The welfare state: If Hawking can work…

English: NASA StarChild image of Stephen Hawking.
English: NASA StarChild image of Stephen Hawking. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Last year a majority in the British Medical Association have come out in support of disabled people, declaring the Work Capability Assessment (WCA) unfit for purpose. Additionally, after many months and much campaigning by disabled people, ATOS Origin, The French IT company given the contract to oversee self assessments and carry out face-to-face assessments, have been forced by the Department for Work and Pensions to retrain their staff. This is even after previous insistence that everything was fine and ATOS would not be fined, despite  appeals overturning the previous decision that the person concerned was fit enough to work costing £66 MILLION in 2012-13 alone!! A report published by a coalition of more than 90 Disabled People Organisations and Charities in 2012 produced a damning verdict as to the impact of assessments and cuts on disabled people. In particular:

  • Nearly 9 in 10 (87 per cent) welfare advisors said the constant re-assessments for benefits are damaging people’s health
  • 9 in 10 (90 per cent) welfare advisors said that too many disabled people are slipping through the net and are left without adequate support by the welfare system.

Mencap have also raised concerns over whether there is enough understanding of the way learning difficulties affect people, and how this impacts on a person’s ability to work.

Despite all this, GP Philip Peverley has recently claimed that: “I had considered, at one point, putting,  up a portrait of Professor Stephen Hawking in my consulting room with a caption that said, ‘This bloke is not on the sick’.” To those who are entirely unaffected by the benefit cuts, and have no reason to disbelieve the skewed headlines produced by some sections of the media, this kind of statement may well make sense, and is the kind of logic behind the Goverment’s portrayal of benefit claimants as ‘scroungers’. However, to think this, and indeed, to declare it publicly is to completely gloss over a whole host of issues which he may well know nothing about which prevent disabled people accessing work, and a host of medical issues which make work difficult, some of which I have described below, This is to say nothing of possible discrimination, access barriers including need for specialist equipment not covered by Access to Work Grant, difficulties getting to and from work, and lack of transport to get there, extra costs, pain, fatigue… the list goes on.

I admit there may be some truth in some of what he says including that some people well enough to work to everything to prove they are too ill to do so. If there weren’t there would be no need for reforms, however, the levels of fraud are not nearly as high as the Government would have you believe. However, according to the article, “A poll of 4,000 family doctors by the Department for Work and Pensions in May showed three quarters feel that – even when there is no medical need – they are obliged to issue sick notes to patients”. This may well be true, and it is not the first time I have heard a GP asking that they could opt out of assessing patients fitness for work. If not they, then who? GP’s position as ‘Gatekeepers’ to NHS services makes them ideally placed to have overview of the main issues affecting a patient and the clinics they see and services they receive. I have already established that ATOS are in no position to do this on GP’s behalf, despite Peverley’s claim that “ATOS nearly always gets it right”!! He has also failed to acknowledge that Hawking is able to to pay for costs associated with his disability in ways that the majority of disabled people can only dream of. Money means access to better care, better food, higher quality housing and a better quality of life in general. This will have a positive affect on his impairment, despite its severity. He is so intelligent he can work using his voice only and has all the support he needs, something very few disabled people can say. Journalist Sonia Poulton‘s response to this article was to post a tweet containing Peverely’s reg. number for the General Medical Council for anyone who wished to complain!!

The last time I worked was in 2004. I did the kind of office job referred to in the article. I did full time (8.30-5.00) work for 6 weeks to cover sick leave, in the summer holidays while I was a student. For two weeks, I walked to work while my parents were on holiday, or I got a lift from colleges if they passed me on the way to work. Otherwise, my Mum drove me there and back. I don’t remember if there were steps in front of the building or not. I do remember that there was a lift. This was in the days when I was still on my feet, without a walking aid, or a wheelchair, except I used a scooter in term time to negotiate university grounds. I was also on minimal medication, and no prescribed painkillers. This was the year before my diagnosis of Chron’s disease too. This is all significant, because by the afternoon, I would have severe shooting pains from my hips to tips of my toes, and often stomach cramps too. I would be so tired I would have uncontrollable giggles, and my speech would be slurred. How very professional. I struggled to concentrate to do meaningful work, and I made mistakes. I was never disciplined over it though. Clearly not capable of office work, despite this doctors claims.

What about if I were to attempt this work today? Well, before I got to work I would have to be up very early because it would take me a long time to get ready. If my carer phoned in sick, the office may not be able to cover it, as I am often the first name on the rota, and not every one can work that early. Even with care, I often have to go back to bed to sleep off the effects of a disturbed night, or the effort of getting up and organised. If I did not do this, I would be asleep at my desk. This is often the case even try to write blog posts, which is why there was no post on Wednesday this week.

What about getting to the office? I am unable to drive because the part of my brain responsible for spatial awareness is too damaged, and reaction times were so erratic in the simulator during my driving assessment the Occupational Therapist advised that I would need to use hand controls to be able to drive but that I lacked the necessary co-ordination. Getting the bus is also out of the question, as I do not have the strength to propel my annual wheelchair on my own, and my electric wheelchair is too big. Taxi it is then. However, most taxis are the wrong size or shape to fit my wheelchair, and those it will fit are in demand. Even if I can get one, there is often no space between my head and the roof off the car, causing me a head injury if it crashed. I have been in town before, and even though I have pre-booked a taxi to take me home, none will turn up. I would need a motability van, but as I can’t drive myself, I would need a PA to drive one for me, even though funding is being squeezed in every budget including Access to Work, and the list of things which can be funded is now minimal. Add in cuts to social care and the disappearance of the Independent Living Fund in 2015 and this is an impossibility. (To read about the impact of these cuts on another disabled person, click here to read an excellent piece for the Indy’s Comment is Free by Jess Thom).

Assuming I could get there, I would not consistently be able to do any work for so many reasons… My pain killing medication exhausts me, making my speech slurred, and even then it does not take away all of the pain, and I often squirm in my wheelchair due to back pain, and other pain I cannot write about in a public forum. Then you add in the times my ileostomy bag bursts (which I cannot change by myself, and the bladder spasms causing me to wet myself. Have I forgotten anything? The last time I filled in a WCA form there were at least 3 or four extra pages of close written small script explaining my disabilities and the effect these have on my day to day life, including all the equipment I need to help me. Still think I can work?

Of course, I would love to be able to work, but at the moment is something I can only dream of. One of the reasons for starting this blog was to give another purpose to my day. I have been surprised and delighted to the response from my first post for a few weeks, about childhood dreams. Before you lose the will to live, I shall go off and take my medication, as the dispenser fondly known as the UFO is making itself heard! Until next week…

18 thoughts on “The welfare state: If Hawking can work…

  1. ” I would be so tired I would have uncontrollable giggles, and my speech would be slurred. How very professional. I struggled to concentrate to do meaningful work, and I made mistakes” This seems to sum up the debate to me, but your story fills in so much… hope someone in power reads it!

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  2. Your disabilities far outweigh mine, but I can identify with so much of what you say. When I shared the uni flat with you (good times and bad times respectively) you were the more able one. Hawking has the support he needs to work, but then as far as the current government is concerned we all have money!!!

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    • Well, yes, the Government have no idea how much it costs to be disabled, and yet few of us would chose it! Plus any avenues of support there were are being cut. Makes no sense… want those of us to work who can work, then they have to fund it!!

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  3. I’d like to hear what stephen Hawkins thinks of this comment…would be great if he could speak out about the difficulties he knows he would face if he was not rich and had to face the same problems as any other disabled person in life in general let alone go to work…I don’t tweet but if I did I’d tweet him…just pain alone without any other disability is a disability in it’s self.

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    • Hi Shelley, thanks for your comment. Pain can be very debilitating as it can wear you down, affecting your mental health, and be exhausting, affecting you in other areas of your life. In my case, the medication adds to this, but it is better to have it than not! Everyone has to find their own way of coping with pain but I agree, it is very hard to live with, and different for each person too.

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  4. Reblogged this on Brittius.com and commented:
    Bravo! Excellent observation and view, that persons with some very difficult disabilities manage to perform constructive work, and desire to work, while welfare only fosters a culture of laziness and dependency. The article reflects courage and inner strength.

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  5. Reading this article, I understand the reforms required in your nation, and around the globe. You have brought up an interesting matter that persons with difficult handicaps do in fact work, and desire work. In America, healthy people go onto welfare rolls and the culture of that is laziness and dependency. People with disabilities, have courage and inner strength. It should also be noted that society, in my opinion, should address the special needs of those requiring additional or special help in any form possible. I would not begrudge anyone that. What is very noticeable, is the wisdom the article presents, if one should listen carefully.

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    • Thanks for your comments and the re-blog. Appreciate it. Hopefully in raising some of these issues it will help others to understand and therefore eliminate some of the discrimination that still exists. Something does have to be done about the ‘dependency’ culture, but it’s how to do this without also penalising those who genuinely can work, and supporting people correctly to find work. Unfortunately this takes money, which neither Government in UK or USA has!

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  6. Even for those who can work it’s not so easy.

    Imagine you are fit except for your right leg. This means you can’t drive unless the car is an automatic modified to a left foot accelerator. but you can’t afford to buy and convert a car, and you don’t have access to help because you work and therefore are not disabled according to the government definition of disabled. (Does this mean Professor Hawkin is not disabled?)

    So you have to use public transport, which means standing at the bus stop, then trying to get a seat on the overcrowded train, but in order to get a seat you need to be able to push to the front of the queue, so no seat then.

    By the time you get to work you are in pain and not in a very professional frame of mind. Unless you get up early and get to work early so that the painkillers get a chance to kick in before you start.

    And this is with a relatively minor disability. But it isn’t a disability if you are working….

    … back to step one.

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    • Thanks for your comment. This is exactly how I felt during the time I was attempting to work. Sometimes the Government’s thinking seems counter-productive, for exactly the reasons you present. Supporting someone like you to get an adapted car would take away some of your stress, pain and exhaustion thereby enabling you to do a better job and stay in work. Originally this was the whole point of Disability Living Allowance (DLA), to compensate disabled people for the extra costs associated with having a disability, whether in work or not, as DLA helps people stay in work. Unfortunately the Government does not understand this. Until they do, people like you will continue to struggle. 😦

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