Back to business as usual as the Tories step up their class war on disabled benefit claimants

By Dr Leon Tressell

Over the last 18 months of the pandemic the richest 1% in our society have become vastly more wealthy. Meanwhile the incomes of the bottom 20% have declined. In the UK 24 new billionaires were created, taking the total to 171.

This is a global phenomenon which has led to one of the largest wealth transfers in history. The billionaire class have gained over $5 trillion in extra wealth during 2020-2021.

It is against this backdrop that the Tory government has gone back to business as usual and resumed its class war on some of the poorest and most vulnerable sections of our society. I will highlight several issues which quite clearly illustrate this.

Benefit Sanctions

The latest edition of the Department for Work and Pensions newsletter Touchbase has revealed that sanctions will be resumed for new-style Employment Support Allowance and Jobseeker’s Allowance claimants. This will bring claimants of these benefits in line with those who claim Universal Credit.

The Tories are fully aware of the great misery, suffering, distress and even death that these punitive sanctions have caused in the past, yet they are still proceeding with them. Meanwhile, the Bank of England continues with its Quantitative Easing programme that helps inflate the prices of assets such as stocks and bonds which benefit the ultra-rich in our society.

The DWP is considering giving job coaches the power to impose sanctions on disabled claimants.

As  Benefits and Work commented, there is a cruel and inhuman philosophy behind this approach:  “The rates of benefits like ESA, JSA and Universal Credit are now so low that the idea that a significant number of claimants would prefer to remain in poverty on benefits rather than work if they could is far-fetched.’’

Everyone ‘on the health journey’ through the poverty induced by being on ESA/JSA and Universal Credit will be subject to the whims of their job coach who will have the power to impose sanctions and make ‘employment support activities’ mandatory for claimants.

Now job coaches will be free to discriminate at whim and makes people’s lives hell and the DWP will not monitor the activity of the misnamed ‘coaches’.  Benefits and Work point out: “It’s also clear that this new approach makes discrimination, both at the institutional level and at the individual job coach level, even more likely and virtually impossible to expose.’’

Budget did nothing for disabled claimants

The recent budget did nothing at all for disabled claimants. However, the government gave £2.6 billion to the DWP to enable it to forcibly transfer claimants on legacy benefits such as ESA into the iniquitous melting pot that is Universal Credit.

The Independent Case Examiner recently issued a report that noted how the DWP had wrongly advised many people to move from ESA onto Universal Credit leaving them financially worse off:

“We see a steady stream of cases raising concern about misdirection in transitioning to UC. A factor in all of these is that DWP staff should not advise claimants as to which benefit to claim.”

If you are ‘invited’ by the DWP to migrate over to Universal Credit then Benefits and Work have some useful advice: “We would strongly advise claimants to get reliable advice from an agency you trust and to whom you can give all the details of your personal circumstances before voluntarily moving onto UC.’’

Fight for justice continues as Capita pay compensation to family of Philippa Day

Capita, a DWP contractor, has just agreed to pay a six-figure sum in compensation to the family of Philippa Day whose suicide was caused by systematic flaws in the benefits system.

The coroner who investigated the causes of Philippa Day’s suicide noted in his report that serious weaknesses in the benefit system were “the predominant factor and the only acute factor” that led to her taking her own life.

He issued a Prevention of Future deaths report which contained 28 recommendations for Capita and the DWP to implement.

The financial settlement that Capita has agreed to pay to the family of Philippa Day will be used to support her six year son.

Imogen Day, the sister of Philippa Day, has declared that she will continue to fight for justice for the families of all benefit claimants who have taken their own lives due to the cruel and inhumane flaws in our benefits system. She recently told the Disability News Service:

“In 2019, my sister was stolen from me. What followed was a difficult inquest full of inappropriate tactics and attempts to conceal wrongdoing. The DWP has broken the public’s trust that there is social security that is kind and well-balanced.’’

She added, “I will continue to campaign for a full public inquiry into benefit deaths.”

Merry Varney, a solicitor who has represented the Day family, issued the following damning verdict following the settlement with Capita:

 “Through this settlement, and the public investigation into how the DWP and its agents treated Philippa, a young mother with physical and mental health conditions which led to damning findings by the Coroner, the law has delivered some accountability for and recognition of the wrongs Philippa suffered and the devastating impact on her family.’’

She added:“Capita has shown acceptance of their failures and a willingness to ensure their mistakes are not repeated, however there remain too many examples of the DWP, which controls the financial circumstances of the majority of people too sick to work, acting inhumanely to those receiving benefits and a continued resistance by the DWP to transparent investigations into benefit related deaths.”

Varney noted how the DWP is in urgent need of reform to prevent future deaths of vulnerable claimants: “Until the DWP changes its attitude, people like Philippa and her family remain at risk of gross human rights violations and ‘benefit related deaths’ are just another example of preventable deaths of people with disabilities occurring without any proper investigation or scrutiny.”

Time to Fightback

The labour movement must as a matter of urgency campaign to defend working class people who are subject to our cruel and inhumane benefit system. There needs to be concerted push back against the Tory agenda of austerity which will continue to inflict untold suffering upon large numbers of vulnerable people. This should include action on the parliamentary and industrial front up to and including a general strike against this government of big business.

Leon Tressell is a geo-political historian who has written extensively about the new Cold War between the US and Russia/China as well as the persecution of whistle blowers such as Julian Assange and Chelsea Manning.

Image: “Edinburgh Coalition Against Poverty Protest at A4e Edinburgh” by Edinburgh Coalition Against Poverty is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

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