Thursday, 21 April 2011

All incapacitated are equal – but are some more equal than others?

I have no doubt that our Prime Minister is an intelligent, caring and well meaning person. I believe that many of the Tory policies have some merit – any party, coalition or not – would be facing a torrid time right now. One must also acknowledge that being in opposition must be a comparative breeze – easy to criticise and not so easy to come up with alternatives.

But somehow David Cameron seems to get it wrong whenever he talks about welfare or the NHS. It may be that his words are badly reported – but surely a decent spin doctor could have foreseen the outcry that would follow the PM’s statement today on alcoholics, drug addicts and the obese.

Apparently there are currently over 81,000 people claiming benefits, citing alcohol or drug addiction or obesity as the cause. Cameron stated:

"We are finding a large number of people who are on incapacity benefit because of drink problems, alcohol problems or problems with weight and diet. And I think a lot of people who pay their taxes and work hard will think: 'That's not what I pay my taxes for. I pay my taxes for people who are incapacitated through no fault of their own.'"

So – with one bold stroke, those battling addictive disorders have all been tarred with the same brush. No-hopers who are leaching on society and use us poor tax payers money for their next fix, drink or bag of chips. Oh if only life were that simple. If only an addict could say – OK that’s it now – I’ll stop. If only someone battling alcoholism could schlep up to an interview and treated with the generosity of a job offer.

Many addictive diseases are ‘through no fault of their own’. They can affect people suffering from genetic predisposition, social deprivation and all manner of psychological factors that the layman would not understand.

But Cameron’s statement hits at something far more basic. Many millions of people treated in the NHS are suffering from conditions or events related to their conscious lifestyle choices. At what point does a lifestyle choice become an addiction? At what point does a momentary, but catastrophic decision (such as jumping a red light) made of free will, negate the eligibility for support and care?

What about the estimated £5 billion a year something related illness costs the NHS? Every single one of those smokers made an active choice to pick up that first cigarette. Chronic pulmonary disease is an expensive long term, chronic condition, let alone the many smoking related cancers that require surgery and ongoing treatment. And how about the careless driver who causes dreadful injury to himself and others? The spinal units have their fare share of unfortunate, but innocent people who have fallen off their horses or motorbikes – their choice of activity, but probably not their fault.

I am much more interested in the benefit cheat who is happily and healthily working cash in hand while claiming incapacity. As a tax payer – I seriously resent those payments.

If we are to continue to be a caring ‘Big Society’ – we must protect the weak, the vulnerable and the ill, whatever causes their ailment.

Unfortunately, with this recent statement, Cameron suggests that those who may have some responsibility towards their illness or disability should not qualify for help. I will try to avoid chocolate overload at Easter or that extra glass of bubbly as I watch the Royal Wedding – otherwise I’m not sure that I would pass his test of worthiness.


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