The Welfare State: One system fits all?

Successive Governments have wrestled with the same challenges – How to provide money and support  to those who need it, who are unable to work through no fault of their own and encourage those who can work, back to work. It sounds simple if you say it like that. This current Government seem to believe it is simple. I wholeheartedly believe they still think that the most vulnerable in our society are being looked after. There are horror stories emerging all the time, whether it be people losing their appeals, others who are under such unbearable stress from assessments or appeals that their bodies simply give up, or they are so desperate they take their own lives. You need only type ‘ATOS’ into google to see that this is the case. ATOS are the French IT company charged with deciding who is, and who is not capable of working. There are also numerous support groups on the web where those at any stage of the process can share their stories or support others. ‘ATOS miracles’ is one such Facebook group, so called because some who really cannot work are being found fit for work by ATOS, thereby a miracle has happened, or at least they’d have you believe that anyway…

Even among the numerous stories, there are some that really stand out. A teenager who has always had full entitlement to care of mobility benefits at the highest rate all through childhood, whose family now has to negotiate the adult system on their behalf, really cannot work, and will never be able to work, and yet, has to be re-assessed. On paper, it really doesn’t sound fair, to Jessica, her family or the system. A waste of their time, energy, and needless stress, and a waste of taxpayers money. Perhaps the family do not realise this yet, but reassessments will happen anyway under PIP (Personal Independence payment) every few years. This is the benefit that has replaced Disability Living Allowance, which used to compensate people for the numerous extra costs associated with disability. Believe me, being this disabled is expensive!! I used to have DLA indefinitely, in theory, for life, but this has now changed, and will be the same in this case. The theory goes that it is impossible to police the system if there is one rule for some and another rule for the rest, and yet there will be such a waste of money. In the case of Incapacity Benefit and Income Support and now Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) there used to be a solution, for the likes of Jessica, called the Youth Supplement, given to only the most disabled youngsters. However, this has now been axed, the latest loophole to seemingly go in order to streamline the system. Sounds fair, but was it? I have borrowed the explanation from my friend Sue Marsh, who despite chronic illness and acute, constant pain, campaigns tirelessly for change on behalf of sick and disabled people everywhere. You can read the rest of the post here.

It was called the “Youth Premium” It only related to children who were born so profoundly disabled that they would never work as adults. Forget your Work Capability Assessments and your Scroungers, these children would never take part in society like you or I. Many would never talk, self feed, walk, play, laugh, fall in love. But they could still lead independent lives. Because we were a society that believed they should have a right to if they chose to.The Youth Premium treated these children as though they had paid National Insurance. For a cost of just 11 million pounds, on becoming adults, these children were treated as though they had “contributed” through work and because of that, they were entitled to contributory benefits, they did not have to be means tested.Such a simple thing, but what did it mean in practise? What did it mean to the people behind the numbers? The lives being toyed with? It meant they were entitled to live independently if they chose to. They were entitled to benefits in their own name, not as a means tested part of their family. Often, such profoundly disabled children had considerable compensation to see them through lives damaged beyond recognition by accidents. This compensation was just that. Money for an expensive future of care, adaptations to homes, aids to independence. For a lifetime, this money would have to pay for support just to make their lives as manageable as society could achieve.No more. Any money would be part of the means test. They would have to run down reserves of cash or savings before the state would step in. Compensation is not income. Nor should it be. From the passing of the welfare bill, any security or savings put aside by families terrified what life would hold once parents or siblings had passed, would have to slowly seep away, leaving insecurity and hunger a shadow away before these few profoundly disabled neighbours and daughters and brothers could rely on any help or support from the state.

A bleak picture indeed. One only hopes the state is then in a position to step in. If it has to be a case of one assessment system fits all then surely it should be a case of one assessment for all support combined. Then if there has to be stress, it need only happen once. Now there are repeat assessments that doesn’t seem likely. Benefits Britain 1949 on Channel 4 tonight at 9 is looking at how we who are unable to work through illness or disability should be supported. Perhaps, finally, someone will come up with some answers.

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