disability

This tag is associated with 3 posts

The Government Didn’t Inhale DLA … And Other Lies

When the government proposed to change the benefit system, from Disability Living Allowance (DLA) to Personal Independence Payment, a consultation period was begun.

The government itself has a code of practice for consultations, that it has quite clearly broken. It was two weeks shorter than recommended and took place over the Christmas holidays of 2010/2011. It was also not completed by the time the Welfare Bill was presented to Parliament, so it is clear that it was not taken fully into account.

This was not simply asking a bunch of people, this was a consultation based on the answers from 523 groups – local authorities, national charities, legal groups, user led organisations, health care professionals and businesses.

The government claims that the proposed changes to DLA to PIP has the support of a wide range of the public, and that they have consulted disability campaigners and charities.

It is a bit reminiscent of the old, “I did not inhale” excuse.

We consulted, but we did not listen.Raised hands, voting

Since the government was not willing to use the responses gathered during the consultation period, a group of campaigners decided to do so. They raised the funding through donations and requested the documents needed through the Freedom of Information Act.

What a surprise it was for them to read the statement from  London’s Mayor, Boris Johnson:

The Mayor would call for the Government to retain the (current) three-month qualifying period, as the increase to six months will mean that people with fluctuating conditions have increased difficulty meeting the qualifying period.

People with fluctuating conditions face the same barriers that all disabled face in relation to higher costs of living, and DLA is essential to maintain a decent quality of life.
The Government proposes imposing penalties if disabled people do not inform the Government of changes in their circumstances.
 ‘However, the overall fraud rate for DLA is less than 0.5 per cent. For those with fluctuating conditions, asking them to report every change to their condition would prove very stressful.

Further, the campaigners found that the other respondents were almost unanimous in their response to some points, and that

  • 74% of respondents were against the proposals but open to discussion
  • 19% had mixed views, agreeing with parts of the proposal
  •  Only 7% supported them fully.

Several points were raised by many respondents, including that the government’s motivation in proposing these reforms were perceived to be a saving 20% of disability benefits. When the overall fraud rate of DLA being estimated at 0,5%, surely it is clear that this will cut benefits from those who need it.

So why was the bill allowed to go ahead, with the government asserting that the proposals were supported by disabled groups?

Please read the Spartacus Report and pass it on to your friends and family (although I expect they will read about it in the newspapers).

I would like to point out several issues  that are often misunderstood by the general public.

1. DLA is an in work benefit. It aims to assist the disabled person in his or her daily life and often provides the means for them to be able to work

2. DLA is a highly efficient benefit, in that it saves the tax payer money. For every disabled person who is able to work because of the support, the country “earn” taxes.

3. DLA is not given out easily. It is a long and difficult process, and even someone as ill as Sue Marsh can fail to be awarded DLA

4. DLA does not automatically mean that the recipient gets a “free car”. Those on DLA who are awarded the higher mobility component of DLA. No matter what the Daily Mail tells you.

5. DLA recipients “pay” for their car using their benefit payments. So a person who has the highest possible award would pay half their DLA benefit toward a leased car. Only 30% of those eligible for a car take one.

If the government were more honest, both about the recipients of benefits not being lazy scroungers, and the response of those who replied to the consultation, I very much doubt that they would have been able to bring the Welfare Bill as far as they have.

And where the hell is our opposition party in all of this?

Why is it left to campaigners who struggle with their own disabilities and have to raise money on social networking websites to fund and produce this report?

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The Shirking Classes Don’t Count

The unemployment statistics show a rise of 80,000 in the months leading up to July this year, meaning a total of 2.51 million people are officially unemployed in the country.  That is 7.9 percent, with dramatically bigger rises in London and the North East.  But do people know what the statistics actually mean?  And how about those workshy ESA claimants, swinging the lead and pretending to be ill, that we heard so much about recently in some papers?

Employment and Support Allowance is the controversial replacement for Incapacity benefit, brought in by the Labour government in 2008 for new claimants, and gradually extended to all Incapacity Benefit claimants.  After the first 13 weeks of the claim, the claimant is reassessed, usually involving a medical administered by an employee of ATOS, a private company that has won the government contract but is dogged by accusations of corruption and lack of care.  The claimant is then put in one of three categories – fit for work (at which point they must find a job or migrate to jobseekers allowance), work related activity group (or WRA) and support group.  Only 7% of claims are awarded support group status – ie judged completely incapable of work.  This is an issue for another post, but all of these claimants started off with a sicknote from their own GP, yet an unfamiliar doctor or nurse has deemed the GPs opinion invalid.  36% of claims are abandoned before the 13 week point, mostly due to recovery from a short term illness, and 39% are judged fit for work.  There is a high level of successful appeals to these decisions, but for now, let’s take the word of ATOS.

17% of ESA claimants are placed in the WRA group.  This amounts to over 400,000 people who are judged to be fit for work if appropriate adjustments are made or in the near future.  These people are required to attend work focused interviews where they will discuss how they will get back into work, and can have their benefits docked if they fail to attend.  These are the people who were described as “workshy Calculator on top of jobcentre plus benefits letterscroungers” in certain papers when the latest set of ESA claimant data was released.  Yet they are not included in the latest unemployment statistics.

“Unemployed” people are jobless, have been actively seeking work in the past four weeks and are available to start work in the next two weeks; or they are out of work, have found a job, and are waiting to start it in the next two weeks.  As ESA claimants in the work related activity group are not required to actively seek work, only prepare to seek work, they are not counted.  Yet they are legally required to prepare for work.  So, which are they?  Are they incapable of work, and so not included in unemployment statistics, just the“economically inactive” group (more on which later), or are they able to prepare for work, as they are legally required to do?  This may sound like a dry statistical question, but those 400,000 people in the WRA group are facing uncertainty about their lives – the status is causing confusion and anger amongst some of the most vulnerable sectors of society.

Economically inactive group is, by the most up to date statistics, 23% of the population.  These are people who are without paid work, but are not classed as unemployed.  They may be sick or disabled, carers or not seeking work for some other reason.  This does not mean that they don’t wish to work, only that they are not counted as seeking work.  They may in fact be looking for a job, but unable to start in the next two weeks due to other responsibilities.  They may wish to work, but are prevented by disability or high costs of childcare.  Or they may be stay at home parents or carers.  Of course, some will be rich kids living off trust finds, but somehow I doubt that counts for 23% of the population.

Another group to consider is those who are in part time work, but are looking for full time work.  This figure increased by 70,000 in three months to reach 1.28 million, the highest figure since comparable records began in 1992.  Here are more people who are looking for work, but unable to find it, and are not included on the unemployment statistics.  Workers on low wages are still entitled to many income related benefits, and can even sometimes receive more in welfare benefits than someone out of work.  Many part time jobs are unreliable and low paid, yet the workers are not counted in the unemployment statistics.  In many ways, these can be the most exposed to the twists and turns of the economy, as they face placing new or changed claims if they lose the jobs they do have, but are without the small security that having an established claim can provide.  They find themselves without enough work, but not “unemployed enough” to become a target for the limited amount of work finding schemes that are available.

The unemployment statistics may be awful, but they hide an even more shocking truth.  There are simply not enough jobs in this country, and the statistics show more than we are being led to believe.

Work Capability Box Ticking

I was recently required to attend a work capability assessment (WCA), administered by the controversial ATOS healthcare.  The assessment is meant to decide if somebody is eligible for employment and support allowance – the main benefit for people unable to work due to illness or disability – and, if so, whether they should have to undertake “work related activity” such as training and careers advice.

WCAs have been causing worry to many people, especially as stories spread of unfair decisions, inexpert assessments and simple bad treatment from ATOS employees.  Disability message boards and support groups are full of people terrified of losing their benefits due to what is literally a box-ticking exercise – the medical professional simply selects the option on a computer screen that best meets the answer given, with no room for flexibility.  Some of the most worried are people with severe mental illness.
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Mental illness is hard to see, and especially hard to judge in a meeting of less than an hour.  Most sufferers from severe illness – usually defined as including schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and other conditions where psychosis can be present – have spent years in the system, taking strong medication, being treated by specialist teams and often with periods of inpatient care.  Despite this, they are still being called in for the WCA, often itself leading to deterioration in their conditions.  When I had my assessment, I was only a few weeks out of hospital after a relapse.
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My case highlights many of the contradictions in the WCA system.  My husband works, so our income is too high for me to receive ESA payments; the only benefit I get from claiming is that basic national insurance contributions are made on my behalf.  The total value of these contributions are around £13 a year. Even if I had managed to fool all the doctors, nurses and other professionals all these years, and the WCA exposed me as that modern folk-devil, the benefit fraudster, it would save the taxpayer very little.  ATOS and the DWP have repeatedly refused to reveal how much each assessment costs, but it seems passing unlikely that it is less than £13.
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The nurse who performed my assessment was not trained in mental health – ATOS does not employ any mental health nurses, despite “mental and behavioral disorders” being far and away the most claimed for group of illnesses, at around 35% of all claims.  This has implications both for the amount of people wrongly deemed able to work, and the amount of people able to fool an untrained assessor into declaring them incapable.
.Work Capability Assessments are based on a computer tick list
As I also claim other benefits, I have faced many long and often irrelevant questions about my condition, repeatedly provided the same evidence and contact details for my specialist team who confirm details of my illness, and spent many hours researching the correct forms, claims and procedures.  Not only is this upsetting and bad for my mental state,I am also constantly worried that I have made a mistake and that my income will be taken away or reclaimed, or that I could face criminal proceedings through an administrative mistake.  I am lucky enough to be relatively educated, and to have a variable condition, meaning some days I am able to coherently put my case across.  Many sufferers of severe mental illness are not so lucky.
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Benefit claimants are routinely portrayed as “scroungers” and those of us reliant on the state for much of our income find ourselves stigmatised and afraid.  Often these are some of the most vulnerable in society, and unable to stand up for themselves when faced with discrimination.  Sufferers of severe mental illness often have to deal with the double jeopardy of being told on one side that they are malingering and should snap out of it and get back to work, and on the other that they are dangerous and need locking up.  If they try to object to negative treatment, they can find their opinions and testimony discounted on the grounds of their mental illness, especially if they suffer from psychosis or other such severe symptoms.
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Sufferers of severe mental illness are much more likely to be vulnerable and need extra support, and although there are many excellent services and charities working with and for them, the benefits system is not currently set up for their needs.   It sometimes feels as if the government are working towards the ultimate Catch-22; if you can qualify for benefits by handling the hundreds of pages of form-filling, negotiating the maze of departments, offices and units, and convincing the GPs, psychiatrists, psychiatric nurses, civil servants and ATOS box-tickers, you’re not just fit for work.  You’re good enough to be Minister for Social Security.

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