Government urged to end negative rhetoric on benefit claimants
By Richard Johnstone | 31 July 2012
A leading charity working with disabled people has urged ministers to stop focusing on rare cases of fraud as a reason for benefit reforms.
Scope called for an end to government ‘negativity’ about welfare recipients after a survey showed it was affecting behaviour towards disabled people. Almost half (46%) reported a worsening in attitudes over the past year.
The poll by ComRes, which covered 500 disabled people and carers, also revealed that almost three-quarters (73%) had experienced the assumption that they didn’t work. A larger proportion (83%) agreed that media coverage about benefits scroungers negatively affected attitudes towards disabled people.
The government is undertaking a range of disability benefit reforms, including tests of fitness to work. Scope said that it was ‘impossible to ignore that the results come as government continues to focus the welfare debate on a few benefit scroungers in a bid to make the case for radical reform’.
Scope chief executive Richard Hawkes said that as London prepared to host the Paralympics, there was an once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to improve attitudes through more positive portrayals of disability.
‘It is absolutely shocking that in 2012 almost half of disabled people feel attitudes have got worse and many have experienced aggression, hostility or name-calling from other people,’ he said. ‘Disabled people keep coming back to the same concern – benefit scroungers. They single out fraudsters. They are concerned about coverage. They tell us strangers challenge them in the street about the support they claim.’
The charity also called for the government to revise the work capability assessments for people on disability benefits. These were introduced from October 2010 as people move from Incapacity Benefit to its successor Employment and Support Allowance.
Hawkes said these, which will be extended to more people when Personal Independence Payments begin to replace Disability Living Allowance from next April, are ‘failing miserably’.
He added: ‘We want the government to mark the Games with a new approach to welfare: tell the whole story when it comes to stats; make fundamental changes to the work capability assessment and avoid repeating the same mistakes when it comes to the new assessment for Personal Independence Payments.
‘Greater understanding of disabled people, the challenges they face and their achievements, should be the real Paralympic legacy we are all working towards.’
Responding to the report, a Department for Work and Pensions spokesman insisted they are ‘very careful about the language we use when referring to benefit claimants as it’s clear that it's the system itself that has for too long trapped people into a life of welfare dependency’.
He added: ‘That is why this government is making such a radical overhaul of the benefits system to restore integrity and ensure that everyone who needs help and support receives it.
‘This department is absolutely committed to supporting disabled people and we are already working with disability organisations on developing a new disability strategy. One of the key areas looks at promoting positive attitudes and behaviours towards disabled people and tackling discrimination and harassment wherever they occur.’