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Scope Disability Survey

A survey of disabled people, the parents of a disabled child and carers on behalf of Scope.

Date Published: 29 Jul 2012

Categories: Health | Media | Politics | Public and communities | Social | UK


Disabled people blame ‘benefit scroungers’ for increasing discrimination

• Almost half (46%) said people’s attitudes towards them have got worse over the past year

• 73% experienced the assumption that they don’t work; 8483% say negative coverage about benefits recipients is a chief cause of worsening public attitudes; 87% blame benefit scroungers themselves

• ‘Scroungers’ tiny in number compared to genuine claimants

• Scope: Paralympics once-in-an-lifetime opportunity to show positive stories that change the way people think about disability

With a month to go to until the Paralympics, new research by disability charity Scope shows that almost half (46%) of disabled people feel that attitudes towards them have worsened in the last year.

A major concern is the issue of ‘benefit scroungers’.

Disabled people single out the tiny number of people falsely claiming disability benefits and the way their actions are reported as chief causes of public hostility. At the same time disabled people report that they are increasingly confronted by strangers questioning their right to support.

However, fraudsters are tiny in number compared to genuine claimants.

For Scope it’s impossible to ignore that the results comes as  Government continues to focus the welfare debate on a few benefit scroungers in a bid to make the case for radical reform.

Disabled people demand more positive portrayals of disability.

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.

Scope will be launching a drive to promote positive stories of ordinary disabled people. But, says the charity, Scope, the Government must play its part by telling the whole story when it comes to welfare reform.

Commenting on the findings, Richard Hawkes, chief executive of the disability charity Scope, 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.
“Disabled people keep coming back to the same concern: benefit scroungers. They single out fraudsters. They are concerned about coverage. They tell us strangers challenge them in the street about the support they claim.

“Yet fraudsters are a tiny minority of claimants.  How is it that they dominate the issue?

“It is telling that these figures come as the Government continue 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. The reality is that benefit fraud is rare – in fact more money goes unclaimed than is defrauded. At the same time their new fitness for work test is shown to be failing miserably to accurately assess people likelihood of finding work.”

“This backdrop of negativity will only make it harder for disabled people to overcome the many barriers they face when it comes to getting on with their lives.

“That is why the Paralympics presents a once-in-an-lifetime opportunity to stop this deterioration and leave a lasting legacy of improved attitudes towards disability.

“Scope will be working throughout the games to tell the stories of disabled people in 2012.

“We want the Government to mark the games by committing to painting a more balanced picture of welfare.

“Greater understanding of disabled people, the challenges they face and their achievements, should be the real Paralympic legacy we are all working towards.”


The poll
ComRes is tracking the views of disabled people, their parents and carers through a series of polls for the charity.  The latest survey confirms the worrying trend identified in previous polls. The number of disabled people that experience negative attitudes increased in 2011 and in 2012 remains at a concerning level.

Headline findings:
• 46% of disabled people feel that attitudes towards them have worsened in the last year with only 13% feeling that they have improved and 40% believing that they have remained the same

• 76% of disabled people have experienced people refusing to make adjustments or do things differently; 73% experienced the assumption that they don’t work and 64% of disabled people have experienced aggression, hostility or name calling.

The things that disabled people feel are most fuelling this hostility are:
- People claiming disability benefits when they’re not disabled (87%)
- Negative media coverage about benefits recipients (84%)

What would have a positive effect?
- More disabled people in the media (87%)
- Greater public discussion of the issues facing disabled people (84%).
- More disabled politicians (79%)

The actions and the reporting of benefits scroungers and the public’s response to this issue are a key concern for disabled people.

Yet the facts are that fraudsters are a tiny minority.

Government figures show that a mere 0.5% of expenditure on Disability Living Allowance went on fraudulent claims. (

While across the DWP, it is estimated that only 2.0 per cent of total benefit expenditure was overpaid due to fraud and error. (

How have they come to dominate the issue of attitudes?

For Scope a key issue is the way in which the Government presents welfare statistics.

This week Employment Minister Chris Grayling promoted figures which showed that “55 per cent of claimants were no longer eligible for the hand-outs following the testing – and a further 20 per cent could carry out some form of paid job with the right support.”
This was then linked to “fears that more than one million sickness benefit claimants are scroungers”. However, the 20 per cent that need support are entitled to support, and the 50 per cent were almost entirely legitimate claimants until they were asked to go through a test which has been shown to be unit for purpose.

At a time when all eyes are on London, Scope says it is vital that the negative attitudes that lead to discrimination are tackled.

In the snapshot poll, disabled people point to greater visibility.

Scope is using the opportunity of the Paralympics to raise the profile of disabled people in the media as much as possible; telling the stories of ‘ordinary disabled people’ so that the focus isn’t just on those who are exceptional athletes – thus leaving a lasting positive legacy from the Paralympics.

It is calling on the Government to step up too. A recent £2m fund to support more disabled people to stand for elected office is a welcome move. But, says Scope, it also needs to consider the way in which it focuses the welfare debate on fraudsters.

The Minister for Disabled, Maria Miller is working on a Disability Strategy. She has singled out attitudes as a key issue. Scope wants to see the Minister commit to taking her colleagues to task for the impact they have on attitudes.

Methodology note: ComRes surveyed 393 disabled people, 56 parents of disabled people, and 53 carers on the Disabled People’s Panel between 17th November 2011 and 6th January 2012 online. ComRes is a member of the British Polling Council and abides by its rules.

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