On poverty and food banks, the Coalition reveals its true colours

This is a very personal blog. One of the issues that has troubled me greatly in relation to this Government is that I’ve been all-too aware of the support Iain Duncan Smith’s policies have enjoyed from the evangelical wing of the church. Indeed, a leading member of a church similar to mine is (still, I believe) one of IDS’s special advisers. I’ve found that very hard to understand or accept – that a committed Christian appears to support social security policies that are causing such hardship and suffering among those who have the misfortune to be disabled, chronically sick or poor. (See note 1)

This blog is addressed to any and all of my friends and family, whose politics range from blue to red and all shades in between. The issues I explore are not inherently party political, although I have to be honest about how hard it is to support the current Government’s policies that affect those with the least resilience – including many disabled people, people who are chronically sick and those living in poverty (whether in work or not). Most of the issues are more complex and nuanced than the Government will admit.

In the weeks leading up to Christmas, the issue of food banks was very much in the news – at least, until the unusually severe storms inflicted their own cruel hardships. As one of my more right-wing-leaning Christian friends admitted in an email to me on Christmas Day, the food banks issue has revealed Iain Duncan-Smith’s true heart. My friend went on to express his fear that euthanasia will increasingly be seen as the answer to save money; read in the context of this Government’s overall policy agenda in relation to disabled people and people with long term health conditions, this is a truly chilling prediction, but is a topic for another time.

I believe the huge rise in demand for assistance from food banks serves as a proxy, or broad measure, of absolute poverty in the UK – especially since access to food banks is controlled by the issuing of vouchers by respected organisations such as social services, Citizens Advice or GP surgeries. I also believe those running food banks are best placed to understand the reasons people come to them, particularly as most food banks spend time with their clients, advising them and referring them to other help, in addition to providing short term food supplies.

My views on some of the underlying difficulties of this Government’s social security policies will probably be shared by most:

  • Do I believe people should work if they can? Yes, undoubtedly, but I also believe that most people want to undertake “good work” – ie work with decent pay and conditions, that provides the dignity of supporting both the employee and their dependents. Recent research has revealed that many jobs lack the security of a standard contract and pay little more than the minimum wage, which is certainly not a “living wage”.
  • Do I believe disabled people and people with a long term health condition can work? Yes, most disabled people want to work and can do so if employers do not discriminate and their support needs are met. However, there are also people whose health condition has such a significant impact on their life that they should not be expected to work – a position with which IDS and his Government colleagues purport to agree. (see note 2) It is important that those who are unable to work are not demonised or marginalised, and it is counter-productive to subject them to the stress of repeated assessments if their condition is unlikely to improve. As one of the world’s richest countries, we can afford to support those who are unable to work.
  • Do I believe “sanctions”, by which benefit claimants are denied their benefits for specific periods to punish them for failing to fulfill their responsibility to seek work, are effective in getting people back to work? No, I’m sorry, I don’t. I would concede there may be a minor role for sanctions, to be used sparingly and only where it is clear beyond doubt that over a significant period of time the claimant is making little or no effort to improve their situation. In reality, however, there have been reports from well-respected organisations, including Citizens Advice Bureaux and Church Action on Poverty, of people being sanctioned because their bus was late or even because they were attending a job interview instead of signing on at the Jobcentre! And even if sanctions are imposed for arguably sound reasons, I am not aware of any evidence that absolute poverty – having no money at all to buy food or pay for gas and electricity – helps people into work.  Humans will naturally seek to meet their most basic needs first, so those in absolute poverty will prioritise activity that enables survival; identifying and engaging with agencies that can help those with no money and stretching minute food budgets through creative cooking are jobs in themselves. For benefit claimants to be able to concentrate on searching for a job their basic needs must be met by a “safety net”, which in the UK is becoming more and more threadbare.

There are other issues as well, that have arisen out of claimants’ experiences of the way in which social security policy is delivered in practice:

  • Forcing claimants to apply for any job, regardless of suitability. Common sense suggests that such a simplistic, mechanistic way of seeking work is unlikely to be effective, or a good use of time. However, it seems clear that claimants are given targets for the number of job applications they must make, to be evidenced by their activity on Universal Jobmatch, the Government’s somewhat inept recruitment tool. I would hate to be an employer advertising jobs on the site; it is a ridiculous waste of time to wade through CV’s from those who are clearly unsuitable for the advertised role, so any sensible employer will simply decide not to use Universal Jobmatch when they have a vacancy. Unsurprisingly, the indiscriminate approach claimants are encouraged to take in their job search has stimulated the enterprising creation of a software application that automates the task of applying for jobs through Universal Jobmatch.
  • Assessing a claimant as being fit for work and then denying them Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA) because they’re clearly too ill to work. This is obviously pointless and cruel, but it is happening to an alarming number of claimants due to the failure of the widely-criticised Work Capability Assessment (WCA) (brought in, incidentally, by the last Labour Government). Whilst it is legitimate to assess the type and amount of support a claimant needs according to their degree of impairment or ill-health, it is vital that such assessments are accurate; unfortunately, a considerable amount of taxpayers’ money is spent paying for incorrect assessments as well as for a huge number of appeals to the tribunal. Claimants who are declared “fit for work” following a WCA do not receive any money while the decision is reconsidered by DWP, a mandatory stage before an appeal can be lodged; payment only recommences when the reconsideration is completed and an appeal can be lodged with the tribunal service. When the claimant is clearly not fit for work, there are significant obstacles to claiming JSA so they effectively have no income at all. This represents a major gap in the safety net, which could be closed fairly easily if the Government was minded to do so.

The above list of issues is by no means comprehensive; there are also major implications of recent changes to housing benefit and the imposition of the benefit cap, as well as the devolution of council tax benefit and the social fund to local authorities and reform of Disability Living Allowance and other benefits. To cover all the social security issues that are causing significant hardship would take a number of blogs; this focuses on just a few of the issues behind absolute poverty and the increasing need for food aid in the UK today. To quote Archbishop Desmond Tutu:

“There comes a point where we need to stop just pulling people out of the river. We need to go upstream and find out why they’re falling in.”

This is where I believe there is cause for hope, in relation to the church’s response. Many food banks and night shelters are run out of or by local churches, and I now see churches across the theological spectrum waking up to the reality of poverty and its causes -whether they be low paid, insecure work, inept social security policies, an overly consumerist society, irresponsible lending or other factors in our increasingly complex society. Church Action on Poverty has started to give a very clear message that the social security policies of this Government are to blame for a significant amount of the poverty we are seeing in the UK today; in May 2013, in partnership with Oxfam, they published their report Walking the Breadline, on food poverty. In recent sermons and messages, current and recent Archbishops of Canterbury, as well as the Archbishop of York and the Archbishop of Wales have spoken out about the problem of poverty in the UK today, although current office-holders have to be somewhat circumspect in their comments.

Food banks run by evangelical or charismatic churches are a great manifestation of Christian love in action, but they can only ever be a sticking plaster. We need to be honest about the reasons why food aid is needed – whether those reasons are related to in-work poverty, the Government’s economic and/or social security policies, the Department for Work and Pension’s inept processes or other factors. Churches need to speak out about the reasons people come for help, however uncomfortable the truth might be, and not be afraid to step into the political arena.

I guess what I’m really being presumptuous enough to ask is: What would Jesus have us do?


(1) More than a year ago I tried to have a conversation with this individual but I was not permitted to do so. I’m thinking about how I might try again…

(2) In reality, a key determinant of whether disabled people and people with a long term health condition can work is the nature of work itself. The greater the changes that can be made to the nature of work, the more likely it is that people with significant impairment or health-related difficulties can work; for example, there are many people who have severe, chronic health conditions who would love to work but know this would only be possible if they could get a job that, for example, allows them to use their laptop in bed but only at those times when they are well enough to do so. Similarly, for other disabled people the practical ability to work is often dependent on the availability of paid personal assistance, to enable them to get up, washed, dressed etc as well as the availability of suitable transport to enable them to get to work. However, neither employers nor disabled people can, or should be expected, to address these issues; they need considerable help to do so. And of course, certain impairments will preclude certain types of work; this is just common sense.

54 thoughts on “On poverty and food banks, the Coalition reveals its true colours

  1. The only way the discrimination against the sick and disabled will stop is when this coalition are out.

    And after that the likes of IDS need to be held accountable for the suffering they have caused. I for one cannot forgive them I can only hope that one day they expeirence what so many have and are going through.

    • But it won’t end. Have you noticed Labour and Milliband have been quiet on this issue and have not declared they will remove it. The only party I can see that have is UKIP

      • Labour brought it all in. They have no intention of changing it.
        Have UKIP really promised to change it? Do you have the link?

      • UKIP will promise anything to anyone if they think it will get them some votes, just like any populist party. I’ve said recently on a different site that populism is never a good thing from either left or right, as popular policies invariably prove to be either unworkable or unaffordable in the long term. Real life is far too messy and complicated to be shoved into neat little pockets and anyone who says otherwise is a liar. Therefore compromises must be made, and that means that some people will consider their deal to be unfair. In some of those cases it will be unfair, and that is why checks and balances and discretionary fundings exist.

        Please don’t let’s start blaming immigrants for all the problems in the world. I could quote many figures to show that the prejudice is no more than that, and it will just spoil what has until now been a very useful discussion.

      • I would have thought that the difficulty in getting money to support disabled people was because of the current shirker/striver populism embraced by all three main parties.

        Labour should know better than to pander to that but they are. All the major parties are following populism at the moment which leads to anti welfare rhetoric and withdrawing benefits from disabled people without any effort to understand the barriers disabled people face in getting work and doing the real things that would make it possible for them to work.

        UKIP are patently a populist party – that was why I was surprised that someone said that they were being non populist and on the side of supporting disabled people.

  2. I too am a Christian and find the idea that Christians can think what this government is doing is OK very odd. Jesus helped the sick and vulnerable and we should do the same not vilify them and make life as difficult as possible. However the press in the UK spurred on by the government makes out anyone on benefits is a scrounger and this is making it very difficult. Not only do we need a change of government we need a change in attitudes of the masses so they do not believe the Daily Mail etc and see what is going on in front of their faces!

  3. Jane, Thatcher-Major-Blair-Brown-Cameron-Milliband along with Clegg all the same mould, no one who has your ideals will be allowed in any government,D Skinner and people like him are ridiculed by our so called free press,there are some good church people of all faiths and religions but would back off from full scale revolution of this corrupt system, remember it is the multi nationals that tell all goverments what to do if they do not they crash the system like in 2008 the Tories like to blame Labour but they know who really rules! money to bomb people help the banks no trouble to feed and house the poor no chance no profit in that! I wish you a happy new year remeber you are fighting the most corrupt system ever known all the best OwenXX

  4. Have you ever quoted Jeremiah chapter 22, verse 13 to your “Christian” friend?

    Clearly, The Bible is against using workers without wages.

    IDS is a wolf in sheep’s clothing.

    Yes, woe unto him – and to the greedy private businesses using vulnerable unemployed people as forced labour.

  5. “My friend went on to express his fear that euthanasia will increasingly be seen as the answer to save money; read in the context of this Government’s overall policy agenda in relation to disabled people and people with long term health conditions, this is a truly chilling prediction and a topic for another time.”

    It’s clear, at least to me, that this government’s policies are already there. The more suicides, deaths by hypothermia and other illness, even starvation, the more the government saves. After all, many of these people are not taxpayers but a burden on the public purse; why should IDS or Cameron care about them or their families? The coalition’s corporate masters certainly don’t!

  6. Duncan-Smith’s professed Christianity is as phony as everything else about him.

  7. There’s profit in making people go through the ATOS & Capita mill over and over again.

  8. Wow! The most well written and thought provoking blog I’ve read in a long time. I agree with everything you have said I know that the God and Jesus I know would NOT do to others what this government and sadly one too many people in this world are willing to do to others, no matter how you look at it. #1 article

    • You’re very kind, Bev, but it’s nothing special. The bit that made it hard work was referencing almost every statement, for those who would doubt what I’m saying!!

  9. When this Coalition came in, the writing was on the wall. Systematically they have eroded the rights of the man on the street. No freedom of speech, the right to peacefully demonstrate against Government policies, injustice and inhumanity, nor the right to access Legal Aid. If the Tories win the next election, or once again form a coalition with the LibDems, we will see 21st Century versions of Workhouses, non-residential for the able bodied unemployed and residential for the sick or disabled deemed ‘fit for work’. Payment cards will replace monetary Benefits, enabling those claiming benefit to shop for items considered ‘appropriate’ and not on cigarettes, alcohol, DVDs and the like. The unemployed youths will find themselves doing some sort of Military or Community Service away from home. We are fast approaching the return of the Rich and the Poor, the ‘haves’ and the ‘have nots’. I note the comment on the possibility of euthanasia, not a flight of fancy in my book, a harsh reality. We are being told 70 will be the age of retirement because there isn’t enough money in the kitty for State Pensions, then what, 75, 80? Far easier to indoctrinate people into accepting death by injection at 70 as a wonderful passage. Remember the TV series of the 70’s, Logan’s Run and it’s Carousel Carnivals, where people were despatched into oblivion at a far earlier age?

    Iain Duncan Smith is a man on a mission, to create a hatred of the sick, disabled, vulnerable and poor, by ‘hardworking’ ‘tax paying’ people. He wants to push these poor souls out to the edge of society, probably in ghettos miles away from the rich and affluent. The Press and mainstream Media are in cahoots with the Government, why else are they not reporting the deaths and suicides caused by the Welfare Reforms? But much is made of the so called scroungers claiming various benefits. Sadly, a large majority of the British Public are accepting the propaganda without question. Those who question it will never be heard in the mainstream Media. We have to do something before it’s too late. What is happening is little more than ethnic cleansing. Were any other country doing this, our Government would be screaming about Human Rights! Here in the UK we have no Human Rights and David Cameron is doing his level best to get us away from the European Court of Human Rights – we should be asking why? Things will only get worse if we don’t join together and fight for those less fortunate in our society.

  10. As a Christian I too share your thoughts. I receive DLA & ESA in the support group.
    My daughter is also disabled with ME. My grandson, aged 17 also has special needs and receives DLA, his mother receives Carer’s Allowance so I know so much about
    welfare reforms. The future for my grandson is very uncertain as he moves onto Adult
    Social Care and Benefits in the coming months. I can empathise so much with people who are so dependant on Food Banks. It is shameful in a rich country like the UK in the 21st Century

  11. It really isn’t helpful to divide disabled people in to those who can work if their support needs are met and those who can’t work. This is the thinking underlying ESA and it doesn’t work. Many disabled people fall squarely between these two groups. They could work if their support needs were met but the barriers in the open labour market mean they can’t compete in the open job market. These are real barriers. For example – suppose someone will realistically expect to be absent on sick leave more often than other workers. Suppose pain or fatigue will reduce their output. How will this be squared with a fiercely competitive job market. No one has answered these questions.

    While these problems in the job market are being named and addressed putting pressure on disabled people to overcome them individually and get work is unfair, stressful and doesn’t work.

    • This is something on which we will never agree, Frances! Many disabled people can work and to say we should be excluded from employment and refuse to meet our needs robs us of the opportunity to benefit from the fulfillment, dignity and financial reward most receive from work. There are many things wrong with the ESA, I agree, including failure to assess correctly, but to deny disabled people the opportunity to work is profoundly unhelpful. The current system assumes people don’t want to work and puts people under obligation; we need a system that reflects the fact that most people DO want to work and provides realistic opportunities. Our right to work, if we’re able to do so, is important, but it is a right. The problems come when the focus is on work as an obligation and the approach is punitive.

      • to say we should be excluded from employment and refuse to meet our needs robs us of the opportunity to benefit from the fulfillment, dignity and financial reward most receive from work

        Why would you say that I said that. I would never say that. Please look more carefully at what I am saying.

        No one should be excluded. But what you are saying will not help disabled people be included in the labour market. If you keep using the ESA dichotomy of can work with support and can’t work many people who fall between these two categories won’t be able to find jobs and at the same time will come under unbearable pressure to work.

        It is not all about supporting the disabled person to overcome the barriers. It is equally about removing the barriers and this means involving the employers. Naming the real barriers which a competitive labour market raises. Deciding how these barriers are going to be openly named and tackled from the employers view point because the employer makes the decisions.

      • Sorry if I misinterpreted what you said, Frances – that wasn’t my intention. I firmly believe that there should be much more work done on the “demand” side of the employment market, to change the nature of work as well as to ensure anti-discrimination legislation has teeth. I believe it is true that many/most disabled people can work – in the right environment with the right support – but that some disabled people can’t. But I don’t necessarily advocate the crude distinctions made by the ESA process. The current system puts too much pressure on disabled people to fit in with an employment market that discriminates and fails to support – I think we can agree there. In my blog I was merely saying many/most disabled people can work if employment is suitable and their needs are supported.

      • Jane – I know we agree really – how could we not when we have both seen so much of what has happened on the ground with ESA.

        It’s a question of choosing words which fit and help and don’t block or offend and with so many individual different situations this is a minefield.

        At Pat’s Petition we think it is important to get away from the dichotomy of can work or can’t work. Can and can’t do not just depend on the disabled person which is all the WCA tests. It also depends on the barriers in the employment market. And it is a market with all the ruthless logic of the market.

        So if the barriers are high almost no disabled people can work and if the barriers are brought down really low then almost all disabled people can work. And this is what we want – no – in fact demand. So no disabled person can be labelled as can or can’t work.

        It isn’t just a question – as you say – of the supply side. The support to find and keep work. That is where all the help is being provided but along with this goes all the pressure to succeed which is unfair if barriers are too high.

        On the demand side you have employers operating in an open labour market. Their mission is to find the most productive worker for the least money. And also the one who brings the least complications to the workplace. Until they see or are told or are paid or are shamed – I don’t know how to approach it and no one begins to talk about it so the discussion doesn’t move forward – they will continue to take the easiest option. This isn’t prejudice. Part of it is and that is wrong but some of it is real. And until employers see it as their mission to overcome the real barriers and they pay for it or someone else does – the market will continue to reflect the real extra costs involved. It’s what markets do. And we need to solve this which means talking about it.

        And so we get to the bit which is so difficult to put in to words and we all shy away from. Suppose there are extra costs in money or effort to the employer to employ a disabled person. I know we never want to say this so for the argument just suppose that for one disabled person there were extra costs to the employer. What is the motivation of the employer to cover this cost. Just like pregnancy and child care and all the extra costs that employers and or the state pick up so parents can work. Employers have accepted those extra costs and inconveniences for parents but it is formalised in legislation and most of the cost is born by the state. Society has to accept the same parameters for disabled people and see it as part of being a responsible employer.

        But no progress will be made until we can find words to discuss this with employers.

      • I firmly believe that the Government needs to do much more to encourage, enable and support employers to employ disabled people. If getting disabled people into work is as important as we all, including the Government, think it is, then it’s worth giving proper help to employers, not just telling them what they must do. I do agree with you, and if the main thrust of this blog was on getting disabled people into work I would have said all that. But the main thrust of the piece is about how inappropriate it is for certain members of the Government to claim that increasing people’s suffering and making them poorer is somehow moral, even Christian!!

    • One needs to remove much of the element of competition from business. I’d suggest transferring to a steady-state economy would best accomplish that. We have the rat race as a consequence of our banking system which, because of how it always extracts more from the system than it puts in, forces us into endless searching for growth. Take that pressure off, which has to happen as we are a single, finite planet, and we’ll be able to work together more as opposed to against each other.

  12. Big Bill says:
    02/01/2014 at 10:47 am
    One needs to remove much of the element of competition from business

    Couldn’t agree more. I agree with Big Bill’s whole post. But we live here in 2014 and have three main parties all of which are signed up to competitive neo liberalism. The Greens would support Big Bill but they have one MP.

    So that does seem to leave us with the churches for damage limitation in the here and now. Pat’s Petition recently listened to the new Archbishop of Canterbury talking about big corporations taking a wider responsibility in society than naked greed and profit and we went to talk to his prelates. about asking big corporations to do this for disabled people.

    But the Catch 22 problem remains that while we want to talk up disabled people as employees – this means we don’t want to admit that sometimes employers will have an extra cost to employing disabled people and this needs to be recognised before it can be dealt with by subsidies, goodwill, any of many solutions. But we don’t want to admit it might be there because we think it gives a negative image of disabled people. So we continue to campaign as if there is no extra cost to employers. Often there won’t be but what about the case where there is.

  13. I have read your report with great interest.
    I too believe this government are indeed running a culling campaign against the sick, poor, elderly and needy..
    the government have implemented, policies to deal with benefits that are totally unthought of to there fullest extent, of the amount Of hardship these inane changes are bringing about. Indeed, as a disabled person myself, who has suffered with RA, chronic fatigue, uncontrollable high cholesterol, which puts me at risk of stroke or heart problems, asthma and now osteoporosis of the spine and extremities, along with depression for a period of some twenty two years (I am 61 in Feb), find I cannot apply for my pension until I turn 63……wonder what the check is going on!
    Up until 8 yrs ago I tried desperately to find myself a part-time job, when I did within a couple of months I was so I’ll I had to finish. This was all undertaken with the consent of the job centre, ad my go thought it might help my depression and isolation. Find that my lifetime award is being taken whilst I am assessed for work capability!
    Employers (including governmeneet departments) wld rather employ a person in a wheelchair, than s’one with a hidden disability who is sadly deemed due to their condition, unreliable!
    What a farce! This country is losing copious amounts of money on ill thought out schemes

  14. As a secular and probable atheist plus a disability campaigner and an individual with physical disabilities that have in turn led to mental health issues, I would like to make a couple of comments.

    As said above both by yourself Jane, and by others the issue of getting people in to work, the value of work, the valuing of human life by the contribution to the tax take as the only legitimate way to prove you have a right to be considered a full member of our society is the problem. It is not employment, it is not that the country does not have enough money, it is not that this government is any worse than the last two. (Although they are implementing shared policy goals with previous governments in a more cruel and crass way, with little or no duty of care to those directly targeted by the changes.)
    I would argue that your blog goes along way to help stripping the layers of deceit from the issues, I unreservedly thank you for that and offer my full support in all that you say. In an effort to keep this short and not a blog of my own, I would only point out that again as you and others have said, the politics and the economics that drive this type of thinking is the problem. It is not compatible with human rights, equality, christen philosophy, or I would suggest even the basic valuing people as capable of making the correct choices for themselves IF no barriers of any kind exist. Even if people do make bad choices like drugs, crime, adultery, refusing to take responsibility for themselves, the question we need to answer is, “Do we have a right to sit in judgement of others when we are not prepared to have that judgement passed on ourselves?” I refer in particular to those who are involved in all of those bad choices but who are never held to account because either they have abounded wealth, or they are held in some kind of high esteem or position of power. In other words the operation of a them and us society.

    The 2nd point I want to touch on is going to be rather more controversial. I know of one CAB that refuses to hand out referrals to food banks on the principle that they would then be operating the system that has been constructed to subjugate, impoverish, and cause death, to those deemed as “The Problem”. The point they are making is simple. By masking the issue with the growing number of food banks and the bureaucratic processes involved people the majority of people in this country are still cushioned from the effect of these cuts. The bureaucracy is yet another example of “managing” the poor and not the problem. If people were being confronted in all the different ways by the effect of these policies, crime, large numbers of homeless people visible, people clogging up hospitals, the odd dead body, kids being taken in to care, school children being feed by teachers, all the different ways that people would find to either survive or die if for banks were not so many, would in fact force the majority to ask what the heck is going on, in other words IDS and his supporters from wherever they come would be forced to talk about the “fairness” of causing human misery akin to creating refugees. I say this even though my own wife works in a food bank and indeed I do see that some level of provision should be in place. I think though the huge number are in danger of being the paper that covers the cracks that allow the majority of people to not see the issue.

  15. The issue of employing disabled people is a tricky one. There are industries that they would be well suited to (clerical work is an obvious one that springs to mind), and ones they are not. I am a self employed gardener, and just about make ends meet. I have employed people in the past and do from time to time. However, I cannot afford to employ someone who is not completely fit because I can’t lose the money I would otherwise be earning if I wasn’t spending the time supporting a disabled person.
    I was also struck by your comment that we are a rich country who can afford to support people in hardship. That is true, but no one will vote for a government that would raise taxes to a level where the expenditure is covered. Just look at the outcry when it was proposed that people in the higher rate tax bracket should not get child benefit. Suddenly we are expected to believe that the top 25% of earners are somehow the silent majority.
    As a society we need to take a long look at what we would like to see the government pay for, and then decide whether that is feasible given how much tax we are prepared to pay. I’m not talking about the super-rich here; the third biggest loss to the taxman is people avoiding VAT by paying tradesmen in cash, which puts honest traders at a big disadvantage as we can’t compete.
    Criticising the government for not doing the right thing is well and good. There is however a deafening silence, particularly from the Church, regarding each individual’s responsibility to put their own affairs in order so that they are not part of the problem. Until that changes charity and fine words will solve nothing.

    • We are apparently a society of hardworking taxpayers who can’t afford to pay for spare bedrooms people don’t need but can afford to pay for spare land people don’t need, witness the fortunes handed to Duncan-Smith’s in-laws who are able to provide him with free bed and board in luxury accommodation which we seem to be paying for. Address issues like this and the problem of funding may well disappear.

    • Luke may I suggest that you re read the first line of your post but substitute “employing disabled people” for “employing women” to see how offensive and wrong your whole post is. If you wanted to employ someone with a disability you would, the rest is just excuses for not seeing past the wheelchair symbol.

      • Good point. Please explain how a small gardening business should think about employing a disabled worker who is not fully fit to do gardening work.

        With women’s employment – the problems of pregnancy and child care were identified and tackled – mainly by a lot of money input by the state and with a lot of legislation. These problems are real – not prejudice – and have been mainly overcome.

        If the problems the employer may encounter when she employs a disabled person are identified and tackled in the same way – full steam ahead to inclusion.

        But if real problems are denied – that will lead where denial always leads. Nowhere constructive.
        For example if an employee has chronic pain or fatigue – the implications of this need to be recognised and tackled – and if an employer wants to raise these issues it can’t be dismissed as prejudice.

        (This is all assuming a competitive labour market in a neo liberal society. I love the posts suggesting we move on from this kind of society – I couldn’t be more enthusiastic – but in the mean time this is a competitive labour market and we have to do some damage limitation in society as it is now)

      • I have employed several women. They are hard workers and in my experience at least at good at the job as men. The rates clients are prepared to pay to have their garden done (£15 an hour is more than many will pay for me, and (£12 for an employee) and the rate I pay workers (usually £8-9) means that I am only just making money from the job. I need to be charging my whole day’s work to cover costs so cannot afford to spend half of my time supporting an employee who needs help doing a job that one fully able person could do on their own. That is not prejudice, that is basic economics when we can only just afford our mortgage. I would love to employ people that others won’t look at , and I have spent a lot of time working with disabled people but my first responsibility is to my own family. If you find that offensive and wrong then I’m afraid I cannot agree with you.

      • This is exactly the discussion that needs to be had. Right across society.
        As a small employer you could get a subsidy to help you break even. If society wnats to support disabled workers it needs to come up with the money. Large employers could have a quota again. An ethical trading campaign could persuade large employers. There must be lots of solutions. But we won’t get anywhere if every time we try to name and solve the difficulties we get accused of prejudice.

      • I don’t want to get a government subsidy. I want to charge a sensible price for my work, pay a sensible wage to my employees and not be undercut by cowboys who don’t feel the need for insurance or paying taxes or by people who have plenty of money but don’t want to pay their gardener a rate commensurate with his knowledge and skill.

        It comes back to the main point of my original post which I feel has got a bit lost. If we want all the benefits and other things that government provides and we expect then the tax base has to support it. Labour spent 10 years pretending that the two were not tied together and look where we are. Before anyone accuses me of being a Tory I have no love for many of their policies either. But most of all we must all look at our own positions and decide whether society’s problems are for the government to sort out while we complain about the rate of tax and pay cash in hand to get discounts that don’t really exist, or whether we think that maybe we could contribute a bit more and make a bigger pot for the people who really need it to benefit from.

      • George Lamb made the point that there are many disabled people who would not expect to be employed by a small domestic gardener, as they would be unable to undertake the nature of the work required. But, more generally, for obvious reasons it may be impossible to persuade employers to employ disabled people or people with long term health conditions who need significant adjustments if they’re not given any help towards the cost that entails – either direct or indirect costs. The problem is that while disabled people are hounded to get jobs, and made to jump through ridiculous (and often impossible) hoops to continue to receive benefit, it is entirely understandable that with a plentiful pool of potential employees out there, employers are not going to recruit disabled people if they can just as easily get someone who doesn’t come with particular support needs that have to be considered and met. That’s just common sense, but it’s remarkable how resistant the Government is to understanding it! If disabled people are to have the right to meaningful employment, there has to be an acknowledgement that this depends both on the skills, education etc of the disabled person but also on the suitability of the work – and for some, work needs to be tailored to make it possible for a disabled person to do it. It is responsibility for this tailoring that I don’t think should fall only on employers; they should have assistance so their business can remain profitable.

        I completely understand where you’re coming from, Luke, especially in relation to people being prepared to pay for the services of a proper, knowledgeable, insured, taxpaying gardener – a close member of my own family refuses to do so despite having considerable financial resources, and it makes me really, really mad!! And yes, if we want to be provided with an adequate income if the worst happens we have to be prepared to pay tax and NI to fund it. Our worst enemies are those who, as you say, try to defraud the system and avoid paying into that pot that provides support to anyone who needs it at some point in their lives – or, for some, throughout their lives. Honesty about this is really important. Expecting people to live on fresh air if they’re unable to compete in this “flexible labour market” is cruel and unworthy of us as a civilised nation (in my view). It’s not hard to see where this could end….

      • Luke writes
        I don’t want to get a government subsidy. I want to charge a sensible price for my work, pay a sensible wage to my employees and not be undercut by cowboys who don’t feel the need for insurance or paying taxes or by people who have plenty of money but don’t want to pay their gardener a rate commensurate with his knowledge and skill.

        It’s very valuable to have an employer taking part in these discussions. We never get the employer point of view.

        Can I ask you – if a disabled person applied to you and your assessment was that they had a lot to contribute and you would like to employ them but that their disability in some way would mean that they wouldn’t be as productive as a fit worker – how would you respond. Would you employ them and take the loss yourself. Pay them less than other workers. Why wouldn’t a government subsidy to make up the difference solve this problem.

        (I know this is the scenario we don’t want to talk about – but I claim it is real – not prejudice – and we have to talk about it)

      • >> Frances – this exact scenario happened when I wanted to take on a permanent employee last year. Of the 150 applications I got, over half weren’t worth the paper they were written on. We invited 8 people to interview of whom 3 turned up. One was deaf and had arranged for a sign language interpreter to attend the interview. To employ him would have required me to learn sign language from scratch, which would probably have taken me several months to achieve even basic comprehension as I am rubbish at learning languages. I also suspect almost all of my clients would have been unable to communicate with him in a meaningful way. However, he was keen and suitable for the physical work requirements and if another candidate hadn’t been considerably better qualified we would have given him a go, and he would probably have taught me sign language as we went along. I certainly wouldn’t be able to afford to take several weeks off work for language classes, as being self employed any time I take loses me money even if a subsidy were available to cover the course costs (all government help programmes seem to assume the recipients are employed so get paid time off work). Evening classes would also not be helpful as my wife has two jobs so needs time in the evening so someone needs to look after our young son. >> So in conclusion I don’t think a subsidy would have helped even if one were available, and I would have just had to take the productivity hit. This is why I said some jobs are not as amenable to recruiting disabled people into as others, a fact that Mr Lamb acknowledged even while telling me I was being offensive to suggest it.

        > > >

      • Luke writes
        >> Frances – this exact scenario happened when I wanted to take on a permanent employee last year. Of the 150 applications I got, over half weren’t worth the paper they were written on. We invited 8 people to interview of whom 3 turned up. One was deaf and had arranged for a sign language interpreter to attend the interview. To employ him would have required me to learn sign language from scratch, which would probably have taken me several months to achieve even basic comprehension as I am rubbish at learning languages. I also suspect almost all of my clients would have been unable to communicate with him in a meaningful way. However, he was keen and suitable for the physical work requirements and if another candidate hadn’t been considerably better qualified we would have given him a go, and he would probably have taught me sign language as we went along. I certainly wouldn’t be able to afford to take several weeks off work for language classes, as being self employed any time I take loses me money even if a subsidy were available to cover the course costs (all government help programmes seem to assume the recipients are employed so get paid time off work).

        That is so interesting. No employer can be expected to know how to deal with all disabilities and the implications. Could the man have communicated by written messages or these days – texted messages? My niece is deaf and text has been wonderful for her. It would have been a much better strategy for him to have suggested some other ways of communication.

        I expect in all other ways he would have made a dedicated employee. But suppose it was some other disability where he would have produced 30% less work due to physical impairment. That is when a subsidy for the missing 30% would make up the difference.

      • I think your scenario makes sense for a larger employer than me. As a one man band with occasional employees and tight margins I don’t have much spare time to fill in very detailed forms (I don’t suppose for one minute any subsidy claim would be a simple exercise). The time cost of completing the admin would quite possibly be greater than the money received back so I would be better just taking the hit and feeling a warm glow for doing my bit for a fairer society.

        Larger companies are much better placed to employ less able people in my opinion. Not necessarily someone like BT, but the life of owners of very small (less than 5-10 workers) businesses is generally too hand-to-mouth to have spare time for more form filling or in fact anything much that is not directly contributing to the mortgage. Don’t forget that in a small business one person is the accountant, HR department, credit controller, sales team, customer service department and also up to 50% of the workforce. It’s not necessarily that less able people would be unsuited to the work, but that the logistics of running a very small business can make the owner unsuited to managing the less able employee.

      • Probably what we should learn from this is that the disabled person should be responsible for acquiring the subsidy and bringing it with them. That’s how permitted work works. The employer doesn’t have to do anything.

      • The Government has made very small steps to help; I understand disabled people can now get an “in principle” offer of support from Access to Work to reassure a prospective employer that help is available. I’ve just added some extra material to the blog post, to reflect the sensible points you’ve made in these comments, Frances.

    • Interesting comments. I for one would like to see the deafening silence filled.

      The biblical pattern in the Old Testament is more radical than most of our contemporary solutions. Consider:

      1. Land allocated to every family
      – the means to self produce (work) and self support
      – a home owned outright with no rent or mortgage

      2. No cross generational inheritance – any property (the OT equivalent of capital wealth, means of making more money) reverts to original family in the jubilee year – every 50 years.

      3. Laws to give rights to those who fall on hard times to ‘glean’ – that is work the margins on others fields – a guaranteed job – income for anyone prepared to work for it.

      4. Laws about family responsibility for those that would otherwise be vulnerable single people, to ensure a family support mechanism is in place.

      Although not everything was perfect (disability rights for example) Imagine our society with no mortgages or rent, and no second homes, the social mobility that comes from no inherited advantage, and everyone with something to make and something to trade. Unaffordable? It was commanded at a time average incomes were a fraction of our own.

      Whilst it’s not a simple prescription, the loss of the universal right to free shelter, and a universal self determined means to earn a basic income are clues as to what has gone wrong.

  16. All this discussion of whether and how disabled people can exercise their right to work is interesting and important, but it is somewhat secondary to the main thrust of my article. The article is my personal expression of bewilderment and disgust at the hypocrisy of those who seek to justify making poor people (whether disabled or not) suffer, and/or impoverishing them further, as somehow moral or even Christian.

    For some disabled people and people with long term health conditions work is only feasible if significant changes are made to the nature of work. This is something I’ve believed for a long time and was indeed emphasizing to Liam Byrne and his shadow DWP team before they were reshuffled. This is a line of thought/research which needs much more exploration but it doesn’t suit Governments of any hue to do it, as it means acknowledging the need for someone other than disabled people to make the effort to change things – and it doesn’t fit well with a lightly regulated capitalist economy.

    Employers need a considerable amount of support if they are to be able to employ disabled people with particular types of condition, and this has received insufficient attention under both the coalition and the last Government. However, there are other disabled people who need much less significant changes made, and they should have access to the training and education they need to give them opportunities to access “good” jobs – not just harassed and made to jump through irrelevant “hoops” to massage the ego of politicians!!

  17. @ Frances. You worry me, on the one hand you seem to be saying that you support Pat’s petition and the call for equality and inclusion. Then on the other hand you ask how can we change society if no other choice apart from the status quo parties exist. Then you go on to ask how any employer can afford to employ a disabled person if they are not fully fit! Some basic contradictions in there I think.

    Someone with a disability is neither fit or unfit to work, they have an impairment nothing to do with either how suitable for a particular job they are, nor is it anything about they state of their health. You seem to have fallen down the black hole of lumping all disabled people together like our Friend Luke does upthread. Why do you imagine a wheelchair bound individual, or even a severely partially sighted person would apply for a job in a garden centre to which they could neither comply with the requirement to do the work, nor could they attempt to do the work without risk to themselves and others. But lets simplify this shall we, have you seen a huge long line of wheelchair users, people with guide dogs, those with breathing, heart, muscle wasting, severe mental health, problems or issues forming an orderly que to apply to be fir fighters? No? You ever wonder why? Obviously it would be for the reason that they know perfectly well that they are unsuitable for the job and would not think about applying.

    Your Garden centre then is not about to be flooded with people with any kind of disability that prevents them doing the job. That particular issue is one that is entirely invented and perpetrated by the DWP who inset on sending people for work placements to entirely unsuitable locations in order to make the applicant fail. (Or why else do it time and again, often to the same client.)

    Let us then reframe the issue that you highlight. So a fully fit young woman lifting boxes and cartons of plants, perhaps driving a for lift, digging and planting, arranging displays, installing things and generally doing a mix of jobs becomes pregnant. What would employers response be? Or Same woman much later in life begins to suffer the wear and tear that comes with working in a garden centre, arthritis, less energy, less stamina, does the employer take no notice and inset the woman either retires or carry’s her duties to her detriment?

    The truth is Francis the employer in both situations should make adjustments, simple and effective that unless they are starting a business from scratch will cost very little. How much would it cost to allow someone to sit while doing some jobs. How much to roster differently so that someone works afternoons instead of mornings. In other words Francis, if you start from a position that many who signed Pat’s petition do, that says we have a knackerd society as a result of the way it is constructed, it means you have to accept that the solution is to come up with answers and solutions that do not include ANY of the present stumbling blocks. This means none of the present political parties as they all engage in the present form of politics. None of the present economics as they represent greed and selfishness, encourage war, and reward those that climb on the backs of others. It means enforcing ruthlessly human rights and equality legislation.

    I know even now your typing it cannot be done, that it is fantasy. I have the great good fortune to live in Scotland along with Pat who started the petition. I hope you do not mind if we devolve ourselves completely from the rest of the UK, and give our version of fantasy a chance. If it fails so be it, but we at least can say we and hundreds of thousands of others tried to do something positive, not just come up with more barriers as to why things cannot change.

    Jane my apologies for hijacking your blog, I will post no more but will lurk.

    • @ Frances. You worry me, on the one hand you seem to be saying that you support Pat’s petition and the call for equality and inclusion. Then on the other hand you ask how can we change society if no other choice apart from the status quo parties exist. Then you go on to ask how any employer can afford to employ a disabled person if they are not fully fit! Some basic contradictions in there I think.

      I don’t want to cause any more hassle on this blog. I am a founder member of Pat’s Petition and if you read our blog you will see that these are the issues we have been campaigning on recently.

      My own political views about changing society are not the question here. We are talking about ESA as it lives and breathes in this society in 2014.

      I agree – no disabled person is fit or not fit for work. If society puts too many barriers in the way then few disabled people can work and if society lifts them then nearly all disabled people can work. So WCA should be scrapped as meaningless. And we need to get on with lifting the barriers and not pressurising disabled people before this is done.

      To lift the barriers we are trying to focus attention on what Jane calls the demand side of the equation. Employers have to think about what it means to employ disabled people. We all need to think about this.

      And knee jerk reactions that we mustn’t name the problems because it is stigmatising and discouraging give the politicians cover to go on putting all the pressure on disabled people and not look at the barriers. There is hardly a problem that can’t be overcome but often it will cost money. Who is going to pay? The employer or the state? All we are calling for is an open discussion of the type you are giving above. For all the many conditions and all the many types of job.

      But despite all the variations – the key question of who bears any extra cost is the elephant in the room. And denying there could be on going costs is just that – denial.

      • It’s not hassle – feel free to discuss. These issues are real and important, and the current system – ESA/WCA/work programme are clearly not working, for all sorts of very good reasons. Thus we need to change the narrative and help policy-makers identify policies that are rooted in reality and address the real problems to find a solution which doesn’t involve blaming people for failing to do the impossible and condemning them to absolute poverty when they fail!!

  18. See broke my promise within the hour, but only to say to Francis that I am sorry, unreservedly sorry for making you think you might be causing hassle. I am 50 next week and I fear a life spent so far being “nice” and finding words that make people feel less threatened, have in the end made me a bit too full on and for some aggressive. That aggression is not aimed at you Francis or anyone, save those who will not change or those that deny change is needed. You are neither…… Back to radio silence!

  19. A great blog. The more I see of this govt the more it is clear that what is masquerading as ‘tough but inevitable measures’ are more a collective choice our leaders, egged on by some powerful vested interests, are making for us. Consider:
    – Germany takes in twice as many immigrants as the UK but is half as concerned at the levels of immigration that we are.
    – the Nordic countries finance much more generous unemployment support (at a % of your previous wage) and better quality public services through a higher tax rate, but have a healthier and more equal society.
    – the vast majority of benefits are going to low paid employees, so are an employer subsidy, a transfer from the tax payer to the shareholder
    – the halving of house building by relying solely on private sector builds has led to an exponential rise in house prices and in rents in the last 29 years, which lead to ‘housing benefit’ which again, is a landlord subsidy.
    – we are told the country can no longer afford the NHS yet have kept its rate of growth at 0.1% in real terms then transferred 3% of its funding to local authorities to backfill cuts in social care. Health spending (always a mix of public and privates sector, is growing as a share of national income everywhere, but is being well afforded by other developed economies at much higher levels than we are paying. (Again the germans, the Scandinavians et al)

    There is a word for all this -political economy. Christians are right to get involved, not simply to inject mercy when the state’s rulers become merciless, but to challenge and champion the vulnerable and the voiceless. As our voluntary sector colleagues out it “speak the truth to power” no matter how inconvenient that truth is.

    None of this is inevitable. There is a better way. But we will need to be as active in the realm of politics as we are in social action

  20. I think that this is a well written blog. My Husband is waiting for appeal after being moved from sick ness benefit to esa.. His ATOS interview was a total sham – everything he said and explained was used in the wrong context. He ended up with 6 points of the 15 – when the forms came through and i read what the lady had put, I was devastated, He was devastated and really angry, he clearly had not been listened too – he clearly had not had his medical records read correctly and she clearly did not listen to him. They tell you to explain a day in your life – then ask questions revolving a round a week… After going back through through the questions and looking at the answers – we found 6 discrepencies that should have been given to him, he should have had by rights 24 points – the bare minimum he should have got was 16 points.. He lost his dignity that day and has not come back from it yet. He has his doctor clearly stating he is not capable of work – his surgeon for his medical problems – saying the same thing. The DSS them selves keep questioning why he is not on DLA…. which to us is a right kick in the teeth and further aggravates the situation… I help him with daily personal things and try my best to keep him from being down in the dumps – I also have my own health issues and they are not being helped by this whole situation and to make it worse they have suggested that they will start with me in 6 weeks!!!,,, Where does that leave someone in the situation we are in? My husband has worked his life – he did not ask for these medical issues to hit him so young… we are both 50- 53, so not old but middle aged.. I worked from leaving school early, I worked my way up in a factory – i then have done cleaning to help with money coming in – telephone sales, agency work as well, brought up a child – and step children on and off – I have played my part too… we watch youngsters staying on the system and getting the dole with know help really… recently we have watched severely disabled people lose their benefits when they should be getting the help they deserve.. many thousands of people who are worse of than we are living below the bread line… struggling to live – even some of those whom actually can work and have a job are struggling because the wages are not good. The system we have in this country is bad- it is destroying people – ordinary everyday people who would work if they could and would take anything to have a bit of a life, but cant due to health issues…

    I really feel that our country is trying to alienise the poor and I feel that we are a country going backwards and not forwards – in a minute we are going to have a poor section and an affluent section and it appears to the masses that this is what our country wants… Unfortunately I am a great believer that those born in the booming 60’s – including us were a generation doomed.. Our parents then had no idea of what would happen in the later future. They had no idea that the amount of children born would and could be causing all these problems. Our generation is so unlucky – we are being treated as though we are aliens, when in fact we are UK born… That brings me to my closing piece – Those people whom are coming into the country – taking the jobs and the benefits – our NHS resources- I have no qualms with helping others – infact it is in my nature – but to have millions coming in our doors – and the government helping those people – when their own are quite clearly suffering is totally beyond me! Everything we own has been privatised and sold off – we dont have much left of our own any more – the coal mines- the steel industry – manufacturing – all but gone – I feel that the governments prior to these happenings didnt really look into the fact that a HUGE generation was growing up and requiring work – homes – food. Three totally hard-working areas of our country – brought to their knees – destroying a whole generation and those who came afterwards!! We live in the outskirts of a city and the amount of farms with empty fields is terrible – we see this every single day – why are we not utilising these things? Helping the farmers to grow our own meat and wheat? Instead they, the government imports – when we could clearly grow and use our own.

    Until someone stands up and says ‘STOP;! look at what is happening then all this will carry on we will have more deaths and more sadness – communities destroyed – more people being subjected to clearly immoral and cruel investigations and medicals that clearly are not working – The devastation and meanness will clearly carry on!

    I personally hope that the affluent government had a grand Christmas – swimming in their – huge pay packets – that clearly they do not earn – not that sheer amount of money anyway – I hope they one-day will not end up in the situations that that thousands of people have found themselves in – and I wish that one-day they will all get their come-uppance. I also wish that for once someone would say What the heck are we doing! Everyday bread and gas, electric and oil is so pricey – how can you survive without doing something about it? How are these people meant to survive on nothing – No one wants something for nothing – ( well most – there are some and always will be) but the majority is really struggling – The person whom said – oh they can live on that money – Did they ask the question – OH what about Gas, electric and oil heating and cooking? Did they ask the question Oh yes bread is £ 1.00 or more a loaf? Milk is nearly a £1.00 for two pints? the average house uses two pints a day and one to two loaves… so 14 days is? oh Yes! £28.00 alone on essentials? Winter heating and cooking is on average £35.00 a fortnight – in all electric houses!!! this does not include oil for heating and hot-water! or coal and wood for a fire to keep warm!! This does not include everyday eating – some families are lucky if they have one hot meal a day – it does not include washing and drying your clothes or having a bath for that matter!! And Meat!! well that is really for the affluent these days dont you think? sad but true… sit down and work it out – and this is what the government is doing to their own.

    My answer to what would Jesus do and say – I think he would be devastated – and sad that so many people are suffering, many through know fault of their own – He would ask those in affluent societies to look at the whole situation and not just through rose tinted glasses – he would ask us all to help one another and to be loving and giving and to co-exist in harmony. If it was not for things like this blog how would be heard? I thank the lady for writing it and I hope it s read and used and shared through out as many people as it can!!

    I think we have become a culture of greed – the very thing that the bible abhors – and until some-one stands up and says ENOUGH IS ENOUGH – we will continue to be ridiculed.. Sad isn’t it!

  21. Re foodbanks; I just wanted to correct an impression given in the blog, that food banks have direct contact with recipients of food. Many foodbanks provide food to voluntary organisation who in turn pass it on to individuals and families. That is not to say that foodbanks are not aware of the demand, only that they may not be aware of personal circumstances

  22. Your blog is a helpful contribution to challenging the cruelty of not only IDS and this coalition, but the neo-Liberal policies that previous governments have espoused and used to undermine and destroy any compassion in UK Government policy. Unfortunately while neo-Liberalism holds sway, things are only likely to get worse. From a skim read of Pope Francis’s speech, I suspect that is what he was challenging. I don’t know if you are aware of a free trade treaty being discussed in secret between the UK, Europe and the USA. It goes by the acronym TTIP. One of its aims is to minimize or even eradicate ‘public services’. Hence the coalitions unmandated continuation of the attack on the NHS, which is rapidly if not almost completely becoming a trade mark for private health providers. This lack of compassion, with a willingness to understand the way they exclude those who don’t accept their underlying beliefs, will hopefully be this coalition’s downfall. What replaces them is another question, because New Labour under Blair and Brown took a neo-Liberal stance!

    I hope that your blog reaches a wide readership. It certainly should make Christians stop and think. I would commend to you some of the writings of the Latin American Liberation Theologians have produced, which might help with your own spiritual reflection. This subject, however, is something that should unite people regardless of whether they belong to a faith community. I think it was Che Guevara who suggested that if the tenets of Christianity were given serious consideration it would lead to real revolution.

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