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Fury at Blair’s mean and nasty plan

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Issue 1757

Government attack on Incapacity Benefit

Fury at Blair’s mean and nasty plan

By Helen Shooter

“THEY ARE calling disabled people scroungers, yet those MPs have voted themselves a pay rise and then gone off on holiday for three months. I’m spitting blood I’m so angry.”

That was the furious reaction of disabled rights campaigner Anne Stevens Bevan to New Labour’s new assault on people with disabilities. The government wants to force people claiming Incapacity Benefit to take tough and repeated tests to prove they are too ill to work. The move parallels the way New Labour launched an attack on disabled benefits early in its first term in office.

The outcry last week from Labour MPs and disabled rights groups forced the government to say it would restrict its latest attack to new claimants. But this is small comfort to the millions of people who will still face the new tests.

Blair claimed the typical disabled person is “receiving 4,000 a year for 10, 15, 20 years with no one ever checking if they have recovered from their injury”. What an insult as Blair was pocketing a 40 percent pay rise for himself, taking his income to 163,418 a year.

And what hypocrisy as MPs were giving themselves a 4,000 pay rise. Yet Blair begrudges giving this amount per year to live on to people with disabilities and injuries who are unable to work as a result. Disabled people are already some of the poorest in society. Some 60 percent of people with disabilities who also have children live below the poverty line of half average earnings, a report last year by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation found.

The top rate of Incapacity Benefit is now 69.75 a week. Those who fail New Labour’s new tests will have their Incapacity Benefit cut and be forced to live off as little as 52.20 a week on Income Support or Jobseeker’s Allowance.

“I THINK what the government is doing is bloody dreadful. People with disabilities can have good days and bad days. I have what is called a slight disability, and then I got whiplash in a car accident in 1999. Some days it’s not too bad. On others I can hardly lift my head. They are closing two Ericsson factories, including the one where I work in Carlton in Lindrick, which is in north Nottinghamshire. Around 1,000 workers will lose their jobs. My job’s as a manufacturing technician. I worry if I’ll get another job. Technically employers shouldn’t discriminate against disabled people, but there are a lot of loopholes and I have faced discrimination before.”


Work’s painful toll

AREAS WHERE industry has been decimated often have more people claiming Incapacity Benefit. Manufacturing industry, steelworks and the mines have been shut, throwing tens of thousands out of work.

Many of those made unemployed were left with out of date skills and health ruined by years of backbreaking work. They had little chance of getting another job.

A quarter of men over 60 claim Incapacity Benefit, double the level of 20 years ago. The bulk of the rise happened between 1981 and 1991 as the Tories presided over massive job cuts in heavy industry. The Tories were happy for some unemployed people to be categorised as disabled at the time. It could make the havoc their policies had caused look a little less grim.

The people on Incapacity Benefit are not “workshy” or scroungers. They have injuries and disabilities from years of backbreaking work. They are people like Edna Greenwood, who worked for 18 years as a seamstress in a textile factory in her hometown of Nelson in Lancashire. “I got repetitive strain injury through my job. I had to give up work after I got problems with my neck,” she explained. “Then I had a car accident and injured my back. I’ve been on Incapacity Benefit since 1992. I had to go through the all-work test in 1999. I couldn’t walk properly, stand up or sit down for any length of time. But they cancelled my benefits. The money I was on almost halved. I appealed against the decision and I was lucky I got my money back. I used to be a GMB shop steward in the factory and I refused to be intimidated. But I was still pretty frightened. My friend also worked in the factory and has a bad neck. She says the thought of having to prove she is incapable makes her ill. When I was a shop steward I did a survey of the 180 women in the factory-all of them had some problem with lower back pain from sitting still for so long. They kept working because they had to. When the factory closed down the number of claims for sick benefits soared because they felt they could finally give in to the pain they felt.”

“A MAN who had been given artificial limbs was told he wasn’t disabled any more. You have to fight to get any benefits and then you have to fight to keep them. We are fighting this government. I would encourage others to protest because they are treating disabled people like animals.”


What is plan?

IN ITS first term in office the New Labour government introduced the “all work” test. That meant it could tell someone that it was no longer good enough that their own doctor said they had a disability.

Instead the government could randomly summon people in. If disabled people were judged capable of performing certain tasks all their benefits could be taken away.

The government’s new attack is to make these kind of degrading tests compulsory for all new claimants every three years.

A false distinction

THE government wants to distinguish between what it would label “real” disabled people, who it says deserve benefits, and the “workshy” and “scroungers” who need to be pushed off benefit and into work.

This is a bit rich coming from a government which has systematically attacked the rights and benefits of those it labels “real” disabled. It is also a cheek coming from a government which stands by and does nothing as companies slash jobs and throw people out of work. And the distinction it wants to make is a nonsense.

The people the government is attacking have real disabilities or injuries which make work painful or impossible. Over half the people who claim Incapacity Benefit are men over the age of 50 with physical problems like back injuries, heart disease and arthritis, or mental health problems mainly connected with stress and depression. New Labour aims to save money by labelling these people “bogus” and robbing them of benefits they are entitled to.

It wants to force these people to join the scrum for low paid jobs with long hours and few rights.

Rights for disabled people-protest against the government’s attacks

Monday 16 July, 12 noon, Westminster Abbey, central London 

Called by the Direct Action Network

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