Ann Milnes Roberts attempts to explain the lives behind the DLA cuts.
Ann Milnes Roberts is the former editor of the Financial Times: Global Water Report
“How disabled are you? Are you really disabled? You’ll have to be beyond hope if you want any charity from us. Now let’s watch you jump through our hoops.”
Outside in the world, you think you are coping well. You don’t feel sorry for yourself. Stuff happens.
But you’ve managed to pay your way, hold down a job and care for your children, live what the world might see as a successful life.
About twenty years ago, your doctor mentioned that you’d probably qualify for disability living allowance. You’d never received a state benefit in your life. You fill in the forms, and are happy to receive the allowance.
You don’t use a wheelchair, but can’t walk far, or fast, and can’t manage escalators or stairs.
In London, the free public transport card won’t work for a Scot. You live in Scotland, but can’t take the train, as the seats are too upright. You drive the 350 miles, so that you can stop and move around every hour.
Though all these years, your Motability-acquired car has meant that you are operating on a slightly more level playing field.
Your car is essential. Without it, the mile-long walk to the nearest bus stop would put the world out of bounds. You could afford to pay for your own car. You’ve worked all your life. But isn’t the DLA supposed to be non-means tested? Didn’t David Cameron claim DLA for his disabled son?
But now you’ve been called for an assessment, to see whether you’ve been cheating all these years. The cold letter ‘invites’ you to attend.
But it also contains a threat:
“If you fail to attend, your benefit may be affected.”
So you struggle to their office.
Pride, dignity, hope: Abandon them at the door. No-one here cares about anything but the best method of rejecting your claim. In this place, you’ll be made to feel bad about yourself.
You’ll leave with the word “loser” imprinted on your brain whether you convince them or not of your need for their “help.”
All these years you’ve played a kind of confidence trick. That’s right, a confidence trick.
But this trick was to show all your friends, employers and family – and even yourself – that you could manage as well as they could in the game of life. You might hobble along, crab-like, inch-by inch, wobble, wobble. But you could hold down a high-flying job, struggle on and off planes, get to meetings on time.
You’d earned a good salary, paid your taxes. The DLA was not means tested. You could use it to help lease a car, pay for a cleaner, a taxi, a slightly larger, more comfortable vehicle – anything that would help you take part in the world. You feel pretty confident you’ve made a good shot at it all – after all, the disability is not who I am, is it?
But here you are, in this room, with this bureaucrat.
If you demonstrate your ability in the face of your disability, then God help you. Because by showing that you can take part in the world, you’ll be banned from the world.
No DLA, no Motability, no car, no life. This heartless, calculating, cruel Conservative government has managed a clever trick, backed up by the right-wing press. In spite of fraud accounting for less than half a per cent of all claims, we’re regaled with tales of ice-skating cripples, disabled ballroom dancing champions bent on cheating the system.
Stop it. Stop it now. People are kinder, more honest, better than you think. The public don’t think we’re all scoungers, in spite of your best efforts. Look for a more popular enemy. Perhaps you could target those rich people who aren’t paying their taxes? Just a thought….
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• Why did DWP delay releasing new data until after welfare reform bill cleared Commons? – Daniel Elton, August 12th 2011
• DWP admits disability reform based on dodgy figures, as reported by Left Foot Forward – Declan Gaffney, August 11th 2011
• ‘Simplification’ leads to severely disabled young people’s benefits being cut – Nicola Smith, February 18th 2011
• Government plans to cut DLA could cause extreme hardship – Sue Marsh, January 24th 2011
• Charities urge rethink on DLA mobility allowance cuts – Sarah Ismail, January 12th 2011