medtech in everyday life

How the Government discriminates against the disabled self-employed

This post isn’t written well. I visited a family member yesterday, and because of that, today I can’t move.

It’s 2pm and I’m hungry, but I’m too fatigued to get up to eat or make a cup of tea. The pain was so bad when I woke, I had to pull myself up using the monkey bars that hang over my hospital bed.

Yes, I have a profiling bed at home to manage pain. This is my normal.

After a few hours, I write this for the broadcasters at ‘MoneyBox Live’:

“If you’re a disabled person wanting to work at home, the news isn’t good. The new Working Tax Credit rules (Tax Credit Statutory Instrument 605) have affected disabled people’s eligibility for Working Tax Credits. If you’re on a low income; working at a slower pace; working on certain types of activities; then what you’re doing may no longer qualify as ‘work’. 

Yes, you heard that right. The Government has quietly redefined the activities that are ‘bone fide’ work in the eyes of the law. But only if you’re poor.

Because of this legislation, if you’re not bringing in much money, then HMRC will ask themselves if you are working ‘on a commercial basis’ and make you ineligible for Tax Credits if they think you’re not.

Their guidelines even say ‘the business activity is not likely to be considered commercial’ if someone could think of it as a hobby (who gets to decide if hairdressing is a business or hobby? Or Care work? Is that ‘commercial’?). Why, HMRC, of course.

If your work is a craft of some kind but it doesnt bring in very much money, it isn’t work. Even if you need to do it – or something like it – to help you deal with your pain. If you’re on a low income, advocacy isn’t considered ‘work’ (even if it is the best use of your experience and knowledge), because HMRC define it as ‘non-commercial’. Indeed, disabled people are no longer eligible for Tax Credits if they work in any activity that does not bring in more money than a particular threshold, no matter how slowly their disability requires them to work.

This is because HMRC created a minimum income threshold by assuming that any self-employed earner can work as fast as an able-bodied PAYE worker on minimum wage. A disabled person living with a number of conditions might well work slower than that non-disabled person. But if the slower worker doesn’t achieve the same income, they’ll lose their Tax Credits (see Tax Credit Statutory Instrument 605.)

Of course, not all disabled people work slowly, or on non-commercial activities.

But many do. In which case, do we want to have a discriminatory in-work support system which doesn’t allow disabled people to work slowly; to work for health; to work for inclusion; to work for society at large? When every Government health or social policy statement emphasizes how bad that would be for individuals, the health system and society?

It is important that disabled people do not just work for profit. We need work to participate in life instead of being locked away on our own; we need to do whatever we can to stay healthy; it helps is if we can work to help ourselves or others. Some of us have to work just to stay alive; to keep the physical pain at a manageable level; to have some hope; to have some contact with the outside world.

Many years ago, I could read a research paper in 15 minutes and write an article about it in under an hour. But now, just the reading will take all day, or many days, and there’s no telling whether any particular day will be spent functioning quite well, or in agony. And what organisation would give me me a PAYE job to write these words about disabled self-employment whilst I am lying here, whimpering in bed? And without being able to predict whether I will finish it this afternoon, or in two weeks’ time?

But all across the country, there are other disabled people, trying to be self-employed, working slowly, or working on a craft to give life some meaning; or working in advocacy to help others. Under the new rules, if they don’t earn enough, it won’t be classed as ‘work’ any more as far as the Tax Credit system is concerned. To my knowledge, no-one in paid policymaking, nor paid in-house journalism has written about this yet.

Just because people in rich or powerful organisations do not value a piece of work, that doesn’t mean it is not valuable to society as a whole. And if a person needs to work to improve their health  -instead of increasing their uptake of painkillers, or becoming obese, for example –  then why put these barriers in front of them? Why remove an income top-up, just because a particular disabled person can’t work as fast as an able-bodied one?

The new Tax Credit rules will disproportionately impact disabled people. As Philip Connolly, Policy Development Manager for Disability Rights UK says: “There are proportionally more disabled people working for themselves than non-disabled people. If the numbers were to decline to parity then the disability employment gap would rise from 32% to 40%.”

HMRC has created a discriminatory system that actively discourages work that is flexible enough to accommodate many disabled people’s needs.

And yet all the while, the Government, to much fanfare, says it is developing shiny new policy on Disabled People and Employment.

But if the Government wants to help disabled people into work, it should first stop discriminating against us when it makes up the rules on self-employment. It should also stop the endless, exhausting cycle of welfare inquisition which ignores the testimony of doctors, creates suffering and costs more to run than it saves.

Our work has many ends. It is important work, whether or not it is ‘commercial’. The Government must drop these discriminatory rules. Otherwise we will all know: the White Paper on Disability and Employment is a whitewash to distract from cuts and sanctions that are killing disabled people.

Why else would they discriminate against us in self-employment and still pretend they want to help us be employed?”


I wonder if I can stand long enough to make some porridge.


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