The benefits system has been immeasurably damaged by the obsession with work as an answer to every problem. People who are sick have been forced to declare that they are actively seeking work; others have been put under pressure to find work where there is none, or in situations where their disadvantages rule them out. Some have been sanctioned for non-compliance; more have been disentitled. People who work do not necessarily have the income they need or the rewards or opportunities that work is assumed to bring in its train.
The DWP Green Paper, Improving Lives, is just awful. It complains about the inactivity of the most sick and most vulnerable. It does not accept that some people need to be excused from the labour market: “1.5 million people now in the Support Group … get little by way of practical support from Jobcentres to help them into work.” It does not seem to understand that pressure to work will unavoidably be seen as a threat to the security of people’s income while they are ill – because that’s what it is. It proposes to extend to those for whom working is least viable the kind of regime that has so signally failed for people in the ‘work related activity group’. If people who are sick cannot find ways to engage with the labour market, why should we imagine that people who are sick and vulnerable should fare any better?