A Modest Proposal: Walking a mile in disabling shoes.
The current government are keen to reduce spending on certain allowances and benefits, the current qualification for which depends upon the claimant having impairments, disabilities, diseases or conditions of such seriousness that they are prevented from leading a “normal” life. They must face considerable challenges in such areas as washing, dressing, eating, cooking, walking, working or taking part in “everyday social activities”. If you have a temporary back-ache or a bad day/week/month at work you would certainly NOT be able to get “free money” from The State.
If you are unfortunate enough to have a seriously limiting physical and/or mental condition you are expected to complete a series of extensive, in-depth forms and provide copious amounts of evidence (from doctors, specialists, physiotherapists, counsellors, carers and/or those who provide you with physical assistance) to support your claim. You are also, in most cases, required to attend a face-to-face “independent assessment” with an approved assessor who may or may not have any understanding of the condition which causes you problems. All these forms, the evidence you’ve provided, the evidence your own medical practioners have provided and the assessor’s conclusion then go to a “Decision Maker” who decides whether or not you fit into their interpretations of the statutory guidelines. Then you’re told whether or not you can receive payments, at what level and for how long.
If you are turned down and feel you have a strong enough case (and have the energy to fight another battle), you can then launch into the appeals process. Most people win their appeals, if they have professional representation from, for example, the Citizens’ Advice Bureau.
So, as I said at the top, this government are taking steps to increase the qualifying criteria for all benefits in respect of long-term sickness or disability. They are also planning to abolish some allowances (DLA, ILF) and replace them them with one named (Personal Independence Payments) and (perhaps) one as yet un-named allowance. I honestly don’t think that the majority of MPs are anywhere near qualified to tinker around with these things, so I’ve got a suggestion to make.
For the next year every MP, Minister and Government Advisor should be fitted with equipment which mimics the effects of a disabling condition.
One day in the next couple of weeks they should all turn up at Westminster to be issued with their disability at random. The equipment exists. I’ve seen it used in programmes on television and in films. Splints which restrict movement in particular limbs to mimic the effect of physical impairments. Special glasses to replicate various sight impairments. Ear-plugs or intentionally-badly-adjusted hearing aids for hearing impairments. Thick gloves would cover loss of sensation or dexterity. All sorts of clever tricks! Electric shock generators set to random to give a hint of how some conditions plague suffers with pain. I don’t think that there’s anything which would safely replicate the “like a cold ice-pick” or “like a red-hot knitting needle” or “a burning, tearing sensation” that some musculo-skeletal or nerve-pressure conditions treat us to. We could just use ice-picks and knitting needles... perhaps better not! And I’m not sure how you’d replicate amnesia or lack of reasoning capability. (Pick your own joke here ;-))
The rules of the “game” would also include: no simply paying someone out of your generous public salary and expenses or your private wealth to carry things, cook for you, dress you, help you move around, drive, read, write or any other “normal everyday activity”. They only get to keep a free travel-pass if they qualify for a Local Authority one already for reasons of age or existing disability. And no cheating!
If they feel their “disability” limits their mobility so much that they need a wheelchair, white-stick, walking aid, special software etc., they should check the criteria for getting a Local Health Authority issue one or aids or adaptions courtesy of the Local Authority. Then, if they find they wouldn’t qualify or would have to wait too long for the assessment, buy (or hire) a suitable equipment out of their salary which could then be returned, sold or donated at the end of their participation.
When it all gets a bit too much for them they can ask for exemption, for which they qualify by: filling in the application forms for ESA, DLA, Access to Work and also being checking to see whether their “disability” would qualify them for any support according to the rules of their local authority. They would be given the forms to fill in there and then. A random small proportion of them would be given a copy of one of the free guides published by CAB, DIAL or other relevent advice organisation but not the detailed guides that HMSO publish. They are excused from attempting to claim Independent Living Fund support because that’s been closed to new claimants since June this year.
The decisions to grant or deny their claims should be made by DWP staff in training or competency testing. I’m sure they do competency testing... don’t they? If I could make our elected representatives carry out this experiment while living entirely on randomly assigned wage levels (including minimum wage or Jobseekers Allowance) in ratios proportionate to the sources of income of the general public then I would but that would be really wandering into a dream world!
I wonder how they’d feel about abolishing benefits and allowances or restricting their availability once they had some experience of attempting to walk a mile in disabling shoes?