New research by the disability charity Scope, which surveyed 393 disabled people, 56 parents of disabled people, and 53 carers on the Disabled People’s Panel between 17 November 2011 and 6 January 2012, shows that almost half (46%) of disabled people feel that attitudes towards them have worsened in the last year.
Furthermore, 73% experienced the presumption from others that they don’t work; 83% say coverage about benefits scroungers can negatively affect attitudes; and 87% say benefits scroungers claiming disability benefits when they’re not disabled have a negative effect on attitudes.
There therefore appears to be a major concern among disabled people about the issue of 'benefit scroungers’ and the bad effect they have on perceptions of people on disability benefits. Disabled people say that the way the actions of people falsely claiming disability benefits are reported is a primary cause of public hostility against even genuine claimants. Disabled people also report that they are increasingly confronted by strangers questioning their right to support.
Disabled people are demanding more positive portrayals of disability. Scope believes that the London 2012 Paralympics are a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to leave a legacy of improved attitudes towards disability. Scope will also be promoting positive stories of disabled people but it says that the Government must start telling the whole story when it comes to welfare reform.
Richard Hawkes, chief executive of Scope, said: “It is absolutely shocking that in 2012 almost half of disabled people feel attitudes have got worse and many (64%) have experienced aggression, hostility or name calling from other people. Disabled people keep coming back to the same concern: benefit scroungers. They single out fraudsters. They are concerned about coverage. They tell us strangers challenge them in the street about the support they claim. Yet fraudsters are a tiny minority of claimants.”
Mr Hawkes thinks it telling that these figures come as the Government continues to put the issue of weeding out illegitimate claimants at the heart of its welfare rhetoric, using public anger against what Scope believes to be only a relatively small number of 'benefit scroungers', in order to push through radical reform. But the facts and figures the Government releases only tell half the story. Mr Hawkes says benefit fraud is rare, and that more money goes unclaimed than is defrauded. He also believes the new fitness for work test is shown to be failing to assess people’s likelihood of finding work accurately.
The figures speak for themselves; the DWP estimates that in 2010/2011 only 0.5% of expenditure on Disability Living Allowance went on fraudulent claims. Across the DWP, it is estimated that only 0.8% of the total benefit expenditure of £153.6 billion was overpaid due to fraud.
This backdrop of negativity will only make it harder for disabled people to overcome the many barriers they face in their lives. Scope is calling on the Government to tell the whole story when it comes to statistics; make fundamental changes to the Work Capability Assessment; and avoid repeating the same mistakes when it comes to the new assessment for Personal Independence Payments.