There is little doubt that your attitudes to issues can change overnight once you experience them first hand.
I’ve always had a rather ambivalent attitude towards incapacity benefit and disability living allowance.
But I tend to side with the various disability pressure groups expressing serious misgivings at the government’s plans to shake-up the disability benefits system.
Under the changes fewer people will qualify for benefits for being unable to work as a new test will be introduced to assess the claimant’s fitness. There is no doubt that the system needed to change, but making it even tougher, even more inflexible and even less sympathetic is not the way forward.
The system was already too rigid and didn’t take into account what I consider to be the fundamental fact that the various conditions, illnesses and disabilities people suffer with can change from day to day, week to week and month to month. What someone is capable of achieving on a Monday morning, might be completely beyond them by Tuesday evening.
How do you measure such fluctuations? I’m not sure I have the answer, but then again neither does the existing system and the new procedures will hardly improve the situation.
These days I do have a vested interest. My views are coloured by the experiences of my wife over the last 12-18 months. Diagnosed with ME/CFS at the start of the year she’d been struggling for a lot longer with various health problems and is now officially unemployed having reached an agreement to terminate her contract with her former employer.
There is little sign of a light at the end of the tunnel in terms of her working in a “normal” full or part-time job and her situation is further complicated by the fact her condition can vary from day to day.
It is clear from the experiences of others in a similar position that such fluctuations count against claimants, rather than for them. So what exactly are the benefits to making the system even less flexible?
I’m not sure I’ll get an answer from Work and Pensions Secretary Peter Hain, who seems more concerned in trotting out the usual headline grabbing soundbites and perpetuating the myth of what he rather gleefully described as “sick note Britain”.
A more accurate of the current picture and what is likely to happen with Mr Hain’s tough new regime is likely to come from places like this.
The true picture is hardly helped by media-friendly surveys like the one showing that tiredness, gout and acne are some of the illnesses cited by incapacity benefit claimants.
These statistics help the Government to try and justify its misguided changes, but do they actually represent the full story? No, clearly they don’t.
But why let that get in the way of a juicy soundbite and an easy way out of a tricky situation, especially if you haven’t got a clue how to solve it properly?