Discrimination increases on back of ‘benefit scroungers’ rhetoric

  • 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; 83% say coverage about benefits scroungers can negatively affect attitudes; 87% say benefit scroungers themselves have a negative effect on attitudes
  • ‘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, 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. 

“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.

“The facts and figures they release on welfare reform only tell half the story. Benefit fraud is rare – in fact more money goes unclaimed than is defrauded, and the new fitness for work test is shown to be failing miserably to accurately assess people’s 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 with a new approach to welfare: tell the whole story when it comes to stats; make fundamental changes to the Work Capability Assessment and avoid repeating the same mistakes when it comes to the new assessment for Personal Independence Payments.

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

Notes to the editor:

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%)

See below for anonymous responses.


The actions of 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. (http://research.dwp.gov.uk/asd/asd2/fem/nsfr-final-120711.pdf)

While across the DWP, it is estimated that only 2.0 per cent of total benefit expenditure was overpaid due to fraud and error. (http://statistics.dwp.gov.uk/asd/asd2/index.php?page=fraud_error)

How have they come to dominate the issue of attitudes?

For Scope it is telling that this comes as the Government continues to present welfare statistics in a way that only tells half the story.

This week Employment Minister Chris Grayling promoted figures which led to a headline: "HEALTH TESTS SHOW HOW 75% ON SICK BENEFITS CAN WORK” and the line: “fears that more than one million sickness benefit claimants are scroungers”.

The figures 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.”

So in fact, the “20 per cent” are not able to work. They might be if they receive the support they need. Meanwhile it’s impossible to say definitively that any of the other 50% are fit for work given that the fitness for work test has shown to be woefully inaccurate with a high percentage of appeals being upheld.


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 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: It needs to consider the way in which it focuses welfare reform – in terms of both rhetoric and assessments – 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.

At the same time Scope is calling on the Government to fundamentally reform its fitness for work test so that it accurately captures the barriers disabled people face when it comes to finding work.

Scope is also warning that the Government risks repeating the same mistakes with its proposed assessment for Personal Independence Payments. 


1. The poll: Methodology note: ComRes surveyed 393 disabled people, 56 parents of disabled people, and 53 carers on the Disabled People’s Panel between 17 November 2011 and 6 January 2012 online. ComRes is a member of the British Polling Council and abides by its rules. Full data tables can be found at www.comres.co.uk

2. Here is a link to a recent coverage of Government welfare stats: http://www.express.co.uk/posts/view/335078/Health-tests-show-how-75-on-sick-benefits-can-work

3. Scope and the Paralympics: Scope will be using its website to paint a picture of disability in 2012 with a range of facts and figures and real life stories. The content will be live in the run up to the Paralympics at www.scope.org.uk

4. Access to elected office fund: Disabled people who have been prevented or put off from running for elected office are one step closer to a more level playing field, thanks to a new £2.6 million Access to Elected Office fund launched by the Government. Scope has been campaigning on the under-representation of disabled people in civic life for many years now. As well as the negative attitudes and assumptions many disabled candidates face, many also incur significant extra costs in their election campaigns as MPs and councillors as a result of their condition or impairment. http://www.scope.org.uk/news/support-now-available-running-elected-office

5. The Government’s Disability Strategy: http://odi.dwp.gov.uk/odi-projects/fulfilling-potential.php

6. More on concerns about Government assessments: http://www.guardian.co.uk/society/2012/jun/29/judicial-review-work-capability-assessment?newsfeed=true

Anonymous responses to poll

“I have found that since the recession people are less willing to be kind to others and disabled people can take the brunt of this. I recently heard someone say ‘we can't afford to take care of disabled people’. It seems that in good times there is an air of compassion towards disabled people but in rough times this is the first thing to go.”

“I have been physically assaulted, punched in the face because a guy thought it was wrong for spaz (his words) to be out with a pretty girl.”

“People’s righteous anger towards those who falsify their claim for disability and other benefits has come to over-shadow their goodwill towards those who are ‘genuinely’ disabled and deserving of support.  People seem unable to recognise that the criminals are a tiny tiny minority and they are tarring all disabled people with that brush.”

“Some of the press is calling us scroungers and the Government's doing nothing to counter this.”

“I was once asked if I used my 'sympathy sticks' (crutches) all of the time."

“Going to the shops with my wife and daughter to buy something just last week. Some people now come out and just say what's on their minds. I was asked if was one of those benefit scroungers playing a game to get extra benefits. This person said with some authority I have watched programme on your lot.”

“Lots more calling of 'scrounger' 'lazy' 'work-shy' 'get a job' and the like.”

“Whenever the news mentions disabled people having benefits stopped some random person will always make a comment such as “you’re going to lose your free car and your free house” and “I hope you go to jail you fraud”. On a positive note I have noticed that young people’s attitudes have changed towards disabled. For example if I am struggling with my shopping a young person will often offer to help me. Years ago I used to feel intimidated by youths hanging round outside shops but it is very rare that I feel this way.”

“They tried to shove my power-chair off the kerb and said I'm just a scrounger and want attention.”

Scope works with disabled people, of all ages, and their families, across England and Wales. We offer practical, everyday support and deliver campaigns that can change lives. Our vision is a world where disabled people have the same opportunities as everyone else. Together we can create a better society.


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