Friday, 30 September 2011

I'll say I'm sorry... but that man still should have been working you know...

This week saw the Labour conference completely ignore any disability linked issues by deleting them from the agenda.

Luckily the leaders were not going to quite get off scott free and Kaliya Franklin and Sue Marsh were there to try to get the opposition to, well, oppose some of the harshest cuts and changes to hit disabled people in recent history.

Kaliya finally got a chance to question Ed Miliband 
"Evidence is overwhelmingly pointed to sick and disabled people being the hardest hit by the cuts, but this issue has been airbrushed almost entirely from conference. Are you reluctant to use the word disabled because the public has been so effectively convinced that we’re all scroungers and that the Labour party are not willing to challenge that stereotype on our behalf?"

She did manage to get an "almost apology" out of him:
"I take your point that I didn’t say in the speech yesterday, and I should have said it, fair point, that you’ve got to defend people who are with disability, ill health, and say that they shouldn’t be under attack"

However he still shows himself to lack understanding and show the same prejudice which permeates the whole system we currently have.

A few months back Ed Miliband made a speech which started off by saying he'd met a man on incapacity benefit and thought he could work even though his disability was genuine.
When Kaliya challenged him on this, rather than see how much harm this could cause disabled people, he defended himself as follows:
"my impression which is that he was somebody who had lost his job, I think ten years ago, right (...) the system didn’t sort of demand that he go back to work, the system sort of wrote him off"
"And the problem is, I met his next door neighbours, and they, genuinely, this is a story, I met his next door neighbours and they didn’t actually refer to him but they said ‘look, our problem is we’re working incredibly hard and we’re worried for we’re paying for people who can’t work"

In other words, with no medical information, no background, nothing except his own impression the the man "looked ok" and had been on benefits for a long time, Ed decided that he should be working. 
In particular he was encouraged by the fact that this disabled man had neighbours who resented the fact that he wasn't working.

This disabled man could have had any number of illnesses. Not everything is visible to the naked eye. Many serious and debilitating conditions do not show on the surface: lupus, MS, severe epilepsy, various neurological conditions, not to mention mental health illnesses.
His neighbours might not necessarily be aware of this man's medical conditions. They could simply have been jumping to conclusions and jealous. At worse they could have been disablist.

But Ed did not consider any of these things. The man looked ok and had been on benefits for 10 years. His neighbours were "hard working" and didn't want to pay for people who didn't work. Their word trumped his. They were believed and listened to. The disabled man was not. It was assumed he could and should be working as he had been on benefits for so long.

This in particular is something that people don't seem to understand. Some illnesses and disabilities are long term. That is what treatable but incurable means. You won't die, but you won't get better either. You will be just as sick 10 years on as you were the first year. And you will be just as incapable of work and just as much in need of benefits.

Sadly though it is this way of thinking that has brought us to where we are today.
If you look ok, then you probably are ok.
If you look ok and are on benefits then you are either lazy or are fraudulent. Tougher tests will help this.
Some people have been on benefits for a long time. This is because they have been "abandoned" on them but with help they would work. 
To stop this the new system will demand that they work and benefits will be time limited. 
People will have to work for their benefits, undertaking certain tasks, even those deemed as unfit for work, or face sanctions (removal of benefits for a time).

All of this completely ignores the reality of illness and disability. The people this will hit are not the very small number of fraudsters (0.5% of claims) who will be able to jump through any hoops thrown at them. Quite the opposite they will hit and harm the very disabled people these benefits are there to look after.

New assessments are rigid and very much like Ed do not take into account medical history but just look at a claimant on a certain day and see if they look ok and can do a few easy tasks which bear no resemblance to what is required to do a job week in week out. The system has been found unfit for purpose by every single inquiry into it.
By time limiting disability benefits very disabled people will suddenly lose their benefits through no fault of their own apart from being sick or disabled for "too long".
Sick and disabled people will find themselves sanctioned and lose their benefits when they are unable to do the tasks set for them by non disabled people unaware and completely out of touch with the realities of living with disability. Already people have lost their benefits for not attending an appointment with their Jobcentre advisor when they were too ill to attend. Remember that these are sick people classed as unfit to work.

Ed, sometimes what you see is not what you get. You offered to meet Kaliya and discuss this further. Please do. And please listen. Disabled people are getting desperate.

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