I did promise to the delight of you all I'm sure to have a go at David Cameron's plans to have a go at the folk on Incapacity Benefit. Truly there is no issue to make you feel more like a drunk talking to themselves than ranting about benefit reform.
Based on my own eavesdropping and being collared at bus stops most peoples attitude to state benefits is that they should be done away with unless they or one of their family is stuck. If one challenges them by asking what should be done about the genuinely disabled they backtrack, splutter and tell you about their neighbour who sells tea towels at the market and gets everything going to justify their previous zero benefits position.
To clarify my own position. I am a wicked believer in society, community and helping one's fellow man when he's in the soup but underpinned with values of personal responsibility and self-reliance. How I arrived at a position so at odds with my personality is a mystery but there it is. However the current benefit system utterly fails to promote these any of these virtues which is one of the many good reasons for it to be reformed.
However we should keep the extent of benefit fraud in perspective. Rejoice! It's not as bad as you think. In my view the main problem is the inherent waste in the system.
Take for example one of my clients, an immigrant from Pakistan who is desperate to find work. Until arriving in Britain he worked, whether in the family business from early childhood to carpentry later on. His English is pretty poor but he is physically fit and keen as mustard. He felt his poor English and difficulties with written English would prevent him finding a job, so with a head full of silly ideas about hand ups as opposed to hand outs he asked his local Job Centre if they would lend him money to buy English tuition. The Job Centre correctly informed him that as he'd not been unemployed for six months he was not eligible for any loans and that it didn't matter anyway because if he was still unemployed in six months time they'd be able to get him English classes and help to find work. He then explained that he felt ashamed of 'begging' and asked if they knew of anyone who would help him with English in exchange for work. They told him this was impossible and suggested he look for work in the Indian restaurant trade- something he'd had no previous experience of. Within about fifteen minutes of speaking to me and with no great effort on my part, I got him a place on a church run free English course and organised additional free tuition. I also enrolled him on a work shadowing project for skilled manual workers.
That was just short of three months ago. He is now earning enough stacking shelves to support his family, he continues to take English tuition, his English is a lot better and he is working towards self-employment so that he can work in his trade and he no longer claims Jobseekers Allowance. I again stress that I did not go out my way for this man, undertook no special research or made any exceptional attempt to help him, yet by taking his desire to find work seriously and taking into account that as a Catholic he'd left his country because of Muslim persecution he might not be made terribly welcome in Glasgow's Muslim dominated 'Indian' restaurant trade, he was able to find work. There is no real reason that DWP staff could not have done this instead if the government were really serious about getting people into to work, racial integration and helping people. No flashy initiatives or changes in legislation are required.
Moving on to disability benefits. Again no great change in legislation is required just a change in policy and practice. I will keep saying this until someone listens but if DWP doctors carried out proper medicals we'd be laughing. Similarly if the DWP stopped calling people for medicals who have conditions that deteriorate or do not improve we'd save a bundle.
However if we're hell bent on changing legislation we could remove the inbuilt disincentive to work removed from the system. Someone who is forced to stop work through ill health will eventually receive contributions based Incapacity Benefit once their contractual sick pay then Statutory Sick Pay has run out. Someone who has never worked will go straight onto Income Support/ Incapacity Credits. The difference is that the person on contributory Incapacity Benefit will have to pay some rent and council tax, pay for their prescriptions and be ineligible for Community Care Grants, Direct Deductions for fuel arrears and Budgeting Loans. Oh and if they happen to be buying their home -repossession beckons unless their lender is willing to wait until they qualify for a small amount of help with the interest. This is in direct contrast to the claimant who has never worked who has access to all of the above (except mortgage help for 26 weeks).
None of the proposed reforms either from Labour or the Tories seem to acknowledge that genuine claimants exist, nor show any real desire to reward work. Instead we are left with politicians taking advantage of public misconceptions about the benefit system to push through lazy, shallow, ineffective and pointless legislation. Well I say pointless the real point is of course to make a bunch of effete wankers look butch in The Sun.
If we wanted to get really radical we could take steps to let folk know that their horizons are much larger than their scheme, that with a bit of effort they could achieve a lot more than living off the state. This could be partly achieved by a proper education system. I was recently chatting to an utterly disillusioned teacher who was pulled up for using her blackboard too much. Apparently 'today's children' respond better to interactive learning and she should be using her 'smartboard' to convey the same information she'd put up on the blackboard. Her school then realised they hadn't budgeted for the £200 a go light bulbs required to power the thing and requested that teachers split the lesson between the 'smartboard' and the blackboard. The woman I spoke to has been a teacher for 32 years with an unblemished record. She loves teaching and working with the children. All she asks is to left to get on with teaching.
Could petty interference of this sort be contributing the appalling illiteracy rate? The swathes of children being pointlessly tortured in the name of targets and statistics? 'Today's children' are much the same as the generations that preceded them. What they need is to be taught basic maths and reading and writing. All of which will allow them to attain marketable skills later in life. What many of 'todays children' need in the absence of decent parents equipped to do so is someone taking an interest in their personal development, not writing them off as deprived. Isn't that why people go into teaching? If not don't employ folk devoid of a desire to educate and an interest in their students in the first place. Targets and statistics are no substitute for a good teacher and a reasonable level of inspection. It's easy enough to teach to exams or teach only what meets targets. None of which appear to be producing particularly well educated pupils. Is it any wonder so many of them aspire to nothing more than drug and alcohol induced oblivion and a life on benefits?