Work in progress
It is often claimed that the Lords, unencumbered by the rivalries and ambitions of the Commons, have a greater affinity with ordinary people than MPs. Certainly, this is the spin which opponents of the Welfare Reform Bill would like to put on its rocky passage through the upper house, where the government narrowly avoided a fourth defeat this week. But there is an alternative interpretation: that their lordships are suffering from a form of noblesse oblige which prevents them from seeing that the welfare system has become a racket, incubating the poverty it was set up to eradicate.
This week’s near-defeat, on the subject of the Disability Living Allowance (DLA) — which is paid to 3.2 million disabled people to help them cope with everyday living costs — needs to be seen in the context of the soaring bill for that benefit. Over the last ten years it has doubled. Medical records show no corresponding surge in disability. The government’s critics say that there is little fraud — something that is impossible to check, given that the allowance is handed out year after year without any reassessment of a claimant’s condition. There are 130,000 people who have been claiming the benefit since it was introduced in 1992, without anyone ever checking that they still need it.
Asking claimants to take a fresh medical examination is hardly an outrage. DLA is a remnant of an outdated attitude which wrote off the disabled as totally unfit for work for the rest of their lives. The same assumption was made of those on incapacity benefit.This callous system meant that hundreds of thousands were, in effect, economically decommissioned by a government that defined compassion as writing a cheque. Britain has been creating the most expensive poverty in the world.
Already, 11,000 incapacity benefit claimants are being assessed each week to see what work they can do. Where the scheme has been piloted so far, a third dropped their claim rather than keep their doctors’ appointments. It is not hard to work out why: they were malingerers who knew they would be found out. But it’s difficult to blame them. The system was an open invitation to commit welfare fraud, and we should not be surprised that so many did so.
Grayling wishes to replace the DLA with the Personal Independence Payment, which would usually be granted for a limited period, after which claimants would have to be reassessed. The tests have been criticised by disability groups as being unreasonable, and by certain peers as being heartless. What no lobbying group did was to use the welfare reforms as a chance to campaign for greater resources for those who genuinely need them. Sadly, they all settled on a kneejerk rejection of the plans instead.
It is hardly cruel to create an expectation that people with disabilities should, wherever possible, work. On the contrary, what is truly unkind is to stick people on benefits and leave them there, thus cementing the link between disability and poverty. But tackling this problem is near impossible; anyone who tries is accused of being heartless. When disabled protestors chained themselves to railings in Downing Street in 1997, Tony Blair immediately gave up his welfare reform plans. That condemned millions to a life on benefits and ensured that the British economy came to rely on immigrant workers.
This government is finally attempting to bring the scandal to an end, and it is both worrying and frustrating that the Lords, who have a reputation for common sense, have not given it more support.
Soldiers of misfortune Joanna Lumley’s campaign on behalf of the Gurkhas two years ago looked like a stunning success. Who can forget the moment when she dragged the then immigration minister into a Westminster restaurant to secure a promise in front of the cameras?
she might have foreseen the unfortunate result of her intentions.
We all admire Ms Lumley and we know how distressed she must be by the news that the Ministry of Defence is set to sack 400 Gurkhas — the equivalent of an entire battalion. But she should have remembered the law of unintended consequences, and then
Those officials who resisted her campaign did so not to spite the Gurkhas, but to protect them — and for good reason. The Gurkhas’ record of loyalty and valour has never been in doubt. But the British Army does not need to go abroad to find tough, patriotic young soldiers.Troop recruitment through Nepalese hill stations was never a social outreach project, but a simple matter of economic efficiency. The Gurkhas survived previous rounds of defence cuts because they were exceptional value. Now that the economic rationale is weakened, fewer Gurkhas will be hired or retained. The old terms and conditions of the Gurkhas’ service, which so appalled Ms Lumley, still drew 30 applicants for every place. There will be fewer places now.
It is unfair to blame Ms Lumley. Her motives were honourable. It is the Labour government that must have known what would happen, and should have defended the Gurkhas against their glamorous champion.
the spectator | 21 january 2012 | www.spectator.co.uk
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January Is seeing believing? Dr Holly Bridge, University of Oxford 23 January 2012 Can we always believe what we are seeing? Can our perception of the world around us be manipulated? Join Dr Holly Bridge to explore how visual information is processed by the human brain, and how this can be altered to change our perception of our surroundings.
February What’s left to explore in our solar system? Dr Zita Martins, Imperial College London 27 February 2012
March Seeing double? Professor Adrian Hilton, University of Surrey Dr Kristine Krug, University of Oxford 26 March 2012
April Hiding in plain site? Dr Andrew Ker, University of Oxford 23 April 2012
May Do we need friends? Professor Neil Macrae, University of Aberdeen 28 May 2012
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