First posted Dec 10th 2008
I'm working on a more in depth analysis of the current welfare reforms, specifically what really needs to be done to reform the benefits system in a workable and hopefully equitable fashion. Whilst that is still in draft form there is one very important point I hope to make. Currently the wrong benefits and the wrong groups of people are being targeted.
Disabled people, on the whole, tend not to be the most noticeable group. Wheelchairs, white sticks or window licking are probably the most common symbols people associate with disability, and are all very visible, albeit possibly not to anyone needing a white stick*. The point being that for most people, linked in their mind with disability are visible symbols. The flaw being that the overwhelming majority of disabled people do not have any visible signs of their disability and then there's a whole other group who do but are too busy being unwell/disabled to be out and about much.
It is easy to see how those common misperceptions could lead to a wider and more sinister misconception that there are very few genuinely disabled people and therefore very few genuine benefits claimants compared to the suddenly all too visible Karen Matthews style minority. After all, aren't screaming Chav mum's with fags hanging out their mouths everywhere clearly draining the very life from hard working tax payers?
As someone genuinely reliant upon the welfare state this constant barrage of abuse against benefit claimants is terrifying. The government promise to get a million people off Incapacity Benefit and into work even more so. That promise relies heavily on the assumption that the vast majority of Incapacity Benefit recipients are either workshy, lazy, fraudulent or a bit 'stressed'. An awful lot are claimed to have a 'bad back' too. The frightening bit is that this is just not a true representation of Incapacity Benefit claimants.
Ironically today the children of courage awards were at 10 Downing Street. Tonight footage of an 'assisted suicide' will be shown on television. Why do we recognise and celebrate the achievements of such children or battle to save babies born at 23 weeks whilst refusing to recognise those children grow up to be adults? Adults with disabilities.
This morning my 'surrogate mum' came round to have a bit of a cry. Her beloved husband, a man who served his country for 25 years and worked for many more is dying. He has cerebellar ataxia. This afternoon I met a mum with her bright, happy, beautiful baby girl. Who is about to be diagnosed with Hirschsprung's disease. I've never met anyone who is fraudulently claiming Incapacity Benefit**, but I know large numbers of young adults who are claiming Jobseeker's Allowance and also working. They leave education and as soon as they are able, living at home with their parents, sign on and work for cash in hand. They won't be affected by the current reform's though. All are on New Deal, all are going through the government mandated jobseeking process and all are committing benefit fraud. It's just not called benefit fraud when you're white, middle class and have taxpaying parents, then it's called 'being entitled to it'.
These current 'reforms' insist upon targeting Incapacity Benefit claimants and single mothers and as such are doomed to fail. At great cost to the tax payer. Those job brokers don't come cheap.
Deciding that it is no longer acceptable for society to pay our young people not to work when they leave school, college or university could work out a hell of a lot cheaper though. If any politician has the courage to confront the real issues instead of demonising the most vulnerable in society that is.
I'm not suggesting benefit fraud is not an important issue. It is, of course it is. Reform of the system is overwhelmingly needed, but more so is an honest discussion of the issues. Namely whether or not we as a country wish to continue providing a safety net to the most vulnerable, and assuming that is the case, how we wish it to work. The current 'reforms' are disingenuous at best and downright fraudulent at worst.
*Yes, you are supposed to laugh. Political correctness helped us into this mess
** I am not suggesting that there aren't plenty. Just not the numbers the govt would like you to believe. Single mothers do not receive Incapacity Benefit.