Tuesday, 31 July 2012

I Dare To Dream

Let's go over it one more time. Incapacity Benefit was not introduced in the 1980s. There is no evidence it was used to hide unemployment. It certainly is not the case that the swell in claims happened under either the Conservative government of that time, nor under Labour. The history is unclear before the 90s but by some accounts, the government under Margeret Thatcher changed the criteria for Invalidity Benefit and the Invalidity Pension about eleven times between them; with the goal of keeping the claims low, not high in an attempt to hide the unemployed. It was around that time that certain newspapers began using pejorative headlines and printing alarmist stories about 'dangerous loonies' released from residential units that were closed to save money. What purpose this was meant to serve isn't known(I suspect that like today, ministers had a hand in it whilst denying their infuence),but what should have been cost-saving carried with it some terrible costs; both financial and social. The consequences as far as I could see was that the government did not want to pay for residential care if they could get away with it, but did not want those former patients and residents claiming benefits; so media attack-dogs were engaged to make sure they were demonised, alienated and discouraged. The concept that below a certain points, the costs of disability and sickness is irreducible had not yet sunk in.

It is also not true that the Labour government presided over a 'soft-touch' period on benefit claims, in which Incapacity Benefit grew enormously. Over the period it existed as a functioning benefit since 1995, there was almost no net rise. It grew slowly then began falling again in 2004 and that continued until the introduction of ESA in 2008. For thirty years, those unable to make their own way due to sickness and disabiity have had to survive through this: the facts say one thing, politicians and journalists say something quite different in the cause of not recognising a catastrophe. They sort of almost did in 1990 and started encouraging people to claim.

Thirty years of soul-crushing indifference and hate-mongering was challenged for the first time last night. Before the Work Capability Assessment for ESA, there was the Personal Capability Assessment for Incapacity Benefit and before that, it was a genuine independent medical assessment that provided evidence to a DWP decision maker for consideration. The WCA has been worse than the PCA, but not by much; there was a great amount of disquiet before 2008 over how eligibility for IB was being assessed and the fear for politicians then was that sick and disabled people were winning the argument, maybe not in the public arena but in our courts of law. The response of the government then was the same as John Major's in the 90s: they would simply replace the benefit with a new one so that the legal precedents won would not carry over and the fight by charities and individuals would have to start all over again from the beginning. This is also what the current government are doing by replacing Disability Living Allowance with Personal Independence Payment. Their key goal however is to prevent as much as possible any recourse a claimant has to the law. Both by slashing legal aid and by merging nearly everything into Universal Credit, which gives the responsible minister almost unlimited power in altering and imposing eligibility criteria.

But just as they have reached this goal, they've over-extended their advance. Having potentially plugged a few legal whack-a-moles a lot of PR moles have bounced up and pooped on their shoes. I don't know when the decison was made, but I suspect it was just days ago: they will replace Malcolm Harrington as the 'independent reviewer' of the ESA assessment process with an as-yet unknown 'fresh set of eyes'. Despite speculation by some journalists, it is unlikely to be because of Harrington's reports because he has actually been a very safe pair of hands for the government. He has failed to serve the best interests of sick and disabled people(he really believes Cancer doctors should sell the benefits of staying in work to their patients) and whilst the government claims to have agreed with and implemented all his recommendations- what they've really done is 'agree in principle' to many of them whilst others they insisted be changed outright before they agree with them and Malcolm Harrington did as he was told.

They know they have begun the part where they start losing in public and they have tried increasingly desperate measures to reverse this. By pushing too hard, by not listening and believing their own tripe despite the overwhelming evidence to the contrary, they may have destroyed the bedrock on which the thirty year terror has been built. A lasting paradigm change on social security is now possible.


  1. If we could bequeath one precious gift to posterity, I would choose a society in which there is genuine compassion for long-term sick and disabled people; where understanding is unostentatious and sincere; where needs come before means; where if years cannot be added to their lives, at least life can be added to their years; where the mobility of disabled people is restricted only by the bounds of technical progress and discovery; where they have the fundamental right to participate in industry and society according to ability; where socially preventable distress is unknown; and where no one has cause to be ill at ease because of his or her disability.
    Alf Morris RIP

  2. IN his later years he was very concerned by the fear of returning to how it was.It is incumbent on us not to let that happen.The "ill at ease" contained in the quote is particularly appoasite given that it State policy to engender that(no matter hat they say the facts indicate that)

  3. Ans so the "widely regarded to have been successful in the sensitive area of disability" M Miller(N Smith BBC) moves on to new pastures.The carefully constructed paintings by the disabled remaining firmly bestrewn upon her office floor.A symbol ,if one was needed,of the utter contempt she has and the sham of "discussing policy with the disabled and their representatives"