As part of the government’s plan to extract £12bn from social security benefits, IDS has announced his latest target is “the disability employment gap”. According to analysis of official ONS figures, this represents the difference between the number of disabled people who are in employment (48%) and the figure for the general population (73%). The implication is that IDS expects the same proportion of disabled people to work as those who are able-bodied! Just what does he believe disability means? There is a long and aggravated Tory history behind this latest announcement, beginning with Thatcher’s attempt to conceal the true unemployment figures by switching applicants en masse to the category of disability and making them subject to incapacity benefit rather than unemployment benefit.
This legerdemain was prompted by unemployment spiking at 3.1 million in 1986. It led to 1.6 million claimants being badged as incapacitated rather than jobless. As soon as the unemployment crisis passed, the Tory government changed course and did all it could to cut back the numbers who could be classified as disabled. The Blair continued the action, but did not get far. The really big cutbacks only took off with the Cameron government which took on the big French IT firm, Atos, to carry out ‘work capability assessments’ on a systematic and relentless basis to force disabled persons back to work by declaring they were fit to work and therefore if they failed to get work they would be liable to loss of benefit for anything between 4 weeks and 3 years. This infamous system generated massive complaints, but the government carried on regardless.
The objections were mainly that the examinations by Atos were often perfunctory and the questions asked largely irrelevant, and leaks from DWP staff indicated that the government had set targets for the removal of claimants from the benefit lists. DWP of course denied this, but that can be taken with a pinch of salt from a department so desperate to conceal the truth as to now being found out using invented stories from fictional claimants, not just once but at least twice, to pretend that benefit sanctions were actually positive and beneficial! In fact the Information Commissioner has now overruled attempts by DWP to withhold statistics of the number of claimants of incapacity benefit and employment and support allowance who died after being declared fit for work and then had their benefits stopped. DWP then said it had always intended to publish these figures! It seems impossible for a government department to stoop any lower than these constant lies, subterfuges and chicaneries, and since they are all politically driven IDS, if he had any integrity, ought to resign. But of course he won’t.