Ashamed to be British as prejudice and bigotry stalk the streets

“Too many people in this country wallowing in their own self-pity who will find the slightest reason to avoid doing a day’s work. Get them out to work by force and take their money off them. I dont see why I should work so hard and pay so much tax to pay for the lazy and workshy to sit at home.”

There is so much wrong with this statement that I hardly know where to start. It is a genuine comment, made in response to a BBC news article, and describes the writer’s reaction to a report that the National Audit Office has discovered problems with the contract between the Department for Work and Pensions and Atos, the company hired to carry out work capability assessments on people claiming Employment and Support Allowance. The test works on a points-based system – 0 points means you are ‘fit for work’, while 15 or more mean you must receive benefit.

The report sparked a debate on the suitability of Atos to be running the assessment system, the value of the system itself, and also the honesty of claimants – the last group inspiring the headline at the top of this article.

Let’s recap a few facts: Less than 0.4 per cent of disability benefit claims are fraudulent. The Work Capability Assessment is designed to ensure that 87 per cent of disability benefit claimants are pushed onto Jobseekers Allowance within a year of taking the test (as proved by both Channel 4’s Dispatches and the BBC’s own Panorama). That’s 217.5 times as many claimants as are committing fraud and therefore must include some people who are entitled to the benefit. The Work Capability Assessment is a computer-based ‘tick-box’ assessment that is carried out by people who are not medical professionals; the opinion of a claimant’s own GP is, it seems, ignored.

Now let’s look at some of the comments. All emphases are my own:

“The fact is our benefits system is clogged to the hilt with benefit cheats and people avoiding work.” So 0.4 per cent amounts to being “clogged to the hilt”? I don’t think so.

“Unfortunately the “bad back brigade” who have fleeced the system over the many years have wrecked it for the genuine disabled. Very sad.” This person thinks they know exactly what claimants are saying, despite never having experienced an assessment. I doubt they have even spoken to a person who has taken one.

“The whole problem has been created by the vast majority of malingerers who think they are entitled to something for nothing.” Vast majority – less than one-two-hundredth of claimants is a vast majority in this person’s mind.

“If you’re genuine and unfit for work then the test will show it. Please don’t worry. However, you fraudsters out there who sponge off us hard working taxpayers: It’s not on, that you can sponge like you’ve been doing for so long. Go and get a job or create your own way of earning a living. If it wasn’t for you the country wouldn’t be in such a mess, most of our taxes are given to you lazy sods.” Where do I start with this one? Try this: Less than one per cent of tax money is spent on benefit payments for the sick and disabled (according to the Daily Mail).

“As someone who knows the WCA very well I can easily say that 90 per cent of the so-called disabled people claiming are nothing short of fraudsters. Start giving these fraudsters 10 years for their deception and see how many continue to claim. Those who are disabled and genuinely can’t work have nothing to worry about.” We’ll get to comments from those who are disabled and genuinely can’t work, a little later in this article. Remember the claim, though: They have nothing to worry about.

“I can name a dozen who COULD work but are claiming disability! In fact, I’m begining to wonder if I’m the only bloody one working in my postal code!!!! One scrounger is off of work with some wrist injury, but doesn’t stop him [doing] cash-in-hand jobs or being at pub. I thought Dave “Everyone deserves an holiday” Cameron was going to crack down on this? I see no evidence of it whatsoever…” A classic case of someone seeing only what they want to see?

“There are people out there who abuse the system at our expense. We all know of at least one, maybe more, such case…. I’m no medical expert but I know if someone’s on DLA and out driving a taxi or whatever then he/she’s a fraudster. They should be reported.” For the record, DLA (Disability Living Allowance) is an in-work benefit; it is intended to make it easier for disabled people to manage the extra expenses incurred by their disability and make it possible for them to have a job. This person is completely mistaken.

“So many people use ESA as a means to escape having to look for work. I see it every single day.” Oh! This is a good one. For information, only the support group of ESA claimants get the benefit without having to look for work; the work-related activity group receive the benefit for one year only, during which time they are expected to attend interviews and courses intended to make it possible for them to get a suitable job. After the year is up, they are taken of ESA and put on Jobseekers’ Allowance (which is cheaper for the government as it pays less money). Those in the support group aren’t expected to seek work because of the nature of their disability and the high likelihood that their condition is terminal – between January and August 2011, official figures show that 5,500 people in the support group lost their lives.

All right.

To balance these views, below are some comments from people with genuine experience of the system – claimants or those close to them. Before we get to them, let’s remind ourselves that the UK is experiencing a dramatic increase in violent hate crime against the disabled, as I have reported in a previous blog. Since 2009, these crimes have increased by 60 per cent nationwide; in my own police force area they multiplied fourfold between 2010 and 2011.

My belief is that government propoganda, coupled with hysterical reporting of so-called benefit scroungers in the right-wing press, has served to whip up hatred against this tiny section of society – those who are the most vulnerable and the least able to protect themselves. Divide and conquer has always been the Conservative way. They don’t want people to be angry at them, so they create another bogeyman for folk to hate instead. It’s a strategy that worked very well in Germany during the 1930s.

So how do the disabled react to claims that they are mostly fraudulent, lazy scroungers?

“Absolute rubbish. Do you know the medical records of all these people you claim are fraudulent? Or are you just taking a guess. The media sensationalise the 0.5 per cent of claims that are fraudulent, but what about the stories of the other 99.5 per cent? The propaganda is sickening.”

“Genuinely sick and disabled people are judged as fit for work and demonised by the Govt. Little wonder that fools abuse the sick and disabled folk who are ‘officially’ labelled as scroungers.”

Let’s see how Atos treats benefit claimants, shall we?

“Took my neighbour to a tribunal [I think they mean a Work Capability Assessment], member of tribunal helped me almost carry her in. Result…. fit for work! Well done Atos, you’ll get YOUR money.”

“My sister has MS, an auto-immune disease that varies in severity from day to day. On the days she’s mobile enough to attend an assessment, she’s told she’s fit to work, and her benefits get cut. On days she can barely move or see, she simply has her appointment rescheduled to when she is better. It’s a catch-22, and the stress of it has landed her back in hospital on more than one occasion.”

“My daughter-in-law’s father had an Atos medical, he is on morphine for a severe back condition that he has had surgery for, his pain management clinic say he is unemployable, guess what Atos say he is?”

“My brother is severly autistic. He has no speech, can’t read or write, severe learning difficulties, epilepsy, and stays in residential care. My mum got a phonecall demanding a phone interview with my brother to assess his fitness to work. They then sent a completely inappropiate form to fill out (adressed to my brother) asking about his fitness to work. Whole thing was an upsetting disgrace.”

“I have had the same debilitating disease for 29 years, got the full 15 points needed for the benefit at my first medical, then on the second they decided to give me 0. After an 8 month wait a Judge upheld my appeal against the 0 points. And now three months later the government want me to go through the same medical assesment again.”

“Before I’d ever heard of ATOS, I received a phone call from them at home one Friday evening at 8 o’clock. The person demanded that I give them my name, date of birth and National Insurance number. I said I wasn’t prepared to disclose any personal information to someone I didn’t know, whereupon I was told that, unless I did, they would suspend my benefits. I hung up. Shameful, but typical, of them.”

“I was on ESA because I have fibromyalgia, and am often in so much pain, I can hardly walk. I was ‘assessed’ and found to be capable of working. The letter informing me of this decision had been backdated 1 month, making it impossible for me to appeal the decision (within 1 month of the date at the top of the letter). There was no proof I got the letter late, though, so it was no good trying.”

“I have won my case at two tribunals and now I wait for a third. Once I one the first DWP really wanted me hence my third tribunal. Each tribunal takes approx 14months to happen. Life is very difficult during the wait costing me dearly healthwise. I had no income since April 30th this year. Atos always give me 0 points the judge has always given me max.”

The stress caused by the Atos/DWP treatment of claimants means that an average of 32 sick or disabled people are dying every week, while going through the assessment regime or the appeal process after being passed ‘fit for work’.

Now let’s see some genuine accounts of how disabled people are treated on the streets:

“I get abuse nearly every time I go into town because of my disability. It’s not even worth going to the supermarket anymore, I’d rather get somebody else to go for me.”

“Me and my husband have degenerating arthritis and several other medical conditions. I get abused and called ignorant because people don’t look where they are going and expect me to jump out of the way of their trolleys in the supermarket because I walk too slowly.”

“When [X] goes to the supermarket to buy a loaf of bread, he can be subjected to sly comments and in some cases threatening abuse, just because he is youngish and using a walking stick. These same people will go next door to the bank and put on a nice smile for the counter girl. He now goes out when it’s raining when few people are about. I’m ashamed to be British.”

Many have been put off claiming the benefits that the law says they should receive, because of the stigma attached to them – which is, of course, what our Tory-led government wants. The aim of the exercise, as I mentioned above, is to get as many people off benefit as possible. How they live thereafter is of no interest to the government; it just doesn’t want to pay people what they are entitled. And the plan is working. A huge proportion of the population is failing to claim benefits to which it is due. Here’s what some have to say:

“I have had my biggest relapse of a long-term condition in 20 years and have been off sick 5 months. I have not gone on to benefits yet for fear of being penalised as have read the horror stories on many health related blogs.”

“Before I reach retirement age I will not be able to work. I am, frankly, terrified of the world I might live in by then and cannot help feeling that the hope of some is that we die before we reach the wrong side of the balance sheet.”

“It’s a scary time to be a disabled/ill person; if the condition doesn’t kill you the government are trying to do it through stress and uncertainty.”

But most are unbowed, and have vowed to fight to the end:

“I started working when I was 13 carried on until my wife’s accident. I have paid in far more than I will ever get out. I object in the strongest possable terms to being called a scrounger and fraudulent,” wrote one.

And another pointed out: “90 per cent of cases are won at appeal if you take a specialist advisor to your appeal. 40 per cent are won if you go alone. Don’t give up.”

As was once declared next to an airbrushed picture of David Cameron, on hoardings across the country, “We can’t go on like this”. But people won’t vote for the most popular alternative – Labour – unless that party vows to put forward a fair and balanced assessment process for the sick and disabled, ending the sick-minded prejudice against the most vulnerable in society.

I say: As soon as Labour promises this, let’s have an election.


  1. Mike Sivier August 18, 2012 at 11:11 am - Reply

    I have received comments from friends on Facebook which I shall quote in this comment column. I think they are relevant and deserve to be seen by anyone reading this article in the future.

    • Mike Sivier August 18, 2012 at 11:12 am - Reply

      The first is from Dona Gondwe:
      “I am currently in process of being made redundant whilst physically disabled by a brain haemorrhage stroke in 1997, and further (as in FAR more) disabled by Ménière’s disease (since 2008).

      “It is the latter that worries me – it is invisible but very life-limiting because of the hyperacusis (hearing sensitivity) it causes. I *cannot* work where there is noise. To survive the weekly church service, I have to wear industrial earmuffs when the music starts. I somehow don’t think that Atos would sympathise. I *am* looking for another job, but my choices are (extremely) limited.”

      • Mike Sivier August 18, 2012 at 11:14 am - Reply

        This one is from Steve Smith:

        “My sister has MS, an auto-immune disease that varies in severity from day to day. On the days she’s mobile enough to attend an assessment, she’s told she’s fit to work, and her benefits get cut. On days she can barely move or see, she simp
        ly has her appointment rescheduled to when she is better.’

        “That sounds like my condition. They gave me afternoon appointments so that I had time to sleep, sort it out and make it in. They they said I was perfectly fit for a 9am start every day.

        “The penalty, by the way, for losing your job due to lateness – which would be inevitable for me in 95% of jobs – under the new Draconian rules, is getting no benefits for 4-6 months. In theory they should take account of medical conditions, but in practice they are told not to, because they have to hit their targets. I tried living on “crisis loans” for 3 months 2 years ago and it nearly killed me, and it took most of a year to slowly recover my health. 4-6 months would likely kill me. Then I’d just be a statistic, haha. So much fun.

        “I am no malingerer. I*like* working and if you knew me, you’d know I have a never ending stream of ideas and efforts to find ways of contributing to society. I also have a daily struggle to sleep, and to prevent my condition deteriorating. I already work hard at that every day. But I am also afraid of death, and that damps my hopes quite a lot. I have to juggle the system with my health and my employment prospects, to stay alive.”

  2. Mike Sivier August 18, 2012 at 2:12 pm - Reply

    Here’s today’s classic story about your caring DWP/Atos partnership, about triple amputee Chris Cann, who has been warned he must prove he is disabled or he could lose benefits.
    You couldn’t make this up.

  3. Barry Davies February 3, 2014 at 9:12 pm - Reply

    Well done Mike I have seen a number of these posts in other threads, and even very similar on the Benefit Street twitter feed where the hatred of everyone on benefits was frighteningly evident.

  4. Kathy February 4, 2014 at 9:25 am - Reply

    Hi Mike, thanks for your honest attempt to cover the quagmire that is the UK benefits system. But do you really, in your heart of heart, think that a Labour government will do any better? Keep up the good work :)

    • Mike Sivier February 4, 2014 at 9:51 am - Reply

      I think we all know that a Labour government would do better. The question is, how much better, and with what end result in mind?

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