Maria Miller, Minister for Disabled People, made the extraordinary claim, on the BBC on Saturday night, that there is no shortage of British jobs but rather a lack of appetite among unemployed people to fill the vacancies. This news will have come as a shock to the millions (including my own son, made redundant last week) currently fighting over the few available openings in the North of England just now. According to The Guardian today, in chilly Hartlepool there is currently one vacancy for every 16 jobseekers, although if they were to follow Norman Tebbit’s famous (or rather infamous) advice and cycle down the country’s least appealing road past the nuclear power station and chemical works to Middlesbough the job/applicant ratio is a slightly less desperate but still depressing 1/12.
The truth is that Ms Miller’s comment is the most insulting to unemployed people since…..well, since last week actually, when one of her colleagues in the Commons, during the debate on the welfare reform bill, spoke of the unemployed joining “the real world,” by which she presumably means the one inhabited by the families of Tory MPs, who, I think it fair to guess, wouldn’t get out of bed for a week’s full amount of Jobseeker’s Allowance and certainly would not miss that amount (currently £67.50 for a single person aged 25 or over), should it be deducted from their salary as a member of the House or from one of their many directorships on the side.
Maria Miller spoke up last week in favour of removing certain entitlements from the very disabled people she is nominally supposed to represent and so, I should imagine, would have been proud to have sat in on my tribunal last Friday, especially when a wing member tried to suggest that the fact my client had managed to hobble on crutches to her hospital appointments suggested she was not virtually unable to walk. When the claimant also said she occasionally went to the shop across the road she was asked how far this distance might be. The doctor gave her some alternative possibilities when she wasn’t able to hazard a guess at how far this trek might be. 40 metres was his first suggestion, followed by 60 and the 70 metres. Now, my client does not live next to the M1 but on a suburban housing estate, where the roads are, I expect, no wider than they would be outside the doctor’s own house, so it is, to say the least, unlikely that to get to the other side she would have to walk more than the width of four cars, which would be around 20 to 25 yards at most.
We managed to squeeze an award of DLA mobility component from this travesty but my goodness it was hard work, especially since the tribunal members questioned her for an hour on the two pieces of evidence which were detrimental to her case and entirely ignored the seven which were supportive. Again it was left to me to point out to them that they are an independent (i.e. neutral) tribunal who are not meant to behave as if they are learned counsel for the prosecution. It took another hour for me to go through all the evidence that the tribunal had neglected. It was all worth it in the end but I think we are entitled to ask what has happened behind the scenes to make it so difficult these days to get the tribunal to behave independently, to remind them of the actual regulations rather than the strange interpretations they prefer and to bring the appeal to a successful conclusion.
And if things look grim for claimants now they are going to be a whole lot worse when DLA is replaced by the Personal Independence Payment (PIP) which will lead them (or, if you prefer, us, since bad luck could befall anyone in the course of the year) to be subjected to the tender mercies of the Atos Health Professionals. It’s an ill wind that blows nobody any good, however, and for the tribunal members the new harsher system will bring a new bonanza of expenses claims, and many more opportunities to patronise and insult those less fortunate than themselves.
This article first appeared on Felix McHugh’s blog ‘Ramblings’
Felix McHugh is a Welfare Rights worker whose latest book ‘Damned Scroungers’ has recently been publishedTags: Domestic (UK)
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This post was written by Felix McHugh