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[Image: David Sillitoe for The Guardian.]

[Image: David Sillitoe for The Guardian.]

We now have a system of benefit assessment that has been independently shown to make the sick and disabled worse – both physically and mentally – while denying them the income they need to survive – and for which they have paid taxes and National Insurance all their working lives.

Only yesterday (March 19) we heard about a man (who did not want to be named) being forced to sell his home after suffering a stroke that left him with memory loss and unable to walk or speak properly.

This man, aged 59, had been working at an engineering firm in Darlington for the previous 16 years, so he certain had enough tax and NI to his name and cannot be described as a “scrounger” by any interpretation of the word.

Originally given Employment and Support Allowance together with Disability Living Allowance, he was reduced to ESA alone when the government decided to assess him for the new Personal Independence Payment and decided that he did not qualify. This is a man who cannot walk or speak properly, remember – let alone the memory lapses.

His income halved, his blue disability badge and mobility scooter removed, this gentleman was unable to keep up payments on his house and was forced to sell it.

Fortunately, he was able to move in with his daughter, who is now his full-time carer. But she pointed out that others, who did not have such a safety net, would be left homeless in the same circumstances.

“It is as if they have picked him out and said, we are going to strip him of everything he has got,” she said. How would that affect such a person mentally? Are we really expected to believe their physical condition would not break down still further, with nobody to help them?

The Guardian says no: “As of last week, there is quantitative evidence that the notorious fit-for-work tests are inflicting damage to disabled people’s bodies (not to mention the impact on their minds). Yes, we have now reached a point where the benefit system is making disabled and chronically ill people sicker. Over 60% of disabled people going through the work capability assessment – designed by the DWP and sold off to private firms – report being in pain afterwards. Others said their condition was made worse or their recovery delayed. One claimant surveyed, who has progressive rheumatoid arthritis, said she left her appointment “feeling absolutely awful and suffered a lot of pain in the following days.” She went on to have a stroke a few weeks later.”

This writer can support this claim, from personal experience. Only this week I told an audience in London that Mrs Mike was left on the sofa for three days, unable to move without extreme pain, after taking part in her own work capability assessment medical in mid-2012. That’s nearly three years ago and the system has become worse, not better.

“It might be worth remembering that this is an assessment that is meant to help people – one million people are due to go through the process this year – if only because those orchestrating it appear to have forgotten. It is the same cavalier attitude to the vulnerable that means claimants have killed themselves after being spat out by the benefit system, as if desperation and distress means nothing,” writes Frances Ryan in The Guardian.

“We are sliding back to the notion that suffering helps the soul, that the underclass – be it the unemployed, the disabled, or chronically ill – need to be trained in order to behave. And, as almost a secondary consequence, their punishment cuts the welfare bill down. A bonus all round.”

That’s the Coalition attitude for you – that of the Conservative Party and the Liberal Democrats. Unfortunately, Labour has also got itself terribly tongue-tied, talking about its own plans for social security – thanks to foot-in-mouth liability Rachel Reeves.

“We don’t want to be seen [as], and we’re not, the party to represent those who are out of work,” she told Amelia Gentleman in a now-infamous Guardian interview. “We are the Labour Party – we are not the party of people on benefits.” She went on to try to moderate this harsh judgement by saying she wanted the welfare state to continue, but the question must be asked – given her attitude: In what form?

She’s constantly talking about bringing the DWP bill down, and people who are sick, disabled or unemployed through no fault of their own have a right to fear that this may involve punitive measures against them, if her plan to get more people working, and get the workforce off in-work benefits, doesn’t – well – work. What’s her ‘Plan B’?

Labour does not intend to scrap the work capability assessment. This blog was led to believe that, last year – but only days after the article appeared, Rachel Reeves lurched into view to tell us all that the WCA would be modified, rather than scrapped. It would be changed to ensure that disabled people were put back to work in a more “effective” way, she said.

People like the gentleman mentioned above, with his mobility and speech problems, and his memory loss? People like Mrs Mike?

Do us all a favour.

Labour’s plan for the work capability assessment won’t do anything to relieve the stress of the process – the lead-up that creates grave concern about whether all the relevant information has been supplied (and whether it will be read, even); the assessment itself that leaves sick and disabled people in extreme pain afterwards; and the waiting afterwards, an indefinite period of uncertainty.

No wonder The Guardian says fit-for-work tests are harmful to health – people die just from the stress of having to go through them at all! Then there’s the huge – and uncounted – number of suicides by people, after they have been denied the benefit for some spurious non-reason. Rachel Reeves has not promised any action to end these phenomena.

That is why this writer sent a letter to her boss, earlier this week, calling for him to reconsider the situation as a matter of urgency. This blog stated before that Rachel Reeves could lose the election for Labour, single-handedly, and that was not a joke.

Dead people can’t vote. Their relatives can, though – and are more likely to do so, if they have a loved one who has passed away because of some government decision. Labour should be picking up those votes with a sympathetic change of policy – not throwing them to the minority parties in their millions.

Somebody on the BBC’s Question Time last night (if I recall correctly) said the first duty of a government is to protect its citizens. The Coalition has been derelict in that duty. Labour must not be allowed to think that is acceptable.

One last point: Labour is still the best possible choice in this election – anywhere. This is a single policy that the party has got badly wrong, but Labour has many more policies that are good – at least for this moment. The Conservatives don’t. The Liberal Democrats don’t. The SNP don’t – and anybody in Scotland who thinks giving that party sway over affairs in Westminster will help anyone but the SNP should think again. UKIP is a joke – in very poor taste.

There’s nothing to stop you from pointing out this mistake. Ed Miliband’s email address is [email protected], or you can write to him at: The Rt Hon Ed Miliband MP, House of Commons, London SW1A 0AA.

Labour aims to have conversations with millions of people before the election. No doubt he will be delighted to hear from you.

Follow me on Twitter: @MidWalesMike

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