Government wages ‘disability war’ on benefit claims

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For those of you outside the UK, as I am now, it must be difficult to understand what is happening there with government policies seeming to be continually targeting disabled people including those with multiple sclerosis and all other physical and mental disabilities.

Well, it’s true. It is easy enough to find news stories about various different policies striking at yet another aspect of life of those least able to contend with it.

Now, I want to make it absolutely clear that every reader of this post fully realises two things. Firstly, this is not being written from a political perspective as there are good and bad policies of all parties; and none match my beliefs entirely. Secondly, there is no element of sour grapes involved as, so far at least, the British government’s welfare cuts have not affected me.

And the key words to the whole problem affecting the UK are ‘welfare cuts’, the implementation of which has now degenerated into what should be termed the ‘disability war’.

From the government’s point of view, faced with a huge budget deficit when it first came to power in 2010, it introduced a massive programme of spending cuts across all departments.

One of these, the Department for Work and Pensions is headed by former, failed Conservative leader Iain Duncan Smith, pictured above. Its responsibilities include the administration and payment of welfare benefits including those for the unemployed and those with disabilities. IDS was appointed to head the department with a remit to cut welfare spending.

Basically, most of his actions have centred on two areas – besides state pensions that are another matter completely.

Unemployed people used to be able to claim a benefit called Job Seekers Allowance while those unable to work through sickness including disabilities were paid Incapacity Benefit. Well, in a supposed cost-cutting exercise, both of these were gradually replaced by Employment Support Allowance but, within that, it is divided into the Work-Related Activity Group, for those judged able to work, and the Support Group, for those unable to work.

People with disabilities who were previously paid Incapacity Benefit had to complete a lengthy application form and, in many cases, go through a face-to-face medical assessment, in an attempt to gain the new ESA. The problem is that many were assessed as fit to work – a decision that has time-and-again been reversed on appeal.

Completion of the introduction of the new benefit has been seriously delayed and has cost the country so much in terms of money and goodwill.

Another benefit being replaced is Disability Living Allowance. This does not depend on ability to work but by an individual’s abilities and disabilities – and not only physical. Now everyone being paid DLA, even those already granted a lifetime award, are gradually being required to apply for the new Personal Independence Payment.

Once again, all is not going well for the claimants, many of whom have lost some or all of the benefit, while the government’s own timetable for completion of the transition makes the worst bus and train timetables look perfect.

And that does not even touch the introduction of the so-called Universal Credit. That’s another mess.