allowance, bedroom tax, benefit, benefits, David Clapson, Department, DWP, employment, ESA, Iain Duncan Smith, Jobseeker's Allowance, JSA, karen sherlock, Owen Smith, Pensions, Polly Toynbee, Rachel Reeves, secretary, shadow, Sheila Holt, Stephanie Bottrill, support, WCA, Welfare Reform Act, work, work capability assessment
Here’s a question that gets asked very often in any debate on state benefits: “Isn’t it right that the taxpayer should only support people who really need it?”
The implication is that the government of the day is right to restrict benefit provision.
The answer, of course, is to point at some of the cases we have known, in which benefits have been taken away from people; cases like that of David Clapson, an ex-soldier who was sanctioned off of Jobseekers’ Allowance and died of diabetic ketoacidosis three weeks into the sanction period. When his body was found by a friend, his electricity card was out of credit, meaning the fridge where he kept the insulin he used to treat his diabetes was not working. A coroner found that when David died there was no food in his stomach. Was the government right to restrict his benefits? Or was this state-sponsored murder?
How about severely bipolar Sheila Holt, who recently died after spending months in a coma caused by a heart attack she suffered after being pushed onto the government’s slave-labour Work Programme? Even while she was comatose, the work programme provider – Seetec – was sending her letters about her suitability for employment. There is no doubt that the stress of being forced onto the Work Programme led to her death – in fact the government has apologised for its actions. It therefore seems redundant to ask the question, “Was the government right to restrict her benefits?” as we already know the answer.
How about Karen Sherlock, who was suffering from kidney failure when her Employment and Support Allowance was cut off by Iain Duncan Smith’s minions. She died, apparently of a heart attack, after an operation was cancelled. Was the government right to restrict her benefits?
How about Stephanie Bottrill, who took her own life by walking in front of a lorry on the M6, just one month after the Bedroom Tax had been introduced by Iain Duncan Smith. Her rent at the time was £320 per month, some of which was subsidised by Housing Benefit – but the imposition of an extra £80 charge, to come from her own money, was too much for her finances to take. She left a note to relatives in which she made clear that she had taken her own life – and that she blamed the government. Was the government right to restrict her benefits?
According to the last figures available to us (from 2011 – and related to ESA alone), four more people die as a result of the government’s benefit regime every three hours – more than 200 every week. These figures are, however, more than three years old; they do not encompass the rise in suicides that takes place in the run-up to Christmas every year and they pre-date the effects of Iain Duncan Smith’s homicidal Welfare Reform Act 2012.
Meanwhile, as Polly Toynbee has pointed out in her latest Guardian article, Labour’s shadow work and pensions secretary puts her foot in her mouth every time she talks about benefits. “She has the hardest shadow post, reconciling the party’s mission to stand with the underdog while facing a public fed by a stream of statistics-free anecdotes about welfare cheats,” writes Ms Toynbee.
That’s as may be, but she should be challenging those preconceptions, not conforming to them. “When last in power Labour failed to shift the enemy’s terms of engagement, hiding its own good actions behind tough talk,” writes Ms Toynbee.
“This mirrors too much Labour policy, foggy messages hiding agonised ambivalence – and voters smell out that inauthentic verbal triangulation.”
How true those words are. This writer was recently attacked by the shadow Welsh secretary, Owen Smith, for pointing out that he had confirmed, in his own words, that Labour would not speak out against the work capability assessment (that is responsible for three of the four deaths mentioned above) for fear of the right-wing press. This effectively means that his party is asking the sick and disabled to die for Labour’s election hopes.
Mr Smith threatened me with legal action after this blog put his words into plain English. He has since gone quiet, which is just as well. Not only has there been a national debate on the subject (of which Ms Toynbee’s article is just the latest part) but at least one reader has been able to confirm that my words were accurate, after a doorstep conversation with his own Labour candidate. Other readers are encouraged to do the same.
“On benefits, most voters are conflicted,” Ms Toynbee continues. “No one, least of all those working hard for very little, wants people cheating.” That is true. But then, 99.3 per cent of benefit claimants aren’t cheating at all. This government just treats them as if they are.
“Labour can’t win this internalised tussle by replicating it, but could earn credit by encouraging the nation’s better instincts,” writes Ms Toynbee.
The shame is that all the words coming from Labour suggest it will do the former, rather than the latter.
Follow me on Twitter: @MidWalesMike
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