Incapacity Benefit: The Workhouse Shadow

I’ve just returned from a welcome break during which I deliberately avoided doing anything that might annoy me, such as watching party political conferences on TV. But now that I’m back in the saddle and catching up with all the news, I found myself reading about the Conservative party conference and the Tories’ latest idea to cut the nation’s debt. They say they want to make as many as possible of the UK’s 2.6m incapacity claimants go back to work. They plan to introduce tough medical testing for claimants to weed out fraudsters, cut people’s benefits and force many of them to look for a job, plus they will also launch new training schemes and apprenticeships. They say that, as well as saving the Treasury £1bn, it is all part of a campaign to help the poorest people in our society better themselves.

I find the Tories’ idea particularly curious in the light of some books I’ve been reading about life in the 19th Century.  On one hand things were so different then. The poverty and conditions many people in the UK lived in were truly horrendous compared to those in the 21st Century – we no longer have children here working in factories or raw sewage in the streets. But on the other hand, many of the attitudes and concerns people had about assisting impoverished people then were similar to those we hold today.

Before 1830, people were given what was called ‘outdoor relief’. They stayed at home and were provided with ad hoc financial assistance on a local level to help them make ends meet. But the attitudes of many influential people were that poor people or those who were unable to work were the architects of their own misfortune due to drunkenness or laziness. Along came the government’s reformers, led by Edwin Chadwick, who decided that the nature of home-based ‘outdoor relief’ made the option of relying on handouts too attractive. They decided to abolish it and instead build workhouses around the country to house anybody who fell on hard times and were unable to feed themselves.

Workhouses were deliberately designed to be as unpleasant as possible to deter anybody from seeking relief there. The idea was that the mere thought of ending up in one would make ‘lazy’ people pursue an honest day’s work instead. However, little thought was given by the reformers to those who were blind or otherwise disabled and unable to work. Workhouse culture varied from place to place – some operators were more sympathetic than others – but mostly it was cruel and merciless. Families were split up, inmates were forced to wear uniforms, beaten, fed rotting food and given harsh, monotonous jobs to do such as picking oakum or breaking stones. In the City of London the windows of Mansion House were smashed many times by desperate individuals trying to get themselves arrested to avoid the workhouse – prison was considered a more attractive alternative.

Now, I’m not suggesting David Cameron will be building workhouses. I hope not, anyway. I also recognise that the benefits system is abused. The Tories estimate that there are 400,000 fraudsters claiming incapacity benefit and who knows what the real numbers are. But besides wondering where the jobs for these claimants will come from in a recession (shouldn’t a priority be creating jobs for the 2.47m unemployed who are fit to work?) it’s interesting to see that attitudes towards people who are struggling financially or unable to work haven’t really changed. Many of us still assume that they have brought it on themselves or are just lazy and fraudulently working the system for their own ends. What about the people who are genuinely too sick to work? Why should they be subjected to politically motivated medical tests when they already undergo stressful assessments?

Do you think means testing for incapacity benefits claimants is fair? Should claimants have their benefits cut? How would you change the system? Leave a message and let me know.

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5 Responses to Incapacity Benefit: The Workhouse Shadow

  1. Bill says:

    When I was bedridden in March \’02, I was sent for an assessment, despite having a sick note from my GP. The DW&P quack, who is no shrink, found me fully fit for employment, despite complete incontinence, ulcer & hernia. She also found, without my knowledge, that I had a "severe mental illness", despite which I was still yet fit for purpose. I have only discovered this mental illness 3 years later, when attempting to renew my driving license/work-permit, for which I was given a clean bill of health by a fellow civil service GP, as per standard D4 medical, required routinely every 5 years for a Group 2 license.Meantime, the same "independent" GP has signed a further D4, again ignored by the DVLA, but they, nor yet the DW&P have bothered with a compulsory medical since March \’02. I have now been off work since 19/12/2000, when my license was originally taken by the home office, but have only had the 1 compulsory medical in 9 years, & have been on full Incapacity Benefit only 4 years, since I attempted a return to work in Sept. \’05. Despite my license being clean since 1968, & there being no criminal case against me, the courts refuse to organise, & will not recognise a re-test, as my "competence is not in dispute".So why am I still yet serving this sentence, at taxpayer\’s expence, almost 10 years on?If I ever do work legally again, I am due for the bus pass 5 years in January, & have already applied for my pension credits this coming January. Or should I cancell the bus pass, & work on untill I drop, always assuming that I will be back on the job by Jan. 2015?How much longer must I serve this sentence, & how much longer before I am allowed to pay income & poll tax again?Which firm/HR exec. will give me a chance after at least 10 years "idle", whether my own fault or not?Certainly not the same small time losers who currently employ me at half price, "other than in accordance with both license, as also insurance". I do it far more out of boredom than for the "cash".Who will finance my medical expenses, etc., if I am seriously injured/maimed by some other uninsured driver?Will I qualify for criminal Compo, or more likely a heavy custodial, even as the victim?I still believe that I should have brouht a shed load of justice, or at least cash, back with me from my exile. I have certainly proven that justice is strictly reserved for those who can afford it.Sadly, the courts still yet expect me to show respect, despite my extreme suffering at the mercy of the extremely fascist civil service. Are they really admitting to being so thick?

  2. Bill says:

    I would gladly suspend the entire civil service, including all politicians, monarchy & clergy, on full pay, with immediate effect, until their relative pensions kick in.We could then rule the country ourselves by law, instead of by fear as they do.Out with party politics, in with genuine Public Referendum, on every issue, topic, or subject, every day as necessary.Power by, of, & for the People!

  3. Christine says:

    Quite often those who run the disability payments system and the medical system that goes with it are rather like the staff in job centres – underpaid, under trained and unrealistic about what sort of work people are able to do. You have two groups who are out of touch with the job market for starters. Put this alongside the fact that most small and medium sized businesses do not have large enough personnel departments to help people who have been ill back into work and you soon see how we have arrived at the situation that we are in today.

  4. Lawrence says:

    WoowThanks for sharing

  5. groc says:

    oh, you\’ve touched upon so many points that need raising here. First off – it\’s particularly rich of Cameron to bemoan the high numbers of people on Incapacity benefits when it was the Tory party in the 80s and 90s who cynically and quietly shunted many long term unemployed people off Unemployment Benefit on to Incapacity benefits where they\’d not be counted among the then embarrassingly high unemployment figures… Secondly – all this speechifying isn\’t ever for the benefit of the poor, the unemployed or the ill – it\’s purely to appeal to those in-work and \’still-doing-not-too-badly-despite-the-recession-thank-you\’ who are likely to vote for Cameron come the general election next year. Successive Governments of both sides have all have their various schemes and incentives and whatnots – and none of them have really ever done much for the people they were supposed to help – except to make the poor and the vulnerable even more miserable than they were before. Of course what neither party will ever admit to – is the plain and simple fact that no one ever mentions – \’that there is a lot of unemployment about – because *take a deep breath* there are more people than there are jobs to be filled. I know – shocking isn\’t it? That\’s without taking into account things like demographics, suitable training, etc. etc. Of course any Government could – if they really wanted to – tackle unemployment by doing such things as reduce the hours people had to work by law, (I remember as a child in the 60s being told that in the future automation and robots and computers etc. would mean we\’d only be working a t most a four day week and that our real problems would be to find what to do with all the free leisure time we\’d have. Whatever happened to that wonderful idea? Instead we\’ve ended up with a large chunk of the population working perpetual over time or doing double jobs – or if young – studying at university full time and having to take part time jobs at the same time – and on the other hand a large number of people in enforced idleness) – and the Govt. should pay a wage to parents who want to stay home to bring up their kids – rather than the current totally insane system where even single mothers are being persuaded to get (usually low waged) work in order to pay for an expensive child minder – whether they want to or not. There are plenty more ideas out there but politicians don\’t want to know – not when there are so many other important things to consider such as what expenses they can claim for their second homes .We now arrived at a society where we\’re expected only live to work and anyone else who for whatever reason can\’t – is to be castigated and punished for it. Now they\’re already talking of raising the retirement age – which really will mean a lot of people will be working until they drop dead.The whole system needs rethinking from top to bottom – but no one is up the task. All we ever see is them all going round and around in circles chasing the same half-witted notions again and again. So it\’s no surprise nothing ever changes for the better.

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