A new war against poverty has been launched in the form of a petition. The WOWpetition calls for the repeal of the Welfare Reform Act and its pernicious attack on those receiving disability benefits. If you believe in fairness I urge you to sign this petition. It is a reasonable petition. It calls for a debate. It asks parliament to reconsider. It asks for an assessment of the impact of the government's welfare reforms on the sick and disabled. The British Medical Association has expressed its concerns about the impact of work assessments and the role doctors are being asked to play if employed by ATOS, the company contracted to do the assessments. I have considered in a previous post the cruelty and unethical nature of the disability assessments.
This should not be a party political issue. The criteria and assessment are clearly not working. With over 40% of appeals against the decisions made by ATOS being successful, it is clear that the regime is not working. Hundreds of thousands of sick and disabled people have been wrongly assessed. It is a brutal regime and the criteria and decisions are not transparent. It is time parliament looked again at this brutal regime.
And 'brutal' is the right word. Earlier this year, an investigation published by the Commons Works and Pensions Select Committee found that some patients had their benefits stopped as a punishment for not being able to attend an assessment because they were too ill or there had been an administrative blunder. This is a disgrace.
Liberal Democrats expressed their concerns about ATOS and the assessments at their party conference yet they continue to give support through the coalition. It is time they stood up for the sick and disabled.
A century ago a reformist Liberal government sowed the first seeds of the welfare state. Introducing his reforming budget in 1909, David Lloyd George talked of waging war against poverty.
"This is a war budget. It is for raising money to wage implacable warfare against poverty and squalidness. I cannot help hoping and believing that before this generation has passed away, we shall have advanced a great step towards that good time, when poverty, and the wretchedness and human degradation which always follows in its camp, will be as remote to the people of this country as the wolves which once infested the forests."
The reformist Liberal Government of 1906-11 ushered in a fundamental change in how the British government considered its responsibilities to the people. It took a responsibility for poverty, its causes, consequences and its prevention. It enacted legislation focussed on four vulnerable groups: the old, the young, the sick and the unemployed. They introduced old age pensions, allowed local authorities to provide free school meals for poor children. They set up juvenile courts and borstals rather then sending young people to prison. They introduced the first National Insurance Act in 1911 providing compulsory health insurance and labour exchanges to help the unemployed find work. The idea was to provide basic support rather than total provision. Indeed, a criticism was that the reforms didn't go far enough. But it was a start. Whatever the intention, the seeds of the welfare state were sown. It prepared the ground for the building of the post war Welfare State by the Labour government of 1945 and the foundation of the National Health Service. It transformed the lives of all of us.
It is time we waged another war. A war for fairness.