Saturday 11 September 2010

Carefully stepping

So. @dominiccampbell tweeted a link to this slightly soul destroying story on the Guardians website. Now, for somewhat obvious reasons, I am slightly ferocious on such topics these days. Not because I receive any benefits at all, not because I have ever receive benefits of any kind, but because there but for the grace of god rings more true with some of us than perhaps others.

For the record, I did not avoid claiming benefits for any high faluting reason other than that to set foot in a Job Centre was one of the most soul destroying experiences of my life, that I got a job before any money ever made it into my account, and I vowed never ever to repeat the experience again if there was anything at all I could do to avoid it. The resolve of which led to assorted really rather random temping jobs I really wasn't qualified for, but there you are.

Anyway. After my initial reaction, which was 'oh here we go again, first it was us public sector bods, now it's the other group of people who are hard pushed to defend themselves without sounding whiny, the people in receipt of ESA'. On reflection, actually, at least us public sector bods have a means to express our displeasure, being as how I'd guess most of us have access to a keyboard and connection. Recipients of ESA, I would imagine, are not quite so unilaterally lucky.

So, I'll be gobby on their behalf on the understanding that there is a comment section below, and I fully and wholeheartedly accept that I may be wrong on some of the following assumptions and that I will, quite happily, accept this in the way that I have historically and will continue to do so, because I don't actually know anything at all, only wish to know everything.

One of the reasons, one assumes that a person may end up in receipt of ESA is mobility problems. I'd tell you what criteria there actually are for being in receipt of ESA but all the documentation says refer to DMG 41012 and of course, guess what? Well, you try Googling it.

So I assume some of the people in receipt of ESA have mobility problems. Some of these will be static and some will be degenerative. But surely some of those people, if given broadband connections and adequate training could work from home? Of course, allowing them to work from home would require a seismic shift in employers attitudes to allowing people to work from home, to sorting out secure tokens for them - but all of this should be possible should it not? It is, after all, the 21st century, no?

Except, of course, this is Great Britain. And we are not a Scandinavian country who manage to get it so right, but the country who manages to get it so wrong, and so instead of enabling people to get back to work on their terms, within the parameters of their restrictions, so that those restrictions disappear into the ether of the world wide web, email, telnet and all the other magical little tools which mean you don't actually have to sit behind a desk in an office which is absolutely resolutely not designed to accomodate a wheelchair, you can, instead, contribute to the economy, be proud of yourself, and gain all the benefits we all take for granted of getting up in the morning, driving to work, and coming home (one hopes) feeling vaguely achieved for the day. Because, you see, digital tech means we could. We really could. We could, with a little of that old blue sky thinking which actually should be called green sky thinking in this country for the regularity with which it happens in government, give a large amount of people some connection back. Some worth back? I don't know.

What I think I do know, is that there really must be some people out there who, if given the tech to do it, would run forums for the government, act as moderators, contribute ideas, pass on some innovation, and generally be absolutely fab.

Except they can't, because the digital framework that is needed for them to do so is nothing so much as a pipe dream and so instead we take money from them, instead of enabling them to earn more. If someone could enlighten me as to how that is not in any way short sighted, ludicrous, a complete misdirection of public savings and an insult of discrimination to boot, because I am struggling and I'd like someone to come along and explain this to me in words of 1 syllable. What am I missing here?


  1. ESA (or DLA, etc) covers a wide range of qualifying criteria: not all of them assessable by a fast-track questionnaire or measurement-based physical medical exam.
    Emphasis on "physical" in the previous paragraph, because not all work-preventing illnesses are physical; more work needs to be done recognising and assessing 'mental health'. Some of these conditions make reliable working difficult, and call upon the greatest of goodwill from employers and others affected, which is not always forthcoming.
    I fear for anyone with mental health issues trying to keep a job, and then their lifeline income when they're assessed as 'fit to work'.

  2. It's such a hard situation as everyone hears about the people taking advantage of the situation. But there are others who lose their benefits and can be too ill to appeal. Then the assumption that if someone says you are fit to work you will just find a job easily...

  3. J5V> I know. And there is no doubt that this 'review' will, as usual, hit the most vulnerable exactly where it hurts. Flexibility of employers is as big as barrier in some ways as the lack of understanding of how tech could help.

    Trio> I hear you. It isn't that simple. Changes to workplaces to make them more accesible don't seem to be resulting in my seeing many more people actually in the workplace taking advantage of that fact. So is it that people are not applying for the jobs, or is it that they are but they're not getting the jobs? We don't know. There's also the consideration, like you say, that not everyone is lucky enough to have a carer or advocate who understands the complications of the benefits system and who is armed well enough to fight and appeal wrong decisions. It's a mess.