Tuesday, September 28, 2010

I register for a PhD on Friday.

Would you like some terror with that order of academia?

My house is still really quite inaccessible (as of today there are no longer big holes in the floor, but I keep tripping over the random boxes of crap that are absolutely everywhere, and we don't have many places to sit down yet). I interview for new PAs (aka carers) on Thursday, and so far only have about four potential candidates (for two posts). We are massively lacking on the furniture front. Oh, and The Girl goes away on Friday, for at least a couple of weeks. In the midst of all this chaos, I'm going to be pretending to be a research student.

Well aware that I have entirely neglected this blog over the past year, I shall endeavour to do better (while also trying to remember to update the equally-ignored research blog). I bloody need to. The disorganisation in my house is reflective of total anarchy in my head, and I have no idea where to start with that. I'm picking a hell of a time to start playing the consummate professional again. Wish me luck.

Friday, August 13, 2010

ESA: It Doesn't Add Up

This is cross-posted from Where's The Benefit, a new team-written blog aiming to counter-campaign against the government's distressing War on Welfare Claimants. This was my first post for WtB, so don't be too mean about it. Thank you.

The government now has two different, simultaneous official responses to the medical tests for Employment Support Allowance (ESA), which replaced Incapacity Benefit in 2008 for those who cannot work due to illness or disability. These responses, unsurprisingly, contradict each other.

On the one hand, Chris Grayling wants the rules "tightened" to make it harder to claim benefits. He seems particularly concerned about people who start a claim for ESA and then discontinue it before they reach the top of the queue for their medical test (apparently without considering legitimate reasons why this might happen, such as an improvement in health). That's Official Government Opinion on ESA Medicals Number 1. As usual, the rhetoric is that we must weed out as many 'scroungers' as possible. As usual, important relevant facts are missing - in this case, that the level of benefit received while waiting for a medical assessment is the same low rate that Jobseekers' Allowance claimants receive. I'm not entirely sure the figures add up, either.

Yet a few months ago, a group of nineteen disability- and welfare-related organisations, led by the Citizens' Advice Bureau (CAB), released a report calling for a review of the medical test for ESA. In particular, the report highlighted concerns over a low success rate among ESA claimants - rates which Disability Alliance clearly states here. It also offered evidence of the "limited effectiveness of the assessment", and poor treatment by medical assessors, which they claim especially fails those with more complex medical conditions. Examples of CAB clients who had failed the test included "people in the advanced stages of Parkinson's Disease and Multiple Sclerosis, people with severe mental illness, and [people] awaiting open heart surgery." Lisa and incurable hippie have already posted about cases that demonstrate the problems associated with the target-driven medical assessors who conduct the ESA medicals. This report confirms that these are far from being isolated cases.

In response to the report and the organisations' concerns, the government has now agreed to an urgent review into the Work Capability Test, the medical assessment for ESA. In response to comments from the review group, Grayling appeared to support the review. He said that he understood claimants' concerns and anxieties, and that the tests needed to be "applied sensitively". So that would be Official Government Opinion on ESA Medicals Number 2, then.

The review group will report on the Work Capability Test towards the end of this year. We might expect a responsible government to reduce the negative rhetoric that the group has already complained about, and leave further ESA-related comments until after the publication of their report. Which makes Chris Grayling's comments this week all the more concerning. Even more worrying is the way the government uses similar statistics as those that led to calls for a review. Remember that concern in the CAB report over the low success rate among people claiming ESA? The government thinks it just demonstrates how many people are capable of work.

In fairness to the media, there are some newspapers that have highlighted the ways in which the government has spun these figures to its own advantage. This article also highlights the fact that four in ten appeals by people who have been refused ESA are successful. This may not be a huge percentage, but it certainly suggests that significant numbers of claimants are unfairly becoming victims of the government's cost-cutting approach. No wonder there's so much anxiety around the ESA medical assessments. Anxiety that won't help those who already have long-term illnesses, or mental health problems, or acute life-threatening conditions - or who are already living in fear and poverty as a result of the War on Welfare Claimants.

Our caring Tory government: capable of viewing the same results of ESA testing as both a serious concern for the poor sick people who are being refused help and a triumph for the scroungers who are being rooted out. But mainly the second one.

Don't forget that you can contribute towards the review of the Work Capability Test, as incurable hippie posted recently, if you have any experiences that you think would be useful to the group conducting the review process.

Thanks to members of the BBC Ouch messageboard for sharing some of the links in this post.

Saturday, May 08, 2010

The views of a disabled Lib Dem supporter on a coalition with the Conservatives

Dear Liberal Democrat representative,

I understand that the party has asked for the views of supporters on a coalition with the Conservatives. I am writing to offer an opinion, as a lifelong voter and supporter of the Liberal Democrats.

I would like to outline just a few reasons why I believe this coalition would be an appalling mistake, and a violation of the votes of those who supported the Liberal Democrats *against* the Tories, in good faith.

The Tories want to destroy the welfare state and the NHS. As a disabled person reliant on disability benefits and the care system, and pleased to live in a country that offers these things to its citizens, I am terrified that the Tories will leave me destitute and without care or medical support. Please stand up for the welfare state.

Nick Clegg himself has been outspoken on the Tory 'marriage tax allowance' policy, which privileges marriage over alternative families, including my own LGBT partnership, and the many single parent families and extended families of all shapes and sizes that make up the UK. Please stand up for alternative families.

The Tories have no commitment to civil liberties, the environment, an end to Trident, or electoral reform. The Liberal Democrats are distinctive in all these things. It's why I support you. It's why I campaigned with my local Lib Dem candidate and spent hours helping the Lib Dems on polling day. It's why I'm seriously considering joining the party, even though party membership for ordinary voters is something I've never been sure about before. I will not be able to join, however, if there is a coalition that violates everything I believe in and everything that has led me to support the Liberal Democrats for my entire adult life.

I urge the party to consider their supporters and voters carefully in deciding on a direction for a coalition. More than this, however, I urge you to consider the needs and rights of ordinary people in the UK.

With thanks,

Naomi --


If you agree, and want to share your views with party HQ, e-mail balancedparliament@libdemvoice.org . They've asked for views before 2pm today, but I'm sure they'd find views useful at any time this weekend.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

The Comment From Hell: On Health and Ideologies of Health

I just posted a comment on Sociological Images, in relation to a post of theirs on images of obesity and the environment, and how the two are linked in the concept of personal responsibility. What interested me was their discussion of health ideologies.

So this was the comment-from-hell that I left in response to the post. (Sorry it's so long, Sociological Images. But if you will keep posting interesting things that make me reflect sociologically...)

...the most interesting thing about this shift in ideologies of health (and one reason it’s linked with environmentalism) is the concept of personal responsibility. Health used to be understood as something that ‘happened to’ people. That, too, was a mis-reading of the situation, since disease usually spread because of poor living conditions related to poverty, and this wasn’t acknowledged in social policy until about the early twentieth century. Nonetheless, for centuries a person’s health status was not understood as something that they could do much about.

But today, in our consumer society, health is seen as an issue of personal responsibility. Need to lose weight? You should be paying for the best gyms and the most expensive fresh, preferably organic meat and produce. You shouldn’t be poor and stretched for time, without the means to make decent meals and without access to exercise facilities, and with all manner of difficulties relating to living conditions or educational background. Need to recover from an injury? Pay for the best healthcare practitioners, so that you can be back to work and contributing to the economy as quickly as is humanly possible (preferably quicker). If you can only afford to wait for the NHS, be careful – if long-term impairment results, and it affects your employment potential, you’ll be punished for it later. Do not ever make the wrong health-related choices. You will be forever reminded of this – while other situations, like doctors’ mistakes, will go easily forgotten.

Among the most affected by this new ideology of health-as-personal-responsibility are disabled people, who are seen by practitioners and the public alike as being personally responsible for disability. We are not, of course, because disability is a socially created form of oppression. But you’d never know that to listen to a doctor or physiotherapist talk to a disabled person (or to read the Daily Mail reflecting on Incapacity Benefit). We must do our exercises and buy the best rehabilitation equipment and work impossibly hard towards ‘recovery’ and definitely, definitely not end up dependent on the state for our unreasonably high living expenses.

Like Melissa says above about the environment, then: the concept of personal responsibility in health is being used to distract us from the social, political and economic causes of poor health. We need to refocus social policy on reducing health inequalities, as well as onto education, social welfare and (not least) health services. A healthy society would be a society where everyone could afford, and was empowered, to make healthy life choices. It’s a shame that the ‘obesity project’ gives us the opposite message.

In memememe news, I have been tired, pained and sublux-y for the last few months, hence the NaBloPoMo FAIL and the dearth of content here. I shall endeavour to fix that. I managed to get my dissertation in (still waiting for the result) and am working on journal articles. After which there will be PhD applications. Treadmill, anyone? Fortunately, otherwise life is good.