I am getting a real bee in my bonnet (or bug up my butt as our American chums would say) about the complete unfairness of the current disability assessment process and it doesn’t help that the media in general has been carefully orchestrating the notion that all people on “benefits” are scroungers and cheats – the only programme I have ever seen on TV that sort-of showed the counterpoint was Dominic Littlewood’s “Saints and Scroungers”, but as I recall, even this show spent more time on the scroungers than on those not receiving benefits they are entitled to and the disabled didn’t feature as a separate category at all
While I was working, and I worked part-time while at school/university and then full-time until my parkinson’s rocked on up, I have to confess that I didn’t pay any attention to the benefits system. At the time I earned reasonable money, could afford new clothes, didn’t need to stop and think about the cost of eating out or going to the cinema. Lucky me!
As a fit and active able-bodied individual I paid taxes on my earnings and if I came across a headline of “Benefits cheats” the most I might have done would be briefly mutter under my breath about shirkers. Nothing more. Benefits and specifically the system of disability benefits didn’t affect me and my life one iota.
I don’t believe I was alone in thinking this way. We pay taxes, we work hard, the system is there to support us if/as/when we need it to.
If someone had asked me to describe how I thought the disability benefits system would work for me, if I needed them, I would probably have said that I would expect to be able to readily find out what benefits in total I am entitled to, what the eligibility criteria were for the individual benefits, what specific supporting evidence(s) would be needed, and any individual assessment I would be subjected to would be appropriate for whatever condition affected me and be conducted by medical professionals.
That’s all quite reasonable and fair, isn’t it?
But that is not what happens. I am not going get sidetracked into what disability benefits are available or even what other benefits a disabled person may be entitled to. My focus is on the fairness or otherwise of the way in which disabled individuals are being assessed for benefits administered by the Department of Work and Pensions.
Here is the current assessment that is being applied to everyone seeking the ESA (Employment Support Allowance – successor to Incapacity Benefit and Income Support and Severe Disablement Allowance). As you can see there is no filter applied if the individual being assessed is missing a limb, but otherwise healthy, being treated for cancer or living with a chronic, progressive and currently incurable condition. The tests that we are all being subjected to are the same and the outcomes are random.
The Assessors come from a wide range of health professional backgrounds. If you have a condition such as Parkinson’s Disease, you won’t necessarily see someone with any knowledge whatsoever of your condition. You see whoever happens to be working that day. You may see a midwife!! They may be/have been a very competent midwife but if, for example, at one point in the test you successfully pick up a weight (which then completely exhausts your muscles so you are now in pain and unable to repeat the action) they will check the box on the computer-screen in front of them that says you lifted that weight. There is no place for “with difficulty” “won’t be able to do it again”. The box is checked and the process rolls on.
What is fair about this? Pretty much nothing. Its not fair to the assessor who is merely the User Interface between the IT process and the claimant and its certainly not fair to the individual who, through no choice of their own, is seeking financial help to cope with disability. Not a handout, but for someone who has worked for decades, assistance to which they are rightfully entitled! That our conditions are wildly differing and our answers don’t fit properly within the form really doesn’t matter.
The company chosen to make those of us with disability all fit into the system is a multi-national IT company – not one with any expertise in healthcare or disability of any kind. For doing this job, ATOS is rewarded with £80m a yr contract for 7yrs.
Just this morning on behalf of the Government, Iain Duncan-Smith has announced that he wants to see 500,000 people cut from the list of those receiving disability benefits,
What an ugly numerical coincidence…. one person cut for every £1 paid to ATOS!
We need to campaign against unfair disability assessments – it is not right or fair for those with chronic, progressive and currently incurable conditions e.g., parkinson’s disease to be tested in a one-size-fits-all system. It is also not right that those whose disability isn’t evident, like the profoundly deaf, should be classed as not disabled when they need costly enhancements to help them function well in society.
Forget Big Society how about a Fair Society!!