A half hour Channel 4 dispatches program, Britain on the Sick, aired July 30, 2012, made for shocking viewing. Having heard our Coalition witter on about people fiddling benefits and wrongly claiming sickness benefit you may have thought it would feature "scroungers". Those people who abuse the system and live a life of luxury on the "sick"
Well we are not naive enough to not know that such people exist. However we also know that the majority of people who are not fit for work are just that. Not fit for work.
A Dispatches undercover doctor joined a team for training to assess those trying to claim sickness benefit. The firm which does the assessing is French firm Atos. It seems that as the coalition try to boot people off welfare and save money they are wasting money using a French company rather than one in the UK.
The training was an eye opener. The trainer was not, by her own admission, a properly qualified Doctor. As she explained the grounds for declaring fit to work, one wondered if any person is ever assessed as unfit. The scoring system is such that if the patient is blind and can read basic braille, enough to read a safety sign, they will be deemed fit.
The UK Work Capability Assessment has improved lately, according to the government. Doctors however hold a different opinion. Some of the patients included in the program were blind, receiving Chemotherapy, on regular morphine pain treatment, and in a wheelchair. All were deemed fit for work.
This cunning plan to remove people from welfare has been ongoing for some years. It started with reducing unemployment benefit from one year to six months. As this was paid for by way of National Contributions this was the first "rip off"
Then the tightening of eligibility for sickness benefit began.The sole purpose of the current assessment is to declare people fit for work. There are few jobs and UK unemployment is high. Of course once removed from sickness benefit unemployment may not be payable, The callous trainer explained though that once removed from sickness benefit it was someone elses problem, namely a job centre adviser.
Of course those assessors shown in Dispatches may have not been the norm, but we doubt it. A representative from DWP, department of work and pensions declined an interview. Assurances were made along with promises that checks would be made and if necessary changes.
Welfare is a safety net. We all never know when we may need it. We all hope that we will never need it. However should the worst happen it is comforting to know that you are not out on a limb. Sadly that will no longer be true.
Vulnerable and honest people will be intimidated away from claiming what they have paid for. That has to be wrong.
In 2012 there have been many calls from disabled people, charities, doctors and more to scrap the work capability assessment scheme as it stands. All have said the scheme is responsible for sending the sick and the disabled back to work, or rather unemployment.
It is funny that a government which has U Turned more times than a learner driver, is unable to do so when it comes to the sick and the disabled. Now if it concerned the wealthy they would not have a problem doing so.
Eileen Kersey manages TEK Staff Blog