Constant Scrutiny 5th October 2016
I met recently, at a constituency "advice surgery" with a relatively young person now suffering from degenerative and progressive multiple sclerosis. They were bravely living with and managing the condition but, barring a dramatic and sudden development in medical science, the only way physically was going to be downhill.
Given that diagnosis it was frustrating and humiliating beyond common sense that "the system" required my constituent to be continually reassessed for benefit payments to which they were blindingly obviously entitled. Distressing for the claimant and a total waste of time, effort and taxpayers' money and I am heartily glad that the Government that I support, through the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions Damian Green, has finally heeded the case- histories that I and no doubt many others have sent to the Department and has agreed to remove those with longstanding and permanent disabilities from the process.
Most Members of Parliament receive complaints about ATOS and now PIP determinations for Employment Support Allowance and related benefits. Some are from constituents who are, frankly, "swinging the lead" and who need to have their entitlements reviewed or removed. There is no reason why honest and hardworking taxpayers should be required to support the indolent and those who can work but simply choose not to. We have all heard complaints about those who "are getting disability benefit and we see them out on the golf course every day" and since 2010 many of those have been removed from the claimants list. Many others who have wanted to work but have been prevented through lack of assistance from doing so have been helped back into employment and are now enjoying the dignity of a job and the financial benefits that that brings.
There has been, though, a significant number of people whose diagnosis, made by GPs, consultants and other medically qualified practitioners, has been overridden by those less qualified and based on a "tick-box" culture of assessment that bears little relation to individual circumstances and reality. Time and again I have found myself asking for re- considerations in the certain knowledge that a ' Decision Maker' will reject the representation and that months will pass before the case comes up before a Tribunal. On occasions, when time and my limited ability as an advocate have permitted, I have represented some of those cases in person. Invariably I have found the presiding officers at the hearings to be practical, sympathetic and fair and invariably there has been a satisfactory outcome.
Which begs the question why, if a Tribunal can apply common sense, can the initial assessment not apply the same yardstick? Far from ' making the most of their disabilities, personal experience suggests that the majority of claimants are proud, dignified, unwilling to admit to themselves that there are things that sadly they can no longer do for themselves ( which is frequently part of the problem of assessment) and are likely to make light of their difficulties rather than to exaggerate them. Sometimes such cases are hard to adjudicate and I accept that. But to remove at least those with permanent and progressive disease and disability from constant scrutiny is a significant step in the right direction. Long overdue, perhaps, but welcome none the less.