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Tuesday Round-up for Friends

2008 December 3

Another Wednesday’s Tuesday’s post. If you see what I mean.

Yesterday, the government commission looking at welfare reform reported its findings. It said that “almost everyone on benefits should be preparing themselves for work” (BBC). The groups specifically suggested include:

  • Lone parents with children aged one to seven.
  • People on incapacity benefit deemed capable of work.

In fact, almost everyone on benefits except:

  • Some carers.
  • Lone parents and partners with children under one.
  • People with serious illnesses.

Moving beyond, presumably, my local Benefits Delivery Centre’s insistence that a blind man with no hands look for work under current legislation.

Those who fail to cooperate would face punishments ranging from losing benefits to doing unpaid community service. And those for whom the sanctions would apply range from those on Jobseeker’s Allowance to the new Employment and Support Allowance, that replaces Incapacity Benefit.

The approach has come under criticism given the worsening economic climate. Most would agree that those on benefits should not lose touch with the labour market. However, Labour backbencher Nick Palmer said there should be a “slow graduation” from helping people with health and personal problems to returning to work. He said on Radio 4’s The World at One, “What I wouldn’t think is realistic is to expect parents to have a plan to get back to work when the child is only one – I think that’s not going to happen in practice.”

The Liberal Democrats said what people needed was effective help not “tough talking and endless reviews”.

TUC general secretary Brendan Barber said: “This approach to welfare assumes a utopian world of unrestricted childcare and widely available jobs where only the lazy opt for life on the dole.

“The reality is very different. Thousands of people are joining the dole queue every day through no fault of their own.”

Nonetheless these recommendations seem to have made their way into the Queen’s Speech legislation. The new Welfare Reform Bill includes “a big change in the right to claim benefits by insisting that jobseekers, single parents and the disabled take active steps to seek work before being paid benefits.

“Benefit offices and private companies in charge of programmes to get people back to work will insist individuals sign a contract promising to go on retraining courses and attend parenting classes if necessary to receive benefits. Claimants who fail to cooperate will face reduced benefits.” (Guardian)

This has drawn condemnation from charities, trade unions and left wing Labour backbenchers. But there is little effective opposition to the continuing trend of demonising those on disability and incapacity benefits. The Conservatives want even stronger reform.

I agree that genuine help is needed for those, such as myself, when ready to return to the labour market. But there are separate issues:

  • There are those who cheat the benefits system. Catching and preventing those is a matter of law, not welfare reform as such.
  • The genuine claimants need medical or personal help initially to return to fitness, followed up by genuine help and advice to return to the market.

The approach now suggested seems to me fundamentally flawed. It appears to be based on an assumption that claimants are most likely cheats, or that threatening genuine claimants and regularly reviewing them will somehow magic away medical conditions. Such an approach if it forces genuine, ill or disabled claimants into work helps no one. They themselves may be at medical or financial risk as a result. Colleagues will end up working with people who aren’t productive (and who they may see as slacking). And employers are being asked to take a risk with their business by employing those who may not be fit to work. This could risk those in medical need becoming stuck on lower Jobseeker’s Allowance for years and eventually ending up in debt. Or of being penalised benefits if they are subsequently dismissed through ill health.

And all of that if there were the jobs to go into now and in the foreseeable future.

Oh, and the reason I couldn’t write this yesterday? Another long migraine. Go figure.

Sources

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk_politics/7759905.stm

http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2008/dec/03/queens-speech-health

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