Benefit Cuts 'Demonise' Society’s Most Vulnerable

Fines if refuse to take part in 'work-related activity'


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from Acton, Brentford, Chiswick, Ealing, Fulham, Hammersmith, Putney, Wandsworth and Shepherd's Bush

While the London Paralympics was helping ‘inspire a generation’ with its athletes’ skills and determination, the Coalition was putting the finishing touches to a scheme which the Green party says could take 70 per cent of benefits from the sick, and people with disabilities.

A ‘specimen letter’ prepared by the Department for Work and Pensions, and leaked to the media, contains threats to take £71 per week away from some of society’s most vulnerable people, if they refuse to take either jobs or, potentially, volunteer roles.

It’s a measure which the Green Party says represents more demonization of the underprivileged by the Coalition.

Green Party London Assembly Member, Jenny Jones, commented, “Ironic that just as we've improved our credentials in how we think of disabled people, the Government is dead set on making life harder for them. We have seen that people can overcome the many obstacles society puts in their path, but now new barriers are being erected. "

The DWP letter represents part of the Coalition’s welfare reforms. It will be delivered to claimants of Employment Support Allowance (ESA) – a benefit worth a maximum of £99.15 per week – and explain that from December 3 2012, they can be fined £71 per week if they refuse to take part in ‘work related activity’.

At present, the maximum ‘fine’ in place is £28.15.

ESA is a benefit paid to people who cannot work because of illness or disability. It can be paid to people who are unable to work for long or relatively short periods.

But it is also paid on the understanding that recipients will receive ‘encouragement’ to take part in ‘work-related activities’. These activities are not limited to paid employment, but also include attending interviews and thanks to a recent DWP law change, are set to include an unlimited amount of volunteer work.

In a climate of rising prices and falling incomes, £99.15 per week is already difficult enough to live on. The fines will potentially leave people too sick, or with disabilities too severe, to accept work, just £28.15 per week on which to survive.

The Green Party believes the measure attacks those who are already struggling, demonising the vulnerable rather than focusing attention on high-end tax avoidance.

The UK loses £1.5bn in benefit fraud each year, but an estimated £70bn in tax avoidance. The wealthy should pay more tax – but at the very least they must be made to pay the tax they owe us according to current law.

Further concerns have been raised regarding whether many of those regarded as ‘fit to work’ are in fact able to do so. Private firm ATOS, which was ironically a high-profile sponsor of the London Paralympics, runs the tests on which a decision about ability to work is made.

It has so far had 40 per cent of its decisions overturned by independent tribunals.

September 18, 2012