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Tuesday, 17 August 2010

Cuts spell misery for UK's mentally ill

The UK government's latest assault on the benefits system will persecute the mentally ill and those legitimately unable to work, campaigners and trade unionists have declared.

The latest brutal cuts to be unveiled by the coalition government will target those on incapacity benefit in a bid to force people back to work.

The proposal is a continuation of the new Labour "fit to work" policy which campaigners warned would mean that many people, especially those suffering from mental health conditions, would wrongly be declared capable of work.

The government claims that almost 900,000 people spent a decade or more "on the sick" at a cost of £4.2 billion a year to the taxpayer.

Employment Minister Chris Grayling described the figures as "outrageous" and promised action to get people off benefits and back into work.

PM David Cameron said on Monday that cutting the cost of welfare was a key priority in the government's drive to tackle Britain's record deficit.

The coalition has already said it intends to reassess all incapacity benefit claims to see if the individual in question is capable of working.

Under the scheme claimants would be examined to see if they can start work right away or need government assistance.

Mental health charity Mind policy and campaigns manager Emma Mamo said the test was "woefully inadequate.

"It does not take into account the fluctuating nature of many mental health conditions which risks forcing people to return to work when they are still unwell," she said.

"The lack of mental health awareness training for staff administering the tests also risks inaccurate assessments which could mean that people slip through the net.

"Most people with mental health problems want to work but they need time and support to do so and without this their mental health can worsen and in turn society stores itself up increased problems for the future. Labelling those who have a genuine need to claim benefits as 'scroungers' does nothing to help the situation and can be very damaging."

GMB general secretary Paul Kenny branded the scheme a waste of time and said job creation was required to improve the situation, not targeting people on benefits.

"This point is so obvious and basic that it is incredible that intelligent people keep missing it," he said.

"If you look at the old industrial heartlands of Britain where manufacturing jobs were destroyed in their millions, employment rates are the lowest in the country and, surprise surprise, the number of people on benefits is the highest.

"It is high time people began to realise that the shortage of jobs is the issue, not people being work-shy."

He gave the example of a GMB member who was brought before a back-to-work panel despite being barely able to walk, having undergone a serious operation just days before.

"The panel found that although he was not fit to work now, when they initiated the process he might have been fit for work. They stopped his benefits and told him to appeal.

"What a waste of time," he said.


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The UK tory Employment Minister Chris Grayling pretends to show concern for people on long-term sickness benefit, but no-one should be in the slightest doubt that he is intent on slashing their income.

To talk of people having been simply "cast aside by a welfare system that does nothing but put them in a queue for benefits and then forgets about them" may sound sympathetic, but his follow-up comments give the game away.

"Well, those days are over. We will no longer accept a system which writes people off at a drop of the hat and expects the taxpayer to foot the bill."

Grayling drops the compassionate mask and gets to the nub of the matter with his reference to the taxpayer footing the bill.

Given the increased recourse to indirect taxation since Edward Heath's Tory government introduced value added tax in 1973 as part of the preparations for Britain to join the European Economic Community, now known as the European Union, everyone is a taxpayer.

Politicians' use of the loaded word "taxpayer" to describe those who pay income tax - or, in the case of the super-rich, employ accountants to ensure that they don't pay their fair share - is intended to convey the idea of people on benefits as scroungers.

Their biased phraseology is intended to undermine the basis of the welfare state introduced by the post-World War II Labour government.

Welfare benefits are provided through National Insurance. As with any insurance system, payments are made in good times to provide for less fortunate times.

When people are working, they pay National Insurance contributions so that, in retirement, ill health or unemployment, they are guaranteed a basic standard of living.

The welfare state was, alongside the National Health Service, a major achievement of the post-war Labour government.

It ended the pre-war degrading conditions applied by the National Assistance Board where handouts were meagre and begrudged and could be set aside at the whim of an official deciding whether an unemployed worker was "genuinely" seeking work.

It didn't matter that the jobs didn't exist. The jobless were expected to fill their time by tramping from workplace to workplace seeking work or risk seeing their benefits chopped.

It wasn't a means of returning the unemployed to the world of work but of social control, of intimidating the jobless through humiliation and threats.

And the policies of Grayling and the rest of the well-heeled Con-Dem coalition are no different in principle.

Their principal intention is to drive claimants off the welfare rolls, saving government expenditure and creating great numbers of desperate people prepared to undermine trade unionised pay and conditions by working for less than the rate for the job.

The government has already announced its intention of reassessing all incapacity benefit claimants with the aim of reclassifying significant numbers as fit to work.

Back-to-work panels are aware of what is expected of them and they will reclassify claimants to order, even though they know that the jobs aren't out there.

And given the effects of various government policies - slashing jobs, pay and pensions for the public services, cutting public-sector capital expenditure and pushing up the pension age so that people work until they drop - there will be even fewer job vacancies.

Grayling's mock outrage and honeyed words camouflage his government's determination to destroy the welfare state and the living standards of the poor.

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