Tuesday, 4 December 2012

The cruelty of disability assessments


Accurate, objective, consistent and transparent assessment that looks at people as individuals. This is the description given by the Department for Work and Pensions of its disability assessment criteria.  It sounds good doesn't it? Objective; accurate, consistent. let's leave transparent out for the moment and consider these three descriptives. In short they are the problem. They are based on the assumption that a 'neutral' and dispassionate calculus is fair; fair because it is applied to all in the same way. It is a calculation, cold, simple. Surely it is fair because it treats people equally? No it is unfair because it treats people regardless of their differences; it is a depersonalised assessment. And this is an ingredient of unfairness. We are not 'equal' and to treat us as if we are is unfair, unjust. This is why standardised assessment of ability is unfair and leads to injustice. It treats us as is we are all the same. 

Ability is contextual. I can move my  fingers, but I can't play piano at grade 8. I can move my legs but I can't run 100 metres in less than 10 seconds. What we can do with our capabilities is dependent on circumstance. It might for example depend on support or availability of transport. It might depend on geography but it might also depend upon other abilities we may or may not have. An isolated ability is not capability; For a genuinely fair assessment we need not a dispassionate assessment but one that is compassionate and understanding of circumstance. Those best able to do this are those who know the person in a professional capacity; not an independent assessor applying a slide rule, and certainly not one whose income is dependent on the assessment. They must be truly free from personal benefit in the process.  This is clearly not the case when companies make profits from it. 

This problem of privatising assessment is that it sets targets.  The government clearly wants to drive people off disability benefit and into work.  Thus the objective is not a 'fair' assessment but one that is more likely than not to cut benefit. That is the desired outcome. If the process is set up to look for reasons to cut benefits, then it is weighted to do so. The companies involved set out to achieve this.  It is targeted to do so and this is clearly why we are seeing the kinds of unjust decisions that are at best leading people to despair and suicide. 

I often wonder what Mr Cameron and Mr Duncan-Smith really feel about this. At best I think they have fooled themselves into believing objective and consistent means it must be dispassionate. I think they believe this is fair. But it is not precisely because it is lacking in compassion and understanding of the individual. At worse of course, as many opponents will say, they are cruel and don't care. I leave others to make that assessment, accurately, objectively of course!

Postscript

There is now a petition  Please consider signing if you agree that the government should rethink this pernicious policy.
 

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