The only conclusion to be drawn from the “leaked internal documents” being quoted by the BBC today is that – if they think it is reasonable to cut the work-related activity group element of Employment and Support Allowance, the UK’s main incapacity benefit, down almost to parity with Jobseekers’ Allowance – Tories don’t think these people are really ill.
It seems likely the plans have been drawn up by people who have never needed to cope with fibromyalgia or myalgic encephalomyelitis, who have never suffered a workplace injury or who don’t understand the debilitating nature of the depression that often follows interviews with government employees who are determined to strip claimants of their benefits, no matter how disabled they are.
According to the BBC report, the Department for Work and Pensions has claimed the proposals in the documents are “not government policy“.
The papers show that the proposal to cut ESA(WRAG) by £30, making it almost the same as JSA at around £72-3 per week, is not prompted by any interest in reform, but is simply an attempt to save money.
It seems the government has been forced to hire many extra staff members to clear a backlog of ESA claims which has made it attractive for people who have previously been found ineligible for ESA to reapply, and for JSA claimants to try to move across. The proposed benefit cut seems to be aimed at discouraging such activities.
It is far more likely to encourage protest – possibly with violence, from the very last people who may be expected to respond in such a manner. Yr Obdt Srvt was discussing this matter with a friend who is on ESA, and he expressed a wish to visit Downing Street and make a flamboyant gesture – something as powerful as the event that set the Arab Spring alight (although not as final – the aim is to keep people in the best health possible, after all).
The proposal has attracted criticism from Dame Anne Begg, who chairs the Commons Work and Pensions committee. She said: “That’s not reform, that is just saving money. I hope that is not something the government is going to come forward with.”
And fellow Work and Pensions committee member Sheila Gilmore said: “When Labour created the Work-related Activity Group in 2008, the rationale was to ensure that sick and disabled people who couldn’t work in the short term but might be able to in the future weren’t simply written off.
“However we were clear that up until their next reassessment – which would occur at least every two years – these people were still unable to work. This is something Tory Ministers now seem keen to ignore.
“By cutting payments to those in the Work-related Activity Group by nearly £30 per week, Ian Duncan Smith is effectively saying that these people are only a hop, skip and a jump away from being a fully fit, able-bodied Jobseekers Allowance claimant.”
In fact – for most of these people – life is like having to climb a mountain, every day, with no pausing to catch their breath or massage tired and aching muscles and bones. It is an endurance test the like of which most MPs have never experienced.
As Billy Connolly once said of the Pope: “If you don’t play the game, don’t make up the rules.”
That is a maxim that applies here – and our ignorant ruling class had better realise that before somebody takes the law into their own hands.
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