Many people are disabled because they are chronically sick. These people cannot turn up to work regularly, because any given day they may be too ill. They might be dosed up on painkillers to control their pain; they might be too weak to get out of bed; they might be too exhausted to concentrate; their bowels may be playing messy games. But the government seems to have totally ignored this huge group of people, preferring to focus on those with fixed disabilities such as paralysis.
If the government thinks these people are well enough to work, will it bear the costs of the hours lost when these people are too ill? It isn’t fair to ask an employer or the employee to bear the costs of being unable to work, when it is the government who said the person could work. Any employee on hourly wages will lose money on the first few days when they can’t work, and after that it is the company who loses money; neither may be able to afford it. But there is the real possibility that the person is only in work because the government refused ESA, and JSA rates are too low for the person to live on, as well as having too many demanding conditions. So will the government pay the wages of a person who is ill, but has been found fit for work, and then has to take frequent sick days?
Will the government itself hire these people? Many suggest that if disabled people can use the internet – as I am – then they can work. But I use the internet with no deadlines and no pressures; no requirement of what I do and don’t write; no insistence that I write to a particular quality or quantity; no need to write about anything that I don’t already have a lot of knowledge about; no fixed hours or even very many hours. None of this would be true for paid employment. It is no use saying ‘I can work’ when the reality is that I can‘t work because there is no work that anyone could be expected to want to pay me for.
Even the government, with its insistence that people like me can work, won’t hire us. We’re too expensive. We do a lot of unpaid work spreading knowledge about disability and informing the government on workable policies. But the government thinks to pay us for this is wasteful: in the consultation on the future of the Disabled Persons Transport Advisory Committee, the government has made it clear that it dislikes the current arrangement because it costs too much to pay disabled people for their time.
Voluntary work can be a better option. But this carries the risk of being found fit for work, on the basis that the person is able to carry out voluntary work. Oddly, the government wants to make voluntary work compulsory for people in WRAG. But this defeats the point of it being voluntary. Voluntary work, for those able to do it, is possible because it is flexible, there is no requirement to turn up, there is no insistence on deadlines or quality or quantity, there is complete choice in what type of work is done, when it is done and where. In short, it is possible for the same reasons that internet based ‘work’ is possible: because it isn’t work. If the government makes it mandatory, all of these things that made it possible in the first place are lost.
Voluntary work makes a huge contribution to the functioning of society. A lot of very good work is done by charities very cheaply; it is the core of Cameron’s ‘Big Society.’ Allowing someone on benefits to do voluntary work is a very cheap way of getting a public service, and should therefore be valued and encouraged by the government. But it needs to remain entirely under the individual’s control.