Disability organisations have criticised the government saying that its communications regarding benefit claimants and people found fit for work do not accurately reflect the experiences of disabled people. 

Latest figures from the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) show that of the applications for employment and support allowance (ESA) between October 27, 2008 and November 30, 2010, 39% of people were found fit for work, and only 7% were judged as being incapable of any work. The figures also reveal that 36% of claims were closed before the application process was completed. However, the organisations – including charities Mencap and Scope – argue that the figures focus on the number of applicants found fit for work and denied the benefit and ignores what they call “the incredibly high barrier” set for eligibility for ESA and that “many people with a significant level of impairment are declared fit for work and denied appropriate support.” They claim that this is down to flaws in the assessment process. The organisations add that the figures also overlook the fact that nearly 4 out of 10 appeals by claimants against the original decision are overturned. This focus on the number of failed claims without adequate context has a serious and negative impact on the public’s attitude to disabled people, the organisations claim. Indeed, these fears are backed up by recent research by Scope that shows that attitudes towards disabled people have got worse in the last year.

Jaspal Dhani, CEO of the United Kingdom Disabled People’s Council, said: “Our message to Government is to think hard about how you present figures on ESA claimants. With research showing that attitudes to disabled people are getting worse, the Government must release figures in context, because they have very real consequences. The UN Convention means the government has a duty not to give false impressions of disabled people, but rather to protect disabled people's dignity.”

Steve Winyard, chair of the Disability Benefits Consortium campaigns group and head of policy and campaigns at RNIB added: “A huge effort is spent highlighting the small percentage of people trying to make fraudulent claims for disability benefits. This energy would have a far greater impact on people's lives, and the economy, if it were spent supporting businesses to employ disabled people, promoting Access to Work funding and tackling the negative stereotypes which deny disabled people opportunities to work.”

Alice Maynard, chair of disability charity Scope, said that if the Government’s aim is to get more people working, feeding negative assumptions about disabled people won’t help achieve this. “Rather than expending energy smearing claimants, the Government needs to re-think its Work Capability Assessment, so that it captures the multiple, complex barriers to finding jobs and points people towards the right kind of support.”

David Congdon, head of campaigns and policy at learning disability charity Mencap added: “The misleading use of figures to justify cuts to benefits has got to stop. Research actually shows that at least 65% of people with a learning disability want to work but less than 7% of people are in any form of paid employment. Many people with a learning disability would love to work and come off benefits but have simply never been given the opportunity and support to do so.”