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The Tories Are Fighting A War Against State Dependency, Not The Disabled

ATOS Kills - Birmingham Against The Cuts - DWP - Welfare Reform

Opposition to the Conservative government’s welfare reforms are high on hyperbole and outrage, but tellingly low on alternative proposals

To listen to many voices on the Left is to be told that we live in a uniquely heartless and uncaring age, where living standards are being deliberately driven to unprecedented lows by the deliberate actions of a government which is not just wrong, but actually evil.

Here’s Laurie Penny in the New Statesman, pouring scorn on the very thought of verifying that claims for sickness and disability benefit are genuine:

I should say “fitness tests”, because nobody gets to be sick any longer under Iain Duncan Smith (so good at rebranding ideological cuts that they named him twice, once for each face). Navigating this system is humiliating enough for disabled people without them being lied to every step of the way. If the DWP would just come out and say that it doesn’t believe the state should help people who are ill, disabled or injured, it would somehow be more bearable. At least people would know where it stood. But the stated aim of the welfare changes is to “get people working”, because: “Work is the best route out of poverty.”

And here’s the Green Party’s Jonathan Bartley, churning out the latest conventional left-wing thinking over at Left Foot Forward:

For IDS it is now clear that disability is not something to be embraced, let alone celebrated as part of the diversity which makes us all stronger. Disability is an aberration. It is a problem which needs to be fixed.

And if those who are different get the right therapy, or where necessary they are sanctioned, they can be pushed into the workplace to become like ‘normal’ people.

Left-wing opposition to Tory welfare reforms has now become so reflexive and so unthinking that encouraging people to work and be economically self sufficient – with all the freedom that it brings – is now actively seen as a bad thing.

Britain is now such a “diverse” country that it apparently contains a large bloc of people for whom any kind of work is permanently impossible to contemplate, and for whom any attempt to help or encourage them away from dependence on benefits (thus protecting them from vulnerability to future policy and benefit changes) is seen as an unconscionable assault on their “human rights”.

This is dangerous, hyperbolic nonsense.

You can look at Iain Duncan Smith’s welfare reforms and think them completely wrong and counterproductive. That’s fine – but it is then incumbent on you to suggest an alternative. Wailing and breast-beating about the inhumanity of the Evil Tories is not enough if you want to be part of the grown-up debate. If these welfare reforms are bad, what welfare reforms would be good? Or had the British welfare system reached a state of benevolent, humane perfection before Labour were booted out of office in 2010?

Assuming that the answer to that last question is “no”, critics of the Conservative Party should then outline the kind of welfare system that they would like to see, one that puts the current flawed system to shame. Presumably there would be no checks of any kind carried out on ESA or JSA claims, and no ongoing interviews or assessments either – rather, the system would operate on a a “goodwill” basis, since all of the real-world examples of people gaming the system are nothing more than Evil Tory propaganda. And presumably the financial disbursements themselves would be much greater, with each claimant receiving more benefits from the state.

Is this to be the Left’s response to Iain Duncan Smith? Because it is a very poor showing, if so. If increasing the threshold for eligibility and making the  applications process more rigorous is an assault on the human rights of the disabled and the unemployed, the Left must be full of good ideas for achieving the same ends – eliminating the welfare trap and encouraging self sufficiency – in a more humane way.

Since they are making so much noise about Tory welfare reforms, the Left must be bubbling over with creative ways for the state to help the disadvantaged, the sick and the disabled to become self-sufficient and financially free of dependence on the government. They must be sitting on folders and folders of great policy ideas, just waiting for the day when they seize back power at Westminster.

Unless they actually like the idea of people being permanently dependent on the state. Which in fact, sadly, they do.

ATOS Kills The Poor - DWP - Iain Duncan Smith - Welfare Reform

And that’s the real reason for the ferocious response to the Conservative government’s welfare reforms. Individual cases of benefits being inappropriately sanctioned or valid applications being wrongly denied are terrible, of course, particularly where they lead to real human suffering. But this is a problem of bureaucratic administration, not of ideology. We could eliminate these wrong decisions by accepting every application on good faith, but let’s not pretend that there will be no negative behavioural consequences to such a policy. And of course, the cost to the taxpayer – the people who actually pay for the welfare state – would increase exponentially.

But that’s just fine, according to many on the Left. Because to demand any form of supporting evidence before approving a claim on the income of other taxpayers is not seen as good stewardship of the public finances, but rather as an entirely excessive and unreasonable expectation. And that largely comes down to the way that the Left view the state.

When you expect the state to be an auxiliary parent to every one of its citizens, as many on the Left now do, you naturally then want that familial relationship to be warm and generous. But the government is not our third parent. We have a duty to care for our neighbour, yes, but the responsibility we have to help the disadvantaged and the sick or disabled does not extend to writing a blank check from the taxpayer to an unreformed, broken welfare system.

But the Left see it otherwise. The idea of family members requiring proof or setting conditions before helping one another is absurd, and because they see the relationship between the state and the citizen as an almost parent-child relationship, any attempt to add structure or verification to this process is seen not as a well-meaning (but inevitably flawed) attempt at helping people, but rather as a perversion of nature itself. Not every member of most families will be economically self-sufficient for their entire adult life, which is fine. But the Left presume to extend this attitude to whole households, forcing the taxpayer to fund a level of indulgence to strangers that most people would only want to extend to their own relatives.

Could that be why the Left is so high on moral outrage and so low on alternative solutions? It’s very easy to stand on the sidelines throwing rocks at the Evil Tories as they try to govern in the interests of everyone – taxpayers and benefit claimants alike. It’s easy to flaunt your virtue and compassion credentials by coming up with ever ruder remarks about Iain Duncan Smith. What’s difficult – and what exposes you to critical analysis and potential disagreement – is proposing something different.

From the nature of the Left’s response to Tory welfare reforms, we can deduce that they would prefer a welfare system which takes all applications on good faith and pays out more money to each benefit claimant. But they will not admit this publicly – they will not own this position and stand by it in the face of inevitable criticism. And so they dance around the subject, claiming that attempts to reform welfare are an assault on the human rights of the vulnerable.

Fortunately, this may all be about to change. With Jeremy Corbyn on the verge of being elected as the next leader of the Labour Party, the Left (and many others, this blog included) are busy rejoicing at the return of conviction politics, and a new age where sticking to your principles and telling the electorate what you really think – persuasion rather than flattery – is more important than the grubby work of centrist political compromise.

So in the spirit of this socialist revival, let’s have it: what does the Left’s ideal welfare state actually look like? Is helping people to become financially and physically independent one of the main goals, or is the plan to encourage permanent dependency and reliance on the state.

And just out of curiosity, how much will it cost us?

Iain Duncan Smith - DWP

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42 responses

  1. I’m a disabled person. I have always worked until 2010, when I became to ill to work. I am an educated person with a degree and Masters. I am not “dependent” on welfare. I am genuinely unable to work. My first assessment said otherwise, and I appealed. The tribunal had already made their decision based on my doctor’s evidence and information before I had arrived, and informed me that I was unfit for work. The second assessment was three months after I had won my tribunal. I had the second assessment recorded, because the report from the first wasn’t only inaccurate, it actually lied. However I also got a very decent assessor the second time. He told me I was unfit for work and would recommend I was placed in the support group. I miss my job – I worked with young people with mental health problems – I miss the income of course. I have never been so poor. But I have paid tax and national insurance for years and became seriously ill through no fault of my own. I have lupus, an autoimmune illness that affects my joints, heart, circulation, blood – I have a bleeding disorder which is sometimes life threatening – nerves, which is excrutiatingly painful, including my optic nerves, and adrenal glands, along with other problems. My treatment is also life-threatening. My immunity is already compromised by the illness, and I get frequent bouts of pleurisy and pneumonia, severe kidney infections and abscesses in fingers and so on because I am so susceptible to infection. But I also take chemotherapy injections – methotrexate – and another immunosuppressant to keep me alive, but that also leaves me very vulnerable to infections – coughs and colds quickly end up becoming pneumonia, so I have to avoid coming into contact where I can.

    Governments don’t “allow” disability to get “too high”. People are either disabled or they aren’t. No amount of “incentives” will permit me to work safely. I am not “dependent” on welfare, I hate having to live this way. But having paid in, I think when something like this happens, people should have enough to live on.

    I had two friends with chronic illness. They were passed as fit for work and their sick benefit was stopped. Both died within two weeks of that happening. Because stress exacerbates chronic illness. And because they clearly were not fit for work.

    The bottom line is this. We are a wealthy country. We allow wealthy people to pay reduced taxes or none at all. But we resent sick and disabled people having enough to meet basic needs. That’s pretty uncivilised. People are dying as a result of discrimination and petty, vindictive prejudiced views like yours. That is tyrany. I don’t need you or anyone else to tell me this government is acting in our best interests when I KNOW that people are dying as a consequence of tory policies. You may think that’s ok. I don’t. I think it’s monstrous.

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    • Many thanks for reading and taking the time to comment. However, I note that you didn’t refute a single one of my points. The anecdotes which you shared from personal experience are very moving, and certainly show that the workplace capability assessments are sometimes calibrated and administered poorly, leading to outrageous outcomes. But that is a condemnation of how the assessments are administered, not the idea of assessments themselves. I don’t necessarily think that the current WCAs are the right approach, but just because a system that deals with millions of people sometimes makes a small number of devastating mistakes does not render the purpose behind them void.

      Similarly, I agree that those in genuine need – such as yourself – should receive a much more substantial amount allowing them to live in reasonable comfort and dignity. In some cases, this may involve significantly higher payments. But it is only possible to do this in a revenue-neutral way by identifying those who are capable of returning to work and incentivising them to do so, harshly where necessary.

      I can share personal anecdotes too – friends and acquaintances who have happily lived day to day on JSA or ESA without looking for work, for no good reason. I don’t claim that these are representative of all benefit claimants, just as I do not believe that all cases are as worthy as the anecdotes which you cite. The reality is a messy combination of different degrees of legitimacy.

      The problem is that it becomes impossible to reform welfare or make policy when small measures to tweak eligibility provoke cries of “human rights abuses” from people like you. This outraged attitude creates a political environment where it becomes impossible for politicians to make sober, long-term decisions for the benefit of genuine benefit recipients and current taxpayers alike. Calling it “tyranny” is hyperbole of the worst and most irresponsible sort.

      If you think the Tory welfare reform plans are bad (and I would agree to a large extent), then propose your own. How do we ensure that genuine claimants can receive enough to live on with dignity while preventing abuse of the system and ensuring that people move quickly back to work when their medical circumstances change? I’ve blogged about some of my own favoured ideas, but all I ever seem to hear from the Left is a cacophany of outrage and insults, cries of “Evil Tory Scum” or ridiculous comparisons with Hitler. It’s not helpful.

      I can’t help but think you read my piece determined to be outraged and offended by it, rather than keeping an open or constructive mind.

      Also, while you may claim to know people who have died “as a consequence of tory policies”, I know people whose lives have been blighted, ruined and in some cases prematurely ended by the culture of dependency and non-aspiration caused by a previous Labour government that was happy to park people on benefits and forget about them. So don’t think for a second that any one political party has a monopoly on virtue, or that chucking more money at an unreformed system will save any more lives than it snuffs out.

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      • How dare you make assumptions about me. I haven’t once claimed the Tories are “evil scum”. And how dare you casually dismiss people dying as a result of policy as “trivial” and even acceptable. Also, how dare you dismiss people who need welfare support as “dependent” and somehow contributing to a faulty “culture”. Sick and disabled people are dying because their lifeline benefit that was designed to meet basic needs is being withdrawn because of people who think like you. People who cannot work because they are too ill are NOT “victims of a culture of dependency”, they are simply too ill to work. Most like me HAVE worked and contributed, however.

        This did not happen under the last Labour government, nor were the increased mortality statistics an issue back then. It’s simple, really. People need sufficient money to meet their basic survival needs. Currently, those on jobseekers allowance get no more than £74 a week. They no longer get full housing benefit or council tax benefit, but the cost of living has increased a lot over the past 5 years.

        Empirical evidence for a “culture of dependency” does not exist. It’s just a convenient scapegoating tactic for a government that has always been ideologically inclined to disliked welfare. Basically those people claiming unemployment benefit from year to year are not the same people on the whole. Most move in and out of work throughout their lives, and usually low paid and insecure work. That’s why the bulk of claimants are actually those who don’t earn enough to afford to live, rather than people with no work at all. Recent academic studies at an international level debunk the myth of “dependency” completely. It’s nonsense. Those countries that provide adequate safety nets also find that people take up work more readily than in places that don’t provide welfare. Our own welfare state arose in part because during the war, many men were found to be physically unfit to be soldiers because of the effects of poverty.

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        • I made no more assumptions about you than you made about me, so maybe try to tone down the hysterical outrage.

          Again, I don’t think you read a single word I wrote, but rather went off on a pre-scripted rant of your own. People who depend on government benefits for their living costs are, by definition, dependent. I’m not employing verbal tricks here, it’s a pretty cast iron definition and a fact, not a value judgement.

          I never trivialised the deaths of anyone, I simply pointed out that throwing money at the welfare system kills people just as surely as misguided or misapplied government policy.

          And again, I note that you didn’t propose a single rebuttal to the point in my article, or offer any solutions of your own to the current problems with welfare.

          You think that if you immediately double the benefit payments of everyone currently claiming any kind of welfare and you will see a dramatic reduction in the number of claimants? You’re living in a left wing fantasy land. And if you don’t simply propose chucking more money at the existing system, what would you do with the welfare system?

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      • Also, you need to educate yourself about why human rights arose, and what they actually serve to protect. They were designed to protect citizens from the tyrany of governments, following the atrocities of WW2 – particularly the Holocaust and Stalinism. Churchill, amongst others, was an advocate of the UN Declaration of Human Rights for the very reasons I’ve spelt out. You discuss them as if they are a bad thing. They aren’t. And the fact is that the Conservatives HAVE breached the human rights of disabled people, women and children too. Those are protective rights and we are supposed to be a first world liberal democracy. So the government’s breaches are particualrly shameful.

        As for the nazi comparisons, well that trivialises the Holocaust. However, if you look at this from another angle – through comparing ideology – then there are parallels. Scapegoating social groups and the social growth of prejudice and discrimination, as identified by psychologist Gordon Allport, for example, is a useful scale to use. Justifying the withdrawal of people’s lifeline benefit so that they starve because they are too ill to cope is shameful

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        • I’m aware of the origin of human rights. Just because I disagree with your philosophy does not mean that I’m somehow uneducated. Are you not capable of understanding that?

          Just because it happened in the aftermath of WW2 and Churchill signed off on it, does NOT make it good policy. You’ll note that among the many rights enshrined in the ECHR, there is no solid right to property – that’s because the whole thing is a messy compromise with a bunch of countries who weren’t too hot on the idea of private property. To hold up the UN Declaration or ECHR as some pinnacle of enlightened civilisation is ridiculous.

          Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness – that’s all you need, when properly codified in a written constitution. I don’t need some busybody activist court watching over my “right to a family life” or any of this bureaucratic folderol. It’s a waste of time.

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  2. Pingback: The Hysterical Left Don’t Know The Meaning Of Human Rights « Semi-Partisan Politics

  3. ‘hysterical moral grandstanding’? Just remind us, who is it that is arrogant enough to think the world is in such need of their take on things that they feel the need to write an opinionated blog?

    You by any chance?

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    • Ah yes. Because the right thing to do if you want to change the country is to sit in silence, hoping that your favoured policies will quietly achieve themselves without anyone advocating them, right? The difference between me and you is that I don’t go around telling people who think differently to me that they are evil. I am able to disagree, often forcefully, without seeing the world in black and white in this simplistic way. Even if you were 100% right on all the issues – and Lord knows you are not – your puritanical, moralising tactics would still doom you to failure.

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  4. It appears as though you attended the same Josef Goebbels school of government communications as Duncan-Smith. The most hyperbolic nonsense I have yet read on this topic is your biased rant. All of the evidence – even government statistics themselves support the campaign of ‘hyperbole and outrage that seems to have you so irate.

    While some will obviously seek to gain political advantage from opposing the government’s genocidal campaign against the poor, the sick and – like me – the disabled, perhaps you should consider that most of those opposing actually have a social conscience.

    Unlike you, apparently.

    Hyperbolic enough for you?

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    • You got me! Yeah, IDS and I were at that Nazi workshop together, cooking up new ways to demonise and persecute society’s most vulnerable people. What can I say, it just really revs my engine to be evil.

      Of course, it couldn’t be that we conservatives just believe that a welfare state which is smaller, more discriminating and (yes) more generous to those in real need is the right pathway to a better society. Far easier to just carry on believing that we are all evil, and that you have a monopoly on wisdom and compassion.

      Thanks for the hysterical moral grandstanding, I always enjoy it.

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  5. Although there is a grain of justification in your complaint that anti-DWP protesters are short on constructive suggestions, that does not mean you are right to defend the government’s policies. ‘Bureaucratic (Mal)administration’ my foot. Ideological malevolence informs policy at every level. To do no more than put the clock back to 2010 would be a tremendous improvement.
    But you know what is coming next. Read ‘Dynamic Benefits: towards Welfare that works’ Search for Centre for Social Justice, click ‘Publications’, and scroll back to September 2009. A Think Tank set up by Iain Duncan Smith starts with a devastating critique of means testing. It can be used as an excellent statement of the case for – a BASIC INCOME. I responded to its publication by describing the Universal Credit, which ‘Dynamic Benefits’ introduces, as ‘An emaciated version of a Basic Income’. In the event, on its 6th birthday, the UC has turned out to be 99% mythical.
    There are two diametrically opposite ways of removing the evil of means testing, which IDS and I agree on, his way or the Basic Income. But having decided just to get rid of benefits, without even the figleaf of help the UC was supposed to offer, the apparent escape route of disability had to be plugged, and this is where the real cruelty occurs. Prior to Thatcher (1979), a lot of people who WERE unfit chose NOT to claim. Norman Fowler duly slashed benefits (now called Income Support). Surprise, surprise, the numbers of ‘disabled’ ballooned, and have remained high ever since.
    The figures dragged from a kicking and screaming IDS on deaths following Work Capability Assessments are of course almost meaningless. What might tell a starker story is the number of suicides attributable to DWP policies.
    On a wider view of your gentle disappointment at this government, for all I know you may agree with their economic imperative on fracking – it is essential – rather than the ecological imperative – it is insanity, but don’t you bat an eyelid at their approval of the use of pesticides killing bees!!?

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    • I’d certainly rather a real, full fat version of Basic Income than what we have now: well-intentioned but largely fruitless tweaks to a broken system, with the other side screaming about the inhumanity of it all while offering no solutions of their own.

      My concern is that the Tories will burn all of their political capital in this effort to enact welfare reforms that barely graze the surface of what we need to change, leaving them nothing left to tackle the many other burning issues facing the country.

      On fracking, I tend to be pragmatic. It should go ahead as part of a broader, joined up energy policy which would ultimately move us to renewables and nuclear, with no dependency on other countries. However, I believe that as happens in the United States, the monetary compensation for those affected by fracking (or under whose land it takes place) should go to the individual rather than the local council or whatever other overbearing, centralising solution the government currently have cooked up.

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    • I’m not actually sure he is defending the government’s policies, just pointing out the utterly empty nature of the majority – vast majority of the responses.

      You are of course excused from this as your document (which I have briefly skimmed – there are 300 pages of it !) looks interesting ; even if some of the ideas need tweaking it has some merit. Oddly, this is, I think, the first time I’ve heard a non-Tory (I’m guessing) suggest it.

      There are the usual issues – a simple system creates some problems, but complexity leads to gaming.

      Some of it is probably “malevolence” but the vast majority is bureaucratic incompetence, laziness, bad systems design. Certainly the majority of the idiotic single case quoting is.

      A major problem is successive governments allowed “disability” to get so high (to keep dole numbers down) that it’s very difficult to do a ‘fair’ assessment ; and of course everyone has their own definition of “fair”, usually defined in such a way that it benefits themselves.

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