I’m afraid this is a very UK based post today, as I step into the murky world of politics – somewhere I rarely venture, mainly because I don’t believe any particular political party has a mandate that I feel entirely comfortable with.
Over the past 15 years we have made some real tangible progress in the UK in the field of Equality. We haven’t gone far enough, but things certainly have changed for the better in this area. Members of the public, some employers and even some politicians were beginning to grasp the very simple concept that Equality is not about treating people the same, it is about ensuring they have the same opportunities where possible, in other words, the means is far less important than the outcome. Slowly but surely it has become OK to be different, and as someone who is different, let me assure you, I am relieved about that.
Although I haven’t been a Labour supporter for some time, it is true that under a Labour government, we made unprecedented progress in accepting that people with disabilities are valued and useful members of society. When you look closely at our benefits system, it is there in order to promote equality, to help those who need extra care, who need help to give their children an acceptable quality of life or to help support those who spend their lives caring for a loved one who can’t care for themselves. It is there to give these people a fighting chance. The new coalition government is freezing these benefits and a cut hasn’t been ruled out either.
David Cameron seems at heart to be a One-Nation Conservative, but is he? One Nationalism as a concept claims to support social institutions that maintain harmony between different interest groups, classes, and—more recently—different races or religions. One of the key institutions that is held at the heart of this ethos is the Welfare State. Yet here we are, with a Conservative / Liberal coalition, lead by a One Nation Conservative, and one of the first ports of call on his agenda is to look at Disability Living Allowance and to force all disabled people to go through a medical assessment between 2013-16 in order to keep their benefit.
DLA is not means tested, it is provided for disabled people to help pay for non-medical related care and to pay toward mobility. Many people require this benefit in order to work, but the benefit itself has nothing to do with the ability to work. Under the new medical assessment, the whole scope of a persons disability and how it affects them day to day will be judged in a twenty minute session by a doctor who has taken a few minutes to read that persons notes and who is being paid on a case by case basis for these assessments. It seems to me for those people with Mental Health issues on these benefits, this is going to be an unnecessarily stressful process.
Obviously people committing benefit fraud need to be caught, but the government is looking to reduce DLA payments by 20%, and I am sorry, but one in five people are not on the fiddle. Most independent reports put fraudulent claims at or around 6%. To address this problem, the government is in the process of releasing the details of everyone on benefits to private credit agencies – yes that’s right your confidential details held by the government passed on to a private company, so that they can check to see if your spending habits are suspicious. How that works with DLA, which as I mentioned earlier is non-means tested is anyone’s guess.
I don’t personally claim Disability Living Allowance, as I don’t feel I need it, but I am worried that if a Conservative ideology follows true to form, then again the vulnerable members of society will come out worst, and will be seen as a drain on society. In essence, there is a strong risk here that we will see a large step backwards where Equality for the disabled is concerned.
We can only hope for less Con-Dem-Nation for the disabled, but don’t count on it.