Yesterday saw multiple articles written on 'welfare reform' ranging from the rantings of the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions whose point about levels of disability and benefit qualifcation got lost in his rambling rhetoric to the astonishing accusation from Cristina Odone in the Telegraph that Iain Duncan Smith must not give into the 'disability bullies'. Perhaps it was the day of fury but mostly utter mocking disabled people issued to Odone and The Telegraph which produced an unusual and curious article about DLA reform from director of Policy Exchange Think Tank Neil O'Brien.
Much of Neil's piece is clearly intended to be empathetic and a way for the Telegraph to offer an alternative to the multiple derogatory articles run already that day. In fact, some of Neil's piece is excellent, but he goes on to make some startling allegations because like most people writing on welfare reform, Neil lacks in depth knowledge.
Anyone who has an overview of the case law relating to disability living allowance could immediately contextualise and recognise the quote Neil cites from the advocacy website Benefits and Work;
"You can’t claim disability living allowance (DLA) for help with grocery shopping. But you may be able to claim for window shopping. Sounds improbable, doesn’t it?"
Actually it sounds terrible - for someone with no detailed knowledge of disability living allowance or how it is qualified for it appears to be a website offering up ways to defraud the system. However, like much of welfare fraud perception, this is yet another myth. The quote benefits and work are using comes from a famous precedent judgement about what DLA is intended to cover, handed down by Lord Denning in Packer's Case (1981) Lord Denning says;
"Bodily functions include breathing, hearing, seeing, eating, drinking , walking, sitting, sleeping, getting in or out of bed, dressing, undressing, eliminating waste products - and the like - all of which an ordinary person - who is not suffering from any disability - does for himself. But they do not include cooking, shopping or any of the other things which a wife or daughter does as part of her domestic duties; or generally which one of the household normally does for the rest of the family......ordinary domestic duties such as shopping, cooking meals, making tea or coffee, laying the table or the tray, carrying it into the room, making the bed or filling the hot water bottle, do not qualify as 'attention .... in connection with (the) bodily functions' of the disabled person. But those duties that are out of the ordinary - doing for the disabled person what a normal person would do for himself - such as cutting up food, lifting the cup to the mouth, helping to dress and undress or at the toilet - all do qualify as 'attention ... in connection with (the) bodily functions' of the disabled person."
The language in this decision grates in the modern world, and one wonders if it also seemed somewhat strange to base a welfare benefits decision upon the ordinary 'things which a wife or daughter does as part of her domestic duties' in the 1980's but this is a particularly important piece of legal advice which has been used since then to define the bodily functions which qualify for help with Disability Living Allowance and those which don't. As you can see shopping is very clearly excluded, the citation in practice being used to refer to grocery shopping for which DLA does not cover support with.
The contrast with window shopping used by Benefits and Work is harking back to the judgement of Lord Denning in a slightly humourous way - a joke which would be lost upon anyone not enough of a welfare wonk to be familiar with Lord Denning's somewhat sexist view of the world. B&W will have chosen window shopping either because there's a further precedent upon that activity I'm unfamiliar with, or more likely because it directly fits with the very clearly defined criteria of eligibility for the mobility part of DLA - if someone is unable to walk themselves and needs help to push their wheelchair they'd be eligible for DLA mobility on that basis which they could chose to pay for someone to take them window shopping.
But once again, this lack of depth and understanding by those commentating so 'knowledgably' upon welfare reform causes the truth to be distorted. In this particular incidence a well regarded, reputable welfare advocacy website who's own community would attack with fury anyone they discovered to be using the information for criminal purposes has effectively been defamed by the Telegraph because the writer was not familiar enough with his subject and presumably neither were the Telegraphs lawyers.
It's even more of a shame, not just for the dedicated people at Benefits and Work who will have to fight to restore their reputation, but because there are a small number of so called advocacy services who charge relatively high fees for a 'medical professional' to process welfare claims they presumably know to be fraudulent. I predict that these companies will grow to exploit genuine claimants as the effects of the Legal Aid Bill come into place and mean vulnerable people use them in desperation as the traditional advice services disappear along with their funding. Such companies are exploitative and breaking the law on many levels but they are a world away from the reasoned, legally checked advice given by sites like Benefits and Work.
It just takes a welfare wonk to know that. And sadly none of the mainstream media appear to be able to access such knowledge.