Labour should make clear rules for disability benefits will be radically reformed

No section of the population has suffered worse abuses from the government over the last 5 years than disabled people – those who are least able to bear it.   They are subject to assessments about their capability to work, enforced by Atos at the behest of the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP), which in thousands of cases grotesquely ignore the patent inability of many severely disabled people who cannot conceivably find work in their current circumstances.

They can then be deprived of all benefit income for at least 4 weeks (and for 3 months the second time round) and thus made destitute if they have been late for appointments or are considered by Atos/DWP not to be making enough job searches or for what are clearly trivial infringements of draconian DWP rules.   In many such cases  claimants do not understand why they’ve been penalised.   If as a result of being deprived of all income they experience severe financial hardship, to the extent of being unable to feed themselves or their families or to pay the rent, they then claim hardship payments, they are told in all but a very few cases that they don’t qualify.   So what should be done?

This is the ugly face of Tory Britain, as represented by those gallant ‘warriors for the dispossessed’ (in Michael Gove’s own words) Osborne and IDS.   Labour should set out a fundamentally different framework.   First, instead of the Tories’ contracting job opportunities for the marginally employable through semi-permanent austerity, Labour should expand the economy as a basis for generating job opportunities within sustainable growth.

Second, Atos should be replaced, not by another profit-maximising private corporation, but by public bodies specialising in assessment of job capability within the NHS.

Third, an independent body should be created to investigate all cases where someone had died or attempted suicide whilst on working-age benefit.   Such cases would include that of the diabetic former soldier, David Clapson, who died penniless last July after being deprived of all his benefit income.   There are dozens and dozens of these cases.

Fourth, instead of abrupt and unexplained deprivation of benefit, any persons who allegedly commit trivial or unintended infringements of official DWP rules should receive ‘pre-sanction written warnings’ (the yellow card approach).

Fifth, the availability of emergency hardship payments should be significantly widened where there was a clear need for them, and claimants should no longer be forced to wait 15 days for them, as at present.

Sixth, ministers should delay plans to sanction low-paid workers receiving universal credit until they could demonstrate that it would encourage claimants to obtain more hours or better pay – an outcome which at present is far from clear.

Seventh, since the Tories introduced tighter benefit conditions in October 2012, sanction rates have soared.   Last year more than a million sanctions were handed down, and in some areas up to 10% of all job-seekers were sanctioned in 2013-4.   This is utterly disproportionate, causing extreme hardship, destitution and ill-health, especially for those with mental illness or learning disabilities.   Labour should make clear it will drop these draconian practices.



5 thoughts on “Labour should make clear rules for disability benefits will be radically reformed

  1. According to the 6 o’clock News tonight, the BBC has obtained copies of proposals whereby £7bn worth of cuts could be made by cutting and even scrapping some benefits to the most vulnerable: the disabled, sick, unemployed and carers.

    Although these proposals may not necessarily be implemented, the government wants to slash £12bn from welfare, so I expect they probably will go ahead with these. I dread to think where the further balance of £5bn will be cut from.

    I do hope the Tories will lose this election, but the BBC concluded that Labour will also have to make cuts to welfare benefits. Yikes!

  2. The Labour Party needs to bite the bullet, stand up for the poor, the sick, the disabled and the voiceless, and say so loud and clear. We are sick (sic) of being blamed for our misfortunes and I even find myself feeling guilty for my disability. Give us a voice, Labour, and we will vote for you in our thousands, if you guarantee that no longer will we be made to feel ashamed of being ill or unable to do paid work. I was disabled at the age of 28. I didn’t ask for a brain haemorrhage. Yet I have brought up two wonderful children, now thoughtful ( tax paying) adults who can’t understand why people like me are made scapegoats for the mess that capitalism has made of this country. my daughter asked me why the labour party talks about hardworking families, when those of us who can’t work (although the voluntary sector relies on us) are disregarded. Have the courage to speak up for us. Please.

  3. Labour can avoid cuts – reducing the deficit isnt simply about reducing outgoings, it can also be tackled by increasing revenue.
    The problem is that increasing revenue is not as easy – it means really tackling the inequalities that exist, it means different rules for collecting tax and reducing the tax gap, it means having real commitment to infrastructure and job creation and having more money moving in the economy.
    A living wage will reduce spending – without being a cut.
    A living wage puts more money into circulation – which then helps more people, which boosts tax take.
    The knock-on effects of Labours policies are there for all to see, I wont attempt to balance the books for Labour BTL – but its evidential that their proposals will not only benefit the poorest, but also reverse the current economic downward spiral.

  4. I suspect the “leak” of these emails is a kite-flying exercise to see how such cuts play with the public. Sneaky, and by saying these “are not policy” and “just suggestions that may not be used” they create in some minds a sense of “it won’t happen”. If the response is muted, then we can be sure that these changes and worse will be implemented if the Tories are returned and will kill large numbers of the sick & disabled by design – and that’s not hyperbole, that’s based on current experience. The existing regime for the disabled, and the deliberate infliction of child poverty & hunger are already being examined by the UN (Human Rights).

    Labour MUST speak up. The vulnerable CANNOT take anymore.

    Even the reduction in the cap on benefits mean that families with 2 children will be unable to afford council & HA rents. There will be a tsunami of homelessness, family breakdown, mental health, debt, hunger, and all the other scourges of the poor. Scum landlords will spring up to provide the most basic & insanitary hovels. A&E will be the (3rd world) scene for the malnourished and dying to be deposited for nugatory care.

    Most of all Labour MUST show that these proposals are simply not needed or justified, but a deliberate plan to punish millions for who the economy has failed. Please don’t let Labour fail them, too.

  5. Despite having had a disabled son, Cameron was still happy to let IDS make them suffer the most. I think this tells us all we need to know about him and his kind as alleged “human” beings (or not, in this case)! Utter scum, the lot of them.

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