Each month the unemployment figures – the numbers claiming Job Seekers Allowance -rightly come under scrutiny as an important measure of how the Government of the day is performing. But that is only part of the dependency culture. There are 1.14 million claiming JSA. Those claiming Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) and incapacity benefits is much higher at 2.49 million.The good news is that both have been coming down. In May 2010 there were 2.6 million on ESA and incapacity benefits.
Today the DWP claims 980,400 people – 32 per cent of new applicants for ESA – were considered capable of work between 2008 and March 2013. Also that a million others withdrew their claims after interviews. Previously there was a lack of rigour in checking the validity of the claims that applicants were unable to work.
This is long overdue – 12 per cent of those involved in rioting in 2011 were claiming disability or sickness benefits.
Minister of State for Disabled People Mike Penning said:
“As part of the government’s long-term economic plan, it is only fair that we look at whether people can do some kind of work with the right support – rather than just writing them off on long-term sickness benefits, as has happened in the past.
“With the right support, many people with an illness, health condition or disability can still fulfil their aspiration to get or stay in work, allowing them to provide for themselves and their family.”
Under Labour those claiming Disability Living Allowance increased from 2.5 million to 3.2 million. It was possible to get the £130-a-week DLA
simply by filling out a bit of paper, while those with serious disabilities had to cope with complicated 38-page forms to fill in.
There has clearly been fraud on a massive scale – of those falsely claiming to be disabled of long term sick – and dealing with that has been part of the Government’s policy.
But also important has been challenging the assumption that even if someone is genuinely disabled it is impossible for them to do any work of any kind. That may seem obvious – Mr Penning himself has dyslexia but manages to hold down a job as a Minister of the Crown. However some of the comments about the spare room subsidy cut appear to make the sweeping assumption that all disabled people are unemployable.
Technological change should make it possible for more and more disabled people to join the workforce. Government policy has been to assist the process rather than just write off millions of people as unproductive.
Of course it is also true that for some disabled people work will not be possible. The Personal Independence Plan (which is gradually replacing the DLA) is ending or reducing payments for some, but it is also increasing help for others.
This doesn’t mean everything will be go smoothly with the changes. Some will find the uncertainty of being assessed daunting. Others will be victims of mistakes. Even when they have payments reinstated on appeal it will be traumatic. There have been individual harrowing cases where the anger is legitimate. There have been crass attempts by Labour MPs to exploit suicides to score political points. Yet research from Sweden comes up with the unsurprising conclusion that it is worklessness among the disabled that increases the propensity to suicide.
Providing the most effective help and opportunities for the disabled can be achieved at the same time as reducing the cost to the taxpayer.