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Monday 30 July 2012

Disability Through The Other End Of The Telescope

[Updates, two so far, at end of post]

There has been no recent shortage of right leaning pundits ready to step up and tell their readers of the necessity for reform of disability benefits, and today the Telegraph’s Cristina Odone has added her name to the roll of shame: “The disability rights lobby should think twice before opposing necessary reforms” she tells, in a pre-emptive strike against an upcoming BBC Panorama edition.

At first, Ms Odone appears to sympathise with those judged fit for work who are clearly not fit, but all changes as she interjects “But wait”, before following up with “Aren’t the Paralympics proof that even the most physically challenged can achieve awesome feats? Their disabilities did not prevent Nelson, Byron, FDR, JFK achieving their goals”. This is the most sublime drivel.

Nelson did not lose an arm, and the sight in one eye, until well into his career, and like the others mentioned, came from money (the “Lord” in “Lord Byron” is a teensy hint, Cristina). The biggest problem for both Franklin Roosevelt and Jack Kennedy was not the coping with their conditions, but keeping them out of the media: a disabled man could not have become, or remained as, President.

Moreover, Ms Odone fails to appreciate that disability is, for many, not a stable or static condition: she appears not to know that some disabled not only have good days and bad days, but also that they cannot predict which these will be. And if that is the case, then the idea of work, which, contrary to the suggestion in Ms Odone’s post, many would love to be able to do, is a non-starter.

She also appears not to grasp the kinds of hoops that disability benefit claimants routinely have to jump through, even if they have previously been examined, no matter how many times this has taken place. Ms Odone would have a better grasp of this had she consulted Sue Marsh’s Diary Of A Benefit Scrounger, which has a post on this process published just a week ago.

Without help from another family member, just getting to her appointment would have been well-nigh impossible, and this is in a city that has better than average public transport. But it is the bizarre nature of the assessment form for Employment Support Allowance (ESA) that is most worrying. The questions asked do not appear to bear any relation to the reality that folks like Sue face.

This does not detain Cristina Odone, who is on the home straight: “A man who claims to suffer from a debilitating but unprovable backache, an alcoholic who refuses to tackle her addiction: they may be considered ‘disabled’ but should they receive benefits? When they do, the truly incapacitated feel cheated”. I’m sure Sue Marsh and others in her situation appreciate this self appointed expert.

Or maybe they would prefer someone who knows what they’re talking about.

[UPDATE1 1825 hours: there are in fact two programmes on this subject being broadcast this evening. First up at 2000 hours is Channel 4 Dispatches, then at 2030 hours Panorama, which has moved to BBC2 because of the Olympics. As both are half hour broadcasts, it should be possible to view both without recourse to recording]

[UPDATE2 2105 hours: having watched both the C4 Dispatches and BBC Panorama programmes, it is clear why Cristina Odone has produced her pre-emptive strike. Both broadcasts point up the borderline brutality of the ATOS Work Capability Assessment regime, that there may be targets that ATOS are working to - to minimise the number of those allowed onto ESA - and that the system is failing some to the extent that they have died during the assessment process.

Expect more copy attempting to demonise the disabled in the coming days and weeks. After all, there was much of this over the Motability scheme recently. It is disturbing to think that hacks will readily accede to editors demanding this particular brand of knocking copy, but sadly is not a surprise]

1 comment:

Kompani said...

There has much more effort and cost gone into reducing the disability benefit claimants than chasing the tax avoiders at the upper end of the income scale. This is morally repugnant. They could have chased personal offshore accounts, finance industry bonus's and 'avoided' tax from big companies. The government would rather chase invalids, mentally broken and sick.