But see, thing is, people on Incapacity Benefits include some of the most vulnerable people in society. We're all made vulnerable by our dependence on the state and our relative poverty, but we're also a crowd of duffers; people who don't always have the intellectual, cognitive, physical or emotional capacity to fight their own corner.
Thus we make an excellent scapegoat. Of course, most of us are white British, so we're not perfect, but if people are fed up with the amount of tax they pay (and people always are), it is a sure winner to point to us sponging cripples and declare that we're not quite as crippled as we look (best of all, some of us don't even look crippled, which is surely proof we're on the make).
This week it was the Tories, with David Cameron stating,
"I don't believe that there are nearly half a million young people in Britain with a disability which prevents them from doing any work at all."In other words, the figures don't sound right so there must be something amiss. What about 250,000? 100,000? 4537? What precise figure would satisfy the man's intuition?
Incidentally, when I was looking for the unfindable figures, I found that the excellent RADAR had had exactly the same idea, but they came up with slightly different myths to me. Also they weren't so angry so if anyone found this via Google and was looking for a serious reason, RADAR is a much better bet. Anyway...
1. People on incapacity benefit are not assessed by a doctor.
People can be so naive; frequently I hear or read people talking as if you just fill in a form, tick the right boxes and receive the cash. The Conservative Party has suggested we should be assessed "regularly" as if that doesn't happen already.
In fact, people on Incapacity Benefit and Severe Disablement Allowance all have to see an independent doctor for an examination at least every three years. They also have to fill in the IB50 and their own GP will be asked for information about their condition. One cannot receive IB at all without a doctor confirming that, to the best of their knowledge, one is incapacitated for work. And I'm not sure anyone gets signed off as permanently incapacitated, even if they are medically retired in any other context.
2. People on Incapacity Benefit have never worked and never have any intention of working.
Nonsense. The majority of people on Incapacity Benefit become incapacitated in middle age. The older you get, the more likely you are to experience significant impairment. So most people on IB have probably worked for thirty or so years before becoming unable to work.
There is the very obvious point that if you do become incapacitated from work in your fifties for a period of a year or so and then get better, you may have significant difficulty getting a new job. This is especially the case if you are now able to work but you are no longer able to do the sort of work you'd done previously.
However, if we want people to return to work when they are able to do so, we need to create a society which doesn't discriminate against older and disabled people (and thus doubly against those that are both). Putting these people on unemployment benefit for the rest of their lives saves a few quid every week, but by lowering them into even greater poverty, we almost guarantee they cost us more in the long run.
3. People on Incapacity Benefit get free cars.
Politicians tend to have done enough research to know this isn't the case but it is a myth frequently repeated by lay people who have no other explanation for seeing wheelchair users driving shiny cars.
But nope. Nobody gets free cars. If you qualify for an entirely different and very specific benefit, Disability Living Allowance Higher Rate Mobility, then you do qualify for the Motability Scheme which enables you to rent a brand new vehicle suitable for your needs at a very cheap rate. But this has futtock-all to do with whether or not a person is or is not able to work.
4. People receive more money in Incapacity Benefit that a hard-working taxpayer earns at their job.
Bolsters. I'm sorry, but it is impossible to receive more in Incapacity Benefit than someone working full-time at a minimum wage job. What's more, with that level of income, your worker gets tax-credits and is entitled to other sorts of help in any case.
There is absolutely no financial gain in getting sick off work - unless you have a private pension or similar lined up and even then that only might make you better off than some workers; you are most unlikely to be better off than you would be if you were working. There are also other exceptions, but they are somewhat odd and apply to just a handful of people.
Possible explanations for people on IB appearing to be much better off than you are may include
(a) They use their money in a different way to you.
(b) Appearances can be deceptive.
(c) .... uh...
5. There are loads of people defrauding the system.
See above then insert a lot of emphatic swearing about what a total and utter pile of pants this is, even though it is widely believed and frequently implied by politicians on both sides of the House. It is just not true.
6. The 40% of people on Incapacity Benefit for mental health problems would be better off if they worked to keep their mind off their troubles.
David Blunkett said it himself when he was in charge of the DWP;
"If people... re-associate with the world of work, suddenly they come alive again. That will overcome depression and stress a lot more than people sitting at home watching daytime television."Yeah, and perhaps he wouldn't need his guide-dog if only he ate more carrots. Yes I know it was years ago, but it was unforgivable.
People incapacitated with mental ill health are even more vulnerable than those with physical impairments. The discrimination these people and their families face is altogether nastier; wheelies might struggle to find housing because of physical access, whereas we hear stories of people with mental ill health struggling to get housing because there's a children's play area in the close vicinity. And if they're not considered to be monsters, of course, then they're not consider to be properly sick at all.
These ideas are shockingly stupid. And yet people with so much power come out with such gems.
7. People receive Incapacity Benefit for minor conditions like acne and obesity.
There was a truly repugnant new story a few months ago when the News of the World used the Freedom of Information Act to get figures of the conditions cited on Incapacity Benefit forms. Whether any of the things listed were part of multiple conditions an individual had, it is unclear - I imagine they were, but it wouldn't have been such a good story if they'd said that.
Originally, the News of the World ran with "Benefit Scroungers too spotty to work" illustrated by the smiling face of someone with one zit and a wad of cash - subtle! Then we had
The Times "Too fat to work", illustrated by a big fat belly and The Guardian "Tiredness among 480 reasons given for being unable to work", among others.
Nobody receives Incapacity Benefit for a condition. We'd all agree that cancer is a serious condition, but whether it stops you working depends entirely on the severity of the particular set of symptoms you happen to have. No diagnosis would be enough. Indeed, it is possible to get IB without diagnosis if it is evident that you are incapacitated by symptoms which are, as yet, unexplained. Which is perfectly sensible; not all conditions have names yet, and those that do can sometimes take months or years to properly diagnose.
As for the obesity and acne, ha ha, if all else fails just point and laugh at fatty and spotty!
There are people with eating disorders, and occasionally a physical disease, which results in such tremendous obesity that a person experiences significant functional impairment and all manner of secondary health problems - including some which place the person in mortal peril. Such cases are extreme, which is why there are apparently only 2000 people in a country of 60 million incapacitated by this sort of problem.
As for acne, one has to stop thinking about spotty teenagers and consider acne in it's worst manifestation. Your skin is inflamed, broken and oozing blood and puss, pretty much all over your body but particularly your face, neck and torso. It is constantly itching and it is difficult to wear clothes which don't rub or add painful pressure. You have significant facial scarring and you feel you have been turned down my employers because of what you look like. Other unpleasant social experiences have completely shattered your confidence, so that you need to summon up courage every time you leave the house.
Rare, I grant you, but so do the statistics. Statistics which imply absolutely nothing about the validity or otherwise of these claims or the fairness of the system as it currently exists.
Hmm. I realise that (a) I've said much of this before and (b) it is unlikely I'm telling anyone reading this anything they didn't already know, but I had to get this out of my system. It was probably better for me than daytime television... Thanks if you read this far down.