I've been thinking about the widespread perception that getting disability benefits is easy - and the damage this causes.
First, some background. I don't know how many people believe what they read in papers like The Sun, whose "shop a scrounger" campaign complains about people who "claim to be sick when they are perfectly capable of work", or the Daily Mail, which is happy to conclude that anyone who fails the work capability assessment is a scrounger.
But read the comments on any article covering disability issues, such as this one on Guardian Comment is Free, and you realise very quickly that two very wrong, and very common, viewpoints persist among the general public.
1. People believe that it's really easy to get disability benefits. Hence comments like this one: "So we should just accept a total stranger's word that they're disabled enough?" The writer receives DLA, which is not easy to access and has the lowest fraud rate of any benefit. It's not their word, but that of the DWP, which has assessed their eligibility.
2. People believe that assessments and tests - such as the Work Capability Assessment (WCA) for Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) - are fair. They think the few cases that make the news are anomalous and most people get treated just fine. Hence comments like this one: "No-one begrudges disabled people the help they need. If the new work capability assessment wrongly reduces the benefits of the genuinely disabled, that is very regrettable. But it will identify people who are not genuinely disabled who should not be allowed to hide behind those that are."
Anyone with any knowledge of the Work Capability Assessment will know it is very difficult for a lot of genuinely disabled people to pass. But the people who believe these assessments are fair no doubt also believe they are made on the basis of all the evidence available, from an informed viewpoint - rather than being a box-ticking exercise.
Yet we hear about people being assessed by doctors with completely different specialisms - or in some cases by nurses or midwives, who aren't qualified to assess them. And we hear about, say, the case of the person whose assessment said they could move their arms when in fact the only movement was from uncontrolled tremors. Or the man dying of a progressive brain tumour forced to make a four-hour round trip to an ATOS assessment. Try telling that to anyone with no experience of disability and they'll suppose it's made up, or tell you a story about their friend's aunt's dog's cousin who was once signed off sick when they weren't really ill.
Similarly, people assume that Disability Living Allowance (DLA) is not refused to those who need it. To take one example of many, Where's The Benefit's Louise Bolotin wrote this piece for the Observer a while ago when the DWP said she was more in need of her DLA than before - but decided to stop it anyway, meaning she had to go through the stress of an appeal.
When people hear about these supposedly far-fetched cases, they assume they're rare or made-up. They assume the system is fair and that the people who are in genuine need can access the help they need.
And because people think it's too easy to get disability benefits, they think it's fine to make the tests tougher and insist on reassessing DLA claimants in an attempt to cut the caseload because, hey, it's what's fair for the taxpayer, supposedly. Except that wasting taxpayers' money on needless extra assessments and appeals doesn't benefit anyone. Except possibly some lawyers.
And people think that the genuinely disabled have nothing to fear. So again, they think it's fine to make disability benefits harder to access, because they think anyone who does qualify will be able to get through whatever assessment is in place because, again, it's supposedly fair. And as long as the government keeps implying such benefits are handed out like sweets, nothing is going to change. People will keep on thinking, well, it's only right that they're properly checked out.
The government's constant attacks on disabled people are not fair. Like the constant propaganda about how we are scroungers who waste taxpayers' money, and the decision to impose arbitrary cuts on caseloads for disability benefits.
And the result of all this is that people who become disabled and genuinely need to make a claim for benefits such as ESA or DLA get the shock of their lives when they realise how hard it will be.
If you are one of society's more vulnerable members, you will have to fight for everything and wade through reams and reams of red tape. That is the experience that many of us have. And people who become eligible for disability benefits and try to claim them are often completely shocked. Some do not have the energy, emotional strength and/or intellectual capacity to go through all of the form-filling and bureaucracy involved in applying and apppealing.
But so long as the myth persists that it's simple and easy to apply for disability benefits, people will believe that anyone who says it's not is making a fuss over nothing, or sticking up for so-called scroungers - and when people become eligible for these benefits and try to apply, they will continue to be absolutely gobsmacked when they find out how difficult it is.
What kind of a welfare system expects some of the most vulnerable people in society, including people with permanent disabilities, long-term health conditions and terminal illnesses, to master acres of bureaucracy? And what kind of a government claims that is fair? None of these questions are new - but we need to keep asking them.