Have disability benefit claims trebled in 20 years?

Last updated: 16 Jan 2012

"Disability benefit claims treble"

The Sun, 16 January 2012

"Disability benefit TREBLES in 20 years: 3.5m could be claiming by 2015, warn ministers"

Daily Mail, 16 January 2012

Readers of the Sun and Daily Mail this morning were greeted with headlines suggesting that claimants of disability benefit had trebled in 20 years, ahead of projections suggesting that 3.5 million people will be claiming the benefit in 2015.

Disability Living Allowance (DLA) was first introduced in 1992 and is set to be replaced, for working-age people, by a new Personal Independence Payment (PIP) in 2013.

Amongst the other claims made in the articles were that DLA currently costs the taxpayer £12.6 bllion a year and that thousands can receive the benefit "without seeing a doctor and simply filling out a form". Full Fact explored the caveats to this particular claim back in November.

Now we take a look at the latest claims.


The main catalyst for the stories is a new document published by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) which examines how a lack of reform is likely to affect the caseload of DLA claimants up to 2015/16.

The projections are largely based on historical data about DLA claimants and ONS population projections for the next four years. They suggest an estimated 3,528,000 people will claim the benefit in 2015/16 in the absence of reform - hence the basis for some figures used in the headlines.

Current data on the number of DLA claimants is available via the Department's tabulations tool and broken down into people who receive the 'Care Component' of the benefit and those who receive the 'Mobility Component'. People can receive both or either of these, and at potentially differing rates in each.

The data confirms the current number of claimants (as of May 2011) stands at approximately 3,202,910. Data on the current rate shows that the average recipient of the benefit gets £74.08 per week.

Taking into account the different rates, this backs up the papers' claims that the current cost of the benefit is an estimated £12.6 billion.

The claim that the benefit has trebled in claimant numbers over 20 years required a different source as the tabulations data only provided figures dating back to 2002. Full Fact tracked this down to DLA growth tables provided by the DWP.

Combining the male and female count figures provided in the data allowed us to chart the growth in claimants since 1992, with projections based on the assumption of no reform:

The figures show that there were 1,117,700 people claiming DLA in 1992/93. Compared to the current 3,202,910, the 2011 count is 2.9 times higher the original count. Compared to the estimated 3,528,000, the 2015 figure is 3.2 times higher.

On this basis, the claim that the number of DLA claimants has trebled in 20 years is accurate.

It should be noted that the number of claimants as measured by the DWP provides only the nominal total of claimants year-on-year and does not explain why the increase has taken place.

The Government makes its case for reform following its consultation on the changes to the benefits, suggesting, among other things, that the benefits were provided more widely than originally planned.

Research has suggested however that demographic changes also play a major part in explaining the increase, and hence the apparently steep rise in benefit claimants may not be simply down to disproportionate uptake of the benefit. 


Both the Sun and Mail's headline figures appear to reflect the DWP statistics accurately, although the conclusions we can draw when observing the increase are far less clear.

The Sun's details regarding the check-up requirements of the benefit however are problematic. As we previously pointed out via DWP data on the matter, the distinction between different types of evidence used for DLA elligibility are blurred by the reports and should be treated with caution.

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