American influenced punitive UK welfare reforms


A feature article by Mo Stewart

For the purposes of budgeting, politicians discuss welfare and healthcare seperately.  Of course, in reality, the two are closely linked. If the welfare of patients is compromised then a higher demand for healthcare often follows as vulnerable people, who do not enjoy the best of health, can quickly become high risk patients with a significant deterioration in health.  The ongoing welfare reforms have been demonstrated to be a political choice not a political necessity,

as government propaganda since 2010 has been relentless when attacking those  who need help the most but who rarely have a voice to challenge the many unsubstantiated government claims. The welfare reforms have been demonstrated to be causing preventable harm, as those surviving on a modest income now live with uncertainty and with the possibility that a political decision has enforced a return to employment regardless of health or medical opinion.


When it comes to the British government imposing severe welfare reforms, whilst citing academic research to justify government claims of vast numbers of people ‘languishing’ on long-term sickness benefit, reference was made to research1 commissioned by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) that did not require peer review prior to publication.  The fact that the cited 2005 research was sponsored by UnumProvident Insurance2, an American corporate healthcare insurance giant, is never mentioned in political circles and the general public are very easily misled.


The long-ago plan to dismantle the welfare state3 began with the 2006 Green Paper: A New Deal for Welfare ~ empowering people to work4. The Green Paper introduced the ‘reform’ of  Incapacity Benefit, which really meant the demolition of the income replacement benefit paid to people of working age who are unfit to work. However the DWP, not for the first time, overlooked the reality that someone, somewhere, would challenge the credibility of their argument, as demonstrated so well by Professor Alison Ravetz.5


At the time of the launch of the 2006 Green Paper, Tony Blair was the ‘New Labour’ British Prime Minister who had adopted the Conservative Party’s philosophy for future welfare reforms.  In October 2008 Blair’s replacement, Gordon Brown, set into motion the welfare reforms with the introduction of the Employment and Support Allowance (ESA)6, to replace Incapacity Benefit. The ESA application required the claimant to endure the new Work Capability Assessment (WCA) before any award of benefit and, using the WCA as co-designed by the same private healthcare insurance giant who funded the DWP research, unlimited suffering and preventable harm7 was guaranteed for the chronically sick and disabled ESA claimants of the United Kingdom (UK).


Much has been written about the fatally flawed WCA, the influence of a discredited American corporate healthcare insurance giant with British welfare reforms8 and the manipulation of the British public, aided and abetted by a complicit  national press9, at the expense of the most vulnerable people in the UK. The government rhetoric is working well as disability hate crimes in the UK continues to rise.10


Ministers have no difficulty citing more DWP commissioned research11, in order to justify punitive welfare reforms that were guaranteed to cause preventable harm12 to working age people who are unfit to work. The gradual demolition of the UK welfare state and the eventual move to welfare funded by private healthcare insurance13 is well underway, and the psychology employed to manipulate the British public was masterful.


The constant drip feed by the national press14,  who were happy to repeat the endless suggestion of vast amounts of benefit fraud, with reference to ‘shirkers and scroungers’ for which, according to the DWP’s own figures15, there is very little evidence but the relentless suggestion increased the stigma16 of sickness benefit claimants. A decrease in self-worth was predictable, with significant academic research demonstrating the dangers of neoliberalism in health care and the negative impact of ‘Thatcherism’ on health and well-being in Britain.17


Academic research exposed more evidence that was cause for concern, confirming that the on-going austerity measures had disproportionately affected children and people with disabilities.18  Whilst those living, surviving and struggling on the ‘front line’ already know this from experience, nevertheless, it is the academic research that will be noted, even by some politicians, if the evidence can be brought to public attention instead of hidden away in academic journals that have a limited readership.


Regardless of the quality or the quantity of research conducted by the disabled community19 it will be disregarded by government. So, high calibre researchers in the voluntary sector are usually dependent upon the disability support groups to publish often very significant research findings or, perhaps, national charities, such as MIND.20


It seems irrelevant to the British government that, with the exception of  Greece,  the UK now spends the lowest amount of gross domestic product on healthcare than any other country in Europe21, whilst the DWP welfare reforms use savage sanctions that removes all income22 from claimants which guarantees hunger, and worse, often just for being too ill to attend a meeting with the local Jobcentre.  In every case DWP staff presume guilt of the claimant often before they have all the facts, by which time the damage has been done, often creating more demands on healthcare. Does this not demonstrate why UK welfare reforms should be designed by UK experts, without the input from an American corporate healthcare insurance giant with an alternative agenda?23


Given that the purpose of the welfare reforms was to reduce government welfare costs, regardless of human consequences, and the introduction of the critically flawed WCA caused preventable harm to countless numbers24, perhaps it is time for the British government to be held to account as to why they permit the most vulnerable of all to live in fear, and to starve to death25, whilst disregarding critically acclaimed academic research that concluded that the WCA is demonstrably dangerous.26


All websites accessed 26th May 2016

  1. TSO 2005: The Scientific and Conceptual Basis of Incapacity Benefits.  G Waddell and M Aylward   ISBN: 9780117035843
  2. COVER 2004: UnumProvident teams up with Cardiff University. Cover Magazine.  June 2004  university

  1. GUARDIAN 2012: Margaret Thatcher’s role in plan to dismantle welfare state revealed. state-revealed

  1. DWP 2006 : A new deal for welfare: Empowering people to work.

  1. RAVETZ 2006: Green Paper: A New Deal for Welfare: empowering people to work.    An independent assessment of the arguments for proposed Incapacity Benefit reform.  Alison Ravetz

  1. SENSE 2011, June: Moving from incapacity benefits to Employment and Support Allowance via the Work Capability Assessment.
  2. STEWART 2016: Preventable harm is government policy.

  1. STEWART 2015: The influence of the private insurance industry on the UK welfare reforms. Mo Stewart

  1. EXPRESS 2011, January: 75% on sick are skiving

  1. INDEPENDENT 2015, November: Hate crime against disabled people rises 41% in one year.
  2. TSO 2006: Is work good for your health and well-being? Gordon Waddell  & Kim Burton  ISBN: 0 11 703694 3

  1. STEWART 2016: Preventable harm is government policy.  Mo Stewart

  1. STEWART 2013: The Hidden Agenda. Mo Stewart stewart/

  1. MAIL 2011: 400,000 ‘were trying it on’ to get sickness benefits: 94% of incapacity claimants can work.
  2. DWP 2012: Incapacity benefits: Deaths of recipients 2011, p6

  1. GARTHWAITE 2015: ‘Keeping meself to meself’ – How social networks can influence narratives of stigma and identity for long-term sickness benefit recipients. K ayleigh Garthwaite.

International Journal of Social Policy and Administration, Volume 49, Issue 2, pages 199-212, March 2015;jsessionid=26B8A59123C14DCBE6E7364E651B64F2.f04t04

  1. SCOTT-SAMUEL et al  2014: The impact of Thatcherism on health and well-being in Britain.

Alex Scott-Samuel, Clare Bambra, Chick Collins, David J. Hunter, Gerry McCartney   and Kat Smith

International Journal of Health Services, Volume 44, Number 1, Pages 53-71.

  1. TAYLOR-ROBINSON et al 2014: Great leap backwards. British Medical Journal

BMJ 2014;34:g7350  David Taylor-Robinson, Margaret Whitehead, Ben Barr

  1. STEWART 2015: The influence of the private insurance industry on the UK welfare reforms. Mo Stewart

  1. HALE C 2014: Fulfilling Potential? ESA and the fate of the Work-Related Activity Group

  1. DORLING D 2016: A Better Politics – A More Enlightened Economics

RENEWAL ~ a journal of social democracy

  1. LOOPSTRA 2015: Austerity, sanctions, and the rise of food banks in the UK. British Medical Journal.

Rachel Loopstra, Aaron Reeves, David Taylor-Robinson, Ben Barr, Martin McKee,  David Stuckler  BMJ 2015;350:h1775

  1. STEWART 2015: The influence of the private insurance industry on the UK welfare reforms. Mo Stewart

  1. STEWART 2016(b): A sense of betrayal. Mo Stewart
  2. GUARDIAN 2014: Vulnerable  man starved to death after benefits were cut.  The Guardian, February 2014.
  3. BARR et al 2015: ‘First, do no harm’: are disability assessments associated with adverse trends in mental health? A longitudinal ecological study.   B Barr, D Tayor-Robinson, D Stuckler, R Loopstra, A Reeves, M Whitehead.

International Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health

doi:10.1136/jech-2015-206209  16th November 2015

© 2016 Mo Stewart. All rights reserved.




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