Wednesday, 23 February 2011

The Dirty Dozen

As if it wasn’t bad enough that we have to live in fear of the next government attack and of thugs on the streets attacking us as benefit frauds, now big-business is jumping on the bandwagon. The Institute of Directors has put forward 24 "freebie" proposals, which it says would cost the government nothing and would boost private sector growth, with Miles Templeman, the IoD Director General, urging ministers to ‘seize the opportunity’. What the proposals would cost normal people, particularly disabled people, is left unsaid. But digging down into them, the kind of activity where you feel the need to shower afterwards, shows these freebies to be nothing less than a selfish attempt to undermine the welfare state in pursuit of the great god Profit. I’ve picked out the dozen (plus one) proposals with the greatest potential to negatively impact disabled people; so let’s look at exactly what these ‘freebies’ will actually cost us.

The Dirty Dozen (Plus One)

1) The IoD wants to introduce a minimum £500 employee deposit in employment tribunals ‘to deter weak cases’.

The IoD has been very vocal about getting rid of what it considers ‘vexatious claims’ – a cynic might suggest that would cover all of them. The particular problem we face as disabled employees is that the disablism running rife through UK management means that we have far more cause than most to take employers to an employment tribunal, lower physical and financial reserves to carry our cases through to completion and much worse employment prospects for finding another job afterwards. Taking an employer to an employment tribunal is already a stressful and disheartening process, and the behaviour of employers during employment claims is itself often vexatious. If we now add the need to find a £500 deposit and the risk of losing that entirely, while faced with a future claiming benefits of less that £100/week, then there is a very real pressure not to proceed, even with a strong case. The IoD seem to have forgotten, or, more likely, don’t care, that justice is only justice when it is justice for all, regardless of personal wealth or personal job title.

2) The IOD wants to allow firms to escape the risk of tribunals when they dismiss someone within the first two years of service.

The Equality Act just made it much more difficult to get rid of disabled people during the recruitment process, but if you dismiss them afterwards….

3) The IOD wants the legal rights to ask for flexible working and time off for training to be removed, in order “to increase productivity”.

Flexibility is particularly important to disabled employees who may find the typical fixed 9 to 5 regime to be particularly difficult and the law as it stands doesn’t give us a right to flexible working, simply to ask for it. The irony here, which the IoD seems oblivious too, is that for many of us flexible working leads to massive productivity increases, not decreases. Just a few minutes flexibility around my own start time often meant the difference between a full morning's work and several hours curled up in pain.

UK employers are notorious for underfunding training, sometime openly considering it cheaper to replace experienced workers with new graduates fresh from college rather than to train their existing staff. Faced with training policies like that, employees can find it essential to undertake professional development in their own time. But as disabled employees we may lack the spoons to do anything more than our normal 9 to 5, our disabilities may make studying in the evening literally impossible, meaning the only opportunities for professional development come through training leave. If the right to ask for that is taken away, then it will specifically disadvantage disabled employees.

4) The IoD wants the government to drop plans to abolish the default retirement age, asking "Why does the government want to make it harder to remove staff who are no longer effective?"

Words to send a shiver down the spine of many of us and with implications that stretch far beyond retirement age, making the IoD’s view of workers as identical, disposable cogs to be sacrificed to the machine perfectly clear. It is far simpler for a manager to claim a disabled worker is ‘no longer effective’, than to treat them as an individual and make the individual reasonable adjustments to allow them to be as effective as anyone else (even when those adjustments are provided for by law).

5) The IoD wants regulation on business slashed and they suggest that “The Government should establish a review of existing civil service practices regarding salary awards, bonuses, annual assessment criteria and broad career promotion structures in the context of their effect on regulatory behaviour.”

So in other words, civil servants would see their careers damaged by introducing regulations aimed at protecting workers, and enhanced by removing them. Someone remind me, is this being proposed by the IoD, or by organised crime? Because managing government policy through blackmail and bribery certainly sounds more like a Mafia plot. Would the DDA and the Equality Act ever have been drafted if the civil servants involved knew that their careers would be permanently damaged as a result?

6) The IoD wants radical reforms to turn Education and Health into key market growth areas for the private sector.

Anyone else see the problem here? Where’s the profit in making schools wheelchair accessible or in providing free medical care to people with chronic conditions. A society’s worth is measured on its ability to care for the minority even at a cost to the majority, not on the profit it generates.

7) The IoD wants Education and Health to shift even further towards genuine consumer power over the coming years – for example education vouchers with topup capability

So the more you earn the better the school (or hospital) you can send your child to. Better hope neither you nor they happen to be disabled…

8) The IoD wants “public services, with companies which can exploit the market potential of Health and Education”

Is ‘exploit’ really a word we want associated with Health and Education?

9) The IoD wants a fast-track planning system for key national projects to boost the construction sector and replace ageing infrastructure, overriding local objections.

And the access needs of disabled people alongside the other local objections?

10) The IOD wants an end to collective bargaining in the NHS and in schools.

At first glance this might not seem like something likely to specifically affect disabled employees, but conditions for disabled workers in public bodies do tend to be considerably better than in private sector companies. This is, at least in part, because collective bargaining allows the needs of the few, and disabled employees are almost always ‘the few’, to be considered with the weight of all employees behind them, rather than the small minority of employees for whom they are directly relevant. Establishment of worker rights within the public sector then provides a springboard for extending them into the private sector, where they are desperately needed. Take away collective bargaining in the public sector and you take away any chance of further improving the rights of disabled workers anywhere in the economy, if not outright exposing those rights to a disablist backlash.

And beyond that, strong unions in education and health are likely to get in the way of their agenda of turning schools and hospitals into profit centres, with all the negative consequences for us in that.

11) The IoD wants to focus regional policy and funding on 'winners' not 'losers', the communities likely to yield the greatest ‘return on investment’.

So the communities with the worst problems will get the least help, those same communities that statistics show to have the greatest support needs for disabled people.

12) The IoD wants to end the 50 per cent top rate of Income Tax and slash Corporation tax

They recognise that we’re all in this together, and want no part of it.

13) Perhaps most scarily of all, the IoD want to cut public spending to just 35% of GDP as opposed to current government targets of 40%

Just getting public spending down towards 40% of GDP is causing a terrifying onslaught on the support for disabled people within society, slicing another 12.5% off public sector spending once we get there will condemn the UK’s disabled people to a worse than Third World existence.

It is clear that these so called ‘freebies’ are designed to do nothing less than rip away the heart and soul of our society by turning schools and hospitals into profit centres that they can exploit for every last penny of profit available, while stripping away every fragment of protection and rights that workers have spent the past two centuries fighting for, and in these circumstances it is always disabled people who suffer first and suffer most.

And this new wave of the business community actively seeking to twist government policy against disabled people seems to be spreading, The Australian Business Council has just suggested that disability pensions there should be cut in order to pay for flood damage, because obviously that’s a far more equitable solution than raising taxes. Worse, they’re citing UK policy on disability benefits to justify it, which suggests a somewhat shaky grasp on logic. ‘He did it first’ didn’t work when we were five year olds on the playground, to see it recycled by heads of major companies trying to steer government policy beggars belief.


  1. That's just foul... what worries me is that the Tories are so motivated by the interests of the corporate world that I could see them adopting some of these. :/

  2. Funnily enough, the Australians are now admitting that the current disability pension system (it's all means-tested) isn't entirely satisfactory so they're looking at creating an insurance component by raising the Medicare levy ie. resorting to National Insurance! Our government is phasing OUT contributions-based benefits, theirs is bringing them IN. LOL.

    Big business to disabled people: "Right, you've had a few decades pretending to be 'normal' people. Now return to your homes and go back to being unfortunate and invisible as it SHOULD be."