The truth about spending on disability benefits - it's halved

By Bernadette Meaden
May 27, 2015

When the ongoing process of cutting and restricting access to disability benefits began, we were told it was necessary because spending on them was out of control. A new report from the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) shows that, in fact, the exact opposite was the case.

The report says that spending on disability benefits last year was 0.8 per cent of national income, and says, "this is half the level of disability benefit spending when it was at its peak in 1995–96."

So the peak for spending on disability benefits occurred under the Conservative government of John Major. The narrative that the Labour government allowed such spending to get out of control is false – as a percentage of our national income it actually fell during those years.

The report makes another point which disproves the rhetoric about large numbers of scroungers and malingerers who could work, but prefer to claim disability benefits. Whilst the overall number of individuals receiving disability benefits has fallen only slightly since the mid-1990s,
"this is in the presence of underlying demographic change that would have tended to push up the numbers receiving considerably – both overall population growth and the baby boomer generation reaching older working ages. The proportion of older men receiving disability benefits has actually fallen sharply since the mid-1990s… Disability benefit receipt among men increases much less steeply with age than it used to."

Of course if we look at spending purely in cash terms, it has risen – but in cash terms, spending on everything has risen. The important figure is what we spend as a share of our national wealth, and that figure has halved.

Disabled people, and families with a disabled member, are more likely to be living in poverty than the rest of the population. As a country we are being less generous, less supportive to them than we were. If politicians wish to defend that as a policy position, they should do so. But they cannot and should not defend cuts to disability benefits by pretending that spending on them is excessive or out of control.

The report, ‘The changing characteristics of UK disability benefit recipients’ can be seen here http://www.ifs.org.uk/publications/7756

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© Bernadette Meaden has written about political, religious and social issues for some years, and is strongly influenced by Christian Socialism, liberation theology and the Catholic Worker movement. She is an Ekklesia associate and regular contributor. You can follow her on Twitter: @BernaMeaden

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