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From the Office Of... 2

(This too precedes the resignation of a certain appalling senior Tory...)

So I received a letter in respect of my email to the local Tory overlord regarding the plan, now implemented it seems, to cut ESA for those in the WRAG by 30%. This cut reduces ESA to the same amount as JSA. The reasoning of course is pernicious: despite these people establishing their case as being unfit for work they are still regarded as being capable of work. I have spoken about this before; the WRAG is just spin because the government still regards these people as being fit for work and capable of 'work related activity', despite being medically found otherwise. Really there should be no need for an WRAG, but the distinction is made because the government feels these are people that can be cured somehow. Even then it goes on, as I say, to disregard their problems.

This time, the response was more than an email. I got a letter with a six page attachment from the Employment Minister - the awful tobacco lobbyist Priti Patel (it really is!). Before I dissect what she says, I will address what the my MP had to say, which, unsurprisingly, isn't very much.

Essentially he makes two points, both of which are bullshit, indicative of the huge disconnect between the Tories and not just the rest of society, but the systems they assume control of.

Firstly he shares the above assumption that ESA WRAG claimants:

"are (by definition) able and expected to look for work."

He hopes I will agree. I do not. These are people that have passed a test, a notoriously onerous and prejudiced test, establishing they have difficulties regarding being able to work. All you are doing is dismissing the problems these people have; this is pure cynicism. This is how you whitewash disability in a capitalist market and this is how you empower divide and rule.

People in the WRAG are not able. They are meant to be placed in this group if their problems are known to be curable (which begs a whole series of other questions). Even the acronym is pernicious: Work Related Activity Group.

The second point made by the local fuhrer asks:

"It's also worth noting that, even though the Lords were happy to vote against their change, they have been strangely silent on how they'd pay for the enormous increase in spending which it would require."

The last part begs the question, but that aside we all know that this can easily be paid for. This doesn't even warrant discussion; the Tories have borrowed beyond even the last government. They've repeatedly peddled austerity and yet cut taxes for those that can afford them and who already receive massive subsidies and benefits. Yes, we can afford this; we have to because these are people that need to be supported if we are to even pretend to be a civilised society.

So there are two (two seems to be the numerical them thus far) conclusions I draw:

1. Support is cut from those who need it most by those with no right to do so. Then, it is argued, that said support cannot be afforded. Given the decision is arbitrary and made without evidence it is akin to burning someone's home and then arguing that repair or replacement cannot be afforded.

2. The WRAG should enable those with 'curable' conditions to receive adequate support, free from constraint or unreasonable demand, such as expectations of recovery made without due care. Instead the conditions experienced by those within are used as weapons against them.

As I mentioned, his response included a six page load of Tory hogwash from the Minister of Employment (it really does). To be honest, most of what she says you've already heard since my MP ultimately agrees with it and summarises it. But there are some parts worthy of note:

The system should not support lifestyles or rents not available to the taxpayers who pay for that system.

Well isn't that handy; eviscerate people's wages and then complain about all those scroungers living it up with their plasma screens and their brand name shoes. Or, consider that the Tories vote for inexplicable and unjustifiable pay rises themselves and apply the same standard...

I believe that it is only fair that those whoa re capable of taking steps to prepare for work receive the same rate of income-replacement benefits as out of work claimants.

Huh? I personally don't care what YOU believe. You were not put into power to materialise your beliefs (though that's just being naive, since that's precisely how representative parliamentary democracy works and why I no longer support it). Not the phrase 'prepare for work'; a nebulous phrase that the reader is encouraged to view as synonymous with looking for work. But it's not the same thing at all and, fundamentally, I do not see any justification of the proposition. Why should such people - again, these are people that are sick and cannot currently work - be arbitrarily financially deprived? Where is the evidence that cutting their income helps them?

I can also confirm that claimants in the ESA WRAG will not be required to carry out the same job seeking activities as a Job seekers Allowance claimant as a result of the is change. However, claimants in the WRAG will continue to be required to undertake work related activity. There is a great deal of flexibility in the types of work related activity that claimants may be asked to participate in and activities must be appropriate and reasonable for each individual claimant taking into account their circumstances.

Unfortunately we know this is bullshit; at best ESA claimants will be required to do exactly the same as JSA. Not least of all because the JC+ and it's allies have not the first clue how to provide a more nuanced and suitable service. Anyone who complains or fails to meet the burden they are set will of course be sanctioned. This is just rhetoric.

It is time to think about how we can improve the way people are assessed for sickness benefits that is less 'binary' and more positive in looking at what people can do and the support they will need to do it.

Sounds wonderful. Sadly that ideal is far from where we are right now. When I was on the Work Programme what I was interested in was completely ignored and mention of mental health immediately dismissed by someone with no idea what he was talking about whatsoever.

Your constituents (sic) particularly mention the difficulties people with mental health conditions face with entering employment (sic). We know that 47 per cent of all ESA claimants have a mental health condition as their primary barrier to work. Being out of, or away from, work can not only sustain the symptoms of a mental health condition but also reinforce negative views about capability and future prospects.

This is capitalist thinking at its most sinister and most ignorant. The reality is that it is not being away from work that is the problem since that begs the question, what is meant when we talk about work. It is being away from community, society and the ability to flourish as fulfilled human beings. Work - of the correct kind - can be part of this. So what is work? It is that which fulfils us and improves society, either adding to knowledge, culture or understanding. But there are further questions about the nature of that work: do people need to be driven away from family and community in economic cages like battery chickens merely to produce profit, keeping nothing they create so as to enrich another? I do not agree.

Mental health is incredibly complex and poorly understood at best. Capitalism only exacerbates those environments that alienate us and so her spiel is idle rhetoric, and ultimately dangerous.

We also know that previous schemes did not do enough for disabled people including those with mental health issues. This is why the Work Programme focuses on giving some of the hardest to help people two years of support as it can be a real struggle to get back into work.

And yet it has proven, as was inevitable, to be a dismal failure that has succeeded only in enriching private sector parasites and sub contractor agencies who are as ticks on the public purse. The Salvation Army, of whom I see no evidence they are in any way suited to this kind of endeavour (beyond a few choice bible verses), were not even the primary provider for me. They subcontracted from 'Rehab Jobfit'. They were the people I was assigned to and yet all they did was sell my contract to the Salvation Army.

Is that the kind of support the Tories mean?


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