Tories Attacking DLA to promote PIP

Daily Mail front page 11/11/2011

Today there are stories in both the Daily Mail and the Telegraph attacking Disability Living Allowance. Both claim that most disabled people (94%) need do nothing more than fill in a form to get the money that is vital to allow them to make adaptations, get care, and travel. Not surprisingly, both articles are full of misinformation.

The Daily Mail headline is plain wrong, even when compared to their own article and most patients definitely do not “just fill in a form” to get DLA. My own DLA application took two years, a medical assessment, two appeals and a tribunal. While only 6% of DLA applicants are given a medical assessment with a DWP/Atos doctor, 42% of claims relied on evidence from the patients own GP, and 36% relied on other sources of evidence such as hospital consultants and specialists. The remaining 16% were awarded DLA based on just a form, but those would all have been permanent, obvious, incurable conditions that need no other evidence to show that the person is disabled.

The papers both claim that DLA is worth £70 per week. Actually the average is £69.90 per week, but it varies from £19.55 to £125 per week depending on the care and mobility needs of the patient.

The Mail mentions that “More than 70 per cent of existing claimants are on DLA for life without facing any regular checks.” They fail to mention that many people who receive DLA are permanently disabled and will never improve. Many have progressive diseases that will only make them worse. Others might have missing limbs which are not going to suddenly grow back. To continually send these people to medical assessments is absurd, heavily damaging to the health of many of them, and cruel.

Promotion of Personal Independence Payments

The claims made in these articles are quite obviously made in support of the new Personal Independence Payments (PIP) that are planned to be introduced through the Welfare Reform Bill currently in the House of Lords. PIP is the subject of much concern by disabled people and disability rights campaigners. Personal Independence start off with the aim of a 20% reduction in budget over DLA. Given that DLA has only a 0.3% rate of fraud, this can only mean taking income away from people that need it. Then, PIP assesses mobility WITH mobility aids rather than unaided. If a person can move around with a wheelchair, PIP assumes that they need no help with their mobility. This ignores the fact that the vast majority of infrastructure is still not accessible in practice, in spite of laws on equal access. It also ignores the fact that the mobility component of DLA is often spent on a wheelchair. PIP moves assessments of disability to be more like ESA in that it will use a tick-box procedure and will involve an assessment by a third party such as Atos or Group 4. It will involve regular reassessments of people which as I have explained above is pointless in the case of those with permanent or progressive impairments and in many cases is seriously damaging to health. Finally, the sections about PIP in the welfare reform bill are very uncertain about how PIP will work in practice and to all intents and purposes are unfinished drafts that require much work even though they are in a bill that is almost law.

The promotion of PIP in the press is probably not a coincidence since amendments to the bill dealing with DLA are to be discussed in the Lords next week. There is no press release yet from the DWP concerning this (I checked at their website) but they both received the same information at the same time. In all probability it looks to me like this is a deliberate leak from Special Advisers (SPADs) to Conservative government ministers, probably using SMS text messages to avoid scrutiny. Since these stories include the same quotes from the Tax Payers Alliance it is likely that they were involved in this leak too. The Tax Payers Alliance are a right-wing group (quite a long way right) with links to the Tea Party in the USA.

Who are these special advisers?

The folllowing is an excellent summary of who the Conservative special advisers actually are, written by Sue Marsh.

Know Your Enemy

Have you ever wondered how it is that the Daily Mail & Express (other brands of toilet paper available) seem so intent on victimising sick and disabled people?

Ever wondered how it is, that monthly benefit fraud rates, released by the DWP are always written up in such an inflammatory way? Why national media only ever print the government lines. Chris Grayling, minister for employment, says he is “bemused” by it.

Maybe Iain Duncan-Smith can clear up this mystery?


Meet his special advisers : Susie Squire former Taxpayers Alliance until May 2010. For those who don’t know already, The Taxpayers Allowance are huge Tory donors, regularly accused of simply being a Conservative front. They’re not exactly on the Liberal, one-nation side of the Tory fence either. More your rabid frothing side. A quick scroll through their website will tell you everything you need to know, but they regularly attack disability benefits and those who receive them.

And SpAd No.2 :  Phillipa Stroud : Remember the name? Yep she was the politician who thought she could pray-away-the-gay!

She sees homosexuality as a “demon” that needs to be driven out of a person. Accordingly, she set up her own “church” to carry out this important work. Do click on these links, they’re fascinating. As I read through, I wondered if she should be allowed anywhere near Westminster at all.

One can only begin to imagine what someone like Stroud might think of the disabled. No doubt we have demons of our own. It’s not so long ago since people thought disabilities were the outward sign of some inner corruption or evil.

Now, surely the profiles of these two women might go some way to explaining just why, yet again today, we see misleading press releases leading to misleading stories?

**Clearly when I say “misleading” I mean out and out poppycock, but you know, legal blah……

 

References

DLA Award Values and Evidence Use for New Claims in 2010, in Great Britain [PDF] [Department of Work and Pensions]

£300 million of disability benefits paid ‘without checks’ [Telegraph]

Disabled benefit? Just fill in a form: 200,000 got handouts last year without face-to-face interview [Daily Mail]

Whitehall ‘routinely’ uses text messaging to avoid scrutiny [The Independent]

Disability Living Allowance – rates and how to claim [DirectGov]

Diary of a Benefit Scounger: Know Your Enemy

More hate from the Daily Express

Daily Express headline: 4M SCROUNGING FAMILIES IN BRITAIN

This is depressing but it’s a perfect example of the hate coming from the tabloid papers. The Daily Express main headline for the 2nd September 2011 is “4M scrounging families in Britain.” The text goes on to explain that there are nearly four million households where no one works.

Where do I start with this?

I don’t have the figures to hand, but I am sure that a fairly large number of those households are people who are too sick or disabled to work. There are approximately 2.5 million unemployed people in the UK, so even being generous and assuming that none of those on job seekers allowance are couples and so they are all living one per household, that leaves at least 1.5 million households that are living on Incapacity Benefit, Employment and Support Allowance or Income Support.

The editors of the Express must know this, so they have deliberately chosen to call people who are too sick or disabled to work “scroungers.” The word scrounger is a derogatory term intended to portray people as deliberately taking from others. Except they are wrong. I haven’t met anyone who is too sick to work that wouldn’t work if they could. Most of us who are sick or disabled are desperate to do something meaningful and worthwhile instead of feeling useless. Then there are the 2.5 million unemployed people – at the last count there were only half a million job vacancies for them to apply for. Half a million might be able to get work – assuming no turnover from other jobs into those vacancies – and the other 2 million can’t have a job. An insignificant number of those people might have the skills, ideas and circumstances to be self employed.  The editors of the Daily Express have no idea of how many households are made up of people who are able to work but do not want to. In the end it boils down to a deliberate attack on people unfortunate enough to have to live on state benefits, and the use of a derogatory term like scrounger is simply spreading hate. There is no excuse and the Daily Express should apologise.

 

Godwin’s law must die

On the internet we have a rule. It is called Godwin’s law. Godwin’s law states that “As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches 1 (100%).”

In the 21 years since Godwin first made this observation, it has been quoted whenever anyone has mentioned Nazis, as a way of saying “You have mentioned Nazis, therefore your argument is ridiculous, therefore you have lost the debate.”

The use of Godwin’s law to end and win an argument by default has been helpful in keeping arguments from straying into ridiculous comparisons but it also brings a risk; the danger that when a comparable situation does arise, it will be ignored because the comparison cannot be made in argument. Godwin’s law has power because of the idea that nothing as bad as the Nazis and the holocaust will ever happen again because we have learnt from what happened in the past. I think that this assumption is foolish and dangerous. Of course such atrocities will happen again. Throughout history we have had bloodthirsty power-hungry leaders of pure evil, over and over again. Pol Pot, Pinochet, Mao, Stalin, Saddam Hussein, and many other leaders have killed thousands, even millions each. Genocides are an relatively frequent occurrence. Groups have been singled out and slaughtered for many different reasons over the centuries, and others will be in the future.

My point here is important so I will state it again. Atrocities of this sort are not rare, have happened and will happen again, and to ridicule anyone making a comparison with the Nazis is to dismiss warnings in a very dangerous way.

Godwin’s law and disability rights

I and many other disability rights activists abandoned Godwin’s law some time ago. I believe that sick and disabled people in the UK are under attack and are the subject of a government and media smear campaign with the aim of turning public opinion against them. Although the Nazis ran a eugenics programme to eradicate all incurably sick and mentally ill people, (Called Action T4) the comparison that I am drawing is mostly with the propaganda element of that programme and the attitude behind it.

Nazi Euthanasia Propaganda
English translation: 60000 RM - this is what this person suffering from hereditary defects costs the Community of Germans during his lifetime. Fellow Citizen, that is your money, too.

The poster seen here speaks of the cost of caring for the disabled person depicted, the same message that is echoed in the cries of “this is taxpayer’s money” that we hear from indignant right-wing tabloid papers today. Papers like the Daily Mail and the Express routinely publish every “benefit cheat” story that they can find, with big front page splashes about people with houses and multiple cars. Headlines claim that just 1 in 14 are unfit for workWe even have “Saints and scroungers” from the BBC spreading the hate. Otherwise nice people are being convinced that there are legions of benefit cheats faking their inability to walk or the horrendous pain that makes every activity torture. (Apart from me. For some reason they never mean me.) All of these politicians and journalists seem to be adept at twisting the facts and lying through omission just for the public outrage that they feed on. They also ignore the realities of illness, of having good days and bad days, of choosing to push through pain to have a good day out, or just to pretend to your family that you are having a good day out so as to keep them happy. As Sue Marsh said, by their standards, we are all benefit cheats now.

Black Triangle Campaign recently received an email referring to comments on their forum making comparisons with the past as “dangerous and extreme”. The email said: “I am not interested in extreme, left wing politics. I am trying to bring attention to government funded medical tyranny, copied from America, and such extreme comments are a distraction from what’s happening at government level. (…) you are playing a very, very, VERY dangerous game with desperate peoples’ lives by posting such extreme comments relating to past war time atrocities that belongs in the past. I DO understand why people feel like this but there are many, many very frail people out there and this will cause harm.

I disagree with the author of that email. I’ve talked before about how government ministers are spreading these stories and lying about the facts and how party special advisors are feeding the media frenzy in a previous blog post. No one here is suggesting that anyone be killed, but our government is focussed on ruthlessly cutting benefit costs along with healthcare and services, all while smiling and announcing that “the most vulnerable will be protected.” Well the most vulnerable are having their benefits cut, being told to shit themselves rather than receiving help to get to the toilet, being told to find jobs when they can barely leave the house, losing their homes, and committing suicide. Many of those that aren’t in that situation expect to be soon and many have talked of suicide. The policies of this government and the relentless abuse coming from newspapers have people living in fear – if what they fear hasn’t already come to pass. In Nazi Germany the killing of sick and disabled people was at first kept well hidden away from any chance of public opposition. What plans are our politicians hiding from us? Is it their intention to force all sick and disabled people out on the streets where they will helpfully freeze to death? Quite honestly, I think that they don’t even care as long as it’s not their problem. I think it is completely fair to compare this demonisation of the sick and disabled to the start of the Nazi attack on the same.

References

Daily Mail: Callous judges have sentenced Elaine to life without dignity (Daily Mail link. Yes, I was surprised too.)

DPAC: Elaine McDonald case: Court puts prisoners before the disabled

Purple noise: The beginning of the end (Warning, discusses suicide.)

Guardian: Jobcentre staff ‘sent guidelines on how to deal with claimants’ suicide threats’

 

 

 

Response to the attack on DLA in today’s papers

Several papers have run with a story today about Disability Living Allowance, the numbers of people receiving it and what they receive it for. Unfortunately that coverage has been highly negative and has largely complained about the increase in people claiming DLA (from 2.2 million to 3.2 million – The Telegraph) and about DLA being paid out for back pain, addiction, and mental health problems. Interestingly, the papers all cite “new figures” but give no indication of where they came from. As far as I can tell there has been no new press release from the DWP on this subject.

First of all I want to address the rise in claimants. There are many reasons for this, but the claims process has definitely not got easier. A large part of the reason is simply more awareness of eligibility for the benefit. In the early days of DLA far less people knew that they could claim it. Another reason for the increase is that medical science has advanced, and we are now able to diagnose and name many more health conditions than before. Once these problems have been recognised, people are more likely to apply for help in dealing with them.

The statements made in The Sun, The Telegraph, the Daily Mail and particularly in the Daily Express appear to be highly misleading. Here are some of the statements made from the Daily Express.

“Between May 2000 and May 2010 the overall number of people being paid Disability Living Allowance soared from­ ­2.1million to 3.1million.”

All of these people have had to go through the existing highly rigourous and extremely difficult application process, including a 50 page form, letters from doctors and specialists, and an examination by a doctor on behalf of the DWP. No one without a crippling disability or illness would have received DLA, and in fact many more that could claim have not done so through lack of awareness or through fear of the process.

“The benefit is designed to help disabled people who cannot walk, have difficulty walking or need help getting around.”

This is true, but not the whole truth. DLA has two components, mobility and care. It pays for wheelchairs, scooters and cars, walking sticks, taxi costs for those that cannot drive, and also pays for the expense of getting someone to care, lost income, pays for more food that a disabled person can actually access, e.g. pre-prepared meals or ready peeled and chopped vegetables.

“Yet, astonishingly, the number of people claiming DLA for back pain shot up by more than 80 per cent during the decade.”

There are several problems with this one. First of all, DWP doctors often write “Back pain” as a simple summary for much more complex problems. One person that I spoke to was claiming for Hypermobility type EDS, Dural Ecstasia, rib impingement and nerve damage in hips affecting legs. This means she suffers frequent dislocations, has blinding headaches, can’t move her legs properly, severe pain in hips and… has mild back-ache. The doctor wrote down “Back pain.”

Secondly, many problems with the back seriously affect ability to walk. Crumbling spine, missing vertebrae, fused vertebrae, damaged discs and  trapped sciatic nerves can all prevent a person from walking or make walking intensely painful.

“Furthermore, there was a 250 per cent increase in those getting the benefit for drug and alcohol abuse.”

That favourite of the tabloid newspapers, drugs and alcohol. In many of these cases, drugs and alcohol is a secondary problem and addiction or use of them is a result of a primary health problem. Where NHS medicine is inadequate to treat pain, desperate people may turn to cannabis or drink.  Some of these cases, therefore, might well be misreported as addiction rather than the original problem, or addiction might have become a bigger problem than the original health conditions. I believe it is unfair to look down on these cases as undeserving of help. Someone also commented “I volunteer at a charity, most of whose clients are poly-addicted. Many of them *do* get DLA, but not for the /addiction/ but for, inter alia, collapsed veins, Hep C, HIV, renal failure etc.  Most of them either use street drugs or have a methadone regime, which is meant to wean them off heroin. Alcohol is used either as a replacement when heroin is too expensive/crap quality or because they are street drinkers: the street drinkers along with heroin addicts, are often given diagnoses of severe chronic depression.”

“There was also a 200 per cent rise in the number of people claiming for allergies over the same period.”

There has been a massive increase in allergies full stop. Is it so surprising that people need help with them? We are not given any indication of the actual numbers claiming for allergies, but I suspect the numbers of people so severely affected as to have care needs or mobility problems is low. For example, 1,000 people increasing to 3,000 people would be a 200% increase, but would still only represent a tiny part of the cost of DLA.

“Figures unveiled by the Daily Express earlier this year showed that 19,400 alcoholics and drug addicts claim the mobility component of DLA, which is meant for the severely physically disabled. It also goes to 30,900 people with asthma and 128,300 with back pain.”

I am astonished at the inability of the writer to make the connection between these conditions and severe disability. Drugs and alcohol is given as the primary reason for the claim, but there could be one or many more other health problems that are not reported in the summary, and there could be severe disability as a result of drugs and alcohol. There is also a serious mistake or an outright lie here; DLA is also NOT just for the physically disabled, it covers mental health conditions too if those conditions cause care or mobility needs.

“The handout is paid at different rates depending on how the disability affects the claimant. Many get the higher rate of £51.40 a week, which is meant to be paid to those who have the most severe difficulties walking.”

This is loaded emotive language that implies that higher rate claimants should not be eligible, but gives no reason for this implication.

“Under strict new rules, claimants will get a face-to-face assessment to ensure the benefit goes to the people with the greatest need.”

As face to face assessment already happens as part of the application, it is nothing new. Claiming DLA is already incredibly difficult, as I said at the start of this article. The DWP already sends doctors to assess those who are claiming. The new PIP benefits include a test administered by ATOS Origin instead of a doctor sent by the DWP to people’s homes. (The test is seriously flawed, but that is another article.)

“Disability Living Allowance will be replaced by the Personal Independence Payment. It will remain a non-means tested, non-taxable cash benefit paid to disabled people whether they are in or out of work.”

I am glad that they mentioned that DLA is not an out-of-work benefit. DLA is paid to people whether they are working or not. In both cases, there are extra costs incurred through disability, and DLA pays for these. In many cases, DLA allows the recipient to arrange care and transport for themselves, thus saving the local government from having to provide for these needs. DLA also provides support that allows people to work. In many cases, the loss of DLA would mean dropping out of paid employment, new requirements for care provision paid for by the local authorities, or both.

“A source close to the reforms said: “There has been a huge increase in cash payouts for things like back pain over the past decade and too often people are left on benefits without further contact with the department. We are going to bring in a new assessment and ­regular checks to make sure support is getting to those who need it.”

I am worried by this “source close to the reforms.” We are not told where this information has come from, and yet it has 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 with a particular political agenda in mind.

Finally, I should also point out that there are indeed people who are left on DLA without further checks. These are people with missing body parts, permanent deformities, degenerative diseases, and worse. They are NEVER going to get better. They will probably get worse. What point is there in dragging these people through more assessments which will often damage their health further and cause severe stress and worry?

 

Original Stories

The Daily Express: Anger as disability benefit claimants soar by one million

The Sun: Allergic to work

The Telegraph: Numbers paid benefits after claiming to be hyperactive rockets

Daily Mail: Drink and drug addicts on disability benefits soars by 250% in a decade to almost 23,000

Related blog posts

My dad, working through the pain

The benefit claims ordeal

Invisible illness, invisible benefits

Diary of a benefit scrounger: ESA assessments pushing mentally ill to suicide.

Existing on benefits

People on benefits? They’re all scroungers aren’t they?

Compare and contrast