Following the passing of the Welfare Reform Act 2012, the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) transferred incapacity benefits to employment support allowance (ESA), and disability living allowance to personal independence allowance (Pip), whilst at the same time scrapping six benefit systems including housing benefit and council tax support.
The excuse given for this change was that it would make work ‘more attractive’ than being unemployed and ‘incentivise’ unemployed people to find work.
It is well documented that during this period the bourgeois media waged a particularly intense campaign stigmatising single mothers, the disabled, the unemployed, immigrants and the ‘undeserving poor’ via countless stories of dishonesty and fraud, emphasising the allegedly massive cost to the hardworking taxpayer of supporting these ‘workshy’ hordes. (Benefits Stigma in Britain, Turn2us, November 2012)
But, far from saving the taxpayer money, the real motivation behind universal credit turns out, as usual, to have been profit. A recent report published by the Z2K trust provides good examples of this. The report describes how, since 2013, the DWP has payed £969m to private outsourcing companies (such as Atos, Capita and Maximus) for assessment contracts. (Jen Durant, Access Denied – Barriers to Justice in the Disability Benefits System, 2018)
Profiting from workers’ misery
In 2019 alone, Capita was paid £145m for a two-year extension to its Pip assessments contract, having already earned hundreds of millions on the contract since 2013. (Outsourcing giant Capita handed £145m for UK.gov’s personal independence payment extension by Kat Hall, The Register, 31 July 2019)
In order to rake in those profits, pay-outs to claimants must be minimised, and so the government has not only cut the benefits themselves, but also slashed legal aid grants for disability case appeals since 2012 by a staggering 99 percent.
Claiming disability benefit involves a process in which a ‘work capability assessment’ is carried out by an assessor, a notoriously inhuman and degrading process. Even people who have been diagnosed as terminally ill but who cannot prove that they probably have only six months or fewer to live cannot claim benefits – a dying person must prove they are looking for work in order to receive benefits. (New APPG report calls for changes to benefits laws for dying people by Mark Jackson, Marie Curie, 3 July 2019)
If claimants are informed about what kind of supporting evidence would assist their claims, and if they are allowed to submit that evidence, it must be at their own time, effort and expense, and many are simply incapable of finding the additional money and energy to do so.
Assessors with no medical training are authorised by private contractors to make judgements based on insufficient medical evidence, all while refusing claimants the chance to submit further supporting evidence. An assessor refusing a claim does not have to give any explanation as to why they have ignored medical evidence that has been provided.
This process is presented by the DWP as being ‘simple’ and helpful, but the reality is that the procedure is purposely failing claimants and leaving them in desperate straits. During the initial assessment stage, 40 percent of ESA claimants are turned down and only 11 percent of refusals are overturned at the mandatory reconsideration (the first stage of the appeal process).
A claimant has only 28 days to submit a mandatory reconsideration request and, because a considerable amount of expertise is needed, many claimants are unable to reach even this preliminary appeal stage.
If a mandatory reconsideration upholds the initial refusal to pay benefits, claimants – after being rejected twice – must then take their case to a tribunal if they want to continue with their claim. It is at this point that the moral corruption of the system is truly exposed, because finally, on reaching appeal, 69 percent of ESA and Pip refusals are overturned in favour of the claimants.
In a nutshell, private companies are being handsomely paid to prevent the sick from accessing benefits they have every right to; they are profiting from forcing workers struck down by ill health into abject penury.
As the world economic crisis of capitalism deepens and our rulers search for new opportunities for making profits while passing the burden of austerity onto the backs of the poorest, it is clearer than ever that the capitalist system cannot meet the needs of the workers.
This is a system that exists only by exploiting working people, and it has no use for those who cannot work owing to illness. Under capitalism, there is no guarantee of assistance for those in need, no recognition of the right to human dignity – workers must sweat to keep the ruling class in its dominant position, or starve if they cannot take their place in the chain gang.