The morning newspapers offer two rather different perspectives on benefits. The headline on the front page of the Times tells me: “Benefits fuel workshy culture, says pensions czar“. Lord Hutton, a minister in the last Labour administration, issues a “stark warning”: “Successive governments ‘lost the plot’ over a ballooning benefits bill. We’re spending an absolute fortune every year on working age benefits …” Out of work benefits have been fairly static in real terms, and have actually fallen as a proportion of GDP. With apologies for repeating myself, in 1992/93 DWP benefits for people of working-age took up 4.3% of national income. In 2012/13 the equivalent figure was 3.5%, and the projections are all downward. The relative cost of ‘out of work’ benefits fell from 3.9% to 2.5%. (See the third table in this spreadsheet) What has increased in the interval are the Tax Credits, the complex system of payments covering families in work on low wages; they account for the extra costs shown in the first table in the spreadsheet.
Meanwhile, on the same day, there are complaints that people with the most common degenerative disorders are routinely being declared ‘fit for work’. The conditions specifically identified are cystic fibrosis, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease and rheumatoid arthritis. Caroline Hacker, of Parkinson’s UK, commented:
To set up a system which tells people who’ve had to give up work because of a debilitating progressive condition that they’ll recover is farcical and simply defies belief. These incomprehensible decisions go to show that many assessors, and those who rubber-stamp the decisions in government, don’t apply the most basic understanding of the medical conditions they are dealing with.
These are, of course, the self-same claimants of ‘out of work’ benefits, who are being described as ‘workshy’.