Incapacity benefit used to be invalidity benefit and, while its
name has changed, its intention has not.
Years ago, disabled people received limited compensation for
being excluded from education and employment. The Labour government
that came to power in 1945 used a medical model of disability to
sow the seeds of social repression. Under this model a person with
a physical or mental impairment was deemed “incapable” of meeting
the requirements of a fully functioning person. Therefore that
person became “invalid” or “incapable”.
But incapacity benefit has little relevance to the reality of
disability if you use a social model and recognise that impairment
is often the product of an inappropriate environment. Improving
surroundings can have a significant effect – altering the
working environment with something simple such as a ramp means that
disabled people can enter the workforce.
Disabled people consider incapacity benefit to be their right to
compensation. But it is ironic that many disabled people cry out
against an alternative as it is incapacity benefit that confers on
them feelings of inferiority.
I am severely disabled and yet I work. But I have seen hundreds
of people whose disabilities are less extensive than mine who
believe they are incapable of providing for themselves. This leads
to depression, and the acceptance of a restricted existence.
While I welcome an alternative to incapacity benefit that is
based on the enabling of people with physical or mental
impairments, I fear that those who will bring about change will do
so for the wrong reasons. Successive governments have failed to
listen in the past and I believe they will fail to listen now. The
answers to disabled people’s problems do not fit the medical
model that dominates social policy.
To expect disabled people to speak with one voice is unfair
because they are not a race, religion or creed. But their voices
must be heard. You cannot bring a previously alienated group of
people into mainstream society unless you allow those concerned to
have a role in setting the rules and regulations. True progress
will be the result of compromise.
Chris Carver is a disability consultant.