Monday, 14 May 2012

Wrong Wrong Wrong

Far better and more politically astute bloggers will write (and have already written) about the silliness in government arguments surrounding reform of the DLA (Disability Living Allowance) benefit.  However, having woken up to yet another repetition of the silliness, I thought I better write down why the arguments are wrong, even if reform is important.

There are several points I'd like to answer in this BBC article  as briefly and clearly as I can (thereby proving why I could never have a career in politics)

"Mr Duncan Smith said the number of people claiming it had risen by 30% in recent years."

In recent years: don't you just love when a statistic is varified like that?  What are recent years?  Ask a ten year old and ask an eighty year old and the difference will be very great indeed.  And so, I will qualify my next statistic.  Between 1994 and 2011 there was a 34% increase in the number of cars on the road.  Now obviously we're all aware of this (apart from the ten year olds) and it's no big shock.  But if you say it about people who live lives which are often unseen by many, who you're insinuating are taking money unfairly, it's a shocking thing.  Mr Duncan Smith might further qualify by saying...

"It's been rising well ahead of any other gauge you might make about illness, sickness, disability or for that matter, general trends in society."

...but I don't believe him.  I mean, the general trend is less than the increase in cars on the road.  There are more people surviving dangerous illness and injury.  There is better care for people with mental health problems (even if it's still woeful).  Disabled children are kept alive longer.  And, of course, of the 34% increase in cars, there are now plenty made in such a way that you're less likely to die in an accident.  And how many of those 34% collide with pedestrians?  Nice soft bouncy bonnets can only do so much.

To suggest that there's something sinister in the increased numbers of DLA claimants is just weird.  I mean, between 2009 and 2011 there was a 100% increase in Prime Ministers who claimed DLA for a child.

So what does Mr Duncan Smith claim is the reason for the increase?

"A lot of that is down to the way the benefit was structured so that it was very loosely defined..."

If something is loosely defined to begin with, why would the number of successful applicants suddenly increase later on?  The only thing I can imagine is that 1.) he's suggesting that people have somehow worked out loopholes that allow them the benefit, or that 2.) we've developed disabilities in such a way as to fit the criteria, tricksy little things that we are.  This is so silly and strange I really can't work out how to argue against it other than saying it's wrong.

"Second thing was that in the assessment, lots of people weren't actually seen. They didn't get a health check or anything like that."

This really annoys me.  Every single flipping form I've filled in, I've had to go through paper-work / google in order to find out my GP surgery address.  I have to do this so that the people in the benefits office can contact my GP and ask if I'm lying.  Surely, rather than go to the cost (and it's cost we're arguing against) of sending someone to assess me (and let's not even get on to whether that person's qualified or even rewarded for failing you) it'd make more sense to trust a qualified doctor who knows at least a little about my life?

Also, there are some conditions which are quite 'obvious'.  If one of the 34% extra cars were to have had the exhaust fall off and you rang up the garage to tell them and they said 'yes, well, you're hardly qualified to say if the exhaust has fallen off and whether this actually necessitates a repair...' you'd be pretty upset.

Of course, condition is not impairment and we should remember this before we get too angry - there is a reason the form goes beyond diagnosis.  MS is a good example of a condition which can be highly variable.  But surely the need for greater face-to-face assessment is minimal if we remember that all forms sent back should have doctors details.

"Third problem was lifetime awards. Something like 70% had lifetime awards, [which] meant that once they got it you never looked at them again. They were just allowed to fester."

I love the use of the word 'fester'.  The gorgeous writer of Diary of a Goldfish, creator of all things magical and light of my life, has a pregnant sister.  Very soon this will make me an uncle.  Yes - I too could be Uncle Fester.

DLA is about not letting people fester.  It's about giving them the ability to pay for the expensive needs of their disability and so allow them to live as normal and equal a life as possible (allowing them to, say, pay for someone to take them out rather than just festering at home...).

Do I really have to point out the major weakness to this?  Do I really?  Does anyone fail to see the really really really silly really really really wrong wrong wrong thing here?

Disability can result from conditions and injuries which are permanent.

At school I had a friend called Nigel.  He had a condition which has, by now, killed him.  There was no way he would recover.  No way his care requirements would get less.  To burden his family with reapplying for benefits for a condition which eventually killed their son would be cruel.

There are people with mental impairments which will never go away and they will always need help.  There are degenerative nerve conditions, bone and joint problems, mental conditions, cancers and tumours and lions and tigers and bears.  There are so many awful things which DO NOT GO AWAY.

If another one of those 34% extra cars were to have its engine blow up in such a way that the entire front end was mangled beyond repair and, every few years you had to contact the DVLA to confirm it was still un-drivable, you'd get pretty fed-up.  And then, if you thought about the time and money it takes to administer that check, you'd be horrified.

So that's it really.  Most people agree that Disability Benefits need to be reformed.  There's wasted time and money in administration, disabled people are put in positions of fear and dependence, and it's all talked about as if it's a charity rather than a part of NATIONAL INSURANCE.  Those things should change.

Which brings me to my final point.  If one of those 34% extra cars was damaged by an accident and you'd paid your insurance premiums, would you be happy if someone then started droaning on about the high number of insurance claims and how much this was costing them, and how they were going to cut the number of people to whom they pay out?


  1. Hi Stephen.

    You've managed to bring humour to bear, without minimising the absolute seriousness of the matter.

    The kind of thinking and rhetoric displayed by IDS chills me to the very core. Just another ploy by the ConDems to hang the problems of society on a very vulnerable group of people.

    You must excuse me. It's time for me to go and get my injection for anthrax. Not against getting it you understand, but to actually get it. Who knows what extra benefits I may be able to claim.

    Besides, it'll give ConDem spinners and their media lackeys another illness to rant about.