Labour’s untenable position on social security and disability

Controversy rages about Liam Byrne and Labour’s developing position on social security reform as indicated in articles in the Daily Mail and The Guardian.

 

Controversy rages about Labour’s developing position on social security reform as indicated in articles in the Daily Mail and The Guardian, writes Declan Gaffney

In the Mail, a source “close to Liam Byrne” says:

“Decent Labour voters see their neighbours lie about all day and get benefits while they are working their socks off, and say, “Why should I vote Labour when they let this  happen?”.”

While in the Guardian, Byrne writes that William Beveridge:

“…never foresaw unearned support as desirable.”

For Sue Marsh, this is a betrayal of disabled claimants who are faced with massive cuts to sickness and disability benefits under the coalition’s welfare reforms.

She writes:

“You talk of “unearned support” Liam… We know about the hundreds of thousands terrified about what happens to those who CANNOT earn support.

“Until recently, we believed you gave it freely.”

Sunny Hundal, however, writes:

“Labour ministers have deliberately avoided mentioning disabled people in their rhetoric, and Liam Byrne explicitly attacks cuts to disability benefits in his article.

“They are not talking about disability benefits here.”

So who is right? Unfortunately, both are. Labour is trying to run with the hare (defending disabled claimants) while hunting with the hounds (attacking those who ‘spend a lifetime on benefits’). The problem is that these two groups are very hard to distinguish, because long-term benefit receipt is dominated by disability.

The evidence comes from the benefit system itself.

As Chart 1 shows, 57 per cent of all long-term working age benefit claims (running for five years or more) are among people entitled to Disability Living Allowance – the benefit which compensates people for additional care and mobility costs they face due to severe impairment.

A further 9% are for people receiving Carer’s Allowance because they are caring for someone receiving a disability benefit (DLA or Attendance Allowance). So two thirds of long-term benefit receipt is accounted for by identifiable disability.

But not all disabilities trigger entitlement to DLA, so the true figure for disability as a driver of long-term benefit receipt will be higher again.

Chart 1:

Benefit-claims-running-for-five-years-or-more-May-2011
So Sue is right to argue Labour’s ‘scrounger’ rhetoric is implicitly, albeit unintentionally, directed against disabled people. This is unavoidable as long as the issue is framed in terms of ‘a lifetime on benefits’. Attacking coalition cuts to disability benefits does little to counteract the framing of long-term benefit claimants as ‘scroungers’ when most are in fact disabled or caring for people with disabilities.

At the same time Sunny is right that Labour is making efforts to avoid disabled people being tarred with the ‘scrounger’ brush. But trying to balance the message in this way puts the opposition in a contradictory position.

Bear in mind that many severely disabling conditions are invisible to casual observers (and read Sue’s blog if you need to be convinced on this). So public perceptions are a poor guide to what is happening to benefit receipt.

The saloon-bar wisdom of statements like ‘decent Labour voters see their neighbours lie about all day and get benefits while they are working their socks off” needs to be confronted with the evidence the UK public grossly overestimates abuse of the benefit system and grossly underestimates the scale of disability in benefit caseloads.

One statistic serves to illustrate the point: there are a quarter of a million phone calls to DWP’s benefit fraud hotline annually. One per cent of these calls result in a sanction for benefit fraud. Put another way, 99% don’t. That means an awful lot of legitimate claimants are getting hauled over the coals every year because of snap judgments by ill-informed neighbours and acquaintances.

Now ask yourself: do we want opposition policy to be based on the perceptions of voters or on the evidence?

Would-be political tacticians will have no hesitation in opting for the former, but Labour will have to live with its chosen policy for the long-term. Policy based on ill-informed grievances will do nothing to address the real issues about social security, and, as evidence (pdf) from the United States suggests, may be doomed to political failure as well.

The main reason disability dominates long-term benefit receipt is that over the last 15 years, prior to the recession, other types of benefit claim reduced significantly – notably for lone parents and people on sickness benefits . Labour’s rhetoric in opposition seems strangely oblivious to its record in office- described by David Freud no less as “remarkable”.

There is serious thinking going on in Labour circles on what the next phase of social security reform might look like, and there are hints of this in Byrne’s Guardian article. But seconding grievances against benefit claimants and then seeking to evade the consequences by saying you aren’t talking about disability benefits is a untenable position.

The opposition should be trying to change the terms of debate, not passively reproducing them.

That wouldn’t generate friendly coverage in the Daily Mail – but as the blogger Mason Dixon, Autistic put it:

“Short-term headlines are not worth the lasting brilliance of a solid paradigm change in a national debate.”

See also:

Miliband quizzed on disability reforms, apologises for omission from speechShamik Das, September 30th 2011

Miliband must stop spreading myths about benefit claimantsTim Nichols, September 28th 2011

How disability reforms were whitewashed from Labour’s conferenceDaniel Elton, September 27th 2011

Shameful incapacity benefit consensus between main parties must stopSteve Griffiths, January 5th 2011

The paradoxical stability of welfare expenditure (and why we should be spending more)Declan Gaffney, July 10th 2010

74 Responses to “Labour’s untenable position on social security and disability”

  1. We can’t dodge the needed change to social care any longer | Left Foot Forward

    […] also: • Labour’s untenable position on social security and disability – Declan Gaffney, January 3rd […]

  2. sunny hundal

    @hopisen on disability and welfare, how do you respond to declan gaffney? http://t.co/xKsATswS Also – which part of the welfare bill is big?

  3. Alex Rigler

    Why 'scrounger' rhetoric on benefits inevitably targets disabled people, whether you want it to or not http://t.co/6Y3IvMU0

  4. Mike Smart

    RT @leftfootfwd: Labour’s untenable position on social security and disability http://t.co/oA730jrF

  5. digital voice

    RT @mikesmart13 RT @leftfootfwd: Labour’s untenable position on social security and disability http://t.co/rqTVfqMC

  6. H. O.

    RT @leftfootfwd: Labour’s untenable position on social security and disability http://t.co/Z03hF62e

  7. Janelauppen

    Yes,well,while I lie here next to my husband who is twitching and writhing after being unable to fall asleep and having had pain all day and every day during 30 years of illness and suffering,I wonder what sort of society we are ending up with ?He has lost his career,his family,almost his life and during this time has had to tolerate living with a label from the public,media and hypocritical politicians that he may be faking it.Yes,he wanted to lose our home we had almost finished paying for after years of working with the illness and doing irreparable damage to himself,Yes,he wanted to lose his promising career in the police force and yes,he wanted to suffer depression,pain,exclusion and Yes,he wanted to lose his status,his self esteem just so that he could be called fraudulent?These organisations,politicians and those who slander in this manner have to be brought out and asked for accountability and for evidence of their rights to charge guilty until proved innocent.Time for the roundabouts to swing the other way and for all of us innocents to challenge and retaliate against such blatant distortion of the truth which damages people beyond repair.Ill and innocent,so why are we not taking this to a court too?

  8. Chris Salter

    RT @leftfootfwd: Labour’s untenable position on social security and disability http://t.co/2FpIG2kS #ppnews

  9. Shakti Shah

    "The opposition should be trying to change the terms of debate, not passively reproducing them." – http://t.co/T37lUBiL

  10. Kyron Hodgetts

    Labour's untenable position on social security and disability: For Sue Marsh, this is a betrayal of disabled cla… http://t.co/J5wq3hjG

  11. Boris has slammed Coalition welfare reforms - from the left | Left Foot Forward

    […] Mayor Boris Johnson, who seems to have put serious clear red water between himself  and the Labour leadership – never mind the Coalition – on the […]

  12. Anonymous

    It’s not much good explaining to people my problems so it easy to say I have lost all the use below my waist, I’m classed as being Paraplegic, I can walk using crutches but would use a wheelchair.

    I have to use a catheter to empty my bladder, I have to empty my bowel by hand or finger which ever, my life is controlled by pain, for this I have an implanted morphine pump.

    I have an implanted Tens machine.

    Ok that said I would love to work at something, sadly with my problems it looks like nobody is interested in employing I have been looking now for ten years.

    But believe it or not the WCA medical will find me fit to work so will I get JSA nope because they see me now as being to disabled . boy life under New labour

  13. Anonymous

    It’s not much good explaining to people my problems so it easy to say I have lost all the use below my waist, I’m classed as being Paraplegic, I can walk using crutches but would use a wheelchair.

    I have to use a catheter to empty my bladder, I have to empty my bowel by hand or finger which ever, my life is controlled by pain, for this I have an implanted morphine pump.

    I have an implanted Tens machine.

    Ok that said I would love to work at something, sadly with my problems it looks like nobody is interested in employing I have been looking now for ten years.

    But believe it or not the WCA medical will find me fit to work so will I get JSA nope because they see me now as being to disabled . boy life under New labour

  14. Anonymous

    It’s not much good explaining to people my problems so it easy to say I have lost all the use below my waist, I’m classed as being Paraplegic, I can walk using crutches but would use a wheelchair.

    I have to use a catheter to empty my bladder, I have to empty my bowel by hand or finger which ever, my life is controlled by pain, for this I have an implanted morphine pump.

    I have an implanted Tens machine.

    Ok that said I would love to work at something, sadly with my problems it looks like nobody is interested in employing I have been looking now for ten years.

    But believe it or not the WCA medical will find me fit to work so will I get JSA nope because they see me now as being to disabled . boy life under New labour

  15. Look Left – Boris attacks welfare reforms while Byrne goes the other way | Left Foot Forward

    […] Byrne’s words, Declan Gaffney wrote on Left Foot Forward: “The saloon-bar wisdom of statements like ‘decent Labour voters see their […]

  16. wildejamey

    Labour needs to give a lead here instead of – as noted above – “running with the hare and hunting with the hound”. They will do more for their image by strongly distancing themselves from the appeals to bigotry and disinformation purveyed by the gutter press and the ConDem coalition and hammering home the evidence exposing these lies instead. They can do so in simple terms, such as that fraud accounts for only 0.5% of DLA even under the existing system. Turning it upside down will simply result in massive chaos and expenditure for very little, if any, return. Of course its difficulty is that Blairites and Brownites were exactly the ones who began the downward spiral, colluding in the scapegoating of jobless and disabled launched by the gutter press. But again there is a chance here for the Labour leadership to distinguish itself from its corrupt predecessors by recovering its historical commitment to the disadvantaged in society and adopting positive policies on welfare instead of buying into the ConDem rhetoric to save money at the expense of the vulnerable whilst leaving the rich tax avoiders – who lose the Treasury 10 or 20 times as much as welfare fraud – unscathed. It might even get them back more of their disillusioned core voters who were completely turned off by their adoption of nasty TORY rhetoric and values. It’s no use appealing to Telegraph and Mail readers – they are never going to vote Labour. A return to true socialist principles instead of the pink Toryism of Blair may even work to Labour’s electoral advantage.

  17. It’s nearly time for the DWP’s quarterly love-in with the tabloids | Left Foot Forward

    […] in on people who are sick or disabled, watched by the New Labour politicians who kicked it all off, unsure whether it’s still all right to join […]

  18. Wolf Tone

    “Unearned support” perhaps Byrne means the hundreds of thousands of pounds claimed by MPs every year.

  19. Wolf Tone

    “Unearned support” perhaps Byrne means the hundreds of thousands of pounds claimed by MPs every year.

  20. Declan Gaffney

    From sound Liam Byrne's #Beveridge2 speech, accusation running w hare & hunting w hounds on disability no longer holds http://t.co/6Y3IvMU0

  21. David Gillon

    LFF on #Beveridge2 http://t.co/OZrhVsyc that 'source close to Liam Byrne' in the Hate Mail gives him an opp to distance himself …

  22. fauxpaschick

    LFF on #Beveridge2 http://t.co/OZrhVsyc that 'source close to Liam Byrne' in the Hate Mail gives him an opp to distance himself …

  23. goLookGoRead is:

    RT @leftfootfwd: Labour’s untenable position on social security and disability http://t.co/3bD1m4ZF

  24. Darren Nelson

    RT @leftfootfwd: Labour’s untenable position on social security and disability http://t.co/7rc9P4YP

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