27 AUG

Mike Theodoulou’s Blog

SICK BENEFIT CLAIMENTS TO BE FORCED BACK TO WORK

Iain Duncan Smith, the Welfare Secretary, has turned his attention onto the ‘’sickness benefit culture’’ which, according to him is trapping about 2.5 million people in unemployment.

He now wants to take steps to force people back to work by tightening up the ‘work capability assessment’ which he feels is favouring the sick person and not the state.

Most people in this country would agree that our benefit system needs reform. The total cost of benefits and tax credits is over £217 billion this year which is nearly 30% of all public spending. With more and more of us living longer this is clearly not sustainable.

What is needed is carefully thought through changes which should be tested first and introduced gradually, along with a programme of culture change to reduce the dependency culture and help people buy into change.

What we have instead is a Government which wants to take a sledge hammer to everything regardless the human cost. Driven by political ideology and a media sector focusing on a few claimant cheats, there appears to be little thought for the vast majority of claimants who need the state to support them.

What should concern most of us about this latest proposal from Iain Duncan Smith is three things.

Firstly, a substantial percentage of those targeted suffer from mental conditions. A recent survey by the mental health charity Mind showed that four in five reported that their experience of back to work programmes had made their mental health problems worse. Forcing them back to work is likely to exasperate their mental health issues even more and risk creating more problems than it is trying to solve.

Secondly, there appears to be a very risky assumption that the private sector is in a position to take on staff that will need extra support and handholding when most small businesses are still fighting for survival in what remains a fragile economy. This is a further example of the ‘London centric’ eyes of the Conservative Government who think that a strong South East economy reflects what is happening in the poorer more deprived regions of the UK.

Finally, Welsh Government research shows that central Government cuts to benefits and tax credits has reduced entitlements in Wales by a projected £900 million for next year alone and that is without the cuts announced in the summer budget. What impact is this likely to have on the sensitive Welsh economy? With around £1Billion reduction in spending power in Wales how is the private sector going to recover and provide the jobs that Duncan Smith wants to force people to take?

Answers on a post card please.

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