Recognition of Fibromyalgia as a Disability — [Mr Adrian Bailey in the Chair]

Part of Backbench Business – in Westminster Hall at 10:06 am on 15th January 2019.

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Photo of Patricia Gibson Patricia Gibson Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Consumer Affairs) 10:06 am, 15th January 2019

This condition, as we all agree, is not widely known about or understood. Often those living with it feel that they are drowning in despair and their loved ones are at a loss as to how best to support them. It is believed that up to 2 million people in the UK live with the condition. The true causes of it have not been established, but it is thought to be related to abnormal levels of certain chemicals in the brain and changes in the way the central nervous system processes pain messages carried around the body. It is also thought that there may be a genetic predisposition. In many cases the condition appears to be triggered by a physically or emotionally stressful event. There is no cure, although there are some treatments that can ease the effects.

I pay tribute at this juncture to the very important self-help groups in my constituency that help sufferers with this condition. There is no denying that it is a complex condition and there is a genuine lack of societal recognition of it. It is a truly disabling condition and must be treated and recognised as such for those seeking support from our welfare system.

Consultations undertaken by the Scottish Government show that current PIP assessments are simply not fit for purpose for those with fluctuating conditions such as fibromyalgia. Where conditions involve symptoms that fluctuate and vary, an effective assessment of illness must be flexible to take account of that. The problem is that disability assessments in the current UK welfare system are tick-box exercises, so the answers need to be yes or no even when complex, fluctuating and distressing conditions are being assessed. How can the assessment of such a condition truly be conducted in that way and still be meaningful? Clearly, simply ticking boxes cannot capture the distress, trauma and debilitation of such a complex condition. However, those living with this disease must subject themselves to that process in order to access essential support.

We need a welfare system that fully understands what those with this condition endure every single day as they struggle with everyday tasks that the rest of us take for granted. We need to ensure that the lives that they are living are reflected in the support they receive. That is the right thing to do, so I urge the Minister to put those laudable aims in motion without any further delay. Any further delay will mean greater suffering for those affected and their families, which ought to shame us all.