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Monday, 14 January 2008

A junior doctor's thoughts about incapacity benefit

Incapacity benefit should be for those who really need it, says Max Pemberton

Max Pemberton is a junior doctor who writes articles for the Telegraph.


"One summer, before graduating, I sat for a week studying in my bedroom. It was swelteringly hot and I had to keep the window open. But I was incessantly interrupted by the neighbours' banter outside.

Laughing, joking, playing football, having rows; their entire social life was being played out in front of me. And then as I battled with the intricacies of the kidney, it occurred to me: I had the education, but wasn't I being the stupid one?

I was studying while they sunbathed, so I could be a doctor and heal them when they developed skin cancer, and I would pay taxes to ensure that they could continue their lifestyle. Outrageous!

What was even more galling was that their apparent illnesses didn't hinder their lives - they weren't incapacitated at all. I watched the sons, both of whom were around my age, as they kicked a ball around. Was this the best cure for their depression?

I can see the appeal - if it's possible to live for free, not having to work, then why not do it? But perhaps making people get a job would mean that they weren't so depressed. Have they not just fallen into a vicious circle?

In my work, I see people battling crippling, disabling illnesses who deserve help from the state, people who are unable to work and whose lives are blighted by their conditions.

Further restrictions on benefit applications that would make it more difficult for people to receive long-term sickness benefit might mean that a proportion of those who really deserved it were excluded, and that would be a tragedy. But can we continue to support legions of people for whom state assistance has become a lifestyle rather than a necessity?

Official figures last week showed that half a million people under the age of 35 are now claiming incapacity benefit, more than those claiming unemployment benefit."

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