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Disabled people suffering from ‘benefit scroungers’ label

24 August 2012

Disability Hate Crime

A new survey shows that benefit-related discrimination has become much worse over the last four years, while television programmes reveal injustices in the work assessment process.

Almost half (46%) of disabled people feel that attitudes towards them have worsened in the last year, according to new research by Scope.


Disabled people cite the small number of people falsely claiming disability benefits (‘benefit scroungers’), and the way their actions are reported, as the main causes of public hostility. At the same time, disabled people report they are increasingly confronted by strangers questioning their right to support – 73% experienced the assumption that they don’t work. Over 80% say coverage about benefits scroungers can negatively affect attitudes.


Although there were an estimated 65,000 disability hate crimes last year only 2,000 were reported – and just over 500 resulted in a conviction. And recent reports show that attitudes towards the disabled have worsened over the last year.


Francesca Martinez, who has Cerebral Palsy but prefers the term “wobbly”, is an actress and comedienne and presented ITV's 'Don't hate us!'  programme broadcast on Thursday 23 August 2012 about the huge increase in reported hate crime towards disabled people since 2008, and the probable link between that and the language used by the Government and the media to talk about disabled people, and in particular disabled people who claim benefits.


The report said that the incidence of words like "scrounger", "skiver" and "cheat" has tripled over the past 5 years in the media. Francesca Martinez states that as a disabled person she has experienced negative attitudes and she investigates the reasons behind the apparent increase in resentment towards some of the most vulnerable in our society.


Richard Hawkes, Chief Executive of Scope, has said "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. 


Results of the survey have come as both the BBC’s ‘Panorama’ and Channel 4’s ‘Dispatches’ reveal injustices in the Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) Work Capability Assessment. ESA provides financial help to people who are unable to work because of illness or disability, but some people argue that the assessments are unfairly finding people fit for work and ineligible for the benefit, as the government battles the so-called benefit culture.


'Panorama' revealed that hundreds of thousands of people are struggling with the system, which is at best frustrating and at worst damaging to their health. 'Dispatches' saw a GP go undercover at Atos, the company that carries out the Work Capability Assessment – while training, he was told more than once that the new ESA process is “meant to take people off benefit”.


Dan Scorer, Mencap's senior campaigns and policy manager, adds: “These issues have been raised with the government, who have been reminded of their responsibility to show leadership in promoting a balanced debate around welfare, and more positive images of disabled people.”


At a time when London is hosting the Paralympics and disabled athletes will be taking centre-stage, there is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to leave a Paralympics legacy of improved attitudes. During the games Scope will promote positive stories of ordinary disabled people, but believes the government must play its part by telling the whole story when it comes to welfare reform.


For Age UK it’s impossible to ignore that the results come as Government continues to focus the welfare debate on a few fraudulent claimants in a bid to make the case for radical reform as fraulent claims make up a tiny minority of claimants. It is telling that these figures come as the Government continues to put the issue of weeding out illegitimate claimants at the heart of its welfare rhetoric. The facts and figures they release on welfare reform only tell half the story. Benefit fraud is rare – in fact more money goes unclaimed than is defrauded, and the new fitness for work test is shown to be failing miserably to accurately assess people’s likelihood of finding work.


Fraudsters are a tiny minority

General public had the impression that 50 - 70% of claimants of disability benefits were fraudsters whereas the actual figure according to the Government's stats is around 0.5% while across the DWP, it is estimated that only 2.0 per cent of total benefit expenditure was overpaid due to fraud and error.


This affects us all in one way or another as by the end of our lives, almost half of us will be disabled, especially as we live longer and around four in five disabled people are not born with their disability, but fall seriously ill, or have an accident, or find it harder to get around as they grow older. (The Office for Disability Issues).