Monday, 5 December 2011

Disability benefits fact sheet

This post was prompted by the frankly terrifying level of ignorance and the buying into of myths about disability benefits by some of my fellow Lib Dems. Hopefully this post will go some way towards dispelling ignorance about a vital issue.

If you don't have the patience to read all of this, I'm compiling a separate, concise fact sheet.

Spending on disability benefits

In 20010/11 of £691.7bn of government spending, £32.8bn, or 4.7%, was spent on disability and sickness benefits. This figure includes £17.2bn on Disability Living Allowance (DLA) + Attendance Allowance (an associated benefit) and £7.8 on the Employment Support Allowance (ESA) which is replacing Incapacity Benefit (IB) and Income Support (IS) - the latter of which represents the remaining £7.8bn of spending.

ESA, DLA and the Mobility Allowance are benefits only available to the long term sick and disabled. This is because Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) paid to people by their employer for up to 28 weeks if they are sick and unable to work. Only after this point do long term sickness benefits kick in.

In 2009/10, government expenditure on ESA was £2.84bn. Of this, £1.17bn was spent on Contributory ESA and £1.67bn was spent on Income Related ESA. The overall purpose of ESA is to support people who are unable to work due to long term sickness or disability.

Contributory ESA is paid to those who have made sufficient national insurance contributions and is taxable. This requirement  is waved for those who become unfit for work before the age of 20 (25 in some cases). Income-related ESA is means tested, non-taxable and will not be paid to anyone who has household savings of more than £16,000.

When someone claims ESA there is a 13 week assessment period period where claimants have to undergo various tests and assessments, including the Work Capability Assessment (WCA). During this time, they are paid a reduced rate of ESA of a maximum of £67.50 a week. The highest amount available to someone who has passed the assessments is £99.85 a week.

DLA is a payment made to people to cover the extra costs of long term illness or disability and is received by 1.8 million people. DLA is split into a care component and a mobility component. Someone eligible for the highest rate of both components would receive a total of £125 a week. 1.8 million

DLA is currently in the process of being replaced by PIPs which will be modelled on the ESA assessment system described below. This is intended to cut 20% off spending on DLA. 20% of those on DLA are expected to be ineligible for PIPs.

Number of people claiming disability benefits

People with disabilities
  1. There are over 6.9 million disabled people of working age which represents 19% of the working population.
  2. There are over 10 million disabled people in Britain, of whom 5 million are over state pension age.
  3. There are two million people with sight problems in the UK.
Families with disabled children
  1. There are 770,00 disabled children under the age of 16 in the UK. That equates to 1 child in 20.
  2. Only 8% of families get services from their local social services.
  3. It costs up to three times as much to raise a disabled child as it does to raise a child without disabilities.
Disability and employment
  1. There are currently 1.3 million disabled people in the UK who are available for and want to work.
  2. Only half of disabled people of working age are in work (50%), compared with 80% of non disabled people.
  3. 23% of disabled people have no qualifications compared to 9% of non disabled people.
  4. Nearly one in five people of working age (7 million, or 18.6%) in Great Britain have a disability.
Disability benefit fraud

Official statistics for DLA show that £220m was lost 2009/10 through t fraud and error. Following a DWP press release, a figure which has been quoted in the press is £1bn. The £1bn figure is the total cost of disability benefit fraud and error over the six years from 2004 to 2010.

An official breakdown of the figures showed that, of the £220m, £70m was lost through mistakes by claimants, £90 million was lost through mistakes by the DWP and £60m was lost through deliberate fraud.

Given that the total spending on DLA, and the associated benefit AA, in 2009/10 was £11.8bn, this equates to a fraud rate of just 0.5%.

Additionally, in 2009/10, the government saved £290m through underpayments caused by error. When you take into account the cost of overpayments through error (£220m) this meant that the government saved a net £70m through accidental underpayments - ten million pounds more than the cost of deliberate fraud.

ESA and the WCA

Eligibility for Employment Support Allowance is primarily determined through an assessment process of which the Work Capability Assessment (WCA) plays a key role. WCAs are conducted on behalf of the government by the private IT company Atos Healthcare which has been involved in forming DWP welfare policy. This contract is worth £805m over a ten year period.

The WCAs entail a form which a claimant is required to fill in with details of their condition and an interview with a Health Professional. The Health Professionals employed by Atos consist of doctors, nurses and physiotherapists. They are not required to have any special knowledge of the conditions they assess as their job in the interview is to check the claimant's answers against a computer generated questionnaire. The questionnaire consists of various "descriptors". If a claimant matches a particular descriptor then they receive points. If a claimant gains more than 15 points in the WCA then they are deemed eligible for ESA.

The WCA has been criticised over the inaccuracy of the assessments. Claimants are able to appeal their assessment decisions at an Independent Tribunal. Of those assessment decisions which make it to appeal, 40% are overturned. Where the Citizen's Advice Bureau provides advice and support to claimants going to appeal, 70% of decisions are overturned.

The WCA also determines whether a claimant belongs in the Support group or Work Related Activity Group (WRAG) of ESA. Those in the WRAG are required to adhere to strict work-related conditions in order to continue receiving the benefit in full and face financial sanctions if they do not. The conditions may involve attending 'work-focused' interviews.

Government proposals about ESA include time limiting contributory ESA to 12 month (including the 13 week assessment phase where it is paid at a lower rate) after which claimants will be automatically moved into the Work Related Activity Group.

Government proposals on ESA

Government proposals about ESA include time limiting contributory ESA to 12 month (including the 13 week assessment phase where it is paid at a lower rate) after which claimants will be automatically moved into the Work Related Activity Group and required to undertake work related activities. This is a cause for concern as the time limit of 12 months has been arbitrarily selected and is not based on whether a claimant is capable of undertaking work related activity or not.

Other proposals are halting all payment of ESA to claimants while they are appealing against the WCA or against WRAG sanctions and to remove the exemption from work related activity of cancer patients undergoing radio or chemotherapy.

Negative media coverage

One tabloid headline this September said that there were four million scrounging families in Britain. As was pointed out, for this figure to make sense, it has to include all the 1.5 million households living on disability benefits. This is an example of how sick and disabled are painted as scroungers by the media.

In February, following the release of DWP statistics, several media outlets reported that 1.8 million people, or 70%, receiving Incapacity Benefit were fit to work. The figures come from two research projects where IB claimants were reassessed under the criteria of the ESA assessments. These found that 29.6% were found fit to work immediately. The 70% figure came from combining this figure with the 39% who were found to belong in the WRAG. At that time, claimants were placed in the WRAG if they were:
“Suffering from a life threatening disease in relation to which there is medical evidence that the disease is uncontrollable”.
“An in-patient in a hospital or similar institution”.
“[Receiving] regular weekly treatment by way of by way of haemodyalisis or chronic renal failure”
“Receiving treatment by way of intravenous, intraperitoneal or intrathecal chemotherapy;”
This does not equate to everyone in the WRAG being fit to work. Despite this, media coverage, as recorded by Factcheck, described them as fit to work with the Daily Mail in particular using the phrase "perfectly" fit to work.

Following another DWP press release, it was also reported widely in the media that three quarters, or 887,000, of ESA claimants were 'fit to work.' However, 428,800 of these withdrew their claims prior to assessment - given the 13 week assessment period some of these withdrawals will be due to people recovering enough to be fit to work. When the number who appealed decisions, and the appeal success rate, are taken into account, the actual proportion found fit to work was 57%.

It is also worth bearing in mind that all those who previously received IB are being migrated onto ESA via the WCA. ESA was designed to be stricter than IB so the high proportion found fit to work is not necessarily surprising.

More generally, a recent report found a significant increase in both the coverage of disability benefit fraud and in the use of pejorative terms towards disabled people by the media.

Disability hate crime

Disability hate crime in the UK has risen by 75% in the past two years. According to Scope, this is partly due to the vilification of people on welfare by the tabloids. Additionally, two thirds of adults admitted actively avoiding disabled people.


  1. Let's get it out of the way first. There are cheats. There are people who adopt a limp and a stick when they are doing the test and then dispose of both the moment they are round the corner.

    I've met them at work. I've heard them brag about it.

    But as your figures show, they are a tiny minority, and furthermore, their cheating is minuscule when compared with the tax avoidance and evasion figures which are also affecting our economy.

    One particular area of fraud could be looked at. DLA. I know several people who are on it, and frankly none of them needs it. The cars have been horribly abused. Someone who lives near me has a car which she has given to her son. She is never out in it, and he uses it quite illegally for his own purposes.

    None the less, small figures in comparison to the overall budget, and the cheating and stealing that goes on at the top.

    What on earth can we do about our tabloids? They are getting beyond a joke. They stir up hatred against (supposedly) the cheats and end up having desperately ill people beaten vilified, and sometimes attacked. The alleged crime is defrauding the DWP.

    The same people that write this stuff are bribing the police, hacking people's phones, and writing rubbish which they either are too stupid or lazy to interpret properly, or evil enough to know that a spectacular headline will sell a lot of papers and an apology can always be put at the foot of page 27 in very small type.

    One thing we could do would be to force them to put suitable apologies with the same sized type in the same prominent place when they make that kind of error.

    Original Front page headline:


    Retraction Front page headline


    That might concentrate their faculties a bit.

  2. @Tris. What qualifies you to judge who does and does not need DLA? I don't know you, but you're falling into the trap of "they don't look sick" etc etc.

    People look at my hands and assume I have normal dexterity because the surgery I've had is cosmetically superb. In reality I only have 30%ish movement in my GOOD hand, which I only found out myself when having a detailed assessment by a hand specialist. I didn't know that people with fully working hands had so much more movement, strength and dexterity than me. After my specialist treatment I now know why I have much less stamina for repetitive tasks than most people and why my specialists have repeatedly advised me to not do repetitive tasks because of overuse injury.

    I'm in my 30s, I expect to live to 80+, I only have one good hand, it needs to last and I need to take good care of it and not overuse it and cause myself permanent damage as I have done in the past (unwittingly and unknowingly overdoing it because I wasn't given good advice). I use my DLA to help pay for other people to assist me with every day housework, personal care, cooking and so on - on a good day it allows me to use my hand for typing to keep in touch with friends etc, on a bad day it means I'm clean and I get to eat something which isn't a ready meal.

    It isn't up to you to judge who should get DLA, we have perfectly adequate medical professionals to do that. I also don't need some WCA computer throwing a hissy fit cos I don't fit their boxes, or some ATOS doctor who's never heard of any of my medical conditions having the power to override and overrule the dedicated, expert and trusted professional opinions I have from my own medical professionals (I have several) who have seen and worked with me over periods of years and have extensive experience with the realities and longterm realities of living with multiple, rare and complex interacting impairments like mine.

    I do agree with you about the tabloids especially as the useless PCC won't do anything about hugely misleading headlines and column inches. I got told by the PCC that I had no grounds for complaint as newspapers are allowed to use misleading headlines and prominent lies and persuasive inference and suggestion as long as something vaguely resembling the truth is hidden in there somewhere. I was also told there was no further body I could take my complaint with the PCC to - absolutely useless!

  3. @George Potter Thanks for drawing all of this up, this is brilliantly concise and really clearly laid out. I have been dithering about joining the lib dems as I have huge issues with the welfare policies of the coalition government and it's posts like this which give me hope that maybe there are ways to convince at least the liberals half (ok not half, portion) of the coalition that disabled people are not all scrounging scum.

  4. @Natalya

    Thanks. Incidentally, and although I'm obviously biased, I'd recommend joining the Lib Dems. The minimum membership rate is very low and the key advantage about membership is that everyone has an equal vote and an equal say in the direction of the party. Our conference is more than a media circus, it's actually sovereign on policy! In theory, my vote is equal to that of Nick Clegg's.

    In practice, there's a tendency amongst the leadership to try and ignore the membership for the sake of convenience. But the more members we have who don't believe the sun shine's out the coalition's arse the better we have of forcing the leadership to listen.

    That's just my opinion of course.

  5. Natalya I work in the business. I have people tell me that they cheated, but because of confidentiality, and the relationships I'm trying to build with them, I can't say anything.

    So someone comes in with their benefit firmly dealt with and says... job done; that's me fixed for another year or two. Hope they don't find out I go hillwalking/to the gym/play footie...blah....

    That's what gives me the right. I know.

    So try not to take attitude with people before you've checked out their credentials.

    I'm extremely supportive of people on benefits; I work very hard for them in fact. But I do know that there are cheats. And so do most people.

  6. George
    Thanks for the useful info here. I would though like to make a point about the stats in hate crime. The increase in figures is not totally put into context as it is not generally due to media rubbish. It is more about more activity by DPOs' such as the Disability Hate Crime Network, leading to an increase in confidence in reporting of cases.

    Stephen Brookes MBE


I'm indebted to Birkdale Focus for the following choice of words:

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Oh, and if you persist in repeating yourself despite the fact I have addressed your point I may get bored and reject your comment.

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