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Disabled people ‘portrayed as scroungers’ by Government

The focus on fraud as a reason to cut benefits and make the application process more stringent has caused more resentment and abuse targeted at disabled people, six major charities suggest.

The charities – Scope, Mencap, Leonard Cheshire Disability, National Autistic Society, RNIB and the Disability Allowance – have cited an increase in contacts concerning public taunts and disbelief of disabled people’s ability to work.

They suggest that media reports have brought a negative perception of disabled people to public attention, and warn that ministers should not over-emphasise the abuse of the benefits system. Ministers have also developed the damaging idea that disabled people are a separate group who do not contribute, the charities argue.

The Government is planning 20% cuts to Disability Living Allowance (DLA) by 2015/16.

The charities caution that the way disabled people are portrayed by Government and media could lead to an increase in the stigma and even violence targeted at these people, leading many to fear leaving the house.

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

A Scope poll found that disabled people reported a recent increase in negative attitudes towards them. Richard Hawkes, chief executive, said: “Disabled people tell us that increasingly people don't believe that they are disabled and suddenly feel empowered to question their entitlement to support.”

Fazilet Hadi, head of inclusion for the RNIB, added: “At the moment it feels like the Government is not on the side of disabled people. Most people don’t have that much exposure to disabled people. They don’t see us in the lifestyle pages, they don’t see us in the fashion pages. The only reference they see is in these stories. And that’s why the language is so important.”

A DWP spokesperson said: “Our welfare reforms are designed to restore integrity into the benefits system and to ensure that everyone who needs help and support receives it.”

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