New Labour’s easy targets: cutting disability benefits

When you hear that the government would like disability benefit claimants to find employment, ask yourself: Where are the jobs going to come from?

Employers aren’t looking to take on more people – given the parlous financial situation. There may be significant job cuts in the next few months (I mean, more than those associated with the government’s policy of manufacturing decline and the frictional job losses inherent in the “working” of a market economy.)

It’s not unreasonable to suppose the intent is to reduce the ammount of benefit people are given rather than get people into employment.

Or as the News Line puts it:

LABOUR MOUNTS ATTACK ON DISABLED

Disability charities yesterday expressed concerns over Labour’s plans to introduce harsh work tests and force almost two million people off incapacity benefit.

In his Budget speech on Wednesday, chancellor Darling said: ‘Welfare reform makes work pay and encourages people off benefits.’

He added: ‘From April 2010 all long-term recipients of incapacity benefit will attend work capability assessments.

‘These reforms will continue to free up resources for investment.’

His announcement followed that of work and pensions secretary Purnell, who said the government plans to implement the Freud Report in full.

Purnell hired investment banker David Freud to recommend Welfare ‘reform’.

Freud suggested that less than a third of the 2.6 million incapacity benefit claimants were genuine.

In a recent interview he said: ‘When the whole rot started in the 1980s we had 700,000 (claimants). I suspect that’s much closer to the real figure than the one we’ve got now.’

Freud went on to attack GPs, saying: ‘It’s ludicrous that the disability tests are done by people’s own GPs, they’ve got a classic conflict of interest and they’re frightened of legal action.’

He recommended putting private companies in charge of finding jobs for the long-term unemployed, with cash incentives for the companies to drive claimants off benefit.

Freud said: ‘I worked out that it is economically rational to spend up to £62,000 on getting the average person on incapacity benefit into the world of work.’

Disability Alliance director of policy and services Paul Treloar, said yesterday: ‘Disability Alliance is concerned that government proposals to apply the new Work Capability Assessment to all incapacity benefit claimants from 2010 is an attempt to simply reduce the numbers claiming benefit through imposing a harder test of entitlement.’

He added: ‘Official figures for incapacity benefit fraud indicate that current levels are lower than 0.5 per cent.

‘We feel that it is dishonest of the government to look to reduce the numbers of incapacity benefit claimants in these circumstances.’

Treloar said that, in his experience, ‘it does cause concern when people think there are intentions simply to throw them off benefits’.

Director of services at Disability Action, Kevin Doherty insisted that the ‘overall ethos’ of the vast majority of those claiming incapacity benefit was the desire to work.

In his reaction to Wednesday’s Budget speech, GMB trade union general secretary Paul Kenny said: ‘The requirement that those on incapacity benefit must attend work capability assessments is based on the false notion that the high levels of claimants in some areas is due to the fact that these people do not want work.’

He added: ‘The Chancellor needs to face up to the fact that in today’s labour market able bodied and fully fit workers get jobs ahead of those who are disabled and those not fully fit.’

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England’s inequality sickness

Another triumph for New Liebore:

Despite a pledge to cut the health gap between the richest and poorest, the difference in life expectancy is widening, a government report shows.

The aim is to reduce the differences in male and female life expectancy by 10% by 2010.

But the report shows the gap between those in the most deprived areas of England and the rest of the country is getting worse.

The government said inequalities were “difficult to change.”

Yes, especially when you’re not trying and in fact pushing policies which exacerbate inequalities…

The report, the third annual analysis of the implementation of a 2003 strategy to tackle health inequalities, says there have been real improvements.

Life expectancy in the most deprived areas has increased by two and a half years for men and one and a half years for women over the last 10 years.

But the gap in life expectancy for women in the most deprived areas compared with the average was 2% wider in 2004-06 than in 1995-97.

And the gap for women is now 11% wider.

Infant mortality

The difference in the infant mortality rate has been falling in recent years after a 2002 high, it is still significantly higher than it was a decade ago.

For babies whose fathers have a “routine or manual occupation”, the mortality rate in 2004-06 was 17% higher than that for the general population, compared to 13% in 1997-99.

Public health minister Dawn Primarolo said: “This report proves what we already know – health inequalities are difficult to change.

“We’ve set ourselves an ambitious target and we’re the only country in the world to have a plan to reduce health inequalities. We are determined to make a difference.”

She said the 70 local authority areas with the highest level of deprivation now had “health trainers” to help people improve their health, and that there was action to tackle rates of obesity and smoking.

Professor Sir Michael Marmot, who chaired the group which compiled the report, said: “While it is too early to see any short term impact on health inequalities, the report shows a very welcome improvement in life expectancy for all social groups, including disadvantaged groups.

“There are encouraging signs of a reduction in health inequalities in the two big killers of cancer and heart disease.

“Wider policy too makes a difference to health inequalities with over 600,000 children taken out of poverty over the last 10 years.”

Professor Danny Dorling, an expert in human geography at Sheffield University, said the inequalities were now at “unprecedented levels”.

“This is the first Labour or Liberal government to see this gap widen.

“I can see why the government thought that just giving it time and spending money on it would work.

“But it worries me that there will be more excuses rather than an admission of failure.”