Punishing ill and disabled

"I'M AS angry as hell. It's very hard for disabled people to believe that the Labour government who promised them so much can now be so treacherous."
  • SASHA CALLAGHAN, former chair of the Labour Party's disabled members' group

NEW LABOUR faced its biggest revolt yet in parliament this week over its vicious cuts to benefits for the disabled and severely ill. The Labour rebels are absolutely right. The government's Welfare Reform Bill not only attacks some of the most vulnerable people in society but assaults the founding principles of the welfare state.

The bill's measures include denying benefits to those who become disabled or fall seriously ill through absolutely no fault of their own. People will be barred from claiming Incapacity Benefit if they have paid too few national insurance contributions for the previous two years. That means anyone who is disabled or gets a long term illness and is thrown out of work will be stripped of their entitlement to the benefit. The government's new measures will also force people through the ordeal of even stricter "eligibility" tests to claim even meagre levels of benefit.

Social security secretary Alistair Darling claims the government's "priority is to help the poorest and most severely disabled people who are in greatest need". It is a lie. There is one simple reason why this government is attacking the benefits of the disabled and the ill-it wants to save £750 million.

The attacks on the disabled sum up the priorities of New Labour. Tony Blair and his ministers have cuddled up to big business and the rich. They have refused to raise the top rate of tax on their fat cat friends to above 40 percent. The very same Blairite ministers who are justifying the benefit cuts are the same people who spent £2.6 million last year on their "advisors" alone. Tony Blair can find millions of pounds every day to fund his war drive against Yugoslavia. As Labour MP Tam Dalyell said, "If there is money to buy Tomahawk missiles, there is money for disability."

Even Labour's former disability spokesperson, Tom Clarke, who has previously backed the government's welfare reform, now argues it is "penalising" disabled people. New Labour's whole welfare reform project is about saving the government money by driving the ill and disabled into greater poverty, hardship and suffering.

What the bill means

SLASHING ENTITLEMENT to Incapacity Benefit.

New claimants who have not paid enough National Insurance contributions over the previous two years will be denied the benefit. This cut will hit even those who have paid full National Insurance contributions in the past. Low paid workers who earn below the minimum National Insurance level and those looking after young children will also be barred from claiming Incapacity Benefit.

Those claiming Incapacity Benefit already face a tough "All Work Test" after 26 weeks. Yet almost two thirds of the 200,000 people who stop claiming Incapacity Benefit every year fail to get a job because of ongoing ill health. Under the new rules such people could not go back to claim Incapacity Benefit because they will not have paid enough National Insurance contributions.

ABOLISHING EXTRA financial help for those over the age of 25 who become too ill to work.

Severe Disablement Allowance, worth £52.70 a week, is currently paid to people who are unable to work but who have not paid enough National Insurance for other benefits. Now the government is abolishing the benefit for new claimants over the age of 25.

A survey by the charity Scope says that 16,000 people will be affected by this every year, most of them women. Scope says those who will be excluded from this benefit will be people like Pam, who is in her 40s. She has had several part time jobs, but can no longer work because she has developed multiple sclerosis.

MEANS TESTING Incapacity Benefit.

Anyone who has an occupational or personal pension of £9,500 a year will no longer get Incapacity Benefit. Everyone else will lose 50p for every pound over £50 they receive.


All people of working age-including disabled people and lone parents-will be forced to attend interviews before they can receive benefits. There are very few exemptions. Those who fail to attend an interview will be stripped of all their benefits until an interview takes place. This is despite New Labour's promises in the past not to introduce compulsory interviews for the disabled.

Something for nothing?

ALISTAIR DARLING says he wants to end the "something for nothing approach to welfare". The government implies that thousands of those who claim benefits are "undeserving" and "scroungers".

In fact it is the government which is getting "something for nothing". Incapacity Benefit is paid for by National Insurance contributions. Now those who have paid years of National Insurance contributions could be denied Incapacity Benefit. They are people who have been thrown out of work or who have been forced to take temporary or casual work-just like millions of others. People should not have to beg for benefit or feel guilty about receiving it. They are asking for what should be theirs by right.

Denied extra help

THE GOVERNMENT is planning to spend just £85 million out of the projected £750 million savings on disabled people. But anyone who is disabled or who has a long term illness needs MORE money, not less, to meet their everyday needs.

Estell Panter, who is in a wheelchair, says, "You have these benefits for a reason. You won't be able to cope without them. It will make you less independent and you won't have that freedom. It frightens the hell out of you. What will you live off? It feels worse than under the Tories. It's disgusting the government is picking on the disabled."

There will be more poverty

"THE BILL is bad news for many people living in poverty or claiming benefit. Getting benefit is already difficult. Around £3.5 billion goes unclaimed each year. Government figures indicate that as many as 50 to 70 percent of those entitled to disability allowance are not claiming it."

Anger at Blair's lack of charity

TWELVE national charities have walked out in disgust from a forum set up to advise the government on reviewing disabled benefits. The charities include Scope, the Royal National Institutes for the Blind and Deaf, MIND, the National Carers Association, MENCAP, Age Concern and the National Association of Citizens Advice Bureaux.

They explained their actions in a letter to social security secretary Alistair Darling: "Many backbenchers have gained the impression that we in the forum are reasonably happy with the bill. We are not. Many of its major provisions are quite wrong in both principle and practice. We are not prepared to run the risk of having our positions compromised or laid open to misinterpretation any longer."

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