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Government ‘caused misleading stories’ with DLA information

The government has been accused of causing disabled people “significant alarm” after releasing information about disability living allowance (DLA) that led to “misleading” media coverage.

The complaint came in a letter from the Disability Benefits Consortium (DBC) – a coalition of disability and welfare advice organisations – to Maria Miller, minister for disabled people.

Members are particularly angry about a Daily Mail article on 3 February, headlined: “The great disability benefit free-for-all: Half of claimants are not asked to prove eligibility.”

The article – based on information released by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) – says nearly a million disabled people have been claiming DLA for more than 14 years, while half of claimants have never been asked for evidence to support their claim.

The consortium says the article concludes misleadingly that DLA is “over-claimed and under-scrutinised” and implies that it should be “time-limited”.

The letter says: “It is extremely worrying that the DWP campaign information has been used to suggest a person’s impairment or health condition and related higher costs somehow disappear over time.”

And it warns the DWP of its obligations under the Equality Act not to “generate stigma, persecution or harassment of disabled people requiring support from the welfare system”.

The letter says the information’s release so close to publication of the government’s welfare reform bill was “deeply unhelpful” and caused many disabled people “significant alarm”.

Following similarly misleading and inaccurate stories around fitness for work tests and incapacity benefit reform, the consortium is to ask the Press Complaints Commission (PCC) to arrange a meeting with newspaper editors to “ensure disabled people and benefits are covered accurately”.

Neil Coyle, director of policy for Disability Alliance (DA), a consortium member, said he believed it was “no coincidence” the information was released so close to publication of the bill, which will include details of far-reaching reforms affecting working-age DLA claimants. 

Coyle said the DWP’s “campaign dossier” allowed “scope for misunderstanding of the purpose of DLA”, and led to coverage that caused “stigma and discrimination against disabled people who need support”.

The letter asks Miller for reassurance that the DWP has challenged the media over the inaccurate DLA stories.

The DWP declined to comment on the letter.

The PCC said 44 people had lodged complaints about the Mail story on the grounds of accuracy.

Last week, a similar PCC complaint was lodged over another Mail story which accused disabled people of “trying it on” in a bid to secure incapacity benefits.

The Daily Mail said it would respond to the PCC complaints.