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Scroungers rhetoric 'fuels abuse'

Government focus on alleged fraud and over-claiming to justify cuts in benefits is fuelling abuse against disabled people, charities have warned.

Six groups told the Guardian that a narrative of "benefits scroungers or fakers" was making disabled people increasingly become the target of resentment, which some organisations fear could spill over into hate crimes.

The charities - Scope, Mencap, Leonard Cheshire Disability, the National Autistic Society, Royal National Institute for the Blind (RNIB) and Disability Alliance - said inflammatory media played a part, but laid the blame largely with ministers and civil servants for repeatedly highlighting supposed mass abuse of the system, it was reported.

The Government has pledged to cut the bill for disability living allowance (DLA), which is to be replaced by the personal independence payment (PIP), by 20% by 2015/16.

Last month, minister for disabled people Maria Miller said: "In the past DLA has been poorly managed so we now have a situation where there are hundreds of millions of pounds of overpayments and the vast majority of people get the benefit for life without systematic checks to see if their condition has changed."

Last April, employment minister Chris Grayling said the "vast majority" of new claimants for sickness benefits were in fact able to go back to work, after official figures showed three-quarters of applicants for employment and support allowance (ESA) failed to qualify for assistance.

Tom Madders, head of campaigns at the National Autistic Society, told the newspaper: "The Department for Work and Pensions is certainly guilty of helping to drive this media narrative around benefits, portraying those who received benefits as workshy scroungers or abusing a system that's really easy to cheat."

Some disabled people avoid going out because of the hostile climate, or avoid using facilities such as designated parking bays if they "don't look disabled", it was claimed. According to polling by Scope, in September two-thirds of people with disabilities said they had experienced recent hostility or taunts, up from 41% four months before.

The charities' comments come after a warning that highly vulnerable households could be harmed by the Government's planned £26,000 annual benefit cap. Entrepreneur Emma Harrison, who was appointed by David Cameron to get families back into work, said she was concerned parents of severely disabled children could lose out.

A Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) spokeswoman said: "We are absolutely committed to supporting disabled people and whilst we already have laws in place to ensure equality, we need to work together and do more to change negative attitudes. That is why we have recently launched a consultation on developing a new cross-government disability strategy, with one of the key areas looking at promoting positive attitudes and behaviours towards disabled people and tackling discrimination and harassment wherever they occur.


From Belfast Telegraph