This article was updated on 13 January 2015 to take into account more recent claimant count statistics from the DWP.
Working age claimants hold the balance of power in enough marginal seats to potentially decide who governs Britain at the next election, and yet they are treated by politicians with such contempt that you might imagine they had no vote at all. Could that all be about to change?
As the tables at the bottom of this article show, if just one in four more working age claimants had voted Labour at the last election, Labour would have been the largest party.
It would have taken an even smaller increase in support from claimants for the Conservatives to win outright victory.
And at the last election the Conservatives took 36.1% of the vote, whilst Labout took 29%. If the polls are correct and this election is a much closer run race, then the votes of working age claimants could be even more crucial.
So why don’t politicians worry about deriding sick and disabled claimants or threatening huge cuts to working age benefits?
Most people believe that the reasons pensioners benefits remain untouched in the current austerity programme are because, firstly, there are a lot of pensioners and, secondly, their age group turns out to vote in large numbers.
In fact, turnout at last general election by age was 44% for 18-24 year olds, whilst it was 76% for those aged 65 or over.
At May 2013 there were 12.9 million state pension claimants, so that’s a lot of very committed voters.
But there are also 5.2 million working age benefits claimants in Britain and many of these are sick or disabled. For example, 3.26 million receive DLA whilst 2.15 million get ESA, with some getting both benefits. Around 5 million claimants get housing benefit.
By comparison, there are around 6 million trades union members in Britain.
We have no idea how many working age claimants vote, particularly those who are sick and disabled, because nobody cares enough to find out. But it seems likely that turnout at the last election was relatively low amongst sick and disabled voters simply because many saw themselves as having very little to choose between the three major parties.
At the 2015 general election the picture may be dramatically different, however.
Many claimants will always despise Labour for their anti-claimant rhetoric, for creating the work capability assessment and for introducing private sector companies like Unum and Atos into the benefits system.
But following 5 years of coalition savagery, hatred and impoverishment, and with chancellor George Osborne undertaking to cut a further £12 billion mainly from working age benefits, many may also believe that another five years of coalition or Tory rule will represent a virtual – or actual – death sentence for them.
Under those circumstances, if despair does not disenfranchise them entirely, claimants may turn out to vote Labour in unprecedented numbers, holding their noses whilst they do so.
If claimants and representative bodies work conspicuously and effectively to get the claimant vote out in marginal seats, the 2015 election could mark a turning point in the way that politicians regard them. Jeers and mockery may turn to the same grudging fear with which pensioners are regarded by many politicians.
And after the next election, fear of newly assertive claimants might even be sufficient to force whichever party is in power to pass legislation giving disabled people the same protection against prejudice and hatred that members of ethnic minorities have.
With the press and politicians finally forced to end the rabble rousing and hate campaigns, the world could look a very different place.
Or are we just dreaming?
Labour target seats
Labour needed 68 more seats to win an outright majority at the last election - these are the seats they came closest to winning.
|Consitutency||Party||Votes needed||Working age claimants|
|Norwich South||Lib Dem||310||9260|
|Lancaster & Fleetwood||Con||333||6840|
|Bradford East||Lib Dem||365||14860|
|Woverhampton South West||Con||691||8910|
|Morecambe & Lunesdale||Con||866||8650|
|Plymouth Sutton & Devonport||Con||1149||13060|
|Brent Central||Lib Dem||1345||14650|
|Manchester, Withington||Lib Dem||1894||7970|
|Brentford & Isleworth||Con||1958||8320|
|Hastings & Rye||Con||1993||12190|
|Halesowen & Rowley Regis||Con||2023||8050|
|Blackpool North & Cleveleys||Con||2150||10200|
|East Dunbartonshire||Lib Dem||2184||4180|
|City of Chester||Con||2583||6930|
|Birmingham, Yardley||Lib Dem||3002||13780|
|Carmarthen West & South Pembrokeshire||Con||3243||6710|
|Argyll & Bute||Lib Dem||3431||6660|
|Carmarthen East & Dinefwr||Plaid||3481||6370|
|Warwick & Leamington||Con||3513||5510|
|Ealing Central & Acton||Con||3716||8460|
|Edinburgh West||Lib Dem||3803||6140|
|Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale & Tweeddale||Con||4194||6350|
|Vale of Glamorgan||Con||4307||8880|
|Elmet & Rothwell||Con||4521||5190|
Conservative target seats
The Conservatives needed an extra 20 seats to win outright at the last election.
|Constituency||Party||Votes needed||Working age claimants|
|Hampstead & Kilburn||Labour||42||9730|
|Mid Dorset & North Poole||Lib Dem||269||3750|
|Morley & Outwood||Labour||1101||6780|
|St Austell & Newquay||Lib Dem||1312||9020|
|Sutton & Cheam||Lib Dem||1608||4780|
|Middlesborough South & East Cleveland||Labour||1677||9930|
|Somerton & Frome||Lib Dem||1817||5590|
Lib Dem target seats
Below is a selection of seats the Lib Dems came close to winning at the last election.
|Constituency||Party||Votes needed||Working age claimants|
|Camborne & Redruth||Con||66||8210|
|Oldham East & Saddleworth||Labour||103||10100|
|Oxford West & Abingdon||Con||176||4110|
|Truro & Falmouth||Con||435||6230|
|Harrogate & Knaresborough||Con||1039||4580|
|Edinburgh North & Leith||Labour||1724||8600|
|Hereford & South Herefordshire||Con||2481||6460|
|Torridge & West Devon||Con||2957||6700|