Socialist Worker

Incapacity benefit plans will take things back to the 1980s

by Yuri Prasad
Issue No. 2204

People who claim benefits face a vicious attack. The Tories want to move them on to ever-cheaper allowances, “job creation schemes” and into low paid work.

Work and pensions secretary Iain Duncan Smith last week singled out millions of people with long-term illnesses for attack.

He wants to transfer as many of them as possible on to the cheaper Jobseeker’s Allowance, by forcing them to undergo new medical assessments.

“People on incapacity benefits already have to jump through hoops just to get enough money to live in poverty,” says Stuart Horton, a former rail worker from Derbyshire who has been unfit for work since the mid-1980s.

“The Tories talk about claimants as though they are shirkers. That’s the language of the ‘undeserving poor’ that came out of the recessions of the 1930s and 1980s.

“The truth is that most people on incapacity benefit would like to be able to work. They’d like the sense of community and solidarity that comes with having a job.

“But since Margaret Thatcher’s wrecking government of the 1980s decent jobs have been few and far between in former mining areas like mine.

“Often there are hundreds of applicants for every one going, and if you’ve got any kind of disability, then you’ve not got a chance.”


Stuart has little time for the Tories’ claims that their aim is to lift people out of poverty by “reforming” the system.

“Those people decimated my community,” he says.

“They destroyed all the industries, and with them the jobs that paid decent money.

“Millions of people, including a lot of my friends, had their health destroyed by years of unemployment under Thatcher.

“Now they are pretending that they are our friends. Well, they’re not mine.

“As the jobs went, our sense of community went too. And that’s when the problems with drugs really started.

“Now I look at the future for our young people with a sense of pity. All they are being offered are short-term contracts, part-time jobs, and terrible low pay.

“If they choose not to accept that, and stay on the dole, they are told that they are scroungers.

“All of this from people who would not know how to live on less that £60 a day, let alone £60 a week.

“And poverty is worse for people with a disability.

“It was my birthday recently and I had a party. But a lot of my friends from nearby villages and towns couldn’t come—they couldn’t afford cab fares to get there and back.”

Stuart says that there are solutions to the problems of unemployment, but we shouldn’t expect them to come from the government.

“We need decent pay, a shorter working week and an earlier retirement age.

“That would mean that many of those who are currently without work could find something that fits their needs.

“I think that things are going backwards to the 1980s. It makes me bitter to think that the very people who wrecked our society are back in charge.

“We need to bring claimants and workers together to stand up to them.”

Living on peanuts

  • Incapacity Benefit: £91.40 per week—standard rate, long-term
  • Employment Support Allowance: £65.45 per week—single person aged 25 or over
  • Jobseeker’s Allowance: £65.45 per week—single person aged 25 or over

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Article information

Tue 1 Jun 2010, 18:54 BST
Issue No. 2204
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