YOUR MP WRITES: Jessica Morden MP for Newport East
THE BBC’s Panorama programme this month exposed what I and other Labour MPs have been saying for the last year – that the Coalition government’s tests to move disabled people back into work are not fit for purpose and are desperately unfair.
I certainly believe that those who can work should work (and it was the last Labour government who brought in work capability assessments to interview those claiming incapacity benefit), but the current system has got worse and is not working.
In my office in Newport, we have dealt with some heart-rending cases of people with severe physical or mental health issues being refused benefits because of a crude test deemed them fit for work; this includes constituents with cancer, Parkinson’s and MS. All of them appeal and nearly all of them win, after waiting six months on average for a decision, under great stress.
This process doesn’t come cheap – the appeal process is hugely expensive for the Government. And now Panorama has questioned whether targets have been set by the Coalition government for how many disabled people should be declared fit for work.
It’s no wonder therefore that the disability charity Scope last week released worrying survey results that showed 46 per cent of disabled people felt the attitudes towards them had got worse because of the relentless focus on fraudulent benefit claims. Despite the fact that 41 per cent of people with disabilities work and that according to the Government’s own figures on tax avoidance, tax evasion, the hidden economy, among other things, could cost the country £35bn each year, while benefit fraud is estimated roughly at £1.5bn.
In debates in the House of Commons, ministers acknowledge that the work capability process is not perfect and that they are working to improve it.
Let’s hope they learn the lessons quickly as other benefit changes, like the changes to housing benefit, are about to hit.
Yesterday, I met a young man from Maindee with a severe illness who has to find an extra £37 a week in rent, forcing him to face the real possibility of eviction and then homelessness on the streets of Newport. If housing benefit is also withdrawn for under-25s, as floated by the Prime Minister, who assumes they can live at home, this means those kicked out of the family home face a bleak future.
The Government should beware the unintended consequences of these reforms.
Making more people homeless (with the human misery that brings) also means an extra financial burden on already cashstrapped local authorities.