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The sickly seaside town that turned its back on work

Baroness Grey-Thompson also believes society has written off many disabled people unfairly. She believes many want to, and can, work.

Ableism is rife, she claims, adding that she has also felt patronised in the past by people who believe they know best.

“Disabled people are ignored – they are 20pc of the population. But it always feels that we are rearranging the deckchairs,” she says.

The winner of 16 Paralympic medals believes existing assessment processes are not fit for purpose, with many decisions against a claimant subsequently overturned at appeal. For example, 70pc of all PIP appeals were successful in the final three months of last year.

“It means they didn’t do assessment properly in the first place – stuff like this just wastes money,” she says.

Baroness Grey-Thompson, who is herself a PIP recipient, agrees that the current system encourages people to label themselves as disabled.

“The forms are not easy to fill out,” she says. “But they also conflate disability and illness. In my case, they kept asking for the medical person who can best describe my impairment. But I rarely go to a medical professional because I am not ill.”

While Baroness Grey-Thompson says she does not believe Britain has a worklessness issue, she does believe the costly current system is reaching breaking point.

“The benefits bill is too expensive and not sustainable. Costs keep rising and it’s not changing the landscape enough.”

Benefits also “don’t necessarily help the right people”, she says. “The small number who manipulate the system will keep doing it.”

The solution, she believes, is a simpler, fairer system that supports people into work.

All assessments should be made face-to-face, she adds. “I think you get a better feel for the person [that way].”

Recent trends are “both worrying for the nation and the NHS”, she warns.

“We need a fit and active nation. The risk for the economy is the bill will keep going up, people will live in poverty and this will cost the NHS more.”

Time is against us

A worrying portent for the future is the rise in the number of children diagnosed with mental health issues.

More than 650,000 children are claiming disability living allowance in the UK, up from 520,000 prior to Covid.

The number of under-16s claiming because of a behavioural disorder has more than doubled  since the pandemic to 153,628, while the number with learning difficulties has climbed just above 300,000, from 250,000 before Covid.