Socialist Worker

Attacks on incapacity benefit hit most vulnerable

by Viv Smith
Issue No. 2208

Sick and disabled people face a new round of punitive testing and assessment—and many will be forced to look for work that is not suitable for them.

The Tories believe they can claw back billions of pounds by driving some of the country’s poorest and most vulnerable people from incapacity benefit to cheaper benefits.

Incapacity benefit can be £91.40 a week, but the Tories want to shift people onto Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA). The basic rate of JSA is just £65.45.

Colin Hampton is the coordinator of Derbyshire Unemployed Workers’ Centres.

He told Socialist Worker, “The British benefits system is already one of the worst in western Europe. And now the government is going to make it much worse.

Lost

“New Labour moved most incapacity benefit claimants onto Employment and Support Allowance (ESA). This meant that 60 percent of people lost over £25 per week.”

The Tory government wants to go much further.

“It is so obvious that we have just had a budget presented for millionaires by millionaires”, said Colin.

Tory Chancellor George Osborne is now accelerating the rate at which claimants are re-assessed in order to get a million people off incapacity benefit in three years.

The government already tests 10,000 claimants a week, with vicious results.

A Citizens Advice Bureau report found that many clients with serious conditions are being found fit for work, including clients with Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, terminal cancer, bipolar disorder, heart failure, strokes, and agoraphobia.

The assessments look for the slightest evidence of any “ability to work”. Sometimes scant attention is paid to the most basic details.

One medical report read, “customer moved toes on right foot up and down without problem”. This was cut and pasted from the details on the left foot. However, the “customer” had no toes on his right foot.

“A private firm called Atos Origin is doing the medical testing to fulfil the Tory plan to move all existing claimants onto ESA” said Colin.

“People would do a job if there was one they could do within their health boundaries.

“But in an economy where there are so few jobs and employers can be discriminatory, it is very difficult.

“Yet they continue to spin this lie that there is a job waiting for you.”

Derbyshire Unemployed Workers’ Centres has launched a campaign where people write to the chancellor to ask how he expects them to survive with more cuts.

Disabled

“One such man is a former welder who has been disabled by his job,” Colin said. “He failed his ESA test so now he only gets £65 a week.

“After his essential outgoings like rent he was left with about £10 a week to spend on household necessities and food.

“His doctor has had to prescribe food supplements because he wasn’t eating enough.

“You would think the budget deficit was caused by the sick, disabled, lone parents and low paid public sector workers.

“We expected this—the Tories act like the most despicable playground bully. Instead of standing up to those who caused the problem they find it easier to give the poor and low paid a kicking.

“But within the unemployed workers’ movement there is a stirring—we are holding meetings through the summer to pull people together who are affected by the cuts to discuss fighting back.”

The poorest everywhere are being targeted by the cuts—but united action can stop the Tories.


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