What a difference a year makes. Last year the right wing tabloids were emblazoned with headlines accusing 75% of people on sickness or disability benefits of being scroungers. Yesterday the DWP released the first set of figures for those on Incapacity Benefit who have been re-assessed by poverty pimps Atos. In less than 12 months the number deemed ‘Fit For Work and therefore scrounging has dropped to only 37%. Another 34% are deemed able to work at some point in the future or with support. So they are only scrounging a bit now.
There are two reasons for the huge drop in the number of people accused of abusing the benefits system and neither has to do with the Government’s welfare policy. The first is that soaring unemployment and some very hard campaigning, mostly by benefit claimants themselves, has helped to change, if only slightly, public opinion towards sick and disabled claimants. The second is that (as pointed out in the comments by @luckylove) the Government’s recent report on tackling hate crime included an action point that the DWP would work to address negative media stereotypes of disabled people.
How exactly Chris Grayling was doing this when he yesterday accused disabled people on benefits as living ‘wasted lives’ is somewhat unclear. But it does mean that he can’t fib quite as much as he used to about sick and disabled people.
Of course this hasn’t stopped him fibbing entirely. Chris Grayling is well known as a lying bastard after all. He’s conveniently ignored the huge numbers of people who successfully appeal against sickness benefit decisions in these figures. And the DWP conveniently forgets to mention that most of the people stripped of sickness benefits are not ‘fit as a fiddle’ as the Sun today claims. In fact many of them have serious health problems including Multiple Sclerosis, Parkinson’s Disease or enduring and debilitating mental health conditions. So it appears the DWP’s efforts to address negative media stereotypes of disabled people by not lying quite as much as they used to, are failing as miserably as the welfare policies they are pursuing.
The current testing system, carried out by private company Atos, is not really designed to assess people’s health, but to strip benefits from as many people as possible. It is therefore of little surprise that figures should reveal so many people are ‘fit for work’ when the goal posts have been shifted so significantly. It should be not forgotten that those on Incapacity Benefit have not just been deemed unable to work by their own doctors, but also by a DWP doctor, often several times. Long term claimants were regularly re-assessed by Doctors long before Atos and their short computer based test came along and attempted to redefine sickness and disability.
An international comparison is perhaps useful when discussing rates of disability and ill health in the population. The UK does not have significantly more people on sickness and disability benefits than other comparable economies. In fact a higher percentage of disabled people in the UK are estimated to work than in Germany, Australia, Canada and the United States.
Different country’s welfare systems and policies towards disability and sickness vary enormously so it is difficult to make precise comparisons. An example of this is Japan, which has relatively low numbers of people on disability benefits, but many people retire at 55 and the state pension age is 60.
However some figures are available which give an indication of rates of sickness and disability around the world. A Parliamentary Briefing released last June (PDF) shows that around 6.6% of people of working age in the UK currently receive an out of work health related benefit such as Incapacity Benefit. How this compares to other countries is shown in the graph reproduced below of sickness and disability benefit rates in OECD countries in 2007. The UK’s current rate of claimants is indeed slightly higher than the average amongst OECD countries which is around 6%. It should be remembered however that this includes countries like Korea and Mexico who are not famous for their welfare provision. The UK has significantly less people on disability benefits than Sweden, Denmark and Holland and a only slighter higher number than the United States.
If the Atos holocaust continues at the same pace then only 4% of the UK’s population will remain on sickness benefits, far less than almost all the countries in the OECD. Whilst Spain has a similar percentage on health related benefits, tens of thousands of disabled people are employed in Remploy style schemes, which is the very type of employment support that the Government is closing down here. It has also been estimated that 90% of disabled people in Spain are in moderate or extreme poverty. Is this the type of future that Grayling plans for disabled people in the UK?
Even more staggering is that if those placed in the Work Related Activity Group also find work, as Chris Grayling claims they could (and should), then the UK would only have 1.9% of sick and disabled people deemed unable to work. That’s not an efficient welfare policy, it’s a fucking medical miracle. Britain could well overtake Lourdes as a tourist destination as millions flock here to bathe in the healing waters of the Humber estuary or sample the magical cure-all elixirs of lager, fags and chips.
Perhaps the most revealing indicator of whether the UK truly has the lowest levels of sickness and disability in the world could be determined by looking at how many people deemed fit for work by Atos are actually finding jobs.
The answer, unsurprisingly, is virtually none of them. A study released at the end of 2010 (PDF) interviewed 3,650 people who had made a claim for the new Employment Support Allowance (ESA) which has replaced Incapacity Benefit for new claimants. As previously discussed, many of these people had stopped their claim during the assessment process because they found jobs. Only 10% were placed in the Support Group, meaning that they are deemed as being unfit for any kind of work, a trend which if it continues could mean only 0.65% of people in the UK are unable to work due to sickness or disability. God bless Chris Grayling and his magic healing hands. Neither Jesus nor antibiotics have had such an impressive record at healing the sick as Atos and the Tory party.
Of those who were found Fit For Work a less than impressive 13% had actually found work six months later. It is important to note that those surveyed were all new claimants. Over half of these people went back to work with the same employers they had been forced to leave due to sickness or injury. Many people only claim sickness benefits for a short period, so a Fit For Work outcome may have confirmed what they already knew and they were about to end claims and return to work anyway.
Of the 87% who were still out of work, over half claimed they were still too ill to be able to work. Only 28% believed they had a chance in the employment market and were actively seeking work and just 19% said they did not have a health problem, disability or illness which limited daily activities or work activities. 57% of the group judged Fit For Work said that their health was the biggest barrier to finding employment, whilst a lack of local jobs was given as a factor by just 31%.
The report also well demonstrates that of the meagre amount who found work, those who were older, looking after children or had recognisable disadvantages to employment such as low literacy, were far less likely to have found employment.
For those placed in the Work Related Activity Group (WRAG) the results are even more stark. Whilst 4% were in some form of work at the time of the survey, half of these were in Permitted Work. This is part time work which does not effect Employment Support Allowance, and must not last for over a year.
The survey points out that for the 2% who “report they are in work
but that this is not Permitted Work. It may simply be that they are not aware of the term Permitted Work; another possibility is that they may be in informal employment.”
Another possibility not mentioned is that they may be undertaking voluntary work. It is quite possible that virtually nobody in the WRAG group had actually come off benefits and gone into full time paid work.
The Government is dragging their feet on telling us how many of the 20,000 people in the WRAG group who were bullied onto the Work Programme last year have actually found jobs. That they know and don’t want to say would suggest it ain’t many.
It’s therefore increasingly reasonable to assume that Chris Grayling is not actually the all healing Messiah, he’s a dirty fucking snake oil salesman. Sickness and disability rates in the UK are pretty much the same as everywhere else, and no-one is finding work due to the Welfare reforms. This Government can now proudly proclaim to have the most vicious regime for people with terminal illnesses or severe disabilities in any developed economy, yet any financial savings gained are trivial.
Claimants are dumped from one benefit onto another. Whilst the loss of income will force the most vulnerable people in the country into desperate poverty, the savings to the tax payer are negligible. With billions of pounds currently being handed out to poverty pimps like Atos and A4e it’s quite possible that this cruel onslaught is actually costing more money than just leaving people the fuck alone.
Most sick and disabled people would love to get back to work, but not by being coerced or forced onto workfare. There is little or no provision for genuinely high quality training and education, and just as importantly there are no jobs. Whilst the business community laps up benefit bashing they are hardly going out of their way to provide decent paid work for sick and disabled people.
The benefits holocaust isn’t helping anyone and is forcing millions into poverty, homelessness and even greater ill health. The recent outrage at forced labour under the various workfare schemes shows that the public have had enough. It may have seemed an attractive idea to blame the unemployed, sick and disabled for unemployment, but attitudes are starting the change. Even the Daily Mail now has one popular columnist regularly lambasting the Government over the inhumane welfare reforms. The UK is still one of the richest countries in the world. That the most vulnerable and poorest members of this society have come under such unrelenting and brutal attack should shame every Tory, Lib Dem or Labour Party member who have all connived in this atrocity.
Every suicide that has happened due to Welfare Reform is blood on their hands and will be avenged. The businesses and charities profiting from this sick farce should remember the call of the recent workfare protests. If you exploit us, we will shut you down.