By Joan Trevor
The government announced on Wednesday 2 February its five-year plan for benefits and pensions, including cuts in Incapacity Benefit (IB). This is a disgraceful attack on IB claimants, many of whom live in poverty. Instead of setting itself the humane goal of providing the sick and disabled with comfort and ease, the government is setting out to make the sick and disabled poorer still.
There will no longer be automatic increases in the amount of benefit paid to IB claimants after six months and one year. The amounts that can be claimed currently are:
- After four days: £55.90
- Between 28 and 52 weeks: £66.15
- After 52 weeks: £74.15
The number of people receiving IB and related benefits is around 2.67 million. In order to qualify, most people have to have been unable to work for at least six months.
Dr Laurence Buckman, deputy chairman of the British Medical Association’s GP Committee, said recently he believed there were very few people who were on Incapacity Benefit who could be working.
“There are certainly very few people who’ve gone on the sick when they could be earning money.
“I would be amazed if it was more than five to 10%.”
But the government does not heed such advice.
While Alan Johnson, Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, said recently he did not think people were deliberately malingering on IB, he definitely thinks that more IB claimants are able to work. The new proposals assume that people stay on IB for longer than necessary because they are in the doldrums, because they lack confidence and jobseeking skills.
A government spokesperson said in October 2004:
“Once someone has been on IB for a year, they are likely to stay on for eight years, while someone who has been on IB for two years is likely to remain on it for the rest of their life. Our difficulty lies in encouraging people back into work later on. There is no abuse. The amount of fraud in disability benefits is extremely limited.”
How does it increase the confidence of the sick and disabled to force them into dire poverty, implying that they need punishment and a stick to beat them out of the house in the morning?
Disability campaigners like the Disability Alliance say they welcome schemes that genuinely help disabled and ill people find work, including the recent Pathways to Work pilots that are to be extended, but oppose cuts to IB.
Other proposed “reforms” include:
- More liaison with the NHS to help the long-term sick to “manage their condition” to allow them to go out to work: this sounds like a high-falutin’ way of saying “take an aspirin!”
- Renaming Incapacity Benefit. Employment minister Jane Kennedy said: “Its very name focuses the mind of those who are claiming it on what they cannot do.”
The government denies that it is cutting benefits. The TUC in a press release buys into this lie. But the government is cutting benefits. It is not cutting them as much as was rumoured a few weeks ago — and by this means the actual cuts proposed look more merciful. They are not merciful at all.
Weeks ago, amid rumours of cuts to IB, an atmosphere was created where the Observer could write “Downing Street is drawing up plans for a crackdown on the sickness culture which has left almost three million Britons on long-term benefits.”
The truth is that:
- the government does nothing like enough to provide work for the disabled who want to work;
- the amount of IB and related benefits is disgustingly low. With additional allowances, the average total IB payment is £84.51. As a proportion of average earnings, the IB paid to a single person on the highest rate was 17.4% in April 1995 and 15.2% in 2003;
- a very tough eligibility test for IB was introduced in 1996. The official Benefit Review of IB concluded that fraudulent claims are fewer than 0.3% of the total;
- employers have the whip-hand at work. Many people are doing work that damages their physical or mental health. The government says little about this;
- UK spending on job programmes for disabled people is disgustingly low: 0.02% of GDP. The EU average is 0.11%. Belgium spends 0.12%, Germany 0.14%, Netherlands 0.45% and Sweden 0.47%
The government’s plans for IB are disgraceful!