A civil servant has decided that private Aron Shelton, who lost one leg in Afghanistan and may yet lose the other, should have his disability living allowance taken away after he struggled to walk 400 metres. You can read an article about it here and you may then like to focus on the quotation from the civil servant which appears at the end. It reads:
A spokesman for the Department for Work and Pensions said: ‘Aron Shelton’s case is under review and we recognise his brave service to his country.
‘This case is a stark reminder why we need a new assessment to decide if someone is eligible for DLA.
‘Under the current system we ask customers to supply us with the relevant information and, unless further information is requested, our staff will make a decision based on this. Eligibility to DLA, like all benefits, is set out in legislation and is not discretionary.
I wonder what degree of urgency is being given to this review and how long it takes to decide that the decision is wrong. How many civil servants have to read the file? How many tiers of management must it go through, do you think, before it reaches somebody is sufficiently senior to decide that a brave man who gave his leg for his country should have a car to get about in? And in what sense is the soldier a “customer”?
You might like to focus particularly on the phrases “our staff will make a decision based on this” and “Eligibility to DLA…. is set out in legislation and is not discretionary”. There is an inconsistency here, is there not? Eligibility is not discretionary, and yet someone will make a decision. If the legislation says that a man who lost a limb in the service of his country should lose his benefits once he can struggle for 400 metres, then there is nothing to make a decision about, is there? The reality, of course, is that some comfortable little civil servant did indeed make the decision to stop the benefits.
Let us just picture him or her going to work – I think it is a man, for some reason. He lives in a nice house in the suburbs with his wife and two children. The alarm goes off and he leaps out of bed and into the shower. Dressing quickly, he runs downstairs for breakfast and runs back up again to clean his teeth. Down the stairs. Oops, forgot the car keys. Up and down the stairs he runs again. Time for a quick kick-about with the kids as he crosses the garden to the Toyota, then it’s off to the station. He is a little late, so he runs from the car park. He is a bit afraid of that little dog, so he skirts round it as he scampers through the ticket barrier, just catching the train. At Victoria he takes care to avoid those two youths who look a bit threatening – he is quite nervous out in the streets away from his safe suburb.
Once in his office with all the other civil servants, however, he feels in charge and he shouts at his secretary when she is slow bringing today’s pile of files. At lunchtime he will go to the subsidised gym and run on the treadmill for a while. Tonight there is a kick-about in the park with the boys to look forward to. He is enjoying all this exercise, though, and feeling fitter every week.
He turns to the pile of files. The first one is about a soldier whose Land Rover was blown up in Afghanistan and who has had a leg amputated. The government has been giving him the use of an adapted Vauxhall in lieu of disability living allowance. The latest report says that the soldier has been determined to walk and, despite the pain, has managed to struggle for 400 metres. “Bloody malingerer”, he says, and puts a tick in the box which will cause a peremptory demand to be sent to the soldier demanding the return of the car. On to the next file.
Along the corridor, one of his colleagues is dealing with housing benefit files. Here is a family, husband, wife and three adult children, none of whom has ever worked. Between them, they draw £32,000 in benefits each year. A quick skim of the file and the colleague ticks the box which ensures that the benefits will continue for another year.