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Proletarian issue 7 (August 2005)
Incapacity benefit under attack
Government announces assault on the living standards of those most vulnerable
The attack on the social wage is continuing in earnest, with plans announced by our imperialist Labour government to reduce the overall cost to the bourgeoisie of providing incapacity benefit. As with every other cut in social spending that the government makes, the spin accompanying its announcements creates the impression that nobody genuinely entitled to benefit will be affected, only people who are not really incapacitated at all. Thus the government has recently announced that the name 'incapacity benefit' is to be scrapped, and two new benefits introduced to differentiate between those who have a "severe" condition and those with potentially more "manageable" conditions.

This will obviously translate into people with "potentially more manageable conditions", such as - for instance - severe back pain, receiving even less benefit with a view either to hounding them back into work, if they can find any, or making their relatives stump up more for their maintenance. In actual fact, there are already two systems: sick pay for those with "potentially more manageable conditions" and incapacity benefit for those with long-term disabilities that make work impossible.

It is all very well to say that even with a disability one should be able to work. For instance, one could work part time, or during the times when the pain wasn't so bad. But, in practice under capitalism, employers have no use for employees who are unable to deliver maximum speed and maximum hours, for the purpose of production for the employers is profit, not a fulfilling life for their employees. Accommodating employees who have problems eats into profits, and such employees are therefore not welcomed anywhere - not while there are able-bodied workers aplenty available, at any rate.

When we have socialism and production is geared exclusively to meeting society's needs and not to making profits for the super-rich, then whatever labour people are able to contribute will be gratefully received, and we will then be able to expect the 'incapacitated' to contribute as and when they can - but this is certainly not the case at present.

The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, Alan Johnson, stated that he was unveiling the "biggest change in incapacity benefits since they were created" and went on to proclaim that "Our radical reform should mean that sickness benefit represents a pause in people's working life, not a full stop."

What hypocrisy from this full-blooded supporter of our 'business friendly' imperialist Labour government. You support an economic system that denies almost all opportunity of working to the less able bodied, and then you proclaim that restrictions on benefit will result in their incapacities giving rise only to a "pause" in their working lives, "not a full stop". But since to join the Labour Party, which supports capitalism, requires its members to parade as 'socialists' when they and their party are nothing of the kind, it is clear that hypocrisy is all one can ever expect from these people.

The key elements of the reforms for new claimants are (note the typical trick of only depriving newcomers in order to silence the resistance of existing claimants):

- Incapacity benefit will be abolished.

- Claimants will initially be put on a holding benefit paid at Job Seekers Allowance (JSA) rates pending a 'proper' medical assessment - called a Personal Capacity Assessment - that will take place within 12 weeks and be accompanied by a fuller assessment of potential future work capacity - a new Employment and Support Assessment.

- The PCA process would then become the gateway to two new benefits.

Those with "potentially more manageable" conditions would receive Rehabilitation Support Allowance, paid at a basic rate equivalent to JSA and with a strong focus on return to work.

Claimants would be required to engage in Work Focused Interviews and in largely futile activity that will supposedly help them prepare for a return to work (this could include work preparation, training or basic skills support). They would then receive more than the current long-term IB rate, but those who completely refuse to engage in this charade would return to basic rate of benefit. Rules relating to sanctions will be decided in due course - all aimed at putting people off applying for the benefits to which they are entitled in the first place.

Those with the most severe conditions will apparently be automatically entitled to a new Disability and Sickness Allowance.

Claimants would be required to engage in Work Focused Interviews and also be encouraged to engage in return-to-work activity wherever possible (and be able to access all programmes and incentives as now), but there would be no requirement on them to do so.

Assuming all this interviewing actually happens, it will be seen that a massive number of new administrative posts will be created, very reminiscent of the way that companies' expenditure on management and administration goes up when they prepare for mass redundancies!

The new proposals will be piloted and consulted on before 'key elements' are introduced for new claimants by 2008.

NB. Existing claimants will be able to choose to access the help and support on offer to help them return to work and the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) is to explore how best to 'incentivise' them (ie, bully them into doing so). It will also review the operation of the existing linking rules to ensure that existing claimants' positions are protected if they take a job and then need to return to benefit.

Because the imperialist Labour Party claims to be 'socialist' and is considered by very many workers to be 'better than the Tories' (with the full encouragement, one might add, of people who proclaim themselves to be 'communists', such as the Communist Party of Britain and the New Communist Party, to say nothing of the various counter-revolutionary Trotskyite outfits that attract many of the radical youth), nobody fights back against these cuts. The trade unions that might be able to organise a fight-back if they were so inclined are nearly all controlled by the Labour Party and can do nothing.

What ordinary workers need to do is to use their votes in the unions to break the control that the Labour Party and its hangers-on have on their unions and demand the return of leaders who are committed to fighting back against imperialism's unremitting struggle to reduce our wages, pensions, benefits and social services in the interests of the profits of billionaires.
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