Incapacity Benefit for new claimants will go, replaced by Employment and Support Allowance with the emphasis on what a person with a physical or mental health condition can do, rather than what they can’t.
Peter Hain, Labour Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, 2007
We need a system focussed on what a claimant can do and the support they’ll need – and not just on what they can’t do.
Iain Duncan Smith, Conservative Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, 2015
It’s just the same old shit, over and over again, whichever bunch of bastards is in charge. The above two comments were made almost a decade apart and in that period the number of people claiming out of work sickness benefits has barely changed. And why would it? In any society there will be some people who cannot work due to illness or disability and as the pension age gets ever higher then that number as a percentage of the workforce will grow.
There is nothing unusual or unexpected about this. Whoever you are reading this, one day you will get sick and then you will die. If you are lucky this will not happen until you have reached retirement. If not then you will be helped on your way to an early grave by politicians desperate to cover up for their failure to provide enough jobs by blaming unemployed, sick and disabled people for unemployment.
Iain Duncan Smith’s speech yesterday was a masterclass in this deception, but everything he said has been said before. So out of ideas is the Secretary of State that he is now misrepresenting the entire process for claiming sickness benefits – pretending it is a binary system which “decides that you are either capable of work or you are not”. This is simply an outright lie and he knows it. Currently claimants are assessed as being fit for work, unable to work, or placed in the Work Related Activity Group which means capable of some work, or of being able to work in the future. In the recent budget George Osborne declared that this group is to be scrapped, creating precisely the binary system that Iain Duncan Smith says he opposes. Perhaps he hopes we won’t notice. Perhaps even he hasn’t noticed.
The UK does not spend significantly more on out of work sickness and disability benefits than other comparable economies. According to the OECD we spend a fraction more than Poland as a percentage of GDP on ‘incapacity’ – and less than Australia, New Zealand, Spain, Israel, Belgium. Luxembourg, Iceland, Finland, Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Switzerland and the Netherlands. It is true as Iain Duncan Smith said yesterday that the UK spends more than France, Germany and Japan. In humane society this would be a source of pride. Or at least it would be until you found out that Germany spends over three times as much on unemployment benefits whilst France and Japan – where the retirement age is lower – both spend almost double what the UK spends on pensions. And the incapacity spending figures by the way come from 2011, before most of Iain Duncan Smith’s benefit cuts had been implemented.
Only an astonishing degree of self-delusion could explain Iain Duncan Smith’s latest belief that more workfare, more assessments, and more benefit cuts will magically cure those unable to work because of illness. But then he is deluded. That’s why he could claim yesterday that “The Work Programme is … the most successful back to work programme we’ve ever seen.” That’s the Work Programme that has seen less sick and disabled people enter employment than it was estimated would have done if the scheme hadn’t existed. Hundreds of millions of pounds spent on making things worse. This is what Iain Duncan Smith calls a success.
Rarely, if ever, has such a fucking idiot been given so much power over so many people’s futures. If the human cost were not so great then the best response would be to point and laugh. But we can’t do that, not as millions of lives are destroyed. If society means anything at all it means looking after each other and that means driving Iain Duncan Smith back into the sewer he crawled from before he can do anymore damage. No-one should stand idly by now. We need to be relentless as he is, to wake up every day with one thought on our minds – to destroy Iain Duncan Smith’s welfare reforms before they destroy us.
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