Disability Living Allowance: are alcoholics and drug addicts better off than the blind?
"Well it can't be right that we have a benefits system where, under DLA, more people who are either alcoholics or drug addicts are in receipt of the higher rate of disability allowance than people who are blind" Maria Miller, Disabilities Minister, BBC News 11 May 2011.
Last week thousands of people marched in London for the 'Hardest Hit' march, arguing that the changes to the benefits system and cuts to public services were hitting the disabled hardest.
The Government has argued that it is committed to continued support for people who are genuinely disabled and unable to work, but says that many people on disability allowances are able to work, and that reform is needed.
In seeking to make this point, Minister for Disabilities Minister Maria Miller claimed that more people who are either alcoholics or drug addicts are in receipt of the higher rate of Disability Living Allowance (DLA) than people who are blind.
This claim has led to several Full Fact readers getting in contact with us, questioning whether this figure is an accurate reflection of the situation.
The figures from the Department of Work and Pensions on DLA, broken down by disabling condition and care and mobility components, show that the comparison made by Maria Miller is far from straightforward.
Adding the number of cases of people in receipt of higher rate care with mobility DLA for alcohol and drug abuse as a primary disabling condition does give a higher number than the equivalent awards for people who are blind — 12,500 against 12,200.
However, this is a dubious comparison to make on a number of points.
People can be eligible for both a mobility and a care component of DLA, and therefore adding together the care and mobility components in the statistics does not give a figure of the total number of people getting higher rate DLA overall, due to the risk of double counting. With the figures available, we cannot get an overall figure for people receiving higher rate DLA..
Looking at the care and mobility components separately shows more people who are blind in receipt of the higher rate care component of DLA than those with alcohol and drug abuse, 5,100 against 3,400. For the higher rate mobility component this is reversed, with 9,100 people with alcohol and drug abuse receiving this award against 7,100 who are blind.
People with blindness as their primary disabling condition have historically struggled to qualify for the higher rate care and mobility disability components of DLA. It has been unusual for blind people to get higher rate care support because they would not be deemed to require day and night care, a criteria for the higher care rate.
Also, until April 2011 the higher mobility component was rarely awarded to people who are blind because they were considered able to walk outside. This criteria has now been changed, as it has been recognised that while people with visual impairments can walk outside the home, this would be hazardous without assistance.
Therefore making a comparison between the blind and those with alcohol and drug abuse solely on the basis of those receiving higher rate DLA is questionable; with the small number of people who are blind receiving this higher rate due largely to how DLA is designed.
When a comparison is made for DLA overall between those who are blind and whose with alcohol and drug abuse, a very different picture emerges. Using this wider comparison shows that in May 2011 those with blindness as their primary disabling condition numbered 69,000 and for whose with alcohol and drug abuse the number was 22,800.
The comparison between the number of people who are blind and those with alcohol and drug abuse in receipt of DLA, Maria Miller looks to be on somewhat problematic.
While adding together the higher rate care and mobility numbers does support what she says — this figure does not directly correspond to the total number of people in receipt of higher rate DLA for blindness and for alcohol and drug abuse.
Looking at the care and mobility components separately, it is only for the higher rate mobility component that fewer people who are blind receive the benefit — which is explained by the fact that the DLA criteria has historically excluded blind people, something that has now changed.
Looking more broadly at overall numbers in support of DLA show that 69,000 people with blindness are in receipt of DLA against 22,800 who have alcohol and drug abuse as a primary medical condition.