Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Welfare Writing - Detail Matters

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;


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.

14 comments:

Susan said...

A great piece very thought provoking.
As my sons Appointee and despite being a Civil Servant, the rules/laws governing disability benefits require a lot of time to try to understand.
I dread what lies ahead when his benefits are reviewed and having to get my head around new legislation.
I really hope that the voluntary experts are there to advise me. I also hope that a miracle comes along and stops this Disability bashing current government.

Mike N said...

Ah, but the thing you have to remember about Christina Odone, is that she's a raving, bigoted lunatic sitting several miles to the right of Mussolini.

I can only imagine the DT keeps her around simply to maintain the controversy level. Unfortunately a lot of people seem to agree with her, the main thrust of their argument being something along the lines of "I'm right, you're gay" (I jest not, I actually got that exact response once!)

unquiet said...

Many people were awarded mobility component to allow them to leave the house AND go shopping either by car or with a safety net to allow them get a cab should they start to freak out in a shop, cafe, or public place, due to psychological problems.
It is under discussed, mainly because of the grotesque absurdities of removing dla from people who are undeniably physically restricted without some financial assistance.
It is easy to argue for the physically disabled, but we musn't forget the mentally incapacitated who are looking forward to being imprisoned, first in their own homes, and then subsequently, as costs increase, many in institutions again, a fate also looming for the physically disabled losing their hard won freedom.

@SharonBrennan said...

Great post, I wrote a piece yesterday criticising the Telegraph for failing to fact-check IDS's claims in his interview. What is so depressing is that the information is out there on the web and if journalists cannot be bothered to find it there are numerous blogs such as ours clearly laying out the information for them. But we just keep on in the hope we change the perceptions of some people.

Anonymous said...

I agree with your blog. I read Neil article and found it a curious mix of balanced reason but veering off into tabloid style "knowledge". I hope the DT were spooked enough by awful articles of IDS & Odone to attempt a more balanced view. But still not good enough mitigation considering the hurt & damage caused yesterday and the feeding of trolls frenzy on DT comments pages. I felt really depressed after reading the articles and the vile they provoked. The govt have an endgame with all this propaganda against us. It is to redefine disability and those of us who don't fit an extremely narrow criteria will be told we're now 'normal' and not entitled to any support. If the EHRC commission had any teeth it'd have spoken up by now but they have Been de fanged by govt and their own inability to champion disability. Labour are not much use at challenging this attack on us. the odd supportive MP is no substitute for real senior leadership on this from Labour. I despair but hopefully our community will continue to fight. After all we are a 'powerful lobby' aren't we Christine Odone?

JayneL62 said...

Thanks for a clear & reasoned response to the crap thrown at us again yesterday. I was less polite

http://jaynelinney.wordpress.com/2012/05/14/is-iain-duncan%E2%80%A6miracle-worker/%20%E2%80%8E

spriggsy said...

There is a bit of naivety here around the Telegraph, Mail etc not checking their facts before going to press. Any Fule Know that the stories are presented in a way to appease the (bigoted) readership in question and the tone of the story has already been decided well before the facts of the story have even been established. This leads to derogatory comments and attitudes toward the disabled, however the sadistic narcissistic little swine who run these articles just love it.

mrswupple said...

been a subscriber to Benefits and Work for a couple of years and they do a great job. I believe they had an apology some time ago from a Tabloid for claimed their site was for scamming scroungers and not for ordinary people to negotiate complex benefit law which it is.

Anonymous said...

Oh dear, the Independent are now at it as well

http://www.independent.co.uk/opinion/leading-articles/leading-article-sensible-reforms-that-must-be-fair-7754273.html

I hope Sharon donesn't mind me posting an extract of her letter...

Mary said...

Hee. You should have seen my PA's face when I explained to her that I could pay her to take me into Sainsburys and help me try on clothes (dressing and undressing) and I could pay her to take me into Sainsburys and buy some drinks and snacks and paper plates for a party (participating in social activity) but technically I should not pay her to take me into Sainsburys to get a loaf of bread, a pint of milk and a couple of ready-meals because grocery shopping isn't covered.

Debbie Sayers said...

Very eloquently put... It would be so refreshing if these so called experts would bother to actually do the research... Thank you Dxxx

Jane said...

Brilliant as ever, Kali. Why don't you copy and paste it into the Telegraph's comments section for the article?

If my legal education weren't considerably longer ago than yours, I might actually remember some of Lord Denning's fascinating judgements! After all, much of my dissertation was based on his development of the law - albeit in a slightly different area.

Carruthers said...

I think Mary added a useful point. I remember when a European (I think) ruling said that DLA definitions had to acknowledge that social contact was necessary to ordinary human life and that help for getting out to see people was a legitimate need.

I presume that going window shopping could count as a "social activity" if you do it with a friend. Hence the paradox.

I have (vicariously - I'm mostly house-bound) come across people who say with ire, "There's a bloke I know who gets disability benefits and he can afford to go down the pub 3 times a week and get a taxi home. I pay tax, so he's doing it on my money.."

I'm sure that one of the ideas behind the drafting of PIP regulations was to get rid of the notion that tax payers' money should help support anything other than help with bodily functions.

Incidentally, one of the other "social functions" with which disabled people used to be entitled to help was attendance at church. I wonder if millionaire IDS helps other good Catholics get to Mass, once their mobility help has been withdrawn?

Carruthers said...

Oh, and one more point. I think that Benefits and Work are not first and foremost an advocacy site. I'm a member there and their primary aim is the provision of detailed guidance about the processes of claiming ESA, DLA and (all too soon) PIP.

The site carries some disability news and comment, but the constraints of their situation mean that they stay very tightly focussed on the details of forms, assessments, tribunals and procedures in the invaluable documents they provide to members and in their forums where you can get more information about obscure matters, and pointers to relevant documents from their collection.

I don't think their reputation is in much danger. Those who have heard of them have usually made up their minds as to whether they are a Good Thing or a Bad Thing in advance.

Those who will happily use an accountant to prepare their own tax returns are infuriated by the idea of professional help for the disabled and their forms.

I know of others who object to this help being charged for, and I also know from the forums and personal experience that many people think the subscription a good investment. We are also much indebted to the knowledgeable help available in the forums from unpaid volunteers.

This primary function of B&W is not going to be damaged by ill-informed comment elsewhere.