Today is International Day of Persons with Disabilities – all over the world except in the UK. In the UK Iain Duncan Smith is marking the day by continuing and intensifying his campaign against unemployed people in general and disabled people in particular.
Every disabled claimant now has to undergo a Work Capability Assessment (started by Labour – who have yet to apologise for it). The WCA is in fact a BDS – a Benefit Denial System. Its purpose is to get people off benefits by any means possible. The claimant's own description of their condition is not credited, medical evidence is not accepted. If a claimant gets to the assessment room, that proves they can walk. If they sit in the chair throughout the process, that proves they can sit at a desk. Then they are deemed capable of work. Iain Duncan Smith's department is doing this quite deliberately, to reduce the benefit bill, regardless of the cost to disabled people. Terminally ill people are being found fit for work. People with the most horrible conditions are being found fit for work. Yes, some terminally ill people work till the day they die. But only a small proportion of them. At the moment, the DWP's own figures show that 70 people a week are dying within a short time of having their WCA. You read that right. 70 a week – 3500 a year.
“Work” now means you can lift a pencil. It does not mean that you are employable. That is Iain Duncan Smith's great trick, completely divorcing the idea of “work” from the idea of being profitably employable for a company. If you have not worked in this sphere it is difficult to imagine, but please bear with me. Think back to the worst flu you have ever had. If you've never had flu, think back to the worst hangover. At some point you hauled yourself out of bed, tottered downstairs and made yourself a Lemsip. According to IDS that means you were capable of walking, and of operating machinery. You were fit for work. But you didn't go in to work, did you? Now imagine feeling like that all the time – every day, 24 hours a day, no let up, ever. Sorry, but you're fit for work.
Applicant: “I've come for the job.”
Employer: “Sure, we have vacancies.”
Applicant: “I'm terminally ill with cancer, by the way.”
Applicant: “It's OK, I'm fit for work, The DWP says so.”
Applicant: “I need to take ten minutes out every couple of hours to vomit, but I'll make up the time.”
Applicant: “And I'll be dead in about three months, but it's being off benefit that's important. I'd much rather be here stacking shelves and coughing all over the customers than spending my last few weeks with my family.”
Applicant: “I'd like a job.”
Employer: “Sure, we have vacancies..... What's that smell?”
Applicant: “Oh, sorry. I just shat myself again. I'll clean up, then I'll be ready. It's OK, I'm fit for work, the DWP says so”.
Employer: “We start at 9”.
Applicant: “I should be able to get in for that some days.”
Employer: “We start at 9. That's when the phones start ringing”.
Applicant: “I have ME. I never know from one day to the next when I'll be able to get myself out of bed. I can manage 11 most days. It's OK, the DWP says I'm fit for work, so can I have the job please”.
It's all happening because the benefit bill is unaffordable, right? We can afford to spend billions and billions and billions fattening bank balance sheets. We can afford to spend billions on the Olympics. We can afford to see billions and billions disappear in unpaid corporate taxes. We can afford to see companies still run inefficiently, and billions in bonuses paid to people who cannot demonstrate that they have earned them. We can even afford £5 million a year to subsidise the alcohol in the House of Commons bar where Iain Duncan Smith toasts himself with a glass at the taxpayers' expense on disappearing yet more people from the benefit rolls. But we can't afford to treat our disabled people with a minimum amount of decency.