Paul Dodenhoff writes on why we need to end the U.K. Work Capability Assessment Program now.
As we all are now aware, the UK government has become the first country in the world to be investigated and indeed to be found guilty of human rights violations concerning disabled people.
Recent UK welfare reforms have been found to underlie the 'grave and systematic violations' of the human rights of disabled people. The UN concluded that changes to housing benefits and the Personal Independence Payment, along with a narrowing of social care criteria and the closure of the Independent Living Fund, has not only hindered disabled people's right to live independently (like they had primarily been able to do before 2010) but also their right to be included within the community. This is on top of what a recent Parliamentary Select Committee declared to be government 'failure' in it's actual of 'duty of care' towards disabled people, and where the Equality and Human Rights Commission also independently declared that disabled people were being treated like 'second class citizens' within their own country.
But the UN report actually went much further than simple 'violation' of a human rights agreement. If you read the report closely, the report documents a DELIBERATE, SYSTEMIC and SYSTEMATIC abuse of power has caused a rapid erosion of living standards, widening equality, limited work opportunities and worsening attitudes towards disabled people since 2010.
And what exactly for? Not purely to save money, because UK welfare reform has actually cost our government more money than it has saved. But simply because government believes that masses of sick and disabled people were (and still are) mercilessly abusing the welfare system. A whole group of people not only woefully dependent upon welfare, but perceived as also being inherently feckless, lazy and unmotivated, and making a very good living for themselves by committing fraud.
So much so, that the UN found that disabled people were not only suffering 'disproportionately' from welfare reforms and benefit sanctions, but are also put through the 'hoops' through a non-medical work assessment that does not take into any consideration the support people with disabilities may actually need to perform a job (particularly people with complex needs). Assessments that are arguably little more than simple box ticking exercises, and in many cases aimed at (falsely) re-defining what disabled people can do.
And what evidence does the UK government put forward to justify such rather extreme measures towards sickness and disability? NIETS, KEINE, NESSUNO, NIKTO, NONE.
Yes, there is no actual evidence for the assertions that the UK government continually make about sick or disabled people. Government cannot put forward evidence that thousands of disabled people are systematically abusing the welfare system, either by exaggerating their disability or by outright fraud, because the evidence does not exist. It is a myth perpetrated purely by our political has-beens and their associated media barons, and primarily in order to push through welfare reform that is arguably intended to hit all of us Brits at some point. Reforms that initially started with sickness, unemployment and disability benefits, but reforms that now target 'in-work' benefits, as well as state pensions in the not too distant future.
In fact, as far as the UK welfare system is concerned, the government's own statistics consistently prove that more money actually goes unclaimed (around £13 Billion per year) or is lost through departmental error and over-payment (£3 Billion) - than is lost through fraud itself (£1.3 Billion). Certainly, £1.3 Billion is still a lot of money and nobody would argue otherwise. But what this government has done is to systemically fabricate falsehoods about sick and disabled people that deliberately exaggerate the problem, arguably not only altering some people's attitudes towards unemployed and disabled people in the process, but also towards welfare provision full-stop. Nobody wants their hard earned taxes ribbed off by lazy people and fraudsters, and because it is such a highly emotive area, it can be quite easily targeted and manipulated in order to gain public support for reforms that are in essence, unwarranted and completely over-the-top. Change that is driven purely by political 'ideology', rather than financial issues.
And such callous tactics indeed work. Research shows that the public perception of benefit fraud is something like 30 times higher than the reality of the situation. A misconception that has surely motivated some instances of disability hate crime, as well as generating 'hate' towards other benefit claimants. In 2014, research by 'Who Benefits?' revealed that 15% of those receiving benefits had experienced verbal abuse, while another 4% had experienced violence. This shockingly amounts to almost 800,000 and 200,000 welfare claimants respectively. But claiming welfare doesn't just attract abuse, harassment and violence, because of the social stigma traditionally attached to receiving state help and support, it also attracts discrimination over housing and even over employment itself. Why should people take the risk on housing the unemployed and the disabled, or indeed give them jobs, when our political leaders even think that the majority are just 'wasters', 'spongers' and 'fakes'.
Despite the growing public perception that benefit fraud is rife and that the welfare system is being systematically milked by deviant lazy people, a massive 60% of Brits (both working people and non-working people) actually claim welfare benefits of some description. That makes the stigma surrounding sickness benefits, disability benefits and unemployment benefits even more of a remarkable (if highly dubious) achievement. Here we have a situation of benefit claimants criticising other benefit claimants, for receiving... benefits. We can therefore be sure that the constant rhetoric surrounding welfare reform has arguably made things much harder for many welfare claimants within the UK.
But in a society where half of disabled people of working age are actually within employment (compared to the general perception that most disabled people do not work at all) as well as another 1.3 million disabled people within the UK who are available for work and do actually want to work, it is the government itself that is arguably putting the block on employment opportunities for disabled people. Not only by perpetuating deep-rooted, social stereotypes of the disabled as being unproductive, lazy or deviant, but by the continuous roll-back of state support that actually help disabled people to find employment in the first place, and to stay within the world of employment.
It's a level of state interference that pushes many disabled people out of the employment market completely and into the margins of society. To the point where some disabled people have had to give up employment simply because they now don't have the means needed to actually get to their place of work. For example, nearly 14,000 disabled people have now lost access to their mobility cars (www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-35476904), something which not only greatly increases the risk of unemployment, but also the risk of marginalisation within the community. Many also face employment discrimination, and/or workplace bullying and harassment, through having reduced access to the legal means that fight employment discrimination, workplace harassment or violence through the courts.
Effectively (and despite the £50 Billion that government keeps saying that it spends upon disability per year) disabled people are becoming increasingly abandoned by the British state, something that is designed to 'motivate' disabled people to fend for themselves. The UN itself outlined how the UK's removal of state welfare from disabled people, together with the Work Capability Assessment (WCA) and the application of benefit sanctions, are tools aimed at deliberately removing disabled people's access to state support. A policy of sick or swim, with the obvious, sickening consequences.
It's not just a vicious, callous policy, but one that also displays a real contempt for people whom our politicians have little understanding of. Politicians so far removed from the real world and who are so convinced by their own misguided beliefs and prejudices, that they are willing to discount the validity of medical evidence and the validity of the word of disabled people themselves (or their families).
In the latest round of tinkering with welfare reform, the government's Health and Disability Green Paper even dared to suggest that disabled people who are not currently expected to take part in work related activity (those people with highly complex impairments or with terminal conditions) might actually be forced to undertake work-related activity in the near future. And for what purpose exactly? What will that actually achieve? It's a policy that is not just illogical, but seems little more than a vindictive act of harassment displayed towards those who are perceived as simply having no further use or economic value to Britain at all - and just because they are too sick to work or are actually in the process of dying.
None of the UK's behaviour really adds up or makes any real sense. The government constantly state that they want to see more disabled people within employment, yet alter employment legislation, alter welfare benefits, as well as cultivating stereotypes of the disabled as fakers and scroungers - actions that all work against getting more sick and disabled people back into work. Rather than government basing welfare policy upon sound logic, policy seems to be driven simply by anger or frustration. Anger that some people DARE to disregard the dictates of the Conservative Party and their ideological beliefs concerning 'work', 'work ethic' and 'productivity'.
So, what was the government's response to the UN report? One of tears, regret and shame? As we may have already guessed, not bloody likely.
Government's response to the UN's recent findings were met with typical stone-wall resistance and belligerence. Work and Pensions Secretary Damian Green totally rejected the report in its entirety, again uttering the government mantra that they spend '£50 Billion each year on disabled people'. As well as stating that the report is based upon 'old data', and demonstrates 'an outdated view of disability which is patronising and offensive'. Arguably, the two things that disabled people may also be feeling about the UK's response to the report - both patronising and offensive.
Yes, the government does spend £Billions upon disability each year. YES, MR GREEN, WE GET IT. WE GET IT. WE GET IT!!!! Nobody is disputing that. But it is your own government who often behaves in such a way as to completely contradict its own often stated aims of wanting to 'help' more disabled people into employment.
Rather than TALKING about wanting to see more disabled people within work, it's actually BEHAVES like it doesn't want to see disability at all. For example, in October this year, it was announced that the number of unemployed disabled people given specialist help to find work will actually be reduced again, with government funding cut from £750m in 2013-14 to less than £130m in 2017. So, just how exactly is this massive reduction in 'help' over the past 3 years actually helping get to get more disabled people into work?
And as for the allegation that the UN report is based upon 'old' data? We will not even pander to the laughable, antagonistic and bellicose uttering of a government minister who simply knows that he is not only talking completely out of his bottom, but one desperately clutching at statistical straws. Rather than being driven by benevolence, many disabled people argue that government policy is clearly driven instead by a very visible and highly tangible prejudice towards disability and sickness. Something that surfaces daily through both its rhetoric and its policies.
It is not rocket science to work out that the concept of 'work', 'work ethic' and 'productiveness' are things deeply ingrained within Conservative party ideology, within its political history and within its modern-day framework. It an obsession that never fades. However, it is also clear that 'Conservatives' are also highly fearful of those who cannot work for whatever reason. A fear arguably based upon the principle of 'contagion', that those who are lazy and unproductive will perhaps influence others to be the same (especially if they are seen to be rewarded for it via the welfare system).
Take a look at these quotes below and tell me if Conservative Party are not obsessed with unproductiveness, laziness and fakery?
"That collective culture of responsibility - taken for granted sixty years ago - has in many ways been lost. You see it in the people who go off sick when they could work or the people who refuse job off after job offer". (David Cameron, 2011)
"Yes, there are those who, with no regret or remorse, intentionally rip off the system". (David Cameron, 2011)
"The benefit system has created a benefit culture. It doesn't just allow people to act irresponsibly, but often actively encourages them to do so". (David Cameron 2011)
"Given that some of those people with a learning disability clearly, by definition, cannot be as productive in their work as somebody who has not got a disability of that nature, then it was inevitable that, given the employer was going to have to pay them both the same, they were going to take on the person who was going to be more productive, less of a risk. (Philip Davies, 2011)
British workers... "Once they enter the workplace, the British are among the worst idlers in the world" "We work among the lowest hours, we retire early and our productivity is poor." (Elizabeth Truss, Dominic Raab, Priti Patel, Chris Skidmore and Kwasi Kwarteng, 2012)
"It pays not to work... it gave us millions of working-age people sitting at home on benefits" (David Cameron, 2012)
"For too long, we've had a system where people who did the right thing - who get up in the morning and work hard - felt penalised for it, while people who did the wrong thing got rewarded for it". (George Osborne 2013)
"Many of those claiming disability living allowance are not entitled to the benefits" (Ester McVey 2013)
"We don't get up early enough, we don't work hard enough, and we're not ambitious enough." (Lord Heseltine 2014)
Disabled workers... "Not worth the full wage" (Lord Freud, 2014)
"Productivity remains too low." (Conservative Party Manifesto, 2015)
"Work actually makes you free" (Iain Duncan Smith, 2015)
Cuts to disability benefits will stop some people... "Taking the British taxpayer for a ride". I know people... "Who could work, but because they are receiving benefits, they choose not to." (Michael Fabricant, 2016)
Working is better for people's health than... "Sitting at home living on benefits" (Damian Green, 2016)
The concept of a declining work ethic, unproductiveness and laziness are actual themes that has been reoccurring within Britain's 'liberal' power-elite for hundreds of years. A deep-rooted fear based upon an 'establishment' suspicion that British people are inherently unproductive and lazy, as well as continually on the look-out for 'something for nothing'. However, this has been proven to be based upon false assumptions, time and time again by research. But it is arguably not just false assumptions, but actual deep-rooted 'institutionalized' prejudice of Britain's poor and its workers - able-bodied or not.
Although, that's not to say that the ordinary British public don't also mistakenly believe such rubbish. A British Social Attitudes Survey in 2012 (taken at the height of Conservative political angst regarding benefit fraud) reported (bsa-29.natcen.ac.uk/read-the-report/welfare/introduction.aspx) a string of negative perceptions on welfare. For example, more than a third of the population thought at the time that most people unemployed were indeed just lazy, and that two-thirds of people thought unemployment benefit as being too high as to discourage work.
Of course SOME British people are lazy, SOME are unproductive and SOME may indeed be fakes and scroungers - as there are indeed lazy and unproductive people in all cultures. But Britain has uniquely and consistently integrated such deep-rooted and inherent fears of its own population (if not blatant prejudice of its own population) into actual political policy. So much so that the 'unproductive' Brit and the 'unproductive' disabled have become almost a 'god given' perception within both the world of work and the world of politics. Therefore, unproductive Brits need to be 'encouraged' to work by surveillance, monitoring, targets, goals, incentives and bonuses. Unemployed (lazy) Brits need to be booted up the bum and booted off the welfare system completely. And disabled people simply need to be constantly monitored to ensure that they are actually disabled in the first place - or STILL disabled.
Even our 'benevolent' and 'overgenerous' welfare system, implemented after WWII, was driven to a large extent by assumptions and fear over 'laziness'. In proposing a system of cradle-to-grave social security, improved education and a national health service, William Beveridge (www.beveridgefoundation.org/sir-william-beveridge/) based his report on the need to tackle five 'giant evils' - the evils of 'want', 'disease', 'ignorance', 'squalor' and of course, that old chestnut... 'Idleness'. Beveridge himself was highly concerned over the deviancy of the British population, a population that needed to be 'encouraged' to work, even at a time when there was no welfare state to put them off.
Similarly, the WCA was introduced in 2008 as a tool to help weed out the bogus and lazy disabled from the 'genuine' disabled. However by 2012, it had already come to be seen simply as a system that was always going to be automatically 'programed' by the state to say 'NO' to as many disabled people as possible. An ideological re-defining of disability. So much so, that at the annual GPs' conference in 2012, doctors voted unanimously in favour of scrapping the test completely, in order to prevent harming "some of the weakest and most vulnerable in society". And since the test was introduced, hundreds of thousands of people with terminal and incurable conditions have been found 'fit for work'.
Today, the British Medical Association is still one fiercest critics of the WCA, believing that it should be scrapped with immediate effect and replaced with a more rigorous and safer system. In 2015, the British Psychological Society (BPS) also presented a body of evidence that viewed the WCA has being totally inappropriate in its aims, and simply producing inappropriate outcomes for its clients.
Damian Green is now the minister in charge of the Department of Works and Pensions, and arguably another of those Conservatives (like the infamous Iain Duncan Smith) who believes that 'work can make you free', even when you are actually dying in a hospital bed. Mr Green has given an indication that he may have a slightly softer approach, as the chronically sick will no longer be required to prove they are still ill every six months, as was the case. However, that small shift does not mean much when there is still so much deep-rooted 'Conservative' suspicion and hostility surrounding the unemployed, the sick and the disabled people in the first place. The Work Capability Assessment is an aggressive, expensive, backward looking system, aimed simply at the cynical removal of as many sick and disabled people as possible from state support, and just because government believes that such people can do more for themselves than they may actually admit. It is therefore so badly flawed that it can never be 'reformed' itself, because it based purely upon nothing except 'bad' assumptions, 'bad' attitudes and 'bad' practice.
While the chronically sick or disabled may not have to be re-assessed by the WCA every six months, something which government have admitted is too expensive, such people may still find themselves placed onto 'work related activity' in the near future. Therefore, one can only assume that the Conservative Party's obsession over a declining work ethic and unproductiveness - even extends into the afterlife. Unbelievable.