So what is 'disability'?

This is a little snippet from the ONS Opinions and Lifestyle survey, pulled out for  ad hoc analysis by the DWP.  From Tables 10 and 11 in the analysis, 62% of people identified as disabled said that they did not think of themselves as being disabled. Among the people with disabilities who said they were not disabled, more than half (55%) said it was because they could carry out their normal day-to-day activities, and 27% described themselves as fit and able to live a full life.  Others put down their limitations to ill health or old age. Among those identified as ‘disabled’, 26% said they did think of themselves as being disabled, and 11% said ‘sometimes’.

One of the central problems with our benefit system is that it relies on claimants being able to recognise where the boundaries fall.  People don’t necessarily identify their needs in the same way, and they can’t place themselves in the neat little boxes we ask them to plump for.  Needs change, from month to month and sometimes from day to day.  It’s not just a problem with disability or health.  Ask people living on the edge about their work status, their income and the state of their relationships and they often can’t answer directly.  Unfortunately, that is all too likely to be taken as an indication of evasion, obstruction or fraud.

All the trend at present is to ‘personalisation’ – making the system more individual and more responsive.  That is absolutely the wrong way to go.  It is intrusive and  arrogant – no administration can respond consistently and fairly on this basis.   We need to allow more latitude for  changes in circumstance , covering longer time periods and broader categories. The benefits system has to look at needs in ways that are less detailed, less personal, and less presumptuous.

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