A report released last week by the National Centre for Social Research (NatCen) suggests that hatred of sick and disabled claimants may finally be on the wane. The report found that for the first time in more than 30 years, disabled claimants rather than pensioners are the public’s top priority for extra spending on benefits.
In its 34th annual British Social Attitudes report, for which 2,942 people were interviewed, NatCen found that:
- The proportion identifying retirement pensions as being among their top two priorities for extra welfare spending has fallen from 72% in 2010 to 60% and was overtaken by support for more spending on benefits for people who are disabled for the first time. 67% now prioritise spending on benefits for disabled people, up from 53% in 2010.
- Support for unemployed claimants in general, however, is much lower. As few as 13% include it among their top two priorities, a much lower level than during the 1980s and 1990s.
- The proportion who say most dole claimants are ‘fiddling’ has dropped from 35% in 2014 to 22% in 2016 – its lowest level since the question was first asked on the survey in 1986.
- The proportion who say that most social security claimants don’t deserve help dropped from 32% in 2014 to 21% in 2016, the lowest ever level on the survey.
Given the frequent screening of television programmes which demonise claimants and the endless stream of fraud cases highlighted by the DWP in local and national media, it is remarkable that claimants are now seen as more of a priority than pensioners.
This might be explained by a growing perception – whether true or not – that pensioners have been protected from the effects of austerity at the expense of others.
But the fact that claimants are now less likely to be seen as fraudulent is harder to explain.
It may well be, however, that the pendulum has swung to its farthest point when it comes to vilifying disabled claimants and that in the growing demand for an easing of austerity, disabled claimants are being seen less as the cause of the current round of hardship and more as one of its victims.