EDIT II – 17 February 2011 – Today the government announced its welfare “reform” bill, the relevant document being accessible here. I haven’t examined it yet, mainly as I am very severely depressed at the minute and incapable of doing anything even remotely constructive. I would suggest that you check out the blogs of these folks for useful and insightful commentary on the proposals. There is also a very good piece on disability benefits by left-wing activist Sally Bercow here.
The information I have in this post is still relevant to DLA changes, and I hope you find it useful. However, it is not as current as some other material out there, given that it was written in response to the June 2010 budget. I hope that if this post doesn’t answer your questions, that at least some of the links here can.
EDIT – 6 December 2010 – In light of announcements made today on DLA, this post is experiencing a resurgence of hits. Unfortunately the material herein, although probably relevant to today’s measures, is not about them specifically, referring instead to ideas mooted in the June 2010 budget. I have yet to examine in detail the changes announced in today’s proposal documents, but will do so as soon as possible and then post about it. In the meantime, here is the information provided by the government itself, and an article on the issue from Community Care.
NOTE: This is written from the point of view of someone claiming Disability Living Allowance and Employment and Support Allowance as her sole income; I do not and cannot work at present. In most cases, DLA can be awarded if you do work. However, I have only claimed it in the context of unemployment, and would apparently not be entitled to it if and when I did return to work, so I am writing from that perspective. Please see here if you need more details on the benefit.
So apparently the delightful George Osbourne, with the backing of both the Tories and the Liberal Democrats in their spectacularly beautiful little love-in coalition of joy, has decreed that from 2013 all claimants of Disability Living Allowance – new or existing – will have to undergo medical examinations. This is in order to weed out the dirty, scrounging malingerers that go about claiming DLA…you know, those bunch of work-shy, lazy twatbags that just cannot be arsed to work.
People like me!!!
I am mental, therefore I have a disability that you can’t see on or about my body…therefore I don’t have a disability and am not mental, so seemingly goes the circular logic, because mental illness* doesn’t really exist, does it – it’s just something us pigshit, employment-avoidant obsessives make up so we can live at the tax-payer’s expense. Nevermind that filling out the bloody form is like a full-time job in itself…
(* Of course they do recognise that mental illness exists – but ‘depression’ or ‘PTSD’ or whatever are not really mental illnesses in these people’s eyes. One has to be floridly and continually psychotic, otherwise they ain’t unwell at all innit. And, yes, I know – not everyone in the government or society at large thinks this. Probably not even the majority, to be fair. But it’s still going to be the hidden disabilities that get hit here – of that I am almost certain).
Obviously, I’m being facetious here. I know that there are people claiming benefits who are work-shy malingerers, and of course I’d like to see such people weeded out of the system; I think most right-thinking people would. The difficulties with this approach are many, though.
For one, I genuinely don’t believe that there’s as many such people in the system as the Daily Fail-thumping reactionists would have us believe. That was a view that I formerly held, I must confess, and I apologise profusely for my unfair, cruel stereotyping. It hasn’t been my own work-demise that has fuelled my revision of opinion, but connecting with so many people on Twitter and Facebook whose claims for various disabilities – mental or physical, obvious or hidden – are very clearly needed and deserved. I have yet to meet one single person claiming the benefit that does not seem entitled to it.
Secondly, these medical examinations can set people like me back by months. I cannot emphasise enough how stressful they are. Unlike DLA, claims for Employment and Support Allowance (ESA), the replacement for Incapacity Benefit (IB), are presently assessed. I went through one in March last year, and it effectively ruined my life for a while – the derision and contempt with which you are treated, the evident disbelief on the part of the clinician, the gruelling and intimate interrogation that they force upon you – for someone mentally stable, it would be horrific. The effects upon us that are clearly unstable are potentially devastating.
Thirdly, as Benefit Scrounging Scum points out in this post, there is a danger that DLA assessments will completely backfire on the government. If, as seems likely, assessments will ensure that many people receiving or applying for DLA will be turned down for it, then in all probability the various Social Security Agencies will be swamped with costly appeal tribunals. The capital involved in provision of these tribunals could quite possibly amount to a figure similar to the bill currently directed at DLA payments. Any savings would ergo be lost.
On a similar point, though, I fear that those of us with mental health problems, or those that are ‘easily’ distressed, may be so floored by the news that their DLA claim has been rejected that they fall into a spiral of abject depression. I think I can reasonably assume that detailing the dangers of this to most of my readership is not a necessary endeavour on my part; however, in government-speak, let’s just say that if these people are using DLA as income because they can’t work – well, refusing the benefit to them is not exactly likely to enable them to become your fabled ‘productive members of society’.
In the fourth instance, the medical professionals employed in these capacities seem universally fuckwitted (I’ve had experience of them prior to last year too). They work for the Social Security Agencies, I am convinced, because they are unemployable elsewhere (and that’s saying something when you consider the calibre of some medics in the NHS!). At no point are any specialists apparently involved. This is not just applicable to psychiatric disorders, but things like MS, arthritis, deafness, learning disabilities, autism – you name it. They’re just ‘generic’ doctors with no in-depth understanding of the sometimes complex illnesses with which they are presented.
The incompetence of the doctor I saw last year was underlined by the fact that he felt that I was at no point ‘disconnected from reality’ (hmm, psychosis and dissociation are a universal reality, then) and could return to work within a year to 18 months. LOLZ like innit. Look at me, people, look at me! I’m a bloody mess of psychological spaghetti falling off a plate! There is no way!
The incompetence of the Social Security Agency, in turn, was that they employed this useless tosser who didn’t even assess me under the correct section of the relevant legislation, and they didn’t even realise his mistake. Despite my protestations, a year later they have still not responded to my complaints. Furthermore, because I was not deemed to be ‘disconnected from reality’, I will be asked to attend work-focused interviews towards the end of this year – and unless there is a dramatic change in a mere few months, I will simply not be ready for these meetings, never mind for actual fucking work.
Not everyone that claims DLA also claims ESA or IB, but many do. For those of us with a nervous or unstable disposition, having to have two evil medical exams will be a stress beyond stress; this may sound histrionic, but I really believe this could lead to full psychological – even psychotic – breakdowns. They really are that bad. Aside from the fact that this is horrendous for the person involved, and their friends and family, if we look at it from a macro perspective, such breakdowns will only cost the government more through the health care required. Thus rendering the supposed savings redundant, yet again.
Now, if Georgie-Gideon-Tory-Boy Osbourne would link ESA assessments to those also claiming DLA, or vice versa, that might be moderately acceptable. I could live with that, but not with having to go through this highly traumatic experience twice.
Additionally, the various Social Security Agencies across the UK need to make sure they employ a range of medical specialists. Psychiatric specialists, yes, but also those in other medical disciplines. Presumably psychiatry would need to be the largest, however, as mental health problems (as far as I know) account for many DLA claims, especially amongst people of my age. I don’t even think these doctors would need to be full-time, nor would they need to be consultants. A trainee at registrar or SHO level, perhaps also working elsewhere at other times, would be better than someone who has only the most basic specialist training whilst doing his or her MB.
They will never do this, of course. But to make things fair, they damn well should.
The one saving grace of this proposed change to DLA, from an entirely personal angle, is that it won’t come into practice until 2013. I sincerely hope that I will be able to work at that point, but therapy and recovery for the conditions with which I am afflicted takes bloody time, and we’ll just have to see. One thing that I am determined not to do is return to work before I am completely psychologically ready – that would do neither me nor the employer any good.
For other people, who will never be able to work, this is a self-evident and undermining blow – and, frankly, something of an insult.
In theory, I do support some screening to make sure claimants are genuine. Those that are claiming illegitimately give us all a bad name, and more importantly, they ‘scrounge’ money that would be much better spent elsewhere – such as the health service itself.
But at the end of the day, I would rather there were one or two fakers within the system than have the rest of us robbed of the entitlements that we need, whilst being thoroughly objectified and demoralised in the process.