Disabled? Say hello to hard times - RSA

Disabled? Say hello to hard times

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  • Social brain
  • Drug & alcohol recovery
  • Health & wellbeing
  • Social justice

Today marks the beginning of the end of Disability Living Allowance. As of now, new applicants in the North East and North West will be assessed for the coalition government's replacement for the non-means tested benefit, the Personal Independence Payment (PIP). Anyone whose award is up for review will go through the PIP assessment process, and the plan is that by 2018, more than 400,000 people who currently get DLA will not get PIP. This means that around 20% of people who currently receive DLA will lose the benefit all together.

Image via willstleger.wordpress.com
Image via willstleger.wordpress.com


The narratives attached to the need for welfare reform and benefits cuts are powerful, and the government has done a reasonably good job of convincing the nation that it is essential to reduce spending on welfare if our economy is to recover. The particular focus on disabled people, and DLA especially plays into our distaste at the idea of anyone languishing on a 'lifetime' benefit with no checks to see if they continue to be disabled 'enough' to deserve it.

DLA is also ripe for being framed as unpalatable because of the fact that it isn't means-tested. It makes no difference if you are a banker, barrister or a barista, your right to claim DLA remains the same. This was designed to reflect the fact that being disabled is expensive, whether you have a visible, physical disability like multiple sclerosis, an invisible, chronic condition like lupus, or an intermittent, unpredictable illness like schizophrenia. In any of these cases, and regardless of a person's income, DLA can make the difference between being able to work or not, eat properly or not, get around or not.

It makes no difference if you are a banker, barrister or a barista, your right to claim DLA remains the same.

This excellent personal account shows how DLA has made it possible for Mark Harper to continue working and illustrates the many small ways in which it enables him to have a better quality of life in spite of living with a painful neurological condition. As Mark points out, the obsession with employment as the panacea for all our nation's economic ills is actually undermined by removing the sorts of benefits that make it possible for some people with disabilities to work at all.

DLA certainly wasn't perfect, and the one-size-fits-all approach to assessing disability has always been ludicrously inflexible. For example, one of the measures of disability the distance a person can walk. Under the old DLA structure, 50 metres was the crucial distance that determined whether or not a person was eligible for the higher rate of mobility allowance. The PIP framework is more than halving this to 20 metres, and there's plenty to say about the arbitrariness of this heavy handed and unfair change, but to focus on that would overlook the ridiculousness of using the ability to walk a certain distance as a key way of assessing a person's mobility.

There are many serious physical disabilities which don't affect one's ability to walk. There are many disabilities which threaten people's mobility even though they might be assessed as being physically the same as a non-disabled person. For someone with a learning disability, for example, being able to get around the world safely is not necessarily about moving one leg in front of the other so much as understanding dangers posed by traffic, navigating confusing routes through cities, and social vulnerability. What about a person with agoraphobia or extreme depression?

The transition from DLA to PIP is happening in phases, so those who were once promised 'lifetime' DLA support, or who are in the middle of a fixed term award have another couple of year's grace before the major changes kick in, unless they experience a change in their disability. But the process has begun, there is no stopping it, and hundreds of thousands of disabled people are fearful for their futures because of it.

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  • I keep thinking back to a BBC article showing an IFS analysis of who is most affected by austerity - it is lodged in my mind when I read stuff like this. I agree with your analysis Emma. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/busi...

  • Why don't we just roll back the clock and put all disabled people back into care homes! The way it's going those who loose DLA/PIP will become trapped in their own homes! It'll be like the Victorian times all over again. Screw over the disabled, poor and needing, but the fatcats still get their huge bonuses, why not hit them hard too. Oh that's right it's not fair to them! Well I hope the government enjoy their expense paid bird baths and moats, huge un-nessacary second homes (of which they won't pay bedroom tax on either) whilst the disabled, poor and needing suffer.
    How the DWP/Government could allow such stupidity is getting to become a norm. Well done government! Well you get your wish about reducing the population and benefit claims with these changes!

  • Many disabled people have adopted the Social Model of Disability as a way of understanding the cause of disablement from their lived experience of oppression in an industrial capitalist state - i.e. it is a social construct arising from the environmental, institutional and attitudinal barriers which society imposes *on top of* impairments and health conditions, and which create obstacles to inclusion, equality and equal opportunities.

    The PIP assessment is based on a 'biopsychosocial' model which some critics refer to as the 'biobiobio' model because in practice it's the Medical Model in all but name, since it fails to fully address the psychological, let alone the social dimensions of disablement. If it existed, a 'sociopsychobio' model might work better as a basis for assessing entitlement to a benefit that's supposed "to help disabled people remove the barriers they face to leading full and independent lives".

    Needless to say, the current ideological attack on the social security system - which the ConDems picked up with gusto following New Labour's fall from grace - is primarily concerned with reducing the cost of the welfare bill.

    However, we are where we are and a key issue now is to ensure that the assessment regime is as accurate and fair as possible. Following the debacle of the Work Capability Assessment for Employment & Support Allowance, it has become clear that one factor in ensuring fairness is providing claimants with the opportunity to audio record assessments. The DWP acknowledge that this may provide "peace of mind" and have said that "Claimants may use their own equipment to record their consultation if they wish to". All well and good. However, the devil in the detail is that "they must be able to provide a complete and accurate copy of the recording to the health care professional at the end of the consultation."

    Instant provision of duplicate copies requires expensive equipment that is well beyond most claimant's affordability and technical ability. One option is to employ a sound engineer to attend and record the consultation, but that would be absurd on the scale of millions of claims.

    The simple solution is for the assessment providers - Capita in Wales and Central England, and Atos elsewhere - to purchase a bulk lot of duplicate audio recorders so that they're able to offer this "peace of mind" to claimants who want it.

    Whilst Atos have proven themselves adept at creating obstacles to audio recording Work Capability Assessments, Capita wrote into their PIP assessment tender bid that "The consultation itself can be audio recorded with the claimants consent. Rationale: A key concern of claimants who have been through the WCA is that the assessor's report will not match the discussion that takes place. An audio recording provides reassurance, transparency and an audit trail."

    Regretably, DWP have instructed Capita *not to offer audio recording at this stage".

    Why would they do that? Might it be that health care professionals don't want their assessment procedures recorded, and that those who protect their interests have lobbied the government to prevent this?

    Regardless of the motivations behind this regressive policy decision, disabled people and their organisations will battle for the right to have assessments audio recorded, for the reason which Capita identified in their tender bid - because very often assessors' reports do not match the discussion that takes place, leading to wrong decisions and costly appeals which can have a devastating impact on claimants' health and wellbeing - up to and including suicide.