Tag Archive | poverty

The Reality of Welfare Reform

When I first started on disability research, I just saw the numbers. I saw that 40% of ESA claimants told they are fit to work then appeal that decision, and most of them win. I saw that nurses under-award points for people with physical health conditions, and physiotherapists under-award points for people with mental health conditions. I saw that most assessments are carried out by either nurses or physiotherapists. I saw that decision makers are not consistent in the accuracy or quality of the decisions they make.

In all of this I saw the fear and the stress for ill people going through an assessment process that they knew to be inaccurate. I saw people calling for, and suggesting, improvements to the assessment process that could make it more accurate. I saw the government say that it accepts recommendations from the independent review, and then either not carry them out or carry them out so poorly that they brought little, if any, improvement.

With my head concentrating on figures I started to become numb to the reality. I forgot how shocking the statistics – the real ones – and the stories are. I told a friend that fraud in the disability benefits is less than half of a per cent, and was amazed at how surprised she was.

So then I started to read some stories. I read about people who cannot afford to put glass back into their broken windows and whose houses are falling into disrepair. I read about people being evicted from their homes. I read about people having cooked meals once every other day, eating bread in between. I read about people skipping medicine because it had to be taken with food and they didn’t any. I read about people having to fund-raise for equipment they need that their local authority won’t provide.

It made me think. I’m middle class so I haven’t seen much of the grinding effects of poverty before. I’ve spoken with people who think benefits are adequate and there isn’t a problem. But I’m seeing the problem now; I know people who are struggling; I’m seeing what happens when there isn’t enough money and there isn’t enough health. I’m seeing the despair.

I’m seeing the effects of the government deciding that people who may return to work from sickness benefits should receive benefit for only one year, even though the majority are still too ill to work at that point. I’m seeing the effects of the government deciding that people under 35 can live in shared accommodation, and thus reducing the housing benefit, without considering the health needs of these people. I’m seeing the effects of the government deciding that people should be charged for under-occupying, even though the under-occupation is this and past government’s fault for not building enough social housing.

And there are so many more cuts and changes. Benefits aren’t being uprated in line with inflation, wages, food or fuel. The Independent Living Fund has been closed. Council Tax Benefit is being reduced. Disability Living Allowance is being replaced with a benefit that ministers knew in advance would cut 20% off the money going to disabled people.

People have ended their lives. People are going without food and medicine. People are becoming homeless.

And this is because of the changes this government is making.

We need to realise what is going on. We need to get angry about what is being done, and let the government know this is not what we want. We need to start protecting those who are sick from extra poverty and stress, and stop listening to the unfounded scrounger rhetoric.

Don’t let the government get away with this. There is still time to make changes that will work, but the government needs to know that we want them. We can stop people dying of despair, losing their homes or becoming even more ill. But we need to let the government know.


Welfarism and Capitalism

Today in The Telegraph, Mark Field[1] wrote about the sense of ‘welfare entitlement’ pervasive in the British public.  He implied that the welfare bill is a fundamental factor behind the start and continuation of the recession.  He all but said that the welfare bill has to be cut, and cites this misguided culture of entitlement as the reason.


“The real calamity to which the minds of the political class will soon be forced to turn is the unaffordability of our ever-growing welfare state.

Despite news of unprecedented austerity and savage public sector cuts, the government is still borrowing £1 in every £5 we collectively spend. “

Field deliberately writes these two sentences in conjunction to imply that the welfare bill is the reason why the government is still borrowing.   Rachel Reeves, shadow secretary for the Treasury, has a different view on why the government is still borrowing: “As we consistently warned, if you choke off the recovery and push the economy into recession, the government ends up having to borrowing more not less.”  James Knightley, an economist at ING Bank, said, “It appears that the main problem was with income tax receipts, which were down 7.3% year on year in April/May on the same period last year.”[2]  This was corroborated by Vicky Redwood, UK analyst at Capital Economic.

An economics blog lists eight possible factors that could be blamed for the recession.[3]    Indeed, the blog even cites government cuts as the biggest factor.  Cuts to welfare spending is equivalent to reduced real wages for those who cannot work, whether that is because of a poor job market or disability.  Maybe it is not the size of the welfare bill that is the problem but the cuts that are being made to it.

So let’s stop blaming the welfare bill for the recession.


“Prospective reformers’ biggest headache is that this addiction to the welfare state extends well beyond the work-shy and benefits scroungers of tabloid lore… Created as a reward for the collective national effort in winning the Second World War, the original purpose of our welfare state has been subverted as the UK has become ever richer. Nowadays even well-off Britons regard as an absolute entitlement nursery vouchers for children; living allowance for any disabled relatives; health visitors and carers for the sick, not to mention the benefit gratis of the services of a vast array of local government employees. Meanwhile even the very richest are entitled as a matter of course to free bus travel, substantial rail discounts, winter fuel allowance and free TV licences merely by reaching a certain age.”

The welfare state was not created as a ‘reward.’  It was created in response to the recognition that lack of access to healthcare meant that many sick people could not recover and so return to work.  It was created in the recognition that some people can never contribute to society through paid work.  It was created to ensure that no-one would be driven into poverty through loss of health or, for women, loss of a working spouse.   It was created because National Insurance, by pooling risk, is the best way to provide insurance against unpredictable and costly risks.

Maybe some people don’t need child benefit.  Maybe some pensioners don’t need free TV licenses and bus passes.  Maybe some disabled people have very rich relatives who can cover the cost of their care.

But don’t start talking about entitlements unless you are also willing to talk about what created the need for these benefits: insufficient jobs for the number of working-age adults; businesses not paying a minimum living wage; employers unwilling to take on workers who health makes the quality and quantity of their work unpredictable; too few affordable houses.

Pensioners are the only group for whom means-tested benefits are sufficient to reach the Minimum Income Standard.  Their non-means tested benefits cannot be touched, because Cameron promised that he wouldn’t.     No-one else can receive enough in benefits for a decent standard of life.  This culture of ‘entitlement’, when used to refer to the poor, is bemusing.  Entitled to poverty?


We have a right to health and well-being.  However much it costs, however much the currently healthy and rich protest, however many luxuries we have to cut and however many MPs have to bring their own bottles of water when they go in to work – if something can be done to ensure a minimum living standard, an adequate quality of life, for a person who is too ill to earn enough to support themselves, that something should be done.  It is not acceptable that in one of the richest countries in the world we are seriously talking about cutting the support of the vulnerable.  Sue Marsh, a disabled rights campaigner, went bankrupt in the 19 months it took her to get the DLA to which she was entitled.  How many more people, already suffering from chronic ill-health, do we think it is okay to also subject to poverty?  How many of us would accept cuts to NHS cancer treatment, just because it’s expensive?

We should let roads fill with potholes before we block the right to health and well-being.  Maybe we should reduce public sector pensions before we refuse to help those who are unable to help themselves.  We could even raise taxes to ask the wealthy to help the poor, rather than say to those who are sick that their sense of ‘entitlement’ is ‘wrong’ so we will stop their support.


Welfare was created so that the poor would never be penalised for the misfortune of being poor.  It’s time we remembered that.

Troubled Families

I was going to write only one post a week on disability and welfare, because the concentration and typing do make me worse, in terms of pain and fatigue.  But Ms Odone’s article in the Telegraph today has annoyed me so much that I have to write something, otherwise I will just end up ranting to every poor person I talk to this evening.

“But a social worker on the sofa is of little use to an unemployed alcoholic who’s been claiming disability benefits for years – or a single mother who has had three children by the time she’s 20, never held a job, and is now crippled with depression.”  Now I would have said one of the most important things is to listen before you act.  If you don’t know whats going on, how can you know what will help?

I was also very intrigued by the different conclusions made from what defines a troubled family.  For Ms Odone, its clearly the state that is the problem.  Ms Williams, writing in the Guardian, reaches the opposite conclusion – that the problem is poverty.  I look at the seven criteria and see: poverty, poverty, poverty, low education, health problem, health problem, and poverty.  Health problems, especially mental health, can be made worse and are more likely when a person is in poverty.

Ms Odone says that it is possible to get more on unemployment benefit than in a job.  This is also misleading, given that a person on a low income also receives benefits.  Whilst the income itself might not match that of full out-of-work benefits, the combination of a low-paid job and in-work benefits is better.

Ms Odone comments on millions being lost to disability fraud.  Which is true.  But she has taken it out of context, and the context is a society where many people have debilitating conditions that make their lives more expensive.  It is a natural consequence of any test that there will be some false positive (fraud) and some false negative (those wrongly denied help).  With false positives at 0.5%, it is vastly more important to the welfare of millions of people that the government starts focussing on bringing down the flase negative rate.

Finally, Ms Odone argues that the cap on benefits is already getting people back into work.  My previous post explains why this is misleading to the point of being untrue.