There has been so much discussion of the ‘can do’ approach to sickness and disability that the ‘can’t do’ narrative has been completely overwhelmed. ESA swept in on a wave of ‘can do’. And crashed.
The discussion amongst campaigners around the Dead Parrot campaign has shown – the ‘can do’ and ‘can’t do’ narratives appear to be in opposition – between different disability campaigners, between different sick and disabled people, and perhaps within each person too.
But they aren’t in opposition. They are both part of the same story. They are both valid. So why not let each person own both their narratives and let the two narratives exist side by side?
When we are discussing gateway entitlement to an income replacement benefit like ESA, we need to look at ‘can’t do’. Income replacement benefits in our welfare system are awarded to people who can’t work. This is where WCA went so drastically wrong. ESA should be awarded for ‘can’t do’. WCA should have been a ‘can’t do’ test to award security and peace of mind.
‘Can’t do’ runs right through sickness and disability. Looked at from the perspective of the sick or disabled person – they see barriers to work at home when they are getting ready to leave for work – barriers on the journey – barriers at work performing the required tasks. This adds up to a lack of confidence and seems like ‘can’t do’.
Looked at from the employers’ end of the telescope these barriers look like reduced productivity, and once that reaches 20%, and probably a lot of management hassle too, s/he probably wants to say NO. So that is a ‘can’t do’ unless government intervenes in the job market with initiatives like subsidies or quotas.
These ‘can’t do’ problems are real, and a sick or disabled person who is dealing with them needs to be out and proud and able to own these ’can’t do’ difficulties. They need a safe, secure income replacement benefit, without conditionality, threats and pressure. This should be the covenant with the state.
But there is also the ‘can do’ narrative. There are a host of imaginative and innovative ways around these barriers. Let any sick or disabled person who wants to work be entitled to ask for skilled personalised help to solve these problems. Develop these initiatives initially focussing on the many people who desperately want to get back to work.
Both narratives are fine, as long as you don’t mix them. Don’t let efforts to ‘can do’ and ‘get a job’ put safe benefits at risk. Let the sick or disabled person own both their ‘can do’ and ‘can’t do’ narratives.
People like Jacqueline Bell need to be able to own both their own narratives.