Just over two weeks ago, I heard and wrote about the case of Liam Barker. Eighteen years old, paralysed since birth, he breathes through a ventilator.
His parents had just received a letter informing them that in order to receive Employment Support Allowance, he might have to prove he is unable to work by attending a Work Capability Assessment.
Just over two weeks ago, I first started wondering how many more Liam Barkers there would be.
I am sad to say that on Thursday, I heard of a case very similar to that of Liam Barker.
Ruth recently attended a WCA. She was found fit for work and told to prepare to find a job within a year.
Like Liam Barker, Ruth Anim has a loving mother, who immediately appealed the findings of her WCA. Ruth Anim is lucky. Unlike Michelle Barker, Cecelia Anim is the deputy president of the Royal College of Nursing.
This meant that over the last few days, Ruth Anim’s case has received greater media coverage than Liam Barker’s case did. The Guardian and BBC websites both covered the story in articles. Friday’s Guardian letters section was dedicated to the issue of disability benefits, hooked on her story. The same day, BBC London News ran a TV piece about her.
On Friday, ATOS apologised to the Anims for the ‘error’ they made in finding Ruth fit for work. It is to be hoped that the Barkers have received a similar apology for the distress caused to them by the DWP’s recent letter. But there is a strong possibility that the Anims would not have received an apology if Cecelia Anim did not have a high profile.
Like the Barkers, Cecelia Anim realises that other disabled people may not have the support her daughter has. She wants to challenge the current system.
Cecelia and Ruth Anim may have won their appeal for now, but Ruth will be assessed again in two years.
Ruth Anim and Liam Barker may have very different disabilities, but sadly, benefit assessments have placed them in very similar situations. Both are severely disabled. It is clear to anyone who hears their stories that neither will be any more fit for work in two years’ time than they are today.
That’s why assessing either of them again will be a greater waste of government time and taxpayers’ money than simply providing both of them with the benefits they are so clearly genuinely entitled to. This is without taking into consideration the emotional stress that will be caused to them and their parent carers by the process, first of attending assessments and later of appealing against wrong decisions.
When I was trying hard to publicise the case of Liam Barker online two weeks ago, someone suggested that a database should be kept of people who are too severely disabled to ever be fit for work. This is an idea that should be given serious consideration by all relevant government departments.
Because the next severely disabled person who is threatened with, or sent to, a WCA may not have supportive, high profile parents. They may not have the ability to appeal if they are wrongly found fit for work. They may not be able to do anything but suffer in silence.
Yesterday at the Conservative Party Conference, the Chancellor, George Osborne, revealed plans to cut another £10 billion from the welfare budget. He did not specifically mention disability benefits in this speech.
Two weeks ago I hoped that we would never have to hear of another Liam Barker. And weeks later, George Osborne’s plans have again filled me with fear, and doubt.
If you or someone you know is in a similar position, please email email@example.com
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