IDS: ‘I can live on £53 a week’; thousands respond: “prove it”!

This item is cross posted from the PCS Croydon Home Office Branch site

The front page of today’s Guardian newspaper  evocatively charges that the UK has changed dramatically in 24 hours. This follows a swathe of cruel and regressive measures that have meant that the poorest in society become poorer whilst the richest will contribute less to UK tax revenue and be tens of thousands of pounds better off. That is not hyperbole, it is the clear effect of legislation passed over the last year which comes into effect today or in the next four weeks.

In the wake of a (belated) outcry as the manifestly unfair consequences of the Con-Dem policies begin to be apprehended Iain Duncan Smith (IDS), the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions has been doing his utmost to defend the indefensible and suggest the changes are being made in the name of ‘fairness’. As part of this charm offensive IDS spoke to Radio 4 following a market trader who explained as a result of the changes he would be living on £53 a week. Amazingly, IDS’ response was the trader should simply go out and find himself a new, better paid job. At a time when there is widespread pay restraint and so few jobs available this suggestion besides being offensive simply shows how out of touch some government ministers are – most people cannot rely on patronage and living rent free in £2M mansions as IDS can and do not have a choice of jobs to walk into.

It was at this point of the interview that IDS made the claim that he could live on £53 a week.

According on the petition’s author if IDS were to live on this for a year this would represent “a 97% reduction in his current income, which is £1,581.02 a week or £225 a day after tax

Over recent weeks Labour MP Helen Goodman showed real political leadership when she lived on a food budget of £18 a week, the level the government are in the name of fairness forcing on some of her constituents. After IDS’ announcement today thousands of people have come out to ask IDS to show similar leadership by living on the ‘fair’ imposition he has forced upon some of the most vulnerable and, like them, live on £53 pound a week. At the time of writing a petition calling for this display of leadership has reached over 58,000 signatures in less than a day. Readers wishing to add their names to this call can do so on the change.org website.

According on the petition’s author if IDS were to live on this for a year this would represent “a 97% reduction in his current income, which is £1,581.02 a week or £225 a day after tax”.

The Spartacus Report – Responsible Reform of the DLA

Yesterday (Monday 9th January 2011) saw the publication of a remarkable report, Responsible Reform – A Report On the proposed Changes to Disability Living Allowance (.pdf). The report was researched, written, funded and published by disability campaigners as a response to the Government’s controversial proposals to replace the Disability Living Allowance (DLA) with Personal Independence Payments (PIPs).

The report was compiled from responses to the Government’s own consultation, responses which were only released after the submission of Freedom of Information requests and which imply the Government misrepresented the results both to the public and to the Houses of Parliament. This is from the press release which announced the publication of the report:

Our report shows that :

-The Government broke its own code of consultation over the DLA reform
-The Government has entirely misrepresented the views submitted as part of the consultation, giving a partial and biased view.
-The Government claim that DLA must be reformed as claims has risen 30% in 8 years – we find that these statistics are entirely misleading and give a “distorted view”
-There is overwhelming opposition to the new benefit, Personal Independence Payments
-Some elements of PIP appear to already be going ahead, despite a rejection of the plans and before legislation has passed.
-The Government are repeatedly warned that proposals for PIP may break International and UK equality and Human Rights legislation

This is a vitally important report which has received very little mainstream media coverage. It has, however, been shared far and wide through social networking sites (the ‘Spartacus Report’ name is a reference to the Twitter hashtag being used to support and raise awareness of the report) and pressure is building on the media to cover it.

Please read the report if you can. If you don’t have time we’ve reproduced the short Executive Summary on this website here.

Once you’ve read the report please email a link to your MP. You can find your MP’s email address through the theyworkforyou website. Also, spread the word among friends, family and colleagues.

There is a petition on the Government’s website calling on them to review the cuts to benefits and services. please sign it and share it. Every signature helps: http://epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/20968

Making Appealing Less Appealing – ESA, WCA and ATOS

Just when you thought the Coalition Government couldn’t get any worse they have gone and surpassed themselves. According to the New Statesman the Coalition is considering suspending the Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) of disabled people who appeal against their Work Capability Assessment (WCA).

There are several things wrong with this proposal:

 

 

  • The Employment and Support Allowance, replacing Incapacity Benefit, is supposed to support disabled people who can’t, or are trying to find their way back in to, work. Suspending it would only increase the likelihood of people’s illnesses becoming worse.
  • The threat of ESA being suspended would make many people decide not to appeal against a Work Capability Assessment, and make life very difficult for those who do.
  • Many people are already too scared, intimidated or just incapable of appealing. Of those who do, 40% of appeals are upheld.  By dissuading people from appealing the Government risks forcing even more people in to work they are not capable of doing.
  • Unemployment is currently running at record levels. The last thing the labour market needs is even more people being forced in to work, reducing employment opportunities for others.
  • If people did choose to appeal a tremendous strain could be put on carers, many of who will be family members.
  • The Work Capability Assessment test is inflicted on disabled people by ATOS, a private company which has a financial incentive in finding people fit for work. The test is already known to be flawed, as the 40% success rate of appeals attests. Coercing people to not appeal might make the figures look better but will do nothing to address the fundamental problems with the testing process, leaving many more people at risk of being inaccurately judged fit for work.

It’s hard to see this as anything other than an attempt to reduce appeals, their associated costs and to force disabled people in to work. All of this is just a continuation of the Government’s attack on the most vulnerable, an attack the media are all too happy to perpetuate. It should be remembered that benefit fraud amounts to just £1.6 billion annually, far exceeded by the £6 billion goes unclaimed every year and dwarfed by the estimated £120 billion that we lose through the tax gap.

99.5% of sickness benefit claims are genuine.

Actions To Take

You can write to your MP about this issue through writetothem.com. If you do write to your mp please let us know what, if any, response you received (info@pcseuston.org.uk)

You could also raise this with your branch committee and write a branch motion, statement etc.

Raise the issue with colleagues and ask them to get involved. This proposal is still in its very earliest stages and we can stop it if enough of us act quickly enough.

Further Reading

Judged Fit to Work? You Could Lose Your Benefits If You Appeal, New Statesman, 14/10/2011

The PCS ‘Welfare: An Alternative Vision’ Booklet (PCS site)

Please also visit the Disabled People Against Cuts and Benefit Clamiants Fight Back sites.

Twisting the facts, printing lies… (reposted from Tentacles of Doom)

This article was originally published on Steven Sumpter’s ‘Tentacles of Doom’ blog, republished here with his kind permission. Please share far and wide to help combat the myths and scapegoating by the Government and media.

The headlines today are screaming that a mere 7% of ESA claimants aren’t fit for work. The Daily Mail says that “Benefits Britain marches on: Just one in 14 disability handout applicants are too ill to work“ while the BBC claim “Tests claim few benefit claimants unfit to work“ These figures are grossly misleading. These actually come from a Department of Work and Pensions press release, 26 July 2011 – Work Programme provides tailored support as latest figures show people are being found fit for work. Those news stories haven’t actually mislead about the contents of the press release too much, the propaganda comes from the DWP. The Express, on the other hand, has gone for “Sick benefits: 75% are faking” which is just an outright lie.

Lets start with the figures from the DWP.

For all new ESA claims from 27th October 2008 to 30th November 2010, the result of the initial WCA is as follows

  • Support Group – 7%
  • Work Related Activity Group – 17%
  • Fit for Work – 39%
  • Claim closed before assessment complete – 36%
  • Assessment still in progress – 1%

These figures are true, but lie by omission. First of all, the figures given are for ALL that start a claim for ESA. As stated, 36% of people that start a claim drop out before they even get to their Work Capability Assessment. Some of these people will drop out because they perhaps shouldn’t have applied in the first place. Some might even have been trying it on and then realised that they would be caught. Some recover enough to find work, some find work that fits around their disabilities. Some, however, drop out because they are so ill that they cannot face the application and testing process. We don’t know, as no records are kept of reasons for dropping out, but I contend that many more than we know drop out because they are too ill to finish the process. Given that 36% of claimants are not tested, we cannot include them in the ‘fit for work’ category. That 7% of claimants is actually 11% of claimants who complete the process.

11% is still a very small number. That still casts 89% of claimants as cheats, doesn’t it? Well no. No it doesn’t. Not unless you are a tabloid writer. You see, 17% of total claimantss – or 26.6% of claimants that finish the process – are put in the Work Related Activity Group. Being put in this group DOES NOT mean that the claimant is fit for work! It means that there may be some job, as yet unknown, that the claimant could possibly manage to do, if they push themselves hard enough,possibly at high cost to their health, IF they receive the right support in terms of information, equipment, services and grants. People in this group must attend six interviews at the Job Centre over the course of a few months to try and determine just what this possible job could be, and the support that would be needed to do it. People in this group STILL RECEIVE ESA.

Adding those two together and leaving out the people that dropped out, that means that 37.5% of people tested were not fit for work. That still leaves 61% that were receiving ESA who were found fit for work. Are they all cheats? No. Here’s why.

The Work Capability Assessment takes place at the end of the assessment phase of the claim. That means the test can take place up to 14 weeks after the person started to claim ESA. 14 weeks is a long time, and it should also be noted that people are often sick for a long time before they even apply for ESA, either on Statutory Sick Pay for 28 weeks, or just unaware that they can claim. Those people could easily have been sick for 9 months before being tested. 9 months is long enough for people to recover or start recovering from many health issues, and so these people would have been correctly being given ESA while unable to work. Health issues change, and finding these people fit for work now would be correct, but does not invalidate their claim in the previous months. I think if the WCA correctly finds someone capable of work after many months of illness but heading towards recovery, this is usually a good thing.

Assuming that changes in health conditions account for a chunk of that 61%, let’s say a third, that still leaves the rest. Here’s the thing. The accuracy of the testing process has been found to be wrong, broken, inadequate, however you want to put it, by MPs, a house of commons select committee, many disability rights charities, and many many individuals and activists. Even a person involved in designing the test has said that it is not fit for purpose.

33% of people found fit for work between October 2008 and August 2009 appealed against that decision. 40% of those overturned that decision and were awarded ESA. That’s 27,500 people who were provably found fit for work when they were not. Many more people did not appeal, for many of the same reasons that may have caused people to drop out of the claims process.

Today the Commons Select Committee on the Migration from Incapacity Benefits to Employment Support Allowance released its 6th Report – The Role Of Incapacity Benefit Reassessment In Helping Claimants Into Employment. Among other things, that report criticised media coverage and stated that government had a duty to take more care when engaging with media.

5.  Sections of the media routinely use pejorative language, such as “work-shy” or “scrounger”, when referring to incapacity benefit claimants. We strongly deprecate this and believe that it is irresponsible and inaccurate. The duty on the state to provide adequate support through the benefits system for people who are unable to work because of a serious health condition or illness is a fundamental principle of British society. Portraying the reassessment of incapacity benefit claimants as some sort of scheme to “weed out benefit cheats” shows a fundamental misunderstanding of the Government’s objectives. (Paragraph 40)

6.  Whilst fully accepting that the Government, and this Committee, have no role in determining the nature and content of media coverage, we believe that more care is needed in the way the Government engages with the media and in particular the way in which it releases and provides its commentary on official statistics on the IB reassessment. In the end, the media will choose its own angle, but the Government should take great care with the language it itself uses and take all possible steps to ensure that context is provided when information about IB claimants found fit for work is released, so that unhelpful and inaccurate stories can be shown to have no basis. (Paragraph 41)

I disagree with part of this in that I think that consciously or not, Conservative ministers have an ideological motive to move people off of benefits, portraying them as cheats if necessary, with the help of special advisors. (SPADS.) I believe that ministers and SPADS have been feeding selected information to the press to create a national view that is biased against sick and disabled people that claim benefits, and the press have been only too happy to amplify this.

Related Links

See also the PCS statement: Stop Bullying Disabled Claimants

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