I just saw this article highlighted: http://www.guardian.co.uk/society/2011/may/31/incapacity-benefit-cuts-mental-health. It details how changes to the incapacity benefit system is having a drastic and negative impact on people with mental health problems.
Anyone who knows me, knows that very few things annoy me enough that I have to speak up about it. But having been through this ludicrous system, I feel like I should have a say about this.
Firstly, the “assessments” themselves are so unfair. They are basically box-ticking exercises. If you don’t get enough points on their insane system, you lose your benefit. That’s it. The assessments are carried out by independently contracted companies, so there must be some element of profiteering in that to start with. Instead of reviewing your form, you are given half an hour to try and provide enough evidence that you can’t cope with work through their often leading questioning. These assessments do not take into account any form of medical or other evidence from doctors or support workers. It is purely based on your responses in the interview.
Now, I’m not a medical expert, just someone who’s been through this – but many of these people have emotional difficulties and anxiety problems which make talking, especially about their personal issues, very difficult. So, how are they supposed to meet some mysterious criteria, while talking to a total stranger in a very official and clinical setting? On top of that they are basically fighting for their only source of income. How is that fair??
Secondly, once you’ve inevitably failed your assessment you are then set on a cycle of appeals and reassessments. The system seems to be ‘fail anyone who is not UNDENIABLY unfit for work’, just to save some money. This doesn’t work when you actually look at it. People who fail their assessment can appeal and stay on a base-level of benefits in the interim. However, the average waiting time for a appeal hearing is 3 months. This is the 3 months of worrying about the upcoming tribunal and the consequences thereafter. Most appeals are accepted, however there are a growing number being rejected. If you are lucky enough to reach an actual hearing and then even luckier to win your appeal, you can almost guarantee you’ll be called for a reassessment within a month or two; and so the cycle begins again.
From a purely financial stand-point this vicious cycle doesn’t make sense. The cost of constant assessments and tribunals must outweigh any savings made by taking a few people at a time off benefits. Of course there are those who claim benefits without legitimate claims, but the fact that people with clear, irrefutable medical evidence are being swept up in this is ludicrous.
It doesn’t take a genius to realise that people with emotional problems are not going to do well living in fear of this system. The anxiety surrounding the assessments and the potential of your only way of feeding yourself being taken away cannot be healthy for ANYONE. I know not every person with a mental illness is suicidal, but the damage to people’s emotions and self-esteem done by this system should be enough to merit a rethink.
Having been through this system (I failed my assessment but couldn’t be bothered waiting for a hearing) and worked with people either in the cycle or those helping them, I can say that something needs to change. I know, from first-hand stories that people have been trying to get the government to change the policy since it was introduced 3 years ago.
On top of this failure in the benefits system, they are cutting funding to vital projects and organisations which are trying to work with people to help them help themselves into a position where they are able to work and thus come off benefits anyway. To me this just emphasises the fact that those trumpeting about the so-called “Big Society”, have no idea what it’s like on the ground. It all makes sense on paper and it ticks all the economic boxes, but have they thought about the social impact that will be felt now and for generations down the line? I think not.