The Tory reforms for disability benefits and the Work Experience Scheme have come under fierce criticism. The truth may be that the British public is unwilling to accept the realities of a double-dip recession
We live at a time where people make excuses over smart decisions, point fingers rather than address personal failures, and take the easy route with short term success, ignoring long term implications in the process.
The UK has spent 13 years in a period widely dubbed as the “tax and spend” era pushing the UK economy into a recession. Traditionally, in time of austerity, the UK has turned to the Conservative Party and this time was no different; the Tories duly stepped in to sort things out. Government spending was too high and the debt that was accumulating was unprecedented. We needed a drastic change in policy and an overhaul in the way important changes will be implemented.
Enter David Cameron: a contender with many new ideas that seemed radical and attractive. Saving £1 in every £100 spent by the government seemed quite reasonable until it fell into place. Then Iain Duncan Smith came forth with his proposals. Ouch. In spite of the negativity surrounding these proposals, I believe that this kind of political rethink is precisely what this country needed. However, the overwhelmingly negative public response to the recent Work Experience Scheme left me feeling quite nonplussed.
The Work Experience Scheme was aimed at 16-24 year olds who were unemployed and were seeking Job Seekers Allowance (JSA) for at least three months. It required candidates to work 30 hours a week for a duration of two to eight weeks while they were on the JSA. If they chose to drop out within the first week they were likely to have their JSA cut for up to two weeks – something I thought was quite fair. The companies opting in to the scheme were mainly related to the service industry, such as Tesco, Sainsbury’s and Burger King. The idea, primarily, was to bring these people into the working world, to give them a chance to gain responsibility, experience and training, and to provide an advantage when job seeking.
By November 2011, of the 39,000 unemployed who had signed up to the scheme half of them were off JSA within four weeks. Maybe it wasn’t the scheme – maybe it was the sheer fear of having to do the scheme again that drove these people to find jobs in the end; who knows? Bottom line, it seemed to have worked. Surely, and correct me if I’m wrong, a job seeker is one who is seeking a job by any reasonable means possible? Many of my peers are in their current jobs today because they spent many years interning while studying or working full time in another job. From careers in marketing, banking, law, fashion and arts, people who interned were able to “build-up” their resume. I am not, by any means, saying this Scheme was perfect – clearly there are grey areas for exploitation, which would be the same for any scheme – but shutting the Scheme down entirely was not the answer. If a citizen can’t spend one full week in a work experience scheme then we, as a country, have a questionable future before us. It seems as though the “tax and spend” era has made our youth, and our older citizens too cushy, unwilling to do what is needed to ensure an economic recovery. It raises concerns over whether the people of Britain really comprehend the depth of the current recession.
The recent cut in Disability Living Allowance (DLA) has been another controversial topic. Iain Duncan Smith has stated that the current system, which features 70 per cent of claimants on ‘life-time awards’ – those who are assessed once and then given the allowance for life, such as those who may have lost limbs but have since had prosthetic limbs fitted – will be reassessed to establish whether care is required. As Iain Duncan Smith puts it: “Do you need care, do you need support to get around? Those are the two things that are measured. Not, have you lost a limb?” This clarifies the name of the benefit: disability. If a claimant isn’t classified as unable anymore, he or she will be cut from the DLA and expected to get into employment. The number of new people claiming for DLA has risen far above the indication of new health problems that DLA is based on. With these vital measures not adding up, where are all these claims coming from? This shows the wider public that something is going terribly wrong with the DLA system.
The media allow key facts like these to go almost unmentioned and focus mainly on the “millions will be left stranded” banner. Not quite accurate. How just and fair can a system be that currently sees drug addicts and alcoholics getting more financial support than those who are completely blind? Yes, everyone in these groups needs assistance but some cases just seem far too unreasonable. Many people currently on DLA have never had a medical assessment or haven’t had one in 20 years. It is the same as the banks handing out credit without checking your financial ability. We all know where that kind of attitude got us. While the coalition usually disagrees with some of the more radical reforms, such as the recent proposals to scrap GCSEs by the Conservatives, this is one policy they both agree on.
David Cameron and his merry band of Tories aren’t perfect and they have many flawed policies in other areas. For instance, cutting the NHS budget is leading to a reality where blanket cuts aren’t benefitting any more people than they are hurting. I would rather have well-paid medical staff who are satisfied with their jobs treat me, than an unhappy, underpaid and over-worked team.
Many reforms need to happen, but will these changes to the work experience schemes and tightening of disability schemes really work out in the long run? We lived comfortably under labour, during the “tax and spend” era, but the Tories are facing the tough issues that others won’t. Whether or not these policies work depends now on whether the public can accept that we are living in times of austerity and that compromises will have to be made to ensure that the UK can ensure an economic recovery. Time will tell.
Image from: http://shepherdsbush.wordpress.com/2010/03/25/candidates-argue-about-debates/
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