Box sets » Welfare spending » Incapacity and disability benefits

Measures of reported disability prevalence are often subject to great variability and this can make drawing precise conclusions from them difficult. In this box, we considered two examples where measures varied. The first related to differences between Labour Force Survey and General Health Survey measures of working-age disability prevalence and the second to large changes in the former. We discussed differences in methodology and changes in attitudes as possible drivers.
Public financial support for disabled people extends beyond the extra-costs disability benefits and includes several other welfare payments. This box gave an overview of some of the most important interactions between disability and other benefits that provide support for disabled people.
Our ability to forecast accurately is heavily dependent on the quality of the data we can use. In this box we explained how statistical and expenditure data could be distorted by problems in delivery of the benefit, and the difficulties this creates in identifying emerging trends in the data.
There are several possible approaches to forecasting benefit spending. In this box we outlined the key issues the modelling of disability benefits needed to address, the three approaches we used to forecast spending, and the strengths and limitations of each, concluding that a combination of approaches was better than reliance on any single one.
In Chapter 4 of our December 2014 EFO, we discussed the fiscal outlook for 2014-15 to 2018-19. In this box, we discussed revisions we made to the forecast in light of reforms to incapacity and disability benefits. Spending on incapacity benefits was revised up by £0.7 billion a year on average between 2014-15 and 2018-19, largely reflecting a lower-than-expected number of Work Capability Assessments carried out by the Department for Work and Pension’s private contractors. On the basis of the latest evidence, spending on disability benefits was also revised up by £0.7 billion a year on average between 2014-15 and 2018-19. This was largely due to higher than expected success rates for new claims to the personal independence payment.
The cyclicality of spending on benefits and tax credits
In our 2014 Welfare trends report, Chapter 4 reviewed the overall trends in welfare spending. In this box, we considered how responsive welfare spending is to the economic cycle by estimating the elasticity of benefits and tax credits spending as a share of GDP with respect to changes in the output gap (the difference between actual GDP and an estimate of its potential or underlying level). We found that the most counter-cyclical benefits have caseloads closely associated with the economic cycle whereas mildly counter-cyclical benefits are likely to only exhibit cyclicality due to spending varying less than GDP, thereby producing a denominator effect.