Make no mistake, the government’s plans to dock £71 a week from disabled benefit claimants for breaching work plans will be a tax solely on the poor and isolated.
If you’ve ever had the misfortune to become seriously ill, you’ll know that your priorities are dramatically and rapidly redrawn. You and your family will simply ask: “How do we get through this?”. Work, holidays, and all the minutiae of daily life fade into the distance as you focus on having the bare minimum of income, or fall back on your savings, to get through your health crisis. At this point in your life all you want is to stay alive.
Which is why the government’s plan for the sick and disabled to lose 70% of their benefit support if they fail to comply with mandated work-related activities is so heartless.
Don’t misunderstand this, these sanctions apply only to people who have already gone through the merciless work capability assessment and been deemed ill enough by the government’s own harsh standards to need employment and support allowance (ESA), the new incapacity benefit. By the government’s own admission, people who are put into work-related activity group ESA are sick and not yet well enough to go back to work, although they may be able to in the future. People on work-related ESA include those who are rehabilitating from strokes, undergoing intensive cancer treatment, or have recently lost limbs and may perhaps be the future Paralympic stars that Cameron and co are so keen to venerate. All these people will have a future in which they pray work will once again feature. But that will only come if they are allowed to focus solely on getting well again in the present.
But the government expects such ESA claimants to sign up to work-related activities including attending training courses or job centre interviews. Even more outrageously it is finalising plans on whether to make unpaid and unlimited work experience placements part of such work-related activities, even though those fit and healthy and in receipt on jobseeker’s sllowance are at worst expected to do just three months of unpaid work experience.
Previously this paper has reported on work programmes attended by people who were receiving radiotherapy for prostate cancer or on very high doses of morphine for pain caused by a recent pancreas operation. Ask yourself this: if you were this ill would you risk your recovery by putting yourself through these mandated activities unless you were facing absolute poverty if you didn’t receive ESA?
The middle classes of Britain will rally round their sick family member and pitch in financially rather than see their loved one risk their lives by enduring such heartless treatment from the Department of Work and Pensions. The only people who will be forced to go through the process, and face these sanctions, will be those too poor to say no, or those without family members to help them out. I have no doubt that if these plans go ahead, we will see the life expectancy gap between the rich and poor continue to widen in the future. No doubt the government will say that people won’t lose their benefits if they do what is expected of them, that only those well enough to do work-related activities will be asked to participate.
But the logic breaks down. Either the government supports the findings of its controversial WCA medical tests or it doesn’t. Or does it believe that people are too sick to be paid to work but not too sick to work for free? The Department for Work and Pensions’ attitude to the disabled is in chaos and frankly becoming barbaric. Every MP must now ask him or herself, could I endure what we are asking genuinely sick and disabled people to endure? When will enough ever be enough?
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