Tax and Attacks on the Sick

To be on Incapacity Benefit you have to have been deemed unfit for work by your GP. Then, after several months on Income Support, you move on to Incapacity Benefit.

In case anyone needs reminding, your GP is a qualified doctor with your full medical history in front of them. Hard to think of anyone better placed to make that sort of decision. But there is one man who, without any medical training or performing any examinations, knows better than all the GPs combined.

Tory leader David Cameron said too many people were able to work, but did not.

He has plans for a radical shake-up that, er, just does what’s already being done. For most medical conditions covered by Incapacity Benefit, you must periodically fill in a form detailing the state of your condition and get a signed statement from your GP that you have been examined and are still unfit for work.

Under the Conservative plans, to be announced in full on Tuesday, all existing and new Incapacity Benefit (IB) claimants would have to attend an “in-depth assessment” to evaluate their needs and capabilities and decide if they are able to work.

This is precisely what happens already. Under the present regime, having submitted the assessment form, if you are anything like close to possibly being fit for work you are called in for an examination by a different doctor, one who sees IB claimants all day long. These people have a dark and sour reputation. Ask anyone who works at Job Centres about clearly sick people being sent back on to Job Seekers Allowance. You only stay on IB if these particularly stringent specialist doctors agree.

People with permanent disabilities which make it impossible to work would continue to receive “unconditional” support, but those with non-permanent conditions would be subject to regular checks.

This, too, is what already happens. Those with a variable condition get a new assessment form a few months later, and the whole cycle starts again.

The Tories are promising that those who have the “potential” to be able to work would be referred to specialised welfare-to-work providers who would help them prepare them for jobs and would be paid by results.

Already, those on Incapacity Benefit – including those whose condition has been affirmed by the specialist doctors – are called in for interviews at Job Centres where dedicated advisers steer them towards returning to work. Many of these people are already paid by results under the Pathways To Work scheme.

Those deemed fit to work would be taken off IB and put onto Jobseekers’ Allowance. This would mean a £20-a-week cut in benefits and a requirement to seek work immediately.

Clear implication here that IB gives the claimant more money than Job Seekers Allowance. And, superficially, it does. There’s something missing from the bare numbers, though.

People on the Long-Term rate of Incapacity Benefit get £81.35 a week, and for those who were under 45 when they became unfit for work there’s an additional £17.10, making a total of £98.45 a week.

Sounds like a lot of money compared to Job Seekers Allowance of £59.15 a week, until you realise that this higher income seriously impacts on a range of other benefits. What is given with one hand is taken away with the other.

Because people on Incapacity Benefit have a higher income, they receive less Housing Benefit than those on JSA and so have to use some of their Benefit to pay their rent.

Not only does it take away from their Housing Benefit, but it means they have to pay a substantial part of all other medical costs such as dental treatment that JSA claimants get free. Also, they don’t qualify for any help with prescriptions.

Let me say it again, because it beggars belief; the long-term sick have to pay full prescription charges.

These are people who have serious ongoing medical conditions and in many cases need a range of medicines on a permanent basis.

They are also more likely to have mobility problems meaning more transport costs, to have special dietary requirements and to need extra heating. That, along with their prescriptions, is where their extra money goes. Their actual standard of living is indistinguishable from people on JSA, carefully calculated to be the bare minimum necessary to survive.

If you want a real scandal of Incapacity claimants, and a stick to beat the present government with, that’s surely the one. As opposed to planning nothing that’s not already happening, but letting Incapacity Benefit claimants know you’ve got them in your sights and scaring genuinely sick people who know how harsh those government doctors are and fear how much worse they’ll be once a Cameron government gives them a higher strike-off target.

So, the whole proposed Conservative policy promises nothing that doesn’t already happen, yet its message is clear. Even though the government estimates tax evasion costs the exchequer around five times as much as benefit fraud (and that’s before we offset that with the billions effectively recouped in unclaimed benefits), we don’t get anything like five times the focus on the tax evaders and avoiders.

Once again we are being told not to trust the idea that anyone on benefits really deserves them. They should be working and paying taxes rather than taking money for nothing.

This from the party that promises to all but abolish Inheritance Tax, the clearest case of money for nothing imaginable.

But of course tax avoidance and evasion concerns the rich, benefits concern the poor. Not paying tax because you’ve inherited a million quid and want to keep it all is fine, not paying tax because doctors say you can’t work to earn any tax makes you fair game.

  1. David said:

    Sadly, this is nothing new. I can remember over ten years ago, a man with severe learning difficulties being informed that he’s sickness benefit was being stopped as he was capable of simple work, such as a deck chair attendant!!!!

    The residential social worker who had been his escort from the residential home asked where ehe would get such a job in a inland town & was informed that it was not the assessors problem.

    The choice left to the bloke with mental handicap was either to sign on for work OR go for appeal. All his allowances were then stopped until it was hoped he won his appeal.

    At the time the GP was useless, he seemed to think that the assessor was some higher medical authority, although, to be fair, once he found out it was some twenty something year old civil servant he shot of letters to MP’s etc.

  2. Cameron’s traditional Tory suspicion and malace towards benefits claimants is absolutley predictable, although the policy of the initiative, which would provide those who want to work with the requisite skills and training, should be advanced by whatever party.

  3. John B said:

    “they don’t qualify for any help with prescriptions.”

    ‘king hell. Did they hire professional satirists to create the system or something?

  4. ian said:

    I will probably trigger some sort of ‘Godwin’s Law’ equivalent, but the system genuinely is Kafkaesque, although Catch 22 also often springs to mind.

  5. ian said:

    Mind you – I think I prefer even our loopy system to the hoops you have to go through in the US to get onto Medicare once you reach retirement.