Monday, 5 October 2009

The “Assessors” are Coming!

As the Conservative Party begin their Party Conference in Manchester today – thus completing the triangle of terror between the three major parties that marks the beginning of election season here in the UK – David Cameron and co. are already making troubling headlines with their seemingly paradoxical pledge to cut unemployment benefits in order to help Britain’s unemployed.

The logic of the proposal is this: by hiring thousands of new “assessors” to root out the alleged half a million perfectly capable “fraudsters” currently claiming the £80.90 a week Incapacity Benefit instead of the standard £63.40 a week Jobseekers Allowance, the treasury could – theoretically – save a whopping £1bn over a five year term in Parliament.  That £1bn (or £600 million over just three years) can then be ploughed back into funding a new “Back to Work” programme which will further extend the publically funded corporate slave labour programme of New Labour’s “New Deal” (whereby, instead of the government paying unemployed individuals their benefits directly, they pay private businesses the money instead, subsidizing companies to hire the previously unemployed individual at – usually – minimum wage, cut-cost price). 

At the moment, New Deal employers are only obligated to hire their subsidized jobseeker for twenty-six weeks, at which point, the money runs out and, often, the former cash-cow employee is then promptly fired – why keep a non-subsidized worker on when, by creating a new vacancy, you can get another New Dealer on the cheap to replace them?

The Tories new idea is to keep the public funding coming to the private employers for a whole year now instead of just twenty-six weeks, “putting the unemployed firmly back into the culture of daily work” (The Sun - 05/10/09), before they are then too, most likely fired.

So, to recap: to “help” the UK’s unemployed, the Tories will assume that one fifth of all claimants seeking Incapacity Benefit are liars, pay a large amount of public money to hire a heavy-handed team of “assessors” to find them out (3,000 new assessments a day is the stated goal, despite the fact that current opinion, compiled by Labour to fund a similar benefits witch hunt, suggests that only 10,000 medical assessments a week would be realistically manageable) and then, by mean-spiritedly taking the difference of £17.50 a week away from those formerly incapacitated workers found healthy enough to do some sort of work, they will fund a “Back-to Work” programme that allows over twice as much public money as Labour currently spends on the New Deal, to go to private businesses in order to subsidize the employment of former jobseekers for a year instead of just twenty-six weeks.

Now, without even pointing out the obvious – that all of these budget problems and debts could be easily sorted out, without making a single cut in public spending, if any political party in this country had the balls to increase the taxes paid by the rich – it seems to me that this proposed Tory cut essentially takes money away from the most vulnerable and marginalized people in our country – those on incapacity benefits; too ill to work – in order to provide further corporate subsidies to private UK businesses and increase the pool of cheap labour…thus further exacerbating the UK unemployment problem: why hire people off the street at full pay when, once they’ve been forced to sign on for six months, you can get them at half-price?

It bewilders me that a party who promotes such obviously terrible – and arguably unworkable (The Guardian - 05/10/09) – policies are so popular right now in this country.  Cutting benefits to divert treasury money away from public welfare and into private hands is right out of the playbook of the 1979-1997 Tories; the Tories we so resoundingly rejected at the end of the twentieth century after their eighteen year smash and grab…so why do we suddenly feels those policies are any better now?

For the most part – we don’t.  But the nation have become so jaded to the same old/same old approach of British politics for the last thirty years, that it has been duped into a dangerous delusion: the current guys in charge are so bad that the other guys can’t be any worse.

Well, they can be, and I fear that soon we shall see just exactly how much worse they can be. 

Today they came for the weak and the sick…how long before they’re coming for you?


  1. Oh but what about all those benefit scroungers that are feigning illness? I know someone with MS that works out of pride and thinks other people are just being lazy. Clearly if they have MS it automatically qualifies them to judge other peoples lives without examination and make such statements?

    And then what about all these other people that yadda yadda yadda...millitary funding yadda yadda yadda...something about sensible economic policy that involves more money going to those that work for it, ie only in banks and business etc...

  2. I know this comment was kind of tongue-in-cheek, Steve (other readers: I know Steve), but it actually raises some important issues about the usual knee-jerk responses to a post such as this.

    I am sure that SOME people claiming Incapacity Benefit ARE merely feigning their illnesses – under any system there will be those who abuse it. But it is all about the angle from which you tackle that problem.

    The Tories are looking at the benefits system as if the MAJORITY of people who use it are benefit-stealing “shirkers” trying to get out of work, instead of seeing it as an important and necessary function of government to support and strengthen the welfare state in order to insure the worst-off in society against illness and unemployment.

    Even if their own alleged numbers are correct, only one in five people on Incapacity Benefit are making fraudulent claims. That means that FOUR OUT OF FIVE people claiming Incapacity Benefit – the majority – desperately need it, but will be treated as if they are criminals under the new Tory plan, and put through a barrage of invasive testing where the underlying assumption is that they are benefit cheats.

    It is also worth remembering that different people have different capacities, and that illnesses affect everybody individually, without uniformity. I too know people with MS who hold, or have held, jobs, but I also knew my grandfather, who had to take early retirement as a reverend because of his own severe MS. There are varying levels of every disease and affliction and the argument that so-and-so works, but has the same disease as someone else who claims that they can’t, simply doesn’t hold because no two cases are the same.

    Finally, a sensible economic policy indeed WOULD ensure that more money went to those who worked the hardest for it (not banks and CEOs, but the workers). However, a sensible welfare state ensures that a reasonable, cost-of-living wage, is paid to those who – for whatever reason – cannot work. I hardly think that anyone (except a Tory) would think that the £89.90 a week Incapacity Benefit (a total of about £4,675 a year) is giving those who DON’T work more than those who do :-)