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Thoughts One Month Before Heartbreak

January 14, 2011

As part of the One Month Before Heartbreak campaign.

*possible trigger for accounts of depression*

I am not disabled. I am very lucky. However, I am also aware that, at any time, I could become disabled. I am good friends with a number of disabled people, and have been incredibly shocked to hear about the difficulty of claiming Incapacity Benefit and Disability Living Allowance. Under a supposedly ‘left wing’ government (if you believe the trolls on news sites, anyway), the job of assessing disability was taken away from the medical practitioners who know most about individuals and given to a private company, ATOS Origins, whose model is based on that of US company UnumProvident – a group under investigation and allegedly banned from operating in several states as ‘Disability Deniers’.

This blog has far more information than I can include here, but it’s enough to say that the medical assessments performed by ATOS are not performed by specialists in the conditions that they assess, often not performed by doctors, and are based on a checklist ‘points system’ devised by the DWP. This system requires that an individual gains 15 points in order to ‘pass’ and be declared unfit for work.

Fair enough, you might think. After all, we all know, because it said so in the Daily Mail, that hundreds of thousands of people are ‘on the sick’, bleeding this country dry by pretending to be disabled when they can self-evidently walk to the postbox. Everyone has an anecdote to this effect, and the net impression is that the welfare system is swamped with scroungers and cheats. However, this impression is totally false. The facts are that the DWP’s published figure for estimated DLA fraud are 0.5%, and yet they aim to reduce the caseload by 20%.

A quick glance through other blogs related to the One Month Before Heartbreak will draw attention to just how difficult the process of claiming already is for disabled people, and how vital DLA (not an out of work benefit, no matter what Ian Duncan-Smith claims) is for keeping disabled people in work. Indeed, in many cases, central spending on DLA goes directly back into the economy in the form of tax paid – remember, disability benefits are paid for through NI contributions, amongst other things, so people who have worked or are working are contributing or have contributed to their own benefits.

One of the major problems with the ATOS Origins checklist system is that it is not designed to assess disabilities arising from mental illness. From the ‘mental disabilities’ checklist reproduced here, it would be possible to be suffering from crippling depression, for example, and still be found ‘fit for work’, without talking into account the added impact that work would have on the listed factors.

The other factor, of course, is that ATOS Origins are being paid to reduce the number of claimants, so are contractually obliged to find as many people ‘fit for work’ as possible. A friend received no points, despite severe mental illness which often left them unable to get out of bed, simply because they had got out of bed that day and come to the assessment (home assessment was not an option, and benefits are stopped for non attendance).

So far, this blog has been very much hard facts, so I’ll get on with the human element. Anyone can become disabled, at any time. I have suffered from severe depression, and still take medication which keeps it under control, although I am under no illusions that, if I were to come off it, I would be back where I started. This does not make me disabled, but when I was at my worst I was only getting through the day through the very strong support of close friends, and the fact that, being a student, I had access to the university counselling service.

Without these two things, I wouldn’t be where I am now – and the waiting list for NHS counselling can be up to 6 months, even if the patient is suicidal. Had I been in employment when I became ill, rather than at university, there is no way I would have been able to continue – I would spend hours staring at a wall (2 points), and this would hardly be conducive to being a productive employee.

Friends have had it worse, and have faced the prejudice which comes with mental illness, from clichés about ’emos’, to comments such as ‘top yourself, at least you’re good at that’ from colleagues. When this is combined with a government policy which sees benefits claimants as a species apart, who members of ‘Alarm Clock Britain’ go to work in order to ‘snub’, and the reduction in support for disabled people, we become a culture where becoming ill and unable to work is tantamount to criminal.

I’m ok, I have a direction in life, and I’m well, but, having experienced only a little of what thousands of claimants experience every day, I’m terrified that I could end up back in that situation, and without the support of a student loan, communal student living and a university based health service, fail to cope and recover. Many are already in this situation, and are actively contemplating suicide if they lose the benefits which just about make their lives livable. You could be in this situation, and that’s really what this is about. Not ‘how can we save a few quid on our taxes’ but ‘how would I like society to treat me if I got ill’. Not like this, I don’t think.

It’s time to join together and fight these cuts, and especially cuts on soft targets such as disability support. I would recommend looking for your local action as part of the National Day of Protest Against Benefit Cuts on Jan 24th – for yourself, your friends, and your community.

I do not want to be part of a society that refuses to help those who need it, and that demonises disabled people in order to maintain a status quo which has seen the richest 5% continue to increase their profits while the rest of society suffers. I do not want to see disabled people driven to suicide due to unnecessary cuts to benefits. I certainly do not want to live in a society where these proposals are put forward, and people refuse to oppose them.


3 Comments leave one →
  1. Barbs permalink
    January 14, 2011 4:36 pm

    An illustration of the benefits testing system being harsh that the general public understands is eg. the policeman who got shot and blinded by that Moat guy and got turned down for DLA and had to appeal. This is a much more realistic example of the reality of the decisions being made. Thank you for your support and understanding in bringing these issues to attention.

  2. January 16, 2011 1:18 pm

    More people get DLA after appealing than get it just from applying.


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