A minister desperately trying to hide from his own policy failures at great human cost
After overseeing five years of Tory Welfare Waste in coalition, IDS is back. Having failed to help disabled people into work via his disastrous ‘Work Programme’ he’s unwilling to improve his own performance, instead picking the easier target of disabled people’s benefit payments.
He’s aiming for Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) again. His changes during the coalition already saw many people on ESA because of long-term conditions have their benefit entitlements limited to 12 months. For the avoidance of doubt: this is a benefit that, according to DWP, is only paid to ill and disabled people.
Worryingly, IDS’s target includes 850,000 people with ‘mental and behavioural disorders’ (to use DWP vernacular) which includes people with learning disabilities.
If it wasn’t for the people likely to lose out under his plans, it would have all the comedy value of a weak storyline from The Thick Of It. A minister desperately trying to hide from his policy failures and prove to his new backbenchers that he’s up to today’s job by chasing yesterday’s headlines.
What’s worse is IDS knows he’s wasted millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money on his abysmal Universal Credit scheme, been beset with delays costing the public millions, and also failed to address the wasted money and opportunity of his Work Programme.
It’s been running for years, but remains on a pleateau, with a ‘success’ rate in the single figures for disabled people. Liz Sayce, CEO at Disability Rights UK, drafted a report for DWP under the coalition on how to better support disabled people into work. After years of waiting for implementation she appears to have lost patience with IDS, judging by her comments on his latest announcement.
Instead of providing disabled people with more personalised support, IDS is just axing some of their current financial help which, according to Sayce, risks leaving them in poverty.
IDS has decided that, after years of ignoring disability organisations and charities’ suggested improvements for his assessment processes and employment programmes that would save money and time, he’d rather just cut payments for disabled people.
Aiming for the ‘lowest hanging fruit’ is a favourite government department analogy, but only applies if they’re doing any reaching. IDS isn’t even stooping for strawberries.
The impact of his proposed change has severely alarmed many disabled people. Losing financial help has contributed to the deaths of other benefit claimants.
IDS claimed statistics weren’t available on this issue, but was overruled by Number 10 – not that it stopped DWP delaying publication until ‘Autumn’ this year. When published, they will no doubt make awful reading – and yesterday’s announcement will only increase the likelihood of some disabled people plunging further into debt and despair.
So far, not enough has been made of the scandal of IDS axing vital help to some our most disadvantaged friends and neighbours. Or how his policies have contributed directly to the deaths of individuals made vulnerable by severe financial hardship. Or how this could possibly coexist with IDS’ purported Christian faith.
But the real scandal is how this man, given his track record of incompetence and failure, still has a job in government at all.
Neil Coyle is Labour MP for Bermondsey and Old Southwark, and formerly co-chair of the Disability Benefits Consortium and director of Disability Alliance
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