Guest Post: Disability Benefits Under Threat

// 7 October 2009

Amy Clare writes on the news that the Tories have announced plans to get half a million people “off incapacity benefit” if they get into power and explains why this is a feminist issue. EDIT: She also gives details of a petition for the Prime Minister to ensure that Attendance Allowance (AA) and Disability Living Allowance (DLA) benefits are secured and not removed as part of any future reform of the social care system in England.

The Tories, at their party conference yesterday, announced proposals to slash the number of sick and disabled people claiming Incapacity Benefit by 20%. They plan to introduce a more stringent test which they claim will find 500,000 people to be ‘fit for work’; those people will then have to find a job or claim Jobseeker’s Allowance. This cost-cutting, goalpost-moving exercise is remarkably similar to plans outlined by Labour in their Welfare Reform Green Paper, released last year. In fact, Incapacity Benefit now no longer exists for new claimants; it has been replaced by Employment and Support Allowance, and funnily enough, this new benefit contains a more stringent test to qualify for the ‘support’ element (the equivalent to Incapacity Benefit). This is unsurprising given that both parties were advised by the same ‘expert’, David Freud.

Not only is Incapacity Benefit in the sights of both parties, but other disability benefits are under threat too. In another recently released Green Paper about the future of social care, the government have suggested that disability benefits, for example Attendance Allowance, be ‘integrated’ into social services budgets (i.e. cut). This is a move that would take independence away from millions of disabled people. Attendance Allowance (AA) is a disability benefit for over-65s, whereas younger disabled people claim its equivalent, Disability Living Allowance (DLA). Both benefits are implicitly threatened by the proposals.

So what does all this mean, and why is it a feminist issue? Well, let me start by saying that the plans will affect every sick and disabled person, and cause an increase in poverty among both gender groups. That’s a given. However, a few things are worth considering:

Many chronic, long term illnesses affect proportionately more females than males: for example, MS affects four times as many women as men, chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) three times as many , and fibromyalgia nine times as many. Women are also more likely to suffer from a mental illness than men. Illnesses such as CFS and fibromyalgia, like many mental health problems, are difficult to assess – they are ‘invisible disabilities’, and benefits forms are simply not set up to deal with them, as they mainly rely on simple questions about manual tasks. A more stringent test can only make this situation worse, not better.

As women live longer than men, the majority of the elderly population is female; also, the longer a person lives, the more their health is likely to deteriorate and the higher the cost of living becomes to accommodate that. This means that the suggested cuts in AA will disproportionately affect elderly women, who are likely to have fewer savings than men due to having worked less, or for less pay. Figures quoted in a recent Guardian article showed that 40% of current recipients of DLA (care component) and AA would be below the poverty line if these proposals became law and they lost these benefits, with 90% living on less than £250 per week. It would be interesting to see this statistic split up along gender lines.

Finally, a word about carers: the majority of carers in this country are women, and carers will be badly affected by any cuts in any disability benefits, as it will be on their shoulders to pick up the financial slack whilst continuing to perform (unpaid) caring duties. This is especially worrying given that female carers suffer more mental health problems as a result of caring than do male carers. Many carers give up work, or go part time, in order to care for a sick or disabled family member; disability benefits help to make this possible.

As a person with a disabling long term medical condition, I am alarmed by the proposals and suggestions being put forward by both main parties. They treat ill people like scroungers, disabled people like children, and take carers for granted. I am genuinely worried for the future. If you would like to help, please sign the petition to safeguard DLA/AA, which can be found here.

Comments From You

Laurel Dearing // Posted 7 October 2009 at 8:17 pm

it didnt need to be a feminist issue to be disgusting, and important to keep tabs on, especially as we are approaching torygeddon

polly // Posted 7 October 2009 at 8:45 pm

It’s not only the Tories who plan to do this though, Labour plan to do it as well. “scroungers” are a traditional target as election time approaches. James Purnell was talking about taking a million people off incapacity benefit months back….

http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2008/mar/17/jamespurnell.welfare

What I want to know is where are all the jobs going to come from for these people to do? You can’t get people into work if there’s mass unemployment….

Laurel Dearing // Posted 7 October 2009 at 10:47 pm

well you see… we kick out all the “foreigners” and send the mothers and most women home and then theres jobs for your white british workerman to bring money home to his perfect nuclear family, and force the “scroungers” to either work in badly paid jobs that become available, or live off allowance and deal with it

;>.> apparently

Jennifer Drew // Posted 7 October 2009 at 10:53 pm

Ah Polly you’ve beaten me to it! You’ve asked the 64,000 dollar question – just where are these jobs going to come from? Are we going to have thousands of unemployed people sweeping the streets and removing litter as a way of ‘earning Jobseekers allowance?’

Both parties are obviously burying their heads in the sand because they believe there is no recession and women and men are voluntarily resigning from lucrative (sic) employment just so they can claim Job Seekers Allowance!

The demonisation of unemployed, women and men with disabilities, women who provide 24/7 care is most certainly a feminist issue because always it is women as a group who are the ones to suffer increased poverty and lack of social support. Instead women are expected to provide unpaid care 24/7 because of their supposed ‘innate suitability.’ Society is swift to ignore women’s contribution to society because much of their labour is hidden from the male politicians’ gaze.

For once the politicians should start top down meaning reduce the salaries of highly paid consultants whose remit is to advise MPs because said MPs do not have the intelligence to even begin to understand realities of living in the real world. One wherein most women cannot claim expenses or living allowances. But we must not forget it is politicians who created this huge deficit by ‘throwing money at the banking system’ because it failed due to withdrawal of systemic control. But what can one expect when ‘free market’ is discussed and profits are the new gods not ensuring disadvantaged women and men are not constantly targetted as ‘scroungers.’

It continues to be women who are the ones to suffer poverty, lack of adequate social support and not forgetting the fall-out from enduring systemic male partner violence in all its forms.

New regulations concerning who is and who is not entitled to Incapacity Benefit is all about reducing numbers of individuals claiming their entitlement. The bureaucratic system is deliberately biased and works to deny benefit to eligible individuals, especially women. Whichever party wins the next election it will be women who will disproportionately suffer and it will be women who will be blamed for ‘scrounging off the (male) tax payer. Because tax payer is always defined as male.

sianmarie // Posted 8 October 2009 at 8:42 am

it’s disgusting, just disgusting.

my real concern is that these moves are pandering to the daily mail style readers/journalism which portrays people on beneifts and incapacity benefits as scroungers/shirks/liars, lazy – you know the score. when in fact, although there are some people who play the system, the majority of people on benefits are on them for a reason.

and where are these people going to work when their benefits are taken away? not only is it harder to get a job after a long/middling period of unemployment, but we’re in a f***ing recession!!! there are no jobs!

i was unemployed for 2 and a half months after being made redundant and now i’m temping – in that time my JSA was £51 a week. (it goes up to £61 when you pass 25 – apparently before that you are still dependent on your parents – news to me!!) that was what i had to live on. it covered half my rent. now, i was “lucky” as i was paid a month’s notice from my redundancy, and have no children or dependents, so i scraped by. but if you have children, or are a carer or have a disability that is currently provided for by incapacity, cutting your benefits to such a small amount is going to have massive effects.

it seems to me that the Tories are creating a headline making proposal without thinking of the other issues that are in play, e.g. children, dependents, the fact that the minimum wage is not a living wage, the fact that there is an unemployment crisis, the fact that not everyone on benefits is a liar…there is a problem with the benefits culture but i just cannot see how this is the solution.

and now osbourne is freezing public sector wages above £18k…now that’s a whole other issues that i can rant on about for a long time

HarpyMarx // Posted 8 October 2009 at 9:41 am

While the spotlight was on these hideous vile proposals from the Tories, this escaped media attention from New Labour….

“Mandatory work trials and work experience will be developed through a pilot scheme in several areas from next year. Where jobseekers have been out of work for more than six months but have turned down work trials, support or training that could get them jobs, advisors will be able to require them to take up a work trial or work experience placement as a condition of continuing to receive benefit.”

Mandatory work trials = workfare. Simply work for your dole, this will also have the combined affect of driving down pay and conditions, something which the trade unions should be leading a campaign against. These policies from both NL (with their usual attempt at triangulation) and Tories is literally a bidding war about who can shaft the poor the most. Also NL is chucking public money at the private sector to carry out the the benefits system. And for them it is not about the individual it is about profits; paid by results, whereby you ‘park and cream’ (‘park’ the people you can’t find work for, while ‘cream’ off the profits from the people you can). Public services should not be run by the private/voluntary sector (conflict of interests as well).

These punitive policies further stigmatise, vilify and scape goat the poor. This includes the 21st century style Victorian homes for teenage pregnant ‘unwed mothers’. It is utterly moralistic. Why resort to this when NL coulda/shoulda invested in a proper social housing programme where people can make a choice about their housing.

But for NL and the Tories it is easier to attack the poor. But they didn’t cause this crisis of capitalism, the banks did combined with neoliberalism and free market piracy.

These policies are the ideology of the work house.

HarpyMarx // Posted 8 October 2009 at 9:45 am

Btw: NL have given their assurances re Green Paper on Social Care that they have no intention of cutting DLA (it has been given twice (once by Care Services Minister Phil Hope).

The question is, do you believe it?

Secondly, this is a party who could be on their way out, therefore does this assurance mean anything. CPAG and disability rights orgs. asked for assurances from Labour.

They should, as well, have asked the same question of the Tories.

Ruth // Posted 8 October 2009 at 12:20 pm

I do want people who are disabled and sick to get the support, including financial they need. And I do have some understanding of how disability and illness impacts on people’s lives. My partner has bipolar although she works and I have a neurological problem.

The reality is though that ther are people taking advantage of the benefit systems – and a lot more than a few. When I read articles like this it always makes me question whether the writer doesn’t live amongst people who are disadvantaged; because if they did they would be very aware of the number of people who do play the system and sometimes quite openly.

The politicians are partly playing to prejudice and partly playing to people like myself who know that this is an issue.

Holly Combe // Posted 8 October 2009 at 3:04 pm

Ruth, as I understand it, your implication seems to be that

1) people who are disadvantaged are somewhat more likely to play the system and/or

2) that living in a disadvantaged area makes it more likely that a person will come across individuals who don’t actually deserve their benefits.

If that’s the case -and I’m sorry if I’ve misunderstood you- I would have to ask if, in turn, you view people with advantage (i.e privilege) as somehow more likely to be deserving of benefits? Are they less likely to “play the system”? I would suggest not. Also, isn’t it surely the case that people who are disadvantaged should be given the help they need to address that and that this is precisely what the benefit system is for? Sure, any cheating should always be dealt with in a fair and just manner but to imply that “living amongst people who are disadvantaged” gives some greater insight into the bad behaviour that goes on seems like a dangerous road to go down to me. Subscribing to such thinking surely means anyone who disagrees can be dismissed as a naive middle class “do-gooder” while those who apparently “know better” through experience end up having to loudly indicate their disapproval of their stereotyped peers in order to be treated like decent human beings and not “ne’r-do-wells”.

The trouble (in my opinion) is that the recession is enabling those with power to manipulate the insecurities so many of us feel and turn us all against each other. The media currently seems to have become even more dichotomous in the way it stereotypes people on benefits as “saints” (to be sentimentalised and patronised) or “scroungers” (to be hated and looked down on). The current climate means that anyone claiming benefits is at risk of being branded a cheat, liar or somehow undeserving. This means anyone who claims, has claimed in the past or might need to in the future is required to humbly prove they are worthy and not like “them”: the apparently low down good-for-nothings the media loves to hate. It seems like a classic case of divide and conquer to me because while we are being led to believe that there isn’t an automatic right for everyone to at least have food and shelter, we are far more likely to ignore the exploitative behaviour of those with genuine power.

Amy Clare // Posted 8 October 2009 at 3:04 pm

@Ruth:

“The reality is though that there are people taking advantage of the benefit systems – and a lot more than a few.”

When it comes to disability benefits, I’m afraid I beg to differ. I’ve just been reading a very interesting document* which reports 2004-5 figures for benefit fraud (using the DWP’s own statistics). Fraud in disability benefits is very rare. Fraud accounts for 0.1% of spending on incapacity benefit and 0.5% of spending on DLA. As a proportion of total benefit fraud, incapacity benefit fraud accounts for 1.1% and DLA fraud 4.3%.

In actual fact, income support and housing benefit are the most likely benefits to be targeted by fraudsters. Together, they account for half of the benefit fraud committed in 2004-5.

Also, the number of people on incapacity benefit is falling, not rising, as many politicians would have us believe.

Therefore, it seems that for both parties to concentrate on incapacity and disability benefits is frankly bizarre, unless you remember that it is easy to target the most vulnerable members of society – because they don’t have the energy to fight back!

If they were actually worried about people ‘playing the system’ they would concentrate on those benefits where people really do play the system.

*which can be found here: http://www.tuc.org.uk/extras/disabledjobs.doc

cloud // Posted 8 October 2009 at 3:15 pm

I think that the argument that there are high levels of unemployment and no available jobs is a bit of a red herring here. It’s absolutely the case – but that doesn’t mean that people who are judged to be fit to work should therefore remain on incapacity benefit. If people move off IB and then cannot get a job they should be receiving JSA– But targeted benefits have to be restricted, that’s the whole point of them.

Amy Clare // Posted 8 October 2009 at 3:18 pm

I’d just like to add to Holly’s comments, and say that system-playing is also undertaken by wealthy, advantaged people – the recent MP’s expenses debacle is a case in point. It’s not benefit fraud, but it is fraud nontheless.

We are led to believe that benefits fraudsters are robbing the taxpayer blind, and we are encouraged to get angry about this, but the truth is that white collar crime costs the state more than any other type of crime. Usually, also, it is the least publicised. Also, tax avoidance (practiced by wealthy corporations) is not even a crime, despite the fact it rather obviously constitutes fraud too (in the spirit, if not the letter, of the law).

HarpyMarx // Posted 8 October 2009 at 3:42 pm

@ Ruth

When it comes to tax theft (includes avoidance and evasion) it amounts to between £97bn-£150bn.

Between April 2007 and March 2008, £2.6bn, or 2%, of total benefit expenditure was overpaid during the year due to fraud and error.

But also consider this, during the same period, more than £1bn of total benefit expenditure was underpaid.

That specifically deals with underpayment it does not include the vast amount of money which is unclaimed, benefits that people are entitled but don’t apply for various reasons (this is esp. so for pensioners).

The spotlight falls on the poor in this society, yet the rich and powerful who have the luxury of not having to worry about money but get away with tax avoidance and evasion cos they can.

gadgetgal // Posted 8 October 2009 at 3:45 pm

Hi Holly (and Ruth):

Although I can’t read Ruth’s mind and tell you what she was implying I have to say I think you’ve taken it to an extreme there a little – although she said “The reality is though that ther are people taking advantage of the benefit systems – and a lot more than a few. When I read articles like this it always makes me question whether the writer doesn’t live amongst people who are disadvantaged; because if they did they would be very aware of the number of people who do play the system and sometimes quite openly.” there seemed to be no comment whatsoever on whether or not the advantaged are any more or less likely to play the system, so I think it’s unfair to say that because it wasn’t mentioned the omission was particularly significant. People are just as likely to play the system whatever their background, she never suggested otherwise.

Also you questioned whether living in a disadvantaged area makes it more likely that a person will come across individuals who don’t actually deserve their benefits – I’d have to say the logical answer is probably yes, since being on benefits means you’re less likely to be able to afford to live in a richer area, and those in a richer area generally have to be full-time employed in order to afford it. For example: My grandmother lives on a very rich road with around 20 houses – I know most of them, don’t know any who are on benefits; my sister lives on a road with around the same number of houses but in a very poor area – I know most of them, most of the households live on benefits. Therefore I’m more likely to meet someone around my sister’s who is cheating the benefits system, because as far as I know, no one in my nan’s is on benefits. That’s not a judgement call, it’s the just the unfortunate way things pan out.

I do think you’re right about the recession being the major cause of the discontent, though – and although money has to be saved somewhere it’s terrible that it always seems to fall to the poorest to do so. Apparently they reckon they’ll save about £600 million a year by cutting back on benefits, but my question would be this – wouldn’t they save just as much by not doing it? I know that sounds odd, but when you think of all the administration, implementation, people (including extremely pricey doctors and MPs) to be paid, stationary used, etc. etc. etc. in order to change the way the system is run now it might save more to just leave well alone and use the system that’s in place already. I don’t think the people on benefits at the moment, especially those (the majority I’m guessing) who aren’t scrounging and absolutely want to work are best served by even more expensive changes – they’d be better served by investment in the economy and training in the industrial skills we’re sorely lacking at the moment!

Oh, and enforcing the minimum wage laws – I keep getting the impression that it’s kind of considered optional, like when it’s made up out of tips (which, by the way, also affects women more as we make up more of the service industry!!!)

Amy Clare // Posted 8 October 2009 at 3:48 pm

@cloud:

The problem is that the DWP decides what constitutes ‘fit for work’, and they are free to move the goalposts at any time to suit themselves. Just because the DWP says to a person ‘we’ve now decided you’re fit for work’, doesn’t mean that person’s medical condition will suddenly disappear. The likelihood is, if they struggled to complete a day (never mind a week) at work before the reforms, they’ll struggle after the reforms. The difference is, if they happen to fall into the group that the DWP decides is now ‘fit for work’, they’ll be poorer because they’ll be forced to claim JSA instead.

There is absolutely no evidence that 20% of people currently on IB are actually fit for work. The tests are already very strict, and getting stricter. It’s a cost cutting exercise, nothing more.

maggie // Posted 8 October 2009 at 4:10 pm

I know a family who scrounge off the state to the tune of around 50million per year – The Royal Family. They certainly know how to ‘play the system’. A fine example they’re setting to all those in fetid housing estates oop and down the country.

The cheek of politicans to ask people existing on benefits to tighten their belts astounds me.

Holly Combe // Posted 8 October 2009 at 4:29 pm

Hi Gadgetgal,

I very much agree with what you say about the minimum wage and think you make a good point about the financial advantages of not implementing all these proposed changes. I hadn’t thought of it like that.

To be fair, I did highlight what I was saying as just my own understanding of what Ruth said and asked questions following on from that. I still think any suggestion that living “amongst people who are disadvantaged” makes a person “more aware of the number of people who do play the system” raises wider questions about advantage and privilege.

I’m not sure I understand this point:

Also you questioned whether living in a disadvantaged area makes it more likely that a person will come across individuals who don’t actually deserve their benefits – I’d have to say the logical answer is probably yes, since being on benefits means you’re less likely to be able to afford to live in a richer area, and those in a richer area generally have to be full-time employed in order to afford it.

Doesn’t that logic suggest that the people living in a disadvantaged area are actually more likely to need and therefore deserve benefits than those living in a richer area (i.e theoretically raising the alarm about claimants who live in richer areas)?

I see your point that not being in the benefits system means you can’t be cheating it but that surely doesn’t mean we should highlight people in disadvantaged areas as more likely to be cheats by default.

I don’t think anyone can tell for sure whether or not a person is on benefits, regardless of where they live. Do you really know enough about the personal lives of the people on your relatives’ streets to be able to say with confidence whether or not they claim anything? If so, I guess you know your family’s neighbours better than I know the neighbours of mine! Also, if a person with a house in an apparently “richer” area loses their job/becomes sick and their savings are not 16,000 or above (I may be out of date on this exact figure), they can make a claim and, with a certain amount of hassle, get the interest on their mortgage paid. I’ve had good friends in such a position just the same as I’ve had good friends in poorer areas who go out to work full time and say they would never want to claim benefits. In the current political climate it’s not so great for the latter that people probably assume they’re on benefits anyway because of where they live.

Letap // Posted 8 October 2009 at 4:50 pm

Interesting quote:

“Figures quoted in a recent Guardian article showed that 40% of current recipients of DLA (care component) and AA would be below the poverty line if these proposals became law and they lost these benefits, with 90% living on less than £250 per week.”

Got a back injury, lost my £25K PA job, my wife & I + one child have been living(?) on less than that for the last 5 or 6 years!

I have a disability resulting from a back injury, and at times find it extremely difficult to even lift one foot and put it in front of the other. Also have extreme carpal tunnel syndrome with years of typing, from using a manual Royal Imperial, electric golfball to computers.

I applied for DLA, got awarded £15pw on top of Incapacity Benefit. Three months later a DSS doctor chappie came around, extremely embarrassing test to decide physical fitness. Doc decided I wasn’t entitled and the £15pw got stopped. I appealed, went to a Panel with a DSS busybody, one doctor and a Lay Person, who sat stone faced, listened to me for 10 minutes and decided I should never have been awarded the original £15: they haven’t tried to claw it back.

I have gotten worse since then, even more immobile, the CTS surgery offered temporary relief but I will not apply for DLA because IT’S TOO DAMN HUMILIATING!

Juliet // Posted 8 October 2009 at 5:23 pm

This isn’t specifically to do with benefit, but it does illustrate the kind of attitudes which prevail (such as those displayed in Ruth’s post above).

A friend of my Mum’s has a neighbour, a lady who is widowed and lives on her own. One day she got someone from the council on her doorstep accusing her of having lied about being the sole resident of the property, in order to avoid paying more council tax. She was shocked and upset, not least because she had NOT lied – all that had happened was that her daughter (who had just got divorced) had come to stay with her for a couple of weeks while she waited for decorating and repairs to be finished in the flat she was planning to move into.

I just cannot (and don’t actually want to) understand the mentality of the person who reported this lady. But I’m sure it’s the kind of person who would unthinkingly and cruelly label most people on benefits cheats, liars and scroungers.

Holly Combe // Posted 8 October 2009 at 5:28 pm

Letap, that’s appalling. It’s disgusting that people are being treated in this way. No wonder you don’t want to claim DLA again.

I’ve just been talking to Jess about the use of the word “deserve” and I think she’s right it’s problematic (i.e brings Victorian visions of the so-called “deserving poor” when, actually, qualifying for benefit should be enough). As the person who brought that word into the debate, I’d just like to clarify that I think anyone who qualifies for benefits deserves them and that the use of the word only applied to my reading of Ruth’s comment about people who “play the system” (presumably those who cheat and therefore don’t actually qualify for everything they get).

Personally, I think the whole debate about who is more or less deserving is a major part of the mess we’re in. As Amy Clare says, the tests for IB (as one example) are already very strict, and getting stricter.

Marianne // Posted 8 October 2009 at 5:47 pm

I agree with Maggie, the Royal Family are among some of the biggest scroungers going – and still greedy for more. As were their ancestors down the centuries who enclosed huge stretches of land then charged the people living on it rent and demanded all sorts of other things (inc. the droit de seigneur, probably haven’t spelled that right!). Just got rich off other people’s produce and labour. Most of the land in Britain today is STILL privately owned and we don’t hear any questions about whether or not those bastards “deserve” to keep what they stole.

And MPs and bankers…don’t start me. MPs are, as usual, picking on those who they think can’t fight back.

And good comment by Harpy Marx above. Exactly! What about all the benefit which goes unclaimed? And when you hear stories like that of Letap, it’s not surprising. You have to be quite determined and persistent just to get what you are legally entitled to. They make it as difficult and humiliating as possible.

Feminist Avatar // Posted 8 October 2009 at 6:03 pm

I also think we need to question a rhetoric that suggests that the only people who have value in our society are those that are ‘economically active’ (especially given the very narrow definition usually applied to this, ie taxpayers).

There needs to be more critique of why we keep our poor and disabled on the breadline in the first place- who does this benefit? Are we all innately lazy and wouldn’t work if we had the choice? If people choose not to ‘work’ (which I realise doesn’t apply to people with disabilities) then why are we not targetting why that is the case instead of writing people off as cheats and scroungers.

The fact is the capitalist economic system precludes certain people from working and it is not enough to say it is a choice that they make and then punish them for it. This is especially true as the low-paying work that we expect job-seekers to move in to is increasingly in the service industry, requiring an ability to talk with a particular accent, use computors, have a certain level of literacy, and also engage with other social groups which frquently patronise and look down on people from traditionally deprived areas. We have brought in increased legislation that limits and excludes areas where the poor traditionally found sources of income, forcing them into mainstream work without any attempt to socialise these communities into such work (and even ask whether such socialisation is ethical in the first place- given people’s right not to be homogonised).

gadgetgal // Posted 8 October 2009 at 6:43 pm

Hi again – what I said before about benefits versus no benefits I stand by, especially with regards to my sister’s and grandmother’s neighbours – we occasionally gather (usually bonfire night and Christmas) on each road for parties and because we’re in a small town we get to know each other reasonably well. That said, I would never make a judgment about whether or not any of them were either scrounging benefits or evading tax, and I’m sure they’d never tell me if I asked! I couldn’t even imagine what was going through that person’s head who reported Juliet’s mum’s neighbour – just sheer cruelty I think! And I have a friend whose dad is going through a similar thing to Letap, only he now has to pay it back apparently, and he can’t work, so how can he pay it?!

I definitely agree there are better ways of handling this recession than picking on the poor – HarpyMarx had it spot on pointing out the huge costs of tax evasion – every government has been promising the closing of tax loopholes and offshore havens since the 1990s, which would save a hell of a lot more money than messing with an already harsh benefits system, which I still reckon would cost more to change than to just leave alone. You’re always going to get people on either end and all the way up the scale who try to get more than they should, but it seems more sensible to start with the people who are hurting us the most financially, who are, as always, the very richest, and by far the most able to pay!!

Kath // Posted 8 October 2009 at 7:09 pm

In defence of Ruth: if you are poor of course you are more likely to ‘play the system’. If I had to bring up a family on minimum wage I’d be tempted to too. My privilege is that I have a comfortable life without having to worry about money. The question is do you blame people for ‘cheating’? I don’t and I can’t tell from Ruth’s comment whether she does.

elizabeth // Posted 8 October 2009 at 8:27 pm

i hope the tories will not axe dla or

carers allowance as i get carers allowance for looking after my husband who is blind and will be illhealth retired on pension in 2 weeks he is a type one diabetic with regular hpoglacemic epsoids with severe osteo artithritis as well as bengin prostrate in and out of bed all night in the toilet perhaps as mr cameron and brown think all disabled persons are scroungers they should look after him all day every day. i bet they would not do it on £53.10 per week.

Shea // Posted 8 October 2009 at 11:02 pm

I’ glad that Letap has mentioned that the current forms and tests for DLA are incredibly humiliating, intrusive , degrading and extremely complex. It is no wonder that some £3 billion pounds of benefits lies unclaimed each year (it might be more). But nothing is said of this. Frankly if someone is smart enough to steer their way through the minefield of paperwork and physical checks to claim benefits falsely- they are entitled to them!

The irony as well is that alot of the Daily Mail readers and tories have never “worked” in paid work in their lives. Take a former patient of mine.

She was the quintessential 1950s housewife and didn’t believe women should work. She now lives in a 4 bedroom house, in a very nice area, with a great pension courtesy of her husband. She also did very little domestic work (when will this be recognised as “work” by the DWP?) having had both a cleaner and a chef at her disposal. Nonetheless she is happy to rant about the “benefit scroungers”. I am incredulous.

If the Tories want to raise money they should lower the threshold for inheritance tax to £280,000 and put the rate up to 50%. They should also overhaul the council tax system to take account of property values and the number of occupiers (those in bigger houses, with fewer people should pay more council tax – a reverse Poll tax). Raising the tax on the highest earners and forcing non-doms to pay would also help.

Also no one ever mentions the middle class benefits like company car schemes, pension relief, business relief, employer purchased computer schemes etc….. they all cost the taxpayer money. But poor vulnerable people ….. yep take it all from them. I fear for the future of this country. There are so many families in precarious positions, cutting benefits like this will leave them destitute. I can see Cameron et all cutting working tax credits too at some point, even though these are in fact an employer subsidy for paying low wages.

It is always, always the poorest, worst off people who pay the price in this country.

p.s I second your point Maggie about the Royal Family. A bigger bunch of useless scroungers it would be hard to find.

Letap // Posted 9 October 2009 at 12:11 am

Thing is, the people who assess me for Incapacity Benefit can’t dispute the facts of my disabilities. A couple of months ago I had to complete yet another Medical Questionnaire, and this time they didn’t even bother with a formal medical examination — they’ve just written to me to say that I am unfit for work until 2012.

In my view, the medical info I provided far exceeded what they required for IB and should be sufficient to qualify for DLA, but they don’t even ask (or advise) you to apply anymore (which they did do previously) — perhaps there is a flag/marker on my file about the cancelled DLA? Who knows?

Anyway, the only payments I get is £96 per week for two of us, as “your partner no longer qualifies for additional Incapacity Benefit on your claim”. The fact that my partner is also my carer…

Called the DWP and got told to call the Income Support line and also apply for emergency loan through Social Fund. To complicate the issue even more, the local council have cancelled my Council Tax Benefit (CTB), clawed back a substantial amount, then paid me an even larger amount, all for the same period of time… this came through the post this AM — seven letters in seven separate envelopes — and none of it makes any sense to me due to overlapping dates!

From being totally debt-free, I now have to find a minimum of £350 to meet all my direct debit payments just for the utilities. At least I can live in the hope that I see through the next five years, after which (hopefully) my works pension can be released and I can live ONE-THIRD the life of an MP (who doesn’t scam the expenses system!).

If what the tabloids write about refugees and asylum seekers were actually true, I think I’d be driven to seek asylum from our own incompetent and inconsiderate government.

Michalina // Posted 9 October 2009 at 10:19 am

As a CAB adviser I believe I know the benefit system quite well and there are two main points I would like to add to the discussion:

1 Benefit system is based on assumption of nuclear family and is discriminatory towards women (don’t be blinded by recent change for gay couples)

2 Benefit fraud is comparatively small- there is a much higher number of people who don’t claim benefits they are entitled to than those who fraud the system. In some cases fraud is such as this: you can’t have Housing Benefit paid for you if you are in the hospital for more than 13 weeks, and it does not matter that you are still liable for rent and can’t work because you are ill. It is not surprising that people just don’t tell HB that they are in hospital and it is a fraud.

As for benefits for disabled people it is rather difficult to get them, and of course any person with mental health problems will sooner or later end up asking CAB for help. I believe every person has a right to work and I would love to see more disabled people in work as it can be empowering but the reality is such that many disabled cannot work even if they want, e.g. try to get to work in the morning in London when you are a wheelchair user!

If the government wants to see more disabled people off benefits and in work they should start working towards a change of mentality and attitudes towards disabled people. And when are we going to have more disabled MPs?

Celia // Posted 10 October 2009 at 4:10 am

I had my benefits (IS with IB) stopped in early March after a meeting with a nurse to asses my mental health problems. Much of what I said was misrepresented in the assessment (for example, it was suggested that I have no problem with using the telephone, even though I do and I said I do – but the nurse phones me before the assessment and I answered the phone, so I obviously have no problems whatsoever). I appealed and on the 14th October, I’ll finally be getting my tribunal hearing. I’m very anxious now :(

My mother got a job recently at the DWP. She has to see people with medical problems as an adviser. She’s told me things about how people who can’t walk without crying in pain, and people who are too frightened to leave the house are still required by law to attend these interviews with the DWP, or they’ll have their benefits stopped. People with terminal illnesses who have more than six months to live have to attend these interviews. People with addictions so chronic that nobody is going to hire them must attend these interviews. Of course, this is not the fault of the advisers, who just receive the people as the law dictates. My mother has taken to advising people with mental illnesses (especially depression and anxiety) that, if they haven’t had the medical yet, they’ll probably get their benefits stopped. She is also advising people to appeal every time. Some people are apparently getting told that the only thing they can do is immediately go onto JSA, but my mother hopes that if enough people refuse to take the first opinion, the government will eventually notice. But the whole system she’s working in sounds an utter clusterfuck.

Frances // Posted 11 October 2009 at 2:15 am

In addition to what Celia’s said: if anyone is in the situation of being refused IB/DLA/AA, then definitely do appeal. I cannot remember the statistics about how many appeals succeed, but it is between 40-60%. I would also like to point out that there are organisations that assist with appeals. The CAB certainly help you to prepare, and can refer people to the Free Representation Unit (Freerepresentationunit.org.uk) who will represent people at the tribunal. You cannot contact them directly, but on their website is a list of some of the agencies that refer cases to them. They have branches in London, Nottingham and in other places.

The tests are stringent, “benefit cheats” are an easy target for politicians, but for as long as the right to appeal remains, it is worth pushing forward. Also, a lot of this is empty rhetoric. Not that long ago, the Labour government committed to getting more people off JSA and into work. In fact this was achieved in a large part by pushing people onto Incapacity Benefit.

Aimee // Posted 11 October 2009 at 2:43 am

I was talking about this the other day, and d’you know what? People who *cheat* the benefits system? Fair play to them! I mean, it’s not like we’d pay any LESS tax if those people didn’t claim a little extra. It’s not the taxpayer being screwed over. They’re already been screwed over by the government. It’s the government they’re taking the money from, and quite frankly, i’m okay with that. They’re not taking anything from ME.

I know what it’s like to work 40 hours a week, but whether they thieved or not, i’d still have to do it, and i’d still pay the same amount of tax. I don’t think people SHOULD have to work that much. I don’t blame the people who get a little bit extra from the government. I blame the people who perpetuate capitalism and perpetuate the culture which means we HAVE to work 40 hour weeks. I blame the people that make millions of pounds they don’t need and don’t do an ounce of good with it. The people that run these big faceless companies and get away with paying their workers fuck all because all they give a shit about is their own profits. The people who have so much when so many people have so little. If someone gets a little bit extra through underhand methods, fair fucking play to them. None of us deeserve to live on the breadline. Especially when there’s people out there wiht so much more than they need, which they’ve made off the poorest people in society.

Kristin // Posted 11 October 2009 at 1:24 pm

Aimee, WELL SAID!!!

Aimee // Posted 11 October 2009 at 4:02 pm

Thankyou. :) I just think that it’s so unfair to demonise people who ‘unfairly’ claim an extra 20 pounds a week, instead of the people who unfairly exploit people who are unable to fight back to get an extra thousand/hundred thousand/million a week. Instead of cutting benefits, why not cap the richest people’s earnings? Why not take it from the people who already have so much more than they need instead of the people who are already scrimping and saving to survive? Make it easier for disabled people to claim benefits, make it harder for bankers and brokers and company owners to earn millions and millions without giving anything back. Sort out the tax havens where the super rich can enjoy benefits we can only dream of! Those people are the real benefit theives. They are the VERY reason there is such economical inequality in this country. Why aren’t we targeting them? Why are we blaming asylum seekers and immigrants and the very poor in this country, when we should really be blaming the kinds of people who will drop 2k on a handbag without thinking about it? How is that okay in a world where some people cannot feed their families, or afford the very basics that they need? It makes me so furious that rich people are exempt from the supposed moral obligations that the average person is subject to? We read stories about such and such a family with 6 kids getting 30k benefits a year (which quite honestly is not enough to bring up six kids!). The cleaners and single mothers and manual labourers in this country don’t work any less hard than the bankers and the MPs. In fact I think it’s quite likely that they work a lot harder than them. This is what we’re entitled to! This is what we should get without questioning and forms and derision from Mrs. Daily Mail reader who is lucky enough to have a well paying job in PR or in finance. AGHRRR.

I’m sorry for this rant, but social inequality is a huge problem which is never ever talked about in terms of the rich who perpetuate it.

Helena // Posted 11 October 2009 at 5:25 pm

No need to say sorry for your “rant” Aimee. What you say is 100% right and the only thing I’m sorry about is that it isn’t said a lot more often.

I don’t think we’ve progressed all that much since the days when starving people who stole food to survive were arrested and executed.

jules // Posted 11 October 2009 at 7:22 pm

Hear, hear Aimee! I don’t consider what you said a ‘rant’, but an absolutely spot on political analysis.

We live in a hideously bullying culture, that as you say creates these mammoth economic inequalities, and then demonises the most disadvantaged and exploited. Any time the discussion turns to these groups, we need to do exactly what you have done – put the rich men centre stage and remind everyone where the real problem lies.

Well said! And thank you for putting it so eloquently!

Kath // Posted 11 October 2009 at 7:51 pm

@Aimee

Don’t be sorry! That’s basically what I was saying in my previous comment but I didn’t have the energy for a rant ;)

Laura Bennett // Posted 11 October 2009 at 10:34 pm

Hallo Amy Clare

Great blog. I agree with your concerns.

It’s good that you mention the petition. I wonder if you and others might be interested to know (if you don’t already) that there are also other ways to get involved, although they will take a bit more time than signing the petition.

From http://careandsupport.direct.gov.uk/greenpaper/ “The Government has published Shaping the Future of Care Together, beginning the first ever national debate on the reform of adult care and support in England – the Big Care Debate. The document spells out a vision for a National Care Service, the options for reform, and how the new system could be organised and paid for. The Government is inviting everybody to comment on the reform options and say which ones they would like to see adopted. The Big Care Debate runs until 13th November.”

You can read the green paper online and give your comments, or answer a questionnaire or hold your own “Big Care Debate”, or there are road shows going on all over England. You can reply as an individual, or as a group.

There are concerns about how we’re going to afford to pay for health and social care in the future. Did you see this “warning” from the IMF in the news the other week http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2009/oct/01/nhs-debt-imf-britain ?

Urgh. I’m writing to my MP too. I’m worried …

All the best

Laura

SL // Posted 12 October 2009 at 12:22 am

I can’t agree Aimee – Anyone who ‘unfairly’ claims (and any system has to have rules about who is eligible) is taking something from you, and from the rest of society. It might well be negligible, but it is something. Yes we wouldn’t pay any less tax, but there is a pot from which everything has to be paid. I really can’t see how you can support the ‘cheats’. You might not think they aren’t screwing you over, but they are certainly screwing over everyone who is genuinely claiming and now has to be tested and checked more rigorously in order to prove themselves as genuine. I get that you’re angry at those at the top, but people using ‘underhand methods’ are also stealing from those at the very bottom, even if they are also disadvantaged – and their cheating moves them upwards. I’m sure that a lot of the people using ‘underhand methods’ are living in poverty – but it doesn’t excuse them from imposing a cost on others who are struggling.

I get from your second ‘rant’ that you are making a point about inequality and exploitation and I am on board with you in general. I agree that this kind of easy target isn’t going to address the real problems of an unequal society, but i just can’t agree with any idea that ‘if someone gets a little bit extra through underhand methods, fair fucking play to them’. From a feminist pov I think that plenty of men today are getting a little bit extra through underhand methods in relation to women, even if it is subconscious. And i’m not saying fair fucking play to that!

I don’t think the most ruthless and individualistic should prosper at the expense of the more timid/rule abiding/etc – whether they are the richest or the poorest.

aimee // Posted 13 October 2009 at 11:18 am

SL: I don’tthink the hatred and anger for benefit thieves is justified, especially in comparison to the lack of hatred for the people who are REALLY perpetuating economic disparity. Like Helen said, is benefit fraud really any different from a poor person stealing some food? It’s the hypocracy of it that infuriated me most. I read in the papers that mrs. benefit fraud has bought her son a new pair of trainers with her ILLEGALLY GARNERED MONEY! … oh no! Not a new pair of trainers!? Not when the richest in the world are buying yachts and private planes and dresses worth more than it costs to feed a small village in Africa. How is that at all compable? I just cannot blame these people or demonise them when their crimes are so small and insignificant and more, I think a product of social inequality than anything else.

Celia // Posted 14 October 2009 at 2:00 pm

Just an update to say that my appeal was successful, and my benefits are being backdated to the sixth of February. That’s how long this has been going on for – and now it’s over :D

So yes, if you have a case, do appeal. It made me really frightened, but it’s okay now. I’m so relieved!

Denise // Posted 14 October 2009 at 5:16 pm

What is going on? As well as this horrific, bullying stuff about cutting disability benefits, a woman named Baroness Deech has started talking about how women receive too much in divorce settlements. She’s basing this ‘evidence’ on the Mills-McCartney case and a few other high profile cases, and saying women should expect to work and not think marrying rich men is an alternative to a career. Apart from the patronising sexist nature of her comments, I don’t know what planet she’s living on. One where there’s a level playing field, maybe! Most women do work, they just don’t get paid – or paid enough – for it. And she clearly thinks taking time out of the workforce to raise children has no value at all.

Amy Clare // Posted 20 October 2009 at 7:15 pm

Just an update to the story: Lord McKenzie, undersecretary of state for work and pensions, has admitted in the Lords that the govt have not “ruled out” cutting any kind of disability benefit (in contrast to what Phil Hope said). So it’s important to keep up the pressure.

Talking of which, the petition now has 17,000 signatures which is brilliant, but it needs more! Just 1,000 more signatures will get it into the top 10 petitions so please, if you haven’t signed it, please do so!

E Bolden // Posted 20 October 2009 at 8:22 pm

it is disgusting what the government and tories want to do i have wrote to theresa may as yet nothing probably cannot be bothered to reply

Joe O'Donnell // Posted 20 September 2010 at 9:27 pm

I became disabled after a roof I was working on collapsed, i went to one of these DSS checks, the doctor apoligised and said that this was not meant for people like you who have clear xrays and MRI scans showing the damage and that he would guarantee I would never have to go through that again Now thats not good enough it seems the tories want to put me through it, The sheer agony of lifting my arms over to the back of my head still makes me shudder when I think of it, Why dont they just come down and kick me in the teeth It will save a lot of bother and expense and get the same results. What is really annoying is david cameron and gordon brown both had disabled children and they know how hard it is and the extra expense involved.

They Ought to be ashamed of themselves for causing this extra worry to people who are in pain and not able to add to their income and rely on benefits.

I have thought hard about this and on top of my injuries I now have type 1 diabetis and its a struggle just to get through the day.

This is not tax payers money i get its my money when I was employed i paid two stamps one during the week 9-5 and a weekend stamp I paid my tax, my brothers sister sons cousins aunts all pay tax, we would be happy if the government kept themselves and we as a large family would keep ourselves but the fact is you tax 62 of my family and want the remaining 3 who are disabled beg for a little bit back, I was awarded industrial injuries of 39% and was made an offer of 11% for life which I took. These people are changing the goalposts all the time.

Regarding going to the DSS for an interveiw Im not fit Im in pain constant and they are welcome to see me but its pointless them giving me an appointment because I may not be able to walk that day.

What Im amazed at is there is not an outcry from able bodied people about the way their relatives are been treated I know mine are going nuts.

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