Supplementary memorandum submitted by
Brian Cunningham after the publication of the Welfare Reform Green
I wrote to you in November outlining my concerns
regarding reform to Incapacity Benefit and its impact upon people
with multiple sclerosis and similar variable and fluctuating conditions.
Having read the Green Paper, I am now writing to make some further
observations which I hope you will consider.
The aims of the Green Paper and the Secretary
of State are indeed laudable. However there are several things,
particularly in Chapter 2,"Helping ill or disabled people",
to which I would like answers.
Paragraph 20 states "Our first priority
must be to reduce the likelihood of people developing health problems
that may result in them having to give up work . . .". I
would be most interested to know how the Secretary of State envisages
preventing people from having diseases such as multiple sclerosis
and other neurological conditions which have no known cause?
Paragraph 63 aims to "provide a professional
assessment of an individual's eligibility for financial support
based on their functional capability". Firstly, I am concerned
that assessors will be properly and adequately trained in all
medical conditions and have an awareness of their impact. I sincerely
hope that assessments will not be carried out by overworked, underpaid,
frequently harassed and ill qualified civil servants in job centres.
What assurances will the Secretary of State give to ensure that
the quality of the assessment will not only meet the needs of
the Department of Work and Pensions but also those of the disabled
persons? Secondly, will there be enough staff to carry out such
assessments as I understand the Department intends to reduce drastically
the number of civil servants in its employ?
Further in the same paragraph it appears that
the Department is adopting a "one size fits all" approach
regarding people with disabilities, in that its desired aim appears
that there are disabled people who can work and others that cannot.
It is unclear throughout the chapter what provision will be made
for people who are able to work only to a limited degree and will
still require some financial support on top of any earnings?
I was pleased to see that the Department recognises
that there are some fluctuating conditions, such as multiple sclerosis.
In paragraphs 89 to 91 I welcome this acknowledgement. However,
I sense an "all or nothing" approach again. It is important
that the Department and its employees are made fully aware of
the problems of fluctuating and widely variable diseases. Some
people with multiple sclerosis are capable of full-time work and
never end up on benefit. However, many find that over time their
condition deteriorates, sometimes quite rapidly, and that within
this deterioration there is great fluctuation in their symptoms
and capabilities not only day by day but even hour by hour. Symptom
management is all very well but not always possible. How will
the Department and potential employers cope with people whose
disabilities mean that on one day they are capable and fit for
work and then on the following day they can barely get out of
bed? How does the Department expect employers to accommodate such
employees who cannot necessarily guarantee attendance from one
day to the next? Please ensure that staff recognise this when
dealing with clients with such conditions.
In paragraph 105 mention is made of the current
possibility that exists within the rules for Incapacity Benefit
Claimants to earn a certain amount of money without affecting
benefit entitlement. There is no mention made in the Green paper
what the intention is by the Department regarding these rules
and how they will be affected when reforms are introduced. As
I mentioned in a previous paragraph, there may well be many people
with similar neurological conditions to mine who wish and are
able to work to a limited degree, as I currently do but nevertheless
these earnings in no way represent a living wage. What provision
is the Department intending to make for such people? Will they
still be able to work? Will there still be financial support available
to them in addition to their limited earnings without the iniquitous
means testing? Means testing, as has been seen with pensioners,
will only reduce more disabled people to poverty.
As I mentioned in my letter to you in November,
I have multiple sclerosis and currently work under the Supported
Permitted Work rules. My condition is such that it takes me at
least two hours to get up, shower and dress. My condition varies
from day-to-day, some mornings are better than others. I work
as an associate lecturer for the Open University, which is an
extremely supportive employer. I teach on one course: I give one
two-hour tutorial once a month. To do this requires me to rest
completely the day prior to the tutorial and for the afternoon
following it. I also have to mark five assignments during the
course of the year, which I am able to undertake at home within
the limitations of my condition. It would be unrealistic with
my condition to undertake further teaching duties without it negatively
affecting my health. I would be interested to know what the Department
is proposing for people in such a position and sincerely hope
that they will not be forcing people into employment to the detriment
of their health and well-being.
Finally, the Green paper acknowledges in paragraphs
117 and 122 that people with disabilities face a range of barriers
in the workplace and in attempts to find employment. How will
the Department force employers to make the required changes necessary
to employ more people with disabilities. Disability costs money
and many employers may well not be as farsighted and supportive
as mine. Furthermore, with general levels of employment decreasing
and unemployment rising, where are all these jobs for people with
disabilities going to come from? I sincerely hope that people
with disabilities will not be forced into low paid positions in
order to achieve government policy.