Skip to main content

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.
 

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Ian Duncan-Smith says he wants to make those on benefits 'better people'!

By any account, the government's austerity strategy is utilitarian. It justifies its approach by the presumed potential ends. It's objective is to cut the deficit, but it has also adopted another objective which is specifically targeted. It seeks to drive people off benefits and 'back to work'.  The two together are toxic to the poorest in society. Those least able to cope are the most affected by the cuts in benefits and the loss of services. It is the coupling of these two strategic aims that make their policies ethically questionable. For, by combining the two, slashing the value of benefits to make budget savings while also changing the benefits system, the highest burden falls on a specific group, those dependent on benefits. For the greater good of the majority, a minority group, those on benefits, are being sacrificed; sacrificed on the altar of austerity. And they are being sacrificed in part so that others may be spared. Utilitarian ethics considers the ba

A time for every purpose

All life moves. Or, more precisely, all life moves purposefully.  This is true even for trees and plants.  Movement is essential for maintaining life.  Animals migrate; plants disperse.  Some form of migration is an ingredient of all life.  For many organisms, it is a key function of reproduction.  We don't reproduce merely to create a new organism, but also to disperse the population - finding new fertile ground, or resources. Reproduction is a form of migration. Reproduction isn't merely to replicate. Reproduction produces change and diversity.  While we may have strong resemblences in families, we also have differences.  Creating a difference is how evolution works.  In this sense, nature is a continuous exploratory process, finding what works best.  Nature senses change and responds.  Some of this is immediate and physiological or behavioural; some of it is over generations.  If we look at a forest over long periods of time, we would see that it shifts. There is a movement

A weaver's tail - the harvest mouse

Living in the grass is a tiny mouse: the tiny harvest mouse, with a wonderful scientific name that sounds like the title of a Charles Dickens Novel,  Micromys minutus.   It is the only British mammal with a prehensile tail. It uses its tail to hold on to the slender grass stems, at the tops of which it builds a nest. Photo: Nick Fewing These tiny mammals (just around 5 cm long) build a spherical nest of tightly woven grass at the top of tall grasses, in which the female will give birth to about six young.  In the fields, we see cows and horses brushing away flies with their tails; often they will stand side-by-side and end-to-end, and help each other.  Two tails are better than one!  In nature, tails are put to good use.  Just as a tight-rope walker uses his pole for balance, so for some species, a tail provides balance. When running, a squirrel uses its tail as a counterbalance to help the squirrel steer and turn quickly, and the tail is used aerodynamically in flight.  But many anima