Friday, 22 April 2011


A lot of hoo-ha in the UK press at the moment about disability benefits. The essence of the story is that the government reckon 80,000 claimants who have what they consider "immoral" illnesses like drug/alcohol dependency or obesity are a justification for their plans to chuck about 570,000 genuine claimants off the disability benefits on which they depend.

According to the BBC article, the Prime Minister's position is thus:
The prime minister denied the government was stigmatising people who were genuinely ill but said the public believed recipients should be "people who are incapacitated through no fault of their own".

No fault of their own, what a strange concept. Does the man intend to start assessing not only the practical limitations of a person's condition, but also the degree of fault involved?

He continues:
"But there are some who are on these benefits who do not deserve them and frankly we are not doing our job looking after taxpayers' money if we do not try and make sure these people go to work."

Benefits are not given based on being deserving. They are given based on need. Going to work or not isn't based on being deserving. It's based on ability. An idiot who drove while high/drunk/ill/tired and smashed up his car and his head so badly that neither will ever function again is probably not considered very "deserving", but his needs will be pretty high and he's unlikely to work again. A young fireman who lost a leg while saving a helpless baby from a burning building is about as deserving as they come, but his needs, while substantial, will be easier to adapt for, and with a relatively small amount of equipment and support the chances are he will be able to do some work.

I wonder... if someone were declared Fit For Work despite a serious health condition, and in the course of making the effort to keep up with the Mandatory Work Related Activity requirement of JSA, their condition permanently worsened to the point where even the DWP and ATOS accept that they are too ill to work - would it be their fault for not saying "I can't do this," and risking having their JSA stopped?

Even taking the sort of example that I think the government mean, it's worrying. Let's imagine, for a moment, that we have a claimant, an alcoholic, and that his alcohol dependency didn't evolve as self-medication for a pre-existing but untreated mental health condition. Let's accept the government assumption that he really did skip gleefully out of the careers office at school saying "I've got a better idea, I'll get pished and the taxpayer will take care of me, bwahahahahaha!" Fixed this in your head? Good.

Now we're twenty years down the line, he has no friends and family left apart from other alcoholics, no work history, very few self-care skills, and all the physical and mental effects of long term alcohol abuse, which if you're not too squeamish you can look up for yourself. There are very few jobs that such a person could do, and even fewer employers who would take such a person on. Then what happens?

Cameron's despicable lie is that his ideal outcome involves people with dependency issues being treated and then helped to find jobs. That will never happen. It is far too expensive, and without wishing to sound defeatist, in many cases it's an impossible outcome.

We could put him into a treatment programme - one that isn't dependent on turning up sober (unlikely), and that won't send him back to his bedsit and alcoholic pals to undo all the work that has been done (so we're looking at an open-ended residential placement - unlikely, and extremely expensive). Then once he's sober, he'll be allowed to access NHS treatment for the underlying mental health conditions that will have developed (unlikely and expensive) and the physical damage as well (amazingly expensive). We'll have to hope that during those years - yes, years - the DWP don't choose him as an easy target and put him under so much pressure that he cracks and starts drinking again. Eventually, after many years of intensive treatment, a lot of money, even more hard work, and a dollop of luck on the side, he might be able to re-enter some sort of employment for a few years until he (a) retires, (b) dies of the irreversible physical damage, or (c) falls off the wagon again.

Cynically speaking, and please don't think I'm advocating this, it is in fact cheaper to allow him to quietly drink himself into an early grave without intervention.

Cameron might talk up "treatment" and "employment" but until we see actions to that effect - boosting rather than cutting the support projects* - what he really means by "getting people off disability benefits," is saving money by consigning them to the lower unemployment benefits.

The benefits system is supposed to be the last safety net. It does not provide a luxury lifestyle, it doesn't try to improve matters, it merely attempts to go towards providing what has been defined as the minimum amount of support necessary for that person to live in conditions that can be considered acceptable for a human being. Reducing that support does not propel people into sustainable jobs, it just makes their lives more difficult and in many cases perpetuates their problems, or in a few very sad cases, hastens their deaths.

*Yes, the article speaks of a £580m investment. However, this is from "private and voluntary organisations", eg not the government, and frankly it's a drop in the ocean compared to the cost of effective long-term treatment and support for that many addicts.

Cross-posted to This Is My Blog.


  1. Let's not forget that Cameron does what his tax-dodging backers tell him to do, and the tax-dodging media moguls are happy to help for obvious reasons!


  2. Well put and so very true, where is the realism in this rubbish they keep spouting? I have given up looking for any cimpassion in this whole farce

  3. "The prime minister denied the government was stigmatising people who were genuinely ill"

    If that's true, why do I keep getting abused over benefit fraud in the street by complete strangers who haven't a clue if I'm claiming benefit or not, but can see I'm disabled?

    He can deny it all he wants, but it's still just a calculated lie intended to hide the truth of his attack on disabled people. He says the government are 'brave' to do this, since when did brave mean being a bullying coward?

  4. There are two possible reasons for Cameron's continued guff:

    1. He's lying consciously and deliberately, or

    2. This is a kneejerk first response to the concept of welfare; a bright(ish) ten-year-old would see where this thinking falls down, if not when first thinking about the concept, then immediately when someone points out what you have put beautifully.

    I find it hard to believe, however insidiously satire influences me, that the PM really has less understanding than a bright(ish) ten-year-old. Which leaves only the nastiest conclusion...

    Surely soon enough people will see what's going on, and together get in its way?

  5. so i have an illness through no fault of my own in fact two now, so why did they declare me fit for work surely from what Mr C said i would be looked after.

  6. so all those people found fit for work can lodge an appeal on the grounds that its through no fault of my own and quote the PM, its a win win situation

  7. And then what? lets say we had another election and Cameron was to lose, does anyone really think Labour would do anything different, they started this mess.

  8. Deserving? Undeserving? This is the language of the Poor Laws.....

  9. Robert, no, I don't believe Labour would do anything different, and I know they started this.

    I assure you I would be upset by this b*ll*cks no matter which party it was originating from.

  10. Thats the problem it's coming from all Parties.