ME in Parliament: House of Lords | 26 March 2009
Source: UK House of Lords
Date: March 26, 2009
Benefit Payments: Dyslexia and Hidden Disability
Baroness Thomas of Winchester
The key question, posed by my noble friend, is: how well trained are personal advisers and disability employment advisers in Jobcentre Plus at recognising learning disabilities, particularly hidden disabilities? I should like to talk about some of the other hidden disabilities a little later. The answer, I fear, is that they are not really trained at all in some of these problems. Their role is said to be signposting, often to a contractor who has more specialist knowledge. However, to be a good signpost, you have to start from where the person you are guiding actually is. That means understanding something of several common but hidden conditions, such as dyslexia, autism, ME and some mental health conditions, so that they can either be excluded or explored by asking some relevant questions.
I shall briefly touch on the hidden disability that is perhaps the most misunderstood, due to the mistaken belief in some quarters that the condition does not really exist. This is ME, or myalgic encephalomyelitis, which is a fluctuating condition during which a person can suffer extreme fatigue. Nearly all of us can point to someone we know who either suffers or has suffered from this condition. Do all Jobcentre Plus personal advisers or disability employment advisers know of this condition?
The lucky ones – here I should declare an interest as having had measles encephalitis as a child, will be stricken and recover as children. For others, such as the noble Lord himself, it is a lifelong affliction. For yet others, such as ME sufferers, as highlighted by the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas of Winchester, if they recover they do so only after a considerable period of time.
According to the guidance in the ‘definitions of disability’ part of the Disability Discrimination Act, in some cases people can mitigate the effects of their condition, but that is by no means a fail-safe. The mitigation may break down in certain circumstances. Normally, that strategy for coping would hide dyslexia or ME, for example, from potential or existing employers. If the employee is put under stress, that coping strategy may break down altogether, a point made strongly by the British Dyslexia Association, which goes on to point out that it is important to be flexible on the employee and employer side.
(c) 2009 Parliamentary copyright