August 2015 seems to have experienced some kind of identity crisis. Not only did the weather pass from night frosts to baking hot days via torrential rain and flash floods, but the 'silly season' appears not to have happened at all.
Of all welfare reform policies, the benefit cap has resonated most strongly with the public, and gained most support from across the political spectrum. As a headline policy it has been easy to explain and to promote. When politicians asked, 'why should people get more on benefits than others get by working?', people tended to agree. Why should they?
David Clapson died with no food in his stomach, three weeks after his Jobseekers Allowance was stopped due to a benefit sanction. David, a 59 year old diabetic who had served in the Army and cared for his late mother, was desperately seeking work when he fell foul of the sanctions regime. The DWP said,
"Sanctions are only used as a last resort for a tiny minority who don’t follow the rules.."
We are constantly being told that the British public has swallowed the 'scroungers and skivers' rhetoric about benefit claimants, and is broadly in favour of welfare cuts. Any politician who opposes these cuts is widely portrayed as unrealistic and unelectable. But what if that is not true, and the public's attitude is actually far less harsh than the Westminster bubble would have us believe?
When announcing a huge cut to Employment Support Allowance in his budget speech, George Osborne managed to pack so much that was misleading into only six sentences, it really merits some close analysis.
In the New Statesman, 25-year-old Rosie Fletcher recently wrote, "Disease isn’t like a gas meter. It has no notion of economics. It doesn’t switch off because you’ve stopped putting money in. This isn’t some kind of elaborate con I’ve been running … Cutting my benefits won't get me back into work. It will make my life smaller, more stressful. It will make me sicker."
Nick Dilworth is a welfare rights adviser who has seen the full impact of welfare reform on the lives of his clients. He is also skilled at analysing statistics issued by the Department for Work and Pensions, and believes that one number, which lies buried in the data tables, should be revealed and widely publicised.
An MP’s defence of benefit sanctions left many other UK parliamentarians stunned. It also showed how common magical thinking has become among those wanting tougher treatment of people receiving social security.
Thousands of people unable to work because of progressive conditions are being placed in a work-related activity group, even if assessors admit they are unlikely ever to recover, the UK government admitted.
Successive UK governments have made it harder for people in need to get social security, at a devastating human cost. Public services have also been cut, supposedly to save money. Might this have ended up costing taxpayers more?