Britain Con-Demed

THE CON-DEM coalition is doing everything in its power to push up unemployment statistics: cutting public sector jobs by about a quarter, cutting university places, forcing the elderly to work extra years before they get their pension and now trying to force the long-term sick and disabled off of Incapacity Benefit and on to Job Seekers’ Allowance.

In a civilised society it would make sense for the necessary work of creating commodities and providing public services to be done by those young and fit enough to do it and they should work only enough hours to meet the needs of the people — which would allow them plenty of leisure time to enjoy the fruits of their labour and opportunities for all ages to engage in social, creative and academic activity according to their inclinations and abilities.

But the capitalist system is not designed to meet the needs of people — it is designed to create profit and make a few arrogant greedy people very rich.

Those in their 60s must continue working longer, because we are told, people are living longer and so must work longer. It is true that many in their 60s are a lot healthier than those of a generation ago. But look more closely: a high proportion of those in their 60s now are survivors of heart attacks, strokes and cancer; many have high blood pressure and/or diabetes. It is a tribute to the NHS that they appear as healthy as they do. And some feel up to carrying on working. It all depends on the kind of work.

They are not up to putting in 40 hours a week heavy labouring, standing 40 hours behind a shop counter, doing nursing that involves heavy lifting, slaving in a hot kitchen, cleaning offices/hotels and so on. The vast majority of low paid workers, who are in jobs that give little satisfaction, look forward to their retiring day as a welcome release from a punishing regimen. And keeping them in work keeps younger, fitter people out of work.

Last year the Labour government introduced Employment Support Allowance to replace Job Seekers’ Allowance. It involved scrutinising every claimant of Incapacity Benefit to see if they really were sick or disabled. The work of medical examination was put out to private companies like Atos with the instruction to get as many as possible off of benefits. Most examiners had no medical qualifications; they judged people purely on appearances, the rule of thumb being generally that if they could make it to the interview they could probably do some sort of work. As one claimant put it, it was like judging someone who could cycle to the end of the road as fit for the Tour de France.

Thousands of genuinely very ill people were thrown off Incapacity Benefit (a long-term benefit) and transferred to ESA (short-term) getting about half the money they had been getting. Thousands appealed successfully; there is still a backlog of thousands of pending appeals. And these appeals have cost the Department of Work and Pensions billions of pounds and endless hours of extra work. It also cost the claimants immeasurable deprivation and distress.

ESA was declared “not fit for purpose”.

Now the Con-Dem coalition wants to repeat the whole cruel process. They will not succeed in anything but making the lives of the long-term sick and disabled even more miserable.

It’s not as if there are lots of light, easy jobs available where the boss does not mind workers taking lots of time off because of their medical condition.

Remploy, the Government-owned company created to give work for some disabled people has gone. Employers are shedding jobs, not creating them and those with disabilities who are fit enough for some work will always get pushed to the end of the queue.

On the other hand, if the Government really wants to save money it would do better to sack companies like Atos, which made a fortune out of inflicting misery on the sick and vulnerable and let the job of administering benefits be done by proper civil servants. Instead of cutting DWP jobs it should be creating more to deal with the growing unemployment.