As an incurable "bleeding heart" I would like to comment on Martin Tideswell article on the review of incapacity benefit the Government is undertaking. I might take a benevolent view on this but I am not naïve a trap that martin falls into. He assumes that the authority has the best interests of the claimant at heart and that this exercise is either cost or target driven. I can assure him it is and the private medical companies contracted by the DWP to carry out the tests on claimants are motivated by such considerations. It also reduces the welfare bill as JSA is at a lower rate than incapacity benefit. That is the driver in this review.
When I was a volunteer at a local CAB I was certainly aware under the previous Government that people were being passed fit who seemed not to be. This was particularly evident as far as people with mental health problems were concerned. The test as I understood it was crude in determining an individuals mental health state and on appeal many of the cases were won by organisations such as the CAB. I believe that the guidelines have been tightened further.
The target culture is also responsible for removing clients arbitrary from JSA according to a national newspaper if they are deemed not to be trying hard enough to secure employment without right of appeal pitching people into poverty.
And of course nothing is said of the welfare dependent private companies who are set to make large amounts of money from contracts delivering a questionable "welfare to work" service. The Chief Executive of A4E, for instance, is set to make £1.4 million a salary that dwarfs any senior local government officer.
Of course it is in everybody’s interest to return to work and again to answer Martin’s dismissal of the evidence there are not many jobs out there. In Leek recently there have been reports of hundreds of people applying for a handful of jobs at a local rendering company. I was speaking to a man in his late 50s who has been out of work for nearly 12 months despite many applications. If it were not true how come the job supplement has fallen from 8 pages from a few years ago to only a hundred of jobs now? This position will probably worsen when the scores of former public workers joining the register in the next few weeks.
It is not a question of blame and if it is it is not appropriate to fix it on the poorest and the most vulnerable for the state the country is in. We need to rebuild the local economy as Martin states but we need a plan and vision objectives lacking when large sums of money have been handed out previously by Government have failed to deliver.
I have been unemployed and I know people who are unemployed. It is a miserable experience and contrary to popular belief the level of benefit is not high. £65 a week is not a lavish amount to try and live on. Most of the people who know what it is like to be out of work hate being in this predicament. And to answer his last question, like his friend, yearn escape it.