The coalition has stigmatised welfare users – we need a return to compassion and solidarity

George Osborne has said a further £25bn spending cut will be coming after the next election, much of which will hit disabled people


Over the past five years, we have been forced to watch the systematic slashing of our welfare state. The coalition says ‘we are all in this together.’ The reality has been an austerity agenda where the disabled, the lowest-wage earners, and the chronically ill have taken the biggest hits.

Policy after policy has put the burden on the people who can least afford it. Cuts to council tax support have seen what’s effectively a new poll tax on millions of the poorest working households. The abolition of Disability Living Allowance and the Independent Living Fund are seeing basic dignity dubbed as too costly. Employment and Support Allowance has been riddled with conditionality, delays and outright failing, as thousands die after private companies find them ‘fit for work’. The bedroom tax has pushed thousands of the poorest people into rent arrears, penalising the disabled for needing a box room to store oxygen cylinders.

Worse, a climate has been built that says this is entirely right. The coalition has orchestrated a demonisation of need, where someone struggling on Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA) has been recast as the feckless workshy and a person too sick to work is a scrounger worthy of suspicion.

Right-wing media and ‘poverty porn’ television have simply fed a fear that our own government has started. Benefit fraud is less than one per cent. The biggest part of social security spending – 53 per cent – actually goes to pensioners. Listen to Ian Duncan Smith and you would think the disabled were living in gold houses and the unemployed bathing in diamonds.

The sanction regime is characteristic of the distortion of a compassionate, fair safety-net. Jobcentre staff report being given targets for stopping people’s benefits, whether that’s a claimant who’s five minutes late for an appointment or someone with chronic illness who’s too sick to get out of bed. Meanwhile, workfare schemes force people on JSA to work for free or be sanctioned. This is not only about removing benefits but the principle behind them. Social security as a universal entitlement is being attacked.

A major tool in this has been the stigmatisation of people needing benefits – part of a wider attempt to make the public see things in terms of workers versus claimants. But the facts show this is an entirely false division. A job market characterised by unstable hours and low wages has pushed working people towards benefits. Housing benefit figures alone show the number of people in work needing help to pay the rent has increased by almost 60 per cent under the coalition.

Britain is getting poorer. This government’s choices – both benefit cuts and tax changes – have made more workers, more children, more disabled people struggle. 13 million people now live in poverty in this country.

It is charity that has been left to pick up the pieces. Half a million people have had to go to food banks to feed themselves over the past six months – most because of benefit delays and sanctions, others due to low wages. This is part of a disturbing retreat of the state, where private companies and local volunteers fill the gaps left by failing government.

Taking back the welfare state is a fundamental issue of this election. The stakes could not be higher: the right to a life without poverty and a system where we help each other. As Class set out in their election guide, we must restore social security as a permanent, humane part of British society.

Judgement and punishment must be cast out for solidarity and compassion. Workfare, low wages, a gender pay gap, and propped up high rents, need to be replaced by a living wage, stable jobs, gender equality, and affordable homes. The people unable to work due to ill health or disability, currently enduring nominal income and arbitrary testing, must get bespoke assessment and support to live comfortably.

We know what’s already been done in the name of austerity is just the beginning. George Osborne has said a further £25bn spending cuts – much of it from the welfare budget – will be coming after the next election. If the Conservatives keep hold of power, Britain will find itself halfway through a near-decade of cuts. The disabled, people struggling to find work or living hand-to-mouth on low wages are easy targets. The welfare state cannot afford another five years of this.

Frances Ryan writes for the Guardian and New Statesman, covering austerity, disability and feminism. Follow her on Twitter

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49 Responses to “The coalition has stigmatised welfare users – we need a return to compassion and solidarity”

  1. littleoddsandpieces

    The unemployed, albeit only 3 per cent of the entire benefits bill, include the chronic sick and disabled dumped off such benefits onto the work components of Employment and Support Allowance or onto Jobseekers Allowances and suffering sanctions for many months so nil food money, for all ages.

    The unemployed and working poor also include people late 50s / early 60s denied state pension payout
    at 60 for women and 65 for men from 2013, and
    the men and women older than those retiring from next year, on and from 6 April, 2016,
    who face massively reduced or
    nil state pension
    even if worked all their lives.

    See why, under my petitition, in my
    WHY IS THIS IMPORTANT seciton, at:

    Universal Credit from 2016-2017 will include those eligible for Pension Credit, who are younger than the retirement age, denying them that benefit.

    Universal Credit means permanent sanctions because the replacement of less benefit from the Hardship Payments
    becomes a recoverable loan
    from any future benefit or earned income.

    This includes, under the coming Universal Credit, the working poor sanctioned for not being able to move from part time to full time hours (waged or self employed).

    So people face nil disability, nil chronic sick, nil UC and nil state pension, all in the same parliament from 2016.

    And the Tories intend to sit in power, even if MPs lose their seats, in a caretaker government, due to the most severe hung parliament predicted by all the expert pundits.

    To give Labour the 323 MP at least group of parties to rule as a left wing government, there needs to be further parties in the mix than just the SNP and Plaid Cymru.

    The poor have never had so much power in Tory and Lib Dem marginals to bring in new left wing anti-austerity parties that are natural allies to Labour.

    – Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC)

    – Class War (mostly in London)

    – Mebyon Kernow of Cornwall
    (Cornwall has the most slim marginals of Tory and Lib Dem MP seats)

    The disabled on benefit, pensioners in benefit poverty and new pensioners in and out of work facing the end of the welfare state and the state pension, would vote for these parties, if they realised this would put the Tories and Lib Dems out of government and into the opposition.

    Labour would do better to end all its funding of running in Scotland, as they will get the SNP anyway as allies.

    Labour could help to bring the party into government by funding the advertisement ads and media coverage of those above parties in Tory and Lib Dem marginals in England.

    Or Labour could encourage trade unions to do so direct?

    This is a Vote or Starve election.

    Because a Tory caretaker government would be the ultimate nightmare for another 5 years.

  2. James

    I`m getting pretty sick of this Tory government denigrating the poorest in our society as benefit cheats & scroungers while their ministers like Rifkind have their noses in the trough taking cash for questions.

    Have these Tory toffs & other politicians forgotten the MP expenses scandal ? Where I’d suggest it was them cheating & taking money off the tax-payer & not disabled people or benefit claimants & if they`ve forgotten who caused the crash & recession in 2028 .. I’ll remind them again … it was their friends the “bankers” who crashed the economy & bankrupted the country. which by the way not a single one went to jail for !

    If David Cameron & his friends in the Tory party were as quick to go after bankers, tax evaders, dodgy MP`s with their noses in the trough as quick as go after benefit scroungers the treasury`s coffers would be full !

  3. Leon Wolfeson

    Exactly – they’d lose all the excuses for their ideologically and not fiscally based austerity.
    And they can’t have that now.

  4. Leon Wolfeson

    Sure – we could look at principles like a Basic Income.
    I know I go on about it, but it fixes SO much!

    And of course the welfare state is being systematically demolished, that’s the entire point of the Tory policy. Thing is, Labour is little different – they’re also committed to the cap and to lowering welfare dramatically, thus.

  5. AlanGiles

    Sadly it was Blair’s New Labour that started the demonisation of welfare claimants, starting out with the belicose noise of the likes of Blunkett, Alan Johnson (the “geezer” who wanted to put DWP officials in GPs surgeries to be advised which patients were on benefit, thus contravening the rules on confidentiality) and Darling and continuing in Browns time when David Freud was annointed a “welfare expert” by James Purnell, ex minister and expenses fiddler now back with the BBC. Freud admitted that he “knew nothing about welfare” and proved he was at least telling the truth on that occassion by suggesting that it was the patients own GP who “put” the patient on I.B. Purnell was ably assisted by Tony McNulty (another ex politician/expenses fiddler) and Yvette Cooper-Balls. In very recent times the ghastly Rachel Reeves has said she will be “tougher than the Tories” on welfare.

    Are we to take it Reeves was just saying that, and that if Labour manage to win the election they have executed a 180 degree turn, or are they just being their usual hypocritical themselves?

  6. Paul

    Your understanding of the financial crash is incorrect.

    The cause of the financial crash was people in the US taking out mortgages that they could not afford and then defaulting on the repayments. ‘Bankers’ had allowed for default rates based upon historical volatility bands. When these bands were exceeded, the model became untenable and investments based on the model were therefore overvalued. A firesale therefore ensued. This affected markets and institutions across the world.

    Nobody went to ‘jail’ because no criminal offence had been committed. Mortgages were offered based upon flawed assumptions, but this is only known in hindsight.

  7. Mike Stallard

    ” the right to a life without poverty and a system where we help each other. As Class set out in their election guide, we must restore social security as a permanent, humane part of British society.”
    I have been on the dole myself for some ten years in the 1990s. I felt that I was sponging off the state and, worse, that I was sponging off my wife. I worked for free for some years, not even getting expenses.
    In the end it comes down to this question: why should other people have supported me? There is no real reason I can think of except that they had to because their money was taken off them in tax.
    I have met several people, too, who regard taking other people’s money as their right. I met a couple of them this evening. They are living off you and me, although both are men of working age, strong, fit, intelligent.
    In the end, there is no reason why such people should be given other people’s money is there?
    Believe me, both men existed. How many more of them are there?

  8. jray

    You are right and wrong,the US Banks purchased subprime mortgages and then packaged them in bundles,they assigned risks,but mixed and matched risk to get the highest possible yields and ratings,these were then sold to investors including UK/European Banks after things began to unravel it was like pass the parcel,plain and simple it was a quasi ponzi scheme,but based on greed,plain and simple.

  9. robertcp

    I agree with Frances but does the Labour Party? I cringe when I hear Rachel Reeves talking about being tough on welfare.

  10. Guest

    Yea, better 40% of the population die. Then lots more.
    Oh wait, I’m sure you’ll come up with a fix like…oh…outright slavery.

    As you use two people (who are probably you and your partner – rich people like you don’t need to work, after all) to justify the state turning on it’s people. For your profit.

  11. AlanGiles

    “why should other people have supported me?”

    Because in a civilised society in the 21st century we don’t want to see the return of the workhouse, or destitution (though of course we do have it)

    A lot of people over 50 through no fault of their own find it hard to find work after redundancy, for example, yet we have both the major parties advocating the idea that people should stay at school till they are 18 and go on working past retirement age. For people doing hard physical labour (and many still do – we can’t all be MPs fiddling expenses) it becomes mjuch harder as the years go on to fulfill their obligations.

    Labour will change none of the Coalition’s welfare policies, just as the Coalitions work was made much easier for them by the Blairite rabble. I always found it interesting that the politicians who complained the loudest about people “playing the system” were the biggest, most brazen expenses scammers like Purnell, Blunkett, Cooper, McNulty, Laws, Duncan-Smith and Grayling – thorough-going hypocrites who played the system like a fiddle

  12. Guest

    Remind me once again if you’d be so kind; who was that brought in ATOS and these brutal and humiliating disability assessments in the first place ?

    Also it Milliband who had disabled delegates move out of camera at the last Labor party conference to make photo opportunities for his fellow, (bright and equally well heeled mates.)

    Much maudlin sentiment, rank hypocrisy and disingenuous hand wringing on this topic but nothing in the way of a firm commitment to put anything right.

  13. Mike Stallard

    What is beginning to happen is that those who can afford it (including a lot of Labour people I am afraid) hire good accountants and play the very complicated tax system or simply move abroad. Those who cannot afford it, stay here getting poorer and poorer as the massive and interfering State pinches all our money. “A civilized society” is absolutely no answer.
    Many people resent paying for bludgers and whingers and, believe me, there are lots and lots. Maybe we move in different circles.

  14. Keith M

    Well said, pity there are some people out there who cannot see what damage the Tories have done to our social structure.

  15. Dave Stewart

    Also the people making the loans are responsible for them. If I run a small bank and make loads of reckless loans whose fault is it that the bank fails? The people who took advantage (whether knowingly or otherwise) or me for being reckless.

  16. Dave Stewart

    We live in one of the wealthiest countries on the planet ( I think it’s 7th but it may have moved since the last time I checked). Simply put as a nation we can afford to ensure every single person has enough to live a basic but decent life and still have plenty left over.

    We have a choice as a society. We can choose to sacrifice some of our personal wealth to create a social safety net so that should something unforseen/unlucky happen to somebody that they don’t fall into destitution but are able to not just survive but have as I said a basic but decent living. We do this in the knowledge that yes some lazy people will cheat the system so they do not have to work, however the good that we do in providing this net for people who need it far outweighs the selfish actions of the tiny and please remember it is truly a tiny minority (also no one says we shouldn’t be actively seeking to catch and punish those who do cheat the system but the way we approach it needs to be the assumption of innocence).

    Or we can choose to all be selfish and do away with the social safety net so we can keep our contribution to ourselves and when something unexpected and unfortunate happens to those not in a position to afford their own personal safety net (or indeed your or someone you love) we can sit back and watch them suffer and ultimately die…… the 7th richest country on the planet.

    I certainly know which of those I prefer to choose and I know for a fact that this is likely the choice that your grandparents (or possibly great grandparents depending on your age) made at the end of the second world war.

    What sort of society do you wish to live in?

  17. Guest

    I very much doubt he moves in your circles, as you “resent” the 99% – those evil “bludgers and whingers” who are so evil for wanting food and shelter.

    Your whining about the low tax burden in this country – one of the lowest in the EU and falling – is notable. Go ahead and move, the evidence from the Nordics is you won’t move your businesses and if they’re properly taxed all you’ll do is whine.

  18. sarntcrip

    I Agree with Frances and robertlabour strategy of out nastying the nasty bastards sorry party is doomed to failno party i’ve seen have yet talked about care and compassion of undoing the wrongs done since2010 of which there are many

  19. ForeignRedTory

    ‘ Basic Income’


    ‘ committed to the cap’
    The cap has things to be said for it – however!

    It should be applied forALL income not out of work. Lets face some facts:that way, 99% of the pain of the cap will fall on the richest 1%.

  20. ForeignRedTory

    Because people are NOT individual islands, but simply component parts of one single system.

    All solutions must start with that in mind.

    That includes the problem of the non-engaging cog in the sytem just as much as it includes the problem of contribution-based JSA or the problem of permanent disability.

    There is no such thing as property of any nature other than by consent and direction of Society in general. Of course, the same goes for wellfare rights.

    ‘In the end, there is no reason why such people should be given other people’s money is there?’
    For the 2 reasons ,I do not agree with your assesment.
    And I repeat from another thread:the sum total of weight to be pulled will not measure up to output or income.

  21. Leon Wolfeson

    Yes, plenty can be said for the cap. It’s a “lovely” capitalist device designed to smash the mechanisms used to stabilise the economy (which is going to cause spiralling issues of reduced spending, at a time when we’re deflating), and will cause massive poverty when basic benefits are drastically reduced by it. The benefit cap will basically fall on people claiming JSA, housing benefit and disability benefits – your claim is absurd.

  22. ForeignRedTory

    ‘You’re basically suggesting not allowing any income from capital in the
    UK. Which is absurd – yes, non-wage income should be higher tax, but not

    Why, exactly,should the State allow any form of surplus value to accrue Capital,as opposed to simply Nationalising the lot? For all your moaning,it would appear that you are in favour of free marketeering after all.

    ; Moreover, the poor would still be affected by the cap.;
    Why, exactly,shoukld the State be willing to spend more than 25K on anyone?
    I have no problem with the limit per se, but I do raise an objection to the unequal appliction.

  23. Mike Stallard

    “All solutions must start with that in mind”

    “There is no such thing as property of any nature other than by consent and direction of Society in general.”

    Qu’est que c’est que la propriété? La propriété c’est le vol.

    Comrade Citizen! You are well informed! Go to the Guillotine!

  24. ForeignRedTory

    Rights only exist by consent and direction of Society in general.
    Property is a right
    Property only exists by consent and direction of Society in general.


  25. Mike Stallard

    I understand that in a society where everyone is a thief, there is no property, (rights or not.)
    I do not understand your word Direction. Are you talking about the Directorate perhaps the most terrible of the French Revolutionary Murderers? Who are the Directors in your model society? Who chooses them? Who knows what they are planning? Who can get rid of them when they overstep the mark?
    In General. Police do you mean? Or the law if it is fair? I should have said that actually it depends on the individual in the end.
    Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

  26. ForeignRedTory

    First, may I observe that the nature of the directors or the managers or the Divine King or the Sovereign People has no bearing on the abstract problem of how the basic mechanism works?

    I owe no intellectual debt to the French Revolution or for that matter the American one, nor do I even empathise with any aspect thereof. When I say Direction, I mean Management by Directive. The General Officer Commanding or the Prime Minister do not actually order the local postman to deliver a letter – yet he does so per their directive .

    In an extremely practical sense, I do not believe it is POSSIBLE to administrate a modern, complex.society OTHER than through some form of Mass Democracy. Whether the model for that MassDemocracy be Japanese OR Switserland or for that matter the UK itself is beside the point: they all work pretty well as mechanisms.

    We, the People-as-a-group are the sovereign element – but as individuals, we are SUBJECTS of the sovereign people. Our individual rights only EXIST because the Group in its infinte wisdom has thus decided.

  27. ForeignRedTory

    And now, I must return to the interconnectivity of humanity.

    Britain has an NHS. Had we been hit by Ebola,we could have controlled it.
    The US has no such thing. But it does have some 20mln mexican illegals without healthcare.
    If Ebola had gone pandemic there, there would have been no stopping it.

    There are a lot of security-aspects to Society that work just like that: that the security of the best-protected element in society is still CONTINGENT on the security afforded to the least-protected element.
    Whether people actually DESERVE a protection is IMHO, mostly beside the point.

    Solidarity is not just an ethical ideal, it is a very basic survival-value.

  28. Mike Stallard

    Good old Vergilius!
    Direction is a weasel word. Directoire – tyranny and terror. Directives – what the unelected, unaccountable and therefore very corrupt and secret Commission of the EU issues. They cannot be obeyed. The Director is the rich fellow who is the bane of Socialism. Traffic is thoughtlessly Directed. There is a Direction. Someone decided who goes where.
    In a real democracy, everyone is free to make as many decisions as possible and this gives an enormous vigour which is lacking in a Directory. Wherever possible therefore, people ought to be free to make their own minds up and to be equal (We hold etc).
    For some things – Defence, Public Order – you have to have direction. But this should be done by people who are expert, accountable and who have actual experience of what they are doing.
    The State is clumsy. It depends on bureaucrats who have no knowledge and, often very little interest in what they are meant to be supervising. It is also very expensive because it is made up of mercenaries. And that means force comes into play early on in the game.

  29. Guest

    Of course I’m pro free-market. I’m anti-Capitalist, though.
    I’m a mutualist, this is no secret….

    And so you have no problem not only lowering benefits and causing even more poverty, you’d drive away basically any business which could leave. *claps*

    You keep calling allowing an economy “moaning” though – not even the USSR went as far as you’re suggesting.

  30. Guest

    Ah yes, you’re worried about a Black face, they’re a harbinger of…oh wait, who was responsible for the Congo Free State, an exam[le of your unrestrained capitalism, where people were dishonest, violent and thieves?

    That’s right, that rich white man, Leopold II of Belgium. The capitalist.

    The problem isn’t the Other, it’s you.

  31. Guest

    “I owe no intellectual debt to the French Revolution”

    And you certainly seen to be falling into the same mistakes as a result.

  32. Leon Wolfeson

    Sure, people should be free to make descisions and to freely associate with others. You don’t want to allow that, of course, as you attack the straw man of “burocrat”, as you call the people who help others as “mercenaries” – when that’s your private contractors.

    In fact, of course, to go back to the Congo Free State, violence was rife there. Thanks to your Capitalism. Freedom? Minimal – but Leopold sure as heck controlled Defence and “Public Order”.

    No, for there to be free association, people need to be reasonably free of the economic imperatives which force them into master-subject relationships on economic grounds. The Nordics are quite good at that one, but an easier way of achieving the same is…a Basic Income.

  33. ForeignRedTory

    It appears that none ofy our conclusion follow from your arguments.

    If they do,, by all do means write down your syllogisms.

    ‘In a real democracy,’
    You appear to be describing a form of Demarchy.

    Demarchy and Democracy are not equivalent.

    ‘The State is clumsy. I’
    Beside the point. There is the State, only the State,and nothiung but the State. Best directed through a strict system of huierarchical relation relationships. If bureacrats,then I am sure that expert sytems without any human element can be devised.
    Senior Management – Parliament – needs only concern itself by setti8ng objectives and checking key indicators for compliance.

  34. ForeignRedTory

    WHICH benefits specifically?

    I don’t think that the good people in this part of the woods receive 25K in benefits.

    Are you of the opinion that 25K/pe annumis poverty?

    If so, check your privilege.

    Show me a 25K lifestyle,and I willl show you a place to raise taxes.

  35. ForeignRedTory

    LOL. And I suppose that Lee Kuan Yew fell into that trap as well?

  36. ForeignRedTory

    Historically,the Nordic model relies on LOTS of natural resources and very few people.
    Basic Income is indeed by far the superior option.

  37. Mike Stallard

    We disagree!
    I think the state ought to be cut back as much as possible. It ought to be limited to keeping the external and internal peace. A good example of this is Texas.
    Morality ought to depend on the individual.
    You think exactly the opposite.
    PS democracy, demarche – that takes me back to Daggers Daunt’s Greek lessons at the age of fifteen, I can tell you.

  38. Guest

    The Nordic countries vary sharply in their natural resources, and “very few” makes them mid-sized countries. It’s simply that many parts of the Nordic Model are hard (politically) to duplicate, a basic income is simpler and many of the “side effects” of it produce i.e. an even higher rate of entrepreneurship, since you don’t need to ask “what will I live on while I get my startup running”, for instance.

  39. Guest

    That sort of autocrat? Er…

  40. Guest

    Of course you will – you gotta drive people’s spending down and business away, after all, when 25k a year is below what the JRF note people need if they have kids, for instance. The reality, of course, is that low-pay work is only remotely liveable because of benefits.

    The benefit cap, again, is about lowering primarily housing benefit, JSA, tax and credits – the primary benefits for the working-age poor, plus child benefit. Pensions won’t be touched, of course. That’s what you’re going after by maintaining a cap, and of course the spending cut there is high-multiple and will have a harsh knock-on effect on the rest of the economy. And those low-pay jobs are no longer liveable, which means only the threat of punishment under i.e. UC can make people do them – and only until UC sanctions them for not finding more work, when the work out there is less abundant because of the cap.

    That, to you, the bare minimums needed for a decent life and a bit of socialisation should be unaffordable…really says a lot!

    (And it, of course, also means nobody should live in London, etc.)

  41. ForeignRedTory

    You men,the democratically elected leader, who won time after timein free elections, representing the vas mahority of Singaporeans.

    Your problem is that confound Democracy with the corrupted Liberal Demockery, in which minorities get to bamboozle the Majority. Vox Populi, Vox Dei , and Lockstep with the Majority for all. That’s how Democracy works, the Divine Right of the Majority.

    Democracy does not require liberalism,and there is no need to tolerate liberalism at all.

  42. ForeignRedTory

    No doubt I repeat myself, but I simply support Basic Income.
    Norway has a huge load of oil, Sweden and Finland abound(ed) with base metals and trees.

  43. ForeignRedTory

    Prove your assertion.

    ‘It ought to be limited to keeping the external and internal peace.’
    Proof required.

  44. frank x

    What you intelligent people fail to grasp is that they are a lot like aggressive drunks.
    Read the express or the mail lately? Most of the populace are vicious sycophants: corrupt enough
    to go along with any injustice these drunks dream up.
    Except to themselves.

  45. treborc1

    Do not write execute in an article about welfare.

  46. treborc1

    But not labour and yet Freud and Purnell and the WCA and the words scroungers oh yes and of course UNUN Provident came from New labour , all the Tories did was carry on using those words, or is your memory that bad

    The Tories stated that all appeals to the Appeals courts should be checked to ensure they were worthy, once this started people like me won their claims, before that you could be dead and sent to the appeals so ATOS would be paid.

  47. treborc1

    I’ve no doubt they exist bet both are married and have kids, so if they refuse to work, you stop the benefits to do what make the kids work.

  48. gunnerbear

    “This government’s choices – both benefit cuts and tax changes – have made more workers, more children, more disabled people struggle.” Perhaps the author might like to ponder what might have been achievable post 2010 had Gordon Brown, not, umm, ‘invested’ so much and actually saved a little bit……….or is the author suggesting that every bit of borrowing under Brown was spent wisely and resulted in massive productivity gains and no non-jobs?

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