Tele column – 3rd March 2017

For some time now I have been saying that the welfare system is not fit for purpose. It puts unnecessary strain on those who rely on it and those that administer it. That relationship is a difficult one and was highlighted in the Ken Loach movie ‘I Daniel Blake’. Building a good working relationship between jobcentre staff and service users is a difficult and often arduous task, so it doesn’t help when politicians ride rough shod through the arena with scant regard for the compassion required or sensitivity of the subject. The most recent example of a complete lack of understanding of the situation and indeed the injustice being perpetrated on the most vulnerable section of our society was the abhorrent view expressed by Tory MP and head of the Number 10 Policy Unit George Freeman. The UK government has announced emergency legislation to change PIPs, which replaced Disability Living Allowance, and overturn two tribunal rulings last year which it claims would have added £3.7bn to the benefits bill by 2023. The support was designed to help people cope with the extra costs of living with ill health or disability. Mr Foreman said the most recent changes would ensure that benefits went to people who are “really disabled” rather than people “who suffer from anxiety”. I sometimes wonder what the Tories say in private if they are comfortable making statements such as that in public. For a Tory MP and one of Theresa May’s most senior advisers to suggest that people with a mental health disability are not “really disabled” is completely unacceptable. His words also highlight this Tory government’s total lack of understanding or compassion when it comes to providing for those who are less fortunate than others. Mental health issues are as real as physical disability. Neither should be treated lightly. One in four people in the United Kingdom will experience a mental health issue each year. Not all will be debilitating but it’s foolish to dismiss these issues and callas to class the most severe as not really disabled.