The Paralympics will show us just how much disabled people can achieve, and shame benefits cheats

PUBLISHED: 07:06 EST, 31 July 2012 | UPDATED: 07:08 EST, 31 July 2012

Do you remember Tina Attanasio? The name may not ring a bell but if you watched a clip of her whizzing down a water slide into a shimmering swimming pool in the South of France, you might well recall exactly why she hit the headlines last year.

Attanasio was jailed when a court saw footage of her walking normally despite her contention she was dependent on crutches. The 51-year old from Cardiff had successfully managed to claim the highest level of benefits, intended for the most severely incapacitated people, for more than five years, skimming off more than £25,000.

What a sorry contrast Attanasio presents to the genuinely disabled athletes we are about to see accomplishing super-human feats at the upcoming London Paralympic Games. I have already been blubbing watching the able-bodied athletes push the boundaries of effort and achievement. I will be a gibbering wreck once the Paralympics start.

 
Inspirational: Athletes from the Olympic and Paraolympic teams pose in Trafalgar Square Inspirational: Athletes from the Olympic and Paraolympic teams pose in Trafalgar Square

 
Pte Derek Derenalagi who lost he his legs to a bomb whilst on duty, at Woodside Stadium in Watford, where he trains as a hopeful for the London 2012 ParaOlympic GamesPte Derek Derenalagi who lost he his legs to a bomb whilst on duty, at Woodside Stadium in Watford, where he trains as a hopeful for the London 2012 ParaOlympic Games

Sadly, it is flagrant cases of abuse such as Attanasio’s which always hit the headlines and which, quite rightly, inflame the tax-payers whose hard-earned contributions go to make up the £13 billion chunk of welfare which is gobbled up by disability benefits.

According to disability charity Scope, the genuinely disabled are increasingly frustrated at this media coverage of benefit cheats which they feel unfairly lumps them all together into some general category of bludgers, liggers and indolent parasites. 

With disability set to be centre-stage at the Paralympics and a brace of documentaries on the subject, from both the BBC’s Panorama and Channel 4’s Dispatches aired this week, the incapacity benefit system is very much in the spotlight. Is there any surprise that Scope also found most disabled people reporting a significant rise in negative attitudes towards them?

 
Incriminating: Disability benefit claimant Tina Attanasio enjoying an action-packed holidayIncriminating: Disability benefit claimant Tina Attanasio enjoying an action-packed holiday

In the mode of successive governments, the coalition has pledged to tackle the spiralling disability benefits bill. The prime minister himself has been particularly outspoken on the need for tough love to end the sick note culture which burgeoned under Labour, allowing thousands to take up a relatively straightforward option to slide into benefit dependency.

Sadly, there was no simultaneous drive to invest in pro-active schemes, to help those who sincerely want to contribute to return to the workforce in any kind of capacity. The current focus is still on reassessing two million existing claimants over the next few years, with the aim of bringing down numbers by around 500,000.  

The Work Capability Assessment system, which was introduced to sort out the scroungers from the genuinely sick, has also come in for significant criticism; it has been called a simplistic, box ticking enterprise, unfair, flawed, inappropriate and driven wholly by financial targets.

 

 Much of the criticism has been directed at controversial French IT giant Atos which receives an annual £100 million from the Department of Work and Pensions to carry out up to 10,000 eligibility tests every week.

There have been hundreds of complaints about Atos procedures and about the conduct of individual assessments. Even more worrying is the overall efficacy of the process. Every year, there are more than 175,000 appeals against Atos decisions of which a third are successful, costing us more than £50 million.

A parliamentary joint select committee recently expressed fears that the current reforms to benefits and services risk leaving many disabled people without the support they need to live independently. Even the government appointed trouble shooter, Professor Malcolm Harrington has voiced his concerns about the application of the WCA test.

 

   Employment minister Chris Grayling continues to insist that the WCA is far from a financial exercise. He maintains it is all about helping people get back to work. “It’s about saving lives, not saving money,” he has claimed.

Nobody, least of all the genuinely incapacitated, would dispute the importance of weeding out fraudsters and illegitimate claimants but don’t we need a rather more broad-minded approach to tackling the iniquities of a convoluted and arcane system which has effectively trapped many of those who are genuinely willing to work in a frustrating spiral of welfare dependency?

There can be no quick fixes to overhaul our unwieldy and long-abused benefits system and a key objective must, of course, be to make sure that the cheats and the fraudsters milking the system for all they can get are exposed and punished.

However, in a civilised society, surely it must be equally important to ensure that everyone who really needs help gets all the support they genuinely deserve? Next month’s Paralympic Games will show the world exactly how much the disabled can achieve with support, encouragement and acceptance. I do hope that Mr Grayling and his DWP colleagues will be watching.

Author: disabledaccessdenied

I am a disabled woman who through no fault of my own has wheels under my ass. I rely on the decency and common sense of local, state and federal goverments, as well as the retail community to abide by the disabled access laws and provide adequate ramps, disabled toilets, and not use them as store rooms or broom closets. This blog exists to find the offenders and out them, inform them, and report them if necessary and shame them into doing the right thing when all else fails.

3 thoughts on “The Paralympics will show us just how much disabled people can achieve, and shame benefits cheats”

  1. if disabled people want to be treated as the rest of society then they should be subject to the same rules and laws as the rest of society. If a disabled person is able to devote time, energy and effort into training for the ‘olympics’ then they shouldn’t be able to draw disability benefits.
    If an abled bodied member of society is unable to perform their job for health reasons they are forced to take any different job, however poorly paid or mind numbing. After all ‘scroungers’ found unable to work due to ‘back problems’ who are then filmed playing sport are deemed fully able to work.

    1. So peter your thesis is that if a double amputee who was a motor mechanic can train to push a wheelchair fast three nights a week then he can take a job? Tell me peter I have been a chef for over 30 years I personally recieve no benefiits from the goverment in any way shape or form. But I have three types of epilepsy tourettes and spinal nerve atrophy and ptsd. If Icould stand it would cause seizures if I could walk it would cause seizures I can’t do fine motor movement like even holding a pen or tying shoelaces. I manage to swim using only my upper body and push a wheelchair fast enough to complete so according to you I can work,what as As a smoothy blender? or maybe spin cycle throw your clothes in when I have a seizure? But here is the stupidest part of your comment,Who and the hell said paralympians dont work? Many are full time professional atheletes, some are lawyers and doctors and university professors. It is the ingrained bigotry of people like you who assume we are all welfare recipients that give us a bad name. Full time sports is a job come to avery aquatic center flushing every morning or brooklyn boulders on degraw st brooklyn thursdays and climb and see if your bigoted abelist ass can keep up?

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