Cuts are killing mentally ill people, but Labour’s failure to distinguish between the unemployed and the sick played a part, wrote the current (June 2012) Labour Party Policy Chief John Cruddas in June 2011, when Black Triangle first published this article ….
The unfolding tragedy of mentally ill people, described by Paul Farmer et al in the Guardian’s letters page is being caused by the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats but it is also a consequence of Labour’s 2009 Welfare Reform Act. There is a growing argument in Labour that it got welfare wrong. Gillian Duffy’s comments to Gordon Brown during the 2010 election campaign exactly captures the paradox about public attitudes to welfare:
“Look, the three main things that I had drummed in when I was a child was education, health service and looking after people who are vulnerable. There are too many people now who aren’t vulnerable but they can claim and people who are vulnerable can’t get claim.”
Labour made the mistake of not listening to this point of view. But Labour risks making a similar mistake by not listening to Duffy’s concern for the vulnerable. Polling shows that people value the role of the state as the protector of the vulnerable; there is no public appetite for inflicting suffering.
We need to address some home truths about the Labour government’s welfare changes because they did not make a proper distinction between the unemployed and the sick. As a consequence, they have seriously eroded the protection of disabled people and those with limiting long-term illness. The methodologies that underpinned much of our argument are questionable.
In 2008 David Freud was interviewed by the Telegraph three weeks after he’d started as an adviser to the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP). He said: “I think we can get about 1.4 million back to work.” The number was then reduced to 1 million. This new figure appeared to come from research at Sheffield Hallam University, which calculated approximately 1 million on incapacity benefit were, in fact, “hidden unemployed”.
This figure is the number of incapacity benefit claimants who might reasonably be expected to have been in work in a genuinely fully employed economy. They are not shirking. But if they had lived, for example, in Surrey rather than in the former industrial regions they would certainly be in work.
Social policy expert Steve Griffiths argues that this research does not address the issue of health. It takes no account of regional and class inequalities in health, nor the way inequality creates illness, nor the detrimental impact of poverty on mental and physical health. The figure of 1 million fit to work is unproven.
The conditionality built into Labour’s welfare changes failed to take into account the high numbers of people with limiting long-term illness. It treated them as if they were simply unemployed and so made a serious misjudgment about the levels of incapacity that actually exist. It informed the design of the work capability assessment (WCA) introduced in the 2009 act. The WCA is not fit for purpose. It is a source of fear and deep anxiety for people who are mentally ill, parents of adult children with an autism spectrum condition, and literally hundreds of thousands of others with complex and intermittent illnesses who want to work but know that they cannot in the way expected of them by the government and employers.
Medical expertise is not central to the functioning and decision-making of the WCA. It is a tick-box computer program that lacks the capacity to pick up complex illnesses and particularly mental health issues and autism spectrum conditions. Paul Gregg of Bristol University, who devised the structure and conditionality of Labour’s revised welfare system, and Malcolm Harrington who recently reviewed the work capability assessment, have both expressed concern that the government is rolling out the test nationally before it has been properly reformed.
More alarming still are the DWP’s statistics that show the WCA passes 64% as fit to work month on month. The lack of variability in the monthly figures is statistically unlikely. It suggests a quota system is in place. Whether or not you are fit to work, the quota will decide you are.
Labour has to come out fighting in exposing the cruelties, injustices and humiliation being inflicted by this government on the most vulnerable of our society. It means owning up to its own past mistakes. So be it, let Labour be its own best critic. Labour’s best tradition is reciprocity – do not do to others what you would not want done to yourself. In reciprocity lies the source of our moral outrage when pain is inflicted on those who cannot defend themselves.
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010
(Published by Black Triangle on 1st June 2011)
Click on the photos for a taste of the contrasting reception that ATOS gave us two days after this disgraceful episode. No hope of speaking to a delegate from management there! Though one police officer did say he’d passed on our request – only to be told that we should contact PR Department, in LONDON!
More photos of our reception may be found here:
Black Triangle Comment –
In our view, the ATOS Work Capability Assessment régime is the “Rosemary’s baby” of the New Labour neoliberal project.
Nothing but wholesale grassroots democratic revolution from the bottom up can save the Labour Party now.
Their betrayal of the working class and their founding fundamental values of social justice and equality has ensured that without internal revolution now they face both electoral oblivion as a majority party at Westminster and final damnation as a party of knaves, social injustice and notoriety.
Shame on you Labour! A pox on all your houses at Westminster!
You’ve gained the world. And yes, you’ve sold your souls. We won’t forget.
They (Miliband and Iain Grey) knew we were coming for ATOS – so they thought they’d go and offer their support – to ATOS!
We all know what Scotland thought of Iain Grey – he inched home with 151 vote majority. This is the terminal path of decline for Labour in Scotland under the present course. Without Scotland’s Labour M.P.’s at Westminster, England and Wales are doomed to be governed by Tory majorities for the foreseeable future.
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