The latest government changes equate illness with a lack of motivation, as welfare becomes a tool to modify behaviour.
What’s worse: kicking someone because you’ve convinced yourself it will help them, or knowing it won’t and doing it anyway? This isn’t some abstract moral dilemma: with a new wave of “welfare” cuts set to come into force next week, a perverse ideology seems to be driving government policy.
Take the grim cut to Employment and Support Allowance, the out-of-work sickness benefit relied on by hundreds of thousands of people with disabilities, mental health problems and chronic illnesses. From April, anyone newly classed by the Department for Work and Pensions as “Wrag”, or Work-Related Activity Group – people judged as so ill they can only take steps to prepare for future work rather than actually apply for jobs – will see their benefit shrink by £30 a week. That translates as a cur of nearly 30% (down to £73 a week) to a disability benefit already so meagre it’s leaving a third of recipients struggling to afford food.
If paraplegics and cancer patients having to skip meals isn’t grotesque enough, consider that since the policy was announced in 2015 ministers have sold it on the premise that cutting benefits will give disabled people an “incentive” to get a job – as if the reason someone with Parkinson’s has been out of work for a year isn’t that they can’t hold a pen because of their tremors, but because they’re enjoying the “easy life” on benefits.
It’s no coincidence that this move will see a disability benefit reduced to the same rate as Jobseeker’s Allowance. By ending the distinction between healthy jobseekers and disabled people who – based on the government’s own assessment – aren’t “fit for work”, the Conservatives are sending the message that having a debilitating disability doesn’t mean a person needs specialist support or extra money, but simply a bit of motivation. This isn’t only a cut to a benefit but an attempt to alter the purpose of the system itself: it shifts “welfare” from an entitlement to help, to a discretionary means to change “bad” behaviour.