Yesterday afternoon I spent an interesting couple of hours following the #CABlive hashtag on Twitter. This hashtag aimed to give the reader an insight into the day-to-day workings of Citizens Advice Bureaux across the country and, it must be said, made for fascinating and eye-opening reading.
Having had cause to use the services offered by the CAB myself a few years back, I was already aware of how busy many bureaux are and the wide range of issues they deal with – but I was genuinely taken aback by the large number of tweets referencing clients who were having problems with the new benefits system; particularly with ESA applications or Work Capability Assessment appeals.
There is already a huge amount of anecdotal and more statistical evidence that shows how badly these benefits and the tests for them are failing, and how they are causing great distress (and sometimes physical or mental health problems) for many of those being forced onto them.
What with all the vicious media ranting and disapproving government pronouncements recently, you might be forgiven for thinking that almost every single person claiming state benefits of any kind in this country is actually on the fiddle – and thus getting away with ripping off the Treasury and the tax-paying public to the tune of billions and billions of pounds.
Let me repeat that: Not. True.
I’ve written before about how those on benefits, especially the sick and disabled, become an easy scapegoat for a government who are more concerned with feathering their own nests and protecting the interests of big business than looking after the most vulnerable in our society – and that the levels of fraudulent benefit claims are much, much lower than most people think they are.
This afternoon, I’ve been looking at the official Department for Work and Pensions report Fraud and Error in the Benefit System: 2010/11 Estimates (Great Britain), which was released last week and contains some very interesting statistics indeed; statistics that clearly demonstrate that the current spate of media and political poor-bashing and the demonisation of benefits claimants is based on a tissue of lies.
Last Wednesday marked the first anniversary of the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition government, and to celebrate (ahem) this momentous date, thousands of disabled people and their supporters took to the streets of London in an angry and powerful protest against the government’s planned welfare and healthcare cuts; cuts which are set to have a disproportionately negative effect on those claiming disability benefits and/or those with particular social care needs.
Here’s a little story for you.
Once upon a time there was a small island in the middle of the North Sea. On this island lived many different people from many different cultures and and many different backgrounds; some were old and some were young, some were very rich and some were very poor, some had power and some were powerless. Much of the time, most of the islanders got on well enough with each other and tried to help those in need when they could – even during sad times, when there was not much money to go round.
However, there was one group of islanders who were determined to cause trouble. This strange and terrible group were called the ConDems, and they were very rich and very powerful. They saw that there was not much money to go round for most of the islanders and they saw that some particularly naughty people had been breaking important money rules, so they determined to do something about this because they thought it could be to their advantage…
And that’s where it all went badly pear-shaped. You see, the ConDems chose the wrong set of naughty people to target. It’s all too easy for politicians – who have posh houses and nice cars and plenty of money – to point the finger at and financially penalise those at the bottom end of society who are either just scraping by on a low wage or who have been forced to fall back on the welfare state in order to have any income at all.