Tuesday, January 08, 2008

I see your true colours...

With the Conservative party announcing their ideas about welfare reform in the past couple of days once again it feels like open season for those of us in receipt of such benefits. Whilst Peter Hain insists Labour will cut the number of those claiming incapacity benefits by 20, 000 a year, and apologises for his administrative failings which would, if I, or any other benefit claimant were to make those kind of 'failings' on our forms, undoubtedly result in an investigation for fraud, David Cameron has announced plans to cut the numbers of those claiming incapacity benefit by 200, 000.

Now, you can call me a
realist old cynic if you like, but I can't help feeling these numbers have just been plucked out of the air to appease the mythical middle Britain, rather than having any genuine bearing on true welfare reform. As one of the 500,000 under 35's David Cameron doesn't believe can be too ill to work, I thought a better way of looking at the situation would be to examine what would be needed for those in my position to work.

Now, I happen to have been fortunate enough to have been finally diagnosed and have seen a specialist in bendy people in Leeds, but that doesn't mean I don't need to see a consultant rheumatologist closer to home on a regular basis. So first of all, Mr Brown, whilst you happen to be on the subject of NHS funding, I'd like to be able to see my consultant again please. Once just wasn't enough. A nurse specialist, however nice, isn't the same, and at my last appointment where, because I have a complex condition she needed to seek advice from the consultant, she was sorry to tell me that although I should be seen again in six months, the government's lack of understanding of chronic conditions means they've cut funding to the point it'll be a minimum of 12 months. Those of us with chronic conditions are I assume the same people you're all so desperate to kick off incapacity benefit, so unless your plan is to cut the benefits bill by ensuring none of us can provide the name of a doctor treating us at hospital in supporting evidence to our claims, then I'd suggest that one of the most important things for getting people into, and keeping them in work is putting much needed funding into those areas of the NHS really most affected. The dull, day to day routine stuff. As opposed to whatever you came up with as a headline grabber whilst eating your breakfast.

Social care. That old joke chestnut. Direct payments are such a good idea, really they are, but not if the councils ration care. Then increase charges. Social workers removing vital support packages from individuals or families in their efforts to meet budgets ultimately impacts on the welfare bill. At
£48.65 a week Carer's allowance is a national shame, particularly as carers are estimated save the economy £87 billion a year , but it's much cheaper to pay that, and perhaps a bit of income support than it is to fund support packages properly. It's just a little cheap to want the same people to go back to work. Those of us with disabilities who live alone find it just as hard to manage without any help, so not providing the most basic of support, in the form of personal care, food preparation, washing, dressing, cleaning, by getting social workers to insist they can't see the 'need' for it, whilst suggesting a return to work seems a bit steep. No matter how much you all insist these cuts reforms won't apply to anyone with a genuine inability to work, living on the constant knife edge of fear that being a genuine benefit claimant brings, you'll excuse me if I simply don't believe you.

Equipment. It would be nice, if you'd like us all to go out to work, if you could see your way to providing suitable equipment. Claiming that people are too disabled to use equipment such as bath lifts may seem the height of illogicality, but you'll have to trust me on this one, it's a common excuse used by social services occupational therapists when refusing people the vital equipment they need. Health and Safety you see. Might fall, injure yourself and then sue the council who provided said equipment. Thus conveniently saving themselves a great deal of money. Especially when rationing care packages at the same time. Turning the basics of life into an even bigger battle than they need to be puts unnecessary barriers in the way of work, and that's before we start to look at wheelchairs. Not exactly luxury items these things now are they?

YTS, that license to print money New Deal. I'd love to know how much cash has been poured down the drain on this one. I'm a graduate. I'm also disabled. I would love to do a second degree if it enabled me to support myself on a part time basis from home, though I haven't been able to find any way to fund that so far. Benefits advisors telling me that I shouldn't bother because being genuinely disabled means the state will keep me on benefits for the rest of my life really doesn't count as good careers advice as far as I'm concerned. Neither does New Deal for disabled people, which as far as I can make out exists only to attempt to get disabled people to sign up with the many, many, many, competing jobs brokers. That's how the get their funding you see. Which, if they did something worthwhile would be great, but in my experience all they offer try to pressure one into is the lowest level NVQ's, in useless subjects, and at the last interview I attended wanted me to be a full time support worker. That's right, for people with learning difficulties. A physically very demanding job. Why? Well, they had plenty of those jobs to fill, and no understanding of how to go about supporting the needs of genuinely disabled people. Some fed up media studies graduate who, as he said couldn't find anything better to do after university, didn't know where to start with someone aware enough of how job brokers worked to refuse to sign up with them, but overall it is an effective way of massaging the employment figures. Even if it's not an effective way of getting disabled people into the workplace.

Access to work. Once again, nice idea, shame about the reality. Anyone sensing a pattern here? I won't bang on about access to work, partly because it upsets me too much, their delays both in assessment and provision of equipment being a significant factor in my having lost the job I fought so hard to get, and instead I shall refer you to Mary's more recent experiences with them.

Tax credits, council tax benefit, housing benefit, Disability Living Allowance, free prescriptions, the list goes on. Its impossible, even with the laughably named 'better off' calculation to get an accurate financial picture of whether someone will actually be better off in work or not. Particularly when, despite it being non means tested, in reality it's all too common that entering the workplace is used as an excuse to remove an individuals DLA.

There are more, but I shan't go on, I'm depressing myself if not everyone else. What I will say is this. Mr Brown, and Mr Cameron, the leaders of our main political parties, both men who coincidentally are fathers of disabled children. Shame on you for using that when it suits you, and choosing to ignore the true reality of most disabled people's lives when it doesn't.






24 comments:

Casdok said...

When i heard this on the news, you came to my mind. And here it is!
Great post and not because you are cynic - you are real and say it how it realy is. Thank you.

faceless said...

You know, it is a good question - do the numbers Hain and Cameron come up with have any basis, or did they pull them out of thin air? The rationale is that the old IB definitions were drawn up when most bread-winners worked in industry jobs, and a physical injury that prevented you lifting bricks or using a shovel would mean your family would starve. With a majority of jobs using computers now, the idea is that the IB definition can be redefined... lower limb disabilities don't necessarily preclude using a keyboard, for example.

That said, I think the real targets are going to be those with mental difficulties - the ones who suffer depression to a degree that they can't get out of bed in the morning or face their boss or coworkers. I've known a few people with that condition, but most people, including those with the personalities that tend to make people cabinet ministers either don't meet people with these problems or have little sympathy when they do.

As for the numbers, I suspect that in Hains case a question into certain categories of illness was made to Leigh Lewis and the answer rounded off (or more likely, rounded up). In Camerons case, the thinking probably went - "take what the government said and multiply by ten to sell this to the SUN readers". Unfortunatly, the present government has the attitude where it comes up with an idea and the civil service carries it out, no matter how hair-brained, rather than asking the civil service (with all our expensive data collection and high-priced, multi-degree analysts) for advice.

Thus, government by tabloid.

Mary said...

The children of Brown and Cameron will never languish at the bottom of the NHS pile, though. Any shortfall can be picked up by BUPA with Daddy explaining that of course the NHS isn't inadequate, but since he can afford private care, he should remove as much of the burden as he can from our overstretched services etc we must all do our bit etc.

They'll probably not negotiate the DLA forms either (can you imagine the public uproar if either of them successfully claimed? Daddy'll give them an allowance to avoid the scandal). And accessible jobs are less of a problem when Daddy's on first-name terms with lots of CEOs.

They are in a different world, and they never can and never will understand the concept of struggling to manage day-to-day living.

BenefitScroungingScum said...

Casdok: Thank you. Just like you do.

Faceless:It's quite right, the current PCA is outdated. The way it talks of raising your hand as if to a shirt pocket is of another age. I quite agree that although the definition of incapacity can and should be redefined, because it's being done by those who aren't disabled there isn't an understanding that say a lower limb disability could cause problems with using a keyboard, someone with a particularly painful knee condition for example might find it very difficult to sit at a desk all day. I think though all that goes to show is how impossible it is to really fit people or disabilities into boxes governments are so fond of.

I think you are right about those with mental difficulties being the true target. It's not an area I'm equipped to comment on except to say I suspect for the sake of a tiny minority of fraudsters the vast majority of genuinely ill people will suffer.

This government (it remains to be seen if a cameron govt would do the same) seem to have an obsession with taking control of any and all profession, you'd have hoped the civil service would be one they'd trust the advice of, but sadly not.

I had to look up Leigh Lewis. He lists in his interests collecting telephone cards. That probably says it all.

Mary: Quite

faceless said...

Its hard to deal with large numbers of people without trying to fit them into boxes... its often the only way to make it manageable and maintain some sort of fairness and consistancy. We do in fact use a lot of boxes at the DWP, but your right, no box really captures the whole range of difficulties that a disability could entail or the individuals unique experience.

BenefitScroungingScum said...

Faceless: Absolutely, and I think it's all too easy to forget that you do have to deal with vast numbers of people consistently.
The current system where there is room on the forms to add individual detail seems a reasonable compromise, though I wonder how this will change with the newer DLA forms, which as I understand rely much more on 'box' type information.

Mary said...

I'd like a box entitled "not on what you'd call a regular basis".

Like, I am currently wearing socks. I put them on myself.
Hurrah for independence!
But if the DWP form asks:
Can I bend enough to reach my feet?
Then the answer has to be:
Well, not on what you'd call a regular basis. Once in the morning and once in the evening I grit my teeth and occasionally give a little yelp as I put on or take off my socks. Often, the sharp burst of pain is so severe that it affects my vision (I "see stars"). Doing an actual job that involves that amount of bending is out of the question.

It's kind of like saying to Linford Christie "you can run 100 metres in ten seconds? Marvellous! Then surely, you can run 10km in 17 minutes!"

BenefitScroungingScum said...

Mary: Yes, I'd like a similar one that say, I can, sort of, but only if I sublux and dislocate multiple joints. Still want me to? lol

Serena said...

I'm joining in rather late, as I've only just discovered your blog.

I have heard it suggested that the magical 200,000 which everyone claims will be removed from IB, relates very closely to the number of people on IB who will be reaching retirement age in the next few years. Of course, most of these were people who were shunted onto IB in the 70s and 80s, in order to artificially reduce the unemployment figures.

Thus the numbers will be reduced, and the targets achieved, without the government actually needing to do anything effective. They do need to have some "initiative" in place though, to allow them to take the credit.

BenefitScroungingScum said...

Hello Serena, thank you for your comment and welcome to the blog. I hope you'll stick around!

The 200 000 about to reach retirement age is very interesting, and in a way not surprising as the so called initiatives being announced (for incapacity benefits at least) seem to me to be about as well thought through as a chocolate tea pot.

I wonder if Faceless (a very nice someone who works for the DWP) still reads the blog. If so, your opinion on this would be much welcomed! BG

Serena said...

Hello Serena, thank you for your comment and welcome to the blog. I hope you'll stick around!

I'm sure I will stick around - it looks interesting.

I'd certainly be very interested to hear the suggestion I reported confirmed or denied. When I heard it, I thought it made sense, but I don't have any access to the figures which would prove it, one way or the other.

I definitely agree with your likening the current proposals to a chocolate tea pot, although I think you may be being rather too kind.

BenefitScroungingScum said...

Serena: Yes, I rather think I was being too kind. It certainly seems difficult to track down much in the way of official statistics on benefits, those I've found have shown that actually the fraud rate overall is low in comparison to the massive amount of official errors, but of course that's not something either side of the political spectrum want to hear.
I'd be very interested to hear where you heard the suggestion that the 200 000 were close to retirement age ;) BG

Serena said...

Hi, Yes, your comments on the levels of fraud with IB are in line with the reports I've heard. As you say, that's not what they want to hear, as it would be so much nicer to be seen getting tough on fraudsters than it is to be seen bullying the vulnerable :(

As for the reports I mentioned. I've been racking my brains but I can't remember where it was. It was probably either on one of the ME lists, an analysis piece in one of the broadsheets (most likely the Guardian) or a disablilty blog. I'm pretty sure though that it was at the time that this year's changes to IB were first being discussed, a couple of years ago.

BenefitScroungingScum said...

Hi Serena, there's links to official statistics on fraud in one of the posts I did (can't remember which now) fraud was low, official error high, but like we're saying not the popular viewpoint. I can't blame people for thinking that's the case.

Faceless is still reading so I'm sure he will have a valuable contribution to make to this discussion! BG

faceless said...

I can make some enquiries about those numbers...

As to the error rate, a large portion of errors don't actually involve money or the level of award - they tend to be wrongly entered details, mislabeled conditions, etc.... (we seem to have a surprising large proportion of people on disability for arthritis, until you realize that arthritis is the first code you come to when you see the list). We are trying to combat error in general, with new programs to improve decision making, but it takes time to roll them out across the department and some are still experimental.

I think the reason fraud gets so much attention is that there are some rather sophisticated fraudsters who make the news pages when they are caught, and lots of really bad ones who 'everyone knows' - the type who try to add zeroes to their cheques and only end up going from the DWP to the HM Prison Service for their troubles. There are enough attempts to make people think its widespread, but successful fraud isn't that common and for fairly small amounts. Off the top of my head, I think it amounts to only 0.8% of our expenditures, but I will double check that when I'm next in the office.

BenefitScroungingScum said...

Faceless: Thank you, I knew you'd be the person to ask about this ;)
Having said that, it must be terribly frustrating to work for the DWP and hear politicians banging on about so much fraud yet know it's not really the case, it is horribly critical of you all.
I totally agree that the high profile fraudsters are 'media worthy', also I've noticed much being made of the fact that recent high profile fraud cases have been committed by immigrants/asylum seekers.
It just doesn't seem that the politicians want to look at the real issues driving the high cost of welfare benefits and once again incapacity related benefits are the 'easy' target compared to dealing with the 'can work won't work' culture. Vocational qualifications are much needed but Mc A levels not providing an answer as far as I can see.

I can honestly say I've only ever known one person commit 'benefit fraud', many years ago. She was a single mother, who earned a few pounds a week above the allowed limit, used to buy food and clothing for her child. She was reported and made to pay it all back. These days she's working as a nurse. It does seem that both the wrong people are targeted and that if those setting the benefits rates had to live for any significant time on them they would perhaps be less keen to prosecute such individuals for fraud (I don't mean the sophisticated fraudsters etc)
BG

faceless said...

Most benefit fraud is small scale - a bit of work on the side for a few quid, a change of circumstance that isn't reported as promptly as it should, a bit of help from family or a boyfriend who 'sorta' lives there but 'sorta' doesn't. It would cost too much to find every instance of this as the individual amounts are so small small, so the principle we use is to make examples of those we catch and hope to put the fear of God (or Gordon) into the rest... whether it actually works is not for me to say... I think for the most part, most of our customers are fairly honest, and we do have good measures in place to prevent fraud from taking place in the first place.

Large scale fraud is a different matter... I notice too that asylum seekers are made the convenient scape-goat - all of the 'professional' fraudsters that we have pulled in lately that I can think of have been british citizens, and sadly some have been our employees. Large scale fraud needs a good inner knowledge of how the system works or inside access, neither of which is as easy for a foreigner to obtain as it is for a citizen.

Its hard for me to comment too much on the benefit levels (this is, after all, a public forum and whatever my private opinions my first loyalty has to be to the government. It would be different if we were chatting in a bar, but...). There is a lot of buy-in among both politicians and government economists I've met into theories that providing benefits erodes a persons desire to work and that therefore benefits shouldn't be too high. The research that has been done in this area in the past few decades tends to go against this, or at least indicate that that viewpoint is overly simplistic. Whether that philosophy is being used with incapacity benefits, where the issue isn't about a persons desire to work but rather their ability, I'm not sure, but it is used with income support and unemployment related benefits. There is also the issue that the DWP has two directives - serve our customers well, and save money. One acts against the other, and to what degree we go in one direction of the other tends to depend on the minister of the day.

Sorry if thats not really a full answer... as I said, even if this is just a small blog in a small corner of the internet, it is still a public forum, and in the DWP I'm not as faceless as I sometimes feel. :-)

faceless said...

On the topic of fraud and error again, the most recent publicly available statistics on this are in "Fraud and Error in the Benefit system: October 2005 to September 2006". Its worth downloading it and looking it over as a capsule summary would miss the nuances. The important sections are 4A (fraud and error) and 4B (underspend). A substantial amount of the money is also recovered after the fact, though how much is hard to assess with the methods we have available.

The link is:
http://www.dwp.gov.uk/asd/asd2/fem/fem_oct05_sep06.pdf

To get back to the very original question (and I have to tread carefully here, for reasons I've mentioned before), what Serena has heard is unlikely to be the source of the figures, rather certain catagories of incapacity are strongly represented in the system and if I had to guess, it is through targeting those catagories that the magic numbers of 20 (or 200) thousand removed from the rolls have been drawn. You can probably guess which catagories is/are involved....

BenefitScroungingScum said...

Faceless: Thank you for such detailed responses, and sorry it's taken me so long to reply.

On the subject of benefit levels, I'd go with the 'it's overly simplistic' view to say that setting them too high erodes desire to work. I also think that politicians are very good at not separating incapacity claimants out from the 'can work won't work' claimants where they might have a point about that, but if someone is unable to work for valid health reasons, then no amount of keeping benefits rates low will affect that, just create the kind of poverty shown in Dispatches Heat or Eat recently. It may interest you to hear my MP (lab) once admitted to me, in private that he could not live on state benefits and did notknow how people manage.
I also think the incapacity/income support issue is a problem, so many people like myself are on income support rather than incapacity benefit for all sorts of reasons (all to do with complexities of benefits rules) As I've posted about before, it's actually much better financially for someone to be on income support than incapacity if they live alone, but of course incapacity is non means tested and does not place the full financial burden of supporting the individual on a working partner. The benefits system is dreadfully old fashioned and does create many such issues.

Off the top of my head I can't remember the reference, but I suspect it may have been a Rowntree report which has consistently shown that even those claiming the highest levels of disability benefits (genuine claimaints) are suffering some of the most significant poverty in the UK because of the additional costs they bear.

I have dl'd the report you recommend ty, I think it may be the report I've referred to for official error/fraud reports in other posts, it certainly provides a different picture than the politicians would like us to have.
I suspected what Serena had heard was likely to be incorrect when she mentioned the source.

I can't help but feel that none of this is realistic in addressing the problems of multi generational benefits claimaints, or those in areas of high unemployment, or those with disabilities who'd like to work.

My overall feeling is that until policy makers start drawing from the body of knowledge that exists within these groups they will continue to fail to do anything about this problem.

As for this being a public forum, your contributions are very welcome, overall the aim is to discuss the reality of life as a benefits claimant/disabled person living in the UK today, and make suggestions about how to improve that. The DWP I'm sure would approve ;)

Serena said...

Faceless: Thanks for your feedback on the figures and the likely sources of the numbers of people to be cut from IB.

Finch said...

I dread to think what it's going to be like for our oldest boy when he hits working/university age. He's just going in to P7 (we're in Scotland) and has Aspergers.

His mental health worker closed her casebook on him last year—too many cases, constrained budgets and cuts in the number of mental health workers meant children like him aren't a priority. Only the most extreme cases get a mental health worker now.

He saw a speech therapist. She identified the support he needs and fortnightly sessions were to be set up. Then she lost her job and wasn't replaced, so there's no speech therapy—for someone who talks like a steam locomotive going downhill at speed and can only tell you something if he relays the whole, linear story behind the the something.

It's been two years since he saw his behavioural psychologist. She has an enormous case load and only sees acute cases at the point of breakdown. (So if he lashes out and hurts someone, he'll get seen. If he doesn't, he won't.)

The educational psychologist sees him once a year, agrees that he needs support, identifies the support and then admits none of the support will be forthcoming as there's no one and no money to supply it.

His support worker at school was laid off. He used to see her fortnightly, plus as needed if things got too much for him. Now, he gets banished to the school's naughty room on a regular basis.

The SEN auxiliaries who supported whole classes (there are at least six children with SEN in his class alone) have gone.

And we've now discovered his P7 teacher will be the same male teacher he had three years ago and had a penchant for manhandling the SEN children to "control" them. Oh, and the head teacher believes all the SEN children should be given drugs to make them "more pliable".

I had to give up a well-paid professional career to care for him (and his brother)—no after-school club or child carer will have him. I don't mind that, but as we have only my wife's income to live on DLA and CA make the difference between struggling and just about getting by. Needless to say, it took several years to get DLA and CA, with no backdating.

Due to my professional background—and a huge amount of cantankerous stubbornness—I can fight our corner fairly well but it's still a massive, uphill struggle. How much worse is it going to be for our son when he hits an age where the system decides he had to make his own decisions and fight his own corner? At the moment, it looks like it will soon become work or die. And preferably the latter if you're not one of the "normals".

"We are oft to blame in this,
'Tis too much proved, that with devotion's visage
And pious action we do sugar o'er
The devil himself."

chocolatewig said...

I read your article with and open mouth because if you change the condition to MS it could be me.
I am 43 and unable to work. Chronic conditions in their very nature remain chronic.. they do not get better. Not one person I have ever met would begrudge me the help I need from my government.. I did work hard, I paid into the system, Im just one of a group of people whos health issues now far outway what politicians expect of me.
Please give me and many others the relief we need to at least try to enjoy the rest of our lives rather than having to fight, and prove, and feel like a society drop out.
I will vote for a government that cares.. I dont care who it is..because every 'healthy person' will need these services one day too.
As far as service is concerned after my so called self
referral should I suffer relapse.. Next Appointment date ..20 Feb 2012. (trying since april)
But I got an appoinment for a barium in 7 days time!

chocolatewig said...

I forgot to mention that after referral by neurolgist to neuroscience.. im still waiting.. its been 18 months now.. Apparently there is no one who does it for MS. Trying to live with short term memory issues and nothing making sense is bloody awful.

Em said...

Thank you for raising the issue of being a disabled job hunter with a degree. I became disabled a few years ago, not before completing a geology degree though. I desperatley want to retrain in a subject area that doesn't require myself, a wheelchair user in chronic pain with complex gi issues, to spend time uphills, outdoors, on boats/oil rigs or travelling. I can't afford to retrain as a undergrad as there is no funding and I can't work. I can't go via the postgrad route as I don't have the money to pay the fees, parents that can pay, a job that would pay me to study and I wasn't one of the top 5 graduates of my year (which was some time ago) so scholarships are out of the question. It's horrid. All they'll offer are NVQ lv1 courses & I'm told because I have a degree I might not be eligible for free study of those!