Speech by Prime Minister David Cameron on welfare, at Bluewater, Kent on Monday 25th June, 2012.
We the undersigned make the following reply:
On your first night as Prime Minister, you did say you would look after the elderly and frail. But now 32 disabled people are dying every week as a result of the harsh and punitive Atos assessments.
Yesterday, another one of our community took her life recently because she didn’t get awarded ESA. Her friend said this about Wendy: “Just want to say what a amazing person Wendy was ,she was very shy but you could trust her with anything, very loyal and true ,an amazing friend …she will never leave my heart and will always be remembered for the loving caring person she was , RIP Wendy.”
How is that looking after the vulnerable? Allowing a system that kills people?
When you talk about “a world of fierce competitiveness” – it sounds as if this is something you think is a good thing. We don’t buy that. We believe in ‘amicable co-operation’ not ‘fierce competitiveness’ as you so call it, and a phrase you slip in as if we all have to agree with you. Similarly you talk about “a world where no-one is owed a living”. What do you mean by that glib statement? Do you mean, that as a compassionate society, we don’t help those who are unable to help themselves? That as rich and wealthy people in power, you don’t believe in subsidizing those less fortunate than yourself?
You state that Iain Duncan Smith has driven forward welfare reform on a scale and with a determination not seen since World War Two. But those of us on the receiving end would say that he has driven back Welfare Reform on a scale not seen since the Victorian era, with attacks on people with severe and complex problems such as addictions and reviving the Draconian idea of the deserving and undeserving poor.
You say Duncan Smith is delivering remarkable results and that over 400,000 more people are in work than in 2010; that you’ve established the biggest-ever Work Programme and that you’ve helped tens of thousands of young people find real work experience. But how can this be when unemployment is rising, month by month, public sector jobs have been slashed and youth unemployment has reached a seventeen year high? If you are talking about people on Job Seekers Allowance being forced and bullied onto Mandatory Work Activity to do slave labour at big wealthy firms in return for their meagre benefits then that isn’t work at all.
It is well documented that the Work Programme doesn’t help people into jobs, and may in fact do the reverse. The Mandatory Work Scheme was introduced last year despite the warning of the Social Services Advisory Committee (SSAC) who claimed the scheme could be open to wide scale abuse and leave no time for unemployed people to look for a job. The SSAC, who are an independent body who advise Parliament on welfare, issued a stark warning that the scheme should not go ahead. The DWP’s own research showed that only 22% of long term unemployed had got jobs, many of which are temporary. Officials would have expected 28% of long term unemployed people to have found work without any help at all.
As Johnny Void states in his blog: “This means that the Government’s flagship Work Programme is not just under-performing, it appears to be making the problem of long term unemployment worse…It is entirely possible that being patronised, bullied and lectured at by A4e jobs-worth is damaging people’s self-esteem and confidence. It is also possible that the Job Search facilities offered by the Welfare to Work industry are no better than those available at home or in libraries, the only difference being that in those environments they can be used in peace. It is not unimaginable that people on workfare, or pointless fake training schemes, become not only institutionalised, but stuck in a rut and are less, not more likely to look for an alternative. It is therefore even possible that the Work Programme is increasing, not decreasing, dependence on the state….To further compound the problem, many people currently having their time wasted on the Work Programme may have previously been on courses at local colleges which provided real skills. Depending on which Work Programme shark they are sent to, they may have been forced to leave College to attend A4e…The Welfare to Work industry has de-skilled the training sector in the UK, forcing unemployed people onto ever more pointless ‘jobsearch’ courses and workfare instead of providing real training” (Johnny Void)
You state that tens of thousands of claimants on incapacity benefits are being re-assessed, and found ready for work. But we know that the Work Capability Assessment is fundamentally flawed, that many people found fit for work have the decision overturned on appeal (between 40 and 70 %). This being ‘found ready for work’ is including sick and disabled people being thrown into the Work-Related Group of ESA, in spite of many having serious and/or long-term health problems.
You state that you have reduced the extent of tax credits. And this is a good thing, because ….? Similarly, you state that you have reduced housing allowances and capped benefits, most of which goes to greedy landlords, in the case of the exceptional few who had high housing costs.
Yes, you have laid the foundation for Universal Credit which could have been a great thing – a basic income for all, and every hour of work paying, right? Wrong. People doing part time work or a few hours a week are to be sanctioned, expected to give up part time work for full time work, bullied and harried like never before. The Universal Credit will turn out to be the biggest lost opportunity. So your claim that Universal Credit will “finally making sure that work really pays” is disingenuous.
On pensions, you state that “One very important value should sit at the heart of our pension system…if you have worked hard all your life, then you deserve real dignity and security in your old age.”
Forgive us for drawing the inference that if you have been unable to work hard all of your life, than you are deserving of indignity and insecurity in your old age. You then go on to discuss “disability benefits for those who aren’t receiving a pension, which account for almost £10 billion of the total welfare bill”, qualifying the need for reform on the grounds that “over the past decade, the number claiming Disability Living Allowance as a whole shot up from 2.5 million to 3.2 million.” You further state that “half of new claimants (for DLA) never had to provide medical evidence.” This gives the wrong impression that DLA is simple to receive. It is actually incredibly difficult, requires the filling out in detail of a long booklet and has one of the lowest fraud rates of all benefits (0.5%). So your statement that “On the one hand, it’s not right that someone can get more than £130-a-week DLA simply by filling out a bit of paper…but on the other, it’s not right that those with serious disabilities have nightmare 38-page forms to fill in” is a complete contradiction. There is no bit of paper – you are right that it is a 38 page nightmare, so what is this nonsense about “a bit of paper”? The DLA form is standard for all claimants.
A group of sick and disabled people from our community produced a thorough and well-researched report about ‘Responsible Reform’ otherwise known as ‘The Spartacus Report’ which has earned wide respect and even forced a further consultation period as a result of debate in the House of Lords.
You state that you are “introducing proper, objective assessments, so that money goes to people who truly need it, with more for the severely disabled”. Those of us who took part in the first DLA Consultation heard this being chanted like a mantra, but we read this as meaning “the rest of you who we don’t see as truly disabled can go and rot.” This oft chanted word ‘truly’ and ‘genuinely’ implies that many disabled people are not genuinely disabled and therefore perpetuates the screaming Daily Hate Mail type myth that many disabled people are faking it – a scandalous insinuation. Furthermore, a Freedom Of Information Request, showed that the majority of respondents wanted to keep DLA, and further exposed the DLA Consultation for what it was: a foregone conclusion, a lip-service sham. Finally, you talk about “introducing proper, objective assessments” even when damning new evidence is revealed every day about the debacle that is the Atos Assessment.
You go on to pick out examples of people working and those claiming benefits, comparing extreme cases and ask if it is fair.
Well, while we’re on the subject of fairness, we would like to know how is it fair that the rich and wealthy can get away with huge amounts of money in tax evasion, scot-free. Is it fair that these big fat cats can squirrel away their fortunes in offshore accounts? We would like to know how, in the words of Chris J Ford it is fair “that corporate lobbyists are making ordinary people pay for their excesses by persuading governments to bail them out through governments introducing regressive tax increases and service cuts”.
How is this fair, Mr Cameron?
To further quote, Chris J Ford, how is it fair to “scapegoat minority groups as the cause of the crisis rather than those who actually produced it in the first instance—capitalist bankers and financiers”?
Again, is this really fair?
And then there are firms like Atos and A4e who have received millions in government money (taken from ‘savings’ in the welfare benefits bill) who have made criminally wrong decisions and haven’t had to pay back a penny. How is that fair? That the rich man or woman can get away with it, while the poor man or woman is clobbered, vilified, bullied?
What these examples show is that your government and aggressive market economies have created an income gap in this country between those in the Bullingdon set and those outside it. Those within it grow up with a series of expectations: you can have a home of your own, your cronies will support you whatever decisions you make, you will always be able to take out no matter what.
This has sent out some incredibly damaging signals.
That you are owed something for being born into privilege.
That there is one rule for the rich, and another for the poor.
It created a culture of entitlement for the rich.
And it has led to huge resentment amongst those who pay into the system, because they feel that what they’re having to work hard for, others are getting by tax evasion, stepping on others, cozying up to the press and exaggerating the problems of the welfare system for their own political ends.
You talk about it becoming “acceptable for many people to choose a life on benefits”. It is only recently that governments have started talking about ‘choosing a life on benefits’. But do people really sit down and think this, ignoring all the careers advice and ambitions they’ve ever had? Tell me, Mr Cameron, do you think work is a good thing? From the way you talk it would seem so. That’s why we are struggling with this flaw in your argument: if work is a good and desirable thing, then why would people choose a life on benefits? Because from the way you’re talking it sounds as if you think a life on benefits is a better choice than the one of work.
Is it wrong for governments to want “to give people dignity while they are unemployed”? What ‘wrong places’ that you refer to has it led to? As we see it, the number of unemployed fluctuates with economic policy and global factors. Therefore, it is largely external factors responsible for unemployment. But we fear it is the Tory way to lay blame at the individual, rather than external influences.
You talk of an “assumption of trust at the heart of the system” and “that people would naturally do the right thing …they would use the system when they fell on hard times but then work their way out of it.” Forgive us, but this has always been the case. A single person getting £71 a week on Job Seekers Allowance (less if they are under 25) is hardly the route to a high life. It is not even a living income and we would invite you to live for twelve months on it.
We do agree with you that, “there was a stronger culture of collective responsibility in this country” when the Welfare State was born but to blame the welfare system for the erosion of that culture is both naïve and fatuous. If this were the case, then those countries with far more generous welfare systems, such as the Scandinavian countries, would see the greatest erosion of collective responsibility but this is just not borne out by the facts. Rather it is income equality, the breaking up of old communities and aggressive Capitalism which have contributed to the erosion of collective responsibility. However we would just add, that in spite of your sweeping generalizations, we see nothing but help, kindness and advice given freely by the poorest and sickest in our community, so once again your assumptions are widely out of touch. So we are not quite sure what you mean by people ‘doing the wrong thing’.
We can’t argue with your statement: ‘…if you give more welfare money to those who are higher up the income scale as well as those at the bottom then you iron out the perverse incentives that encouraged people not to work, not to save…’ You say that’s ‘part of the thinking behind Universal Credit – it’s about helping more people to escape the poverty trap and get on in life’.
Who could argue with that?
But then you give away your true agenda: ‘anyone thinking we can just keep endlessly pumping money in is wrong.’
Aha, so it is about money. People would respect a little honesty, if you indeed said, ‘we think you are deserving of welfare but we may have to freeze payments this year’ rather than demonizing welfare recipients in order to justify your pernicious ideological agenda.
You ask what working age welfare is actually for, who should receive it, what the limits of state provision should be and what kind of contribution we should expect from those receiving benefits. You state these are not policy prescriptions; they are questions that as a country we need to ask in a sensible national debate.
Well, we are debating with you, even though you have tried to influence the debate.
We agree that working-age welfare should be about providing a safety net. However this is not happening. People are becoming homeless, the biggest of all threats to safety is to lose your home and this is a direct result of government policy to restrict and reduce housing benefits. New Labour did a lot to eradicate homelessness from the streets. Who could argue that that was a good thing?
How can somebody think about a job when they are having to survive? Food and shelter are basic human needs. People are going hungry, hence the huge increase in food parcels.
You talk about the causes of poverty. Of course, income re-distribution isn’t the only way of tackling poverty. On its own, it won’t always prove effective, but it is an essential part of the package. You don’t then withdraw income because income alone hasn’t always got to the root of deep-rooted problems.
You then go onto to say that ‘we’ve got to recognise that in the end, the only thing that really beats poverty, long-term, is work.’ If by work you mean a person who is able, and of his or her own free choice, uses their time constructively, including pursuits which often do not pay, eg voluntary work, the arts, education, caring for children, caring for the sick etc, then nobody would disagree with you. What people do object to is the stick approach, the bullying, the compulsion, the being drafted onto community service mandatory labour (which is the work usually reserved for criminals – so what sort of message are you giving there?).
So yes, let’s have a sensible and intelligent debate about work. Work is not always good for you. Some people have their health ruined through work. Research has shown the right sort of work at the right sort of pay is right for some of the people, some of the time. But you are trying to prescribe a one-size-fits-all solution, instead of celebrating diversity, and it is doomed to failure.
Yes, aspiration is in everyone but not everyone is going to be lucky or healthy enough to be economically self-reliant – you have to address this, Mr Cameron.
If you want to help the disabled, some of whom can only do small amounts of work and from home, then you need to seriously give financial incentives and help them start and continue their own business. This is where Disabled Working Tax Credits help the long-term disabled but you want to make it more difficult for them by expecting them to be earning a minimum wage, expecting monthly accounts and, as we understand it, offer no help for tools, equipment and other outgoings. And we thought you were the party of enterprise. But disabled people who can only manage a few hours a week from home are rarely going to be financially self-reliant. So where is the safety net for them? Where are the subsidies? How do you propose to help people in these situations where it is more than money, where they want to hold their heads high, maybe in the creative arts, but where they need a permanent safety net unless or until they make enough to live on?
In the words of Chris J Ford “One has to have a grasp of Orwellian language to realize that what governments are actually saying to disabled people is unless they work for a living or seek the support of their family, they will die—period. What right-wing governments are seeking to do is to return industrialized societies to the Victorian, neo-classical values of individual choice, responsibility, and self-reliance. This means that disabled people and other excluded groups will have to increasingly (if they are unemployed or underemployed) rely on charity or the family for survival, as the State will no longer provide anything more than temporary support. Therefore, if Western governments continue on this path, disabled people will begin to experience even shorter life spans. This will be due to unemployed disabled people experiencing more serious health problems. These trends will no doubt be quietly welcomed by right wing governments determined to reduce social security outlays—despite protestations to the contrary on their part. But what is more alarming is that if Europeans become inclined to support far right/neo-fascist parties due to the depressed economic climate, then disabled people (along with other minorities) will be subjected to a second, more ominous threat to their survival—effective mass extermination through so called “passive euthanasia” programs. This is not an in extremis scenario, given that the Nazis established their T4 program for this purpose in the 1930s. And the Nazis softened up public opinion through a mass propaganda campaign claiming that disabled and mentally ill people were a fiscal burden.
One powerful counter-argument is offered by Russell who believed that:
It is discrimination to deny a disabled person who can work an opportunity to do so, but it is not “special” treatment for people who cannot work to be guaranteed a humane standard of living—rather it is a measure of a just civilization that they are decently catered for.”
You talk a lot about the cost of rents/mortgages and living arrangements, but never once do you mention the duty and responsibilities of landlords in setting the rent. Never once do you mention rent control and yet this is clearly one of the key causes of rising housing benefits. Get a handle on this and you will reduce the housing benefits bill, rather than dictating when or in what circumstances a person should leave home and get a house of their own. Another solution is to build and convert more housing and offer more shared ownership opportunities so that homes are affordable.
Again, you cite extreme examples of people getting massive amounts on housing benefit in London (without addressing rent control) but also you act as if people in poor households and on low incomes aren’t eligible for housing benefit. This is a complete fallacy as well you know. Only 1 in 8 people in receipt of housing benefit is, in fact, unemployed. So working people on low incomes have always been eligible to have their rents topped up with housing benefit. So you are, in fact, clobbering and punishing working people on the low end of the income scale, the very people you say you wish to help.
Regarding the ‘limits of state provision’ you cite the US’s time-limiting of benefits, but surely you don’t want to follow in the disasters that we’ve seen occurring in the States? Tent Cities? People queuing through the night for free health care? Food parcels?
You mention that there are ‘1.4 million people in this country who have been out of work for at least nine of the past 10 years’ – but surely you’re conflating people on Incapacity Benefit with people on JSA. People on IB are by the nature of their illness going to be on long-term benefit.
You go onto talk about expectations for benefit claimants. Again, you come with this one-size-fits-all approach which doesn’t recognize the diversity of individuals. You mention CVs, but one of us remembers being on a Restart course years ago, and an unemployed builder stating that if he gave a CV to a foreman he would just screw it up and bin it. Not all jobs are white-collar, pen-pushing jobs. Surely job search and skills need to be tailored to the individual.
You then mention that you have ‘yet to introduce a system whereby after a certain period on benefits, everyone who was physically able to would be expected to do some form of full-time work helping the community, like tidying up the local park.’
We take great exception to this statement. Firstly, the discrimination that people with mental health problems face is evident in your statement by referring to ‘physical ability’. Secondly, why do you think it is a ‘perfectly reasonable thing to expect’ to punish people on benefits in the same way as criminals on community service, by compelling them to do full-time work, especially when in many cases it is a direct result of Coalition policies that people have ended up on the dole? Thirdly, if there are full time jobs to be done in the community, then why not offer them as full salaried jobs instead of ‘punishments’? We fear that these will be jobs that have been slashed as part of the public sector cuts, only to be taken up by private providers who pocket a tidy sum while the unemployed are doing compulsory labour in direct contravention of article 4 of the European Convention of Human Rights. Is this why you hold Human Rights’ matters with such contempt? Because people can resist being exploited?
You state also that “for those on sickness benefits too, it might be reasonable for them to take more steps to improve their health”. This gives the impression that sick people are doing nothing to improve their help. But all of us have tried many forms of treatment, sometimes with no effect, sometimes treatments have made us worse, sometimes we can’t even get treatments when there have been cut backs. You have to recognize that when people are long-term sick and disabled, the last thing they are able to address is the stress of full-time work, when all they are trying to do is feel well. Again, it is in contravention to the declaration of human rights charter to force people into treatment.
You state that ‘before this Government came to office, single parents weren’t required to look for work until their youngest child was seven years old – up to three years after they’ve started primary school’ – but what if a parent chooses to stay at home to bring up her or his child? Do you want to encourage a new generation of latch-key kids? Because this was cited as a cause of family breakdown back in the 70s.
You talk about contribution, and ‘recognising and rewarding those who have paid into the system for years.’ You cite the example of the man who’s never worked being treated in the same way ‘as the guy who’s worked twenty years in the local car plant, lost his job and now needs the safety net.’ But isn’t this what Incapacity Benefit and Contributory-based Job Seekers Allowance were for? People who’ve paid their National Insurance stamps for years? So then, perhaps you could explain to us why people are now losing their Incapacity Benefit for good if they are migrated to ESA-WRAG and their partner earns more than £7500. Yes, we did say that – £7,500 – just in case, with all these high benefit amounts you keep quoting, you forget about those at the pitifully low end.
People like Karen Sherlock. You may have heard her name. She was diabetic. Her symptoms included chronic kidney failure, partial blindness, a heart condition, and unpredictable bouts of severe vomiting. But the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) essentially told her to get back to work. She lost her Contributions- based Incapacity Benefit and recently died of heart failure, scared and abandoned by a government that should have been caring for her. Ironically, she was placed in the Support Group only a couple of weeks before she died.
To expect those with severe, debilitating long-term health issues, like to work the same long hours as their able-bodied peers is unethical.
So, Mr Cameron, you may ask ‘whether your reward for paying in is that you won’t have to face all the tough conditions that we’re imposing on those who haven’t paid anything into the system at all’ but it is too late for Karen and her family. Your words that ‘this is very simply about backing those who work hard and do the right thing’ begs the question – what ever did someone as sick as Karen do wrong?
As for your question about whether we ‘pay the vast majority of welfare benefits in cash, rather than in benefits in kind’. This sounds like the slippery slope towards food coupons.
We were outraged when Lord Freud was quoted as referring to benefit claimants as ‘stock’. But now you have confirmed this totally dehumanizing approach to ‘existing recipients’ or ‘what is called ‘the stock’ as you say. Small wonder that we are being treated in the most degrading and inhumane manner. It little surprises us, since Freud’s background is in banking, that we are reduced to units of monetary items.
In the light of our response to yours, we hope you will consider your actions extremely carefully, Mr Cameron.
Acknowledgements to Johnny Void and Chris J Ford whose work I have quoted here.
Signed Kate Rigby, Ann Rigby, Paula Peters, David Robinson (Chelmsford), Deborah Mahmoudieh, Tim Batchelor, Judith Pettigrew, Sian Roberts, Sandra Roberts, Gail Ward, P J Davis, Caroline Hudson, Sue Taylor, Hilary Cooper, Eric Knight, John McGovern (Edinburgh), Steve Preece , Julie Frid, Adrian Wait, Simone Meiszner, Greg Wait, Jim Moore, Adrianne Sebastian-Scott, Elaine Tilby, Annie Bishop chair Northumberland Disability and Deaf Network, Helen Simms Northumberland Disability and Deaf Network,Marc Campbell-Black, Rosey Carey,Diane Joh,Allan Williamson,Kathy Jagger, Tracy Edwards, Pedro Levi, Diana Foster, Stephanie King, Jane Young, Erik Zoha, Sue Taylor,The Social Welfare Union, Sarah Law, Yvette Broadhurst.Sam Lee,Ed Parnell, Nerys Davies, Zhivila Agbah, Kat Ward, Jane Burkinshaw, Carol Edgington, Helen Linton Brown, Dave Jones, Jayne Linney, Liz Ward,John Skarp, Anna Lansley, John Skarp, Mike Plevin,Tim Bennett, Jane Clout.Adam Lotun Wda, Louise Moran