Today’s article is for the doubters; the deniers. You know who I mean – people who have been brainwashed by the government’s rhetoric about its benefit cuts; who actually believe that they aren’t doing any harm to people who don’t deserve it.
That view is, of course, nonsense.
Government policy, as spearheaded by Vox Political’s ‘Monster of the Year, 2012’, Iain Duncan Smith, is to clear as many people off the books as possible, whether they deserve state support or not. The weasel words it uses to justify the policy would be risible if they were not so harmful.
The sick and disabled have come under especially intense attack from the Conservative-led government, not only with its divisive “strivers v skivers” rhetoric but also with a contradictory system that seems intended to provoke depression and despair in all those who are put into it – especially the mentally ill.
I think they want these people to kill themselves. It takes them off the benefit books.
It’s as simple, and ugly, as that. If you support a Conservative government; if you support a Liberal Democrat MP, then there’s blood on your hands as well.
I mention this now because I have been in the unenviable position of being able to watch a disabled person coming apart at the seams, as the welfare state into which she has paid is taken away by the ConDem nation.
My significant other – Mrs Mike – has been at the mercy of the ESA assessment system since early 2012. First there was the notification letter that she would have to undergo an Atos assessment at some point in the future. No date, just the warning. She was kept in suspense for months.
The assessment took place in June or July last year and was deeply distressing on both a physical and mental level. First we were told we were not allowed to record the interview. That was not only incorrect but illegal. Secondly, although the assessor was polite, he did put Mrs Mike through physical tests that left her in tears, and asked questions that deeply disturbed her state of mind. She remained deeply upset and uncomfortable for several days after the interview.
I would contend that it was contrived that way, in order to discourage people from continuing with their claim.
After several more weeks, we received notice that she would receive ESA, but would be in the work-related activity group, starting in August. This meant, apparently, that her benefit would last for one year only, starting on a date in August. By the end of that year, she would be expected to have recovered her health enough to have found a job that she could do.
Bear in mind, please, that the job market is deeply depressed. The government has not created a million new jobs, as David Cameron keeps trying to tell us. It has cooked the books and is lying to us about the result. Only last week, we heard that work programme providers – and I’ll get back to them in a moment – have been encouraging people to defraud the system by saying they are self-employed when they have no paying work to do, in order to allow those firms to claim the massive bonuses they are contracted to receive if they remove someone from the benefit books. Tax credits are to end when Universal Credit comes in, so this little wheeze is doubly vindictive.
Bear in mind also that, at the time, Mrs Mike had been ill for 11 years. Her condition is one that may continue indefinitely, or may dissipate at any time. One thing we do know about it is that stress makes it worse. She physically clenches up and that aggravates her symptoms.
The letter said she would soon be contacted by Job Centre Plus, who would arrange activities to get her into work. There then commenced a lengthy period in which she was left waiting by the authorities, all of whom seem to have decided they had better things to do.
She was finally contacted in December – five months after she received her notification letter, and four months into the period of her ESA benefit. Interview at the Job Centre. We attended. A very nice person, who is a personal acquaintance of Mrs Mike anyway, took us through the options and it was decided that someone from one of the associated firms – I’ve been calling them work programme providers because that’s all I can imagine them to be – would contact her to take matters further.
There then followed another month-long wait – partly caused because the person who was to deal with Mrs Mike became ill and had to postpone the interview. In January – now five months into the ESA period – she had a telephone call and after a brief conversation, handed the phone to me. I was told: “We cannot help her.” The advice was to seek reassessment as she should be in the support group.
This means the previous six months in the system had been nothing but a pointless waste of our time. We are now going through the process of arranging a reassessment – to get it done before April, when people asking for this or appealing against decisions are likely to be put on Jobseekers’ Allowance – with all the responsibilities that go with it – while their cases are considered.
Let me pause and go back to the title of this article. I’ve covered “betrayal” – that’s the government’s betrayal of people on benefits, who have paid into a system only to find their money has disappeared into a government black hole and they’ll be pushed away just as soon as possible, whether they are capable or not.
What about “collusion”?
Readers of this blog will know that we have been having problems with our landlord, a social housing provider. This organisation caused flooding in our home by failing to respond appropriately to a callout after we discovered a leak in a water pipe connected to our heating system. The problem had been caused by workmen putting in new bathroom fittings and decoration back in October/November on behalf of the housing association – they put a screw through the pipe, which worked its way loose in the cold weather. The company’s 24-hour emergency callout service proved to be nothing of the kind. When someone eventually came out to fix the boiler, he said we should leave the water on, because the housing association had told him the repair people from the company responsible would be out that evening. The housing association had lied to him; when the cupboard under the stairs and part of the kitchen flooded as a result of his advice, he was the one who was told to fix the problem, even though he didn’t have the right equipment. He went through a gas pipe while he was trying to go through the floorboards, too.
Mrs Mike had been in hospital that day, having an operation on her wrist. She needed peace, quiet, and rest. She got stress, aggravation and the extreme upset of seeing her possessions wrecked by entirely-avoidable water damage.
The housing association has phoned us irregularly ever since, either asking for information or promising us that people would come out to fix the collateral damage caused by the repair – and always providing the wrong information. A man came out on Monday, from yet another contracted-out firm, to fix the upstairs flooring. Mrs Mike wasn’t entirely happy with the job so someone else will have to come and finish it but never mind that, because yesterday (Wednesday) the housing association phoned to say the company that caused the problem in the first place would be coming out to do the same job! We told that person that we were sick of talking to employees; let him put the company director on the phone to us. We’ll sort it out with that person instead. Whoever they are, perhaps they’ll be fascinated by the abuses wreaked on tenants by their firm. Did I write “fascinated”? I meant “horrified”.
Practical upshot of all this was that Mrs Mike collapsed in floods of tears yesterday lunchtime. She’d had too many people messing her around and couldn’t take any more – physically or mentally. On the same day, a letter arrived from the DWP about the change from Disability Living Allowance to Personal Independence Payment. It actually stated that she would be receiving more money in her DLA (around £1.40 per week; a ridiculous amount) but she was utterly unable to absorb that information or accept that it wasn’t bad news.
We had to contact the local mental health services and Citizens’ Advice, to get treatment for her mental state and help to combat what Mrs Mike now sees as an attack on two fronts.
The housing association is fully aware of its tenant’s health condition – or would be, if its employees could be bothered to read their notes before calling us. By its very nature, it provides accommodation to people who are on benefits or low pay. Therefore it follows that, if it causes undue aggravation to those tenants, it is helping the government’s scheme to do away with them.
And then we have the bedroom tax, coming into effect in April. I was pleased to see Cameron take a pasting over the issue in Prime Minister’s Questions yesterday – but disappointed to see that some members of the public have been supporting his line that it is a reasonable thing to do, and that it is not a tax.
The latter issue is a matter of semantics; they’re splitting hairs. If the government is taking away money that you would otherwise receive, and keeping it for itself, then you will see it as a tax. I think the people who are saying it isn’t a tax must be people who won’t be affected by it. People who, incidentally, will themselves be no better off as a result.
But again, this is collusion. The government has found another way to divide the nation, trying to garner popular support for its policy against a minority group.
Looking at the question of whether this is a reasonable thing to do, it occurs to me that, even by the government’s own standards, it isn’t. This is a complication of the housing benefit system. Now, the amount a claimant receives will be dependent on the number of bedrooms in use in their home. Doesn’t that go against the grain of the government’s policies – for a simplified benefit system (Universal Credit), for a simplified pension system (flat-rate pensions were recently announced)?
This government will simplify as much as it can – but only when that suits its purpose. And its purpose is to hammer the poor. The simplified schemes I’ve mentioned will take money away from people, not give them more. The complicated change to housing benefit will do the same thing.
With public collusion.
So, to all those people who support the government’s disastrous changes, I must say: This government doesn’t care about you. It’s not doing these things to help you. It wants your money too.
What are you going to do when the government turns on you, and there’s nobody to help you because you sold them down the river over disability benefits and housing benefit?
Will the changes be reasonable when they put you into poverty?
I thought not.
But by then, it will be too late.