In December the UK coalition government announced that as well as reducing the bill for Disability Living Allowance by 20%, they now intended to abolish the benefit meant to help pay for the additional costs of being disabled and replace it with a harsher ESA-style “Personal Independence Payment”. A foreshortened public consultation over Xmas and the New Year was announced, closing on Valentines Day, February 14th, 2011.
DLA is a benefit that works, it makes it possible for many disabled people TO work. It pays for wheelchairs as well as cars, personal care as well as pub visits. The official fraud rate is less than 0.5% according to the Department for Work and Pensions themselves. We believe the consultation process will simply rubber-stamp the abolition of DLA. This weekend people with disabilities and The Broken of Britain webgroup mourn its loss and we invite you to join our blogswarm on disability and benefits, One Month Before Heartbreak.
Mr Duncan Smith laid out his plans for a welfare revolution in an exclusive interview.
In remarks that will spark controversy, he became the first cabinet minister to draw a direct link between our economic turmoil and the workless. He told The Sun:
“It embarrasses me. I think this is the greatest country on earth.
“What I cannot bear is the idea that this country was the workshop of the world. It gave everybody the free market, the industrial revolution. You think what we did to change the world. This was the place that everyone looked to.
“Yet we have managed to create a block of people in Britain who do not add anything to the greatness of this country.
“They have become conditioned to be users of services, not providers of money. This is a huge part of the reason we have this massive deficit. We have had to borrow vast sums of money. We went on this inflated spending spree.
“But at the heart of it lies the fact that Britain is not productive enough. We have to get Britain to rediscover what was really great about this country.”
As Iain Duncan Smith then goes on in this interview from December 1st to claim that nearly half those claiming Incapacity Benefit in 2007-8 simply “signed themselves off” my first reaction was …
(Your initial application for IB may be allowed based on paperwork evidence which will include – at the very least – a Doctor’s Certificate from your own GP and most likely a report from your consultant/specialist, but NOBODY gets Incapacity Benefit just for the asking.)
My second response was “What the hell brought that on?”. Rhetoric in the UK tends to be considerably more restrained than say, the US, so blaming 2.5 million disabled workers now receiving Incapacity Benefit for the multi-trillion pound National Deficit seemed a bit of a reach even for The Sun. Disability activists actually rang the Department for Work and Pensions to check whether his comments had been reported accurately and were told by a spokeswoman: “If we were unhappy with the article in the Sun we would have gone back to the Sun, but we haven’t.” So they reported the comments to the equality watchdog.
You’re sh*t, and you know you are…
While IDS was having his up-close and personal with Sun readers, coincidentally the first progress reports were being submitted from the privatised workfare schemes he’s relying on to get us all back into the jobs market. Officially I still receive Incapacity Benefit and am due to ‘migrate’ across to ESA sometime in the next two years. Existing claimants are only being migrated in two test areas for the moment – Burnley in the north of England and Aberdeen in Scotland – so for the last couple of years, new applicants with a disability or health condition have been claiming Employment Support Allowance. Rather than paying civil servants in JobCentrePlus to administer the new Work Programme for those on Jobseekers Allowance or in the Work Group of ESA, it has been farmed out to private companies like A4E, Remploy or Australia’s own Ingeus (company of the former Mrs Australian PM, Therese Rein), supposedly on a payment-for-success basis. They don’t get you a job, they don’t get paid is the theory. So how are those “incentives” stacking up so far?
The target job entry rate for mandatory participants was 42% by December 2009. The actual job entry rate according to Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) data is13%. Mandatory participants make up three-quarters of the client group. Although the trend in this area has been improving over a period of time, available evidence suggests that the provider will fall far short of the contracted outcomes for this group.
Outcomes for voluntary participants are more positive. The target job entry rate was 42% at December 2009. The actual job entry rate was 39% and job outcomes are likely to be very close to target by the end of the contract.
The target for ‘sustained outcomes’ of participants staying in work for 26 weeks was set at 49% by December 2009. DWP data indicates that the actual figure was 42%. Although below target, the overall trend for sustained outcomes is positive.
Ingeus have a very successful track record of running welfare-to-work programs in Australia, so lack of provider skill is unlikely to be the problem. Feedback from UK participants is very positive and second-hand evidence from Australian friends who have survived the Ingeus experience seem good too – they’ll nag you back to work, mainly with a “you’re on the taxpayers dime now, son” approach but they’re genuinely supportive and extremely proactive as a company when it comes to overcoming obstacles to work (in one case, forcing Queensland Rail to provide ramps so a train service was accessible for a scooter-user who’d found a job but just couldn’t get there otherwise).
IDS may be correct, Britain may simply need a better class of jobseekers, or they just need to stop with the incentivisation by guilt-trip. It may work with those receiving means-tested Income Support due to Incapacity, but as someone on contributions-based Incapacity Benefit I’m just going to turn around and tell you that I paid my dues as a worker thanks (in the form of national insurance), now p*ss off. Human beings may not be able to get much beyond reciprocal altruism and the Victorian definitions of ‘worthy vs unworthy poor’ but the answer is not abolishing the social insurance scheme. Private employment agencies MUST be able to do better – how else do they stay in profit? – but the government is failing to capitalise on the actual advantages of privatisation here. Choice and specialisation.
Instead of paying a single provider in each geographical area to replicate the services of JobCentrePlus, why not harness the power of the free market by voucherising clients?
The Conservatives have been advocating this system for school entry of children, so why not for adult training? Let jobseekers choose the workfare provider that best suits their needs. Adjust the value of vouchers so job-brokers get more money to take on individuals who are harder to place due to issues like disability or long-term unemployment, and encourage the specialised provision that’s the hallmark of companies like Ingeus rather than the two-tier provision currently being produced where more difficult clients are ‘parked’ and only the easiest cases get ‘creamed’ for a quick profit.
Who here has the ‘attitude problem’?
Incapacity benefit is remnant of Beveridge Report social insurance: you have to have paid sufficient National Insurance contributions while working in order to qualify. Milton Friedman predicted at the time that introducing means-testing to benefits would invariably lead to claimants being slandered as ‘cheats and scroungers’ – well spotted there, Milt – but it’s those of us who have paid their contributions who seem to be the target of Duncan Smith’s ire in The Sun.
Having proof-read Bring Laws and Gods for SL I’ve been exposed to a lot of Roman law recently and to be honest, as someone on benefits I’m starting to feel like the accused person in a Roman case who was subject to ritual abuse, called vituperatio. That’s all right. I’m a big girl, I can take it. Think of it as an additional cost of my disability. My main concern is that something worse than VITUPERATIO might be going on here. Have disabled workers effectively been declared INFAMES, like a domestic abuser or dishonourably discharged soldier of the Roman period?
What were the consequences of infamia? Social disgrace was certainly involved and legal disabilities: for example infames could not hold offices or positions of honour, could not vote (at least in early law), or bring criminal accusations, or appear as advocates, or act as representatives (or be represented) in litigation, as we have seen. And infames would often be intestabiles [unable to act as a witness in legal action or documents] as well. The true impact of infamia as a legal penalty can only be fully understood in the context of Roman society, where commerce and social progression was based on family and status connections. These ties were effectively severed when a person was branded infamous, which is why infamy is often described as social (and for that matter also economic) ‘death’.
– Paul du Plessis, BORKOWSKI’S TEXTBOOK ON ROMAN LAW p. 106
(Just as a sidebar, in the 1920s and 30s people with disabilities were also referred to as “the socially dead”.)
Once INFAMES, any claim could be made about you and you would have no remedy in delict (which is the Roman version of the tort of defamation). The News of the World could call you a two-headed paedophile on the front page and you’d be unable to sue them for libel, having no ‘good name’ to defend – even if you’d ‘only’ been convicted of beating your wife.
Perhaps this is the philosophical justification for the simultaneous announcement that Legal Aid funding is to be withdrawn for welfare-related matters. Much of the funding for welfare rights organisations such as Citizen’s Advice Bureaux who assist claimants appealing against DWP decisions comes from Legal Aid. In massively contested benefits such as ESA, successful appeals against decisions to deny awards at the appropriate level are currently running at 40%. This often rises to over 70% where claimants have professional support.
In attempting to rediscover Britain’s “greatness” Iain Duncan Smith seems to be reaching back a bit further than the Industrial Revolution. For a Catholic man who once told Radio 4 that British workers not being able or capable of taking available jobs was ‘a sin’, IDS is starting to sound awfully pagan…