Sue Marsh campaigns to raise awareness of hidden disabilities and long term illness; she set up the blog Diary of a Benefit Scrounger to raise awareness of life with a chronic illness
Today sees the second National Protest Day against the significant cuts sick and disabled people face to their support. The protests are focussed on ATOS Origin offices, the company responsible for assessing a claimant’s ability to work. Assessments are carried out by “medical professionals” who are not required to be nurses or doctors and a recent Compass report showed that the assessment process was “unfit for purpose” with 35 per cent of cases going to appeal and up to 70% of those appeals being upheld.
ATOS are paid according to how many people they assess as fit, and just 9% of those previously considered unable to work are now being found incapable of any work at all.
Around 60% are projected to be taken of Employment Support Allowance (ESA, previously Incapacity Benefit) within one year. Claimants placed in the “Work Capability Group” with working partners will now need to find work within one year or all of their benefits will be withdrawn - a loss of nearly £5,000.
The other main disability benefit, Disability Living Allowance (DLA) is now to be targeted by the government with ATOS also being asked to assess their capability to work. The government hope that 20% of those currently needing to claim DLA will have their benefit stopped.
What’s more, proposals include stopping mobility support for adults in residential care, leaving some unable to leave their homes. Mobility would become based on “ability to mobilise” rather than to walk, hypothetically meaning that paralympians could be defined as fully mobile.
DLA is not an out of work benefit. It acknowledges the extra difficulties sick and disabled people face to compete on a level playing field with the able-bodied, yet according to this report, compiled for the DWP, the government do not even keep records on how many DLA recipients work.
The report does state, however, that
“DLA recipients, who get DLA but no other benefits, appear to have the highest rates of employment, regardless of the severity of disability.”
The DLA forms state that DLA will usually only be paid in the following circumstances:
*You need help with dialysis at home… at least twice a week;*You are 100% blind and 80% deaf and you need someone with you while you are outdoors;*You have had both legs amputated at or above the ankle or were born without legs or feet;*You are severely mentally impaired with severe behavioural problems and need help with personal care day and night.
It concludes by saying that you are not likely to qualify for DLA if these criteria do not apply, but may still fill out the claim form.
Given how difficult DLA is to claim - the form is 39 pages long with 62 questions, and must be accompanied by reports from medical professionals - and the low fraud rates of less than 1% quoted in the DWP’s own figures, it seems impossible to conclude how the government will legitimately cut numbers by up to a fifth without causing extreme hardship.