by Joseph Markus
Disability, in the majority of cases, is an accident of fate. People—most of the time—will not choose to suffer a disability.
At the heart of our social compact, articulated most obviously in the idea of the welfare state, is the understanding that a society should care for its most disadvantaged members. A person suffering from disability may not be able to pursue productive work in the same way as a person who is not disabled, meaning that they will not have the capacity either to independently look after themselves or to contribute to society through taxation.
But that is not seen as a problem in this case because most fair-minded people recognise that disability is not a choice and it is certainly not something for which an individual should be penalised.
This is why for around half of the last century, and all of this one, the state has provided support to these individuals.
The Government is now proposing to cut the amount spent on Disability Living Allowance (soon-to-be-called the Personal Independence Payment) by 20%—an arbitrary figure, unconnected with the proportion of benefit fraudsters (a paltry 0.5%)—and re-assess the claim to disability of all those claiming the benefit.
One of the major problems highlighted by commentators is the a-contextuality of the Government’s approach. They do not foresee the many problems that face disabled families, such as the fact that parents of disabled children may not be able to find work—as full-time care for the children would exceed their hypothetical wages—that a large, multi-bedroomed house may actually be a requirement for several severely autistic children, and that subsistence provision can deprive isolated and immobile people of important social contact with friends and family. Driven by the overbearing desire to cut costs, some things are bound to be overlooked.
There has been some speak of the ‘problem’ of rising numbers of DLA claimants. There is certainly a problem, but the Government appears to have misidentified it.
The fact that the numbers of people who consider themselves to be disabled—and sufficiently so to enable them to receive DLA—is increasing is not a good thing. The majority of this growing group of claimants point to a mental, rather than physiological, disability, and we should not be proud of this.
The Government, rather, is concerned with the fiscal impact of this growth in numbers. It simply is not on for the number of claimants to be increasing—they say; this growth needs to stop and the way to achieve this is to impose an (arbitrary) cap on the amount each claimant can receive.
The logic of that formula is such that the more people claim Disability Living Allowance, the greater the reductions in the amount of Living Allowed.
Those with a disability are not an underclass to whom we owe a meagre and basic living. They are an equal part of this—and any—society. We should treat them with that basic point in mind. This is not an area of social policy where the ulterior motive is to ‘get them back into work’, the only motive must be one of solidarity.
The old saying goes that you can judge a society from the way in which it treats its most disadvantaged members. Accepting that, how highly can we rate ours?