One of the most common topics for discussion between SIBF members is the complex and worrying issue of benefits. This is certainly the case during the breaks in meetings or between members over phone and email exchanges. In particular these conversations often have a focus on disability-related benefits. This is no surprise given the devastating impacts of viral infection that include reduced capacity to work and earn, combined with all the increased costs of living with a virus.
Typical questions and experiences that have been raised include:
One way the SIBF can really help the members is to provide a forum for these issues to be discussed and possible solutions shared. This is expected to be a lively topic for the Members’ Forum. As a starter, here are some things to bear in mind when filling in forms or preparing for assessments or appeals tribunals:
As an initial response to these issues the remainder of this article will concentrate on the medical assessment (sometimes referred to as the Work Capacity Assessment). You should remember that this is an ‘assessment’. Someone has the job of assessing how unwell (or not) and how capable (or not) a person is. Some of that assessment is done though the written forms to be completed prior to being called to have a face-to-face meeting. The assessor will likely be a doctor or a nurse. They do not make the actual decision whether or not someone receives benefit. Their job is to measure the extent to which a person can or cannot do things: move about, use the toilet, prepare a meal, dress themselves, bathe or shower, get somewhere on their own or with help, communicate, behave in a social setting, cope with difficulties, among a host of other dimensions. The report of the assessment goes to a ‘faceless’ decision-maker who basically turns the report into a set of numbers. If the person ends up with enough ‘points’ they get the benefit, if not, well you can guess the rest.
The challenge for the person being assessed is to know how to express how things are for them without minimising the impacts for fear of appearing lazy or unhygienic (as in, staying in bed some days or not showering every day due to very real psychological debilitation), or not trying too hard to appear a complete wreck by stretching the truth (as in, claiming to be claustrophobic when it’s not actually the case or developing a temporary limp).
Unfortunately all the bad press about these assessments is not without some basis in fact. More than half of all appeals against decisions based on assessments are successful. There is also a great deal of folklore about secret criteria not appearing on any form. Following is some material from an organisation that specialises in supporting people to navigate the benefits minefield. It suggests that there really are additional elements that assessors look for and take into account. For information, these are quoted here:
It is not the purpose of this article to scare anyone. Rather the thinking is ‘forewarned is forearmed’. So a few tips to remember for that assessment:
Over the next few weeks and months there will be more articles on this topic. However, in the meantime, please feel free to comment on what is included here, and maybe even start a discussion thread in the Members’ Forum.