A new low in DWP’s war on disabled benefit claimants?

On Friday, Left Foot Forward published a guide to faking up a benefits story in five easy steps using publicly available data; somebody followed the steps almost to the letter in concocting a story in today’s Sun.

On Friday, Left Foot Forward published a guide to faking up a Daily Mail benefits story in five easy steps using publicly available data. Of course, the technique of briefing misleading welfare stories to the press can be applied to all the right-wing papers, not just the Mail.

Somebody followed the steps almost to the letter in concocting this story in today’s Sun.

But even by the standards of right-wing tabloids, the story hits a new low in callous disregard for people with learning difficulties and mental health problems.

The headline is:

‘Labour doubled kids on the sick’

A misleading conflation of Disability Living Allowance, which is not an out-of-work benefit, with Incapacity Benefit/Employment Support Allowance: less than half of young DLA claimants receive IB or ESA.

The story continues:

“The number of young people claiming disability benefits more than DOUBLED under Labour, official figures show.

“A staggering 142,000 18-24-year-olds pocket the Disability Living Allowance – compared to 61,000 when Tony Blair became Prime Minister in 1997.”

There is little need for comment on this story.

At the foot of this article is a table showing the DLA caseload as of May 2010 for people age 18-24 by the main disabling condition on which their award is based. It is taken from the same data source as was used to generate the figures quoted by the Sun, which are not new.

It also shows the growth in the caseload over the period May 1997 to May 2010. Just under a third of the growth is accounted for by young people with learning difficulties, just over a third by people with mental health problems (and because these are DLA awards, the problems will be on the severe end of the spectrum).

So these two categories account for two thirds of the growth referred to by the Sun.

This growth in caseload is adequately explained by increased awareness of the availability of DLA for children and young people with these conditions. Nonetheless the Sun quotes an unnamed DWP source as saying:

“The benefit is meant to be for people who have severe problems walking or looking after themselves because of a disability.

“But with such a big increase in young people claiming DLA, we have to be sure it’s getting to those who really need it.”

This is not comment, it is innuendo – the caseload has increased, therefore the benefit isn’t ‘going to those who really need it’, those ‘with severe problems’. The table below should allow readers to judge for themselves whether the disabling conditions for which young people have been awarded DLA represent ‘severe’ problems.


Disability Living Allowance caseload, people aged 18-24

 

May 2010 (000s)

Change 1997-2010 (000s)

% of total change

Total

141.8

80.6

100
Arthritis 1.4 -0.4 -0.5
Muscle/joint/bone disease 8.2 1.2 1.5
Blindness 3.7 1.3 1.6
Stroke related 1.1 -0.9 -1.1
Learning difficulty 49.6 26.4 32.8
Mental health causes 34.9 27.3 33.9
Epilepsy 6.3 2.5 3.1
Deafness 4.1 3.2 4.0
Malignant disease 1.3 0.6 0.7
Chest disease *0.3    
Back ailments 0.7 -0.3 -0.4
Heart disease 0.8    
Parkinson’s disease    
Diabetes mellitus 2.4 1.9 2.4
Renal disorders *0.4    
AIDS *0.1    
Skin disease 0.6    
Frailty    
Multiple sclerosis *0.5    
Other 25.4 16.7 20.7

There is a line between selective presentation of data which makes the case for a particular policy, which is legitimate, and suppressing details in order to encourage gross misinterpretation of the evidence, which isn’t. Today’s Sun story is on the wrong side of that line.

Like this article? Sign up to Left Foot Forward's weekday email for the latest progressive news and comment - and support campaigning journalism by making a donation today.