Reframing the debate requires a different, more accurate account of welfare

Declan Gaffney looks at 'the people Labour forgot about', and discusses disability, benefits and reframing the debate on welfare cuts.

Over on Liberal Conspiracy, Sunny Hundal has raised the question of whether it is possible to reframe the debate about welfare, and gives a sharp account of the impasse that the left risks getting stuck in:

“Left-wingers keep naively believing that all working class people have their values, and therefore standing against ‘welfare reform’ comes with no electoral loss; Labour’s right-wingers keep trotting out the old line that we must occupy the centre ground in order to beat the Tories. Both are losing strategies.”

Is there a way out of this dichotomy? The debate on the left is overwhelmingly framed in terms of values, or of a stand-off between values and electoral strategy, but much of the public discussion of benefits is framed in terms of factual claims about what has actually been happening in the domain of welfare and employment. The right understands this.

When Minister of State at the Department for Work and Pensions Chris Grayling wants to make the case for coalition cuts to welfare, he doesn’t appeal solely to values but presents facts carefully selected to underpin a narrative, as in today’s Daily Express.

This is what he has to say about incapacity benefit:

“More than two million people are stuck on this out-dated benefit, 900,000 of whom have been there for the last decade. These are people that the Labour government forgot about, washing their hands of the problem and letting the taxpayer pick up the tab.”

That statement is not value-free – indeed it implicitly appeals to values which many Labour voters might share (“people the Labour government forgot about”); but the facts (“two million”, “900,000”), and the way they are presented, are essential to the message that there are millions of people who are being kept out of work by the benefit system.

This kind of narrative can’t be countered just by appealing to values such as solidarity or social justice – because many people who share those values also believe that it gives a broadly accurate account of the welfare system and those who rely on it.

Reframing the debate requires a different – and more accurate – account of welfare. Disability will be central to any such account, not just because of the very harsh implications of the coalition’s plans for disability related benefits, but also because lack of understanding of disability and the employment penalties faced by disabled people leads to the kind of misinterpretations of trends in welfare expenditure which the coalition has so ruthlessly exploited.

Mr Grayling’s assertions about Incapacity Benefit are a good example. He says that 900,000 incapacity benefit claimants have been receiving IB – “stuck on this outdated benefit” – for the last decade. The obvious question is: ‘What else do we know about these people?’

As far as we’re aware, the underlying data behind this claim hasn’t been published, but data is available on people who have been claiming benefits for five years or more, and these figure throw a different light on long-term IB claims. There are just over 1.5 million current IB claimants in this category. Of these, two thirds are also in receipt of Disability Living Allowance. See table 1 below.

Table 1:

Figures-on-benefit-claimants

Those familiar with the DLA system will recognise the significance of this statistic. (There’s an excellent account here). DLA is not an out-of-work benefit, and it is not awarded to people with minor impairments. These long term IB recipients are disabled, and not on some vague ‘bleeding-heart’ notion of disability which puts intermittent back pain or mild symptoms of stress on the same footing as paraplegia and severe mental health problems.

They are disabled on the tight criteria for mobility and care needs which have to be met to qualify for DLA – which can be read here. An even higher share of Mr Grayling’s “900,000” figure will almost cetainly be accounted for by people entitled to DLA.

The trends over the last 15 years are clear, with those entitled to DLA forming a continuously increasing share of the out-of-work benefit caseload. In contrast, the numbers of IB claimants not entitled to DLA have been falling for years. These trends show that stereotypes about long-term IB recipients which have long dominated debate about welfare are increasingly detached from reality. The severity of impairment faced by IB claimants is far higher than is widely believed, and higher now than it was in the 1990s.

What has not changed over recent years, as was shown in this important report last week, is the employment penalty associated with disability. But the disability employment penalty is not created by the benefits system, and therefore won’t be resolved by ‘get tough’ policies on benefits – and especially not by cutting the working age DLA caseload by 20 per cent, as the coalition intends to do.

Chris Grayling is not going to draw attention to the severity of impairment faced by IB claimants, for good reason. As long as large sections of the public believe that the IB caseload is dominated by those making a ‘lifestyle choice’, welfare cuts don’t threaten to raise difficult questions about fundamental values. Those who want to reframe the public debate on welfare need to focus on undermining the inaccurate picture of the claimant population which the coalition’s agenda depends on.

They may then find that when it comes to values, the public is more receptive to their arguments than they expected.

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29 Responses to “Reframing the debate requires a different, more accurate account of welfare”

  1. Gordon S Wilson

    Reframing the debate requires a different, more accurate account of welfare http://bit.ly/hgXJSN

  2. Luisa Petruccio

    RT @leftfootfwd: Reframing the debate requires a different, more accurate account of welfare: http://bit.ly/f4iX6o

  3. Jos Bell

    Today I spoke to one my patients whose DLA has just been summarily removed. After paying her rent she is now left with the ‘grand total’ of £14 per week. She originally had a well paid full time career, then, when the onset of her illness made this too difficult, she re-trained and took up part time low paid work, which she then had to give up as her health declined. Even if she were well enough to work she lives in a rural area where there are very few jobs. What do you think she should do next Mr Grayling?? Discover a micro-economic miracle which negates her healthcare needs and lets you off the hook??!! Outrageous.

  4. richienimmo

    Countering the myth that large numbers of recipients of Incapacity Benefit could choose to work: @leftfootfwd: http://bit.ly/fgnbya

  5. False Economy

    @BrokenOfBritain Did you see this on @leftfootfwd earlier? http://bit.ly/hJv8Wo Interested to know your thoughts

  6. Broken OfBritain

    RT @leftfootfwd: Reframing the debate requires a different, more accurate account of welfare http://bit.ly/fgnbya

  7. Broken OfBritain

    MUST READ: 'the people Labour forgot about – discusses disability, benefits & reframing the debate on welfare cuts. http://fb.me/NEekRkVt

  8. DarkestAngel

    RT @BrokenOfBritain: RT @leftfootfwd: Reframing the debate requires a different, more accurate account of welfare http://bit.ly/fgnbya

  9. False Economy

    V important read RT @leftfootfwd Reframing the debate requires a different, more accurate account of welfare http://bit.ly/f4iX6o

  10. Richard Bradley

    RT @leftfootfwd: Reframing the debate requires a different, more accurate account of welfare http://bit.ly/fgnbya

  11. Sue Bristow

    RT @leftfootfwd: Reframing the debate requires a different, more accurate account of welfare http://bit.ly/fgnbya

  12. Mr. Sensible

    I think the press also have to take some responsibility for how this debate has been framed.

  13. Ellie Robinson

    RT @FalseEcon:important read RT @leftfootfwd Reframing the debate requires a different,more accurate account of welfare http://bit.ly/f4iX6o

  14. John McArdle

    Thank you for raising this issue in Left Foot Forward.

    A great many people are about to be very seriously harmed, and there will be tragedies, some of them fatal. There has been no ‘risk assessment’ of these barbaric policies.

    These are the sick and disabled citizens of our country who have been abandoned to their fates by all parties to suffer attack on every side.

    This is a blood stain on the good name and conscience of this generation.

    All who do not speak out now are complicit in a crime against sick and disabled people.

    And yes, this is a debate on our fundamental values.

    The truth is there for all to see.

    Black Triangle
    Anti-Defamation Campaign
    In Defence of Disabled Claimants
    http://www.facebook.com/blacktriangle1

  15. Spir.Sotiropoulou

    RT @leftfootfwd: Reframing the debate requires a different, more accurate account of welfare http://bit.ly/fgnbya

  16. Curious Questioner

    RT @spsot: RT @leftfootfwd: Reframing the debate requires a different, more accurate account of welfare http://bit.ly/fgnbya

  17. MuggersBuddle

    I totally agree with this. Blame lies both with the main political parties (including, shamefully, Labour) and, especially, with the mainstream media. There has, in effect, been a news blackout when it comes to responsible and accurate reporting of IB and DLA, its claimants, and the reality of daily life for those cursed by disability and long-term sickness. For far too long now, the media has been merrily demonising the disabled and sick as feckless, work-shy scroungers who live high on the hog off the ‘hard working families’ of Britain. The debate urgently needs reframing. Well done for this article – it’s a good start. Please keep the pressure up.

  18. Chris Salter

    RT @BrokenOfBritain: @leftfootfwd Reframing the debate requires a different, more accurate account of welfare http://bit.ly/fgnbya #ppnuk

  19. Robert

    Here we go again, problem for both labour and the Tories the biggest employer of retards and crips like my self have been the NHS, now will not employ anyone, Tax offices, now closed, DWP, now closed moved away, in other words the biggest employers of the idiots of morons of this country has been the public sector.

    I’m so disabled that I need help a carer, after a year all funding stops and the employer become the main payer of carers, so your employing two people and paying two people to get half a worker.

    I cannot do what I use to do, Look in the morning I get up I will give my self an enema, I will then empty my bladder by shoving a tube into my bladder, I will then take sixteen different drugs, depending on how I feel how my body works I will wait an hour before then trying to empty my bowel by shoving my finger up my arse and pulling any thing out.

    This has take hours, but then if i can get nothing out I have a more powerful drug to take, which means for the day i will wear a nappy and by bowel works without my control.

    Any one willing to give me a job please let me know, how about government which is the lowest employer employing on 1.7% of disabled people out of a work force of 580,000.

    Less disabled people work in the house of lords, due to no access we are told, the house of Lords even has less people with disabilities, perhaps they look wrong for the Lords and ladies.

    Employers want the best not freaks like me.

  20. False Economy

    ESSENTIAL RT @leftfootfwd Reframing the debate requires a different, more accurate account of welfare http://bit.ly/f4iX6o #dla

  21. sam hamilton

    Declan – Will you please submit this article to The Guardian – Comment is Free so that a more widespread audience can read it? You could even try The Independent and….the Telegraph???!!!

  22. klunk

    Thanks for this analysis. The figures for IB/ESA, banded about by the government and the media are confusing, and god knows I’ve done some research. Great injustices are performed behind this veil of statistics. Labour need to start producing some political memes, to counter the coalition’s barrage of lies. Mind you, Ed seems to be backing IDS’s welfare ‘reforms’

  23. Disabled People Against Cuts

    DLA mobility component and people in residential care homes

    Unexpectly, George Osborne announced as part of the comprehensive spending review (CSR), that after four weeks inside a residential care home those who are state-funded residents would have their DLA mobility component removed. How has the Government sought to justify this policy change and would it be lawful?

    The Department for Work and Pensions began by offering a two part rationale for this policy change. Firstly, they sought to argue that this would bring residents in line with hospital in-patients. This absurd argument demonstrates a high degree of both ignorance and prejudice; the mobility needs of the majority of people who live in residential homes can in no way be compared with those of hospital in-patients. It also indicates that the DWP want to impose ‘the sick role’ on certain groups of disabled people in order to paint other “economically active” when it suits the Government’s needs.

    The DWP’s second argument, as equally absurd and bankrupt, suggested individual residents didn’t need the DLA mobility component because their needs were already being met by local authority funding for transport for care home residents. Let us consider what this really means. To begin with there is firm evidence to suggest that many care homes simply integrate the money into a single pot and therefore each home determines how much is spent on ‘days out’ or ‘necessary travel’ for residents. This implies that individual residents should have little or no control over their mobility needs; the expectation is to be totally ‘dependent’ on the home and more often than not have no independence in terms of going outside the home. This is to treat disabled people like convicted criminals and must call into question disabled residents’ rights under Article 5 and Article 11 of the Human Rights Act because it is a form of ‘house arrest’ and denies them the right and opportunity to associate with whom they please. Are we going back to the days of ‘warehousing cripples’?

    Disability minister Maria Miller said: “Local authority contracts with care homes are designed to cover services to meet all a resident’s assessed needs, including any mobility needs. So an individual’s care, support and mobility needs should be met by residential care providers from social care funding.”
    Everybody knows that local authorities aren’t meeting these needs at present and with huge budget cuts, rises in VAT and petrol duty, it will be disabled people who are ‘out of sight, out of mind’ in residential homes; people with minimum or no direct contact with the ‘outside world’, who are going to be punished. John Nawrockyi, from the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services, acknowledges that, ‘With councils facing a 28% cut in government funding over the next four years they will struggle to maintain existing services, let alone fund new ones.’

    In hard cold cash terms this policy change will result in saving £135m a year or in percentage terms just 0.2% of the public spending cuts announced in the CSR. Is this really a “fair price” for the loss of independence, freedom and choice of those on the end of state funding? This policy flies in the face of the approach found within the Convention on the Rights of Disabled People – it supports institutionalisation rather than independence, it is both callous and ill-liberal. Back to Victorian values and I’m in no doubt Osborne, Duncan Smith and Miller would’ve made ideal characters in a Charles Dickens’ novel.

    DLA mobility component and
    people in residential care homes

    Unexpectly, George Osborne announced as part of the comprehensive spending review (CSR), that after four weeks inside a residential care home those who are state-funded residents would have their DLA mobility component removed. How has the Government sought to justify this policy change and would it be lawful?

    The Department for Work and Pensions began by offering a two part rationale for this policy change. Firstly, they sought to argue that this would bring residents in line with hospital in-patients. This absurd argument demonstrates a high degree of both ignorance and prejudice; the mobility needs of the majority of people who live in residential homes can in no way be compared with those of
    hospital in-patients. It also indicates that the DWP want to impose ‘the sick role’ on certain groups of disabled people in order to paint other “economically active” when it suits the Government’s needs.

    The DWP’s second argument, as equally absurd and bankrupt, suggested individual residents didn’t need the DLA mobility component because their needs were already being met by local authority funding for transport for care home residents. Let us consider what this really means. To begin with there is firm evidence to suggest that many care homes simply integrate the money into a single pot and therefore each home determines how much is spent on ‘days out’ or ‘necessary travel’ for residents. This implies that individual residents should have little or no control over their mobility needs; the expectation is to be totally ‘dependent’ on the home and more often than not have no independence in terms of going outside the home. This is to treat disabled people like convicted criminals and must call into question disabled residents’ rights under Article 5 and Article 11 of the Human Rights Act because it is a form of ‘house arrest’ and denies them the right and opportunity to associate with whom they please. Are we going back to the days of ‘warehousing cripples’?

    Disability minister Maria Miller said: “Local authority contracts with care homes are designed to cover services to meet all a resident’s assessed needs, including any mobility needs. So an individual’s care, support and mobility needs should be met by residential care providers from social care funding.”
    Everybody knows that local authorities aren’t meeting these needs at present and with huge budget cuts, rises in VAT and petrol duty, it will be disabled people who are ‘out of sight, out of mind’ in residential homes; people with minimum or no direct contact with the ‘outside world’, who are going to be punished. John Nawrockyi, from the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services, acknowledges that, ‘With councils facing a 28% cut in government funding over the next four years they will struggle to maintain existing services, let alone fund new ones.’

    In hard cold cash terms this policy change will result in saving £135m a year or in percentage terms just 0.2% of the public spending cuts announced in the CSR. Is this really a “fair price” for the loss of independence, freedom and choice of those on the end of state funding? This policy flies in the face of the approach found within the Convention on the Rights of Disabled People – it supports institutionalisation rather than independence, it is both callous and ill-liberal. Back to Victorian values and I’m in no doubt Osborne, Duncan Smith and Miller would’ve made ideal characters in a Charles Dickens’ novel.

  24. Disabled People Against Cuts

    God help us all!

    Not a week goes by without a fresh onslaught against disabled people at the hands of a Government who appear hell bent upon making the Orwellian nightmare into a reality. Big Brothers Cameron and Clegg have unleashed their bloody thirsty pack of rabid mongels – some simply pleased to be given the opportunity to climb the greasy pole; others who are like the pathetic playground bully, want to hurt those who can’t fight back.

    The latest news we’re hearing as I write is there’s a plan to scrap the Independent Living Fund by 2015:

    http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/health-news/2010/12/12/disabled-to-be-hit-by-cuts-to-independent-living-fund-115875-22778847/

    I believe I’m right in saying that among the Government’s original proposals was that ILF would disappear into Adult Social Care. However with the savage cuts to local authority budgets, and the possibility of only critical care being on offer, the Government has decided to to add insult to injury at an estimated saving of £330 million.

    The huge talking point last week was the release of the consultation document on replacing the Disability Living Allowance with the absurd Personal Independence Payment (PIP). I say ‘absurd’ because everything about it adds up to smashing disabled people’s ability to be independent. For legal reasons DPAC must be careful not to stray into personal attacks – therefore I will merely state that during my reading of this document, Captain Ska’s song “Liar, Liar” was pulsing through my head.

    My critique will be in two parts. Firstly, I will examine the Government’s arguments for replacing DLA and then I’ll look at key questions which inform the consultation. In the Ministerial forward Maria Miller states:

    “The Coalition Government is committed to helping disabled people to exercise choice and control over their lives.” I want to suggest we ought to keep this statement firmly in our minds as we consider all the implications behind their proposals. She goes goes on to say, “We have been absolutely clear that our welfare reform plans are designed to protect people in the most vulnerable situations, including disabled people.”

    What is absolutely clear is that this is “doublespeak” – it means the Government will discharge any responsibility for the well-being of the majority of disabled people. The document is full of sleights of hand; the crucial one being the description of the principle behind the payment of DLA and future PIP.

    First of all Miller states:

    “We are steadfast in our support for the principles of DLA, as a non-means-tested cash benefit contributing to the extra costs incurred by disabled people.”

    However in the very next paragraph she writes:

    “Personal Independence Payment will maintain the key principles of DLA, providing cash support to help overcome the barriers which prevent disabled people from participating fully in everyday life, but it will be delivered in a fairer, more consistent and sustainable manner.”

    Within the consultation document itself we find another articulation:

    “We need a benefit that helps contribute to the extra costs of living independently, in a way that is right for each individual.”

    (Emphasis added in each quotation – BWF)

    Providing a cash contribution to offset extra costs arising from living with an impairment, helping to remove disabling barriers to participation in every day life, and contributing to the extra costs of living independently, don’t necessary add up to mean the same thing.

    How dare these arrogant people at the DWP talk about confusion with the existing DLA when their own document is a dog’s dinner? The question is whether or not this “muddle” is deliberate or just the work of people who are “not fit for purpose”? Either way, the methodology is utterly flawed.

    The document states: “The benefit will continue to take account of the social model” – excuse me? The existing benefit tilts it head at acknowledging ‘disabling barriers’ but in no way could the processes currently in place be regarded as working within a ‘social model’ perspective! Let’s not beat about the bush, it is possible to talk about ‘disabling barriers’ whilst enacting policies and practices which are firmly based upon ‘the individual model of disability’ – local authorities and charities do it all the time. Often both disabled and non disabled people are guilty of crude reductionism when talking about “disabling barriers” and the basic analysis that flows from the social model of disability. Within the original social model disability was understood to be social restrictions that were placed on top of the impact of having an impairment.

    The model therefore focused upon the ways in which the structures, systems and social enviroments within western capitalist society excluded oer marginalised people with impairments in mainstream society. I would argue these social restrictions are primarily organised at the macro level of society, but they are experienced often as ‘disabling barriers’ at the micro level. This said, I would argue that not all social restrictions take the form of a barrier to participation – a defined social activity. The social model makes a clear distinction between the nature and degree of an impairment, and the imposed social restrictions. Attitudes towards impairments might result in disabling barriers, but they can also produce social restrictions in terms of negative evaluations of disabled people’s lifestyles which go beyond being prevented from taking part in an activity.

    In my opinion the ‘disabling barriers’ approach found within the consultation document has nothing to do with the social model approach – it risks imposing an over-determinist approach through the construction of lists of ‘disabling barriers’ existing at the mirco level of social interaction that certain types of disabled people may or may not expected to encounter. Why do I say this?

    “The new benefit will have two components, linked to a range of activities that will be considered in the new assessment. One will be awarded on the basis of the individual’s ability to get around (the mobility component), the other on their ability to carry out other key activities necessary to be able to participate in daily life (the daily living component).”

    If this were to happen, it would adopt a similar methodology to that found in the oppressive ESA assessment process. Disabled people would become the Pavlov dog’s of the 21st Century – no wonder they’ve cooked up a dog’s dinner, eh?

    Another obnoxious and hypocritical part of this document – again proof of the Government’s disingenous nature – is the bankrupt idea that support should go to those “who face the greatest need”. Why do they insult us with this nonsense? How do you square ‘greatest need’ with enabling disabled people to fully participate within society?

    What defines “need” within the the context of the ‘principles of the social model of disability’, Ms Miller? Once again the DWP relies on its own reseach to justify its claims:

    “As it is difficult to measure costs objectively on an individual basis, DLA currently looks at ‘care’ and ‘mobility’ as proxies for the extra costs disabled people are likely to incur, giving priority to the people with the greatest care and mobility needs. Although these are important issues and reflect some disabled people’s biggest challenges, they do not necessarily remain the best proxies for cost. In fact, there is currently conflicting evidence on the factors that affect the extra costs that disabled people face in the 21st Century.”

    Source: 9 Review of the existing research on the extra costs of disability, 2005, DWP Working Paper 21. Review of the international evidence on the cost of disability, 2008, DWP Research Report 542.

    Why can’t this gutless “normies” be honest and call it “rationalisation” because every disabled person knows what the phrase “who face the greatest need” means; snot off the end of their noses for some and sweet FA for everybody else!

  25. Rachel Hubbard

    RT @leftfootfwd: Reframing the debate requires a different, more accurate account of welfare http://bit.ly/fgnbya

  26. Tim Holmes

    A useful and informative mythbuster on incapacity benefit, revealing the sheer barbarity of Tory plans to curtail it: http://bit.ly/e1abME

  27. Today's Express, Mail, Sun and Telegraph all wrong on Incapacity Benefit | Left Foot Forward

    […] finding tends to support the argument raised here recently: the severity of impairment among claimants of incapacity benefit is far higher than is […]

  28. Disability Living Allowance: The meanest cut of all | Coalition of Resistance Against Cuts & Privatisation

    […] Gaffney, in an excellent post for Left Foot Forward, looked at some of the figures behind work and pensions minister Chris Grayling's recent […]

  29. How to fake up a Daily Mail benefits story in five easy steps | Left Foot Forward

    […] Not for the first time, figures which are primarily about severely disabled people are being used to underpin exaggerated claims about voluntary self-exclusion from the labour market. The central narrative which the coalition has been using to underpin its welfare cuts – that this is a response to a build-up of long-term welfare dependency under Labour – is crucially dependent on airbrushing out people at the severe end of the disability spectrum. […]

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