“Outrage at £435m paid to junkies” The Sun, 28 March, 2011.
“HOW ADDICTS POCKET £435M BENEFITS MEANT FOR DISABLED” The Daily Express, 28 March, 2011.
“The disability benefit that’s handed out to addicts and alcoholics” The Daily Mail, 28 March, 2011.
Recent clashes over the Welfare Reform Bill have for the most part centred around the mobility component of the Disability Living Allowance (DLA).
Last week Full Fact had to step in to adjudicate when David Cameron and Ed Miliband clashed over whether this part of the benefit was being scrapped or not.
Today we learn from the papers that a significant amount of the money currently being distributed through DLA may be going to those receiving the benefit on account of drug or alcohol problems. But how accurate were the reports?
The headlines in both the Sun and Express give a misleading impression, suggesting as they do that £435 million is paid to “addicts” or “junkies”.
However both going on to elaborate that this figure includes money paid not just for drug and alcohol conditions, but also others such as asthma and unspecified backache cases.
In all three papers, the main articles go on to say that a mix of medical conditions is included in the £435 million figure they cite, namely, 19,400 people with drug or alcohol problems 30,900 people with asthma and 128,300 with back pain.
It is unclear why these three conditions in particular were grouped together by all three of the papers in their reports.
So if those receiving the benefit due to alcohol or drug problems only make up just over 10 per cent of the people claiming this £435 million, how much of this amount is genuinely going to such people?
The information on the numbers of people claiming the mobility component of DLA for different disabilities can be found in the ad hoc data published by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), last month.
These show the number of people receiving either the higher amount of £49.85 or the lower amount of £18.95 per week.
Using the most recent data from May 2010 we can work out how much was paid to those with the three types of conditions covered in this morning’s press reports.
The total benefits received by these groups comes to £435 million if the weekly rate is worked our for a full year.
From the data we are also able to work out how much was paid to the 9,100 with drug or alcohol problems receiving the higher rate, and the 10,300 receiving the lower rate.
Looking just at these groups, we can see that a total of £19.1 million was paid out through the mobility component of DLA – some 4.4 per cent of the figure used in the Sun and Express headlines.
With the Welfare Reform Bill proposing major changes to the welfare system, it is very important that information in the media accurately reflects the issues involved.
In this case, the headlines chosen by the Sun and the Express inaccurately portray the amount of money paid in the DLA mobility component to cases of drug and alcohol abuse.
Even if the reports do eventually explain that this is the amount of money given to a broader category of claimants, they do not report the actual figure of how much is paid to those with drug and alcohol problems specifically.
However it is worth pointing out that although the Daily Mail did cover the same figures, it pleasingly managed to do so without making the suggestion that £435 million was the amount paid to those with drug and alcohol problems, even in the headline.