Monday, January 14, 2008

Labour and Tories race to attack benefits

David Cameron has launched a fresh offensive against single parents, unemployed and disabled people with plans to force them into work. The Tory leader’s proposals include making the unemployed participate in “community work”, penalties for those who turn down “reasonable” job offers and cutting the number of people receiving incapacity benefit by 600,000 over the next five years.

At the heart of the Tories’ plans is a vast overhaul of the incapacity benefit system, which caters for 2.6 million ill and disabled people, most of whom suffer from either mental disorders or musculo-skeletal diseases. Writing for the News of the World, David Cameron claimed that “I don’t believe that there are nearly half a million young people in Britain with a disability which prevents them from doing any work at all. What we have is a culture of despair, where kids grow up without any idea that for our society to function everyone has to pull their weight if they can.” In order to get these people to “pull their weight”, Cameron suggests a reassessment of incapacity benefit claimants which will force some onto the lower-rate Job Seekers Allowance (JSA), an “allowance” received dependent on actively seeking work. Conveniently, Cameron says that these cuts will raise the £3 billion necessary to fund his “helping hand” for married couples.

But it is not just the Conservatives who are stressing the need for people with mental disorders to get a crap job on the minimum wage. Gordon Brown told viewers of the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show that New Labour’s plans to get people to work were “far more revolutionary” than the Tories’ suggestions. “Today the issue is people don’t have the skills, even when there are 600,000 vacancies in the economy… the next stage is not what the Conservatives are talking about but giving people the skills to get into work.”

Rather than presenting the Tories’ plans to slash incapacity benefit by billions of pounds as an outrageous attack on the ill and disabled, New Labour claim that the Tories’ plans are just a half-hearted imitation of their own idea that what people on incapacity benefit really need is not benefits but… training.

Indeed, this row serves as part of a generalised attempt to undermine the welfare state. The Tories have also proposed compulsory (privately or voluntary-sector organised) “community work” projects for those on JSA for two years and removing JSA for up to three years for those who turn down three job offers.

The bourgeois parties’ “welfare into work” agenda is a thinly veiled attack on the disabled, are scapegoating them for ‘wasting money’ that could be better spent on strengthening the institution of marriage.

But it is not our only argument that benefit claimants really are unable to work, or that maybe they don’t much like living on a pittance. We also contest the idea of compulsory employment, when most of the jobs out there are alienating, tedious and badly paid — why should anyone have to do a demoralising job where they get bossed around for £5.50 an hour? We oppose any plans which make benefits dependent on claimants’ willingness to work.

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