The politicisation of welfare cuts; getting the facts…

After coming out of a very productive and interesting Coalition of Resistance meeting, I headed off to Tesco for some Dr.P (as you do). Whilst queuing, I glanced over to the papers to see that the moral crusaders, aka. Daily Mail, were running with the headline: “75% of incapacity claimants are fit for work” (their underlining.) The Daily Mail are arguing that it provides evidence for the claim that the incapacity figure, in general, can be cut from 2.6 million to 650,000. Delve into the source of this claim, you find:

A total of 842,100 people applied for the Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) programme from October 2008 until February this year, the DWP found. Of that number, 331,100 were fit to work, with a further 307,200 people’s claims being closed before the assessment was completed.

Now, as Danny Alexander should know (if he remembers his days campaigning against ESA), ESA is a discredited system that utilises Atos (a private company) through providing them a remit to get people off IB. Let’s consider the facts the Daily Mail, and other welfare scaremongers, forget to tell you about ESA. For example, I blogged about this at the time (click here to see this), but BBC Scotland’s and the Citizens Advice Scotland’s research into ESA concluded several important findings:

  • It is “unfit for purpose”
  • It targets the most vulnerable
  • 2/3rds of claimants are being found to be fit for work – 20% more than estimated by the previous government
  • One of the most commonly appealed against benefit, with around 8,000 cases a month and around 40% decisions being reversed

It is worth considering Danny Alexander’s (former) words when it comes to Atos:

There’s a suspicion that ministers may well be incentivising Atos to actually give results of the assessment which take people off benefit.

Meanwhile, Labour are only focusing on housing benefit for obvious political reasons, whilst ignoring the rest of the benefit cuts; which they appear to have accepted. Consider Douglas Alexander’s comments regarding ESA:

These latest figures show this reform put in place by Labour can help people make the transition from welfare into work.

Predictably, the Daily Mail ran with stories of people claiming because they have STI’s or because they are fat. They ignore the psychological and social impacts that contracting something such as AIDS can do to someone; especially when it faces so much social stigma. Just because you can’t see it, doesn’t mean it isn’t real. And sadly, the most affected by the measures will be those suffering from mental illness, especially since the tests seem to be focused on assessing physical ‘capabilities’. The subjective constructions of what is ‘normal’ and what is not reflects the problems that these Atos officials will have; especially when they have already framed them within the remit of getting these people off benefits and into work. R.D Laing is a good point of reference here, he interesting mused that maybe those judged as ‘sane’ are just incapable of communicating at another level, and actually those seen as ‘insane’ are the ‘supersane’.

So, where is the Labour resistance to these damaging ideological driven welfare cuts? Put simply, there isn’t one. Annoyingly so, they look like their welfare raison de etre will be housing benefits; stuff the rest of the benefit and welfare cuts that are going to destroy people’s lives. As long as they look like they are opposing something that is actually politically beneficial in terms of votes then that it is ‘a ok’. In honesty, how do Labour have a leg to stand on when it comes to opposing ESA, when they are the ones who actually initiated the basket case of a system?

The point is, every single ounce of these benefit cuts are worth protesting. Yes, there is a need for reform, but if reform means cutting welfare by £28bn whilst the bankers face £ levy after being bailed out with £850bn then it frankly isn’t worth it. Sadly, the only parties that are opposing these benefit reforms in a more general fundamental sense are the parties provided the least media attention. The Labour party have clearly nailed their colours to the mast, and are increasingly disappointing many lefty hopefuls. Maybe, when the full-scale of the cuts start to bite, they may change their mind; but for now, all we can do is exert outside and internal pressure.


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