Thursday, February 21, 2008

Brace yourself

Good Morning, this is Captain Dizzy speaking and I just want to inform you that we've lost an engine and people should get into the brace position as we are about to crash land. OK, it's a bit over-dramatic but you do need to brace yourself because I am actually about to praise a Government policy. Right, are you ready? Good, then I shall, as they say, begin.

I've blogged before about the problem of those on incapacity benefit. Specifically the number of people that get permanently signed off work but who can actually work. My irritation actually comes from personal experience because I know of someone who was signed off and the reason was because they were unable to work doing what they had done for decades in their chosen profession.

Not allowing this person to do that job for medical reasons was a sound decision. Signing them off onto incapacity benefit was not because they were not actually incapacitated. There were many hundreds of other jobs that they could do but the position of incapacity benefit has always been based upon, or at least it appears to be based upon, signing someone off on the basis of what their skills of current employment are.

Yesterday, Alan Johnson said that changes would occur so that instead of having 'sick notes', you would have a 'well note' that would outline what you could do, rather than simply saying 'this person can do sweet FA'. Now, if you get yourself over the absurd and silly name of a 'well note' you can see that a policy like this could actually be quite beneficial in terms of reducing some of the unnecessary claimants to the incapacity benefit pot.

Of course, there will be those opposed to such things who will see it as evil and right wing i.e. it targets the poor disabled person. But the reality is that unless you're seriously psychotic; an unfortunate born with severe deformities; quadriplegic; have advanced motor neurone disease; or perhaps riddled with bone cancer so much that moving is agony without the morphine, then there is going to be work that you can do. In the last case it's even possible you could work in bed (my mother did before she died).

Now you may think that the work offered belittles your ability. In fact you'd be amazed how many people see the idea of working on a supermarket till as low, but the truth is you'll get more money doing that than you will on benefit and you get yourself out meeting people as well. As someone who spent six years stacking shelves and sitting on tills because I wanted to work rather than sit on the dole like so many other druggie/junkie types I knew at the time, I can at least say I've done it.

Having said this, and having praised an idea by the Government my cynicism does still know no bounds. In principle the idea would have a positive effect on outlining whether someone really is unable to work. I'm thinking here of an adult born with thalidomide deformities like a quarter arm and a finger sticking out of their shoulder. That sort of person is practically and genuinely limited by what they can do. However, someone who was say a bricklayer who can no longer walk can go and work somewhere else, doing something else, and so they should.

The real question of course is whether the Government's announcements are anymore than announcements. If past history is anything to go by we'll probably see the policy re-announced a few times between now and the next election like so many others have been.


Anonymous said...

It is really important the benefits available do not come close to what can be earned through working. The closer the two become, the less likely people are to get off their backsides.

Anonymous said...


Another factor here is whether the government should switch money currently spent on invalidity benefit and spend it instead on subsidising the employer to take on the disabled person.

If it costs an employer an additional £2,000 per year to provide modified equipment for a disabled person to do a job equally as productively as an able bodied person, then better it pays that amount as a subsidy rather than the incapacity benefit.

Whether that subsidised person should be in a mainstream employer or a sheltered employer such as Remploy (at a higher level of subsidy) is then a whole other debate.

Anonymous said...

A huge proportion of those on incapacity benefit suffer from bad backs and/or depression. The diagnosis for both these disabilities largely depends on what the patient tells the doctor. Should the doctor say, 'I don't believe you. You are perfectly able to work.'? Hardly fits the image of the caring profession.

No, the only long-term solution is to ensure that a man in work earns about twice as much as he would get on benefits.

Young men and women who have left school unable to read or write should be treated as 'intentionally unemployed' and lose all benefits.

John M Ward said...

Oh, the Government do sometimes come up with good ideas, even though some of them are nicked from the Conservatives (and rather obviously at that).

It is delivering those ideas that tends to be poor, by and large; and sometimes it appears that the stated policy was never intended to be put into practice anyway -- at least not in the stated form. Genuinely good policies tend to alienate large sections of Labour's traditional voters...

I can vouch for the fact that working at a supermarket, including on the check-outs, has nothing wrong with it. It is a vital part of modern society, and I certainly enjoyed my three years doing it as part of my work at the local Asda.

I also worked on the Produce Dept, and can state that lugging pallets stacked higher than one's own head height full of heavy items such as swede, and then putting them out (with rotation of existing stock) is a good way to exercise!

I did that every weekend for over six months, before replacing the weekend Greeter when he left. It was a great time; and even though Council work eventually became so great that I had to give up my employment, I still look back fondly on those times.

I have always tried to work, and found that the weeks in between jobs could easily have become a slippery slope downward into idleness. That is a dead-end kind of existence, and one I for one would not recommend to anyone.

Anonymous said...

As you say, there are very few 'invalids' who are too badly disabled to work.

I used to work for a bloke who was hideously disabled. No legs to speak of, one working arm and a spine as bent as an MP's expenses. Yet he steered his electric wheelchair onto the train every morning and went to work in the office like the rest of us.

The doubling of incapacity benefit costs since Labour came to power is a consequence of using IB to hide the true extent of unemployment in Britain. I know people who are long term unemployed and they've all been advised to 'go on the sick' by staff at the job centre.

In the absence of a workfare scheme, people forced off incapacity benefit will just return to other benefits. They won't suddenly decide to get a job.

Anonymous said...

Shame on you for associating your royal Toryness with those druggy-stroke-junkie types.