For many years there has been no uniform way of assessing disability. This is because there is no official definition of disability, and no uniform ‘tool’ for assessing disability in a consistent way. This means that people who have been excluded from accessing the Disability Grant often do not know why they were rejected and do not know the basis on which they were assessed. As a result, the majority of appeals by social grant beneficiaries are from those who have been refused a Disability Grant. The Black Sash argues that one harmonised definition and tool to assess disability should be used and that the criteria and process should be made accessible to the public.
On principle, we do not think it is appropriate for people who have chronic illnesses to depend on a temporary or permanent Disability Grant, as it both misrepresents people’s potential and works perversely against health-affirming behaviours. For example, many people can manage a chronic illness if they have access to medication and can maintain a healthy lifestyle. Ironically, however, improved health results in the withdrawal of a Disability Grant and, inevitably, a return to ill health. If the only form of income support available to people with chronic illnesses is one associated with disability, our society is essentially encouraging those who are ill to become disabled too. We are thus very conscious of the possible implications of disability grant reform for people who are chronically ill. Many people with chronic illnesses will be excluded from income support by the consistent application of a standardised disability tool based on a definition of disability linked to functionality.
The Black Sash therefore argues that a harmonised assessment tool for disability should be implemented together with income support for those with chronic illnesses, and has been working to gather the support of civil society organisations for the introduction of a Chronic Illness Grant.
In 2009, our campaign developed momentum with the development of the Social Assistance Amendment Bill, which provides a standardised definition of disability, making a harmonised tool legally possible. Our concern, while supporting the need for a standardised instrument, is that many people who are chronically ill and who currently receive the Disability Grant will thus not be able to access it in the future. We believe that a grant targeting people who are vulnerable through chronic illness will intervene in a poverty/illness cycle, thus allowing beneficiaries to take up active places in society and removing pressure from our already over-extended health system.
The Black Sash attended a meeting of the Portfolio Committee on Social Development in April 2010, where we presented oral and written submissions on the Department's proposals.
Follow the links below to view the submissions in detail:
Lowering the Impact of Chronic Illness on Poor Households and the State: An Adherence Support Grant as a Chronic Illness Benefit (background paper prepared for the Black Sash - August 2010)