“I agree with the government that forcing people to a life on benefits when they want to work is wrong.”
So says Professor Malcolm Harrington, who was charged this summer with reporting on the Work Capability Assessment for Employment and Support Allowance. His brief was to look for ways in which the system could be improved, as if the answer were not clear. The way to improve the WCA system is to take the contract for providing the assessments away from Atos Healthcare, and also to get rid of the presumption that everyone who undergoes a WCA is fit for work unless they can prove otherwise. Everything else is just an exercise in deckchair rearrangement.
Just like David Freud, who was appointed to investigate incapacity benefits by the Labour government, and has since progressed to being a Tory minister, Malcolm Harrington is an outsider with no experience of the benefit system either as a decision maker or, I’m prepared to hazard a guess, as a claimant. His hobbies are listed in Who’s Who as theatre, gardening, music and cricket. If he really believes that anyone is forced into a life on benefits, this indicates a quite breath-taking lack of knowledge, but I do not for a second believe that this is the case. I’m sure he knows perfectly well that far from being forced to live on benefits, the majority of claimants live in perpetual fear of having the safety net pulled out from beneath them by having those benefits taken away. This week the DWP (Department for Work and Pensions) has admitted that the anticipated savings from making the WCA harder to pass have not materialised, which is almost certainly thanks to Tribunals up and down the country restoring ESA (Employment and Support Allowance) awards to disabled claimants who have had it taken away by decision makers using the findings of Atos’ so-called ‘Health Professionals’. In other words, ESA claimants do not see the removal of their benefit as a reason for optimism and celebration.
The idea that removing ESA from claimants is somehow doing them a favour is absurd but it is a line which was spun by a succession of Labour Secretaries of State. The basic rate of ESA for someone in the Work Related Activity Group (WRAG) is currently £94.25 a week. A reasonable person might consider this a paltry amount of money to live on but removing ESA from a claimant and obliging him/her to manage on Jobseeker’s Allowance instead reduces this figure to a frankly cruel £67.50, unless the claimant should be under 25 years old in which case s/he will be expected to exist on even less. With unemployment, especially among young adults, increasing week by week, only a fool or a rogue would claim that cutting an already tiny income in this way is to the advantage of any person, whether disabled or not.
But there is yet more to this story of the Professor’s inhumanity to claimants. Harrington, in his quote above, was referring not to people with back strains or frozen shoulders but to those undergoing chemotherapy for cancer. Yup: that’s cancer, folks; the scourge of the modern world; the Big C.
According to the connoisseur of cricket and theatre we can help cancer patients by reducing their income and obliging them to attend futile work training even though they may very well be suffering not only from their illness, but also the frequently savage side-effects of their treatment. But wait, there’s still more! As if reducing a dangerously sick person’s income by around a third were not ‘encouraging’ enough, they will, in their thousands from April 2012, enjoy the supreme morale boost of losing their benefit completely, as the Coalition government axes contributory ESA for anyone who has been receiving it for 12 months.
With friends like these…Tags: Domestic (UK)
Categorised in: Article
This post was written by Felix McHugh