THE grim consequences of the Coalition Government's austerity measures are revealed today by the experiences of a group of the doctors from 100 general practices serving the most deprived populations in Scotland.
As The Herald reveals, they have discovered the direct impact among patients of losing Employment Support Allowance (ESA) or Disability Living Allowance (DLA). Many have to chose between heating their homes and eating. Some rely on relatives to provide food, others go to a friend's house to wash and it is common to spend two or three days without heat. Local authority cutbacks have reduced the amount of support available from social work, care services and housing providers.
As a result, the GPs in the "Deep End" group are seeing patients so distressed that, before treating their medical problems, they have to write letters supporting their claims for benefits. The majority are successful but only after several weeks when a claimant's income is severely reduced. This increases the vulnerability of people with mental health problems and makes it more likely they will resort to alcohol or drugs to blot out reality.
Those in employment are also suffering increased mental and physical health illness as a result of worries about job security and increased workloads. Around 25,000 families in central Scotland are affected by changes to working tax credits implemented last month and many people are taking on second jobs with resulting strain on family relationships. Against this background, plans by the Work and Pensions Secretary, Iain Duncan Smith, to remove entitlement to DLA from half a million people and reduce the cost by £2.24 billion a year look increasingly like a determination to impose dogma while ignoring genuine need.
Mr Duncan Smith believes large numbers of people are being wrongly assessed as disabled because the number of DLA claimants has risen by 30% in recent years. It is right that cheats are weeded out but a significant part of the increase is due to the number of service personnel wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan. In a society with any claim to social conscience, they, and the growing number of people disabled from birth who are living much longer due to medical advances, must be entitled to payments to help with their additional costs.
The Coalition's blinkered approach ignores the reality that cutting provision in one area adds to the burden in another. The safety net GPs provide can be stretched only so far. The result can only be an increase in long-term costs to the individual and society.
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