A chilling vision of the future has been presented by Tory think-tank Reform who have called for all out of work sickness and disability benefits to be scrapped, even for the most seriously ill, alongside a Jobcentre programme of forced medical treatment.
In a report published this month Reform argue that paying those with serious health conditions more money than those simply on the dole acts as a disincentive to find employment. Instead every claimant, no matter how unwell, should receive just over £70 a week, although they concede that this should be combined with an increase in Personal Independence Payments – the benefit paid to those either in or out of work which is intended to cover the additional costs of living with a disability. Many people on out of work sickness benefits are not eligible for these payments however.
The report also calls for increased conditionality for sickness benefits including a mandatory occupational health plan. This could involve a requirement to take up medical treatment with the threat of benefit sanctions for non-compliance. Astionishingly this treatment plan would not be agreed with a claimant’s GP but would instead be drawn up by a ‘Healthcare Professional’ working under the supervision of an Occupational Health specialist. Reform generously warn that sanctions would have to be carefully applied – they are opposed to people being sanctioned because they didn’t get better they claim – but elsewhere they raise the prospect of a sanction being inflicted because someone failed to follow the correct state-mandated diet. North Korea eat your fucking heart out.
This system should be tested on those with a mild to moderate health condition the think tank declare although it is unclear where they would draw the line between a moderate condition and for example, someone who’s only got a few months to live. In fact those with a terminal illness, or the most serious health conditions, are completely overlooked by the report’s authors who presumably see nothing wrong in dying people being bullied into low paid work for the last few weeks of their life.
As ever there is lots of talk of working in partnership with claimants, with even proposed personal budgets to access ’employment support’, although all this means is you’ll get to choose your own workfare provider, and even then you won’t really have a choice. Quality training leading to real qualifications is expensive, so as with all welfare-to-work scheme to date, you’ll get what you’re given and if you don’t like it then you’ll get sanctioned. That’s what they mean by choice.
The real reason for these proposals are not to help people but to save money and help Iain Duncan Smith acheive his aim of throwing one million people off sickness benefits by pretending that they aren’t really sick or disabled anymore. And as the quote above taken from the report indicates, ensuring strict conditions for benefits helps keep down the ‘reservation wage’ – the minimum amount that people are prepared to work for. The inference is clear, those on sickness benefits should be pushed into the lowest possible paid work as quickly as possible. The only flimsy evidence available that work is good for your health is quite clear that this only applies if you have a good job. Reform want to force sick and disabled people into work which is likely to be harmful as a lesson to the rest of us not to get ill in case we become unproductive and the profit that the rich glean from our work might fall slightly.
It remains to be seen how seriously the government will take these proposals as they draw up plans for sweeping reforms of sickness and disability benefits. Cuts already announced will soon slash the rate of sickness benefits to the same rate as the dole for many new claimants. Reform’s desire to extend this to everybody needs to be taken seriously because they are not swivel-eyed cranks of the fringes of the debate, even if that’s what they sound like at times. They were recently graced with the presence of Lord Fraud, the comedy toff brought in to oversee welfare reforms who these days is being kept very much behind the scenes. Fraud was invited to a roundtable meeting at Reform as part of this report’s launch and whilst what he said has not been made public there are some hints available of a possible new direction.
This blogger was at the discussion and reports that Fraud raised the possibility of privatised social security, raising the question of why employer’s ensure against sickness absences but individuals do not. It is also reported that Fraud said there would soon be no additional benefits paid for anyone with a health condition or disability suggesting Reform may have already got one of their key demands met*.
With George Osborne bottling out of cuts to Tax Credits for the lowest paid workers the only place left to look for significant savings in the social security system is disability and sickness benefits. As such both him and Iain Duncan Smith have deluded themselves that this can easily be achieved by making life so difficult for disabled people on benefits that they will magically get better and go to work. Osborne’s spending projections depend on it. The cuts already announced will just be the start. War is soon to be waged on disabled people and those with long term health conditions like never before. Be ready.
You can read Reform’s report at: http://www.reform.uk/publication/working-welfare-a-radically-new-approach-to-sickness-and-disability-benefits/
*It should be pointed out that the blogger who wrote this is a private consultant who runs a company claiming to be experts in public services reform and as such he’s possibly talking a load of old shite and has got what Fraud said mixed up with what was proposed by Reform.
Join the fight to keep Jobecntres out of healthcare – please help support the protest outside City Road Medical Centre, 190-196 City Road , London, EC1V 2QH on Friday 4th March from 3pm by helping spread the word and sharing the facebook page.
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