Thursday, 28 April 2011

Case #5: Playing Simon Says With Disability Living Allowance

Remember this concept, in Mark Twain's A Connecticut Yankee In King Arthur's Court the said Yankee from the future, with advanced knowledge of astronomy persuades a crowd of medieval Daily Mail readers(or it could work on modern Daily Mail readers too) that unless they let him go he will blot out the sun. He knows that an eclipse will happen and when it does they will believe he caused it, not understanding the nature of his prior knowledge. The theme of prior knowledge of something being used to infer control over it is important to understanding what comes next and a possible prediction the ministers in charge of Welfare reform are probably aware of.

Disability Living Allowance was introduced in 1992 and some much-needed context on the Welfare reform 'debate' in Britain is provided by this 1997 BBC report, which I strongly recommend no one overlooks. These benefits didn't just drop out the sky out of the kindness of Tory hearts: they were replacements for previously existing benefits which in the case of Incapacity Benefit was intended to provide stricter criteria than Invalidity Benefit. It was a partial success: Incapacity Benefit has never gone up despite what this misleading graph from the Harrington Review says.

Click to enlarge
But was it really a success? Yes, it goes up and then peaks when Incapacity Benefit replaces Invalidity Benefit(see the BBC report), seems like a success if you define 'success' as robbing what were probably deserving claimants of a statutory entitlement. But did they? Could the Major government have been so cold? Probably, but in this case I don't think they were. I think the increase and it's sudden arrest was predicted, replacing Invalidity Benefit with Incapacity Benefit changed barely anything. After mental hospitals were closed and Care in the Community began it was clear there was a short-coming in provision for former patients and if the policy failed then the headlines in the tabloids at the time about 'loonies' being freed to endanger themselves and others would get much worse. Enabling former mental patients to be more independent and less desperate would be a step towards that, so Attendance Allowance for disabled pensioners was extended to those under 65 with some mildly different criteria and called Disability Living Allowance. Now it wasn't called 'Nutter Living Allowance' oh no, because it wasn't just made for former patients nor was it an entirely new benefit: it was itself a replacement for Mobility Allowance for disabled people, which is now virtually unheard of and not to be confused with the Mobility component of DLA.

It was publicised at the time by disability charities, Citizens Advice and the government themselves in the build-up to the Disability Discrimination Act in 1995. A side-effect seems to be that as many previous non-claimants realised it existed, they were informed of Invalidity Benefit as well which they should have been claiming rather than Income Support(Jobseekers Allowance wasn't introduced until 1996). So there was a spike in disability benefit claims and disability spending which got the Major government worried and when your media base doesn't like graphs with lines representing spending going up, you have to be seen to be doing something and something that works. But the reasons for the spike were obvious, which made the statistical event predictable but data points don't make headlines because they don't sell newspapers because they don't get attention. That's my excuse for this little blog anyway, still waiting for my Drudge Report moment.

So there was this huge statistical blip which having a predictable cause also had a predictable end as it was simply a case of an under-claimed benefit moving up closer to what it should be. It could still be used for political capital and that's where the Connecticut Yankee 'blotting out the sun' comes back in. Incapacity Benefit had tougher criteria than Invalidity Benefit to be sure and no doubt caused some sick and disabled people a lot of strife, but that isn't why claims for this benefit category stopped; we know why that stopped and it's because there was only a certain number of eligible claimants missing out and that would cap in a short time-scale. But by replacing IB with....IB just as it happened it looked as if though this had stopped the rise and the BBC believed it.

Is the Coalition about to repeat the trick of the last Conservative government? I think so and I think I've pin-pointed exactly how. Ever since its introduction DLA has only ever gone up. Ignore the meaningless Coalition talking point about a '30% rise in the past eight years' because it's a crock that implies DLA ever had a 'normal' number of claimants. It has always been under-claimed and much of the rise can be attributed to it chasing after the set number of eligible non-claimants. But that isn't the only positive forcing effect on it because as DLA and its bill have risen, that of Attendance Allowance(AA) has gone down(correction: it has gone up but significantly slower than before). Now a significant number of claimants are pensioners, from 33% eight years ago to 37% now. How significant is this?

It seems imperceptible but look at where the start of the green area is and where the end of the purple one is in comparison. Working-age claimants rose by about 350,000 whilst Pension-age claimants who only accounted for a third rose by over 300,000. 33% of the total DLA claimants of the last eight years account for 46.6% of the increase. What does that look like?

Click to enlarge
You might now start to notice the difference between the total growth that is high and the working-age only growth which seems less aggressive. But let's exaggerate this image a little.

Don't bother enlarging, IGNORE the numbers, they are not accurate in this graph format
Now you see the very large difference, showing how much working-age DLA claimants contribute to the eight year growth. When the Coalition says DLA has grown by 30% in eight years, they are including pension-age claimants who disproportionately add to it and have increased their share since. But there is a limit as to how much they can do this and yet again this is a predictable positive forcing because it was intentionally put into DLA in 1992. DLA would only ever go up until pension-age claimants caught up with their life expectancy. In 1992 the oldest a DLA claimant could possibly be was 65(I am uncertain about the status of the female pension age of 60 on this), because disabled pensioners claimed AA unless they already claimed DLA and then reached retirement age; they could keep claiming DLA and not be put on AA. Attendance Allowance has greatly slowed it's rate of increase.

So if the oldest DLA claimant in 1992 is 65, then the oldest in 1993 is 66 and so on. But DLA does not imbue anyone with immortality, there comes a point at which the oldest living DLA claimant and therefore the proportionate number of pension-age DLA claimants is capped. It's when the theoretically oldest DLA claimant has caught up with life expectancy. The DWP recently released their cohort estimates for life expectancy at age 65, but what would they need that for? Maybe it's because you can look at the life expectancy of someone who was 65 in 1992 and predict from this the point at which the mechanism that allows pensioners to claim DLA stops forcing DLA's inflation.

We have just passed the point at which men and women who were 65 in 1992 can be expected to still be alive. Most of those who have not passed away soon will, so at this point the positive forcing of claimant pensioners stops. You could make ANY changes to DLA and point to the result as having affected what is about to happen. DLA reform is going to be a disaster(more on this soon), so there is no reason why the Coalition should keep going on with it unless they can present it as a success. Now we see one way that is going to happen. Combined with the new retirement age that is coming in, the end of the forcing has been delayed by two or three years and will now coincide with the introduction of the Personal Independence Payment that replaces Disability Living Allowance.

Case File #5 finds the Coalition are treading old ground known to the Conservative Party, seemingly by coincidence copying their actions in the 90s step-by-step.


  1. Thanks,interesting read.Regards

  2. More very interesting analysis Arec.

    we wait to see how many pensioners - who cannot be declared 'fit for work' will lose at least a portion of their benefit.

  3. At some point I'm hoping to investigate and write about the other positive forcing effect that inflates DLA; that of eligible people who were not previously claiming and are gradually moving DLA up to the stable baseline it should be at. That's something of a more complicated issue.

    Whilst there are ten million people in the UK who count as disabled under the Disability Discrimination Act, a lot of them are pension age and so can't make DLA claims if they aren't already on it(must claim Attendance Allowance instead) and many of the rest whilst sick or disabled just so happen to not fit the descriptors required for any Care or Mobility award.

    BendyGirl at Benefit Scrounging Scum for example does not claim the Higher Rate Care component even though she frequently visits the toilet at night and her limbs often dislocate along the way. It's very difficult for her to do this without help but the descriptor relating to 'needing help during the night' specifies that a person must spend an hour in total each night requiring help. It isn't relevant to her significant needs, so she misses out.

    Because of things like this, DLA has had court rulings that judged certain descriptors and applications of them were discriminatory and in breach of the Disability Discrimination Act, expanding who was eligible for what. People who tried to claim and were turned down(about half are) but who would since those rulings be eligible wouldn't know this until they were told and urged to try again.

  4. You make so many good points in this piece and the graphs are very useful. I remember the publicity drive for DLA in the mid-nineties - I was volunteering for an advice organization at the the time. We handed out a heck of a lot of leaflets! Your main point about what I've tended to refer to as the crunch point is VERY important in discussions of why this government is planning a change for 2013-15. Might a government of a different colour planned the same thing? Possibly. Probably. There's a lot to be said, in long political careers, for a 'successful' scheme with your Party's name upon it...

    By the way: interesting typo in the paragraph just above the final graphic. Rather a good topical joke in it, to my mind, but I think you meant 'immortality' ;)