AS an example of cold-hearted institutional cruelty by a faceless bureaucracy totally lacking in compassion, the summons for a disability assessment could hardly be worse.
A friend of 63 who cannot get out of bed, wash or even lift a kettle in order to fill it and make herself a cup of tea without help must report for tests to establish if she is still entitled to disability benefits.
Part of the assessment will involve asking her to bend and try to touch her toes.
She would give much of what she owns to be able to do that. Or to be free of the chronic pain that has plagued her for 20 years since developing a spinal condition which is only going to get worse and will, in time, probably leave her needing a wheelchair.
But does that cut any ice with an assessment regime that relies on a tick-box, one-size-fits-all culture?
No, not in the slightest. No matter that her NHS consultant has previously written to the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) stating that she will never again be fit for work because she suffers from a lifelong disability.
That letter has been disregarded under the year-zero policy of carrying out assessments to establish if people receiving disability benefits are entitled to them. And perhaps the worst of all is that this assessment regime has made somebody who worked full-time from the age of 16 to her early 40s, until illness struck her down, feel like she is regarded as a workshy scrounger.
There have been tears, and sleepless nights. Her husband, who fits running his own business around caring for his wife, is seething with anger at a regime that is not only heartless, but completely lacking in the gumption to acknowledge somebody who is so obviously and unquestionably disabled without putting her through a humiliating series of tests.
But how very well such a lack of common sense pays. The bill to all of us for it is likely to be more than £700m, way more than the original estimate of £512m for the two companies, Atos and Capita, to carry out the assessments.
Even the DWP’s own advisory committee has warned that the testing regime can be confusing and stressful for the disabled people forced to undergo it.
Yet still it continues, and the money flows out, hundreds of millions on putting people through unnecessary distress when the word of their doctors should be enough to determine entitlement to disability benefits.
It is testament to how flawed the regime is that 160,000 people initially denied benefits after assessment, have received them on appeal since 2013.
No sensible person could quibble at the need to closely monitor Britain’s benefits bill, but targeting vulnerable disabled people is wrong on every level.
The policy has the nasty undercurrent of picking on a soft target, and asking people who have more than enough difficulties to cope with to justify themselves. They are not scroungers or burdens on the state.
The real wastes of space, the workshy, the idle and the manipulative, are obvious for all to see, but too little is done to drag them kicking and screaming into the unthinkable – getting a job.
They are there on the street corners of every town and city any day of the week, drinking and smoking outside pubs or whiling the time away in the bookies, the legion of people with no obvious source of income other than benefits.
We all see them, every day. They might as well wear a sign round their necks reading “layabout”, because it is so glaringly obvious that they are working the system and laughing at those who do the right thing and earn an honest living.
Why, instead of spending a king’s ransom on hauling people with disabilities into assessment centres where they are asked to perform tasks which are obviously impossible for them, is something not being done about this?
When they sign on for their benefits – shortly before the money goes across bar or betting shop window – does nobody ever establish just why they are not working or spending every waking hour looking for a job?
There does not appear to be any process of scrutiny that comes close to that which the disabled have to undergo to prove their entitlement to help.
Rather than blowing £700m on victimising the disabled, the Government should divert the money into a thorough examination of the records of those claiming benefits who have neither held down jobs nor been for interviews with employers in recent memory.
Hard questions need to be asked of them, not of a woman who struggles with the most mundane of everyday tasks in between the periods when her husband can find an hour in his working day to go back home and make her some lunch and a hot drink.
She faces humiliation and worry, while the scroungers get a free ride. How shameful, and how very wrong.