Work-shy, or work-incompatible?
[Crossposted to Where’s the Benefit where I am one of the team.]
Last week Chancellor George Osbourne paid lip service to helping disabled people saying “Of course, people who are disabled, people who are vulnerable, people who need protection will get our protection, and more”1 but then in the next breath made reference to people on long-term out-of-work benefits “who think it’s a lifestyle choice” – the same people that Labour have termed “work-shy”. Has Osbourne not considered that many people who are on these benefits ARE disabled people, exactly those who need his protection? He needs to think more widely, to realise exactly who he is hitting.
Today the Guardian published letters from a variety of people who deny that living on benefits is a “lifestyle choice”2– one calling this “the most crass and insulting demonstration of patrician insensitivity and ignorance to have crossed the lips of any politician in recent times”, another stating “to live off £102 as a couple leaves nothing that can remotely be described as a ‘lifestyle’.” Richard Hawkes from Scope asks “Where is the understanding that it costs more to live as a disabled person, or that to find employment many will need individually tailored support?”
Maybe there are a few people in the UK who prefer to claim benefits rather than go out to work, but that does not mean all long term unemployed people should be penalised, as for many it is circumstance rather than choice which is restricting their options. There are sure to be many disabled people who get caught out by these cuts.
One of the tactics proposed by government is to reduce housing benefit by 10% for people who have been on Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA) for more than a year.3. This is estimated to affect at least 24,000 disabled people.
That is: 24,000 disabled people which we know about. What about others, such as those who are on Jobseeker’s Allowance because they were wrongly assessed by Atos – the government’s medical advisor- as not qualifying for Employment Support Allowance? So far, 40% of those who appeal against the decision, win.4 There must be many more people out there who accepted Atos’s judgement without question, or who lacked the energy and wherewithal to appeal, and are now stuck on Jobseeker’s Allowance without the capacity to hold down a job.
However, there are also many disabled people legitimately claiming Jobseeker’s Allowance – perhaps they can do some work, where reasonable adjustments are made by the employer. Tell me, which employer, when faced with several similar candidates, would choose the one who would need concessions in order to do their job? Not just equipment (which may be funded by the Access to Work scheme) but perhaps assistance in the event of a fire alarm, a rearrangement of desks, or providing the chance to rest every few hours. Be honest, if all other qualities were equal, you’d hire an able-bodied person every time. Given the state of the economy, with [how many people to every job?] it is no surprise that disabled people are stuck on JSA in the long term.
It’s nothing new to suggest that disabled people are often treated less favourably in the workplace – indeed, when my own job was up for redundancy one of the criteria in deciding who stayed was how much sick leave each candidate had taken. I had taken more days off than the others but – as the company’s own doctor had said – “it is likely that Flash would have an above average sickness record due to her established underlying medical conditions”. Yet by adding the sick leave criterion to the remaining vacancies I was effectively excluded and thus discriminated against.
This sort of thing goes on every day.
So when considering which benefit cuts will affect disabled people, don’t just look at those with our name on them, think wider! The 10% penalty on housing benefit will hit those who really want to work, but just can’t get any. And disabled people will really hurt from the loss of every penny.