Changes to Disability Benefits

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I often deal with people who have been injured as a result of an accident and they are unable to do their normal job.  This may be temporary or permanent.  The support that they receive from their employer varies considerably.  Larger employers are expected to make more of an effort to support their injured employee whilst they are off sick and when they return to work.  Larger employers may have access to occupational health doctors and nurses which will help to advise both the employer and the employee as to what the injured employee is capable of doing and therefore assist them with returning to work.  On many occasions it may be possible for an injured employee to return to work on restricted or light duties before they are fully fit to return to their former job.  There is a psychological advantage to this, as most people do wish to return to work as soon as possible and they can find themselves becoming quite depressed being at home off sick for a long period of time.  Sometimes, the longer they are off sick, the harder it might be for them to return to work.

Sometimes, unfortunately, I deal with injured people who will never be able to return to the same kind of work that they did before.  That is not to say that they will never work again.  It is however very difficult for somebody who finds themselves forced to look for an alternative career when they were perfectly happy and suited to the work that they were doing.  One of my clients worked as an aircraft engineer and had a very certain intention to qualify as a Commercial Aircraft Pilot before he was involved in a serious car accident.  As a result of the injuries that he suffered, he would never be able to work as a pilot, and he was limited in the type of engineering work that he could do, and so he had to consider an alternative career path.  He found this extremely difficult.  It took him some considerable time to come to terms with being forced to look into an alternative career.  It is a very different story when a person chooses to make changes to their own career than when they are forced to do so.

From my experience in dealing with these types of claims, I can see it is not a black and white issue as to whether a person is fit for work or not.  There is a grey area where a person maybe fit to do some kind of work but still has limitations as to what they are able to cope with physically and psychologically, and this may be temporary or permanent.  People in that situation need help to investigate what sort of work they can do and find work.  They may need to return to the workforce gradually if they have been out of work for some time.  For example, they may need opportunities to work reduced hours until they are able to cope with full time work.

Employers need to be prepared to take on employees in this situation and to provide them with the help and support that they need when starting work. 

I hope that in making the changes to the benefit system, the help that people in this situation will need will also be made available to them. The benefits system will need to recognise the fact that some people will continue to need some financial support until they are able to take on a full time job.

Julia Prior

Personal Injury team

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