Saturday 2 November 2013

How to Treat the Disabled in 2013 AD and 403 BC

Sophocles directs sympathy to the wounded Philoctetes
This week further chaos has struck the Department of Work and Pensions’ replacement of the Disability Living Allowance with the Personal Independence Payment (PIP—a euphemism some Whitehall spin artist was paid a salary from my taxes to think up). But PIP also requires the applicant to face the humiliation behind closed medical doors which passes as an assessment process.  The same ordeal is faced by disabled soldiers on incapacity benefit.

Although the decision about which applicant “deserves” help is still made by a “DWP Decision Maker,” the DWP has outsourced the actual assessment of the injured/ill to businesses, primarily one called ATOS, which claims on its website to have “extensive expertise in delivering healthcare solutions.”

Mark Dryden, denied incapacity benefit
They were presumably Delivering a Healthcare Solution to former Lance-Corporal Mark Dryden, who earlier this year had his incapacity benefit withdrawn by the DWP Decision Maker after assessment by an ATOS-hired doctor. Dryden lost one arm to a bomb in Iraq and has little function in the other. The doctor had the insensitivity to ask him if he was left or right-handed! Dryden has no index finger at all and yet was asked to pick up a one-pound coin.

Nor is he alone: the Royal British Legion published figures at the end of May showing a scandalous 72 % RISE in the number of wounded war veterans denied benefits in the past year after an ATOS assessment.
Does this man look fit to work?

Two crucial texts give us complementary views on how the disabled were treated in classical Athens late in the fifth century, after more than two decades of war.  In his tragedy Philoctetes, Sophocles portrays in the most negative moral light a leader (Odysseus) who had no sympathy for the wounded archer Philoctetes, the ancient Mark Dryden, and dumped him alone on a desert island, screaming in pain.

On the other hand, in the 24th speech of the legal adviser Lysias, a real, historical Athenian man on a state disability pension defends his entitlement to financial support of one obol a day. A personal enemy has challenged the entitlement, saying that he has been seen on horseback—the speaker reasonably asks if it is so surprising that a man in his condition occasionally uses this means of transport.  But his major argument is an appeal to the common sense of the jurors based on his actual physical appearance.

Athenian one-obol coin
Unlike our sick and disabled citizens' ordeals behind closed doors, this Athenian got to make his case publicly, with expert legal advice, in front of 500 democratically selected members of the Athenian Council.  We do not know whether he won his case, but we do know when, where and to whom he was allowed to make it, and it wasn’t a tactless rent-a-doc who has lost all contact with the real world working for a profit-making organisation.

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