Archive | July 2012

ATOS, Panorama, Dispatches and The Telegraph

Last night Panorama (BBC2) and Dispatches (Channel 4) featured documentaries on the Work Capability Assessment (WCA), part of the process for determining who is ill enough to not be required to look for work.  The programs were well informed about the facts and largely delivered them without any misleading usage.

I have been following the welfare reform bill and WCA since January.  I am aware of most of the stories surrounding the WCA, have read multiple reports of people dying, including by suicide, after being told they are fit for work, and have checked all the statistics I can find.  I thought I knew how traumatic and inaccurate the WCA is.

Last night, I discovered that I didn’t know the extent of the horrors.  I watched a health care professional (HCP) who works for ATOS (the company that carries out the WCA) describe the WCA as frustrating and toxic.  I heard new ATOS workers being repeatedly told that ESA was designed to take people off health-related out-of-work benefits.  HCPs described how they felt awful, being unable to help people who desperately needed help.  I heard how a man with heart failure was found fit for work, and died of a heart attack 39 days later.

At the end of the programs, I felt sick with sorrow, anger and fear.

 

Yesterday morning, the Telegraph published an article looking partly at the Dispatches documentary.  Christian Odone argued that the disability lobby can’t have it “both ways” – that is, we can’t simultaneously say that disabled people should not be presumed unfit for work and point out the failures of the WCA.  Apparently, to be upset that people are wrongly found fit for work and be upset that people are wrongly presumed unfit for work is untenable.

Odone brings in various arguments to support her case.  The example of Paralympians and other high-profile disabled people shows that disability should never prevent work.  The assessment process should focus on what disabled people can do, not on what they can’t.  She says that, “Disability campaigners must realise that their prized autonomy comes at a price, though: they cannot automatically equate being disabled with being dependent on welfare.  A man who claims to suffer from a debilitating but unprovable backache, an alcoholic who refuses to tackle her addiction: they may be considered “disabled” but should they receive benefits? When they do, the truly incapacitated feel cheated. As do the rest of us.”

Some disabled people can compete in the Paralympics.  This has little to no bearing on the abilities of the disabled community as a whole.  I have ME – I inherently cannot train as an athlete, because to do so would make my condition worse, rapidly leaving me bedbound.  People with Crohn’s cannot train; they struggle to absorb enough nutrition for daily living, without trying to consume athlete-level quantities of food.  Someone with EDS could not be an athlete; nor someone with MS.

Not everyone can make it to be an Olympic athlete.  Not every disabled person can be a Paralympic athlete.

It is a large part of the government’s rhetoric that the focus should be on what people can do.  So instead of saying ‘this person cannot sit for more than half an hour, which means any work will be hugely patchy,’ they say ‘this person can sit for 30 minutes, and therefore is able to work for 30 minutes.’  Being able to pick up a £1 coin, being able to raise one arm above your head, being able to move an empty cardboard box – having these amazing abilities means a person is fit for work.  No-one cares whether there are any jobs that involve such activities.  No-one cares what quality or quantity such work would be.  No-one cares that the person will rapidly run out of sick leave.  No-one cares that the attempt to work means someone else has to take care of the house, children and disabled person’s body.  No-one cares that ‘Arbeit macht frei’ may not apply to menial, repetitive, low-paid, high-stress jobs.

 

Disability campaigners do not “automatically equate being disabled with being dependent on welfare.”  We are passionate to see more disabled people in employment.  We are keen that a disabled person who is capable of work and has a degree should be as likely to be employed as a non-disabled person with a degree, rather than less likely than a non-disabled person with only 5 GCSEs.  In many cases, it is society that is the problem: the inaccessibility of public transport, buildings and environments to wheelchair users; the lack of technology set up to support Braille readers or those whose first language is British Sign Language; the difficulty of having work that is so flexible that the number of hours per day, week or even month do not matter to the employer.

Our issue with the WCA is a separate matter to our issue with society.   Society is a major barrier in preventing disabled people who can work from gaining employment.  The WCA is a process for assessing people’s health that has been repeatedly shown to be inaccurate, flawed and wrong.  Whilst we want those who can work to be in work, it is not untenable that we also want those who cannot work to be given the support they need.   For many people it is the nature of their health condition that means they cannot work.  Many conditions are so debilitating that just remaining alive is a gargantuan task.

 

So yes, we want a change to the WCA.  We want to see an end to the huge number of people who are found ‘fit for work’ who then die, or win their appeal.  We want to see an end to the rise in disability hate crime.  We want to see an end to the fear chasing so many peoples’ lives.  And we want to see an improvement in the support available in the wider society to ensure that societal barriers never keep a person from employment.

 

Odone speaks of the “man who claims to suffer from a debilitating but unprovable backache,” and “an alcoholic who refuses to tackle her addiction.”  She ignores what ‘debilitating’ means.  It means that strength and ability is impaired.  She also displays her medical ignorance.  It is entirely possible to have severe back pain that cannot clearly be proven with medical tests.  The disabled community does not begrudge benefits to such a person.  We know what chronic pain is; many of us live with it every day, and we can confirm that it is horrific and can make work impossible.

Odone is equally ignorant about addiction.  Addiction is very complex.  The body and mind become dependent on a drug to function, and coming off drugs is physiologically as well as psychologically difficult.  Chaotic lives and stress make addiction worse.  Removing a person’s benefit is not going to help their addiction and is likely to make it worse.  The disabled community does not begrudge benefits to such a person.  Many of us have to battle to keep pain medication under control.  Others of us use damaging coping mechanisms that aren’t drug addictions.  We know that addiction is horrific and can make work impossible.

 

It is time people with no knowledge of disability stopped passing judgement on us.  It is time that we got the support we need – whether that is the government and employers making work accessible to us, or whether it is the government helping to keep us out of poverty and declining health by giving us the financial and mental freedom to focus on managing our condition.

Welfarism and Capitalism

Today in The Telegraph, Mark Field[1] wrote about the sense of ‘welfare entitlement’ pervasive in the British public.  He implied that the welfare bill is a fundamental factor behind the start and continuation of the recession.  He all but said that the welfare bill has to be cut, and cites this misguided culture of entitlement as the reason.

 

“The real calamity to which the minds of the political class will soon be forced to turn is the unaffordability of our ever-growing welfare state.

Despite news of unprecedented austerity and savage public sector cuts, the government is still borrowing £1 in every £5 we collectively spend. “

Field deliberately writes these two sentences in conjunction to imply that the welfare bill is the reason why the government is still borrowing.   Rachel Reeves, shadow secretary for the Treasury, has a different view on why the government is still borrowing: “As we consistently warned, if you choke off the recovery and push the economy into recession, the government ends up having to borrowing more not less.”  James Knightley, an economist at ING Bank, said, “It appears that the main problem was with income tax receipts, which were down 7.3% year on year in April/May on the same period last year.”[2]  This was corroborated by Vicky Redwood, UK analyst at Capital Economic.

An economics blog lists eight possible factors that could be blamed for the recession.[3]    Indeed, the blog even cites government cuts as the biggest factor.  Cuts to welfare spending is equivalent to reduced real wages for those who cannot work, whether that is because of a poor job market or disability.  Maybe it is not the size of the welfare bill that is the problem but the cuts that are being made to it.

So let’s stop blaming the welfare bill for the recession.

 

“Prospective reformers’ biggest headache is that this addiction to the welfare state extends well beyond the work-shy and benefits scroungers of tabloid lore… Created as a reward for the collective national effort in winning the Second World War, the original purpose of our welfare state has been subverted as the UK has become ever richer. Nowadays even well-off Britons regard as an absolute entitlement nursery vouchers for children; living allowance for any disabled relatives; health visitors and carers for the sick, not to mention the benefit gratis of the services of a vast array of local government employees. Meanwhile even the very richest are entitled as a matter of course to free bus travel, substantial rail discounts, winter fuel allowance and free TV licences merely by reaching a certain age.”

The welfare state was not created as a ‘reward.’  It was created in response to the recognition that lack of access to healthcare meant that many sick people could not recover and so return to work.  It was created in the recognition that some people can never contribute to society through paid work.  It was created to ensure that no-one would be driven into poverty through loss of health or, for women, loss of a working spouse.   It was created because National Insurance, by pooling risk, is the best way to provide insurance against unpredictable and costly risks.

Maybe some people don’t need child benefit.  Maybe some pensioners don’t need free TV licenses and bus passes.  Maybe some disabled people have very rich relatives who can cover the cost of their care.

But don’t start talking about entitlements unless you are also willing to talk about what created the need for these benefits: insufficient jobs for the number of working-age adults; businesses not paying a minimum living wage; employers unwilling to take on workers who health makes the quality and quantity of their work unpredictable; too few affordable houses.

Pensioners are the only group for whom means-tested benefits are sufficient to reach the Minimum Income Standard.  Their non-means tested benefits cannot be touched, because Cameron promised that he wouldn’t.     No-one else can receive enough in benefits for a decent standard of life.  This culture of ‘entitlement’, when used to refer to the poor, is bemusing.  Entitled to poverty?

 

We have a right to health and well-being.  However much it costs, however much the currently healthy and rich protest, however many luxuries we have to cut and however many MPs have to bring their own bottles of water when they go in to work – if something can be done to ensure a minimum living standard, an adequate quality of life, for a person who is too ill to earn enough to support themselves, that something should be done.  It is not acceptable that in one of the richest countries in the world we are seriously talking about cutting the support of the vulnerable.  Sue Marsh, a disabled rights campaigner, went bankrupt in the 19 months it took her to get the DLA to which she was entitled.  How many more people, already suffering from chronic ill-health, do we think it is okay to also subject to poverty?  How many of us would accept cuts to NHS cancer treatment, just because it’s expensive?

We should let roads fill with potholes before we block the right to health and well-being.  Maybe we should reduce public sector pensions before we refuse to help those who are unable to help themselves.  We could even raise taxes to ask the wealthy to help the poor, rather than say to those who are sick that their sense of ‘entitlement’ is ‘wrong’ so we will stop their support.

 

Welfare was created so that the poor would never be penalised for the misfortune of being poor.  It’s time we remembered that.

Science and Faith

Science as we know it began only 400 years ago, in the 16th and 17th centuries.  Before this, Plato and his pupil Aristotle were two of the first to develop the use of mathematics and deductive reasoning.  Aristotle went further, using observation and inductive reasoning to reach universal truths.  The development of science was interrupted by factors such as the division of the Roman Empire, the Mongol Conquest and the Black Death.  Modern Science in Europe restarted during the Protestant/Catholic reformation.

The scientific revolution is considered to have started in the mid-16th century.  It was a time when it became possible to question the orthodoxy that had survived.  Many previously universal beliefs were now discredited, such as the earth at the centre of the universe and Aristotle’s four elements – air, fire, water and earth.  Under Aristotle, it was observation and reasoning that led to knowledge.  Leading up to and during the scientific revolution, science began to incorporate empiricism – that the only, or primary, source of knowledge is through sensory experience.  This contrasts with rationalism, which holds that knowledge is reached through reasoning.

In relation to the truth of his own existence, God advocates both rationalism and empiricism.  He tells us that his reality is shown through creation.   “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities – his eternal power and divine nature – have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.”[1]  God also tells us that we can verify what his disciples – previously Jews, now Christians – say by the acts that accompany them.  A prophet is only a prophet if his prophecies come true.  “Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs.”[2]  “Paul and Barnabas spent considerable time there, speaking boldly for the Lord, who confirmed the message of his grace by enabling them to perform signs and wonders.”[3]  “God also testified to it by signs, wonders and various miracles, and by gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will.”[4]

As regards anything else, the Bible is not a scientific book.  It consists of records of history, records of prophecies made and fulfilled, songs and wise sayings, and letters of theology written to the young church.  Some statements have been interpreted as science: “Have you journeyed to the springs of the sea or walked in the recesses of the deep?”[5] is taken to be referring to hydrothermal vents and ocean troughs.  “When he established the force of the wind and measured out the waters,”[6] (literally, made weight for the wind)is considered to refer to the fact that air does have mass, a concept that is held to have not been around until recently.   Yet, “Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundations?”[7] is not similarly construed as referring to the literal base of a (presumably flat) earth.  Nor is “In the heavens he has pitched a tent for the sun,”[8] taken to be literal.

It is important that we do not read into the Bible anything that is not intended to be there.  Nowhere does the Bible make a deliberately scientific statement.  There are books of poetry and prophecy which contain metaphorical and allegorical statements, some of which turn out to have correlation with natural processes.  There are statements of history which refer to perceived processes.  The world began; the Red Sea parted; the Jordan dried up; Jericho’s walls fell down; the sun rises and sets; a new star shone over Bethlehem.  The Bible records these as facts.  What it doesn’t do is go into detail about how they happened.

We can use science, historical artefacts and our knowledge of the world to work out how these happened.  Perhaps God created through evolution – maybe he even enjoyed watching all these diverse species live and change.  After all it’s his creation and he is entitled to get enjoyment out of his creative process.  The Red Sea may have been literally blown back by winds and the Jordan stopped by a landslide upstream.  Jericho’s walls may have been structurally weakened by the rhythmic marching of thousands of people.  The sun doesn’t move but the earth does rotate, creating the appearance of the sun moving.  Various explanations have been put forward to explain the Bethlehem star.

There are times when the Bible and science are in conflict.  The Bible says that the universe has a beginning, but it was only in the 1960s that the notion of a non-eternal universe became acceptable in modern science.  Up until then, science was in conflict with the Bible as regards this issue.  The idea of special creation vs evolution is another area in which some consider the Bible to be in conflict with science.

I would argue that the most important thing here is to not make either the Bible or science say something that in fact they don’t say.  There are areas of disagreement between ‘science’ and ‘the Bible,’ but these may be because of misinterpretation of the Bible or of science, or because of a lack of knowledge.  We don’t know everything, and should be able to recognise that this limits our ability to judge accurately in all matters.  It is acceptable, even logical and rational, to be agnostic over some things.

 


[1] Romans 1 v 20

[2] Acts 2 v 22

[3] Acts 2 v 22

[4] Acts 14 v 3

[5] Job 38 v 16

[6] Job 28 v 25

[7] Job 38 v 4

[8] Psalm 19 v 4

Troubled Families

I was going to write only one post a week on disability and welfare, because the concentration and typing do make me worse, in terms of pain and fatigue.  But Ms Odone’s article in the Telegraph today has annoyed me so much that I have to write something, otherwise I will just end up ranting to every poor person I talk to this evening.

“But a social worker on the sofa is of little use to an unemployed alcoholic who’s been claiming disability benefits for years – or a single mother who has had three children by the time she’s 20, never held a job, and is now crippled with depression.”  Now I would have said one of the most important things is to listen before you act.  If you don’t know whats going on, how can you know what will help?

I was also very intrigued by the different conclusions made from what defines a troubled family.  For Ms Odone, its clearly the state that is the problem.  Ms Williams, writing in the Guardian, reaches the opposite conclusion – that the problem is poverty.  I look at the seven criteria and see: poverty, poverty, poverty, low education, health problem, health problem, and poverty.  Health problems, especially mental health, can be made worse and are more likely when a person is in poverty.

Ms Odone says that it is possible to get more on unemployment benefit than in a job.  This is also misleading, given that a person on a low income also receives benefits.  Whilst the income itself might not match that of full out-of-work benefits, the combination of a low-paid job and in-work benefits is better.

Ms Odone comments on millions being lost to disability fraud.  Which is true.  But she has taken it out of context, and the context is a society where many people have debilitating conditions that make their lives more expensive.  It is a natural consequence of any test that there will be some false positive (fraud) and some false negative (those wrongly denied help).  With false positives at 0.5%, it is vastly more important to the welfare of millions of people that the government starts focussing on bringing down the flase negative rate.

Finally, Ms Odone argues that the cap on benefits is already getting people back into work.  My previous post explains why this is misleading to the point of being untrue.

References:

http://blogs.telegraph.co.uk/news/cristinaodone/100171502/louise-casey-needs-to-stop-listening-and-start-kicking-a-system-that-gives-people-something-for-nothing/

http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2012/jul/18/problem-families-poverty

Benefits Cap

Recent news in the Telegraph and the Sun have reported that the government’s benefit cap – their plan to provide benefits up to but not above £26 000 a year – is already working.

The Telegraph reports that the cap is already ‘pushing thousands into work.’ According to Iain Duncan Smith (as quoted in The Telegraph) “These figures show the benefit cap is already a success and is actively encouraging people back to work.  We need a welfare state that acts as a safety net and encourages people back to work.”   Apparently this will also be an embarrassment to Labour, which had opposed the cap.

The Sun reported that “The benefits cap is driving hundreds of families off welfare and back to work — eight months before it comes into force…The rush back to work began after letters were sent in May to families affected by the cap…  In one case, a single mum with six kids got a job, and is now £100 a week better off.”

The BBC report s that, “Asked if the cap was really a distraction from the changes to disability benefits, ESA and housing benefits, from which people were suffering, [Iain Duncan Smith] said: ‘But they’re not suffering. The point about this is that what makes you suffer is the state that plunges you into dependency.’”   The Lib Dem deputy leader, Mr Hughes, said that “We cannot allow families to be unjustifiably and retrospectively penalised and left with not enough money to stay in their homes and be literally forced onto the street. That is unacceptable.”

So what is the cap about?  And what is going on?

The government originally estimated that 50 000 families would be affected by the cap.  This was then revised up to 67 000, and later revised down to 56 000. 40% of these families have three or four children and another 40% have five or more.   The high benefits come from child benefit, child tax credit, and the housing benefit received for an adequate house.  They estimated that 40% would lose less than £50/week, 45% will lose £50-150 and 20% will lose more than £150 a week.

The government’s figures show that only 39% of the households to be affected by the cap are on Jobseeker’s Allowance.  There is no discussion – indeed there may be no data available – of whether these parents are ‘work-shy’ or simply struggling to find work.  Many may have had work that enabled them to support their family in the past, but unforeseen events led to a loss of work.  We don’t know.  But one thing we do know is that it is unfair, even bigoted, to assume that everyone receiving large amounts of government support is a ‘scrounger’ to the extent that he or she needs to be forced through poverty to get a job, any job.

22% are on Employment and Support Allowance, which means they are recognised as too ill to work (given how tough this test is, there is no need to worry about high proportions of fakers).  38% are on Income Support.  This means that they are not expected to look for work because of such things as caring for children under 12 or caring for a disabled person for at least 35 hours a week.    However, because they cannot find work – even are not expected to find work – they will be subject to the cap.  Approximately half of the households subjected to the cap contain disabled people, although these are people considered not disabled enough to receive DLA (households where one member receives DLA are exempt from the cap).

When the benefits cap proposal was going through the House of Lords, the Lords recommended changes to it.  It was suggested that child benefit should be excluded from the cap.  After all, a family earning more than the £26 000 cap still gets child benefit (up until the point where one parent is earning at least £60 000 a year).   This was rejected on the basis that it would remove the point of the cap, as it is these benefits, coupled with the cost of adequate housing, that form a very large part of the benefits received over £26 000.  This means that children will suffer, simply because they were born into a (relatively) large family, and their parents are now struggling to find work.

Labour suggested that the cap should not be used if a family is at risk of becoming homeless.  This is not just a kind idea for helping people likely to be forced out of their homes because they no longer receive enough benefit to cover the rent.  It may also be the less expensive option, if large numbers of people have to be rehoused.  It is important to bear in mind that housing benefit is already quite low.  It used to be the average cost of a house in your area, given your circumstances, but now is set at the level of the 30th percentile (that is, 70% of similar houses are more expensive).  This already makes it much more difficult to find affordable accommodation, because the government supplies neither the money nor the housing at adequate rates.

In their initial document, the government reports that: “The cap will still make some parts of the country unaffordable on Housing Benefit alone for larger households receiving benefit and it is difficult to accurately predict what will happen to the affected households, as it depends on households’ behavioural responses and on the availability of accommodation. The impact on those affected will be that they will need to make a choice between a number of options including starting work, reducing their non-rent expenditure, making up any shortfall in Housing Benefit using a proportion of their other income or moving to cheaper accommodation or area. The Government is looking at ways of easing the transition for families and providing assistance in hard cases. “

The government’s plans refer only to families where no-one works.  As soon as one person works, the cap no longer applies.  This means that very few families – and these are anomalous – can get more from out-of-work benefits than they could from working and claiming in-work benefits.

It is also questionable whether the idea of a cap is appropriate.  The government clearly thinks that the amount of benefits a household can be entitled to is too high.  If this is so, then some of the component benefits must be too generous.  Given that the majority of the recipients of £26 000+ receive this through child and housing benefits, these are the benefits that need to be targeted.  The government is soon to be creating a new system of benefits.  It would make more sense for them to set up a system such that it is not possible to be entitled to large amounts of money, rather than to create entitlement and then refuse to pay it.

This would require the government to consider carefully, and explain carefully, which parts of the current system it thinks are inappropriate.  If the government has a problem with providing support to large families who are struggling to find work, it needs to say so.  And it needs to agree what is a ‘large’ family and what is not.  How many children is it okay to have? 2? 4?  Does the state have a right to refuse to help you and your children just because, at a time when you were financially independent, you chose to have more than two children?

At this point it is worth bearing in mind that many large families do work (and receive in-work benefits for their children).  It is not having a large family that is the problem; the problem is being out of work.  And child benefit does not cover the cost of raising a child.  Whilst large, workless families may receive large amounts of benefit, this does not usually fund a lavish lifestyle.  It simply funds what the government considers the right sum to give per child.

The Telegraph and The Sun report that 1700 families have come off benefits and started work since being warned in May of this year that, come April 2013, their benefits will be capped at £26 000.  According to Iain Duncan Smith, this shows that the planned cap is already working – before it has even come into effect.

Or maybe not.

There is no information available that would give any insight to this figure.  We don’t know at what rate people left the £26 000+ group before the letters were sent out, so can’t tell if the letters have increased the rate of such families finding work.  So we don’t know how many of the 1700 would have moved into work anyway.

The figure of 1700 is just 3% of the households affected , and it occurred over two months.  In comparison, around 18.9% of people on Jobseeker’s Allowance move off it each month.  Whilst there is no data on the typical rate at which the £26 000+ group move off benefits, the 3% figure does not compare well.  Even with the assumption that the people who moved into work all came from the JSA group, that is only 7.8% of those on Jobseekers.

We also don’t know what type of work these people went into.  Was it permanent or temporary?  Was it part-time or full-time?  Underemployment – people who want permanent full-time jobs but can’t get them – is high.

So what can we say about the Benefit Cap?  It is clear that newspapers treat it as a sensational headline, and it is popular politically.  As a soundbite, it sounds great – don’t let people who are out-of-work get more money that people in work.  But this completely misses the detail.  It misses the detail on who is too ill to work, who has caring responsibilities, and why those who could work haven’t got jobs.  It paints a picture of feckless families, not bothering to work, not bothering to use contraception.  But there is no data on whether this is the case.  No information on how many families have worked in the past but have been struck down by chronic illness or the lack of jobs.  And it certainly fails to mention that a working family in the same location and the same size family would also receive a lot of benefits from the government.

If the government wants to reduce payments to large families, let it say so clearly.  But let’s not have any post-hoc restrictions of what people are entitled to, for no better reason than it sounds good when there is no data to critique it with.

References

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/politics/9401928/Benefits-cap-pushing-thousands-into-work.html

http://www.thesun.co.uk/sol/homepage/news/politics/article4430975.ece

http://www.dwp.gov.uk/docs/eia-benefit-cap-wr2011.pdf

http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/16235

http://blogs.channel4.com/factcheck/factcheck-idss-work-and-benefits-claims-put-to-the-test/10947

http://touchstoneblog.org.uk/2012/07/ids-is-wrong-his-data-dont-show-the-benefit-cap-is-working/

Cutting the costs of care – Worcester Council

Latest news on disability and welfare is the announcement that Worcester Council is considering putting a cap on care for the disabled.  Many have lauded this as a necessary reduction in expenditure during a time of austerity.  Existangst, commenting on the Guardian’s piece, said, “There has to be a cap on funding, which can run into hundreds of thousands of pounds for those with the severest disability. It is simple economics. There is only so much money to go around.” Greenbirdy commented that, “A balance does need to be struck, between the needs and wants of the disabled, and the costs imposed on society and a one rule fits all is simply wrong.”

These commentators did not think that it is okay to let people live in substandard conditions.  They simply thought that there should be a cap on spending to help these people.  What they are missing here is a basic understanding of the cost of being disabled.  Someone has to pay for us.  If we could pay for ourselves, through work, then believe me we would.  But for those of us who can’t – who pays?

An important question here is – who is it fair to ask to pay?  And the answer is, ask those who have the luck to be wealthy.  Those who have the luck to be healthy enough to earn more than they need (according to the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, that is £37 000 a year for a couple with two children).  Those who are lucky enough to have a well-paid job.  Those who have the academic ability, or the flair, or the natural talent, or the simple good fortune to be the one the employer happened to feel like choosing that day.

I am not questioning your right to keep your hard-earned money.  I’m suggesting that some of it is not ‘hard-earned’ – its luck.  It is not ‘fair’ for you to keep benefits accrued through luck, whilst others suffer poverty under luck.  The only way to make life fair(er) is to ask the lucky to assist the unlucky – those who through misfortune are not able to pay their own way.

But regardless of what is fair – what is right?  Is it right for Britain to agree with these statements:

The disabled are a burden to society.
The disabled are too expensive.
The disabled are of no use to society.
The disabled are expensive parasites, scroungers and unproductive.
The economic burden of the disabled is too great to bear.
The disabled are faking it because they don’t want to work.

What kind of society do we want to be?  What sort of culture do we want to create?  Through the UN, we as a species have decided there are some basic principles we want to uphold.  These include protecting the sick and disabled, whatever the cost.  This is what Beveridge fought for, during a World War and Depression, when he set up the NHS.  Do you want to lost the NHS too?  Would you set a cap on how much treatment a person may receive in his or her lifetime?  I’m sorry, you’ve had one cancer operation and course of chemo/radiotherapy, it’s too expensive to save your life a second time?  I know you’ve got septicaemia and we could save you if we gave you intra-venous antibiotics, but we’ve already paid too much for your health care?  You’ve been on life-support for four weeks now, we’re going to turn it off and let you die?

Article 10: States Parties reaffirm that every human being has the inherent right to life and shall take all necessary measures to ensure its effective enjoyment by persons with disabilities on an equal basis with others

Article 19: States Parties to the present Convention recognize the equal right of all persons with disabilities to live in the community, with choices equal to others, and shall take effective and appropriate measures to facilitate full enjoyment by persons with disabilities of this right and their full inclusion and participation in the community, including by ensuring that:

a) Persons with disabilities have the opportunity to choose their place of residence and where and with whom they live on an equal basis with others and are not obliged to live in a particular living arrangement;

b) Persons with disabilities have access to a range of in-home, residential and other community support services, including personal assistance necessary to support living and inclusion in the community, and to prevent isolation or segregation from the community;

c) Community services and facilities for the general population are available on an equal basis to persons with disabilities and are responsive to their needs.

Article 28 2c) To ensure access by persons with disabilities and their families living in situations of poverty to assistance from the State with disability-related expenses, including adequate training, counselling, financial assistance and respite care.

The Guardian article, by disability campaigner Sue Marsh, is: Disabled people have a right to live independently, Worcester Council.  The Guardian, 13th July 2012, Comment is Free

Get a Job

I’ve been ill for over a year now.  For most of that time (until this last week in fact) I have refused to set up a blog.  Why?  Well partly because I didn’t want this to become my main means of ‘socialising.’  Its too easy when you’re housebound in a rural area to not see many people.  But mostly because I know many people who are too ill to work receive a lot of abuse for writing a blog.  The attitude is that if the person can read and write well enough to have a blog, then he or she is well enough to have a job.

Let me try to explain why this is not true.

Firstly, writing a blog is not like writing in a business setting.  There is no need for professional or formal language and styles.  Unlike writing professionally, I am not going to be spending a lot of time editing what I write.  Most importantly there are no deadlines.  This blog has been going around my mind for 10 months.  I can’t imagine any employer willing to wait 10 months for a piece of work!  Most of what I write here will be from things I have thought about for months or years, so it is merely a case of getting it down in writing.  Not a lot of thought has to go into it at this stage.  A big brain splurge. And with no deadlines, it doesn’t matter if I write this piece today, or next week, or next year.  I can write one paragraph today, another tomorrow, leave it for a week, scrap everything I’ve written so far.  It doesn’t matter.

Secondly, I can fit it around my health.  This fits in with the deadline thing.  Today, unusually, my fingers aren’t very sensitive so I can type without the contact between finger and keyboard causing pain.  Although my joints are aching already, so I will have to stop soon.  When I get tired I can lie down for an hour or two – not something I can envisage in a work situation.  And when I’m so tired that I can’t think, can’t read, I can abandon the blog totally.

Third, this does not take up anywhere near as much time as a job.  I don’t have to travel anywhere, which is fortunate given that I can’t walk more than a few hundred metres in one go, and can only manage that once a day if at all.  The writing doesn’t take more than an hour, and that can be spread out through the day as I get tired and in pain so quickly.  I can’t see anyone employing me to do 2 hours writing a week.  Most people write blogs in their spare time around employed work, house work and bringing up a family.  I write in my spare time around resting, and do none of the other things mentioned.

Finally, blogs are useful.  I get a lot of information from other people’s blogs which is important to me as a disabled person.  They’re usually short and easy to read, whereas I often struggle reading newspaper articles.  Many people get encouragement from what other people write.  Members of the disabled community support one another through blogs and twitter.  So this isn’t paid work, but that does not mean is is valueless.

So now I’m tired physically and mentally, and my fingers ache.  I shall lie down for a while and recover from the exertion.