Tag Archive | DLA

The Reality of Welfare Reform

When I first started on disability research, I just saw the numbers. I saw that 40% of ESA claimants told they are fit to work then appeal that decision, and most of them win. I saw that nurses under-award points for people with physical health conditions, and physiotherapists under-award points for people with mental health conditions. I saw that most assessments are carried out by either nurses or physiotherapists. I saw that decision makers are not consistent in the accuracy or quality of the decisions they make.

In all of this I saw the fear and the stress for ill people going through an assessment process that they knew to be inaccurate. I saw people calling for, and suggesting, improvements to the assessment process that could make it more accurate. I saw the government say that it accepts recommendations from the independent review, and then either not carry them out or carry them out so poorly that they brought little, if any, improvement.

With my head concentrating on figures I started to become numb to the reality. I forgot how shocking the statistics – the real ones – and the stories are. I told a friend that fraud in the disability benefits is less than half of a per cent, and was amazed at how surprised she was.

So then I started to read some stories. I read about people who cannot afford to put glass back into their broken windows and whose houses are falling into disrepair. I read about people being evicted from their homes. I read about people having cooked meals once every other day, eating bread in between. I read about people skipping medicine because it had to be taken with food and they didn’t any. I read about people having to fund-raise for equipment they need that their local authority won’t provide.

It made me think. I’m middle class so I haven’t seen much of the grinding effects of poverty before. I’ve spoken with people who think benefits are adequate and there isn’t a problem. But I’m seeing the problem now; I know people who are struggling; I’m seeing what happens when there isn’t enough money and there isn’t enough health. I’m seeing the despair.

I’m seeing the effects of the government deciding that people who may return to work from sickness benefits should receive benefit for only one year, even though the majority are still too ill to work at that point. I’m seeing the effects of the government deciding that people under 35 can live in shared accommodation, and thus reducing the housing benefit, without considering the health needs of these people. I’m seeing the effects of the government deciding that people should be charged for under-occupying, even though the under-occupation is this and past government’s fault for not building enough social housing.

And there are so many more cuts and changes. Benefits aren’t being uprated in line with inflation, wages, food or fuel. The Independent Living Fund has been closed. Council Tax Benefit is being reduced. Disability Living Allowance is being replaced with a benefit that ministers knew in advance would cut 20% off the money going to disabled people.

People have ended their lives. People are going without food and medicine. People are becoming homeless.

And this is because of the changes this government is making.

We need to realise what is going on. We need to get angry about what is being done, and let the government know this is not what we want. We need to start protecting those who are sick from extra poverty and stress, and stop listening to the unfounded scrounger rhetoric.

Don’t let the government get away with this. There is still time to make changes that will work, but the government needs to know that we want them. We can stop people dying of despair, losing their homes or becoming even more ill. But we need to let the government know.

Where DLA falls down: Mobility and Wheelchair users

When I first applied for DLA I was refused.  I challenged this in a 2 ½ page letter that took me two weeks to write, explaining why the decision maker was wrong.  Essentially everything the decision maker had wriiten was wrong.

On mobility related issues, the decision maker said I could walk reasonably and slowly for three minutes.  The form I had filled in had various questions with tick boxes:

How well do you walk?

  • normal,
  • reasonable (e.g. slight limp),
  • poor (e.g. shuffle, heavy limp, stiff , balance problems),
  • very poor (e.g. dragging leg, stagger, need physical support)

How fast do you walk?

  • normal (> 60m/min),
  • slow (40-60m/min),
  • very slow (<40m/min)

I had ticked poor and very slow, and then explained in the text box that I shuffle, sometimes limp, and have problems with balance.  I think I mentioned weakness as well.  For the question, ‘how far can you walk (including any short stops) before you feel severe discomfort?’ I answered, 100m.  I explained that it took me three minutes to walk this far.  I also explained that I can only do this once in a day.  After that I am restricted to below 50m; any more and I would end up with increased weakness and pain and would worsen my overall state of health.

I don’t know where the decision maker got reasonably or slowly from.  I explained this in my letter, and so the reconsideration removed ‘reasonably’ and ‘slowly’ from the list of reasons why I don’t qualify for higher rate mobility.  But my ‘ability’ to walk for three minutes remained.

To me this suggests a major failing in the criteria for DLA.  To qualify for higher rate DLA, a person must be unable to walk at all, able to walk only a short way without severe discomfort, or would become very ill if walking was attempted.[1]  This is very high criteria: moderate discomfort is irrelevant – it has to be severe; short breaks in walking are irrelevant – they have to be long breaks; very slow walking doesn’t matter – if you can cover more than 50m, you can walk, regardless of how long it takes; repeatability doesn’t matter – if you can do it once, it doesn’t matter how restricted you are after that; if walking too much (in my case, covering over 50m in one go – ignoring ‘short’ breaks – more than once in a day) makes you more ill, it doesn’t count – it has to make you ‘very’ ill.

So despite the fact that I am a wheelchair and mobility scooter user, I don’t get higher rate mobility.  Not only this, but despite the fact that I cannot go out alone (except on a few local roads with my mobility scooter, which is too big to go on public transport) because I need someone to push my wheelchair, I don’t get lower rate mobility either.  This is because ‘guidance or supervision from another person’ refers only to behavioural problems, difficulties arising from being deaf or blind in a unfamiliar place, problems with talking to others or needing someone to keep an eye on you.  ‘Guidance or supervision’ does not include needing someone with you because of physical difficulties with walking.

Because I don’t get higher rate mobility, I also can’t get a Blue Badge.  But if I wish to go out somewhere in a car, I will also have my wheelchair in the back of the car for use at the destination.  This has to be got out of the car, on a road or in a car park, in order for me to be able to use it.  I have had multiple problems with doing this without the benefit of being able to park in a disabled space.  Sometimes the available parking spaces are very narrow, such that it is vastly easier to park by reversing in; but this would mean being unable to get the wheelchair out of the back.  So the wheelchair has to be got out first – in the car park, not in a space, with other cars trying to get past. Other times the car park is very busy with cars and people, and getting the wheelchair out whilst cars drive past is difficult.  When I am especially tired, I want the wheelchair to be brought round to the side of the car so that I can get straight in from the chair.  This isn’t possible if there is a car in the adjacent space; there simply isn’t room.

So I can’t get out on my own, and I can’t get out without physical support (i.e. a wheelchair or mobility scooter) but I don’t get any financial assistance with this.  Despite the time costs to the person who drives me somewhere or pushes my wheelchair, despite the costs of taxis, despite the extra cost of tickets because I need someone with me to get on public transport, despite the cost of purchasing, maintaining and insuring a wheelchair and mobility scooter, despite these costs and despite the fact that DLA is supposed to help with these extra costs that are experienced by people with disabilities, I don’t get any financial help.


[1] Other criteria for this are: being a double amputee, being blind or get higher rate care with severe mental impairment and severe behaviour problems.

James Max, Atos and the Paralympics.

I haven’t read an article that made me angry for a while, but this one managed very successfully.  In the interest of accuracy, I have made a summary of the reasons why I disagree with various statements.

http://www.londonlovesbusiness.com/business-news/business/james-max-atos-is-the-right-sponsor-for-the-paralympics/3323.article

Mr Max makes numerous statements in his piece that are not accurate.

He says, “Take something away from people that they have got used to receiving and they’ll be uproar. Add to the mix that it’s a benefit for disabled people and that it’s not fair that they go through a vetting process to achieve the government’s aims to ensure those who claim benefits really deserve them, and there’s every ingredient for an explosive mix.”

He appears to be unaware of what the controversy is about.  This is not about going through a vetting system to determine who does or does not deserve benefits.  This is about people who do need benefits being incorrectly turned down.  It is about assessments being carried out in places that are inaccessible and/or inappropriate for use by disabled people.  It is about Atos workers recording untruths.

No-one has ever said that that there should not be medical assessments to ensure that claims are genuine.  If there were no such process, then of course anyone could decide to claim.  Assessments are good and necessary; assessments also need to be accurate and fair.

The use of the term ‘deserving’ is a little inappropriate.  We’re not talking about who is ‘deserving’ here; deserving is far too inaccurate a term and open to many interpretations and ambiguities.  Is someone deserving because they managed to work for the majority of three years before becoming ill (the criterion for receiving National Insurance Contribution based payments)?  Is someone deserving if they receive a particular treatment for a particular condition?  Is someone deserving if they are generally a good person who is nice to their neighbours?  Is someone deserving if they don’t drink, don’t smoke, don’t eat high fat, sugar or salt containing foods, don’t shop for clothes in anywhere more expensive than New Look, and don’t buy groceries from anywhere more expensive than Asda?  Is someone deserving because they have no children or live in a tiny house?

What about people who became ill before they were old enough to work?  What if the standard treatment doesn’t work for a particular person, perhaps because their body reacts differently or another health condition makes it inappropriate?  What if someone likes to have a glass in the evening, as many other people do (and incidentally thus helps the economy and the government through alcohol duties)?  What if clothes need to be sturdy so they don’t wear out, comfortable so they don’t cause pain, and warm because the person gets cold easily and this makes their illness worse?  What if specialist, expensive food has to be bought because the body is useless at processing standard food in a sensible way?  What if the person was actually earning enough to support three children very well in private schools, but then became ill?

The correct term is ‘needy.’  This is much more easily defined.  It simply depends on what is necessary for an adequate standard of living, and considers the extra costs that many disabled people face.

 

Mr Max goes on, “Perhaps the deficit we have in this great nation of ours is because of previous incompetence at government level?

Money was handed out in a modern day form of gerrymandering – buying goodwill through a benefits system that’s more generous than it should be. Now we are tackling the problem and making sure only those who deserve the benefits receive them.”

It is a dangerous argument and one I have seen many times before.  What I have never seen is any evidence that the current recession, either in the UK or worldwide, was caused or is prolonged by welfare spending in the UK.  Rather what I understood to be the problem was spending at the other end – reckless spending by people with a lot of money who didn’t make sensible use of it.

Mr Max has come back to his ‘deserving’ argument.  Interestingly, the idea for the welfare state was set up with the aim of helping everyone who is needy, and at a time when the country was poor, because it was currently engaging in a large military campaign otherwise known as World War 2.

 

Mr Max’s next argument is that, “Protestors claim the means testing exercise being conducted by Atos isn’t fair. Get used to it. Life is unfair. It’s unfair that some are born with a disability. It’s unfair that some have had limbs removed as a result of illness or injury or through having fought on behalf of their country. It’s unfair that some will live longer than others. Indeed it’s unfair that those who work have to pay tax to support those who, in many cases, cannot be bothered.”

Life isn’t fair.  I fully agree.  It is therefore the role of the government to assist in making life more fair.  It is not acceptable to turn to someone in need and I say, “I will not help you, because life isn’t fair, so why should I who happen to be well and well-off share my good luck with you?”

As for tax, there are many reasons for people to pay tax, and the public as a whole benefits from such spending.  A similar argument could be made about why taxes of people living in the South-East should not be used to improve the lives of people in any other part of the country.  After all, why should money taken from a well-off southerner be used to pay for roads, schools, healthcare and education of people living in the north?

Claiming that many people ‘cannot be bothered’ is empirically a wholly unfounded statement.[1]  42% of benefits go to pensioners (not including sickness benefits); Mr Max can suggest that pensioners ‘cannot be bothered’ to support themselves, but he may find himself with little support.  A further 20% goes on Housing Benefit and 15% on children, and 8% on Disability Living Allowance which is not an out-of-work benefit and therefore does not fit under the ‘can’t be bothered’ category.  These two benefits – Jobseekers and Employment and Support Allowance – together make up a mere 7% of benefits.  It is dodgy to suggest, during a recession, that many people in these groups ‘can’t be bothered,’ particularly when the majority of this group is made up of people who are genuinely too ill to work.

 

Mr Max makes some interesting statements regarding the suitability or not of Atos as a sponsor for the Paralympics.  “The firm provides IT services to the UK Border Agency. OK, so the firm was blamed for IT systems issues that caused delays in the run up to the Olympic Games. Not ideal, but not a basis for protest.

The second and more significant government contract is with Atos Healthcare, a sub-division of the main company employing over 3,000 people… The protests are unfounded. Just because the company is streamlining payments does not make them an unsuitable sponsor.”

On his first point, I would have thought that a company paid by the government to carry out a public good should not consider itself to have money to spare on sponsorship until it had first provided a good service.  It seems particularly inappropriate for a company to sponsor an event that involves two areas – Border control and disabled people – in which it had failed to provide a good service.

 

He then goes on to a discussion of protests against the current system for ESA: “Indeed, with any cut to any allowances there will be genuine cases where the wrong decision is taken. However, that is no basis for protests…

Most disabled people I know just want to be able to get on with their lives.

They don’t want sympathy or special treatment. They just want an opportunity to show that they are every bit as able, determined and capable as their able bodied counterparts. Shame on us for discriminating. And shame on us for allowing protests of this nature to cloud the real issues.”

In a situation in which very few people are incorrectly turned down, and those people are marginal cases where a judgement is harder, then there is no reason to protest.  But in a situation where many people are turned down and these include people who are very clearly ill then it is very right to protest, and we as a nation should be disturbed if we think that there is no reason to protest.

 

Mr Max continues with a reason why corporate sponsors are fine, even when they are ones whose service is opposite to the event sponsored, “Indeed many of us recognise that you have a choice. If you don’t want to go to McDonald’s or drink Coca-Cola, no one’s forcing you to. Personally I like what they do, support their globalised approach and appreciate that their size and commercial muscle (and money) makes our lives better.”

What upset people about McDonald’s and Coca-Cola was not about whether or not they liked buying these companies’ products.  It was because in general the products offered do not make our lives better; they are not health foods or exercise regimes.

McDonald’s and Coca-Cola are also not relevant to the matter here, which is the role of Atos.  Chronically unwell people who need government support in order to live do not have the luxury of going to a different provider of healthcare assessments.  It is a public service, but the provider was decided by the government and not by the public.

 

Mr Max ends with a complaint that the current benefit system does not work. “If the Paralympic Games tell us anything, it’s that for too long as a society we have made judgments about the skills and capabilities of those with some form of physical disability…

We have not provided facilities and help, training and opportunity but simply paid people off to keep them quiet. Strip benefits away from those who don’t need them by all means, but let’s make sure the legacy of these games is that never again will we treat those with a disability as second class citizens and never again will we criticise corporates who make a real and lasting difference by sponsoring the greatest events on earth.”

The Paralympic Games do not give us any insight into the abilities of the average disabled person.  The Paralympians are people who, through huge investment by outsiders, have managed in part to overcome some of their limitations. If we wish to use them as an example, then the example is that there needs to be a lot more money invested in disabled people to enable them to reach their true potential.  And there continues to be need for investment in society to make society accessible.

The government hasn’t ‘paid people off to keep them quiet.’  It has given financial support to people who are too ill to work.  If the government wants these people to be able to work, it needs to invest in healthcare research and development so that the treatments these people need will actually exist.  If the government has not done this, it is not the fault of the people who are ill.

In relation to people receiving DLA, then yes “facilities and help, training and opportunity” are needed.  What is also needed is an improvement in the wider society and workplace such that these things become as accessible to the disabled as they currently are to the able.  DLA is given because society presents barriers to people with impairments, and thus makes them disabled.  Until society is changed, disabled people will continue to need financial support in order to allow them to overcome the barriers that are the largest for them as an individual.

 

Disabled and chronically ill people will continue to protest for as long as they are refused the support they need.  It is good and right that they do so.  We do not have to be ‘victims,’ but neither are we all athletes.  If the Paralympics will leave any legacy, let it be this: disabled people can achieve extraordinary things, but only if someone else will pay for them to get there.