Daily Mail backpedal on DLA attack?

On Friday the Daily Mail published a story with a front page headline “DISABLED BENEFIT? JUST FILL IN A FORM”. On Saturday, a story by the same author appeared inside the paper, this time presenting some of the objections to the first story.

I’m afraid that I remain rather cynical on this. The piece looks to me like a rather hurried climb-down by the same author that wrote the previous story. The tone of the two pieces is completely different; the first one contains many (incorrect) assertions, while the second one simply quotes various objections from charities but asserts nothing. Indeed, the words “claims” and “said” are all over the place in the article including the headline. The article does make an effort to present the correct data about numbers with evidence and amounts claimed but this is still limited to a tiny paragraph more than halfway through. Then look at the prominence given to the two articles – one was a front-page headline and the other was hidden inside the paper.

Ultimately the intention of the writer is betrayed by the choice of final paragraph – a quote from Ian Duncan Smith which again emphasises the lack of checks of permanently disabled recipients of DLA. This emphasis is purely idealogical and in my opinion an absurd stance – checking permanently disabled people so frequently costs a fortune and achieves nothing! My dad isn’t going to re-grow the discs in his spine. Blind people aren’t going to suddenly see. Paralysed people won’t suddenly walk again. Admittedly some people’s health will improve, but for people on DLA that is a rare occurence and could be better served simply by writing to the patients or their GP once a year and asking if their condition has changed.

 

Conservatives: Protecting the vulnerable?

When I contacted my Conservative MP a year ago to express my concern about government policy towards sick and disabled people, he told me that “I see something different, I see the vulnerable protected.”

I still can’t see that.

Conservatives,

Your ministers and special advisers constantly give incorrect information to the press and in speeches. You give misleading statistics to the press, and you leak it in advance to press that are sympathetic to conservative policies. That leads to headlines that seriously harm those reliant on benefits. Your language is itself harmful. You talk of benefit cheats, and scroungers, and the benefit lifestyle, and yet you ignore your own official statistics which show how tiny the levels of fraud really are. You ignore the massive damage done to the vast majority of claimants by your portrayal of those forced to rely on benefits and your constant references to deserving and undeserving; genuine and fake. Rhetoric from conservatives and the press has led to an increase in hate crimes such as stoning of people in wheelchairs and verbal abuse against those who need to use crutches or walking sticks. That has directly led to many disabled people being terrified of leaving the house.

You legislate on the assumption that with mobility aids, disabled people are on an equal footing with everyone else when moving around. They aren’t. Shops have steps in their doorways. Pavements lack dropped kerbs, leaving those who are on wheels or cannot manage a change in level to make extended detours. Cars and vans are routinely parked blocking ramps and dropped kerbs. Bus drivers refuse to lower their bus to allow wheelchair users on, or pretend not to see them. Trains and buses allow only one wheelchair on the whole vehicle. Those who need an electric wheelchair for use outdoors are denied one because they have no need to use one at home. Others wait months or even years to be supplied with one.

You continue the broken system of assessing people that was introduced by Labour. The concept of the Work Capability Assessment is broken in itself as the impact of most health problems cannot be assessed in 45 minutes by a health care professional who has no knowledge of the problems that the patient has. Atos continue to recommend that people go in the Work Related Activity Group and attend Work Focused Interviews at the Job Centre when they will be seriously harmed even by attending the Job Centre, IF they manage to do so, and never mind the fact that there are no available jobs that are suitable for them and competition for the unsuitable jobs is more than five to one and up against healthy people.

You are time-limiting contribution-based ESA with no regard for the actual length of time that a person will be sick for. The prospect of losing that income causes stress and seriously damages the mental and physical health of many of those people, leading to even longer recovery times.

You are introducing Personal Independence Payments to replace DLA, but apart from assessing people more often which is highly damaging to the health of those who are permanently sick or disabled, you are reducing the budget by 20%. The costs of being sick or disabled have NOT gone down by 20%!

Conservative cuts to council budgets have come directly out of budgets for personal care. People who can barely get out of bed have been left to shop and cook for themselves; others have been given incontinence pads and told to soil themselves rather than receive help to get to the toilet, and this despite having full control over their bowels but simply being unable to walk. Forcing people to lie in bed for hours in their own faeces and urine is now conservative policy.

You reassured me that the vulnerable would be protected. You were wrong. You are attacking the vulnerable. You are abandoning those in need. Your policies leave people more sick, more disabled, blamed for needing your help. You should be ashamed.

Atos moves to shut down criticism

Atos are the French IT outsourcing company whose Atos Healthcare arm have been running Work Capability Assessment for the Department of Work and Pensions.

Lots of people are unhappy about Employment Support Allowance, about the assessments, and about the way that Atos run them. There have been protests outside Atos offices using slogans such as “ATOS kills” to express their feelings. Lots of people have explained why they are unhappy with Atos in blogs, on social networks, and in support forums.

It seems that Atos don’t like this. They have started issuing legal threats, and they have succeeded in shutting down some of their opposition. Various websites and forums have spoken out against ATOS and collected personal stories about them. After ATOS first received a take down request in May 2011. Atos lawyers recently threatened legal action against Paul Smith who runs the “Atos Register of Shame” website, accusing him of libel and claiming that “This is a direct attack on Atos and the name of the website in and of itself is implying that Atos carries on its business in a manner which is shameful.” You can see a take-down letter from Atos here.  http://issuu.com/atosvictims/docs/legal_letter_from_atos?mode=a_p

They have also shut down a support forum for carers, CarerWatch, by contacting their server host directly and having it taken down. This has removed a vital support network from many carers, presumably because of private discussions about Atos in members only parts of the forum. Apparently people are not even allowed to talk about Atos now, despite needing to do so to support each other when going through tests administered by Atos.

Following this action against them, CarerWatch have published their reply to Atos, which I reproduce here. (I hope they won’t mind.)

21st Aug 2011

FAO  – ATOS Legal Department

CarerWatch is an internet forum for sick and disabled people and their unpaid family carers. This is a private forum and only members are allowed to make/read posts.

We understand from the organisation that hosts our forum that they received a letter from your solicitors threatening to sue us for libel. The provider immediately closed our site down.

We have many members who are very fragile and the sudden disappearance of a support group has caused a lot of distress and fear. Some are ringing us in tears. We cannot get in contact with all of them though as we have lost their contact details through the closure.

All this distress could have been avoided if you had had the courtesy to contact us first and tell us what had been posted on our site that you considered libellous. Obviously if any post was possibly libellous we would have removed it and all this distress could have been avoided.

We imagine this distress is unintended and hope you will work with us in looking at the problem and finding a solution.

Please note that this letter, and any reply received from yourselves, will be posted on our website. It is the only means left to us to reach some members and keep them updated.

It is vital we have our forum up and running again to reach those that are isolated.

Frances

On behalf of CarerWatch members

 

Obviously, I don’t want my website taken down. I have been careful to state only known facts here. These are the facts that I know.

  • Atos Healthcare carries out Work Capability Assessments for the DWP.
  • The contract is worth approximately £100 million per year.
  • There has been a sharp rise in people found fit for work
  • There has been a sharp rise in people appealing that decision
  • 40% of those that appeal, win, rising to 70% with legal representation.
  • Although the decision over “fit to work” lies with the DWP,a government review found that the DWP are institutionally incapable of overriding the Atos Health Care Professionals. The Atos recommendation is, in effect, the decision.
  • Atos employ Health Care Professionals to carry out the assessments. HCPs are a mix of doctors, physiotherapists and nurses. Only people with certain problems will definitely see doctors.
  • Atos use their own Lima computer system to record the patient’s answers. Lima has been widely criticised.
  • The HCP fills in Lima by choosing keywords and statements from a list and then justifying them.
  • An Atos recruiter said “We don’t call them patients . . . We call them claimants.”
  • Twelve Atos doctors are under investigation by the GMC over allegations of improper conduct.
  • Two Atos employees are under investigation after referring to patients as “parasites” and “down and outs”.
In the end, although there is much to criticise with the way that Atos carry out ESA WCAs, they may really only be doing what the government expects of them. The descriptors that are used to make the decision of whether a person is fit for work or not are set out in the by the government. (See The Employment and Support Allowance (Limited Capability for Work and Limited Capability for Work-Related Activity) (Amendment) Regulations 2011) I personally question whether Atos accurately records if a patient fits the descriptors or not, and their ability to do so given the way that Lima Works or the staff that are used. Even if they do make an accurate record in line with the government’s descriptors, it is questionable whether the descriptors are an accurate description of being fit for work or not. Even then, it seems that decision makers at the DWP are “institutionally incapable” of taking into account all of the relevant information for the case as they are supposed to, instead simply rubber stamping the recommendation made by Atos. It would seem that the appeals tribunals are making a fairer judgement on this issue than Atos or the DWP.

Don’t judge my ups and downs

I want to address an extremely worrying lack of understanding amongst the general public about how sickness and disability work. This tweet is typical of the problem. (This is not an attack on the person that tweeted it, I just want to address the perception so please leave her alone.)

[blackbirdpie id=”103038413380403202″]

Sickness and disability can be immensely variable.  I can’t speak for all disabilities, but I can talk about my own. I have good days and bad days. Actually, I have good and bad minutes, hours, days, weeks, months and years. I can have bad patches within bad patches. Basically, my health varies to an incredible degree, and what I do at any point is no indication at all of what I can do at another point.

Some days I need a walking stick. Some days (most of them at the moment) I need a wheelchair. Some days, I can walk unaided. Some (rare) days I can run up the stairs.

When it comes to events, though, I take no chances. If I had to attend a football match like the quote above was talking about, it would be wheelchair all the way. (I hate football, but run with it for the example!) The important thing to realise is that I might start out able to walk, maybe even unaided, but I would still have to be in the wheelchair on arrival at the game, because otherwise I wouldn’t have it with me later. By the end of something like that, I would probably be barely able to keep my head upright while sitting in the chair.

A few years ago I attended the recording of a TV show in London. The two hours of travelling was OK, but when we arrived I desperately needed to sit down. We had turned up an hour or so early as instructed, but, horror, we had to queue for that whole hour. We had travelled by motorbike and I had no mobility aids with me because I was relatively well at that point, but that queue was hell. I was in agonising pain by the end of it. Had we just been walking around a bit, I would have been fine but it was the standing in one place that hurt me.

And so, I hope you can see the issue here. It is perfectly possible for me to be in a wheelchair one day, and then strolling across the town centre the next time you see me. And for a big event, I will be in the wheelchair anyway, not for any special treatment, but because if I don’t set out in the wheelchair, I will end up being carried home or leaving in an ambulance called by worried people when I collapse. The point is, YOU can’t judge. You have no idea how my body copes with each situation.

Note: comments that “We know you’re not faking it but the real cheats spoil it for everyone” will be deleted.

Twisting the facts, printing lies. How the DWP and tabloids are wrong about fit for work stats

 

Headlines claim that just 1 in 14 are unfit for work. Photo by @opinion8ed_dyke

The headlines today are screaming that a mere 7% of ESA claimants aren’t fit for work. The Daily Mail says that “Benefits Britain marches on: Just one in 14 disability handout applicants are too ill to work” while the BBC claim “Tests claim few benefit claimants unfit to work” These figures are grossly misleading. These actually come from a Department of Work and Pensions press release, 26 July 2011 – Work Programme provides tailored support as latest figures show people are being found fit for work. Those news stories haven’t actually mislead about the contents of the press release too much, the propaganda comes from the DWP. The Express, on the other hand, has gone for “Sick benefits: 75% are faking” which is just an outright lie.

Lets start with the figures from the DWP.

For all new ESA claims from 27th October 2008 to 30th November 2010, the result of the initial WCA is as follows

  • Support Group – 7%
  • Work Related Activity Group – 17%
  • Fit for Work – 39%
  • Claim closed before assessment complete – 36%
  • Assessment still in progress – 1%

These figures are true, but lie by omission. First of all, the figures given are for ALL that start a claim for ESA. As stated, 36% of people that start a claim drop out before they even get to their Work Capability Assessment. Some of these people will drop out because they perhaps shouldn’t have applied in the first place. Some might even have been trying it on and then realised that they would be caught. Some recover enough to find work, some find work that fits around their disabilities. Some, however, drop out because they are so ill that they cannot face the application and testing process. We don’t know, as no records are kept of reasons for dropping out, but I contend that many more than we know drop out because they are too ill to finish the process. Given that 36% of claimants are not tested, we cannot include them in the ‘fit for work’ category. That 7% of claimants is actually 11% of claimants who complete the process.

11% is still a very small number. That still casts 89% of claimants as cheats, doesn’t it? Well no. No it doesn’t. Not unless you are a tabloid writer. You see, 17% of total claimantss – or 26.6% of claimants that finish the process – are put in the Work Related Activity Group. Being put in this group DOES NOT mean that the claimant is fit for work! It means that there may be some job, as yet unknown, that the claimant could possibly manage to do, if they push themselves hard enough,possibly at high cost to their health, IF they receive the right support in terms of information, equipment, services and grants. People in this group must attend six interviews at the Job Centre over the course of a few months to try and determine just what this possible job could be, and the support that would be needed to do it. People in this group STILL RECEIVE ESA.

Adding those two together and leaving out the people that dropped out, that means that 37.5% of people tested were not fit for work. That still leaves 61% that were receiving ESA who were found fit for work. Are they all cheats? No. Here’s why.

The Work Capability Assessment takes place at the end of the assessment phase of the claim. That means the test can take place up to 14 weeks after the person started to claim ESA. 14 weeks is a long time, and it should also be noted that people are often sick for a long time before they even apply for ESA, either on Statutory Sick Pay for 28 weeks, or just unaware that they can claim. Those people could easily have been sick for 9 months before being tested. 9 months is long enough for people to recover or start recovering from many health issues, and so these people would have been correctly being given ESA while unable to work. Health issues change, and finding these people fit for work now would be correct, but does not invalidate their claim in the previous months. I think if the WCA correctly finds someone capable of work after many months of illness but heading towards recovery, this is usually a good thing.

Assuming that changes in health conditions account for a chunk of that 61%, let’s say a third, that still leaves the rest. Here’s the thing. The accuracy of the testing process has been found to be wrong, broken, inadequate, however you want to put it, by MPs, a house of commons select committee, many disability rights charities, and many many individuals and activists. Even a person involved in designing the test has said that it is not fit for purpose.

33% of people found fit for work between October 2008 and August 2009 appealed against that decision. 40% of those overturned that decision and were awarded ESA. That’s 27,500 people who were provably found fit for work when they were not. Many more people did not appeal, for many of the same reasons that may have caused people to drop out of the claims process.

Today the Commons Select Committee on the Migration from Incapacity Benefits to Employment Support Allowance released its 6th Report – The Role Of Incapacity Benefit Reassessment In Helping Claimants Into Employment. Among other things, that report criticised media coverage and stated that government had a duty to take more care when engaging with media.

5.  Sections of the media routinely use pejorative language, such as “work-shy” or “scrounger”, when referring to incapacity benefit claimants. We strongly deprecate this and believe that it is irresponsible and inaccurate. The duty on the state to provide adequate support through the benefits system for people who are unable to work because of a serious health condition or illness is a fundamental principle of British society. Portraying the reassessment of incapacity benefit claimants as some sort of scheme to “weed out benefit cheats” shows a fundamental misunderstanding of the Government’s objectives. (Paragraph 40)

6.  Whilst fully accepting that the Government, and this Committee, have no role in determining the nature and content of media coverage, we believe that more care is needed in the way the Government engages with the media and in particular the way in which it releases and provides its commentary on official statistics on the IB reassessment. In the end, the media will choose its own angle, but the Government should take great care with the language it itself uses and take all possible steps to ensure that context is provided when information about IB claimants found fit for work is released, so that unhelpful and inaccurate stories can be shown to have no basis. (Paragraph 41)

I disagree with part of this in that I think that consciously or not, Conservative ministers have an ideological motive to move people off of benefits, portraying them as cheats if necessary, with the help of special advisors. (SPADS.) I believe that ministers and SPADS have been feeding selected information to the press to create a national view that is biased against sick and disabled people that claim benefits, and the press have been only too happy to amplify this.

Related Links

A Short Film About Pavements

Two weeks ago I went out to take some photos to illustrate a blog post on accessibility  that I was working on. I took my photos, but then I took some video as well. Quite a lot of video. When I got home, the photos were useless but the video was quite interesting and so I changed my plans. Instead of a blog post with photos, I was going to create a short film.

I needed a few more scenes to create my film, and so my wife and I went out a couple of days later and recorded the rest of what we thought we would need. That night I stayed up selecting scenes and stitching it all together in iMovie on an old iMac that I have.

By the morning I had created several minutes of video that I was quite pleased with. It illustrated my point nicely, and had a nice flow to it. It was great, apart from one thing. It was appallingly bad picture quality. That was because it was all shot using a cheap digital stills camera which could only record video at 320×240, a quarter of the resolution of even low definition TV. In addition, the picture was horribly shaky and blurry.

What could I do about it? I didn’t have a better camera. My phone could also record video, but at exactly the same low quality. All was not lost, however. I was ordering a new phone that very week. By a happy coincidence, the phone that I wanted happened to include a full high definition video camera which had received rave reviews. I ordered the phone and waited in high anticipation of its delivery.

New phone in hand, we set out again to spend an afternoon filming. I had cleverly attached a car windscreen mounting kit to my powerchair and arranged it so that the phone camera had a clear shot from in that holder. We shot hours of video. I recorded pieces to camera many times over until it was right. It was repetitious and tedious. However, we eventually finished and returned home. After a brief rest (I was so worn out I couldn’t stay upright) I reviewed the footage that we had shot. It was AWFUL. Mounted on the powerchair, it was so shaky that watching it made me feel like my head was in a blender. Nevertheless, I grabbed what I could out of it and I made it into a rough approximation of the film that I wanted.

Since then we have been out filming several more times, I have spent many many hours editing the results, and there have been several preview showings. I restarted the editing several times, learnt how to use Openshot in Linux and then Movie Maker in Windows, and eventually spent a mammoth 17 hour session producing the final edit and subsequently crippling myself for two days (and more to come) from the effort.

It has all been worth it though. I have finished. And I present to you:

A Short Film About Pavements

Sticks and stones

Words.

Words can hurt.

Words can flatter.

Words can insult.

Words may convey the opposite of what the speaker intended.

Take the word cripple, for instance. Many disabled people react with outrage if any person uses the word to describe themselves or someone else. But what does it mean?

Cripple: noun
1. Sometimes Offensive.
a. a person or animal that is partially or totally unable to use one or more limbs;a lame or disabled person or animal.
b. a person who is disabled or impaired in any way: a mental cripple.

Now I understand that many people born with certain differences such as being deaf, blind or without the use of limbs do not see themselves as disabled, just different. They are perfectly happy the way they are, wheelchairs, guide dogs and all, and don’t see themselves as missing anything. As one person I know put it, “I would turn a cure down.” That’s fine. I can see that they would object to the use of the word cripple to describe them since they don’t agree that they are crippled. But plenty of other people have through accident or illness lost the use of limbs, senses or other abilities, and they DO see themselves as crippled. Loss is the key part here – they have lost something that they once had, and are therefore crippled. If those people want to describe themselves that way, what right has anyone else got to stop them? I know several people that refer to themselves as cripples or crips, and they say it is fine because they are one. They make jokes about it. Once friend calls his cane a “crip stick”. Some other people have the word “crip” in their names on twitter or other internet forums.

The word crip can be used as an insult, but it is important to realise that it might be an insult only in the mind of the person using it. They look at someone, see less or different functionality in that person than themselves, and call them a cripple. They mean less or different, as in lower than them. The person on the receiving end of the insult may or may not think the same. People should be insulted by the other person’s intention behind the word, not the word that was used.  In the same way that someone could mutter “oh, sugar” when they drop something. They meant the same as someone that would have said shit in the same situation, we know they meant the same, they know they meant the same, so does the use of a different word mean anything?

Recently following the Slutwalk movement in protest against victim blaming, many people have decided to use the word slut about themselves in a (to them) positive meaning. Can other people that don’t want the word used stop these people from doing so? There are plenty of examples like this. Gay – a sexual orientation, or an insult and a disparaging description? Recently I’ve seen a fuss made about the word “Retard” – see The Guardian: It’s time to cut ‘retard’ from use.

There are some cases where phrasing is important in order to be inclusive. When I write I am careful to try and write “sick or disabled people” when I talk about this group that will be affected by cuts to the welfare state. The reason why is obvious – some are sick and some are disabled, some are both, but all that claim Incapacity, ESA, DLA or similar benefits are in the affected group, and using only one word or the other will leave people out. Sue Marsh wrote a good article on this – Diary of a Benefit Scrounger: Sick or Disabled.

Ultimately, words are important to express inclusiveness, and to avoid insult. Unfortunately a huge number of people know nothing about these areas of other people’s lives, and do not know the words to use. Most will adjust their language when the reasons are explained to them. Some will not, through laziness, a desire to insult, or through just not thinking it important. Recently I wrote a blog post on gender. Soon after I wrote it, a friend contacted me to warn me that I had some subtle definitions of sex and gender wrong, and that some affected people would be angry because of this. I changed the wording, and know now to be careful when talking about the subject. Millions of other people still have no idea of the difference.

I will try to use the correct words when I know about them, and will listen and learn when I get it wrong. And I do still get it wrong, most recently writing “the disabled” instead of “disabled people” repeatedly because of habit. Unfortunately some people attach more to the use of words than others, which is a problem in political campaigning. I know of one disability rights group that will not work with another group because they don’t always get the language right, and because they don’t correct others that don’t get it right. I’m inclined to agree with the view that correcting technicalities of words is less important than standing together at the moment. (Although there are some situations where large groups have done nasty things, I agree about not working with them.) I try to use the right language, but ultimately my goal is to fight for our lives against the government. I want to win that battle first, and we can sort the words out later. Anything else could be a huge risk.

 

“Government sources” attacking disabled people

As I wrote in my last blog post, Benefits and BMWs, the recent article in the Sunday Times State hands out BMWs to ‘disabled’ (Paywall link) was factually incorrect in the headline and in several points in the article. Since then I have found that the same story has appeared in numerous national and local newspapers. The story in most of the local papers was actually word-for-word the same – just google “Flash cars leased to disabled people” to find many examples of it or read this one at the London Evening Standard. Motability scheme ‘being abused’

I will reiterate here for those that haven’t read my last blog post – the government does not hand out cars to disabled people.  The most severely affected sick or disabled people can claim Disability Living Allowance, which includes a mobility component. Those people receive the money, which they can spend as they like, or buy a wheelchair, car etc. Many choose to sign over the mobility part of their DLA to the Motability scheme, which is not government run, in return for a car, wheelchair or scooter. They can also choose to pay an extra fee to upgrade to a more expensive car. In the case of a BMW, that would be at least an extra £1400. Vehicles hired through Motability are exempt from VAT and Vehicle Excise Duty. (“Road tax”) A car can be used by another person on behalf of the sick or disabled person without them being present, for example going shopping for them, or perhaps returning something that they had borrowed. If a Motability car is used by someone else for their own purposes, that is a breach of the rules of the Motability Scheme and raises problems with the road tax and possibly the VAT on the car, but does not involve benefit fraud since the DLA would have been paid to the sick or disabled person, car or not. Relatives or carers getting a “free car” and using it for their own purposes are doing so at the expense of the sick or disabled person, not the government or benefit fraud.

The stories about relatives getting “free cars” and about people receiving BMWs through Motability are worrying because they seem to originate from the government. The Sunday Times article does not mention it, but the Belfast Telegraph and the story duplicated in lots of local papers quotes “a Whitehall source” who would seem to be the only reason that this is a story at all. This source says “The issue this raises is ‘is Motability being abused?’ And the answer is absolutely, in some cases it is.” His statement is true, but judging from his other comments his emphasis seems heavily weighted towards smearing and attacking the Motability scheme and those that use it.

This is not the first time that anonymous government sources have provided stories to newspapers sympathetic to government policies. (And only newspapers sympathetic to government policies.) In a previous attack, government ministers released a select list of excuses for benefit fraud supplied to them by the Department of Work and Pensions. Of course the excuses were bizarre and most of these cases really were fraud, but no mention was made of the incredibly low fraud rate and how few cases excuses like this represent. The papers also took the opportunity to belittle addiction and “bad backs” as disabilities, despite them being crippling and life-destroying.

In another recent attack, newspapers quoted a “source close to the reforms.” We are not told where this information has come from, and yet it appeared in several newspapers at the same time. I have been unable to find a press release that correlates to this information, and therefore I must assume that the figures have been leaked to chosen newspapers by government.

Then we have government ministers giving innacurate or just plain wrong statistics on television or to journalists. Minister for the disabled Maria Miller announced on live television news that more people receive benefits for drug and alcohol addiction than for blindness (They don’t.) and employment minister Chris Grayling stated that 75% of people claiming ESA were fit to work. (They weren’t.) Ian Duncan-Smith stated during an interview on Newsnight that people on benefits are “putting nothing back into the community” even though in the rest of the interview he came across as genuinely wanting to help. Even the opposition seems to be getting in on the act, with Ed Miliband going after the “take what you can culture” and again branding benefit claimants as lazy shirkers or cheats. Presumably this is seen as the way to attract votes and popularity now.

We also see an attack from the sidelines by MP Philip Davies, who wants people with learning disabilities to work for less than minimum wage, as though they somehow need less to live on than other people.

All these attacks add up to something very disturbing. The government is steam-rollering through welfare reform with only an occasional speed bump when people raise specific instances such as cancer patients that won’t have enough time to recover if given time-limited Employment Support Allowance. Such a shame that while highlighting 7,000 cancer patients, Ed Miliband didn’t spare a thought for the other 700,000 seriously sick or disabled people affected by the same rules. The pace of savage cuts and reforms backed up by relentless propaganda is terrifying and it is taking us towards a society that no longer cares for those who are sick or disabled.

 

Related blog posts

Benefits and BMWs

Compare and contrast

Response to the attack on DLA in today’s papers

“Putting nothing back into the community”

Other Links

Benefit Fraud: a success story the government doesn’t want you to know about

Ed Miliband and the “Cheats” and “Shirkers”

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Benefits and BMWs

The Sunday Times has decided to be outraged about people on benefits getting BMW cars. The headline they ran with was State hands out BMWs to ‘disabled’ (Paywall link) and it was plastered across the front page.

Unfortunately there are so many errors in the article that even the headline is plain wrong. To start with, the state does not “hand out” any cars to “the disabled”. Disabled people or the long term sick may get the higher rate mobility component of Disability Living Allowance to provide for their travel needs, and it can be spent as the recipient chooses but usually goes towards cars, wheelchairs, scooters, trains, buses, taxis and more. There is a charity scheme called Motability, and if a person wishes, they can pay the mobility component of their DLA to the Motability scheme in return for a car.

The state has not handed anyone a car, people have received the benefits to which they are entitled, and chosen to spend their money on a car.

The Motobility scheme works on the basis of leasing a new car out, and then selling it at the end of three years. (This works out cheaper than buying second hand cars and paying for their maintenance, and is more reliable and safer.) Motability has a set budget and any extra cost over the standard amount has to be covered by the user of the car – for example if the car has been driven more than the expected distance, there will be a mileage fee when the car is handed back. If someone wants a more expensive car to start with then they can pay the difference in cost so that Motability does not lose money. Some people pay a few hundred pounds extra to get a car more suitable for their medical condition, such as a car with a higher seat for people that struggle getting in and out of the car, or find low seating painful. These people often borrow at their own expense to pay the difference in cost. A BMW can be had through Motability for an extra fee in the same way that a slightly higher model Citroen could be. It’s just that there is a big difference in the size of that extra fee.

To get a BMW on Motability costs the end user at least £1,399 extra, and it is a fee, not a deposit.

It should be noted that DLA is not an out of work benefit, it is paid to everyone that has a qualifying disability, regardless of their work status or income. People that are still in work, especially if in a high powered job, or that have savings, might be able to afford the extra fee. Whether that is right or wrong is a different argument, but no fraud has been committed as DLA was intended to cover the extra cost of disability when working as much as when not.

The Sunday Times also talked about people using the car without the owner present. Some of the the points they made were true, but they missed that the car may be used on behalf of the sick or disabled person or for their benefit. That means that a carer could drive the car to go shopping to buy food for the owner of the car, completely within the rules. Of course they can’t use the owner’s blue badge or park in a disabled parking space, since they can walk across the car park.

Someone else can use a Motability car on behalf of the owner without them present.

The Sunday Times highlighted two cases of fraud in an attempt to back up their argument. One was someone whose health had improved but who had not informed the DWP and had gone back to work as a boxer, and the other was someone that was using his wife’s car to make deliveries as a courier. Benefit fraud levels are incredibly low, but with millions of people involved, even 0.5% means that a few people committing fraud can be found. Highlighting two cases without telling the reader how small a minority commit fraud is highly misleading. It should also be noted that while the boxer who didn’t inform anyone of his improvement was committing benefit fraud, the person driving his wife’s car was not. He was breaking the rules of the motability scheme and driving a car without paying the vehicle excise duty. (Which is waived for people receiving higher rate mobility component of DLA.) He had not defrauded the government out of any DLA benefit money.

The whole article has the same tone that we are becoming used to from mainstream newspapers. The implication that everyone on benefits is a scrounger. The article mentions that 123,000 people receive DLA for back pain, as though back pain is a simple thing or is somehow less worthy of support. (It covers scoliosis, degenerative spinal conditions, botched surgery resulting in nerve damage or paralysis.) Even the use of quotes around the word disabled in the headline is used to imply quite strongly that these people are not really disabled. I refuse to believe that the ‘journalists’ (see what I did there?) are that ignorant or don’t understand DLA and Motability. There is a clear agenda in this article to smear these people and create outrage. It is not acceptable and an apology must be given. I urge you to complain to the Press Complaints Commission about the factual innacuracies in their article, as I will be doing.

Cross posted at Where’s the Benefit?