Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Sickness Benefits - again!!

Reading the Media recently, it has been shocking to realise how demonised people on sickness benefits have become. So many people do not believe that sick people are actually sick. They seem to believe that almost nobody is genuinely ill and that people on sickness benefits are scroungers, liars, cheats and wasters. This is being whipped up by the press to a fever pitch and judging by some comments, sick people are actually being hated and disbelieved. Because of this, I would like to make some clarifying statements.

1. Contrary to what people think, someone cannot just say "I am sick, and I want sickness benefits" and be given them.

2. The procedure involves a waiting period of 26 weeks before someone is eligible to apply. This does not apply if a person is terminally ill. If that is the case, their application is dealt with under "Special Rules".

3. The condition has to be expected to last for at least another 26 weeks.

4. The claimant has to fill out a 58 page form, then sign it and swear to its veracity. There is a warning on the page of the severe consequences of false statements. Part of the form authorises the DWP to access your medical information.

5. The G.P is consulted by the DWP, plus a Consultant if there is one, and any other health professionals such as physiotherapists. They have to sign statements attesting their diagnosis, treatment and prognosis.

6. ATOS is a firm that employs doctors and other health professionals. ATOS are contracted to the DWP, and they review these forms. Very frequently they call the claimant in for another medical examination, or if necessary, visit them at home. There are rumours that they get bonuses if they manage to find a reason to turn a claim down, but I am not sure that that is true. I suspect it might be true because of the 'target' culture we live in.

7. When claims are declined - as they frequently are - people have to Appeal or go to a Tribunal. In any case, it takes weeks to get a decision, and in most cases the decisions are for a defined period only, and then the whole process has to be gone through again.

The whole business is fraught with tension. There are so many difficulties, so many hoops to jump through that it is easier to give up than to pursue a sickness benefit claim.

Does the general public really believe that a claimant is able to persuade their GP, Consultant, Physiotherapist, Care Manager and the ATOS staff to lie? To put their signatures to legal documents when they know the claim is bogus? A person may be able to persuade one doctor to do so, perhaps, but how could they possibly persuade so many of them to lie on legal documents? If we truly believe our doctors are so venal, how could anyone ever trust them? And the chances are that the claimant doesn't even know the ATOS doctor reviewing the case on the behalf of the DWP.

The DWP themselves estimate that 0.5% of claims are bogus. That is a tiny amount, and the cost of tracking those down would be prohibitive. Now that there is a Benefit Fraud Hotline the public are encouraged to call, there will be many more cases having to be reviewed after the suspect claimant is put under surveillance, and surveillance is exceedingly expensive.

People have brains -why don't they use them instead of fulminating their ignorant hatred in the gutter press? It's not rocket science!!

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