UK: Incapacity Benefit and HIV/AIDS: Some Implications for New Zealand?

January 4, 2012 in General

WINZ seems to be certain that the government’s proposed welfare retrenchment and narrowed eligibility criteria for invalid’s benefits won’t adversely affect people living with HIV/AIDS.
It is undeniable that protease inhibitors have been responsible for extension of good health and longevity amongst many PLWAs. However, there are pitfalls in an absolutist perspective that this means that they are universally work-ready and capable of survival on fully-fledged unemployment benefits. Given that tolerance can develop to specific regimes of medication and combination therapy, and given that there is a time lag in Pharmac/Medsafe approval of new pharmaceutical treatment options and combination therapy availability, there are some urgent questions that need to be answered.
What happens if a given individual is on a job seekers benefit under the new criteria and becomes tolerant to his previous medication and therapeutic regime? Will he or she be able to access increased WINZ benefit access to reflect his or her new clinical circumstances if his or her condition worsens? Did the government welfare ‘reforms’ seek input from the AIDS Foundation, AIDS Epidemiology Group or HIV/AIDS clinicians in formulating the new tightened criteria for Invalids Benefit access?
In the United Kingdom, similar ‘reforms’ have occurred, with some resistance from HIV/AIDS prevention, treatment and care NGOS. Pinknews ran an article on criticisms from the UK National AIDS |Trust, dealing with their tightened criteria for Incapacity Benefit, their equivalent of Invalids Benefit:
“[The new restrictive eligibility criteria that governs access to] Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) claimants fails to take into account the fluctuating nature of HIV. ESA replaced incapacity benefit in October 2008. All applicants must now complete a work capability assessment (WCA).
According to figures released this week, three-quarters of the 842,100 people who applied for ESA between October 2008 and February 2010 were found fit to work.
The system takes into account cancer sufferers and people with mental health problems, but NAT says that people with HIV can have “vastly varying” health issues.
The charity says that the assessment does not fully reflect the impact that fluctuating symptoms, fatigue, side-effects of HIV treatment and depression can have on capacity for work and claims that some applicants do not get the chance to fully discuss their illnesses.”
In their analysis of the proposed changes, the UK National AIDS Trust collaborated with other HIV providers to examine the concrete impact of the Incapacity Benefit eligibility restrictions on people living with HIV/AIDS:
“HIV service providers Citizens Advice Bureau (Camden), George House Trust, Positive East and Terrence Higgins Trust (Brighton & Hove).  Our report, Unseen Disabilities, Unmet Needs details the findings of this research.  We found that the barriers to work experienced by people living with HIV, such as severe immune deficiency, side-effects of treatment, depression, pain and fatigue are not fully taken into account by the WCA.  In addition, we learnt that errors in internal administration, communication and decision-making processes are adversely affecting ESA claimants living with HIV.”
If I were the AIDS Foundation, Body Positive and any other HIVAIDS prevention, care and treatment organisations, I would ask for urgent meetings with the Ministers of Health and Social Development to discuss developments within the United Kingdom and/or call for clinically-based evaluations of the suitablity of restricted benefit access for specific diagnostic groups, including people living with HIV/AIDS and others.
“Benefits changes will fail AIDS sufferers” Pinknews: 28.10.2010:
National AIDS Trust: “Everyday issues: Benefits”
(NAT, October 2010): “Unseen Disabilities, Unmet Needs”:
National AIDS Map: AIDS Information: Jan-Feb 2011:
UK Welfare Policy:

Issue 49: Winter 2012:

1. The benefits scandal
Kaliya Franklin and Sue Marsh

2.’Dependency’ and disability: how to misread the evidence on social security
Declan Gaffney

3. Cuts are a feminist issue
The feminist fightback collective

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