‘Eleven million people in Britain – with an estimated combined spending power of £80billion – have a disability’ claimed Mark Harper this week, as the government called on the UK tourism industry to improve its accessibility to disabled customers ‘“So, as part of our long-term economic plan, improving the accessibility of hotels and self-catering apartments and tourist attractions for disabled travellers is a no-brainer.’
Harper was relying in statistics drawn together by the Department for Work and Pensions which say: ‘There are 11.5 million people in the UK who are covered by the disability provisions set out in the Equality Act. This is 19 percent of the population – a similar level to the USA, Canada and Australia (FRS 2010/11, WHO 2011).’
As the DWP notes, these estimates are based on various survey findings and:
‘Estimates rely on self-reported responses to survey questions. These responses will be determined by the person’s understanding of the question and a range of other factors such as how they were feeling on the day they answered the question.’
That is to say, a person may both fail to report an impairment at the time a survey is carried out and in theory at least over-state its effect. Nevetheless, DWP go on to say that:
‘A person is defined as having an impairment if they have moderate, severe or complete difficulty with physical or mental functioning and activities are limited as a result. LOS estimates that 29 percent of the population have at least one impairment (LOS Wave 1 2009/11).’
Given this is its own analysis, it’s unsurprising then that the DWP would have relied on these population estimates in its own Equality Impact Assessment for its policy to ‘introduce restrictions to Housing Benefit for working age customers living in the
social rented sector who are occupying a larger property than their household size requires’ known either as ‘ending the spare room subsidy’ or the ‘bedroom tax’ depending on one’s political leanings. The Assessment finds that 63% of working age social rented sector HB claimants or their partners affected by the size criteria would be classified as disabled.
What is surprising, given these are official statistics, which the Minister for Disabled People has no compunction in relying on to make the business case to the tourism industry, is that the Secretary of State should question their validity arguing on LBC radio that: ‘The figures you use are figures used for people’s self-declaration of their disability under the Disability Discrimination Act…..I’m not saying they’re right or they’re wrong. I simply say that’s their declaration. There’s no ongoing check. About a third are in receipt of something like DLA, which of itself is a payment to support housing costs.”
What he may have reasonably suggested is that that not all 63% of social rented sector HB claimants tenants who are disabled and ‘affected’ by the size criteria will necessarily be adversely affected for a reason related to their impairment or health condition because their impairment or health condition does not give rise to a specific need for additional bedrooms as per the criteria. Rather what the Impact Assessment appears to be saying is that 63% of those to whom the policy will apply are disabled and for that reason they are affected, even if not adversely for a reason related to their disability.
Of course, the same could be said for inaccessible UK tourism – clearly not all 11 million people covered by the disability provisions of the Equality Act experience barriers accessing UK tourism. Yet what serves to make a powerful ‘no brainer’ business case for accessibility evidently makes for an politically unhelpful narrative for cutting social security.
In fact Duncan Smith didn’t try to say this at all. And no doubt he didn’t because he and his Department either don’t know or because – as with the impact of the closure of the ILF – they do know but don’t want to say what the adverse impact actual is. Instead he queried the honesty of people when self-reporting an impairment or health condition in response to surveys included in the official statistics and he implied – misleadingly – that DLA exists to meet additional rental costs.
All of which leaves the question that the Secretary of State was fumbling to avoid answering: how many disabled people are adversely affected by the policy, by what criteria and to what degree have the mitigating actions prevented this?