“I had to challenge the Tories Welfare Reform”

On Saturday 27th October, I attended Socialism 2012. Amongst the many speakers, Bill Manwaring of NI Conservatives was a guest speaker. I saw this as an opportunity to challenge the “Welfare Reform Programme” currently being implemented by the coalition government.

I work as a community psychiatric nurse, and see at first hand the negative financial impact this reform bill has had. One aspect of this “Welfare Reform” is the Limited Capacity for Work Assessment questionnaire, which is long and detailed, and decides if a person is entitled to Employment and Support Allowance. This questionnaire is crude and simple. Its priority is to exclude a person to their entitlement to this benefit. There are many questions, which have a score. To qualify for ESA the requirement is 15 points or above. I have had the experience of helping many adults complete this form – adults with severe, long term mental illness, such as schizophrenia, and the list of simple questions ensures they would find it very difficult to meet this score. An example being, “Can you lift a small object from your shirt pocket?”.

It would be fair to say most adults with schizophrenia or other long term chronic mental health problems would be able to do this, as they would be able to climb 20 stairs, walk so many feet unaided etc, but could they be in full time employment? These questions do not assess the disabilities of anyone who has mental health problems. The questionnaire pays little attention to individual disability, and therefore excludes many easily.  I put this question to Bill Manwaring and he was unable to defend the current coalition government programme of reform, and conceded that the “Welfare Reform” programme did require review. I further argued that the current programme of welfare reform did not need review, but needed to be scrapped. This again is another method the coalition government have in excluding those most in need.

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