Friday 22 March 2013

A Form Of Abuse?

Many of us have come across a few people who exaggerate their illness or disability in order to avoid work and claim benefits. To say otherwise is immediately to lose the credence of anybody whom you are trying to persuade to be more sympathetic about the problems which honest people have with benefits.

But I don't come across people with a serious mental illness who are exaggerating their condition. It is actually all too common for them to exaggerate their fitness because that's what their inquisitors evidently want to hear.

Sometimes, and saddest of all, their illness may be at a "high" point where they believe they can do pretty much anything and don't believe they are ill at all - and the consequences of that, unless the assessor is extremely well trained in distinguishing delusional beliefs from grounded ones, could be catastrophic.

Many scrupulously honest people are being put under intolerable pressure by assessments and in many cases losing benefits which they badly need and to which they are legally entitled. Some may get the benefits back on appeal; others will give up, unable to fight on under the intense worry and pressure, and so slide into severe poverty.

The evidence for this is the extent of mistakes being made in assessments: see the story here.

Hafal's view is that it is completely unacceptable for decisions about vulnerable people's livelihood and ability to fend for themselves to be made without the most solid support arrangements. At a minimum people with a serious mental illness need expert advocacy, skilled both in understanding mental illness and the benefits system, right alongside clients both for the purposes of filling forms and attending assessment interviews.

None of this support would help dishonest people but it would safeguard honest people from what some would call a form of abuse - taking away their scant resources without ensuring that they are first able to present the truth about their condition.

On a practical note: if you are applying for benefits or subject to assessment don't hesitate - get advice and support. A belt-and-braces plan is to approach both your mental health team and a benefits advice agency - making sure of course they both know who you are involving.

And, if a decision goes against you, unless you are really sure they got it right, then appeal.

Of course you can talk to your local Hafal project too and they will help - at the least by helping you identify the right agencies to approach.


Not everything costs money. Mrs Blog mysteriously told me to go to Body Shop before 31 March and say "Happy Bunny!" to the staff. Feeling a bit of a prat I did...and they gave me a £3 voucher! The only thing I could find under £3 was a bar of soap for £2 - they didn't give me change but you shouldn't push your luck I suppose. Get along there and claim your free soap...