“Tomorrow is the International Day of Persons with Disabilities and there is still much to do for disabled people” said GSD MP Daniel Feetham. “The system of disability benefit is, quite frankly, in a shambles and it is causing genuine hardship to disabled people. It needs to be sorted out as a matter of urgency”.
“Over the last year I have received more complaints about this than on housing” said the GSD MP, referring to another common and pressing social need highlighted by the party.
“There are applicants who have filed applications for disability benefit nearly two years ago and these have still not been determined. That is unacceptable.”
The GSD understand that the reason for those inexcusable delays is that the Medical Panels that advise the Director of Social Security as to whether the Director should grant the benefit have not met for many months allegedly due to the fact that their anonymity was being challenged by some applicants. This is simply not a credible excuse for these unreasonable delays.
We entirely understand that the current Minister with responsibility for Social Security, Minister Balban, has inherited the issue and he has assured us that the panels have again been meeting over the last week or so to deal with backlogs but it should never have got to this stage. People deserve better and we hope that all applications are determined before Christmas, a time often associated with increased financial demands on families.
“On a more positive note” said Mr Feetham “we look forward to the review that we were promised in parliament which we hope will include improvements to the legislation and other issues affecting disabled people such as sheltered employment. We do recognise that much had been done for disabled people over the last decade, but the work needs to continue to ensure that people with disabilities can enjoy enhanced opportunities and the best possible quality of life.”
To that end, earlier this year, it will be recalled the party filed a motion in Parliament calling on the Government to review the law and administrative practice relating to the grant of disability benefit. In that debate we pointed out that there was a lack of clarity and transparency in how the system was administered. The qualifying criteria is not, for example, published anywhere and is inconsistently applied from one applicant to the next.
We made five key proposals which included placing the qualifying criteria on a statutory footing with published criteria to which people could refer, making the process more transparent and fair. We also argued that no deductions should be made to payments of disability benefit simply because a disabled person works as such an individual may have expenses such as the kitting out of vehicles to cater for their disabilities and may suffer from life time disabilities in the labour market, additional to an abled bodied person.
The Government assured us that a review was already ongoing and we were glad to see that an amended motion committing both sides of the House to work together on
this important issue was passed unanimously by parliament. We hope that over the next few months we see the fruits of that review but the starting point has got to be dealing with the backlog in disability benefit applications in time for Christmas.