Select Committee on Work and Pensions Written Evidence


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 Work—if 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 are.

Brian Cunningham

16 November 2005



 
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