On the Sick.

"A nation's greatness is measured by how it treats its weakest members".
Mahatma Gandhi.

Two recent TV programmes, Chanel 4's "Dispatches - Britain on the Sick", and BBC2's "Panorama - Disabled or Faking It?", revealed just how difficult it is to pass the assessment in order to get disability benefits in this country. As part of a programme to try to get people off incapacity benefit and back into employment, the coalition has contracted the French multinational company, Atos, to carry out such assessments, a contract worth £100 million a year. But, the programmes revealed that people with serious disabilities are being assessed as fit for work.
In the "Dispatches" programme, an undercover doctor went to Atos Healthcare's 16-week training programme to see how those who carry out the assessments are trained.What emerged was truly disturbing. The doctor in charge at one point advised the trainees that even if a person had only one finger, they would get a score of 0 for manual dexterity. Scores range from 0 for no impairment, to 15 for maximum disability. A claimant usually has to score a maximum 15 points in one of seventeen types of activity in order to go on receiving their benefits. But with this type of stringency, is it any wonder that many who are genuinely disabled and unable to work have fallen foul of this test?
Indeed, 2 out of every 5 assessments are appealed, with around a third of those appeals being upheld, a process costing £45 million a year. And, despite claims from the DWP and Atos that there are no targets for the number of people assessed as fit to work, the doctor training those to carry out assessments said that if their figures got above rates of 12% or 13% for those getting the top rate of support, pressure would be brought to bear on them to reduce the numbers being passed as eligible to go on receiving their benefit.
The situation for those with experience of mental ill health seemed little better, the "Panorama" programme revealing that one man, who had experience of bipolar disorder, had actually been assessed as fit for work while under a section in hospital. Another, it was said, who had made several suicide attempts, was asked by one assessor, "well, why aren't you dead?" Atos claim that their assessors are trained to ensure that people are "treated professionally and sympathetically", but such monstrous insensitivity would appear to show otherwise.
As if to add insult to injury, the media continue to portray those claiming benefits as social pariahs. In our local paper, "The Sentinel", they seem to have launched some sort of campaign to expose benefits cheats. And, while the paper is not printing untruths, such things tend to give the impression that fraud and malingering are the norm, rather than the exception. The paper have portrayed this as some sort of act of crusading journalism, when in actual fact, to my mind at least, it just serves to reinforce government myth-making and propaganda.
After writing only last time about Britain's success in the Olympic Games, it has since been revealed to me that Atos are actually going to be one of the sponsors of the upcoming Paralympics. As my friend from the Pathways Group said in one of his recent blogs, such blatant, shameless hypocrisy would appear to be beyond even the realms of Swiftian satire.
So, being "on the sick", as it used to be called, is no joke. As if being ill or disabled weren't bad enough, now people are having to cope with the pressure of being reassessed for their benefits under this extremely harsh regime, while the media portray them, often, as fraudsters, which, according to one charity, has led disabled people to report an increase in intolerance towards their conditions. One sincerely hopes, then, that those lucky enough not to be ill will realise just how difficult things have become, and that the measure of the civility of any society is in how it treats its weaker members.         


bazza said…
Hello David. In my experience most people with any kind of disability would be delighted to be able to work. However, that doesn't make interesting headlines. My brother-in-law has had his benefits taken away but is absolutely unable to work and never will and I am sure he is one of many.
You have, as usual, made your point well in this post.
Click here for Bazza’s Blog ‘To Discover Ice’
David said…
Dear bazza,
I agree that most people with a disability actually would want to work if they could, a point supported by many disability charities. Of course, as you say, this doesn't make for a good headline, so instead we seem to be getting a constant drip of information which demonises benefits claimants.
I'm sorry to hear about your brother-in-law's predicament, and as you also rightly say, because of the approach taken by Atos and the coalition, he is most likely one of many.
Thanks, bazza.
Best Regards,
klahanie said…
Dear David,
This makes for worrying reading. And like bazza mentioned and you concurred, there are many with disabilities who would like to work. However, it's not always possible.
Now I worry for the legitimate cases who need these benefits, find themselves under unfair scrutiny.
I know my anxiety levels have increased as I await my reassessment. It is just plain wrong to portray genuine cases as possible fraudsters.
Take care, Gary
David said…
Dear Gary,
I know it's worrying, and I've been told that everyone on incapacity benefit will eventually be reassessed, probably by 2014. Like you, I've not had mine yet, but can only think that with such stringent criteria, I'll be passed as fir for work. Fortunately for me, I now feel I'd be able to do at least something, but for others this must be very anxiety-inducing, as you yourself attest.
I'm sorry if this has worried you any further, Gare, for 'twas not my intention. I just wanted to highlight how unfair things are at present.
Very Best Wishes, your way,
Lost in Space said…
I believe that this government has got it all so wrong. Of course genuine claimants should not be tarred with the same brush as the minority of scroungers who have ruined the system for everyone.

My personal experience, and talking to people I know, is that the medicals are so arbitrary. I have known of 2 people with similar symptoms for one to get the 15 points and the other to get no points. There just seems no rhyme or reason to the process, which in my view just makes the whole thing more stressful.

When I had my reassessment, I was already ill from it being that time of year and I believe that it was the assessment that delayed my recovery. Unfortunately stress is one of my worst triggers when it comes to my psychosis / anxiety. Plus I would imagine I am not the only one here who struggles with stress related symptoms. I have to say I am just glad it is all over, well for now at least.

I wish everyone a stress free reassessment, if such a thing even exists.

(Apologies for the length of this comment)
David said…
Dear Lost in Space,
I fully sympathise with what you say. Stress can be a trigger for my illness too, and the reassessments surely can only add to people's anxiety.
I went to the job centre not long ago, and even the Disability Employment Advisor said the same thing as you - that the tests seem to be very arbitrary, with some passing who shouldn't, and others not passing who should.
The cost of all this is also, to my mind, an issue. As I say in my post, the appeals process is costing £45 million a year, and Atos' contract is worth £100 million. The administration of all this must be costing plenty, and when one thinks that the Bennett Centre is due to close in order to save only £2.5 million a year, it does indeed seem, if the object is to save money, that the government have this all wrong.
It's nice to hear from you, and I'm glad that your own reassessment is now, at least, over, and that you can concentrate on staying well once again. And no need to apologise for the length of your comment. As you can see, I can waffle on a bit myself!
Very Best Wishes,
Dixie said…
Hi David. Every couple of years I go through a reassessment. The hardest part for me is realizing that life will never be the same. The struggle to hang on has it's own life.

I worked for 32 years, earning a retirement pension through our system here. I have tried not to use it yet. I qualified for disability and have lived the best that I can, given my restrictions and limitations.

It angers and saddens me to read such horrible thoughts media print regarding disabled persons. People who truly need help are not looking for a handout, but a hand up. Indeed I think I might even feel better about my life if there was something I could contribute to.

Even my simple blog has felt the loss. Cognitive issues prevent my 'once upon a time' prolific posting.

I shudder to think that some governments may have no more respect than to eliminate the disabled and other 'dysfunctional' persons. 1984! Here, I think that eliminating congress would be a positive step towards the so-called dilemma.

Respectfully~ my blogging friend,
David said…
Dear Dixie,
I think your own situation may be typical of people who have an illness/disbility. It is a struggle, and people hardly need to have their predicament made more difficult by the creation of a public feeling that they may be cheating the system. I have to say that I can't say that the media in this country reports untruths, but their concentration on the people who do abuse the system I feel creates a one-sided impression.
I like your idea about Congress, too!
Very Best Wishes and warm regards, my blogging pal,
Kendal Rooney said…
I'm thinking it's not much better in the UK to be on benefits, especially if you weren't a professional. Does everyone get paid the same? There were times I had to work under the table it was make rent and eat or pay taxes. Turns out that hurts you int he long run. If you aren't paying into the system then that's money not counted.
Kendal Rooney said…
I forgot to add I would love to work, I miss doing landscaping, it's the one job that is like art. I could mostly work alone and do things my way.
David said…
Dear Kendal,
Currently in the UK our benefits system is being overhauled, and some believe what is happening is an attack on the welfare state itself. As I say in my post, Atos have been contracted to reassess everyone on incapacity benefit, and despite promises to the contrary, it does appear that they are being given targets by which to reduce the amount of people claiming. And no, not everyone recieves the same amount of benefit, and some feel the system has become quite arbitrary.
Anyway, I'm sure that you, with your wish to carry on working, reflect a broader feeling amongst those with illnesses or disabilities, and it is a shame that you have had to give up a job you love. Unfortunately, in this country at present, such willingness to work amongst those on benfits is not reflected in the media, and I feel this has added to a feeling of intolerance towards those who are disabled or unwell in some way.
Thanks for dropping by and commenting and also for following this blog. Your comments are always welocme.
Very Best Wishes,

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