to live. It is hard to live with bad health. VERY HARD!