For many people who are sick or disabled, online is our main source of information about activism and a place where we can easily get involved. We have seen with the advent of social networking, how quickly information can spread. Links to online polls, petitions and resources can be shared easily with Twitter, Facebook and blogs. Recently a template letter to the PCC to complain about The Mail’s distortion of benefit statistics was rapidly copied and emailed. So too was another template letter to ask for an inquiry into MP Chris Grayling’s misleading and highly politicised remarks about welfare.
These can be useful tools, it is too easy to dismiss the online world as activism’s poorer relation.
However, with this comes a downside. Lies, manipulations and distortions can spread just as fast as the facts. With lurid tabloid headlines come growing resentments. “94% of Incapacity Claimants CAN Work” screamed this week’s Daily Mail headline. Quickly this statistic was repeated in defence of the massive cuts people with disabilities face. But what is the truth? How did they arrive at this figure?
Looking at the figures it becomes clear that even in this short headline there are several things the Mail got wrong.
Fullfact.org explain why these figures are totally wrong.
Disabled people will be hit disproportionately by the spending cuts. Not only to welfare spending but council cuts and schemes which helped people with disabilities live more independent lives. We are doing our best to make our voices heard but until the rest of the anti-cuts lobby join us, how loud can we be? Perhaps you are fit and healthy and haven’t really thought about how the cuts are being made beyond education. How can you help spread the message if you don’t have any resources and know little of the government’s plans?
Disability benefits are a complicated business and filled with jargon; here I will try to simplify some facts and figures so you can help us counter the myths.
Disability Living Allowance (DLA) is split into two components: DLA Care (paid higher, middle or lower rate) this is to pay for care needs, such as help with washing, dressing or eating. To qualify for the higher rate someone must need very high levels of care, throughout both the day and night. The second component is DLA Mobility, this is paid at just higher or lower rate. This is for help with getting around, perhaps to hire an adapted taxi that can accommodate a wheelchair or if someone needs help outside to make sure they aren’t a danger to themselves.
The biggest myth about DLA is that it is an out of work benefit. It is not. DLA enables many people to continue working, paying and taxes and live more independent lives. The second myth is fraud. The governments own figures show; “Department concluded that overpayments of Disability Living Allowance and its related benefits should no longer be considered as fraudulent.4 Estimated fraud now accounts for 0.6% of total benefit expenditure” (pdf)
In fact the biggest levels of benefit fraud are in income support, job seeker’s allowance, pension credit and housing benefit – not sickness related benefits.
Just last week Lord Freud apologised to the Methodist Church for misleading the public by combining the rate of fraud, customer error and bureaucratic error to give an inflated figure.
Despite this the government hope to reduce spending by 20% and replace the allowance with one called Personal Independence Payments (PIP). The government has already been advised that this may be illegal.
DLA is just one way in which people with disabilities are being hit. Atos Origin, the private company that holds the contract for assessing ESA (Employment Support Allowance-replacing IB) has been involved with volumes of bad press, ranging from finding terminally ill people “fit for work” to the huge and costly appeals process, which is overturning 40% of decisions. Doctors have expressed serious concerns about the medical and the system has been described as unfit for purpose.
Access to Work, a scheme that provides accessible equipment and technology to disabled workers has had huge reductions in its budget.
The Independent Living Fund, used to provide high level care for people in their own homes is no longer accepting applications.
There’s more, much more, in fact people who are sick or disabled will be hit by over nine billion pounds worth of cuts, the ones outlined here a just the tip of the iceberg.
Guest post by Lex. Follow Lex as @bendyleopard on twitter.