In a speech urging further cuts to welfare, UK Prime Minister David Cameron once again tried to win support by making out that those receiving benefits have too easy a time. He claimed that, of those receiving Disability Living Allowance, “incredibly, half of new claimants never had to provide medical evidence”. This is indeed incredible, in the sense that it should not be believed.
As the Department for Work and Pensions’ own March 2011 paper ‘Analysis of Disability Living Allowance: DLA Awards’ explained, “To apply for DLA, individuals complete a claim form which requests detailed information about the impact that their impairment or health condition has on their ability to manage their care themselves and/or get around. The claim form is considered by a Decision Maker alongside other evidence such as reports from the claimant’s General Practitioner (GP) or consultant. Currently, additional medical evidence is gathered in around half of all cases.”
In the words of the NHS Choices website, there is “a section of the claim form that asks for a ‘statement from someone who knows you’. This section can be completed by anyone who knows about the claimant's health problems and how they're affected. It can be helpful if their doctor or other healthcare practitioner completes this section.”
So in reality, in around half the cases, additional medical evidence – on top of what has been provided by doctors and other health professionals in the form itself and/or in accompanying reports – is collected. The prime minister’s claim appears to be utterly baseless.
Those on DLA now face a shift to a different system more like that for the Employment and Support Allowance. In this, the opinions of even the most senior doctor, often based on treating a particular patient for many years, can be overridden by a ‘health professional’ who knows next to nothing about the condition involved and has seen the claimant for just a few minutes. This system is notoriously inaccurate, to the extent that people are sometimes declared fit for work when they are so ill that they die before their appeal can be heard.
The speech, delivered in Bluewater, Kent on 25 June, contained further dubious or misleading points. These include attempts to contrast benefit recipients with their hardworking neighbours. But in reality many people getting housing benefit or DLA go out to work and pay large sums in tax and National Insurance each month, or have done so until recently.
Again, he launched a verbal attack on those being paid £40,000 or more who are “paying sub-market rents and living in council houses”, trying to make out that they are “living long-term in the welfare system”. But in reality, council tenants on average pay more than the actual cost of their homes, helping to bring in revenue to the state. However, because they do not generate profits for private landlords, instead helping to pay for facilities like schools and libraries, they have been the target of government smears.
The claims politicians make when trying to justify savage cuts to welfare and public goods and services are indeed sometimes “incredible”.
(c) Savi Hensman works in the care and equalities sector. An Ekklesia associate, she is a regular Christian commentator on politics, society and religion.