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From The Socialist newspaper, 16 February 2006

Welfare reform

New Labour attacks the sick and disabled

THE NEW Labour government has plans to get people off incapacity benefit. They claim that "it's healthier to work than be sat at home with nothing to do". Of course it is, but if you can't work why should you be harassed to get a job, which you're physically incapable of doing, for hours every day?

Mary Jackson, Doncaster

Incapacity benefit is 76 per week. Tony Blair earns over 3,500 per week. A full-time job at the minimum wage is only 180 but that's still better than the miserly sum this government condemns a 'long-term' disabled person to live on.

There have already been vicious attacks on incapacity benefit. Your GP used to decide if you were fit for work, but the government thought that was no good. Doctors may have spent years at medical school but apparently can't decide if a patient is too ill to work or just lazy.

The government have introduced a 'Fitness for work' test. Can you put a hat on your head without help and bend and touch your knees? These and other tests have nothing to do with whether or not someone can work.

I remember when South Yorkshire had a thriving industrial base. Three steelworks, countless mines, wool mills, factories, offices - all within travelling distance of my home town. But heavy work takes a heavy toll on health and well-being.

Most of the middle-aged men in my area are worn out. Many are wracked with arthritis or breathing difficulties, made worse through the stress of living on the pittance called 'benefit'. No-one wants to have to manage on benefits, but there is no option. The mind is willing but the body is wrecked.

If the government has its way and suddenly everyone is fit, where are the jobs? There are some agency jobs on minimum wage but only 16 or 18 hours and the 'dole' considers that to be full time. How can anyone live on 80 a week?

The attacks on incapacity benefit are being waged because after 12 months of sickness, claimants move on to long-term incapacity, in recognition that any money left over from working life will have been spent. But long-term sick and disabled people then get a slightly increased benefit of about 20 a week.

This government seems to be saying that no-one (no ordinary worker without private health insurance and a fat pension on early retirement that is) could be too ill to work. They must be living on a different planet.

Workers generally have to rely on the NHS with overstretched GPs, where you wait months to see a specialist. The government is saying that if you survive working-class life don't expect us to pay you any benefit because we want to save money. What for? To wage more wars? To give more tax cuts to their business friends? It makes no sense to me!

Decent wages

WE LIVE in the fifth richest country in the world. Why then can't we afford to pay people who have worn themselves out working to build our economy a decent amount of money to live, not in luxury but in relative comfort?

This latest initiative is intended to get a million people off incapacity benefit, another million 50-59-year-olds off Job Seekers Allowance (JSA) and 800,000 single mums back to work. There are presently 1.5 million on JSA and 800,000 job vacancies - what happens to the two million claimants who are to be forced in to jobs that don't exist?

The government plans include regular 'back-to-work' interviews and tests, ill and severely disabled people will be forced to attend JobCentres. If they refuse or cannot manage to get there, their benefit will be cut.

Doctors are to be offered cash incentives to get people off long-term sick - it used to be called bribery but now it's a 'legitimate government incentive'!

What we need is massive job creation. To build enough houses so there aren't hundreds of thousands of homeless, to create decent leisure facilities that we can all afford to enjoy, to build up the manufacturing base that has been destroyed.

We need workers to receive a decent wage for their contribution to building a society that benefits us all, instead of the privileged few at the top. In other words we need to build a socialist alternative to this corrupt system.

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The results of austerity have been graphically demonstrated as public services strain to cope with the crisis.

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In The Socialist 16 February 2006:

Troops out of Iraq

Fight for your future

Hands off our schools!

ID cards: 'Creeping compulsion' and grovelling MPs

The real cost of BP mega-profits

Universities and the arms trade

Haitian poor rebel at suspected poll-rigging

Building an alternative to the profit system

New Labour attacks the sick and disabled

Keep fighting New Labour's Education Bill

Labour's pro-business policies are punished

The housing scandal

Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender History Month

Striking postal workers build support

Sick of the system

Marching for jobs and services


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