It was reported today that when seven year old Becky Bell died of Cancer, her council sent her family a £672 bill for her newly empty bedroom due to the new Spare Bedroom Tax on the poor.
Britain is a colder place since the passing of the Welfare Reform Act 2012, which seeks to radically change the concept of social security. The social contract is being replaced with a Victorian welfare system. Today we look at the creeping impacts of the Welfare Reform Act and how it is making the poorest in the land suffer the consequences of the crimes of the wealthiest.
A Tax on ‘Spare’ Bedrooms? For Real?
The Coalition Governments bedroom tax stipulates that anyone claiming housing benefit faces cuts in their payments relative to the ‘under occupancy’ of their home. If they class you as having one room more than needed, you lose 14% and it rises to a 25% cut if you’re classed as having two. To anyone familiar with being poor, losing between £10-25 per week means choosing between eating three meals a day and having the heating on for an hour in the evening.
Do we really, as a nation, need to add to the suffering of a grieving family, the burden of making this kind of decision?
Inside Housing report that the plan will impact 660,000 social housing tenants, around two thirds of which will contain a person with a disability. For all this suffering, the government aims to save £500m a year.
In the same budget, the Chancellor decided to cut the rate of tax paid by the richest people in the UK at a cost of £3bn.
WorkFare – The End of Social Security
The social contract as most of us understand it, reads that if a person finds themselves unemployed through circumstance, sickness or disability – they receive social security payments until or unless they can find new work. This is based on the idea that whilst in work, they contribute to the system through national insurance and taxes. However, the ideological underpinning of WorkFare, the government’s Work Programme is that benefit claimants must earn their payments, real time. So the government has a collection of corporations and charities who receive free labour, paid for by the tax payer.
Benefit claimants must work up to 30 hours per week, for up to 13 weeks at a time, for nothing more than the social security payment they are entitled to by their citizenship of the country. They also face total withdrawal of the payments if they refuse to comply.
This is not a social security programme. It is a forced labour programme. Not only that, but with 3 million people unemployed, it places yet more competition in the jobs market. It incentivises companies NOT to employ people.
It also stands in the way of WorkFare victims applying and interviewing for real jobs as their time is committed to the programme.
370,000 people were referred to the WorkFare programme June and November 2011. This scheme is set to cost the taxpayer £5bn.
The final kicker, the government counts people in WorkFare as employed.
ATOS – Fit to Work Assessments
"The test of a good society is how do you protect the poorest, the most vulnerable, the elderly, the frail. That's important in good times, it's even more important in difficult times. People need to know that if they have me as their Prime Minister and they have a Conservative government, it will be that sort of Prime Minister."
The Labour government of 2008 brought in ATOS to conduct Fitness to Work assessments for the Department of Work and pensions as part of changing Incapacity Benefit to Employment Support Allowance.
Most disability campaigners have no issue with the principle of testing a person’s capability to find out what they can do and how employers can support them in doing it. This is common sense.
However, the Coalition government has decided to assess the entire 2.6m population claiming ESA in just one year. The test has been reduced to a simple tick box computer based exercise where a person is classed fit to work, or not. The whole approach, the media messaging, the letters to claimants are wrapped in suspicion – ‘we’re doing this because a lot of you are fakers, and we are going to find every last one of you.’
The People’s Review of the Work Capability Assessment carries the personal experiences of the people undergoing the assessments.
A person with a brain tumour, left disabled after having their left cerebellum amputated who has no balance and is still terminally ill – deemed Fit to Work.
A person who, after a 35 year working life, was suffering deafness, IBS and hiatus hernia – deemed Fit for work.
A 60 year old, single man with 80% paralysis who undertook his assessment three weeks before going to hospital for a major lung operation – deemed Fit to Work.
Or 60 year old Daniel Shurmer, a double heart bypass patient in post operative intensive care – deemed Fit to Work.
A parliamentary debate on the issue on 17th January 2013 revealed one woman suffering severe bouts of daily incontinence, often requiring hospitalisation as a result of Crohns disease – deemed Fit to Work…if she wears a nappy.
Perhaps one voice sums it up best, taken from the Peoples Review:
“I went for a WCA yesterday. Words fail me to describe it, I felt humiliated, pathetic, inadequate. It was my first one. I’m a senior mental health nurse and have previously worked with people on long term IB in a hopefully helpful and supportive manner with dignity, respecting their capacity and personal choices and any other health professional or support from vol. sector and more to the point the fact that their GP who they see directly for health care has given a note that states you are not fit for work currently. Why oh why is this not enough?”
This week, the government refused to exempt cancer sufferers undergoing chemotherapy from the Work Capability Assessment. This means people suffering cancer and facing exhausting chemotherapy and radiotherapy, not to mention the emotional strain of facing death, will face the Atos assessors and join the other sick and disabled people joining the queue at the Job Centre – and end up on the WorkFare programme outlined above.
To date, 41% of the decisions have been appealed, with 38% of those successful. This cost the taxpayer £60m last year, over half of the £110m is costs to run the Work Capability Assessment process. Meanwhile, over 11,000 people a week are grinded through this meat machine of the policy. According to the government’s own figures, 1,300 people have died after being deemed fit to work, 2,200 people have died before their assessment is complete, and 7,100 people have died after being deemed unfit to work, and 29 people have committed suicide facing the threat of impending impoverishment.
Enough is Enough
The UK’s top 100 wealthiest people saw their fortunes rise to a record high in 2012, whilst the bottom 10% of wage earners saw their incomes shrink by 3% in real terms.
Enough is enough.
It is as simple as this:
If the government can afford to spend £3bn a year on a tax cut for the wealthiest in the land, then we do not need to tax the bedrooms of dead children.
If we can allow Google, Amazon, Starbucks and Tory Donor’s Lyca Mobile to pay zero Corporation Tax, we do not need to harass sick, mentally ill and extremely disabled people to the Job Centre.
If we are truly requiring austerity, then we should not be funding the free labour of the unemployed, the sick, and the disabled for corporations.
Enough is enough.
This is not austerity; this is a war on the poor and the social contract itself. End the crime of a government which siphons public money into private pockets, and pays for tax cuts for the richest by cutting the security and services of the poorest.
Boycott WorkFare – see lists of the companies and charities complicit in the WorkFare scheme and boycott them. Many providers have withdrawn from the scheme after the weight of public pressure and protest.
Keep track of DPAC and the Black Triangle Campaign who are spearheading the efforts to fight back against the DWP and Atos. Support their protests and spread their news.
Join UK Uncut in direct actions and campaigns to make wealthy corporations and individuals pay their fair share of taxes.