The government has announced plans to radically overhaul the welfare system, including reviewing anyone who is on disability related benefits. Sure, I bet we all know people who have claimed a bad back or some other disability and have been relieved of work and are now receiving what is known as 'Incapacity benefit'. These people are definitely a drain on public resources and have been granted the status of 'Disabled' and can pick up their gigantic amount of about £100 per fortnight.
However as the title suggests, one of the biggest advocates of equality was Bob Marley and is it fair to subject every disabled person to a scrutinised inspection by an independent organisation which has been paid £184million to complete these assessments which could have been conducted by social workers or GPs?
Seven percent of the population are reportedly on incapacity benefit, which costs the tax payer £13billion per year according to the Minister for Work and Pensions. So, one could argue that the £184million is money well spent to reduce this burden and get the skivers back to work. However the company who has been hired to do this is called Atos healthcare and is not even a UK company. This is particularly interesting, when one considers that the government is unhappy that foreign companies are not paying UK Corporation tax; so why hire a foreign company when one could hire a UK company and recoup some of the costs of this payment?
Apart from the fact that a Channel 4 Dispatches documentary in 2011 revealed that Atos healthcare were instructed to stop incapacity benefit to anyone who could move one finger (As according to the evaluation instructor - these people could work on a checkout or something like that), there is a concerning issue with targeting individuals who do not have the ability or capacity to fight back. Unfortunately, the truth is many people with disabilities do not have the confidence or ability to request help from the government and rely on charities for help; either for financial support or direct care assistance.
How about we look at the facts on spending by the treasury on the welfare state? The Guardian has recently published the costs of the welfare state and has shown the increase in costing in certain areas. If one focuses on individuals, who are not disabled, but are out of work then the total cost to the treasury is over £118billion. The article correctly argues that job seekers allowance only costs £4.91billion a year which is nowhere near the cost of disability benefits. However, there is a major problem with this argument as the people who are on the dole also seek other benefits such as income support, housing benefit, employment support, rent rebates, council tax benefits and a number of other benefits.
Then we have our old friends, the pensioners who claim a massive £74billion a year. Some of us will think that is a lot of money, and it is. No one is arguing that the pension should be reduced; in fact it is a meager amount. However certain pensioners are fortunately very rich, but still receive the state pension. Let's be realistic here do these rich older adults really need extra income? Also, let's not forget those who have got large private pensions; should these people also receive the state pension, free bus fare, the winter heating allowance and a free TV license? Only society can answer this question, but George Osborne must be questioned as to why he has reduced income tax for the extremely rich.
There is another question which Mr Osborne (apparently a very good singer according to President Obama) must answer and that is why he has imposed the bedroom tax? Many people with disabilities do not own their own homes but need a spare bedroom or two for carers to stay over. Obviously it is not going to be the same carers each night of the week, so these disabled people will unfortunately also lose a lot of their council tax benefit and housing benefit (due to the bedroom tax), on top of the reduction or change in their incapacity benefit and carers allowance. However, for some reason pensioners are exempt from the bedroom tax, why? I would be really interested to know why people with disabilities and have a genuine need for a spare bedroom are not exempt, when pensioners are. Could it possibly be because the majority of pensioners will vote for the Tories, or am I being cynical here?
So how are Atos healthcare doing at reducing the number of people on incapacity benefits or requiring carers allowance? Not good for the £184million it costs the government to hire them: According to the Guardian article Disability Living Allowance has increased by 3.3%, Incapacity benefit has increased by 13.3% and Carers Allowance has also risen by 7.7%. So altogether, according to the Guardian article the direct cost of disability is just under £700billion per year. Really great work by Atos healthcare and it was definitely worth the £184million.
There is also another really simple logical answer to assessing people with disabilities, which I have been unable to convince the department of Works and Pensions or disability Minister of; and that is simply why not check medical records before you pay the expense of asking someone from Atos to go and re-evaluate a person's disability. It does not take a genius to realise that a person who has muscular sclerosis, cerebral palsy, down-syndrome or a wide range of other disabilities are not going to show an improvement in their medical condition which will allow them to go out and work. One more thing which is not considered is that a number of people with disabilities such as myself are capable of working and want to work, however the simple fact is the jobs are not available. I have a PhD in cognitive neuropsychology and I have applied for numerous jobs in this area, but so has 100 other individuals who are equally qualified and out of work. It is not the fact that disabled people do not want to work, it is simply the fact that there are not the jobs which we can do available. Somehow I do not think health and safety would allow me (in a wheelchair) to re-train as a builder, roofer or electrician. The current level of unemployment is believed to be 7.8% and there are only 7% of the population claiming incapacity benefits. It does not take a genius in economics to work out that if the unemployed (who can work) had jobs then the tax revenue would be significantly greater and would help to cover the people who truly need the benefits.
There is one last argument which some of you may find controversial and that is about ring-fencing certain government departments, so that their funding cannot be reduced. For some strange reason disability related benefits are not ring-fenced while Foreign Aid is ring-fenced. We spend £8.87billion on foreign aid, while we have people in the UK living in poverty. Ironically we gave India £280million in 2012, which could be justified when one sees the adverts on TV for individuals in developing countries living in poverty and squalor. However, seeing the fact that the UK, in 2012, gave £280million to India, one may think that this is very admirable, however we are forgetting that India has around 190,000 millionaires (in terms of US dollars). So is the answer that we will look after everyone else apart from our own? International Aid is definitely needed for the poorest countries on Earth, but India has a GDP significantly greater than the UK, so why does India need £280million from the UK?
Why should people with disabilities put up with being questioned about their ability to work or even survive on the money they receive when we are happy to pay out over £8billion in Foreign Aid? We have individuals with disabilities who have to rely on volunteers and charities while the government forks out money to the EU and on Foreign Aid (When it is arguably not needed if certain countries put their house in order, e.g. Greece, Italy, India etc.).
It is completely right that individuals who are claiming disability related benefits, when they are not disabled, should be stopped. However this does not mean that every single person with a disability should go through the Spanish inquisition. At the end of the day if a person can fake their disability to their GP, who knows them quite well, why would they not be able to fake it to Atos inspectors who do not know them at all? So all I can say is well done to the government on spending £184million on a non UK company to seek out the benefit frauds when they could have spent the money more wisely on enabling people with disabilities to get back or into work.
As Bob Marley said, 'Get up, stand up, stand up for your rights' even if you are in a wheelchair or disabled!