One of the things I have seen online today that has made me think is an article about one of the 7/7 survivors who is having to go through the humiliating experience of applying for Employment Support Allowance. This man is a double amputee who has lost an eye and his spleen and is now a wheelchair user. The article is concerned with how awful it is that someone, who was so severely injured due to a terrorist act, and whose injuries are a matter of record, has to prove he is disabled in order to receive support.
I agree, it is horrible and disgusting that he is having to do this but, in my opinion, he is not being asked to do anything, that is in any way, unusual. For so many disabled people this is a normal part of applying for the minute dregs we are entitled to from the welfare state.
As far as I can see, all that has happened is that he is being asked to complete the same form all disabled people have to complete when we have to apply for ESA or, as a matter of fact, for any other benefit. This is, in fact, something we have to do on a practically daily basis. We have to justify our existence and the help we need all the time. The form this man is being asked to complete is one of the same humiliating forms all disabled people are sent when they apply for Employment Support Allowance, Personal Independence Payments, Attendance Allowance and the myriad of other soul-destroying forms we have to complete where we have to go into all the things we CAN’T do rather than focussing on all the things we CAN. Benefit forms, home care forms, medical forms, a snowstorm of paperwork and online assessments. All nosey, mortifying and embarrassing.
So, why is it still deemed justifiable to do this? Why do people who are ill or injured have to go into the minutae of their everyday existence in order to receive any support at all?
As far as I am aware disabled and older people are asked about their limitations more often than anyone else. In order to receive any benefits at all we are asked unwanted, invasive, intrusive, questions about our personal lives and then, in so many instances, we get called in for a face-to-face grilling as if we are criminals or trying to get something for nothing. These assessments are about such glorious subjects as our mobility capabilities, our personal habits and our mental state. If we can walk, how far we can go? How tired do we get when we do anything? Can we pick up an empty box or a carton of milk? How about a 5p piece, can we manage that if it’s on a table or on the floor? We are asked to take off our shoes and attempt to scramble onto a high examination bed. We are quizzed about our bowel and bladder functions. Do we wet or mess ourselves and, if we do, how often? Can we wash or bathe unaided or do we need someone to assist with everything we do? Do we need encouragement to do things or feel too anxious or concerned to attend meetings or go to work.
For many disabled people, completing a benefits application form is one of the most upsetting things we ever have to do. Having to answer questions about what we can’t do and focus on all the things we may have had had no trouble with in the past, but are now unable to tackle due to our impairments, is so upsetting, so depressing that it is almost impossible to do. Filling in one of these forms, especially if you used to be active, sporty or just, unimpaired is one of the most horrible things a disabled person can be asked to do. It is almost unbearably hard to consider what you, as an individual, may have lost through no fault of your own. To face the fact that your entire life has changed and you are now, in many instances, dependent on others for so much is awful.
There must be another way. A way where claimants don’t end up feeling suicidal thanks to the things they are asked and the way they are asked them. It must be possible for this information to be garnered without people feeling they have to go through the Spanish Inquisition to get what they are entitled to. GPs and specialists may hold the answer. Medical reports and specialist opinion should be given proper consideration. What is clear is that this third degree stuff has to stop. Whatever happens, the system as it is cannot be allowed to continue unchallenged and unaltered. It needs to change so we can celebrate our successes, not despair over our failures. Reminding us, at every turn, of what we have lost is cruel, in the extreme, and needs to come to an end now. This constant questioning of disabled people about the things, over which we have no control, is just plain wrong and inhumane.
Stop it now, before it’s too late, and try something else, we beg you.