Some long-term sick and disabled people face being forced to work unpaid for an unlimited amount of time or have their benefits cut under plans being drawn up by the Department for Work and Pensions.From the Guardian article which broke the story. It continues:
The new policy, outlined by DWP officials in meetings with disabilities groups, is due to be announced after legal changes contained in clause 54 of the welfare reform bill have made their way through parliament.
The policy could mean that those on employment and support allowance who have been placed in the work-related activity group (Wrag) could be compelled to undertake work experience for charities, public bodies and high-street retailers. The Wrag group includes those who have been diagnosed with terminal cancer but have more than six months to live; accident and stroke victims; and some of those with mental health issues.
In official notes from a meeting on 1 December last year, DWP advisers revealed they were not intending to put a time limit on the work experience placements.So yeah, this is one of the nasty little details that Lib Dem MPs voted for. I wonder what Jenny Willott MP will have to say about it when I meet her on Monday?
And. for the record, this is nasty. I object to the principle of forcing people to work unpaid at all (it's called "workfare" and has been tried, tested and failed in the US) but it's even worse when you're talking about disabled people. Especially given that the current assessment system for disability benefits is so broken that it has been known to class terminally ill cancer patients as belonging in the Work Related Activity Group which would place them in the position of being forced to undertake work such as unpaid night shift jobs at Tesco.
Tesco are currently furiously back pedalling after the bad publicity hit but, had it not been for the bad PR, they would almost certainly have continued with the scheme which would have given them unpaid labour and saved them from having to actually go through the hassle of properly employing new workers. This isn't a specific judgement on Tesco by the way - all big companies (and plenty of small ones) are more than happy to save money wherever possible, regardless of the human cost, as long as the public doesn't find out about it.
And of course, it's not like there are any historical examples of government ministers coming out with statements and press releases encouraging the depiction of the disabled as "fakers and scroungers, while forcing them to work without pay are there?
(That's sarcasm by the way, click on the links - especially the second one.)
Still, at least no government spokesman has yet come out with saying something like "arbeit macht frei". So we can be thankful for small mercies. Except of course that the DWP believes in the "bio-psycho-social" model of disability which basically states that the only thing stopping the sick and disabled from working is that they're not working hard enough at overcoming their disability.
Meanwhile of course, we have such jollies as Atos, the company which carries out the assessments to determine whether disabled people should be forced to work or not (and which has benefited from a lucrative government contract to provide IT for the London Olympics later this year), offering help to employers in managing the impact of heart disease and how best to support employees returning to work whilst simultaneously telling people with heart disease that there's nothing to stop them from working despite, in one tragic case, the condition being so severe that the poor man died just three weeks after being deemed fit to work.
Still, Atos now are about to get a shiny new director who might change things. Well, apart from the fact that he used to be a director of Unum - a nice big health insurance company that has been described in the US as "an outlaw company", which refuses to recognise that illnesses like ME even exist and that has (along with Atos) a long record of trying to manipulate and influence DWP policy. So maybe things won't change then.
If you're interested in the incestuous, corrupt and unhealthy relationship between Unum, Atos and the DWP then all you need to do is go and read this Private Eye article which does a good job of exposing the whole sorry tale.