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More Terror From the Dark Lord of the Smith

Another day and another offensive in the war against the poor – just as the general election season starts. This article (linked from the excellent Ipswich Unemployed Action) originating in the Torygraph sets out the Dark Lord’s latest vision of a fair society (not):

Welfare cheats will be forced to sell their homes and pay higher fines to reimburse taxpayers for the money they have wrongly claimed, under plans to tackle benefit fraud.

Perhaps this is some belated April Fool’s; a satirical masterstroke in the same week that Maria Miller was caught fiddling. The former minister against the disabled ‘over claimed’ on her expenses by £45000 to cover a mortgage – but, astonishingly, only has to pay back 10% of that amount! So while a ‘welfare cheat’ is to be forced to sell their home (maybe they could quickly sign the deeds over to a spouse, in the way Phillip Green signs his profits over to his missus), Mrs Miller gets to profit to the tune of forty grand for overcharging the taxpayer for her home. I doubt even Private Eye could invent this.

“And pay higher fines” – that’s just an added kick in the nuts. It’s the nasty party living up to their foul reputation. Doesn’t matter what the circumstances are, we’re going to hit you even harder, even though fraud is really no issue at all. The bigger question is, of course, how much money will be spent pursuing all this?

It doesn’t matter; this is electioneering. It’s propaganda, though nothing this government does surprises me. It just upsets me.

Hundreds of thousands of pensioners who fail to declare their full earnings from private pension schemes will also be targeted as fraud investigators trawl through HM Revenue & Customs records.

So what are we going to do, fill up the gaols with old folk now branded as common thieves? Look, you nurses and teachers, old Mrs Jones is stealing your wages! That’s the message to the swing voters who might be stupid enough to fall for this crap – and they will be, that’s why they do it. Again, how much will this cost? Hasn’t HMRC been cut? Don’t they have bigger priorities, like chasing up the billions owed in avoided tax or larger fraud? No of course not! Don’t be stupid!

Ministers will highlight the scale of savings to taxpayers, announce a tougher stance on fraud and detail further action to limit welfare for migrants. Polls suggest that even Labour supporters now regard state benefits as too generous.

The scale of savings! While it might be acceptable to pursue the kind of fraud that was reported (rightly or wrongly) in the Metro the day the Miller scandal broke (misdirection!), these are extremely rare cases. Yet they project that, from this expensive undertaking, they will save money – paying off the national debt that, guess what, the last government left behind. Round and round the circle goes, constantly decreasing. This is the most venal thinking ever, never mind the tired immigrant angle.

Ministers aim to reduce the proportion of benefits lost to fraud and error from 2.2 per cent in 2010 to 1.7 per cent by next March.

By focussing, it seems, on the smaller part of that equation. How on earth does that make sense?

This month’s package of plans represents the Government’s last realistic chance to meet its goal. The reforms include:
:: A drive to recover debts owed by fraudsters. Ministers will work with private debt collection firms “to make greater use of bailiffs to seize assets” and “force house sales where appropriate”, officials said. The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) expects to recover at least £414 million as a result of the initiative. 

This is after the government legislated somewhat (though with good reason) to curb the excesses of bailiffs. How do you force a house sale? You can’t force someone to buy a fucking house can you? Or does this mean it will be flogged off for sod all making the entire affair completely worthless? Will this happen to people who get sent down or will the government explain how it plans to rehouse these people – or will they just be left to live on the streets as a punishment! Never mind the court costs involved in all of this (and the profit some will make selling these houses on behalf of the DWP).

:: Higher fines for cheats caught committing benefits fraud. Officials can already impose a £50 spot fine on individuals who mistakenly and carelessly provide inaccurate information in their claims, and fraudsters face a minimum fine of £350 as an alternative to prosecution. Plans this week are expected to set out new financial penalties.

I don’t know if anyone has received such a fine, on the spot. I would be very interested in finding out how this works. Does the JC adviser just slap you with a fine while you sign on? Does someone get sent round your house to serve you with a fixed penalty notice? What a total waste of time – and to punish people in stressful situations for, as the article says, mistakenly or carelessly being found in error? Is this what we’ve come to as a society? Instead of recognising a genuine error (it does happen, despite what IDS believes – and he should know as he’s often wrong) we don’t seek communion and understanding; we seek to exploit and penalise? I find this sickening, and it must be stopped. I thought the Tories opposed all this nanny state crap – oh my mistake, that only applies when they are at fault. It is purely a mark of capitalism that seeks to penalise financial mistakes (including, to be fair, genuine fraud) by financial penalty. This is wrongheaded and stupid.

:: A publicity campaign, including posters urging claimants to report those whom they suspect to be cheating the system, and letters warning individuals to check they are not receiving too much.

Here we are at last: this is about sending a message, pre election, no matter the cost.

Don’t think about claiming, don’t you dare. If you think you’re ill, you’re not. If you think you have problems, you don’t. If you are unemployed, you’re lazy.

When will it end? This I suspect is more about ESA than JSA. They don’t want you starting a fresh claim, troubling them with your malingering. That’s the message: you can work, so get off your arse! Fuck that! It’s a stupid message because by assuming that everyone can work, which is the implication of the WCA, everyone can do anything.

This is clearly not the case at all: we have teachers striking because, amongst other reasons, they don’t want to be fronting a class full of kids in their seventies. There are plenty of jobs that plenty of other people simply can’t do – for a variety of reasons, physical, academic, or otherwise. So even fit people can’t do everything, and thus they can’t do anything.

The WCA doesn’t attempt to find out what kind of work you could do. It imposes no filters of any kind; if you fail then you are deemed merely ‘capable of work’ which therefore must means capable of any work – and, again, thus capable of every kind of work. That’s the rules for JSA: you must be up for anything (though I always found it curious you can’t actually phrase it that way).

What then happens, we all know, is that, having been labelled ‘capable of (every kind of) work’ the individual is cast adrift. The DWP would say they have lots of systems in place to help, but at the very least they require a genuine claim for JSA (unless you want to suffer any of the above) and many feel they can’t deal with that. So they are just abandoned. Even then, with schemes like the Work Programme, what help is there?

The upshot of all this, having read this vile article (and without knowing the timetable for implementing this crap), I’m afraid to step outside my house. How do I know that some DWP spook, or even a neighbour, Matrix style, won’t be thinking ‘hang on, he looks fit to work? What’s going on?’; this campaign won’t give a damn about the finer points of mental health, neuro diversity or even a warped metabolism, and you can be sure the general public won’t be compelled to think more deeply about the people around them.

This has to stop. Historians look at the rise of fascism in Germany and rightly ask how it happened; how did that society allow the rise of a genocidal maniac at the cost of millions of lives? Yet if you dare to compare Nazi Germany to modern Britain you are instantly dismissed as being utterly facile and completely over the top. While that might seem a lurid comparison to make, it is precisely because people did nothing and allowed themselves to become powerless. Some might argue that Germany’s situation was unique because of post war economic strife, but the war on terror that has lasted longer than both world wars combined is costing billions (as well as toll in lives that transcends mere economics). The point is that, without sufficient and effective opposition, what might seem mild, by comparison to Hitler’s policies, will get worse. If the Tory agenda is allowed to continue it will certainly lead to the almost complete rollback of the welfare state. The signs are there: people conditioned to believe benefits are generous, that claimants are scroungers, that there is no excuse or need for them, or that people shouldn’t need financial support and should get a more authoritarian intervention instead, controlling their lives in what can only be described as fascism, through concepts such as food stamps and payment cards.

This is about a system of unprecedented control over people’s lives ideologically and physically and it is only the beginning of the end. Remember the majority of the cuts have yet to come into effect.


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