Ministers ignore facts amidst attacks on poor and disabled people

By Savi Hensman
April 6, 2013

The government’s war of words against disabled and badly-off people continues unchecked. The latest slurs by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Prime Minister and the Minister for Disabled People suggest that UK politics has become a largely fact-free zone.

Millionaire chancellor George Osborne tried to make out that “the welfare state” was connected with the widely-reported crimes of Mick Philpott, who abused and exploited his partners and eventually killed six of his seventeen children in a house fire. Many found this distasteful. But Prime Minister David Cameron backed him, telling the BBC that living on benefits should not be a "lifestyle choice".

This is a grave insult to those who have lost their jobs due to rich bankers’ reckless greed and Osborne’s and Cameron’s disastrous mismanagement of the economy, and to numerous disabled people, carers and others on low incomes. Many have worked and paid National Insurance and other taxes for decades.

In reality, as the Guardian newspaperpointed out, having just one child is nowadays very common, large families are rare and there are so few with 14 or more children receiving benefits that the number is deemed negligible.

There are of course people in every walk of life whose criminality results in others’ deaths, including in the ruling class. However they are not typical.

Meanwhile, the Minister for Disabled People, Esther McVey, stirred up controversy by claiming that large numbers of people receiving disability living allowance (DLA) are not really disabled.

From 8 April 2013 DLA is being phased out and replaced with personal independence payment (PIP), with tighter criteria. For instance if, after a terrible accident, you can only walk 25 metres, you will no longer be able to get higher rate mobility allowance, which may mean you can neither use public transport nor afford a car.

According to the Mail on Sunday, the number of people who get DLA has tripled to three million in 20 years and McVey claims that, if it carries on rising at the same rate, one in 17 of the population will receive it within five years. Reportedly, she said that many who get DLA are not disabled: “Only three per cent of people are born with a disability, the rest acquire it through accident or illness, but people come out of it. Thanks to medical advances, bodies heal.”

Yet according to the Department for Work and Pensions Fraud and Error in the Benefit System: 2010/11 Estimates, just 0.5 per cent of DLA was overpaid due to fraud, 0.6 per cent due to customer error. Though people with health-related problems sometimes recover, others have conditions that persist or intensify with age. Indeed, medical advances mean that some people who would have died survive, with impairments.

To quote the DWP 2013 report Fulfilling Potential: Building a deeper understanding of disability in the UK today, “There are 11.5 million people in the UK who are covered by the disability provisions set out in the Equality Act... six per cent (0.8 million) of children, 15 per cent (5.4 million) of adults of working age and nearly half (45 per cent, 5.3 million) of adults over State Pension age are covered... Only around half (six million) of the 11.5 million people covered by the disability provision in the Equality Act are in receipt of disability-related benefits.”

McVey’s apparent ignorance about the subject of her ministerial responsibilities and willingness to stir up prejudice is disturbing. Overall it is saddening that, in government circles, truth and justice for those in greatest need seem to count for so little.


(c) Savitri Hensman is a regular Christian commentator on politics, social justice and religion. She is an Ekklesia associate.

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