Tuesday, 4 December 2012

IDS's crocodile tears

I am following up yesterday's post about International Day for Disabled People – all over the world except in the UK. Yesterday was a day that every Liberal Democrat in the country should take notice of, because the government – in this case Iain Duncan Smith and the Department for Work and Pensions – is doing dreadful things in our name and with our support.

For all the rhetoric Iain Duncan Smith and his department have one objective, which is to reduce the benefits bill. They have no care for how they do so, or for the dreadful impact that has on the lives of the people they deprive of income. In the last few weeks he has made great play of the number of people he has got off benefits, despite the government's actual figures demonstrating really poor performance. But even where the Work Programme has got people into work, it has not reduced the benefit bill one penny. With two and a half million people chasing a few hundred thousand vacancies, not one new job has been created. Under normal circumstances, when a vacancy arises, an unemployed person applies for it, and gets it. When A4E get involved, they pick which unemployed person goes into the vacancy, leaving another unemployed person unemployed and claiming benefits. To do this they get paid, so the Work Programme creates no jobs but works as a mechanism for transferring money out of the pockets of taxpayers and into the hands of very profitable private companies. The work A4E is now charging us through the nose for was being done very capably by charities and NGOs before Iain Duncan Smith decided the private sector needed a boost.

In fact far from creating jobs, the Work Programme destroys jobs. Companies like Poundland now know that they can fill 10%, 15%, 20% of their labour needs through the Work Programme. So they no longer need to advertise those posts and pay people to fill them. So the taxpayer gets shafted twice. We are directly contributing to the profits of companies like Poundland by paying the wages for them, while also paying A4E for choosing which unemployed person will go there. There is more detail here.

Meanwhile Lord Freud thinks that poor people should take more risks. It is tempting to speculate about which planet he was on when he said that, certainly not this one. I would like to think that the rich might be inclined to take more risks, but there is no sign of them doing so. The Director General of the BBC is just the latest case in a long line where people are given contracts that fireproof them against failure of any kind. The DG's contract was such that the BBC were required to give him a year's pay if they sacked him. Why? If he is not capable of putting something away for a rainy day on a salary of £450,000, what on earth is he doing in a job of such responsibility? The same goes for every single bonus and every single feather bed contract given to directors and CEOs since the crash of 2008. No high level contract should ever carry more than the legal minimum benefits: they are well enough rewarded by the rate of pay. The bankers and the directors have gone on doing business as before, except for the occasional shareholder revolt, and the government has done nothing to ensure that when people play with other people's money, they take responsibility for what they do. If they did that, they would make better decisions, and companies would be more profitable. Subject to the government's laissez faire attitude towards taxing multi nationals, the tax take would be higher, and the government would lose their excuse to screw poor people even harder. Which is of course why they're not doing it.

So all in all, government policy towards the rich and the poor is not just not helping with the recession, it is actually making it worse. We've known for a long time that the Conservative part of the government has no intention of actually making rich people take the consequences of their actions. It becomes clearer every day that their intention is actually to make the poor pay for the actions of the rich, by hounding and harassing them off benefits.

These are not isolated cases - every day up and down the country, disabled and sick people are being told they are fit for work, and being made to - pardon the pun - jump through hoops to re-establish their need for benefit. Try this one for size: "A blind, deaf, tube-fed, non verbal, disabled man from Scotland has been deemed fit for work" - this is not an aberration, it is normal procedure for ATOS, aided and abetted by Iain Duncan Smith's DWP.

Brian McArdle died when his disability benefits were stopped. His son wrote to Iain Duncan Smith, and got back a clunkingly self justificatory letter written without a hint of compassion.

Karen Sherlock died in the middle of an entirely unnecessary battle with the DWP over the income she needed.

I say again, these are not aberrations. Between January and July last year 1,100 claimants died after they were put in the “work-related activity group”. Yesterday, on the International Day for Persons with Disabilities, by an exquisite irony, the DWP brought into effect a provision that people on ESA, and in the WRAG - deemed by the DWP's own system to be unfit for work - can be mandated to go for work, without any time limit.  Jobseeker's Allowance claimants who are mandated to go to Work Programme placements have a time limit of three months on those placements. But if they have decided you are unfit for work, you can be made to work to the end of your days, or lose benefit. There is certainly no compassion, but neither is there any logic or any competence in these provisions. In fact quite the opposite - these measures hinder economic recovery for one purpose only - to hound the poor and the sick, with all the perverted moral zeal that Iain Duncan Smith can bring to the task.

Yesterday I wrote as a human being. Today I write as a Liberal Democrat. Liberal Democrats must withdraw all and any support for Iain Duncan Smith's poisonous schemes, and work to put some compassion and rationality back into the benefit system.

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