Uh oh. We’ve been found out.
There is an article in the Guardian about it. How Mind’s spoof paper aims to set the record straight on benefit fraud
Uh oh. We’ve been found out.
There is an article in the Guardian about it. How Mind’s spoof paper aims to set the record straight on benefit fraud
Several papers have run with a story today about Disability Living Allowance, the numbers of people receiving it and what they receive it for. Unfortunately that coverage has been highly negative and has largely complained about the increase in people claiming DLA (from 2.2 million to 3.2 million – The Telegraph) and about DLA being paid out for back pain, addiction, and mental health problems. Interestingly, the papers all cite “new figures” but give no indication of where they came from. As far as I can tell there has been no new press release from the DWP on this subject.
First of all I want to address the rise in claimants. There are many reasons for this, but the claims process has definitely not got easier. A large part of the reason is simply more awareness of eligibility for the benefit. In the early days of DLA far less people knew that they could claim it. Another reason for the increase is that medical science has advanced, and we are now able to diagnose and name many more health conditions than before. Once these problems have been recognised, people are more likely to apply for help in dealing with them.
The statements made in The Sun, The Telegraph, the Daily Mail and particularly in the Daily Express appear to be highly misleading. Here are some of the statements made from the Daily Express.
“Between May 2000 and May 2010 the overall number of people being paid Disability Living Allowance soared from 2.1million to 3.1million.”
All of these people have had to go through the existing highly rigourous and extremely difficult application process, including a 50 page form, letters from doctors and specialists, and an examination by a doctor on behalf of the DWP. No one without a crippling disability or illness would have received DLA, and in fact many more that could claim have not done so through lack of awareness or through fear of the process.
“The benefit is designed to help disabled people who cannot walk, have difficulty walking or need help getting around.”
This is true, but not the whole truth. DLA has two components, mobility and care. It pays for wheelchairs, scooters and cars, walking sticks, taxi costs for those that cannot drive, and also pays for the expense of getting someone to care, lost income, pays for more food that a disabled person can actually access, e.g. pre-prepared meals or ready peeled and chopped vegetables.
“Yet, astonishingly, the number of people claiming DLA for back pain shot up by more than 80 per cent during the decade.”
There are several problems with this one. First of all, DWP doctors often write “Back pain” as a simple summary for much more complex problems. One person that I spoke to was claiming for Hypermobility type EDS, Dural Ecstasia, rib impingement and nerve damage in hips affecting legs. This means she suffers frequent dislocations, has blinding headaches, can’t move her legs properly, severe pain in hips and… has mild back-ache. The doctor wrote down “Back pain.”
Secondly, many problems with the back seriously affect ability to walk. Crumbling spine, missing vertebrae, fused vertebrae, damaged discs and trapped sciatic nerves can all prevent a person from walking or make walking intensely painful.
“Furthermore, there was a 250 per cent increase in those getting the benefit for drug and alcohol abuse.”
That favourite of the tabloid newspapers, drugs and alcohol. In many of these cases, drugs and alcohol is a secondary problem and addiction or use of them is a result of a primary health problem. Where NHS medicine is inadequate to treat pain, desperate people may turn to cannabis or drink. Some of these cases, therefore, might well be misreported as addiction rather than the original problem, or addiction might have become a bigger problem than the original health conditions. I believe it is unfair to look down on these cases as undeserving of help. Someone also commented “I volunteer at a charity, most of whose clients are poly-addicted. Many of them *do* get DLA, but not for the /addiction/ but for, inter alia, collapsed veins, Hep C, HIV, renal failure etc. Most of them either use street drugs or have a methadone regime, which is meant to wean them off heroin. Alcohol is used either as a replacement when heroin is too expensive/crap quality or because they are street drinkers: the street drinkers along with heroin addicts, are often given diagnoses of severe chronic depression.”
“There was also a 200 per cent rise in the number of people claiming for allergies over the same period.”
There has been a massive increase in allergies full stop. Is it so surprising that people need help with them? We are not given any indication of the actual numbers claiming for allergies, but I suspect the numbers of people so severely affected as to have care needs or mobility problems is low. For example, 1,000 people increasing to 3,000 people would be a 200% increase, but would still only represent a tiny part of the cost of DLA.
“Figures unveiled by the Daily Express earlier this year showed that 19,400 alcoholics and drug addicts claim the mobility component of DLA, which is meant for the severely physically disabled. It also goes to 30,900 people with asthma and 128,300 with back pain.”
I am astonished at the inability of the writer to make the connection between these conditions and severe disability. Drugs and alcohol is given as the primary reason for the claim, but there could be one or many more other health problems that are not reported in the summary, and there could be severe disability as a result of drugs and alcohol. There is also a serious mistake or an outright lie here; DLA is also NOT just for the physically disabled, it covers mental health conditions too if those conditions cause care or mobility needs.
“The handout is paid at different rates depending on how the disability affects the claimant. Many get the higher rate of £51.40 a week, which is meant to be paid to those who have the most severe difficulties walking.”
This is loaded emotive language that implies that higher rate claimants should not be eligible, but gives no reason for this implication.
“Under strict new rules, claimants will get a face-to-face assessment to ensure the benefit goes to the people with the greatest need.”
As face to face assessment already happens as part of the application, it is nothing new. Claiming DLA is already incredibly difficult, as I said at the start of this article. The DWP already sends doctors to assess those who are claiming. The new PIP benefits include a test administered by ATOS Origin instead of a doctor sent by the DWP to people’s homes. (The test is seriously flawed, but that is another article.)
“Disability Living Allowance will be replaced by the Personal Independence Payment. It will remain a non-means tested, non-taxable cash benefit paid to disabled people whether they are in or out of work.”
I am glad that they mentioned that DLA is not an out-of-work benefit. DLA is paid to people whether they are working or not. In both cases, there are extra costs incurred through disability, and DLA pays for these. In many cases, DLA allows the recipient to arrange care and transport for themselves, thus saving the local government from having to provide for these needs. DLA also provides support that allows people to work. In many cases, the loss of DLA would mean dropping out of paid employment, new requirements for care provision paid for by the local authorities, or both.
“A source close to the reforms said: “There has been a huge increase in cash payouts for things like back pain over the past decade and too often people are left on benefits without further contact with the department. We are going to bring in a new assessment and regular checks to make sure support is getting to those who need it.”
I am worried by this “source close to the reforms.” We are not told where this information has come from, and yet it has appeared in several newspapers at the same time. I have been unable to find a press release that correlates to this information, and therefore I must assume that the figures have been leaked to chosen newspapers with a particular political agenda in mind.
Finally, I should also point out that there are indeed people who are left on DLA without further checks. These are people with missing body parts, permanent deformities, degenerative diseases, and worse. They are NEVER going to get better. They will probably get worse. What point is there in dragging these people through more assessments which will often damage their health further and cause severe stress and worry?
Diary of a benefit scrounger: ESA assessments pushing mentally ill to suicide.
Everyone knows someone that they think is a benefit cheat, either because they work while claiming benefits or they do things that they shouldn’t be able to do while receiving sickness benefits, or because they have expensive possessions or a new car.
The thing is, nearly everyone is simply wrong. Some benefits, for example DLA, are paid whether a person is working or not; and many people carry on working as long as possible despite their health problems, so working and claiming sickness benefits is often no indication of fraud. Many people have variable illnesses and can carry out a necessary task, but at massive cost to their health, so what you see them doing is no indicator of “worthiness” for sickness benefits. Many people have TVs and gaming consoles given to them by family, or had such things before going on benefits, or are running up large personal debts to keep up, so what you see in their home is no indication of fraud. Many people receiving DLA get a new car every three years through the Motability scheme, so having a new car is no indication of fraud.
Disability Living Allowance is paid whether the recipient is working or not. DLA is given specifically to make up for the extra expenses caused by living with a disability. My own father receives DLA which pays for him to have a car on the motability scheme. DLA also pays for suitable seating, extra heating bills, easy-to-access food, and other extra costs. My father is still working, and since he only has low paid temporary work, if he has his DLA taken away from him, he would lose his car and be unable to get to work.
As regular readers will know, I have a variable illness. There are days when I can walk to the shops. There are days when I can’t get out of bed or as far as the bathroom. There are times when I go out without using a walking stick but I have to use one to get home. (Staggering all the way.) There are times when I am well enough to ride a motorbike. There are occasions when I have ridden that motorbike for four hours, but then an observer has no idea what I go through after doing that. If someone sees me walk to the shops without a stick, they can’t make any assumptions about what I can do the next day, or even an hour later.
A major flaw in public thinking, and in the Work Capability Assessment, is the idea that if a person can do something once, they can do it again. I can choose to do a task at the expense of a day, a week, or however long in bed. I couldn’t do that task every day. I certainly couldn’t do it all day every day. I can sign my name, but I can’t write a page of text. I can commute to work, once, but couldn’t get home again. I could set up a whole website in a couple of hours in the middle of the night, but I couldn’t do it all day every day for a living, or tell you when I could next do it. Other people with health problems might be able to mow their lawn, put up a shelf or paint a wall, but at a similar cost to their health along with the associated recovery time. Living on benefits, as many of these people do, they are poor. They can’t afford to pay someone to do these jobs necessary in everyday life, and so they do them themselves, and pay the health costs later. Yet neighbours and passers-by see them doing these tasks, and instead of asking “can I help?” they phone the DWP and report them as a benefit fraudster.
580,000 people use the Motability Scheme to get a car, wheelchair or scooter. Getting an appropriate vehicle to allow freedom of movement is the whole point of the mobility component of DLA. If they have chosen a car, they receive a new one every three years simply because the Motability scheme, (which is not government run), makes the finances work by giving new cars to the disabled in return for a chunk of their DLA, and then selling the car after three years to recoup the rest of the cost. Since Motability is responsible for the maintenance of the vehicles too, this works out cheaper than giving people second-hand cars, and also doesn’t leave disabled people stranded when their used car breaks down. And yet many people denounce this as fraud. Why should they have a new car? Well they have one because that costs them less than buying their own used car. It isn’t benefit fraud just because you are jealous of their car.
Then we have the household with electronic entertainment devices. Big screen TVs, games consoles, expensive Sky or Virgin TV subscriptions, smart phones. First off, an outsider won’t know where or when these items were obtained. They might well have been purchased before the owner started to claim benefits. The might also have been purchased later using credit, which is then repaid out of the benefits, which of course means less money for other living costs. That isn’t fraud; it might be unwise spending, and I don’t necessarily agree with that either. In some situations these items are purchased using cash from a loan shark, or from a catalogue or pawn shop with weekly collections of the repayment.
You also can’t necessarily argue that these items are unnecessary. There is a big argument to be made that television is part of our social glue, and that depriving someone of their TV, especially if they don’t go out to work, is just cutting them off from sources of news and entertainment and social connection to the rest of society. I say it is a gross injustice to remove a TV from someone that may not be able to get out of the house easily and may have no other source of entertainment. Equally, a games console is a way of passing the time, and for children might well be important for their social acceptance.
Basically, if someone spends their entire benefit payment on a games console instead of food, that’s not fraud, that’s bad planning. Benefits do not usually come with a specification of what the money can be spent on; in the rare cases that they do, the recipient is given milk tokens, or Tesco vouchers with “Not to be spent on alcohol” stamped on them to make sure that the cashier knows your embarrassing situation.
I know that there are benefit cheats out there. I know that there are people working while claiming Job Seekers Allowance, some of the time managing to live extravagant lifestyles, have mansions, lots of cars, and so on. The thing is, you have probably read about every single one of them in the Daily Mail. They are rare. Those people go to prison, and rightly so. But most of the people that YOU might think are cheats, probably aren’t. You don’t know their details, you don’t know anything about their health, their abilities, their financial situation, or where they got anything from.