The reality of long term sickness and disability

November 14, 2012 12:23 pm

When Jon asked me to write an article about social security for sick and disabled people I’ll confess, I was daunted.

To discuss something at all, one has to first know what it actually is. I mean, I couldn’t talk to you about chocolate if you were convinced that chocolate was green and something you use to clean drains. First I’d have to convince you that it was in fact brown and sweet and used as a panacea for all kinds of female misery.

So before I can talk to you about disabilities and the provision we make in this country for the people who live with them, I have to disabuse a whole basket full of myths.

We don’t get free cars.

Or bungalows.

A full third of sick and disabled people live in poverty.

Over 10 million people in the UK have a long term condition or disability and 60% of them work, though we are much less likely to get a job than you are.

The benefits we pay in the UK are some of the lowest in the developed world (yes, the lowest) and we have the toughest eligibility tests (yes the toughest). The numbers of people on out of work sickness benefits has been falling steadily for 15 years, not “spiralling out of control”.

Fraud for both sickness and disability benefits is the lowest of any benefit at just half of one percent (yes, the lowest) and out of work benefits make up a tiny proportion of the welfare budget, totally dwarfed by pensions and tax credits.

Living with a horrible painful or frightening condition is no fun at all. It is never a “lifestyle choice”. No-one chooses to get cancer just to claim a paltry £95 a week or asks to be paralysed in an accident so that they can get a blue badge.

But here’s the biggest myth of all. I’m sorry to have to tell you this, but it isn’t “them” it’s “you”.

For every three people that read this article, one will get cancer. For every four that read, one will suffer mental illness. And every last one of us will get old and need to rely on others to live with a little dignity. Serious, life limiting illness or sudden disability can – and does – happen to anyone at any time. It is no servant of wealth or power. We will all need our bottoms wiped, or our food cut up at some point.

Of course, even now I’ve set the record straight, you would have to accept that all of the things I just told you are true. I know everything you ever read in the papers or see on the TV contradicts what I’m saying, but there we are.

The solutions to the REAL problems sick and disabled people face are not solutions anyone is ready to hear. The myths are so well entrenched, so commonly held, that like Oliver Twist claiming his hunger could be fixed with a little more food, I would be laughed out of town.

Sick and disabled people in the UK need much higher levels of benefit to live on if they are found incapable of working. It is a disgusting indictment of what the UK has become today that we allow people with serious and profound disabilities to sit in their own filth, go hungry and cold for want of a decent basic living standard.

Anyone who faces significant barriers to work due to a lifelong health condition or disability, needs benefits that are utterly flexible that they can take with them through a lifetime. They should be able to dip in and out of work quickly and easily with as little paperwork as possible.

We might consider a single assessment that looked holistically at ALL the support a sick or disabled person might need to level the playing field with non-disabled peers. (Not better it you note, just level it.) Preventative joined up healthcare, social care and mobility needs and other disability related costs would all be taken into account and simply adjusted with any changes in circumstance.

A single assessment should involve an independent specialist in the claimant’s condition, a healthcare professional of their choice and a DWP decision maker. Together, they should consider all of the evidence a claimant submits.

The whole attitude and approach to social security for sickness and disability needs to turn upside down from judgemental to informed, cold and impersonal to encouraging and supportive.

A scrounger narrative combined with horrifying sanctions and threats, needs to be replaced immediately with respectful and informed cross-party and public debate.

Access must vastly improve and we must start to enforce existing laws that insist society make their buildings accessible.

Sick and disabled people need totally flexible work and more home working.

There should be an equivalent excellence branding to Fairtrade for products made and designed by disabled people and an online marketplace, with business support , to sell them through.

And finally, if we are to re-invent a contributory social security system based on “responsibility and reciprocity” it is not enough to only consider the limited contribution of paid work.  An army of volunteers and carers keep this country healthy and safe, saving the economy tens of billions every year.

A society that doesn’t reward these contributions in any way dare not preach of reciprocity and contribution.

Sue Marsh writes the Diary of a Benefit Scrounger blog.

This piece forms part of Jon Cruddas’s Guest Edit of LabourList

  • http://www.facebook.com/RachelMorriswasMcGee Rachel Morris

    Excellent piece Sue

  • charles.ward

    “Of course, even now I’ve set the record straight, you would have to
    accept that all of the things I just told you are true. I know
    everything you ever read in the papers or see on the TV contradicts what
    I’m saying, but there we are.”

    Forgive me if I don’t take your word for it without links to supporting evidence.

    • sunshine31

      YOU IDIOT… You will always have a small minority of people who will scam something
      to get “free money” they are not entitled to but that happens everywhere
      but these people are not sick or disabled and we should not be tarred
      with the same brush.

    • sunshine31

      YOU IDIOT… You will always have a small minority of people who will scam something
      to get “free money” they are not entitled to but that happens everywhere
      but these people are not sick or disabled and we should not be tarred
      with the same brush.

      • Dave Postles

        Exactly sunshine; the remedy is to prosecute the small number of abusers, but give proper, full assistance to people with disabilities and illness.

        • http://www.facebook.com/people/Mike-Homfray/510980099 Mike Homfray

          Quite. We shouldn’t be building the whole system on the basis that because some abuse it those in need should suffer

    • sunshine31

      its written by someone who fights for the rights of disabled peoplewho is disabled herself and has been through it sorry but she is her own supporting evidence sorry she has no links or articles attached if in doubt read her blog! It is what has been happening to us, its outrageous, read this http://wearespartacus.org.uk/wca-peoples-review/

    • As_expected

      Would it change your mind if she did?

      The information is available if you choose to scout around. If Sue had the time perhaps she would. Indeed, she still might. She is somewhat busy being a hospital in-patient, at the moment, though.

    • Helen Pinnock

      Charles, you may not know that Sue is in hospital and extremely ill. You can find the evidence by spending a few minutes on Google; the Black Triangle blogs and Wheres the Benefit are a good start. Just in case you’re seriously interested, rather than trying to score cheap points.

      • charles.ward

        I did some googling and what I found didn’t seem to back up some of the assertions in the article (see my reply to Spannered Books). I’m sorry that you felt that I was trying to score points by complaining about the lack of links to evidence but I have found that often when articles lack links it is because the evidence does not support the assertions being made.

        • http://twitter.com/suey2y Sue Marsh

          That’s a fib isn’t it Charles? Not to mention the extreme hypocrisy of someone criticising a lack of links without providing links to back it up

        • http://twitter.com/suey2y Sue Marsh

          That’s a fib isn’t it Charles? Not to mention the extreme hypocrisy of someone criticising a lack of links without providing links to back it up

          • charles.ward

            I did provide links (in my earlier reply to Spannered Books). I provided evidence that at least one of your assertions (that the UK has the lowest disability benefits in the developed world) is false.

            This is not the first time you have been caught out distorting the truth on LabourList.

          • Helen Pinnock

            Here is all the information you will ever need: http://www.ssa.gov/policy/docs/progdesc/ssptw/2010-2011/europe/ssptw10europe.pdf

            If you review the document, you’ll see that the UK hovers around the bottom in terms of payments per out of work disabled recipient for pretty much everything, when compared to other developed countries. I think Cyprus is slightly less generous: but do note that Sue says the UK has ‘some of the lowest’ benefit levels. Also note that eligibility and levels of sickness and disability benefit have fallen in the UK since that report was produced.

            This is also helpful – there is a similar handy table for sickness and disability benefit but I can’t remember where it is: http://www.consent.me.uk/calculator/

            If you don’t want to take the time to read the data, please stop making pointless accusations and listen to the reality that people in the UK are dying because other people think they shouldn’t get state support.

          • http://dwgism.livejournal.com/ DGillon

            The only one distorting things (by comparing %age of GDP to individual disability benefit rates) is you.

            As the reply you presented to Spannered Books is riddled with errors I rather think you owe Sue an apology.

          • charles.ward

            Perhaps you could explain why, if we have the toughest eligibility tests and some of the lowest benefit levels, we have a higher percentage spend then many other developed economies.

          • http://dwgism.livejournal.com/ DGillon

            Toughest has been defined by several people now and I trust you accept the OECD as an appropriate authority. Helen Pinnock’s reply below provides a reference for benefit levels, and again the US government is a reasonably reputable source.

            Attempting to analogize from %GDP spend to individual benefit spend is fraught with error, you need to correct for population (I really think you would be better starting from %GDP spend/head), eligibility criteria (which are a separate issue from toughness, for instance can children and pensioners claim), and a bunch of other factors such cost of living via RPI or a comparable measure. Go off and do the research and we’ll be happy to deal with specific issues that arise, but leaping from A to Z without covering the intermediate territory isn’t grounds for a fruitful discussion, nor for branding someone a liar.

    • AlanGiles

      Charles. Ms. Marsh speaks from personal and painful experience. In my own little way, I have contact with people who suffer long term health conditions, and the hoops they have to jump through to satisfy officaldom, or ATOS as it is sometimes called.

      The Freud “welfare reforms” dreamt up by a multi-millionaire investment banker who knew (and knows) damn-all about what he is supposed to be an “expert” in, and was shamefully pushed through by a so-called Labour minister in 2009 causes untold misery and distress to people who have more than enough to cope with getting through each day.

      Interestingly, Labour (pre-“one nation”) Welfare secretaries of state have tried to suggest that people with mental illness are somehow bogus (all the way from Field via Blunkett, Darling, Johnson all the way down to Liam Byrne), and somehow “shamming” to avoid work. Interesting that not one of these men has had a word to say about the way one of their former colleagues, Margaret Moran, has used – and I mean that word – her alleged mental illness to avoid punishment for her criminal activities. Moran stole more money than most welfare claimants will ever see in their lifetimes, but whereas they needed to be “helped” to find work, Moran apparently will be allowed to drift on with her alleged malady without the need for the judgemental former ministers to demand she is given “help” to even do community service.

      That’s the thing about this “one nation” nonsense which is blighting LL all this week – we are not one nation, and never will be. The political class still think they are a special case.

    • Paul Davis

      Do you insist on supporting links when you read the contrary in papers etc or do you just believe the bs they spout?

      I had to give up work to look after my disabled son. He suffers from sever paranoid schizophrenia, selective mutism and various other paranoia based conditions. To give an example of his condition if his Grandma were to come round now he would have to hide for a long time before able to come out and see her. Maybe he’d be out in an hour, maybe not until after she is gone. That is the reality of his condition.

      He had all his benefits stopped because we didn’t reply to a letter we never received. It then took 51 weeks to sort his DLA. The first ‘judgement’ paid absolutely no attention to the forms we had filled in and just automatically put him on the minimum rate. When I wrote back shredding their reasoning the appeal was thrown out! As was the next one. 51 weeks – and in the end it was only the intervention of our MP, GP and solicitor that got us that far.

      Now we have to go through the whole thing again with the changes to benefits. More forms to fill in, more angst and more waiting, and no doubt more appeals when they put him on the minimum possible. It’s hell. And that’s before you start looking at the criminal lack of care (as an example even though everyone agrees he needs an OT and treatment for OCD after three years of begging (yes BEGGING) we’re still waiting).

      But, and it is a big but, my son is lucky. I’m a cantankerous argumentative old sod and won’t give up. I’ll keep fighting, whether it’s for a decent level of benefits or for treatment. Because of the last decade I now suffer from depression, my savings (that supported me without benefits for the first 8 years I looked after him full time) have long since gone, as has my future. But as I say my son is lucky as he has someone to shout for him – most have no one.

      • Dave Postles

        Paul, I wish you well and I wish there was more that we could do for you. UKUncut will be highlighting the issue outside Starbucks on 8 Dec. I hope it makes some impact. In a really compassionate society, you would not be pushed into this desperate position. Labour: please, please take note.

        • Paul Davis

          Thanks Dave.

          I could give so many other examples of how we are discriminated against because of my son’s condition but probably the biggest is housing.

          Because of my son’s paranoia we have to be very careful where we live. I’m not talking luxury, or even a particularly nice area and trying to describe all the different things we had to take into account would bore the pants of everyone but suffice to say the little community housing available is completely inappropriate. So we’re left looking for private accommodation (in the home counties).

          Around here most all rentals are tied up through agents and the way they suddenly lost interest in us when they found out my son was disabled was disgusting. Time after time we put in offers on places and they mysteriously went off the market or were taken (even though they obviously were not). Eventually we were lucky enough to find an agent who, when I explained the situation, had a ‘let us see if we can make this work’ attitude. He had an incredible ignorance (maybe lack of knowledge would be a better way of putting it) of disabilities but after half an hour of him asking questions he was willing to put us forward and we finally moved.

          However, because of what we had to find the rental is above how much the local council will pay in housing benefit so my carer’s benefit goes on rent. The fact that a cheaper place would have ended up being severely detrimental to his health matters not one jot – we are judged exactly the same as if we were two people with no problems.

          I’m not looking for pity here. I’m lucky in that I have an amazing support network of friends and family who are not only always there for me but also ensure that I can afford to go out from time to time and aren’t stuck looking at four walls day in day out.

          But as I said before MOST people in my son’s condition (or any other comparable in effect) have no one to help and are isolated. If one nation means inclusive then when will ‘we’ be included? Would be nice to know.

    • http://twitter.com/Spoonydoc Spoonydoc

      Check here for benefit generosity compared to other countries:
      http://www.oecd.org/els/benefitsandwagesstatistics.htm

      Check here for the fraud rates from the DWP:
      http://statistics.dwp.gov.uk/asd/asd2/index.php?page=fraud_error

      Admittedly I thought the proportion of disabled people in work was slightly lower, around 50%, which is what this website says, but I am happy to be corrected.
      http://www.shaw-trust.org.uk/disability_and_employment_statistics

      Disabled people living in poverty:
      After housing costs one third of families with disabled children and/or working age disabled people are indeed in poverty. The figure is lower however for disabled pensioners.

      I can only guess but this is probably due to the relative generosity of pensions vs. disability benefits. (check a dwp benefits level page for more detail)
      http://fullfact.org/factchecks/are_one_third_of_disabled_people_living_in_poverty-28012

      The previous test for Incapacity Benefit, the PCA was found by the OECD in 2006 to be one of the harshest in Europe. Incapacity Benefit has now been replaced by ESA and the PCA by the Work Capability Assessment (WCA) in a “tightening up” of the system. The new test is deemed not only to be too hard but actually harmful to sick and disabled people leading to the BMA itself calling for its removal.
      http://bma.org.uk/news-views-analysis/news/2012/june/scrap-work-capability-assessment-doctors-demand

      Check the motability website for terms and conditions regarding “free cars”. Cars are often essential for the transport of wheelchairs and may need to be larger or adapted for that purpose particularly if the wheelchair is electric. The disabled person will lease the car with their mobility benefit.

      Bungalows are reserved for elderly people. Check this with your local social services if you wish. As a severely disabled person using an electric wheelchair I have had to find housing in the private sector. I will not be eligible for a bungalow or wheelchair accessible social housing until I am 50. I am currently 33 years old.

      The NHS does not provide wheelchairs for all who need them, particular details vary from county to county.
      My own county will provide a manual wheelchair but does not provide an electric one if you can stand. Thus, although my arms are useless and I cannot push a wheelchair and use an electric wheelchair indoors, because I am able to stand up, I had to purchase my own at a cost of several thousand pounds.
      However I should consider myself lucky as Worcestershire does not provide any wheelchair at all (manual or otherwise) for anyone who can stand up, even if they need a wheelchair outdoors.

    • sunshine31

      here is another document that might be of interest if indeed you are? https://docs.google.com/file/d/1o5r6RwTtNipTZNyCcEyUmXa3pvJXEu4GVmWbKqGoZ0fcANA2vlhHfvHnRJNO/edit

  • sunshine31

    Great piece Sue as always wouldn’t it be nice to have policy based on real disabled needs instead of politicians with lots of money and little or no idea of the problems faced by disabled.

  • http://twitter.com/spanneredbooks Spannered Books

    Well done Sue – I can’t imagine how disspiriting it is to have to wade through this sh*te every day when faced with the weight of mis-information from non-evidence-based government and a lazy mainstream press. Thank you for keeping on fighting the good fight and telling essential truths.

  • http://twitter.com/spanneredbooks Spannered Books

    @Charles Ward – google is your friend mate – rather than off-hand dismissiveness why not look some stuff up yourself? Here are some good places to start:

    When the gov talks about ‘the welfare bill’ they never tell us most of it is pensions (with most of the last decades rise being pensions) : http://lartsocial.org/money

    FullFact.org have done a lot of work in this area – some of which is collated here: http://fullfact.org/articles/you_and_yours_%C2%A310bn_benefits_cuts-28481 and here: http://fullfact.org/files/2011/03/Welfare_Reform_Bill_2R_Briefing.pdf Google full+fact+welfare+benefits and you will find lots of other statistical breakdowns, all with links to sources

    Knock yrself out, do some reading, then don’t quibble: accept that poor people, vulnerable people, and people with disabilities are being made to pay for a bust they didn’t cause after a boom they didn’t benefit from…

    • charles.ward

      Well just picking out a couple of things:

      “The benefits we pay in the UK are some of the lowest in the developed
      world (yes, the lowest) and we have the toughest eligibility tests (yes
      the toughest).”

      I can’t find anything in the links you provided that back up these assertions. This page shows disability benefit in the UK (2.5% of GDP) as higher than France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Ireland, Belgium and the Netherlands and above the European average (2008 figures).

      I’m not sure how you would measure the “toughness” of eligibility tests which is why I suspect that this is an unsupported assertion (I’m willing to change my mind if presented with evidence).

      “The numbers of people on out of work sickness benefits
      has been falling steadily for 15 years, not “spiralling out of control”.”

      This shows the number of people on long term sickness benefits rising then falling over the last 10 years (not a steady decline and the number in 2010 is greater than 2000). I know this is only for long term (2 years+) recipients of benefits (and not just out of work benefits) but if you have some better data…

      Maybe the reduction in those claiming out of work disability benefits (if true) is due to more disabled people finding work (which I would think is a good thing) as it looks like the total number of disabled people claiming benefits has not been declining in the long term.

    • charles.ward

      Well just picking out a couple of things:

      “The benefits we pay in the UK are some of the lowest in the developed
      world (yes, the lowest) and we have the toughest eligibility tests (yes
      the toughest).”

      I can’t find anything in the links you provided that back up these assertions. This page shows disability benefit in the UK (2.5% of GDP) as higher than France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Ireland, Belgium and the Netherlands and above the European average (2008 figures).

      I’m not sure how you would measure the “toughness” of eligibility tests which is why I suspect that this is an unsupported assertion (I’m willing to change my mind if presented with evidence).

      “The numbers of people on out of work sickness benefits
      has been falling steadily for 15 years, not “spiralling out of control”.”

      This shows the number of people on long term sickness benefits rising then falling over the last 10 years (not a steady decline and the number in 2010 is greater than 2000). I know this is only for long term (2 years+) recipients of benefits (and not just out of work benefits) but if you have some better data…

      Maybe the reduction in those claiming out of work disability benefits (if true) is due to more disabled people finding work (which I would think is a good thing) as it looks like the total number of disabled people claiming benefits has not been declining in the long term.

      • Paul Davis

        How can you compare a comment about how much an individual may receive with the total spend against GDP? There are so many holes in that thinking that apparently Swiss cheese can only come in solid blocks now.

      • Arecbalrin

        That link contains no useful information, just figures but no clue as to what they are of. ‘Social protection’ might mean benefits or benefits plus other services and the source used doesn’t appear anywhere. Do they break them down by age? The UK breaks benefits into working-age and pension-age, but some countries don’t have pension-age disability benefits and instead just top-up benefits which are often claimed by the disabled but not specific to the disabled.

        The data for Invalidity Benefit(1979-1994), Incapacity Benefit(1995-2007) and IB-ESA(2008+) has to be read in its context, which is why welfare dilettantes who write the coverage for newspapers like the Mail and Express frequently get it things wrong too. Population was rising at the same time, as were the demographics and primary affecting conditions of claimants for what are frequently dubbed ‘sickness benefit'(which hasn’t actually existed since 1995). Taken into account- the overall figure has been falling consistently since 1995. Despite the complacent media myth that it has been ‘rising over the last 30 years’, most of the growth actually happened in a small space of time between 1988 and 1995 when residential units were being closed in favour of care in the community, meaning many disabled people were now eligible to claim when they weren’t before. But of course you only managed to find figures for long-term figures because they *always* show an upward trend because these are often very ill or disabled people who will not get better; the on-flows always exceed the on-flows. I find it suspicious that you could not find the figures for overall claimants(you certainly haven’t been following Marsh and other critics of welfare reforms), as it’s only in the Benefit Expenditure Tables on the DWP website. Table C1 of the 2011 forecast is the historical claimant count for all benefits broken down. It only goes back to 1991. The first Harrington report has a graph showing a time series line going back further and I did have the data that is based on going back to 1979 in my bookmarks but I’ll have to dig.

        The OECD said that the Personal Capability Assessment for Incapacity Benefit was the most stringent in the whole OECD group. It has now been replaced by one that is not simply stringent but downright unfair. Google is your friend and I suspect you are only hung up on specific citations on this one occasion, when Sue Marsh and others like myself have been bombarding people with the evidence for more than two years now and been ignored, until the one article where she is in hospital and expecting citations is vexatious)

        You demand a burden of proof from others which you do not expect of yourself sir, a sign that your mind is in fact hardly subject to change according to evidence.

      • http://dwgism.livejournal.com/ DGillon

        “I’m not sure how you would measure the “toughness” of eligibility tests”

        I don’t know what criteria Sue was using in labeling it ‘toughest’, but I’d say a test based on dishonesty is pretty fundamentally broken. I say dishonesty not from exaggeration but from long consideration and direct experience of the WCA. The entire structure of the WCA is based around deliberately misleading, and therefore dishonest, questions; for instance ‘Do you like watching TV?’ is taken as evidence you can sit at a desk all day, and you aren’t told that this is what the test is measuring, this deceit continues through every question. This means the test a) starts from the presumption that the patient is fraudulently attempting to claim the benefit*, and b) fails the medical principle of allowing the patient informed consent (and the GMC has explicitly reminded doctors that people taking the WCA are to be considered to be patients and covered by the examining doctor’s duty of care, interestingly in the same WCA-specific statement the GMC also found it necessary to remind doctors that basic honesty is a professional requirement…).

        Returning to watching TV, when I took the WCA the TV question was worth 15 points in its own right, and 15 points is automatic qualification for ESA; now I actually meet the explicit criteria behind the test, being unable to sit for extended periods (where ‘extended’ is 15 minutes), so this one question qualified me for ESA, never mind the other questions I passed. Now I do like watching TV, but like most of my life I do it flat on my back on the couch, so the correct answer is ‘yes, I do like TV’, but answer ‘yes’ and you get 0 points. Now undoubtedly thousands of people have answered ‘yes’, even though they are unable to sit at a desk, and were quite unaware that they have just missed automatic qualification for ESA. By contrast I had researched the test (for which I was roundly criticized by the examining doctor), understood the aim of the question, and knew that I needed to qualify that ‘yes’, which I did, but only over the explicit objection of the ATOS doctor, no matter that he had read the ESA50 form detailing my disability, which made it clear in multiple places that I was unable to sit for extended periods, and therefore automatically qualified under the question he was asking.

        The assessment degenerated into a contest of wills, he clearly presuming from the outset that I was a fraud, attacking everything from my description of my ability to walk to my inability to bend my knee. It was only when I became visibly physically distressed that his attitude changed, and I don’t think I am being unfair in classing his reaction as sheer panic. I’m notably stubborn, I won’t back down to bullying, and I can and have successfully argued my case for hours against superiors renowned for their verbal aggression, yet I don’t know if I would have passed that assessment without the physical distress. I doubt one person in ten could have argued an opinionated, overbearing doctor intent on browbeating them out of their eligibility to a complete standstill, and that figure would be far higher for patients with mental health issues or otherwise vulnerable.

        Moving away from the structure of the WCA to the detail, the assessment is based on individual descriptors of disability, such as ability to sit for more than 15 minutes, stand for more than 10 minutes, being able to pick a pound coin off the floor and so on, however it has been known since the first Harrington review two years ago that the descriptors relating to mental health are severely flawed, and that varying disabilities are almost completely failed by the test. An attempt was made to update the mental health descriptors, however the MIND representative on the panel recently found it necessary to resign due to the ongoing damage to his client population and the lack of progress. Problems with varying disabilities were left completely unaddressed. A fundamental flaw in the assessment is that it is completely unrelated to actual work activity, yet before he was moved to Justice Chris Grayling adamantly stated his opposition to bringing any form of work related assessment into the WCA.

        In the end it doesn’t matter whether the WCA is ‘toughest’, ‘dishonest’ or whatever, all that matters is that it is demonstrably not fit for purpose and does people desperate for the support of ESA a profound disservice.

        “This shows the number of people on long term sickness benefits rising then falling over the last 10 years (not a steady decline and the number in 2010 is greater than 2000). I know this is only for long term (2 years+) recipients of benefits (and not just out of work benefits) but if you have some better data…”

        You’ve conflated out-of-work and non-out-of-work disability benefits without investigating whether there might be different factors affecting them (incidentally this seems to have been a deliberate Tory tactic when discussing disability benefits in order to obfuscate the facts and it’s been a frequent mistake in press coverage). There has been a steady (and fully predictable) growth in DLA (non-out-of-work) receipt due to a change in DLA eligibility criteria in the late ’90s (IIRC) which resulted in people being able to carry on their DLA eligibility post-65 rather than losing it. There has also been a considerable increase in uptake of DLA amongst people with mental health issues due to increased awareness of eligibility and further increases due to the growth in the UK population. The increase in non-out-of-work disability benefits means you can’t use a combined figure to make any assumptions about out-of-work disability benefits, see http://fullfact.org/factchecks/DLA_growth_Iain_Duncan_Smith_Telegraph-27217 for a partial explanation.

        “Maybe the reduction in those claiming out of work disability benefits (if true) is due to more disabled people finding work”

        Personally I stopped claiming ESA rather than subject myself to the trauma of another WCA (when your disability is physical, yet you find yourself having panic attacks and sleepless nights just at the thought of filling the form, never mind the assessment, then you know there’s something badly wrong with the process – in fact I still panic if a brown envelope arrives in the mail even though I haven’t claimed any benefits at all in nearly a year). And while it only kicked-in in May there’s also ESA time-limiting, which is expected to deny around 200,000 disabled people that even DWP accepts are not fit for work (that being the criteria for placing them in the Work Related Activities Group) ESA eligibility between now and the next election (figure from DWP’s Equalities Impact Analysis on the change – which doesn’t actually analyse the impact on us any further than saying we’ll lose eligibility after 1 year no matter our continuing disability, sadly miracle cures are notoriously difficult to schedule). Once you’ve lost eligibility, why subject yourself to WCA and the Work Programme for just your stamp?

        * This is likely the result of the Bio-Psycho-Social model of disability which the US insurer Unum convinced Labour to adopt as the backbone of disability benefit reform. As Unum defined it, the BPS model became an outgrowth of the ‘sick role’ construct coined by the ultra-right wing American philosopher Talcott Parsons, which redefined illness as socially deviant (you really couldn’t make this stuff up), and therefore long term disability becomes not a consequence of impairment or illness, but the fault of the patient in not trying hard enough to overcome it (unfortunately it doesn’t get into how I’m supposed to overcome a genetic connective tissue disorder). In the US BPS meant Unum lost massive class suits for running ‘disability denial mills’, and were branded ‘an outlaw company’ by one of the State’s Attorney Generals pursuing them (New York if I recall correctly); in the UK, under Labour, BPS became government policy.

        The Unum-Labour links are discussed more extensively in this article by John Rutherford http://blue-labour.blogspot.co.uk/2011/06/how-labour-got-welfare-wrong-and-how-it.html (there’s another piece by the same author which covers the history in more detail, but I can’t track it down right now).

      • http://dwgism.livejournal.com/ DGillon

        ” This page shows disability benefit in the UK (2.5% of GDP) ”

        Sue talks about individual benefit levels and you claim percentage of GDP doesn’t back that? I’m sorry, but you’re comparing apples and orangutans.

        >> “The numbers of people on out of work sickness benefits
        has been falling steadily for 15 years, not “spiralling out of control”.”

        This shows the number of people on long term sickness benefits rising then falling over the last 10 years (not a steady decline and the number in 2010 is greater than 2000). I know this is only for long term (2 years+) recipients of benefits (and not just out of work benefits) <<

        Again you're comparing clearly incompatible figures, non-out-of-work disability benefits (principally DLA) have shown a steady (and completely predicted) increase since a change in eligibility criteria in the late 90s (IIRC) meant that people could continue their claim post 65. There have been additional increases due to greater take up amongst people with mental health issues due to more widespread knowledge of eligibility and also an increase due to demographic change. All of this is understood (though DWP needed to be reminded when it was staging its outrageous attacks on DLA), and, again as expected, those changes are beginning to level off. Because of the different trends between out-of-work and non-out-of-work disability trends you can't use an aggregated figure to talk about only one of them (though doing precisely that appears to have been a deliberate Tory tactic in order to obfuscate the real nature of their assault on disability benefits).

        "Maybe the reduction in those claiming out of work disability benefits (if true) is due to more disabled people finding work (which I would think is a good thing) "

        It's only a good thing if they aren't being forced into it when not fit for work. Personally I dropped my claim rather than subject myself to the psychological damage of another WCA.

        • http://dwgism.livejournal.com/ DGillon

          And having concluded my longer reply below had gone astray, it turns up again!

  • http://twitter.com/suey2y Sue Marsh

    Yes, sorry about that Charles, I wrote it from a hospital bed and cant search for them just now.

    They are however all DWP or WHO’s own figures and so fundamental that I’m sure you could have them all googled in a flash.

  • http://www.facebook.com/jan.omalley Jan O’Malley
  • Andrew McKay

    I’ve been waiting for an article like this – great stuff. I just hope Labour will not once again try and appeal to Daily Mail readers but rather make the case for welfare.

  • http://www.philewis.com/ Philip Lewis

    http://diaryofabenefitscrounger.blogspot.co.uk/ read this there are links here

  • http://www.englishstandard.org/ Wyrdtimes

    Not sure how this article fits under the ‘one nation’ tag.

    My elderly mother for instance (English) requires 4 * 2 person calls care calls a day.This costs her >£15000 a year. Someone in the same position in Scotland pays £0. One nation?

    UK MPs only have any say on English care. Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish MPs have more say on English health and care than they do on care
    in their own counties. One nation?

    • Dave Postles

      It fits under the ‘One Nation’ rubric (whatever that means) because unless we support and include the poor and people with disabilities and illness, we are not a communal society. Inclusion. On a simpler level, she is my neighbour; I’m happy to pay more tax to assist her. We must establish priorities: the ‘sense of place’ and the countryside are adiophora; we need to concentrate on the real issues of social inclusion.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Mike-Homfray/510980099 Mike Homfray

    Thanks Sue
    No system will ever be perfect – but perhaps a little more saying what is true rather than trying to assuage the likes of the Daily Mail and Frank Field MP might help. We cannot base social security on the fact that some people might gain benefits unfairly, and so hurt everyone else in the process.

  • girlguide

    What is the explanation for the very high rate of disability in the UK (28%) compared to say, Italy, at 6.6%? How can a country with a free at point of use health service, have such a high rate, unless the health service is seriously deficient?

    • crooked_timber

      Perhaps a wider view of this would help to gain some context. What’s Italy’s health like generally? I was under the impression, perhaps wrongly, that Italians had generally much better health than the British and longer lifespans, often attributed to ‘Mediterranean diets’ and the weather.

    • http://dwgism.livejournal.com/ DGillon

      The UK has a very comprehensive, but simple, definition of disability. You are covered by the disability discrimination provisions of the Equality Act 2010 (and were by the Disability Discrimination Act before it) if you have a physical or mental impairment that has a ‘substantial’ and ‘long-term’ negative effect on your ability to do normal daily activities.

      It isn’t that our rate is high, but that other countries are undercounting by using less inclusive definitions. And unfortunately society even in this country massively undercounts, with many people restricting ‘disabled’ to wheelchair user, blind, or amputee, where in fact most disability is invisible: consider pain, epilepsy and diabetes, for instance. I’m disabled by chronic pain, but you can’t actually tell by looking at me (unless you’re using an MRI to look ).

  • http://dwgism.livejournal.com/ DGillon

    Ultimately the problems with ESA, IB and DLA, and shortly PIP, are ethical ones. Do we want a disability benefits system that focuses on ensuring as many disabled people as possible have the support they need? Or one that focuses on ensuring as few disabled people as possible are eligible for the benefit? Under the last Labour government, they consciously chose appealing to the mob over justice and that is why we now have ESA, with around 140,000 WCA assessments found to be unsustainable when brought before a legal tribunal, and god knows how many suicides and deaths as a result of the stress of the assessments.

    So the question is, does Labour today want to appeal to the Daily Hate Mail reading mob, or to do what is right for disabled people?

    But that question raises a second.

    With disability hate crime rates spiraling, with more than half of disabled people now saying they have faced open aggression, and with a SpAd-organised campaign of vilification in the right wing media, shouldn’t Labour be at the forefront of driving back the hate? Isn’t support for those in need, those vilified by the elite and their enforcers, a fundamental part of what Labour stands for? Shouldn’t Labour be standing up for disabled people, and not just making their voice heard in opposition, but actively leading people away from that hate? Is Labour an organisation that leads people to what is right? Or an organisation that is led by whatever the mob denounces?

  • Serbitar

    In the One Nation New Jerusalem that Labour aspires to see rise from the ruins of economic and social collapse will the French IT company ATOS still be paid millions to administer the Work Capability Assessment? And will the absolutely dreadful Liam “No Money Left” Byrne really remain to oversee continued horrors as Secretary of State for Work and Pensions from the comfortable bolthole of his office at the DWP ?

    (See how I included the latest meme aspire/aspires/aspiration in my first sentence there?)

  • Jayne Linney

    Thanks sue, great to read an argument for how Labour might address the issues experienced by Chronically Sick and Disabled People from someone who actually knows what’s needed.

    I’ve stated more than once it’s well past the time for the Labour Party to acknowledge the difficulties we live we on a daily basis, and to move away from the rhetoric of the benefit fraudsters, scrounging off the State and living in Luxury.

  • Dave Postles

    Thank you. My understanding is much greater now.

  • Dave Postles

    Thanks for this information.

  • Dave Postles

    ‘ If one nation means inclusive then when will ‘we’ be included?’
    I wish I knew too, Paul. All I can say for now is that I hope that you can continue to be strong. BTW, it’s never a matter of sympathy, but knowing more so that we can try to have empathy: although we can never put ourselves in your situation, with each little bit more of information, we can try harder. Good luck to you. I just hope that movers and shakers are listening – really listening.

  • crooked_timber

    Whilst Sue is right, unfortunately most people still won’t believe this. The few voices of reason are easily drowned out by the almost daily propaganda pushed out by not only the right wing press but even the likes of the Guardian who give too many column inches to the likes of Iain Duncan Smith. As well as the commonly held beliefs mentioned here, I’ve personally heard people spout that the DWP also pays utility bills and provides laptops directly and not even in the sense that disability benefits are are used to pay bills or buy household electrical items.

    In the wider context of employment generally where, apparently, there’s jobs in abundance for ‘people who want to work’, it’s farcical that those who are not only the least able to work but are also the least likely to be employed in an employer’s market are expected to find work. No wonder Conservatives like Philip Davies suggest that the disabled should we able to work for less than the minimum wage to gain a ‘competitive edge’.

    Sadly, I’ve no hope for (New) Labour changing anything. Despite the narrative that New Labour was a party of benefits, the truth is that all this started under the last few years of New Labour and only a few months ago, Ed Miliband was praising the work that ATOS does on a visit to an ATOS office.

  • Serbitar

    The disparity could simply be explained by the fact that Italians care less about disabled citizens than we do and so expect men and women in that category to undertake work and duties that would be considered too strenuous or potentially injurious to the health and welfare of such people in the United Kingdom to be allowed, applauded, or encouraged.

  • http://twitter.com/suey2y Sue Marsh

    See, this is why we win the argument every single time. Arec and Dave will know very well I’m in hospital. They will know that it cost me a great deal of will power and determination to write this whilst so unwell, and they’ll know that nothing would have stopped me writing an article for the Head of Labour’s policy review about something I see as a terrible injustice. They know I have a stubborn tendency to put the millions suffering through this assault on our dignity before my own health. As so many of us do.

    So Arec and Dave have my back. They saw I needed a team and stepped in. That’s what we all do. We’ve found a community, we understand each other’s lives and the painful limitations of them.

    Charles knows all this stuff, he’s tried to pretend he knows more than he does on my articles many times before and many times, and one or more of us have always patiently posted links and wrote about them with the devastating precision, clarity and intelligence Arec and Dave display above.

    • Serbitar

      Don’t be too hard on Charles. He’s truly terrible at statistics. For example he once tried to argue that because poor people statistically smoke and drink more than richer people it would be a good thing to cap child benefit to the unemployed at two children, in order to reduce “moral hazard” in such families, by preventing parents in such straights from spending child benefit, received to help support third and further children, on vices like tobacco and alcohol so putting every member of the family at hazard as a consequence. Thus by impoverishing poor families materially you help them morally and spiritually as it were. How very IDS!

      I would bet that Charles is a religious fellow.

      (In the same faux way that Iain Duncan Smith is.)

      Forgive him even though he seems so Scrooge-like and unforgiving himself.

    • Serbitar

      Don’t be too hard on Charles. He’s truly terrible at statistics. For example he once tried to argue that because poor people statistically smoke and drink more than richer people it would be a good thing to cap child benefit to the unemployed at two children, in order to reduce “moral hazard” in such families, by preventing parents in such straights from spending child benefit, received to help support third and further children, on vices like tobacco and alcohol so putting every member of the family at hazard as a consequence. Thus by impoverishing poor families materially you help them morally and spiritually as it were. How very IDS!

      I would bet that Charles is a religious fellow.

      (In the same faux way that Iain Duncan Smith is.)

      Forgive him even though he seems so Scrooge-like and unforgiving himself.

    • Serbitar

      Don’t be too hard on Charles. He’s truly terrible at statistics. For example he once tried to argue that because statistics show that poor people smoke and drink more than richer people, it would be a good thing to cap child benefit to the unemployed at two children in order to reduce “moral hazard” in such families, by preventing parents in such straights from spending child benefit received to help support third and further children on vices like tobacco and/or alcohol thus putting every member of such a poor family at hazard.

      I would bet that Charles is a religious fellow.

      (Religious that is in the same faux way as Iain Duncan Smith that is.)

      Forgive him even though he seems so Scrooge-like and unforgiving himself.

    • Serbitar

      Don’t be too hard on Charles. He’s truly terrible at statistics. For example he once tried to argue that because poor people statistically smoke and drink more than richer people it would be a good thing to cap child benefit to the unemployed at two children, in order to reduce “moral hazard” in such families, by preventing parents in such straights from spending child benefit, received to help support third and further children, on vices like tobacco and alcohol so putting every member of the family at hazard as a consequence. Thus by impoverishing poor families materially you help them morally and spiritually as it were. How very IDS!

      I would bet that Charles is a religious fellow.

      (In the same faux way that Iain Duncan Smith is.)

      Forgive him even though he seems so Scrooge-like and unforgiving himself.

  • Cliff Poole

    my only crime was to get work related injuries that have left me disabled and i can tell you from bitter experience i have been treated with nothing but contempt and distain at the hands of atos and the dwp there is no seperation in there actions between workers and so called benefit scroungers despite overwhelming medical evidence they choose to ignore in favour of zeroing you and i have worked all my life for this treatment what a reward

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