Claire Hovey writes a comic blog about pain management for thedisabledshop.com and a theatre blog for Bareknuckletheatre.com
By Claire Hovey
For the vast majority of us who don’t have a bank balance large enough to make George Osbourne wring his hands with Fagin-like glee, the benefits of employment far outweigh the negatives of irksome taxes frustratingly misspent and that niggling feeling of being underappreciated in a busy office. Work can help satisfy personal goals, generate feelings of achievement and, heaven help us, can even be fun. Add to those invaluable feelings of self-worth the never-diminishing incentive of being able to buy stuff and it’s little wonder that most of us of working age would rather be employed than squirming under the beady eyes of an unforgiving, bean counting government.
However, the extra hurdle of disability in an overcrowded job market can, for some, make the daunting task of finding a job insurmountable, whereas for others it’s keeping a job that proves the biggest challenge. In Wales we’re emerging from decades of bad attitudes in that prejudice against disabled people who wish to work is being combated by diversity policies, government schemes such as Access to Work, which provides advice and financial support to cover the cost of access equipment, and charities like the Shaw Trust who champion the rights of people with disabilities to work. So with changing attitudes from employers and individuals, but still less than 50% of adults with disabilities in work, what will be the impact in Wales of proposed Government changes to the way Disability Living Allowance is assessed and awarded?
Currently, DLA is not a prescribed payment as regards how it is used; rather it can be spent as the recipient sees fit to help them cope with the higher costs of living that accompany long term health conditions. For many people with disabilities who are in work, this financial support helps with the extra costs of the care, travel or equipment that is necessary to allow them to get to work or to do their job. For others, having their higher costs of living covered by DLA allows them to work more sustainably in part-time or less demanding roles.
The new rules demand an extension of the qualifying period from three to six months, thereby excluding people who may be temporarily impaired by accident or injury, regardless of whether they are still able to work or not.
The periodic review of awards in face-to-face interviews, while necessary for many conditions, is irrelevant for lifelong disabilities where the costs are unlikely to change, and may instead aggravate symptoms through stress and anxiety.
The shift of language from Disability Living Allowance to ‘Personal Independence Plan’ is indicative of the Government’s objective to focus on capability as opposed to disability, although in January the Disability Benefits Consortium responded to the proposed changes by noting that the assessments do not take into account ‘hidden’ disabilities or those with fluctuating conditions, such as mental health or chronic pain illnesses.
The South Wales Valleys districts being among those with the highest number of claimants for sickness benefits in the country, the emphasis on ‘what you can do instead of what you can’t’ is likely to push many out of eligibility for DLA, turning them out instead into a fiercely competitive job seeking environment. For the work-shy, it’s a wake-up call; for those with fluctuating or less obvious long-term conditions, if they fall through the ever-tightening net of benefit reforms, it could force them into wholly unsuitable employment that could exacerbate symptoms.
But on the plus side, with these exacerbated symptoms, they might then be eligible for DLA.