04/12/2013 12:03 GMT | Updated 03/02/2014 05:59 GMT

The Welfare Reform Scam

The government's claim that it is protecting disabled people from cuts is, of course, nonsense. Deep cuts are being made to disability benefits and to social care, which is now used by 25% fewer people. But government is expert in disguising its actions and finding someone else to blame.

For instance, social care will be cut by about 33% by 2015, but local government is the scapegoat. Few people realise that a cut of 42% in local government funding must translate into deep and lasting cuts in social care. The fact that central government also pretends to be providing extra funding for social care makes the whole situation even more laughable.

When it comes to cuts in benefits their main strategy has been to claim that the benefits are being 'reformed' whilst making cuts by stealth. The biggest cuts are being introduced by changes to indexation - something few of us understand - but which is slowly decreasing the value of benefits year after year. This means that the UK, already the third most unequal developed country in the world, will inevitably become even more unequal.

Sometimes a new name is used to create confusion and obscure what is really going on. For example, Disability Living Allowance (DLA) is now being changed to the Personal Independence Payment (PIP). In other words, a benefit that gave disabled people a little extra money, to make up for the extra costs of living with a disability, has now been given a new name with no clear meaning, but one which sounds much more 'aspirational'. Yet the real purpose of this change is to make 0.5 million people ineligible for this modest benefit, in other words, to reduce independence.

Even more ludicrous has been the transformation of Incapacity Benefit (IB) into the Employment and Support Allowance (ESA). The Work Capability Assessment (WCA) assigns disabled people to one of three possible benefits: Job Seekers Allowance (JSA), ESA's Work Related Activity Group (ESA-WRAG) and ESA's Support Group (ESA-SG). Who would be able to guess the purpose of these benefits from their names? These are not allowances to assist with job seeking or to enable employment; they are simply the basic benefits that people need just to exist. This is further DWP newspeak - you must invert the apparent meaning in order to find the true meaning.

Other cuts wear an even subtler disguise. A report written by leading disability campaigner Kaliya Franklin, published this week by The Centre for Welfare Reform, describes how Atos (the private medical company funded by government) works to a system of 'norms' in order to meet the government's targets for cuts. Again, the same pattern, but this time Atos are the scapegoat. They are blamed for the high rate of successful appeals against their assessments and for the pain, misery and death caused by this process. But the real problem lies in the management system imposed by the DWP.

The worst kind of scapegoating and evasion is to blame disabled people themselves. Take for example the Daily Express headline: "Health tests show how 75% on sick benefits can work".


This shock headline feeds the lie that disabled people are skivers and it seems highly likely that it was based on this government press release:

The latest figures show that 55 per cent of new claimants who go through the Work Capability Assessment are found fit for some form of work. The official statistics published today also show that, for the latest period 20 per cent could be capable of doing some work with the right help and support...

Whether or not the Daily Express were helped to add 20% to 55% to get their silly 75% figure I do not know. However the reality is that the ESA is a system that was designed precisely to create these figures. It was an inevitable feature of government policy that disabled people would be divided into these three different groups, of these specific sizes. This is not the uncovering of skivers - as the headline implies - rather it is simply the division of disabled people into three pre-determined categories in order to save money.

At a deeper level we should question why we employ politicians and civil servants to deceive us and to stigmatise us. It may be that this is a constant problem in government; politicians seek legitimacy by distorting facts to suit themselves. Perhaps we all do this. But we grant politicians the power and resources to distort reality on a grand scale.

In particular we pay for an expensive professional civil service who serve politicians by creating systems, rules, policy changes and deceptive press releases. Perhaps it is time that the civil servants ask themselves some hard questions about their own complicity with this injustice. Good intentions and obedience to politicians are not enough. It is time the public sector and its agents remembered that they work for the public, not for our politicians.