Memorandum submitted by Brian Cunningham
I write to you in your capacity as a member
of the Work and Pensions Select Committee.
I am sure that I am not the only person with
multiple sclerosis who is in receipt of Incapacity Benefit. I
am becoming increasingly concerned by the rhetoric coming from
government ministers and the Prime Minister regarding people in
receipt of Incapacity Benefit. The impression they give is that
people in receipt of this benefit are all shirkers and malingerers.
They seem to have no comprehension of sickness or disability and
almost perceive it as lifestyle choice!
I have been fortunate: after appeal I was allowed
to work under the therapeutic earnings rules as a part-time lecturer
for a distance learning institution, enabling me to earn a small
amount of money (about £1,800 a year) which helps me to lead
a better life than I could otherwise. Unfortunately, the government
decided that such a scheme was incompatible with their desire
to make every disabled person work full time and the scheme was
ended. Thanks however to a compassionate civil servant, she advised
me of the new rules which allowed Supported Permitted Workif
I could find an organisation other than my employer or a government
body to "mentor" me, I would be allowed to continue
to work. Fortunately, I have found such an organisation locally,
who primarily support people with learning disabilities and they
have been supporting me since the new rules came in.
Most of the work, marking assignments and supporting
students I am able to do from home at times conducive to my condition.
From February to October I do have to travel once a month to a
study centre to give a two hour tutorial. However, I make sure
that I manage my affairs so that I am not fatigued beforehand
and have to rest thoroughly afterwards.
My multiple sclerosis is now in the secondary
progressive phase, my symptoms are progressively deteriorating
whilst, like most people with MS, some days are better than others
meaning that some days I am able to undertake more than others.
It is, as we know, a variable condition which manifests itself
differently every day and differently for every person. Many people
with MS are more physically capable than me: it takes me about
two hours to get up, shower and dress myself, I use a Zimmer frame
to walk around the house but am dependent on a wheelchair and
someone to push it for longer distances, requiring assistance
to use a lavatory when not at home. I also find it necessary to
rest for two to three hours in the afternoon when I usually sleep.
Even with this rest I find that I am ready for bed by nine o'clock
in the evening.
The government seems intent in forcing people
with disabilities into full-time work, although most employers
will not have made adequate provision for people with disabilities
and especially those with variable conditions. Will the government
be enabling employers to make the necessary adjustments? Adaptations
and flexibility require great investment-financial and personnel.
Will the government make the money available for me to employ
someone to assist me to go to work and find an employer willing
to employ me and able to accommodate my condition?
I ask you and urge you to make sure that people
with MS in receipt of Incapacity Benefit are not to be disadvantaged
and thrown into poverty? I understand one possible plan is to
reduce the amount of Incapacity Benefit payable and another is
to make it a means tested benefit. Means testing is invidious
and iniquitous. This will penalise people who have managed to
save a little whilst working and act as a great disincentive to
others to save rendering people with disabilities into the same
position as many pensioners: those who have tried to be prudent
and put a little money aside are penalised, those who have been
profligate and made no attempt to make provision for a "rainy
day" are showered with state support.
I have a few savings but my intention is to
use them to help me in the future to enable me to remain as independent
as possible for as long as possible without burdening the state.
However, were I to be means tested, I would soon become more dependent
on state help than I am now.
My illness and disability are not a lifestyle
choice and surely it is the sign of a civilised Society that those
who are sick, disabled and vulnerable are cared for and shown
compassion? Current government policies seem to be veering away
from this in spite of the Labour Party's origins.
I look forward to your response. I hope you
will be sympathetic to my observations and the cause of all sick
and disabled constituents. They too are voters!
I urge you to scrutinise thoroughly any proposals
that are put before you, to remember people with variable and
fluctuating conditions and not to disadvantage and marginalise
people with disabilities and sickness further than they already
16 November 2005