Writing for PoliticsHome Labour MP Linda Riordan says the government needs to look again at their approach to people with Parkinson's.
I recently held an adjournment debate in Parliament regarding Parkinson's and how the welfare system is failing people with the condition. As a progressive and incurable neurological condition, people with Parkinson's need support and a system that is fair, tolerant and respects the nature of their condition. However, I recently met a group of people with Parkinson's and I listened with astonishment to their account of the impact that government welfare changes could have on their lives. As things currently stand, they feel penalised for things out of their control. At a most difficult time in their lives, they are being dealt another blow due to the heartless system currently in place. What is happening?
The reality is that many people with Parkinson's are able and want to work, but many find it difficult to return to work because potential employers make discriminatory judgements about what it means to have Parkinson's. As things stand many people with the condition receive Employment and Support Allowance (ESA). But the system asks that people with Parkinson's should show, through endless form filling, that they have significant function impairment that creates 'serious barriers to work' to be eligible for ESA.
People with Parkinson's disease are not asked about their prognosis and what precautions they have to take in everyday life because of the sudden and unpredictable nature of their condition. Sadly, there is an inherent contradiction at the heart of the government's policy. They ruthlessly means-test people's allowance and fail to have an adequate system to check the seriousness of a person's Parkinson's disease.
Like with so many of their Welfare reforms, the government needs to think again. They need to recognise that by the time they are assessed many people with Parkinson's have given up work because it is making their condition worse. It is heartless and lacks understanding to put people with Parkinson's in the same group as other benefit claimers. The government has ignored, deliberately or otherwise, some very sensible proposals from Professor Harrington of the validity of the tests regime for those with fluctuating conditions and mental health, intellect and cognitive issues. The longer that people with Parkinson's are subject to these unfair tests, the greater the stress is on them and their families. The government needs to reverse the claim form culture and put understanding and empathy at the heart of what people with Parkinson's are going through. I wanted to hold this debate in Parliament because I was moved by the countless stories of despair in people's lives. They need hope and support and for that to happen the system needs to change. Not change that will result in saving money, but reform that puts people's needs not saving money as its core aim. It is action, not words, what people want. I hope the government recognise they are wrong, and have the decency to look again at their approach to people with Parkinson's. We need policies that are decent, fair and just, rather than the current system that, disgracefully, leaves people with Parkinson's feeling like second-class citizens.