Sunday, December 14, 2008

The Truth About Incapacity Benefit

(Author's note - as ever, I am not 'The Devil's Kitchen')
On 10th December, David Freud, an ex-journalist banker and member of the Freud dynasty who for some reason had been put in charge of reviewing the welfare state, wrote in 'The Times' that,
"Like Hotel California in the haunting Eagles song, incapacity benefit is a trap: “You can check out any time you like, But you can never leave.” While it has become tougher in recent years, in earlier decades it was easy enough to enter (“Plenty of room in the Hotel California”). In practice many would like to find a job - and are explicit in survey after survey in confirming this ambition - but are inhibited by the risk of failure and of undermining their entitlement to their benefit. Steps to mitigate this risk have worked only at the margin."
On 11th December, Jeff Randall wrote in 'The Daily Telegraph' that a consequence of Incapacity Benefit had been that,
"...taxpayers are being defrauded by a disgraceful conspiracy of shameless layabouts and gutless politicians, while the virtue of self-help is destroyed by the vice of a something-for-nothing culture."
It is perhaps time for a perspective on this matter which is rarely heard in any debate into the merits and morality of Incapacity Benefit - that of the claimant.
Within the last six months, I have successfully claimed Incapacity Benefit. These are my experiences of having done so.
At the start, I should say I'm probably not a 'typical' Incap claimant, if such a beast exists. A solicitor by training and writer by inclination, I once wrote something that Naomi Klein saw fit to quote in 'The Shock Doctrine'. However, as readers of my own blog will by now be only too tediously aware, I also suffer from a limiting medical condition in one of its more extreme forms. To all intents and purposes, my condition has now ended my professional career, such as it ever was. As the Sicilians say, it wasn't great spinach to begin with, then the cat took a leak on it.
Upon leaving practice for the last time on 31st March this year, I spent three weeks looking for work, without claiming benefit, before landing a four week admin contract in the NHS which finished on 19th May. Before my departure from practice, my wife had bought and paid for the first two week foreign holiday either of us had ever had; and the knowledge that nobody really wants to hire someone who's heading off to Tenerife for a fortnight as soon as they're in the door put the brakes on jobhunting until we got back. At this point, we were still not claiming any kind of state support, relying instead on my resources and my wife's iron financial discipline.
Between 15th July and 2nd August, I must have submitted at least 150 online job applications; however, by that time my mobility had also become so impaired that I thought it necessary to speak to the DSS to determine whether or not I might qualify for Incapacity Benefit.
I duly attended ny local Benefits Office and was given a number to call. Thank God it was freephone, because I was on it for 45 minutes. They processed the claim, and suggested I speak to my GP as a matter of urgency.
My usual GP and I have quite a good professional relationship - I harbour a sneaking suspicion that I'm one of his more interesting cases. He took one look at me and signed me off for eight weeks, saying that many others would not have waited so long to contact him.
(But I'm a right of centre blogger with heavy ideological commitments, I thought to myself. )
That perfectly routine doctor's appointment later generated a rather startling thought - OK, some GP's might be sicknote-happy, slapping the perfectly able onto Incap without a second thought; but what safeguards, if any, exist within the system to prevent GP's being bullied into signing claimants off?
The next step was to make a claim for Disability Living Allowance. Being able to cook, clean and dress and wash myself in the absence of a care plan seemed to kybosh that prospect in seconds; yet I was later told that I had not made the application properly. Apparently, the best way to get DLA is to state that your worst symptoms are your normal ones, and your worst days your norm. In my case, this would be called lying, something I do sometimes make an effort not to do. One wonders how many others have no such effete scruples.
Then there was the interview at the Jobcentre about helping you get back to work. I can't remember if I asked for it or not. In fact, I probably didn't; having also been a recruitment consultant for three years, I know quite a bit about how to get work, and it's the one aspect of the situation in which state assistance was not required. Although I don't look a day over 50, I'm 38; the training to work interviewer looked about 23. Politically correct platitudes abounded.
Then, mirabile dictu, I got a job, and had to sign myself off.
The GP that I saw on this occasion was not my usual. It probably wasn't his fault, more likely a consequence of the British practice of treating medicine like a production line; he didn't seem to know anything about my most recent consultations with his partner. As soon as I indicated why I was there, he started off into a spiel about how being at work gives your life dignity and structure. That was one lecture to which I was not prepared to listen, and firmly and politely cut him off by advising him of my background. In that second, I realised how this tableau, and our respective parts in it, mirrored words once spoken by a very wise man almost exactly - we were both just puppets in the same sick play.
However, having been signed off by his partner as unfit to work three weeks before, the most startling aspect of this interview was that there was absolutely no discussion of whether or not I was actually fit to work now. Again, I don't blame that doctor, they didn't do anything wrong or what I am professionally qualified to assess as having been negligent; but the combination of the ideological 'dignity and structure' spiel, and the despatch with which they signed me off, made me think that perhaps our doctors, who after our wives and our pastors are the people in our lives we should be most able to trust, are being pressurised to get people off Incapacity Benefit; and if someone comes in looking to sign off, they're under orders to sign off, no questions asked.
Most people who claim Incapacity Benefit don't have the connections of a David Freud, and are incapable of being the type of disabled working Briton he lauds; Churchill, Nelson and Hawking. Were his examples not so patronising to the poor and sick as to be cruel, they are so extreme as to render his argument de minimis.
The fact that I checked out of The Hotel California disproves the whole thrust of his argument. Maybe he should Take It Easy.
Jeff Randall writes that,
"On my way to work, during rush hour, I often see a blind woman commuting into the City with her guide dog. The effort she makes to hold down a 9-to-5 job in London's hurly burly is little short of heroic. No reasonable person could blame her for staying at home on benefits. Instead, she battles on. "
Indeed she does, as do many others; and if I ever see Jeff Randall write a word complaining about the cost to Big British Business of the laws and regulations that enable that woman to work without being discriminated against, I'll be on his case like a shot.
Incapacity Benefit is one of those subjects that always produces more heat than light. It is not the existence of the benefit that seems to rile many, but the people who claim it. Any writer who substituted the word 'Jew' for 'Incapacity Benefit claimant' in much of the opinion published on the matter would soon find themselves on the wrong side of a whole lot of laws; yet this anathemisation by caste of a group which contains many of society's most vulnerable members seems to be politically acceptable. This is disturbing; yet another sign that our civic democracy is now unhealthy, perhaps in need of making a claim for Incap itself.
If having claimed Incapacity Benefit makes me what Jeff Randall calls a 'shameless layabout' and a 'morally bankrupt parasite', then I must claim the titles with pride, and stand foursquare with my fellow layabouts and parasites. We can suffer such taunts from journalists; for the most part, they are of a kind with us.
Incapacity Benefit was a confection created by the Tories to cook the unemployment stats. Such is the Through the Looking Glass character of modern British socialism that socialists seek to oppress the poor by depriving them of benefits which they did not lobby to be given, nor legislate into existence. It suits many on the British Left to have their very own pet alienated proletariat to feel sorry for and patronise so that they can feel morally superior to everyone else, and it suits many on the British Right to have a group of unfortunates they can kick around - something the British Right has always been good at.
What is completely forgotten is the welfare of the claimants; something of an anomaly in a country that claims to be a welfare state.
The moral of this story is that when you read a word about Incapacity Benefit, whether it's by a journalist, a banker or anyone else, make sure that the author knows what they're talking about.

17 comments:

Anonymous said...

In general, I must say, I reckon there are hundreds of thousands of people on DLA who do not deserve to be in reciept of this benefit. I know many people who have been on it for many years and are really simply workshy. This problem is found especially in areas of the country catagorised as "tradionally working class". It is staggering really when you tot up the cost to the country in terms of the multitude of extra benefits they recieve being unemployed. Ironically, my Son is twenty-two and is (properly) autistic and has severe learning difficulties and will never, ever, be independent. He is also in reciept of DLA and in my opinion is a deserving case.
I am his Father and his carer though not in reciept of unemployment benefit.
I do find myself feeling very bitter towards those who really can work but choose not to. Many of those can be found in the pub first thing in the morning quaffing cheap discounted lagers and smoking like troopers.
Christ what hope eh?

The Morningstar said...

I wrote my own piece on this issue recently, I receive Incapacity Benefit along with other benefits. I've never found it 'easy' to get any of them, indeed my most recent post on the subject deals with how difficult it can be when benefits are due to be renewed.

I would also recommend reading the blog of http://benefitscroungingscum.blogspot.com/ to see the hell she has gone through, she explains some of the fears far more articulately than I can.

hsld said...

Been there, seen that.

I can't be arsed to give all the details, but basically my wifes granny needed DLA and initially failed because she's of that self reliant mindset who plays down their problems and tries to get on with things.

Fortunately we have a friend who works for the DWP ( and knows how the questions are scored ) and she helped granny fill in the forms the second time, which got a result.

Granny has never had a paying job ( apart from housewife and mother of 3 ) , but then she's never claimed benefits before either. One of what the Yanks call the 'greatest generation'

Meanwhile my village is chock full of bogus claimants. We sometimes call it " DIM Town " - i.e. Disability, Invalidity, Mobility

It's all screwed up. Those who need help are the least likely to get it.

Assegai Mike said...

Always the same. The most deserving have to fight the hardest. Having a conversation just yesterday about a similar phenomenon: 2nd and 3rd generation colonials (ZA, Zim, Oz, NZ, Canada) who have 100% British blood lines not being able to settle and work in the UK while any waster from the EU can waltz in and out at will.

Anonymous said...

Incapacity Benefit has not been available to new claimants since October:

http://www.dwp.gov.uk/esa/

DLA and Incapacity benefit are totally different benefits.

http://www.direct.gov.uk/en/disabledpeople/financialsupport/dg_10011731

Terry Henry said...

Assegai Mike - what's blood got to do with it? Why should it be easy for the inhabitants of idylls like NZ, Oz & Canada to come to the UK?

Have you seen how hard those countries make it to immigrate? Does Australia make it easy for UK residents to move over?

Alan Douglas said...

Martin,

You certainly deserve such a benefit, but your article and some of the comments surely show that the relative few who do deserve it are already at a huge disadvantage because of

a) the way the system is set up and run
b) the numbers of scroungers who do NOT deserve it but know how to abuse the system

I don't even blame those who grab what money they can, I blame those who "drop the money in the street" in the first place.

I once wrote to say I no longer needed single parent benefit cuz I had found a job, and got a letter back in effect scolding me and saying I was no longer qualified for it.

No chance of a "Well done, you got back on your feet" instead ? Ha ...

Alan Douglas

Assegai Mike said...

Terry Henry: The more idyllic the place the harder it should be, surely. More incentive for us to go there than vice-versa so we should make it easier for them. Governments tend to work tit-for-tat on these sort of arrangements. Reality is South Africa has a post-colonial mindset regardless of all the Rainbow Nation bullshit, wants to get rid of whitey anyway, we may as well take them they're all skilled, motivated, educated. But they (ie South Africa) don't want us. Zim: Shithole with no future, nothing for us there. Who wants to go to Canada or NZ, too boring, not me. That leaves Australia, yes please, I fancy some warm golf in my dotage. So let's make it easy for Assies and leave it at that.

Anonymous said...

incapacity benifit is based upon the capability or not of doing any kind of work for 14 hrs a week.the other point being that if a person says his knee,head etc hurts so much or he /she is so anxious and depressed that they cannot work,who is the gp to contradict that.that is why thes have indepenant assessors to carry out an examination after a certain period of time.

Anonymous said...

It's the sort of problem I'd like to have. But living in Japan, as I do, there is no such thing as incapacity benefit.
So for me, my investments, if i can call them that, have become nearly worthless. As I left the UK many years ago I couldn't claim anything there. So either i scrounge off my wife, or my mum, but i don't really wish to do either, especially as I would only drink whisky with the money anyhow. So time is nearly up.
You'll just have to cope as best you can within the current system I suppose, good luck with it.

John Trenchard said...

Always the same. The most deserving have to fight the hardest. Having a conversation just yesterday about a similar phenomenon: 2nd and 3rd generation colonials (ZA, Zim, Oz, NZ, Canada) who have 100% British blood lines not being able to settle and work in the UK while any waster from the EU can waltz in and out at will.

12/15/2008 06:18:00 AM


i know of similar people. they're now either in Australia , or in SA , planning to move to Oz...

and all good, decent, hard working folks, who speak English.

great stuff this EU isnt it?

DavidNcl said...

Did you not have the capacity to foresee that, just perhaps, you might fall ill?

What did you buy instead of some sort of insurance or other financial instruments?

Are you more or less deserving of state largesse because you are an intelligent, well educated and skilled?

Is it not fraud to apply for and accept IB when you can clearly take a job (as you did in fact do).

Why is it morally justified to go on a holiday abroad to when you are about to make a benefit claim?

Is it right or wrong to ask for - claim, in fact - money from others (indirectly) extorted by threat of force?

So then Martin, do you consider your self a morally bankrupt parasite or not?

If not, why not?

Martin said...

David,

"Did you not have the capacity to foresee that, just perhaps, you might fall ill?

What did you buy instead of some sort of insurance or other financial instruments?"

Because I'm unable to get unemployment insurance. I'm now at this stage of being denied life insurance. That's a really wonderful experience to have for the first time.

"Are you more or less deserving of state largesse because you are an intelligent, well educated and skilled?"

No.

"Is it not fraud to apply for and accept IB when you can clearly take a job (as you did in fact do)."

No, not when

A. A doctor says you're unfit for work; and

B. One of the conditions of applying for Incap is that you keep looking for work.

You didn't know that, did you?

"Why is it morally justified to go on a holiday abroad to when you are about to make a benefit claim? "

Read what I actually said. We went on holiday in July, and the thought of making a claim did not occur to me until motivated by my physical condition in early August, several weeks after our return. At all times I was seeking work. Sorry to get all Hayekian on your ass, but as I said my wife paid for it and it was her holiday as well. Maybe you think that she should have gone without something she had paid for and had worked hard for all year because of my employment status.

On the other hand, please don't answer that, because I might get angry - and you wouldn't like me when I'm angry

"Is it right or wrong to ask for - claim, in fact - money from others (indirectly) extorted by threat of force?"

I would turn that question back on you, and ask that if it is better for a hundred guilty men to go free, is it also not better for a hundred liggers to get Incap than for a genuinely deserving case to go without? Or are you included in that group who believe that having principles shouldn't cost them money? Or do you blieve in the morality of price-gouging?

"So then Martin, do you consider your self a morally bankrupt parasite or not?

If not, why not?"

Well no, not when the job I have now at the end of 2008 pays 53% less than the one I had at the start of the year. I'm living the dream of independence from the state, and need sermons from
jackasses like a need a new bottom. Do yourself a favour - read something other than blogs once you leave school.

Anonymous said...

"the doctor says i'm unfit for work".Not right.if you feel you are unfit then the doctor will write a sick note.don't place the responsibity to work on the doc.and for"looking for work while being incapacitated"what tosh.just admit it,you just want the cash

Anonymous said...

"if I ever see Jeff Randall write a word complaining about the cost to Big British Business of the laws and regulations that enable that woman to work without being discriminated against, I'll be on his case like a shot."

Then you're a patronising idiot. A profit-maxisimising business discriminates on ability alone. It's not "laws and regulations that enable that woman to work", it's her own abilities.

The laws and regulations allow lawyers to wreak havoc and incompetents to blackmail their employers into paying them off.

Anonymous said...

I was until Autumn last year a company director when a serious ill health development meant not only could I no longer work, but I would have to claim benefits. The whole experience has been an absolute nightmare.

My benefits are still not sorted.

The whole experience is totally humiliating and the process of claiming state benefits has actually set my health back by what I estimate to be several months.

I was advised to claim Disability Living Allowance and 8 weeks after submitting claim have still not heard whether or not I have been awarded claim!

I have been a contributor into the so called social welfare system all my working life! For 34 years!

The way I have been treated is an absolute disgrace!!

Yes what was earlier stated is so true!!

'Any writer who substituted the word 'Jew' for 'Incapacity Benefit claimant' in much of the opinion published on the matter would soon find themselves on the wrong side of a whole lot of laws; yet this anathemisation by caste of a group which contains many of society's most vulnerable members seems to be politically acceptable. This is disturbing; yet another sign that our civic democracy is now unhealthy, perhaps in need of making a claim for Incap itself'.

Hope James Purnell reads this!!

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