Christmas greetings dear reader. As regulars will be aware I have been putting together a small study of how the implementation Employment and Support Allowance and announcements regarding benefit reforms affecting disabled people, have created fear and anger among those affected. It took longer than I hoped but unfortunately my paid job got in the way of this voluntary study, however I am pleased to say I have finished it and the text of the document appears below. Copies of the study will be sent to Mr Iain Duncan-Smith MP, Theresa May MP, Lynne Featherstone MP, Douglas Alexander MP, Yvette Cooper MP. Merry Christmas to you all and I shall return in 2011.
In the light of the comprehensive spending review in October 2010, there has been much concern amongst the disabled community with regard to the social care and welfare benefit reform and how it will affect disabled people, many of whom are unable to speak up for themselves. One of the issues causing the greatest consternation is how Employment and Support Allowance is being implemented now and will be implemented in the future.
As a social ethicist I have taken it upon myself to carry out some qualitative research with disabled people who contacted me via social media as my research subjects to ascertain current and future concerns. Here is a summary of my findings using a cross section of three case studies to explain why disabled people with various conditions are so concerned.
Last year my entitlement To Disability Living Allowance and Incapacity Benefit for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder was rejected after a twenty minute meeting with their doctor. This doctor had never seen me before. The evidence that was provided by my GP, psychiatrist and Community Psychiatric Nurse was totally ignored. If it hadn't have been for a fantastic volunteer advocate who guided me through the appeals process I don't go what I would have done. The appeal hearing panel took a grand total of four minutes to overturn the decision and reinstate my benefits. This seems to me to be causing a huge amount of unnecessary stress to vulnerable people not to mention the financial costs to the individual and the government and the considerable waste of time and energy. I have no problem with fraudulent claims being investigated and dealt with but not when genuine claimants who have suffered enough already are caught in the crossfire.
In 2009 I was diagnosed as having scoliosis and dural ecstasia , the former being a twisting of the spine, the latter is where the movements allowed due to my hypermobility has caused the spinal canal to widen, thinning the vertebrae from the inside outwards causing them to be angled (scalloped) rather than flat. This has already caused significant nerve damage to my right leg, causing loss of feeling and coordination. The symptoms: I walk with two walking sticks as this compensates for my right leg being weakened and prevents me from falling as often and as badly as I do without them. It also helps prevent me from twisting as much as this was beginning to cause damage to my left knee. The bones in my spine grind when I move causing severe pain so I spend most of my time under the influence of Tramadol (300-400 mg daily). I am able to walk my son to nursery when nobody else is available however this is extremely difficult even though the nursery is only about 300 yards away from my house. This journey takes me 30 min as I have to stop regularly for the pain. It is also my mobility budget for the day as it thoroughly exhausts me. Standing doesn't happen it is like having 30 knives stamped into the base of my spine and the muscles trying to hold me up with a spine that is twisted tire and cramp within seconds, although I can lean with my way mostly held on my arms for about 2 min before I have to give up. Sitting gives me mild relief but only for a short time in a normal chair as the weighty still on my back, I unable to sit on a specially bought couch with cautions supporting my back and my sides but even this is more a case of' as good as it gets' rather than comfortable.
Despite this on my Work Capability Assessment I scored zero. I am still waiting to see what my assessor wrote but they did not take any notice of my doctors or physiotherapists reports. The assessor asked me if I attended a pain clinic (I live in a rural area and such facilities are not easily accessible for me). I no longer see a physiotherapist or a specialist as my condition is inoperable and have been informed that physiotherapy on my back has a risk of deteriorating my condition further. It appears to me that the assessor saw this lack of intervention as me ‘not having a problem’. It also has to be said that the entire ordeal of the assessment took a total of fifty minutes, ten minutes of actual assessment and forty minutes of waiting without any of my support aids that I usually use to help me sit which meant by the time I was seen I was in an awful lot of pain
I was diagnosed with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome in the late 90s and despite areas of my life being really hard work I carried on working as long as I could, indeed when I left work in March 2010 it was my employer (which happened to be a local authority) that decided I was no longer fit to work before I did. As part of my claim for Employment and Support Allowance I was seen by assessor who lets say was inaccurate in their recording of the assessment in deciding what I was and wasn't able to do. I was also dismayed to see the report that a letter and a report from my GP and my physiotherapist were completely disregarded and described as' irrelevant'. Before I was declared unfit for employment my work consisted of carrying out and reading numerous assessments of individuals in need of support, therefore I find it incredulous that documentation issued by fully trained healthcare professionals are disregarded with such contempt in favour of an assessment that lasts fifteen minutes at most. You will not be surprised to learn I only accrued six points of the required fifteen to receive Employment and Support Allowance, and am still going through the appeals process the stress of which is deteriorating my condition further.
It is firm belief that these three cases are the tip of an extremely large iceberg, especially considering that these cases have only been picked up by me as an individual in my spare time. As a disabled person myself I am all too aware of the vulnerability, fears and worries people are experiencing on a daily basis.
I know Mr Ian Duncan-Smith MP has declared on numerous occasions that those of us who are genuinely disabled have nothing to worry about with regard reforms, but with the additional announcements that Employment and Support Allowance will only be available for twelve months to any claimant and that Disability Living Allowance is to be replaced, the experience of disabled people going through the system indicates anything but, and it feels very much like there is a culture of undeserving poor developing in the United Kingdom today which, in my opinion, is likely to generate and grow an underclass that will be extremely difficult to claw back.
I am aware that national charities also have stories similar to ones that I have put forward and I hope that all of us are listened to. We are all aware that cuts have to be made, we are all aware that as an nation we have a large national deficit that must be addressed, however does it have to be so hard on the members of our community who are at their most vulnerable, while on the surface those who are least vulnerable seem to be less harshly treated?