Education & Family

Benefit cheats 'colour attitudes to disabled people'

Man's hand on wheelchair
All disabled benefit claimants are to be reassessed for their capability for work

Many disabled people in Britain feel media coverage about benefit cheats has negatively affected attitudes towards them, a survey suggests.

Almost half of the 500 disabled people and carers polled for charity Scope said attitudes to them had worsened.

It comes after ministers released data suggesting 55% of sickness benefit claimants were no longer eligible for it.

The government said it was restoring integrity to the benefits system.

It is changing the welfare system to try to get more people into work and is scrapping the three main benefits for disabled people in the process.

Anyone receiving these benefits will be reviewed to see if they are capable of work or eligible for other benefits.

But a report from a parliamentary committee has warned that changes to disabled people's benefits may risk their right to independent living.

The research for the charity Scope is released just weeks before the Paralympics is due to start.

It asked 500 disabled people, their parents and carers a series of questions in England, Wales and Scotland.

It found 46% of those polled said people's attitudes towards them had worsened over the past year.

Some 40% said they had stayed the same and 16% said they had improved.

Nearly two-thirds (64%) said they had experienced aggression, hostility or name calling, while nearly three-quarters or (73%) said they had experienced an assumption they did not work.

When asked what could be contributing to such hostility, 87% singled out people claiming disability benefits to which they are not entitled.

And 84% highlighted negative media coverage about benefit cheats.

'Welfare rhetoric'

Scope chief executive Richard Hawkes said: "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."

He added: "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."

A spokesman for the Department for Work and Pensions said: "We are careful about the language we use, as it's clear that the benefit system itself has trapped many people in a spiral of welfare dependency.

"That's why this government is making such a radical overhaul of the benefits system to restore integrity and ensure that everyone who needs help and support receives it."

He added: "And whilst we already have laws in place to ensure equality, we need to work together and do more to change negative attitudes.

"We have already been working with disability organisations on developing a new disability strategy - one of the key areas is about promoting positive attitudes and behaviours towards disabled people."

The survey is released after the BBC's Panorama revealed evidence of disabled and sick people being cleared as fit to work by the government's new capability assessment in spite of medical advice given by their own GPs.

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