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Blair Must Not Bully the Disabled
Last uploaded : Tuesday 14th Feb 2006 at 01:41
Contributed by : Carol Gould


In recent years I have suffered from a debilitating condition known as chronic fatigue syndrome. In its most severe manifestation it is know as ME and can sometimes be lumped with glandular fever or mononucleosis. At one time in my own case it was felt my illness was more a form of post-traumatic stress syndrome because I had suffered a string of horrible shocks and bereavements.

In any event, my brain has never died, and at times my greatest sense of bereavement has been my absence from the world I once inhabited as a senior executive: network television. The irony of it all is that I have actually tried in the past year to find a new job that would fit my peculiar condition. With chronic fatigue, one can have a day in which darkness never lifts and the desire to sleep is overwhelming. On other days one wonders what was wrong twenty-four hours before. Having no place to go on those good days is as debilitating as the disease itself. I have applied for countless jobs but do not even get a letter of acknowledgement despite my stellar CV.

The company for whom I have worked in recent years, sensing my frustration at not finding something to do encouraged me to mentor young film interns this past few months. It was a generous gesture, but I overdid it and went down with shingles. I overestimated my ability to get back to work and my nervous and immune systems collapsed.

It is therefore all the more galling that Tony Blair has suddenly decided that ‘at least a million’ people on long-term disability should get off their backsides and ‘get back to work.’ I tried. I really did. I so wanted to work -- anywhere -- even as a hat check girl in a London casino . Gently mentoring young film students, I just got sicker.

So, what this means is that it is not just a case of getting off one’s behind. I know three able-bodied, fit people in my age group who have been out of work for years. Their age is a factor, but the competition in the workplace is now, in ‘me first’ Britain, as fierce as that in the USA. If an employer wants a fit person who can shift stock, lift and carry and stay long hours of overtime, why would they want someone who is sick? Conversely, it is astounding that the people cruelly bleating about ‘layabouts’ on ‘sickies’ have no idea how devastating it is to receive benefit of Dickensian meanness, when many sick people do want to be back in work and in a living wage.

To top the insult to the genuinely incapacitated the government is mooting the possibility of offering cash incentives to doctors who sign people off medical certificates. This was such an outrageous piece of news that when I first heard it I thought it was an early April Fool joke.

Paying doctors to push people off sickness benefit? I know no doctor in London of integrity who would ever, ever say to a person struggling with protracted disability ‘You get onto a building site, now!’

It is notable that a private health insurer informed me that their designated doctor, who spent fifty-five minutes last July interrogating me about my finances in his ‘office’ in Harley Street, and five minutes examining me, had recommended that I embark on an exercise programme. If going to the corner shop results in my collapsing on the bed for four hours, imagine the effect of a gym session.

Yes, I would love to join a gym and I would love to be on location again with the stars. But immune-related diseases do not just lift because Tony Blair and his Ministers say we must all get to work. Likewise the government’s recommendation that doctors receive cash incentives to take genuinely sick people off benefit is nothing short of an outrage.

Tony Blair is a genuine Christian. Jesus healed the sick. Christianity is the religion of compassion. Vastly improved facilities for the disabled need to be istalled across Britain. 'Way in to Work' schemes need to be funded and need to proliferate nationwide. Compassion, better benefits and support mechanisms would make me heal far more quickly than being bullied and insulted.

I suggest the Ministers who are shouting loudest spend a few days inside my body.


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