If you tolerate this, your pension will be next.

By DeusExMacintosh

The Minister for Disabled People, Maria Miller

Fan as I am of schlocky eighties sci-fi from my misspent youth (Predator: bestest filum EVAH!), I’ve been thinking recently of the Dolph Lundgren classic DARK ANGEL where a nine feet tall alien goes around pumping victims full of stolen heroin before harvesting the resultant endorphines with a spike for sale on the intergalactic drugs market. He keeps growling “I come in peace” and whilst the sentiment is good, you do feel that something important has been lost in translation.

It increasingly reminds me of Maria Miller, current Conservative Minister for Disabled People, who has spent the last couple of months telling us how much the government supports the independence of disabled people while simultaneously announcing measures that cancel the financial support that makes it possible. This week saw the closure of the Independent Living Fund.

For those unfamiliar with the ILF, it is a small, trust-based Quango that part-pays for personal care for severely disabled people at the “Please turn my ventilator back on” end of the personal care spectrum. You have to already be receiving the highest care allowance from central government (via Disability Living Allowance) plus £340 a week worth of personal care supplied by your local authority – if the council can’t or won’t help that much ie. you’re less than the ‘critical’ threshold of needs or they simply can’t afford it, you’re out of luck. It currently means 21,000 disabled people can live at home rather than being packed off to expensive beds in nursing homes or NHS hospitals. These are people so sick you can’t trust the DWP to look after them so from 2015, they no longer will. On Monday Ms Miller announced to parliament

The Government are firmly committed to disability equality and the development of a personalised approach providing full choice and control for disabled people. The 2007 independent review of the ILF recommended reform to ensure long-term sustainability. We believe there is a strong and principled case for reform and for the social care support needs of all disabled people to be delivered equitably as part of local authorities’ broader independent living strategies in line with local priorities and local accountability.

The ILF is a discretionary trust and payments from the fund do not take precedence over the responsibility of the local authority to make an assessment of a user’s needs. Local authorities already have a statutory responsibility to provide social care support to its residents and as part of this responsibility, local authorities will need to consider the requirements of clients who may otherwise have received an additional ILF package.

So don’t worry, your local council will take up the slack, no problem. They have plenty of money.

Many more councils could move to a super-critical eligibility threshold for care, following Birmingham Council’s proposal to do so, according to sector heads.

Earlier this week, Birmingham set out plans to limit directly funded adult social care to people with ‘super-critical’ personal needs – a higher threshold than any of the four bands set out in the government’s Fair Access to Care Services guidance: critical, substantial, moderate and low.

It hopes this will save £69m over the next four years, but the proposal has been heavily criticised.

For readers who might prefer a more classical reference, Rome is burning while the Minister for Disabled People seems to be having a hoe-down.

I’m not asking my readership to pity disabled people – I’m one myself and we don’t tend to appreciate it. We have a very uneasy relationship with provision on the Charitable model and discussions of the Worthy and Unworthy Poor. Nor am I arguing as some in the left are inclined to do that the economic crisis doesn’t exist and serves only as an excuse to radically remake British society in the old tory mould. Our entire economic system is currently “unsustainable” and the bankers crisis didn’t cause that, they only exposed it. Our Welfare State is currently “unsustainable”. That’s not an easy blame on the last Labour administration of Blair and Brown (even IN-government Danny Alexander has admitted that the actual numbers of people claiming Incapacity Benefit was the same at both the beginning and end of their 13 years, and it looks like DLA numbers are similar) but the long-term failure of the social insurance system since its post-war foundation with the Beveridge Report in 1942.

The Report offered three guiding principles to its recommendations:

– Proposals for the future should not be limited by “sectional interests” in learning from experience and that a “revolutionary moment in the world’s history is a time for revolutions, not for patching”.

– Social insurance is only one part of a “comprehensive policy of social progress”. The five giants on the road to reconstruction were Want, Disease, Ignorance, Squalor and Idleness.

– Policies of social security “must be achieved by co-operation between the State and the individual”, with the state securing the service and contributions.

The state “should not stifle incentive, opportunity, responsibility; in establishing a national minimum, it should leave room and encouragement for voluntary action by each individual to provide more than that minimum for himself and his family”.

Beveridge was opposed to “means-tested” benefits. His proposal was for a flat rate contribution rate for everyone and a flat rate benefit for everyone. Means-testing was intended to play a tiny part, because it created high marginal tax rates for the poor.

You can argue that it was Atlee’s Labour administration that turned the economist’s Friedman-esque proposal into the bloated, overburdened Welfare State which bears much of the blame for the Trillion Pound Horror Story Britain is now faced with. In retrospect, the NHS seems to be the only recognisable survivor from the actual Beveridge proposals.

(c) The Daily Mirror

Put simply, our National Insurance scheme isn’t – current obligations are met by current contributions rather than investing them to pay for future obligations. National Insurance is also used as the basis for qualifying for the old-age pension to the point where most pensioners will get quite huffy when you call it welfare, even though it makes up the most significant proportion of the government’s annual spend on benefits each year. Sorry duck, if I’m a welfare queen for taking Incapacity Benefit, so are you!

National Insurance was originally established by the Liberals as a bog-standard social insurance scheme in 1911 to (mostly) replace the Elizabethan Poor Law.

Classifications of poor used in the Poor Law system classified people into categories for those considered deserving of poor relief and those who were not considered deserving of poor relief.

The impotent poor could not look after themselves or go to work. They included the ill, the infirm, the elderly, and children with no-one to properly care for them. It was generally held that they should be looked after.

The able-bodied poor normally referred to those who were unable to find work – either due to cyclical or long term unemployment in the area, or a lack of skills. Attempts to assist these people, and move them out of this category, varied over the centuries, but usually consisted of relief either in the form of work or money.

The idle poor were of able body but were unwilling to work. They were not considered deserving of poor relief.

Vagrants or beggars, sometimes termed “sturdy rogues”, were those who could work but had refused to. Such people were seen in the 16th and 17th centuries as potential criminals, apt to do mischief when hired for the purpose. They were normally seen as people needing punishment, and as such were often whipped in the market place as an example to others, or sometimes sent to houses of correction.

As you can gather, this is a debate with deep historical roots in the UK, but it is a debate we still haven’t had publicly in recent times. Based on the experience of disabled people, the government seems to be attempting to remake the basis of welfare WITHOUT a public conversation. Swingeing cuts to government spending are supposedly designed to save money, yet the remodelling of Welfare Administration (for example the ‘new’ Universal Credit and ‘improved’ replacements for IB and DLA) is turning into an expensive morass. Only Iain Duncan Smith seems to seriously believe he can achieve that on the quoted £2 billion budget and there seems considerably more political interest in encouraging downwards envy in the tabloids rather than actually repairing the system.

The treatment of disabled people may simply be signals for the wider population. Incapacity Benefit is significant because it was the last of the contributions-based benefits and eligibility came through having paid sufficient National Insurance as an active worker prior to becoming ill or handicapped. The government has signalled the undermining of contributions as a basis for receiving financial relief. With the abolition of ILF it signals the undermining of personal need as the basis for receiving financial relief. This leaves only charitable giving, which is the business of the private sector rather than the British state.

If the Coalition government is seriously planning on rolling the UK back to the Poor Laws, we really deserve to be told. They were elected on a “fix the deficit” mandate NOT an “end the Welfare State” one. Maybe we’ll find that even implementing the Beveridge Report is financially unsustainable but we don’t yet know because it’s never been tried. Perhaps it should.

UPDATE 19/12/10: Speaking of Dolph Lundgren, he’s been in London this week promoting his latest film, The Expendables… who knew he was an Australian-trained Chemical Engineer too?!

10 Comments

  1. Posted December 16, 2010 at 6:33 am | Permalink

    it is astonishing how rich people RESENT poor people. I just don’t understand that.

  2. Posted December 16, 2010 at 7:07 am | Permalink

    [email protected] There is often an element of ‘there but for the grace of God go I’. Construing things in particular ways can shield oneself from that thought.

  3. Posted December 16, 2010 at 11:09 am | Permalink

    I’m almost thinking given the coddling of the City, that they’ll institute a work-for-the-dole, not on national capital works as investment, but subcontract those on the dole to private enterprise (and the public service) at dole rates, then private enterprise will sack those on normal wages and re-hire them at dole rates. This will increase profitability, and enable those proven most innovative to be even more innovative.

    After all, it’s businesses that seem to get the first slice of the cake and the most concessions – it’d be unforgivable to inconvenience them.

    Yes, sarcastic, but I wouldn’t put it past them.

  4. Sweeney
    Posted December 16, 2010 at 11:19 am | Permalink

    This is vile.
    If Wikileaks could only start getting its hands on the intranational deliberations that lead to decisions like this, so that the like of Maria Miller’s weaselling ILF speech: “The Government are firmly committed to disability equality and the development of a personalised approach providing full choice and control for disabled people” is exposed for the egregious hypocrisy that it is.
    I have a medical condition which is intermittently disabling, at times severely so. It is unpredictable, too, although I manage it as best I can (in fact my management skilz are amazing because of it!). Honestly, if an Australian government were to follow suit in its treatment of the disabled and thus, very importantly, signal its tacit approval for the view that the likes of me don’t matter as much as others, I might as well just top myself. Steps in this direction would damage my ability to be economically self-supporting – many, many employers would smell in the air that they could take the NIMBY option of shoving me in the ‘too hard’ basket. Forget about nice things like the quality of my work or anything like that, I’d be kind of losing my fungibility before I even got the chance to show I was any good.
    This measure and others like it work in practice to strip citizenship from a great many people. It is an act of political bastardry.

  5. Posted December 16, 2010 at 12:07 pm | Permalink

    [email protected]

    “may as well top myself”

    I’m more than suspicious that FOAD is the hope of many of the lower class of humans in the top class of society.

    “fungibility”

    Nice to see someone else using fungible as what middle-management wants in employees. This merely shows their own lack of skill – they lack the intelligence to fit together a dry-stone-wall and only have the imagination of a brickie’s laborer.

    A few days back, a 71 year old guy who’d just been diagnosed with a terminal illness figured out how to get food, roof, medical care, and thus not die on the street – hold up a bank in his wheelchair (with a replica shotgun) and hope to get caught. The sympathetic judge imposed the maximum non-parole period of 20 years in a gaol, where the prisoner has better maintenance of his human rights than if he was disabled and free.

    As a disabled person can’t escape, it’s obviously a low security prison, with libraries, tv sets, better facilities than a nursing home, and imposes a higher cost on the state (punitive damages perhaps).

    A few thousand folk who’d be more comfortable in prison, making sure they are repeat offenders, might force the government to make life “on the outside” more reasonable.

  6. PAUL WALTER
    Posted December 16, 2010 at 1:06 pm | Permalink

    Ann O’Dyne, you ponder that the rich hate the poor.
    Do you base this assumption solely on evidence of welfare bashing and austerity “economics”, or would you conclude that the general indifference toward the “other” poor, highighted in the Xmass Island example, points to a general assumption we could begin to draw as to an immanent mindset within “civiisation” involving a poorly thought out conception of what “civilisation” should be?

  7. Jamie
    Posted December 16, 2010 at 5:19 pm | Permalink

    Off topic, but that alien could be Julian Assange. >.>

  8. Posted December 16, 2010 at 5:27 pm | Permalink

    Jamie, that’s a very good spot 😉

  9. Posted December 16, 2010 at 8:26 pm | Permalink

    He’s going to start sucking that secret information right out of your brain?!

    Back to topic:

    The trouble is that the simple solution – put national insurance back on a proper insurance footing, requires the one thing that no longer exists – faith in the trustworthiness of the British government to meet their obligations. By scrapping Incapacity Benefit and not ‘grandfathering’ existing claimants, the Coalition have signalled that their undertakings are worth nothing. Which is a bit ironic given that the justification for making such huge cuts was keeping international confidence in Britain’s ability and intentions to honour its sovereign debt (keeping up market confidence = keeping down interest rates). Instead the government has proven that it will change the rules to suit itself retrospectively.

    The international finance marketplace is probably thinking (with some justification) “Oh, they’d never do that to US” but then that’s probably just what British pensioners are thinking too. Have another look at that chart from The Mirror. If DLA is currently “unsustainable” as that tiny slice of the benefits bill, and pensions already account for over a third of the pie, what exactly is to stop the government from turning around in another ten years and again saying, “sorry we just can’t afford you”?

    Conscience? Yeah, that’s working well so far…

  10. Posted January 18, 2011 at 12:19 am | Permalink

    Slowly, but surely, the welfare state is being dismantled by our government

    Already marginalised, the most vulnerable members of our society are being isolated even more.

    God help us all.

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