Last summer; Great Britain’s Summer of Sport saw disabled Paralympic athletes promoted from ‘tick the box’ status to heroes to be admired and lauded as role models for every young person in the land, disabled or not. Thanks to the latest Government welfare system reforms, the disabled are now facing hardship and poverty and are seen by many as benefits scroungers and system cheats.
The Disability Living Allowance has now been scrapped and replaced by the far more restrictive Personal Independence Payments system. The Government it seems is Hell bent on saving money; seeking to force people off the benefits system and into employment. If the handouts are stopped, lazy scroungers will have no choice but to find a job or starve, says the Government. That in itself is a somewhat naïve and simplistic strategy. It’s difficult enough to find employment if you’re able-bodied; well-nigh impossible if you’re disabled. After all, disabled workers are bound to be off sick every five minutes; right? Wrong, actually because according to statistics, disabled workers have a far better work ethic and absence record than their able-bodied counterparts.
Disabled charities (and the Government) reckon that this change will see 600,000 claimants losing their benefits. Historically, this country has always taken care of its disabled and genuinely needy; not any more it seems. By 2015 all those currently claiming disability benefits will have been re-assessed and will then face regular reviews of their disability. This seems to be designed to humiliate rather than assist and it also depends on who is doing the assessing. Will the assessments be carried out by an appropriately qualified and experienced medical person or merely some pen-pushing civil servant with a tick-box form and a script of totally irrelevant questions? Somehow, I suspect the latter.
The Government’s stand on the ‘problem’ of the current welfare bill is that it costs the country £12 billion every year. In the last decade the number of disability benefits claimants has risen from 2.4 million to 3.3 million. Yes, there will be some who abuse the system and there does need to be reform and a means of ensuring that only the truly needy receive a helping hand, but a broad-brush approach like that proposed is surely not the way to go about it. And it does beg the question; are there really half a million claimants who are not really disabled at all, but are merely cheats and scroungers?
Under PIP assessment terms, claimants will have to actually prove they are not able to walk a distance of more than 20 metres in order to qualify for Motability allowance. This allowance enables disabled people to lease a form of transport; a powered wheelchair, disability scooter or specially adapted car. Losing this relatively small amount of money could cost a disabled person their independence; their social life, trips to the shops to buy food and even visits to their families. Even more worrying was a report by the BBC’s Panorama programme which presented evidence of disabled and terminally ill people being cleared as ‘fit to work’ under the new assessment, despite medical advice to the contrary provided by their GPs.
A spokesman for the charity, Scope expressed his concerns. His team regularly receives calls from genuinely frightened disabled people who are struggling financially and getting into debt just to enable them to pay regular essential bills. Our Government spends millions of pounds every month in overseas aid whilst seemingly ignoring those in genuine difficulty in their own country.
This morning’s News contained a worrying item too. Attitudes to the disabled in this country are subtly changing in the wake of the Government’s claims that 55% of those claiming incapacity benefits are in fact not disabled at all. The fickle general public is beginning tar all disabled people with the same brush as work-shy cheats; oh what a stark contrast to the golden boys and girls of last year’s Paralympics.