This is the concise version of the disability benefits fact sheet I produced earlier. Sources are provided in the long version.
Overall, there are 10 million disabled people in the UK, half of whom are over the state pension age. In total, 19% of the working population are disabled. However, 50% of them are in work with another 1.9 million looking for work. They are hindered in the job market by the fact that 23% of disabled people have no qualifications compared to 9% of the rest of the population. These figures are in line with the European average.
4.7% of government spending is on disability and sickness benefits. This includes £17.2bn on Disability Living Allowance (DLA) which is paid to 1.8 million sick and disabled people to cover the extra costs caused by their conditions - such as the petrol costs of regular hospital visits. It is a working benefit and a significant number of recipients use it to help them remain in work. Approximately £220 million a year of the DLA budget is lost through fraud and error. However, only £60 million of the money lost is due to deliberate fraud. The rest is lost through errors by claimants or errors by the Department of Work and Pensions. This equates to a fraud rate of just 0.5% for DLA.
In contrast, each year the DWP saves a net £70 million due to DLA underpayments. The maximum amount of DLA a disabled person can receive, incidentally, is £125 a week. Proposals by the government to replace DLA with PIP will lead to a 20% cut in funding.
The main form of support for sick or disabled people whose condition prevents them from working is the Employment Support Allowance (ESA). This is worth up to £100 a week. People claiming ESA are placed in two groups. One group receives contributory ESA which is taxed and which they will only be eligible to receive at full rate for a maximum of 12 months, including a 13 week assessment period where they can receive a maximum of only £67.50 a week. After the 12 months has passed, they will be moved into the income-related ESA group which is means tested and withheld completely from anyone with combined household savings (including those of a partner) of more than £16,000.The means test also removes support if the household income is over £7,500 a year.
The assessment which determines which ESA group claimants will be placed in are carried out by a private company, Atos, which employs assessors who are not required to have any specialist knowledge of the conditions they are assessing. Atos had influence in the development of DWP disability benefit policy.
The assessment itself, the WCA, works on a tick box system. Out of WCA decisions appealed, 40% are overturned, indicating a high inaccuracy rate. The WCA does not properly take into account time variant conditions and many disabled people are stuck in a revolving door where they are found fit to work by the WCA, have the decision overturned on appeal and are called in for another WCA which once again finds them fit to work. Additionally, a large number of the WCA assessment centres lack disabled access.
The WCA also determines whether people belong in the Support or WRAG groups of ESA. Those in the WRAG, which can include cancer patients undergoing radio and chemotherapy, are required to undertake 'work related activity' or face financial sanctions.
The DWP recently proposed halting all ESA payments for claimants who appeal WCA or sanction decisions for the entirety of the appeals process.
Over the past two years reports of disability hate crime have risen by 75%. Disability hate crime includes people being spat on, physically attacked, verbally abused and being thrown out of wheelchairs. More generally, two thirds of British adults admit to actively avoiding disabled people. This situation has been fuelled, at least in part, by a significant increase in the use of pejorative language such as "scroungers" and "fiddlers" by the media when referring to benefits claimants. There have also been a large number of widely reported, inaccurate stories which have made such claims as that the cost of disability benefit fraud is £1 billion, that all 1.5 million households on disability benefits are scroungers and that 70% or 75% are 'perfectly' fit to work. None of these figures are accurate and, for example, the 70% figure comes from including people such as cancer patients as 'fit to work'.
Finally, here is a link to a blogpost which in turn contains links to many terrifying and horrific of what disability hate crime actually means in reality. Please take a few minutes to read them.
NOTE: This was updated on 20/01/12 with some minor changes to make the wording slightly clearer.