LABOUR was yesterday mounting a new onslaught on the disabled.
The target is the 2.7 million people currently on Incapacity Benefit. The aim is to force at least one million of these disabled people off benefit and into the labour market and lop about £5 billion off the Incapacity Benefit bill. This sum will then no doubt be handed over to the rich.
Large numbers of Labour MP’s are opposed to this drive to attack the most vulnerable people in society. They contrast this brutal tactic with Labour’s caring support for the bosses and its determination that they should pay the lowest rate of taxation in any of the advanced EU states, a policy which has led to a huge gulf between the rich and the poor in Britain.
The new attempt at benefit busting is being cynically packaged as a caring attempt to end a situation where Incapacity Benefit ‘perpetuates hardship’. The reason for this attempt to fool MPs is that if the same number of Labour MPs vote against this measure as they did when Labour got rid of the disability benefit in 1997, the government will be well and truly defeated. In 1997 Labour had an over 140 majority, today it is around 60.
Work and Pensions Secretary, John Hutton, yesterday sent a letter to 100 MPs, almost all Labour MPs, whose constituencies comprise the most deprived in Britain.
In the letter he outlines his concern for the welfare of those on Incapacity Benefit and claims that new figures show a link between high numbers of claimants and deprivation. He is insinuating that most claimants are not disabled they are just deprived people seeking some cash.
This is nonsense. It is common knowledge that the fact that these areas are the most deprived and poorest in the country leads in itself to high percentages of children with asthma and to high levels of incapacity amongst adults, compared to the leafy suburbs and the rural idyls that the low taxed rich supporters of New Labour inhabit.
Incapacity Benefit is a pittance. It does not allow an escape from deprivation. If Hutton wants such an escape to take place he should double the benefit and increase the facilities for the disabled.
Instead, he is discussing plans to put all new claimants onto a much smaller benefit than even the current pittance, until doctors establish the nature and extent of their disability.
He is also discussing a means test and capping the amount of time claimants can remain on the benefit.
A Green Paper on Blair and Hutton’s plans for changes to the Incapacity Benefit is due later this month.
However, Incapacity Benefit does not meet the real costs of living for disabled people, as a charity warned yesterday. Research carried out by Capability Scotland found that many disabled people struggle to get by on benefits.
Head of campaigns for Capability Scotland, Kate Higgins, might have been addressing Blair and Hutton when she said yesterday: ‘The underlying theme of disabled people as “welfare junkies” needs to be ditched – all disabled people should be entitled to a decent standard of living whether or not they are in work.’
Labour MPs will not support this attack on the disabled.
However, Blair and Hutton will proceed and seek to get their measure adopted with the support of the Tories, in effect forming an unofficial national government in waiting.
The trade unions must intervene in this situation. They must tell Blair and Hutton to withdraw this attack on the disabled and that they will bring the Blair government down rather than tolerate the development of a Blair-Cameron national government in Britain.