Guest Blog: How We Treat the Disabled in the UK by Holly Wilkins

by Sasha Wilkins on February 28, 2014 · 12 comments

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(My sister, and Posetta Baddog)

Back in 2011 my father and I joined The Hardest Hit March on Parliament to protest against the cuts in welfare for the disabled. I was and remain deeply exercised by the broad stroke attitude to disability being taken by the government as part of the sweeping cuts and changes to the benefits system. 

My sister, Holly, who has relapsing-remitting Multiple Sclerosis (MS) and who has been medically retired for some years, guest blogged for LLG.

Given that the situation for many in this country has worsened in the three years since, and with the news today that an Asperger’s sufferer was found dead weighing just 5st a few months after he was judged fit to work and had his benefits cut,  I am re-running her post. 

I hope this serves as a reminder that ignoring the plight of those least able to help themselves shames us all, individually and as a nation. Any civilised society must have humanity at its core or else we are all lost.

Over to Holly:

“In this Age of Austerity most of us have been grazed by shrinking budgets, but the knife is plunging deepest into one of the most vulnerable sectors of our society; those who are sick and disabled through no fault of their own.

Has there been an outcry? No. In fact the attempted blows to their much needed support systems has raised barely a murmur of sympathy from the chattering classes. Yet half a million people were mobilised to save our forests. Do we really care more about trees than the sick and disabled?

It would seem so. Vilified as scroungers, malingerers and even fraudsters, we the disabled have become an easy target. No one would argue that there are a few who abuse the system, but the scythe is being wielded so indiscriminately that all risk losing their safety nets. The first salvo in the battle against this supposed scourge of society was the abolition of IB (Incapacity Benefit) and its replacement with ESA (Employment and Support Allowance).

This fiscally obscene multi-million pound exercise replaces doctors with computers. Hardly surprising then that  perverse conclusions are drawn: an ability to pick up a small empty box off a table shows you are capable of meaningful employment. Without context this ‘proof’ of ability means nothing.

Raw statistics about the initial results of these nonsensical inquisitions have been published as the first weapon in this ideological warfare. And these have been lapped up and regurgitated by the popular press who willfully ignore the obvious: that one of the  real obstacles to employment for the disabled is a lack of both suitable jobs and flexible employers.

Next in the firing line has been DLA (Disability Living Allowance). This benefit (and how misleading is that word), which allowed many to live rather than barely survive, has been reformed in the same manner as Incapacity Benefit. Only a tiny fraction of the deserving are judged eligible for any type of help.

And for those who would seek to quieten me with cries of “Calm Down Dear. Not YOU”, yes ME and thousands like me; caught in a no mans land, where illness and disability renders us incapable of so much, yet not incapacitated enough in the eyes of government and the media to be worthy of support.”

Please take a moment to consider that those with disabilities are not malingerers or scroungers, but human beings, members of our society that need help. And remember, there but for the grace of God go you and me. (Look at that photo of my sister: she looks just like any of us. People with severe disabilities are around us all, every day.)

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{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

K February 28, 2014 at 22:36

Dear LLG,

I am so pleased you reran this post. As a resident in Oxfordshire, I was horrified to hear this news but in many ways unsurprised. I work with vulnerable young people, some of whom are vulnerable due to disability but also as a consequence of many other disadvantages and misfortunes, and I spent most of my day fighting tooth and nail for these young people to be given access to the benefits they need to survive. Just yesterday I was told by a moron at the Job Centre that my young person – who is currently seventeen and sleeping rough – is ‘not entitled to hardship funds’ and when asked why told me ‘the process is not meant to be transparent’ and the icing on the cake was ‘lots of young people have to make do without these funds, why is she any different?’. I could not believe what I was hearing. I have no hope that this conscienceless government will make any changes, and why would they? They have never been unfortunate enough to come close to experiencing this kind of hardship.

For the majority, these circumstances are not choices. It is a sad indictment on our nation.

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Redbookish March 1, 2014 at 07:40

Thanks for this. As someone once said to me “We are all only TABs. Temporarily Able Bodied” It’s worth remembering.

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Carol Hanson March 1, 2014 at 07:56

This is an excellent piece and it’s a sad but true that we prefer to get outraged about the minority who ‘play the system’ and forget about the majority who face a daily struggle against disabilities and medical conditions that take enormous courage and fortitude to manage on a daily basis. They don’t need the additional burden and struggle of dealing with a system that fails to support them. The notion that this is prudent fiscal policy is frankly absurd.

On a slightly different note, but read on as there is a point to the following few paragraphs!

Last night I was spitting chardonnay in my fury as I read a local press article about the RVS (Royal Voluntary Service) café at Lister Hospital Stevenage was closing as ‘management’ had decided to put the running of the coffee shop out to tender.

The café is currently staffed by volunteers, overheads are low and prices are cheap for hospital visitors and patients, any profits made from the venture are put back in to supporting the elderly in the local area. The RVS has been supporting older people for 100 years in this country.

The fear is that one of the coffee giants will win the tender, prices will rocket, profits will disappear and if this happens the final insult will be that even the Treasury will fail to benefit from any tax revenues.

Sadly this is another example of where greed and absurd misapprehensions about what’s important in life quashes common sense and decency.

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Wendy March 1, 2014 at 11:56

Twenty years ago I worked in the Ministry of Defence & was responsible for placing registered disabled people , usually youngsters , in office jobs within the ministry . I was a very small fish in a large pool . I can say that without exception these people were desperate to work , contribute to society & have their self respect . The dozen or so people I placed & monitored were amongst the hardest working members of our staff . It saddens me that no such schemes now seem to exist ,perhaps because these days youth unemployment is a major problem anyway .

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Rachel March 1, 2014 at 16:16

Holly, thank you for drawing our attention to such an important issue. What do you recommend people do to shine a spotlight on this issue… Should we write to our local MP or is there an interest group we can support?

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Angela March 1, 2014 at 20:20

My partially sighted and autistic sister is about to have her DLA taken away and was deemed fit to work by the controversial ATOS. My parents-whose full time care she is under- are fighting tooth and nail against this. Sadly the appeal has been scheduled towards the end of this year. Thank you for posting this- it’s so very close to my heart.

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Anna Maria March 3, 2014 at 11:08

My son has autism and is registered as disabled. What I have found is that children with disabilities are not a priority, and though much lip service is paid to “early intervention” (which has been shown to work and save money in the long term), it is always the short-term, immediate needs that are given the priority. The truth is, the NHS and other services are already crumbling under the strain of looking after the ageing population, and obesity-related illness, so the needs of children with neurological disabilities come very low on their list of priorities, and I am sorry to hear that it seems to be the same for disabled adults.

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Pam Hughes March 3, 2014 at 13:25

As a disabled (Ankylosing Spondylitis) person, this struck a chord with me. Yes I’m lucky that I can keep working with the help of my understanding employer, but it makes me mad when certain Government Ministers label the disabled as ‘scroungers’, ‘workshy’ or ‘malingerers’ in order to justify benefit cuts.

I remember over 20yrs ago when I had the misfortune of being newly diagnosed with my condition and having just been dismissed from my then job due to my condition, a Job Centre clerk informed me at a review that all I had was a “sore back”, and all I had to do was buck my ideas up and get a job, that I was not disabled and it was all in my head and said that the medical report from my Consultant Rhumatologist was, in her words “not relevant and my condition was not on the database as an actual condition and she didnt beleive that the condition was disabling”. I was absolutely taken aback at this and now 20+ yrs on, the same mentality persists as can be seen from disability benefits being cut and the mantra by Ministers that all disabled people don’t want to work at all!!

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Phyllida March 3, 2014 at 13:46

Having returned from working abroad for most of ten years (in countries including India) I have been shocked at the sense of change in the UK in the past couple of years. All the things that the UK might have prided itself on as a “first” world country are being stripped away, leaving people at best left without vital safety nets or at worst treated with criminal levels of neglect within the health system. What puzzles me most is the sense of entitlement and lack of compassion amongst the political ruling elite. The most vulnerable are being made a scapegoat to deflect attention from inherent political corruption and diversion of public resources to the private sector. Obviously things are still vastly different from a country like India, but I really wonder how long the UK will be able to claim the superiority of being a first world country when it treats its most vulnerable citizens in this way?! It’s blood boilingly unjust.

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Cherie City March 4, 2014 at 11:44

One of my younger family members suffers badly from ME and can’t work, but she inspires me with her community volunteering and spirit. Disabled people should have more support, not be made to feel guilty or a burden.

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