It all sounded such a positive idea; reform Incapacity Benefit by introducing Employment Support Allowance to ensure those who are too sick or disabled to ever work receive life long financial support, those who could do some work with the right support get that support, and those who've been 'gaming' the system get kicked off the benefit. What's not to like about that? Those in need of protection get it, those in need of support to work receive it and the 'drains on society' drain jobseekers allowance instead of sickness benefit so hard working tax payers can rest easy knowing their money is going to the right place. It's such a lovely idea that its impossible to argue against. It's why welfare campaigners have had such an uphill struggle to explain to the public that the "I don't mean people like you" they always exclude from benefit scrounging justifications are actually almost all "people like me" and not the amorphous drain on society type that everyone knows exists...until you actually ask them to name just one person they know and head scratching ensues.
Support for the genuinely sick or disabled is so entrenched in British thinking that it doesn't get questioned until people are in that position themselves and discover that at the time they are most vulnerable those nice little bungalows and free cars they thought would be there to enablee the practicalities of life never really existed. It's why slashing welfare can be done on the premise that it won't affect 'people like me', because until you don't know any better you'd assume people like me are getting all they need to support their ill health or disability.
We've had 18 years of laws the government insist make Britain accessible to disabled people, laws now being used to justify removing financial benefits designed to help us pay for those access needs. Laws which have seen great progress but that are so poorly enforced that a Baroness found herself needing to crawl off a train dragging her wheelchair and a famous yachtsman told he could not travel on a train because "those things will damage the floors".
Against that background of promises to always protect the most vulnerable its proved impossible to explain to the public that the welfare cuts are disproportionately falling upon sick and disabled people. Impossible to demonstrate that this was in fact a giant exercise in simply redefining what to be sick or disabled means, whilst the media floundered around struggling to understand the different names of benefits, what they are for, let alone what losing that support might mean. As campaigners, we always knew what that would mean was being unable to alert the public to the long term human consequences of this until after the changes became law and enough time had passed to collect evidence of what happens to people.
That evidence is still at best patchy, and will gradually emerge over the next 18 months as the tribunal service struggle to process soaring number of appeals against denial of benefit. It will continue to be obscured by the confusion between responsibility caused by outsourcing the medical testing part of the system to a private company not known for their competency, leaving the final decision with an administrative employee of the Department of Work and Pensions and the appeals process by another arm of the civil service. A private company who have failed to provide adequate access to examination centres, failed to inject any humanity into their working processes, frequently failed to acheive the required standards for those working processes but been astonishingly successful in obscuring the true heart of this problem, the deliberate redefinition of sickness and disability designed by the Department of Work and Pensions.
Because, really that's the key to this issue. And slowly, but surely now the evidence will start to emerge that these cuts are very much targeted upon 'people like me', people like the mum with a fractured spine who's lost her adapted mobility car, the mum who used to be a nurse, but now recovering from breast cancer complicated by severe osteoporosis declared fit for work, or the 1100 people who died last year after being found fit for some work and put in the Work Related Activity Group. That's the same group of people now receiving letters to inform them the benefit they believed they'd paid for all their working lives is now being time limited retrospectively if their partner earns more than £7500 a year. These ARE people like me, and when life brings the events we all most instinctively fear they will also be people like you.
So as the government continue to tell their sweet little lies, remember that one day "people like you" will become "people like me", the people you so wanted to believe were somehow so different from you they could be excised from conscience with clever words and promises to protect.