"I met a black man in his 40's who'd been in the Royal Navy for 30 years" was a (paraphrased) refrain from David Cameron during the Leader's Debates last year. Now, it seems Ed Miliband has met a man too. Unlike David's man, Ed's wasn't a hard working member of a minority group who'd been serving in the armed forces longer than he'd been an adult. Oh no. Ed's man was a 'scrounger' A good man, a man who wanted to do his best by his family, but still a scrounger whom Ed, without any medical qualifications, training or experience feels able to inform the nation could work if he felt like it.
Maybe he could work, maybe he can't. In this sense it doesn't really matter - using an IT company to administer so called 'fit to work medicals' which are nothing more than government decided descriptors is no more accurate than using Ed's lack of medical expertise to decide upon people's fitness to work. Something that Liverpool MP Steven Timms could have told Ed had he bothered to ask. There are already over 1000 genuinely sick and/or disabled people in Merseyside who've been refused sickness benefits despite being too ill to work. Despite poor mathematical skills and the lack of Ed's research team, even I can work out that will extrapolate to 10's if not 100's of thousands of sick and disabled people being refused the benefits which they have paid for via national insurance across Britain.
Issues of benefit fraud and welfare dependancy are important to tackle, none hate benefit fraud more than those forced into a position of genuine reliance upon the benefits system. The increasing scrounger rhetoric is terrifying to those of us knowing that no matter how much we wish to work, how much we try, not only is the system stacked against us, but that the health issues we face are inescapable. Whilst some small steps have been made by Labour MP's such as Liam Byrne to separate out the sick and/or disabled from the unemployed, it's such a quiet statement against the torrent of abuse heaped upon sick and/or disabled people by the wider media and political climate it leaves room for the one message Labour sent to the electorate via Ed Miliband yesterday.
Incapacity benefit claimants are irresponsible scroungers. Even when they're actually decent, honest, have worked, become genuinely incapacitated and are now trying to bring up their families as best they can, they're still scroungers who should just try harder.
The detail of the rest of the speech didn't matter. The message was hammered home in the first paragraph. The Labour party, the party of the people, the party of social justice, led by Ed Miliband are more than happy to be seen as the party demonising disabled people.
As the 'reformed' Work Capability Assessment originally introduced by New Labour continues to deny benefits to genuinely sick and/or disabled people, and the press slowly move away from sensationalist scrounger stories to reporting more and more genuinely ill people being denied benefits, Ed's slam a scrounger policy will undoubtedly return to incapacitate him.