Tag: Ekklesia

If even the DWP isn’t Disability Confident, how will a million disabled people get jobs? – Bernadette Meaden

Nobody would expect a person who suffers blackouts to drive a bus or bin waggon once they had thought through the potentially devastating consequences. But political, cultural, psychological and financial coercion is being used to force sick and disabled people to work – the government continues to cut welfare, which was calculated originally to cover only the costs of meeting basic needs.

Cruel sanctions and strict, inflexible, often unreasonable behavioural conditions are being imposed on lifeline benefit receipt, adversely affecting some of our poorest and most vulnerable citizens; unemployed and disabled people are being stigmatised by the government and the media – all of this is done with an utterly callous disregard of a person’s capacity to work, and importantly, the availabilty of appropriate and suitable employment opportunities, and this can often have tragic consequences.

Modern employment practices, which have an increasingly strong focus on attendance micromanagement, present yet another barrier for disabled people who want to work.

The following is taken from an excellent article which was posted on Bernadette Meaden’s blog, on January 16, 2016.

The numbers of disabled people in ‘absolute poverty’ (unable to meet their basic needs) has risen steeply following welfare reforms. Yet in his most recent party conference speech Iain Duncan Smith said to disabled people, “We won’t lift you out of poverty by simply transferring taxpayers’ money to you. With our help, you’ll work your way out of poverty.”

The recent case  of a Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) employee sacked for taking time off for illness illustrates a truth that the government does not acknowledge. Modern employment practices often appear to be incompatible with its aim of getting sick and disabled people off disability benefits and into work.

In this particular case it was reported that after working at the DWP for thirty four years, Ms Powell, who has a disability, fell foul of its sickness absence procedure, whereby formal action is taken against employees after eight days absence, or four spells of absence within a 12-month period.

‘Health problems meant that Ms Powell was frequently off sick. As some of her absences were related to a disability, her trigger point was adjusted from the usual eight to 12 days. However, Ms Powell later went over her allotted 12 days’ absence by a few days, and she was dismissed.’

A year earlier, a DWP whistleblower had revealed :

“Attendance management continues to get more draconian and sackings have become a regular occurrence: a recent guideline instructed managers to consider dismissal for staff off work for longer than 28 days regardless of the reason.”

So despite its own Disability Confident campaign, which calls on employers to “help improve employment opportunities for disabled people and retain disabled people and those with long term health conditions in your business”, the DWP itself seems unable to provide employment for people who may have long or frequent spells of illness. This would suggest that if you have, say, a long term fluctuating health condition, or a disability that requires frequent hospital appointments, you will find it very difficult to keep a job at the DWP.

Of course the DWP is not alone in this. We know that in some workplaces the pressure to attend even when very ill is overwhelming. At the Sports Direct warehouse, for instance, it was reported that over a two year period, 76 calls for an ambulance had been made, with 36 cases classed as ‘life-threatening’ including strokes, convulsions and breathing problems. One woman gave birth in the toilets, and employees said they were too frightened to take time off when they were ill, in case they lost their job. The employment agency that supplied staff to the warehouse had a ‘six strikes and you’re out’ policy, where a strike could include being off sick, or taking ‘excessive or long toilet breaks’. Very few people with a long term health condition would find it possible to keep their job in these circumstances. 

The reality is that in a fiercely competitive economy and austerity-driven government departments, there is very little room for anyone who has a long term health problem. Perhaps somebody in the government should do a little experiment. Try applying for jobs and declaring a long-term illness or disability which may require regular absences. See how easy it is to get a job.

You can read the rest of Bernadette’s excellent article here.

The new Work and Health Programme: the government plan social experiments to “nudge” sick and disabled people into work

Benefit cuts may not be as popular as we’re led to believe – Bernadette Meaden

IDS_nIn 2013, the Joseph Rowntree Foundation reported that public attitudes towards welfare have “hardened.” Similarly, the British Social Attitudes Survey report concluded that public support for government spending on social security benefits has declined markedly over the last decade, and that people are also more sceptical about whether benefit recipients deserve the support they get. Seems that people forget that the majority of people claiming benefits have worked previously and paid for their own provision through the national insurance and tax systems.

However, the way questions in surveys are framed often influences the responses by introducing bias, which affects the validity and reliability of research findings.

Furthermore, simply adding detail, such as using examples that include real groups of people in survey questions may elicit a different set of responses.  Re-humanising groups claiming benefits tends to prompt sympathetic responses. As it is, the current government and much of the media tend to dehumanise those claiming any form of welfare support quite purposefully.

Of course the media has and continues to play a major role in defining public perceptions about welfare, but the media are conveying what are ultimately political justification narratives for the Tory notion of an “efficient” small state and their aim to dismantle our post-war settlement.


This excellent article is by Bernadette Meaden, originally posted on the Ekklesia site:

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?

A poll carried out by YouGov in the two days after the recent Budget makes interesting reading, with some valuable lessons, and encouragement, for all who oppose the welfare cuts.

When asked a rather leading question about benefit claimants in general, and the total amount spent on benefits, 45% of respondents agreed with the statement that benefits are ‘Too high – the amount of money people can claim in benefits is too much, it’s too expensive and unfair on taxpayers.”

So far, so Daily Mail. But when asked to think about specific groups of benefit claimants, i.e. to think of real people not statistics, attitudes changed significantly.

Listing different groups of benefit recipients, respondents were asked if too much money was spent on them, or not enough. For disabled people, 46% felt that too little was spent, whilst only 9% felt that too much was spent on them. 28% felt that the amount was about right.

The figures were roughly the same for people in work on low pay, and for pensioners who have only a state pension. The group which received the least sympathy was ‘better off retired people’, whilst the views on what people who are out of work receive was almost evenly split – there was certainly no majority for the view that they get too much.

Taking the cuts in general, 38% of people thought that benefit cuts had gone too far, whilst only 24% thought they had not gone far enough. So there is no real appetite for further cuts. We should also bear in mind that the poll was conducted on the two days immediately after the Budget, when the media was trumpeting George Osborne’s claims about a new National Living Wage. As people discover the reality, that this is no more than a small rise in the minimum wage and comes with a large cut to tax credits, it seems likely that the percentage who feel cuts have gone too far may rise significantly.
Those who responded to the survey were probably also not fully aware of the drastic cut to Employment and Support Allowance which will see people in the Work Related Activity Group (who aren’t fit for work) losing around £30 per week. If this is spelled out, it seems highly likely that based on this survey, a clear majority of the public would oppose it.

The poll should also provide food for thought to politicians who feel they have to constantly defer to the business community in order to be electable. Asked about how to address low pay, a clear majority of respondents wanted government to get tough with employers, choosing the statement, ‘It is better for government to use the law to force companies to pay low paid workers a better wage, even if this leads to higher unemployment.’

This poll should encourage all who are campaigning to defend the welfare state and oppose cuts to the incomes of the poorest people. Despite the hyperbolic headlines and the poverty porn, British people still want to see the poor, the disabled and the elderly guaranteed a decent standard of living. They may have absorbed some of the propaganda about ‘out of control’ welfare spending, but if we can show that to be false, and continue to highlight what benefit cuts mean in terms of real people rather than statistics, we should be able to build a groundswell of opinion in defence of the welfare state.


See also:

Why we can’t afford not to have a welfare state

The budget: from trickle-down to falling down, whilst holding hands with Herbert Spencer.

430847_149933881824335_1645102229_n (1)Pictures courtesy of Robert Livingstone