Somebody tell the government that some disabled people are actually, er, disabled

by Sally Bercow

The disability living allowance (DLA) is forecast to cost the taxpayer £12 billion this year, the same as the department of transport’s entire annual budget. So briefed the Whitehall machine as the government launched its public consultation on DLA reform in December (the consultation closes tomorrow).

Doubtless, the figure of £12 billion is correct, but before you rush to join the chorus of Daily Mail-minded souls and proclaim your horror, bear in mind that we spend three times more on defence than we do on disabled people (around £37 billion a year), that renewing the UK’s Trident nuclear deterrent will cost around £20 billion, that we have spent over £20 billion on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. I’m not saying that we shouldn’t spend those sums on defence, Trident or our international adventures (well maybe I am  – but that’s a whole different column), but the point is that it’s all relative.

So while £12 billion for disability benefit is a hell of a sum, maybe, just maybe, we spend that much because – and hold onto your hats here – there is actually a genuine need. Could it be that, with a small minority of dishonourable exceptions, the people who receive DLA really are deserving of it? That they actually rely on the help DLA provides, so that they can cover the higher costs of living, care and mobility that come hand in hand with their disability? After all, there is no evidence of widespread fraud – indeed the 0.5% (£200 million) fraud rate for DLA, while unacceptable, is nevertheless the lowest of any benefit.

That’s not to say that DLA doesn’t need reforming. On the contrary, it is eminently sensible to overhaul a benefit which hasn’t been looked at since it was introduced almost 20 years ago. The main issue is that there is no system of review. Millions of people are awarded DLA and then no one checks whether or not they still need it (a fifth of the three million DLA claimants have had no contact with the DWP in the last 10 years and around two million people have been given indefinite awards). This is out of line with other benefits, not to mention irresponsible. Second, the DLA is a ridiculously complicated and confusing system, not least of all to claim (the memory of ploughing through the 52-page form when I applied for DLA for my son still sends a shudder down my spine).

There is no doubt whatever – as I know anecdotally and others will confirm – that thousands of people are deterred from applying for DLA by that very complexity and confusion. If more claimed what they should get, the total cost of DLA would rise. On the other hand, other changes (such as a periodic review of claims) should make the cost fall. But the key point is that a preoccupation with cutting costs is misguided and should not be the main driver of reform.

However, the government is embarking on DLA reform for precisely this reason. They claim that scrapping DLA and replacing it with a personal independence payment (PIP) – wherein claimants will go through strict new medical tests – will ensure that disability benefits are targeted more effectively and incentivise people to work. However, disability campaigners and charities are in no doubt that what really underlies it all is the government’s desire to slash DLA expenditure by 20%. The saving will be realised by tightening the eligibility criteria; by turning down people who currently receive support (a disability alliance survey reveals that over 800,000 people could lose out).

It seems to be news to the government but, regrettably, a person’s disability does not disappear just because Iain Duncan Smith has decided to slash his department’s DLA bill. Being disabled is not a lifestyle choice (despite the disabled-people-are-bone-idle-scroungers myth perpetuated by the Daily Mail and friends). If their DLA is withdrawn, many disabled people will be forced to give up their homes, their jobs and their independence.

What’s more, the government is deploying deeply flawed arguments in order to justify its new disability benefit proposals. For example, there is no evidence to back up its claims that DLA (which a person can be awarded whether they are employed or not) discourages people from working. Certainly, if you receive DLA you’re less likely to be in employment – but you don’t need to be a rocket scientist to work out why (although most disabled people would like nothing more than to work, it’s all too often impracticable – either because of the nature of their disability and/or because employers are reluctant to adapt the work environment to suit). The government is confusing correlation with causation; to conclude that DLA acts as a barrier to employment because people with disabilities are less likely to be in work is absurd.

One notably ruthless aspect of the reforms has caused particular outrage and been seized on by Labour (who have otherwise, it must be said, been disappointingly circumspect on the issue of DLA reform). This is the deeply unfair decision to axe the mobility component of DLA (up to £50 per week) from the 80,000 people who live full-time in care homes. This money covers the personal mobility costs of care home residents (cars, taxi fares, petrol money for staff taking them out, electric wheelchairs, mobility scooters); it enables them to get about independently and enjoy everyday activities such as going to the shops, meeting friends and visiting the local library, park or leisure centre. The government, however, seems to think that care home residents don’t go out; they appear to be oblivious to the fact that removing mobility allowance will drastically impact on residents’ quality of life, rob them of their independence and effectively make them prisoners in their care homes, isolated from society.

There is no doubt that DLA needs reforming – particularly to build in follow-up checks that a claimant still warrants it ­– but its problems can be overcome without the introduction of a whole new system. The government is motivated primarily by the need to cut costs and is justifying its consultation with flawed and misleading arguments about DLA creating a barrier to work. As a result, the switch to a new PIP system, with tighter eligibility criteria, will strip hundreds of thousands of disabled people of a benefit that is not a luxury but an essential part of their lives. If, as Ghandi said, “a nation’s greatness is measured by how it treats its weakest members”, this government is, once again, failing.

Sally Bercow is a Labour activist and writer and broadcaster.

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37 Responses to “Somebody tell the government that some disabled people are actually, er, disabled”

  1. Julian says:

    “Could it be that, with a small minority of dishonourable exceptions, the people who receive DLA really are deserving of it?”

    “Millions of people are awarded DLA and then no one checks whether or not they still need it (a fifth of the three million DLA claimants have had no contact with the DWP in the last 10 years and around two million people have been given indefinite awards).”

    Could it be that you’ve answered your own question?

  2. Tacitus says:

    It seems this government has chosen to initiate a witchhunt against the disabled – WCA, DLA, and even the porposed changes of benefit system through Universal Credits – will all impact heaviliy on the disabled.

    Quite what they have done that is so wrong remains to be seen. Perhaps they dared to speak out and talk about the injustice .. maybe that was the crime.

    Over the coming months the disability lobby will be campaigning vociferously against all of these measures. We need to stand united alongside our brothers and sisters.

  3. Hasson Mali says:

    I totally agree, the amount of articles I have read recently on blog sites and elsewhere sends a shiver down my spine. I contribute to a mental health support group and the amount of anguish that is expressed due to the changes is horrifying. The process is actually making people more ill.

    The changes being implemented are based on the saving of money and not making the benefit work better which is a ridiculous way to conduct reforms for such a vulnerable group of people.

    Unfortunately I have no faith that Labour would do any better.

  4. James Butler says:

    My 19 year old receives indefinite DLA she has autism and epilespsy with resulting mental health issues. I live with screaming and impossible to meet demands, the house is smashed to pieces, (no help as house is on a motgage), I have to stay awake at night, often house nearly set of fire, I am assaulted, I was attacked by her on the street and knocked unconscious in to the road, knifes are hidden and locked away because she self harms and attacks me with them. Without the mutability component we are trapped in this wrecked house, celling coming down etc. No one will help, over 18 she has rights I am told, no medical help, social services just ticking boxes, I have bigots calling me “work shy” and now these Tory’s are bringing bureaucracy into this. If they take the mobility component we are dead.

  5. Declan Gaffney says:

    Just a point of detail. ‘After all, there is no evidence of widespread fraud – indeed the 0.5% (£200 million) fraud rate for DLA, while unacceptable, is nevertheless the lowest of any benefit.’

    Fraud for DLA is estimated at £60m, not £200m. The widely-reprted £200m figure lumps together overpayments due to fraud and error. There’s a good account here

  6. TiddK says:

    The attacks on the disabled are outrageous, though from The Daily Mail I really wouldn’t expect anything else. All the other media should hang their heads in shame. The public’s personal discomfort at the thought of (euwww) “disabled people” – there but for the Grace of God go you, my friend – should not be the driver behind legislation change.

    And it’s not. It’s just a spending cut aimed at an easy target. Don’t believe anyone who tells you different. And shame on Ed Miliband for not standing up to these most snivelling of cowardly cuts.

    The disabled are “the new Jews”. Please read this :

  7. Scott says:

    Julian, just because no-one has checked whether someone claiming still needs it, doesn’t mean that someone doesn’t. Amputees rarely regrow their limbs. People born Deaf tend to stay deaf, for example.

    There’s no evidence that 20% of claimants are conning the system – so the 20% cut in funding is not about ensuring that dishonest claimants, or those no longer deserving, don’t get it.

  8. Dave McQuirk says:

    My DLA actually facilitates me going to work. Without it I couldn’t run the automatic car I need to get me to and from work as I can’t use public transport. Without it I’d have to find a job that’s within 100m of my house or one where I don’t have to walk more than that at either end of the journey and don’t have to stand waiting for more than 5 min or so and that doesn’t need me to carry anything to and from work. I’ve worked hard all my life, paid taxes etc regardless of my life long disability and now I face the prospect of all of that being thrown away purely for cost cutting.

    Regular reviews are sensible but they shouldn’t be used to move people off it for cost cutting measures. Also a large number of conditions never get better. My leg won’t grow back, my spinal cord damage won’t repair itself, the fused bones in my foot won’t unfuse and normalise. Without enormous advances in medical science (to where we can perform whole body transplants) my impairments will only worsen as I age. Is it cost effective to make me re-apply every x years?

  9. Mary says:

    @Julian and anyone else who seizes on the line “Millions of people are awarded DLA and then no one checks whether or not they still need it”…

    Every other benefit, changes can be expected. People get jobs, rent rates change, children grow up, whatever.

    DLA is a bit different. You will rarely discover that a leg grows back, or that cerebral palsy suddenly and spontaneously cures itself, or that a blind person wakes up one morning and says “goodness me, I can see!”

    So while people with fluctuating conditions get put on fixed-term awards (usually one or two years), people with permanent conditions, terminal conditions, or conditions that can only degenerate, get given “indefinite” awards and a strict instruction to inform the DWP if anything changes.

    In addition to this, the DWP runs something called the Right Payment Programme where people on indefinite awards are selected and thoroughly reviewed. It doesn’t pick up everybody but it gives an idea of accuracy.

  10. John says:

    “the memory of ploughing through the 52-page form when I applied for DLA for my son still sends a shudder down my spine”

    Just why should the taxpayer fund DLA – or any other benefit – for people who are very obviously not in need of financial assistance? The Speaker earns around £140,000 and is provided with numerous other benefits inclusing palatial (literally) accommodation at taxpayer expense. The fact that high earners can claim benefits like this shows the absurdity of the current system and the pressing need for reform. Clearly there is not a genuine need in at least one household claiming DLA!

  11. Robert says:

    I have indefinite DLA could it be they think my legs will not grow back in the next few years, plus every year the DWP take a small group selected at random we are told to have a new medical it can be next week next year, I’ve had two.

    You will get forms to fill and you do get the occasional phone call with the new stress monitors, but hell look at me three disc remove from my bank, they do not come back, instruction not to life or run hard without the tools.

    But you never know I might be telling fib

    we also have to prove we are disabled with the PCA we all get those, somebody thinks Blair was a great bloke never lied sadly he did, your GP never gets you benefits a private firm called ATOS does. great bunch.

  12. Robert says:

    DLA paid to the rich, well yes so reforms should make DLA means tested that means people on IB who get the full whack of £136 a week would not get DLA or rent and council tax, so take away with one give with another.

  13. Chris says:


    Disability doesn’t means test so should the compensation society gives you for being disabled. Plus, the speaker and his wife have paid their taxes and the amount of money it takes to give the top 1% of earners DLA is tiny and less than a round error in government accounts.

  14. Che2007 says:

    One issue… you say that it is a bad thing that quite a few claimants are given indefinite benefits and don’t need to have follow up consultations. I disagree, this is only proper. I went to university with a guy with a severe physical disability and he received DLA. Why should he have to go and prove he still suffers? There is no cure for his condition, it’s not like he is going to wake up one morning and suddenly find he is fine so why should he have to go through the stress and worry of filling out forms and visiting the doctor? (which incidentally would cost us money to fund the appointments and admin) I think it is totally crass to start saying every claimant needs to be tracked when a good proportion of them have incurable illnesses or syndromes.

  15. Sue Brock says:

    My son is disabled and receives DLA but as he is still a child I have to reaply every few years. He has, however, a life long condition (autism and XYY syndrome). Had this benefit not been removed I think he would have been assessed when 18 and given the permenant nature of his disability would maybe have been awarded it indefinitely. In fact this saves money as the cost of checks and monitoring is huge! My son deserves a bit of a life I think and DLA has helped him to have one. It also does actually enable a lot of people to work as it pays for care to help them get up, dressed etc in some cases.

  16. Annie Bishop says:

    I have MS, I wont get cured and it will get worse so I rely on DLA to cover all the additional expenses associated with my condition, and to work. I earn about 25% of what I earned when I was well, disability respects no class, age or racial boundaries and it can strike anyone at anytime. I try to work so I claim no other state benefits, what is the point of puting me through an annual review by someone who knows nothing about my illness? if there is a .5% fraud rate for DLA and believe me its bloody hard to qualify and the Condems propose 20 % cut . its not rocket science to know there will be a lot of losers. What about the mobility and care needs of the disabled and what about the carers who receive a pittance?

  17. Annie Bishop says:

    If they means test DLA what incentive is there for me to work, it is not an out of work benefit . I pay taxes too

  18. hindle-a says:

    Many pensioners receive DLA -it is a downright lie about not being reviewed -and is a relatively simple matter to check if someone is still having home-haemodialysis for example -it would more expensive to review people whose condition/illness/disability will not change and straightforward ie. a phone call to check it is ridiculously underclaimed-I am afraid although broadly in support Sally Bercow has fallen for the lies/misunderstood the reasons would be far more expensive to continually check if there has been a miracle.It is a recognition from Society of the extra cost of having a disability-a civilised notion >WE are no longer civilised,continually misrepresented -the disabled and lets not forget Carers(the angels of pre-election spin become the benefit scroungers of post election nastiness) will lose and specifically targetted to lose this recognition-appalling,uncivilised-they are the scum.

  19. graham f says:

    DLA is currently under-claimed by approx £300m per annum. Has this been factored in to the government’s cost-cutting exercise?

  20. Shaun Stockdale says:

    @Julian, as Annie Bishop says i too have a LIFE LONG incurable neurological condition, there is NO cure, and they are after 150+ years have only gotten around to a few treatments for symptom relief for a FEW…

    You sir are either a TROLL or have no comprehension of looking at the bigger picture before you open you ill informed stupid mouth. Please engauge your brain before trolling again kind man

    <3 Shaun (PPMS DXed 2009)

  21. Ade Cox says:

    Disabled people have all sorts of rights to protect ourselves from maltreatment in all sorts of situations. Those rights were given to us because it was plain that as a group of people we were plainly being maltreated before…

    …and yet apparently it is perfectly okay for this unelected government to mistreat me. It’s apparently okay for the press to mistreat me and even worse and most worryingly of all, It is apparently perfectly okay for me to be subjected to abuse from misinformed people of increasing numbers from the public at large, who are being daily whipped up into a frenzy of hatred by the media.

    If you can’t see it, you are sleepwalking along with the rest of the nation over the precipice whereupon we will fall into the self same trap of Nazi Germany of the 30’s. If you count yourself amongst the young and fit, you might want to think for a minute about who else will be seen as undesirable and a drain on the nations purse in the brave new world Eton Boy and his chums Osborne, Hunt and others will seek to lead.

    Exactly when should I believe that I am equal and therefore in Eton Boys “fair” persecution system with everyone else I wonder?

  22. Duncan Brown says:

    It would take a moments thought, or if that’s too difficult a brief conversation with a disabled person, for a reasonable person to come to the conclusion that the reason why some people do not get examined on a regular basis is because that persons condition is permanent. So it is a measure of the vindictive scapegoating nature of this government that its putting forward such objectionable arguments for cutting the welfare state.
    It is truly shocking how the sick and disabled are being blamed for a crisis that is not of our making. Its the bankers and their irresponsible speculation that are responsible for the near collapse in the banking system.
    So why is Sally Bercow echoing the Tory propaganda that people on DLA should have to suffer the worry and indignity of medical check ups when ts obvious that their conditions will not, can not, change?
    When will Labour stand up for the sick and disabled?
    I urge that we all join the TUC demonstration on March 26 in London. There is an alternative

  23. Few have noticed amongst all the high-profile calls for a new ‘objective’ medical assessment for DLA that it has actually had ‘independent’ medical assessments performed by actual doctors (of at least GP-level training) in the employ of the Department for Work and Pensions FOR OVER A DECADE! They’ve been used sparingly in the past only in cases where the medical evidence from the claimants own NHS GPs and Consultants hasn’t been sufficient or sufficiently organised to ‘prove’ their eligibility, but there’s no reason – other than a wish to save money – that they couldn’t be made compulsory and rolled out to everyone if benefits integrity was the sole rationale behind the exercise. Of course it’s not, the government also want to reduce DLA (not clear whether the rolls or just the costs) by 20%.

  24. Caroline Page says:

    Sally, I agree that the government should stand up for the disabled. The situation with DLA is dreadful. My disabled teenage daughter – disabled by intractable epilepsy/effects of AEDs which interfere with her ability to plan, respond, apprehend etc – has suddenly discovered that her hightest level DLA has been cancelled a while ago with no notice! Apparently it was her responsibility to contact them unprompted to tell them she continued to be ill. It was NOT the DWP’s responsibility to tailor their bureaucracy to her particular disability. Someone really should have reminded them that a disabled person continues disabled, just as you say.
    So for a year (being rather blurred in thought tho with no official cognitive disability,) it turns out she was paying for all the things she needed to maintain a normal life OUT OF HER OWN POCKET MONEY. Isn’t that disgusting!
    Worst of all – we just discovered it last week , but this happened a year ago under the Labour government .
    And if you can think of a better example of – what was it you said? – “vindictive scapegoating” of someone with epilepsy – I can’t! I am hoping this government might give her a better deal .
    I am no tory but when I hear you parotting “It seems to be news to the government but, regrettably, a person’s disability does not disappear just because Iain Duncan Smith has decided to slash his department’s DLA bill” it does seem rather to be the pot miscalling the kettle!

  25. Penthesalie says:

    I’ve had no fewer than five checks on my DLA despite being in the idefinite award group, it’s called the “Right Payment Programme”; dispite the fact that I’ve been paraplegic for years and am rapidly becoming quadraplegic.

  26. StoneyBenn says:

    You work-shy swine! Jolly well grow pull your socks up and grow your limbs back! (Not necessarily in that order.)

  27. Chris says:

    @Caroline Page

    Your daughters DLA award won’t have been cancelled but instead will have run out. You should have an award certificate which tells you how long the award is for, indefinite awards are quite rare nowadays. A few months before the award finished the DWP will have written to your daughter informing her the award was ending and enclosing a new application form. While it is very unfortunate that the you daughter missed out on her money I don’t know how you can hold the then Labour government responsible. These rules are there because some people do actually get better but forget to tell the DWP about it.

  28. dan says:

    Anyone in receipt of money from the public purse should be subject to review as to their eligibility to receive it.
    No exceptions.
    If you find yourself unwilling to abide by the rule, simple, dont claim public money.

  29. Annie Bishop says:

    OK Dan , no need to preach I fully accept my responsibility to keep DWP informed but what will an annual review do to help anyone with a progressive INCURABLE condition? like me? my expererience of ATOS is that they have no idea about complex often hidden conditions and indeeed turned down a friend who is in a wheelchair through permanent spinal injury and another friend who is completely blind, both won on appeal and boy were the tribunal embarassed

  30. Annie Bishop says:

    By the way I supplied information from my consultant neurologist but the ATOS doctor thought he knew better duh!! I won unanimously on apeal

  31. malka says:

    dla is a hard won benefit, and if a person gets an indefinite decision it is because a health care professional has used wisdom and knows this person will never improve…………..this government led by people like Freud are now behaving like nazis and are determined to eliminate the disabled……..we need no further evidence then the witch hunt being carried out in the media with the government’s blessing. Sally is right about some things, but why are the rich like her and cameron claiming benefits??? disabled people are already reviewed through incapacity benefit on a regular basis, what’s wrong with people who read the daily mail, is it jealousy????who know what lies ahead for any of us, when the welfare state and the nhs are gone, maybe the daily mail readers will start to understand what they and this government have brought about………….

  32. DuncanB says:

    @Malka I agree with what you say about the indefinite decision, but the I don’t agree with denying the rich benefit. This is a backdoor to means testing. It will only mean more form filling more interference in our lives and at the end of the day will deter people claiming the benefit. I think if someone is entitled to a benefit because of ill health then they should get it.
    Our welfare state is a kind of insurance policy, we all pay into it on the understanding that if we are ill (and many of us will not be ill) we will be entitled to support. This is very like car insurance. The insurance company does not take the position that you are so wealthy that they will not pay for the damage to your car. So why do it for IB or DLA etc?

  33. Hannah says:

    It is time that the bulk of mobility cars were like they used to be – bright turquoise and with only one seat. If the claimant is a child or unable to drive themself then special 2 seaters should be built. Try this for a year and you will see the numbers drop. Why should the tax-payers of this country pay for new cars for so many scam artists. I think if caught defrauding this benefit they should be named and shamed. Some play golf often, can dance all night but grab a walking stick to visit the GP, shop all day and be on their feet all day. When will the Government act with these criminals. How many more hospitals/schools could they build. Genuine claimants have my full sympathy and it must rile them when they see the cheaters. Now you even get a new car when you get past 65 – joke. My backs sore, I have panic attacks , I can`t walk to the end of the road – you know the ones. Shameless.

  34. Karen says:

    It is shocking to see the ignorance spouted about disabled people. If there no illness who the hell is being treated in our hospitals. I have been disabled for 20years, I have not got better nor will I get better. This is a medical fact. I know that my condition has and will get worse as I have very severe Rheumatoid Arthritis. The ignorant willl believe that this attacks my joints but in fact it attacks just about every part and has already damaged my heart and this is incurable. I had always worked, even as a child. I would rather be well and work any day but it is not within my control. Now without any meeting or contact with my GP, Surgeon or Consultant I have been placed onto the work related activity group of ESA. How can they decide this as I need help to even get to any meeting. My GP is furious and gobsmacked but is powerless. If I’d only known that I would be suddenly cured when the Tories had power I would have voted for them years ago.

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