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What is this Conservative obsession with dodgy ‘clauses’ in legislation?
I’m old enough to remember the furore over ‘Clause 28′ – the section of the Local Government Act 1988 that forbade local authorities in the UK from promoting homosexuality in any way’. While I’m not of that persuasion myself, I could see that this was intentionally oppressive legislation – and it is a historical fact that it caused many organisations to close or limit their activities.
It was also unreasonable legislation, in my opinion, because it restricted the freedoms of people in the UK for no good reason.
Clause 99 (or Section 99) of the Welfare Reform Act is also an unreasonable restriction. From April this year, it will ensure that people receiving Employment and Support Allowance will not be able to put in an appeal until they have had a reconsideration by the Department for Work and Pensions.
That may seem fair enough, in order to minimise unnecessary work by assessors, but here’s the catch: If a person in the work-related activity group (the relevant section of society for this legislation – if you’ve been found ‘fit for work’, you’ll be on the different benefit anyway) seeks reconsideration, they will immediately be moved to Jobseekers’ Allowance.
Being on JSA means you are already legally defined as ‘fit for work’. You must therefore actively seek work while receiving that benefit; show proof that you are doing so; attend interviews arranged by Job Centre Plus; and may only refuse a job with a very good reason – and even then only three times.
Stating that you do not believe yourself to be fit for work is not a good reason to refuse a job, as the Government – by placing you on JSA – has made a legally-binding statement that you are fit for work.
And remember, the 12-month timebomb – the limit on contribution-based benefits – will still be ticking while a claimant is on JSA.
There appears to be no reason given to justify this provision.
Of course, production of a sick note from your doctor would invalidate a claimant from any job offers by a company. Nobody interviewing a person who is waiting for a reconsideration of ESA will offer them a job if they have one.
Unfortunately, doctors are now being asked to issue ‘fit notes’ – or more accurately, ‘Statements of Fitness for Work For Social Security or Statutory Sick Pay’ for when they consider a person is well enough to return to some kind of work, although possibly with restrictions.
They do allow GPs to give a professional opinion on what type of work can’t be undertaken, but they also allow the DWP to say that the claimant is fit for ‘work’ and to interpret that as it sees fit.
The aim of all this, it seems to me, is to put sick or disabled people in an untenable position; to place them under the strain of at least having to go through the motions, even though there can be no valid reason for doing so. In other words, it is completely unreasonable and contradictory.
Here’s the big money question, though: How many ordinary members of the public are even aware of this technicality?
I’m willing to bet it’s a tiny minority.
I certainly didn’t know about it until I had my attention drawn to it yesterday, and I write about the DWP, ESA and other disability benefits on a regular basis!
People are not going to think anything is wrong unless they know about it. This reminds me of a debate in the chamber of Powys County Council on Tuesday, when the council’s cabinet had to defend its plan to consult on the closure of two schools. The fact it wanted to close them became known only four or five days before the decision was due to be made, giving supporters of both schools an unreasonably short period of time (in my opinion) to launch any kind of defence. The consultation is going ahead.
So I would suggest that readers of this blog who care about such matters should join up with anyone else who has an interest and protest at high volume in the most public places possible. I’m sure you all know what to do and where to go – bother your MP about it; write to the press; take to the streets if you have to. Put up posters and send memes across the internet.
Make people aware that their freedoms are being taken away – with no justification to support the action.