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Condemn the Con-Dem Government Changes to Incapacity Benefit 19/10/2010

Posted by pcsdwpsheffield in Uncategorized.

Last week the government coalition announced changes to the medical assessment for Incapacity Benefit in a pilot scheme to be run first in Aberdeen and Burnley to ‘test the waters’ with a small number of Jobcentre Plus ‘customers’ first of all.

The implications of these changes are alarming – all affected I.B. claimants will now have to attend a meeting to assess their capability to work in line with what is known as the ‘fit note’ regime. The right wing press would have us believe that this is only fair, as only those ‘deserving’ enough should be allowed to claim disability related benefits (also including Disability Living Allowance and Employment and Support Allowance among others). They would also have us believe that claiming a disability related benefit is the easiest thing on earth, and that one just has to walk into a Medical Assessment centre and say ‘I’m sick’, and thousands of pounds will drop into their bank account every month.

Perhaps if the existing or proposed assessment processes were fit for purposes, this would be less alarming. Whilst personal politics and the general politics of many trade unionists (that people should not be forced into exploitative work in general) deplore a lot of the benefits system, on a more shallow level the medical assessments for Incapacity Benefit (or ‘IB’ as we call it) are vastly unfit for purpose.

Inadequately trained medical ‘experts’ employed by private company Atos through the DWP have a bit of a reputation for getting things wrong, you see. Testimony from DWP staff working with IB customers, or those customers themselves, could tell you in an instant a number of horror stories about people being declared fit for work where they are clearly not. Stories of people being asked questions like ‘can you walk 100 metres without pain or discomfort’, and answering ‘no’, and actually seeing the physician tick ‘yes’ on the form is just one of many frequently reported errors that lead the disabled, mentally impaired, and terminally ill to be declared fit to go out and look for work. Even more absurdly is the case of a man whose employer used Atos to assess him for capability to work, who subsequently certificated him as unfit and suitable for medical retirement. After this retirement he attended a meeting with Atos through the DWP in order to claim Employment and Support Allowance (the new replacement for IB), who declared him fit for work. This, within a matter of weeks of the first interview.

Disability and unemployed workers’ rights groups come across thousands of cases similar to those above, and yet due to the class bias of the press (against the poor), these things are never reported. Instead we get the occasional shock case of a ‘benefit scrounger’ who has worked in a highly paid position whilst claiming benefits. These are wildly overstated and are overtaken in the thousands by those left destitute by harsh and clearly incorrect decisions on disability benefits.

In addition, these mistakes are simply not being taken up. The claimant must go through the slow and arduous appeal process, all the time with no access to funds except through the highly inadequate, underfunded and humiliating Crisis Loan payments system (which requires people to go into debt, paying it back from their benefits). Conversely, if the claimant makes a mistake in their application they can be subject to fraud investigation or sanctions. Does this seem fair?

It is clear that the whole of the existing welfare provision is far from fit for purpose. This is worrying enough even without the new proposals, and the likely brutal cuts to be announced in this week’s spending review. It is often the case that those who are the victims of these discriminatory and bureacratic systems are the least likely to speak up for a number of reasons. This is where the labour movement comes in. It is high time that service providers and services users united through campaigning and action to oppose cuts to the welfare state and to improve the unnacceptable systems we already have.

This is not a pipe dream, it can be a realistic target through local anti-cuts committees consisting of trade unionists, activists, service users, and other interested groups. Our branch is proposing this and there will an organising meeting (dates tbc) in November. We urge all interested parties to attend and join us in opposing the cuts, and this offensive against the most vulnerable in our society.

Rosie Huzzard, Branch Officer

Please see these articles for more information on the changes to IB and the existing benefits systems.





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