Government minister Esther McVey’s untrue claims about Disability Living Allowance

By Savi Hensman
April 8, 2013

Disability Living Allowance is an “outdated benefit” for which “around 50 per cent of decisions are made on the basis of the claim form alone - without any additional corroborating medical evidence,” stated UK minister for disabled people Esther McVey on the BBC and elsewhere this morning (8 April 2013).

This is completely untrue – the government’s own figures show that just 16 per cent of awards relied on the form only and a mere nine per cent of DLA funding was spent on this basis. McVey was trying to justify the controversial replacement of DLA by Personal Independence Payment (PIP) from today, to be paid to fewer people.

She also referred to the claim that, under DLA, 71 per cent of people get support for life without checks. This, again, is misleading. The figure refers to 'indefinite' awards, which means that their period may vary according to needs. Recall is possible if circumstances change. This is appropriate. There are many people who have permanent and unalterable disabilities. Moreover, while benefit may be awarded for a non-fixed period, that does not mean it is necessarily 'for life'. The total number who still get DLA excludes those who have had it on fixed awards and now no longer get it.

Of new DLA awards in the calendar year 2010, only 23 per cent were indefinite (similar to the previous year). To be eligible for DLA in the first place you have to pass at least one of the disability tests, pass the 'backwards and forwards' qualifying period tests, and pass the residence and presence tests. See the Full Fact investigation here: http://fullfact.org/blog/Disability_Living_Allowance_Mail_evidence-2482

It is sad and deplorable that phony ‘facts’ and misleading construals have been widely used to try to justify harsh cuts in social security payments to disabled, unemployed and low-waged people at the same time as tax reductions for the rich and highly profitable corporations. Many of those hit have paid National Insurance and other taxes for decades or contribute to community life in other ways.

DLA often helps people to stay in employment and take part in cultural activities like Paralympics sports, art or writing, as well as everyday tasks which are more expensive because of their impairments.

Propaganda about half of new DLA claims being granted on the basis of a self-completed claim form without medical evidence has been repeated so often that ministers may even believe it themselves. For instance it cropped up in written evidence by the Department for Work and Pensions to the parliamentary Work and Pensions Committee. The reference given was DWP Ad Hoc Analysis, Analysis of Disability Living Allowance: DLA Awards, March 2011.

But what this actually states is: “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.”

A similar claim, though more ambiguously worded, was made in Disability Living Allowance Reform: Equality Impact Assessment, May 2012. This gave as a reference ad hoc statistical note DLA Award Values and Evidence Use for New Claims in 2010, in Great Britain, 2011. In reality, the tables in this document indicated that, in a mere 16 per cent of cases, the claim form on its own was the main source of evidence, and just nine per cent of funding was allocated on this basis.

Ministers have been challenged about wildly inaccurate claims about DLA for years but, for whatever reason, have failed to correct these.

On 4 April 2013, Disability News Service (DNS) reported that McVey uses misleading DLA stats to ‘stoke up antagonism’, explaining in detail why assertions made by the minister and the Daily Mail newspaper were factually incorrect or misleading. The full story is here: http://disabilitynewsservice.com/2013/04/mcvey-uses-misleading-dla-stats...

But this is not a one off instance; it is a repeated occurrence. In November 2011, John Pring reported in DNS (http://disabilitynewsservice.com/) that, despite being criticised by the Work and Pensions Committee over misleading statistics, work and pensions secretary Iain Duncan Smith:

provided quotes to selected news organisations – including the Daily Mail – suggesting that thousands of disabled people were receiving disability living allowance (DLA) they were not entitled to.

He told them: “At the moment, hundreds of millions of pounds are paid out in disability benefits to people who have simply filled out a form.”

The figures actually show that only 16 per cent of successful new DLA claims were awarded on the basis of just a claim form…

Neil Coyle, director of policy for Disability Alliance, said many of the "16 per cent" were probably disabled people whose support needs were so high that they needed assistance from social workers to fill in their form, which was why government decision-makers did not need any further evidence of their impairment…

When approached by Disability News Service, a Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) spokeswoman declined to provide details of how the DWP and Duncan Smith had briefed the media on the DLA figures…

It would appear that, in the government’s attempts to justify its unjust policies, truth counts for little, and that many news organisations also fail to verify and assert what is presented to them as 'fact' by government representatives.


(c) Savitri Hensman is a regular Christian commentator on politics, social justice, welfare and religion. She works in the care and equalities sector and is an Ekklesia associate.

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