"From Welfare to Work" was the headline on Thursday's Daily Telegraph. It was just one of a number of banner headlines reacting to Wednesday's budget. With its usual right-wing hyperbole the Daily Express trumpeted "HOORAY! ITS PAY RISES ALL ROUND". Mind you, if you are working in the public sector your pay rise will be limited to 1% - not too much hooray there. A so-called 'Living Wage' of £9 per hour, but by 2020 what might it be worth? By this morning when the number-crunching experts had gone to work it was clear that over 13 million families would be left worse off. Was this what Ian Duncan Smith was captured cheering ecstatically about?
But let me leave IDS (if only) and return to the "From Welfare to Work" headline. I have had the privilege - I'm not sure that's the right word - of reading a memo to David Cameron from a woman struggling with ill health called Rosie Fletcher. It was written on 3rd July, just a few days before the budget. Here are some of the things she said:
"Another day, another rummage down the back of the benefits sofa to find a spare £12bn. This week: changing Employment Support Allowance to incentivise ill people to get back to work. One problem: I already have the best incentive to stop being ill and get back to work. It's called "being ill". I would love to go back to work because if I were able to work I would no longer be sick. Long term illness nibbles away at your identity from the edges, taking out chunks of the things that makes you you: the friends you meet, the shops you wander into, the job you do.............I would love to have a job. I would like to feel productive.
This proposal (about changes to ESA) makes two fundamental mistakes: that illness and disability are a) passive and b) attractively lucrative.
If you think I do not work for my benefits, you are wrong. Ringing the DWP at eight in the morning to find out why my benefits are a month late, only to hear a recorded message to tell me they are busy and that perhaps I ought to call back between 8 and 9 in the morning..........the constant stream of sick notes I have to ask my doctor for, pick up from the surgery and post to the DWP..........the sight of a brown envelope on the doormat makes my heart pause; I fear each one will contain a ransom note of sanctions. My doctor asks me what causes me stress. I can answer in three letters, D.W.P.
Chronic illness often feels like a terribly paid admin job, chasing down missed payments, posting doctors' notes, requesting repeat prescriptions, sending in bank statements. The rigmarole around being ill seems to tower, colossus-like over the actual illness.......cutting the money that sick and disabled people receive isn't an incentive to work, its a disincentive and a punishment for being ill.
If you think that eventually you can make people so sad and stressed and poor that they will 'get over' being ill, that you can starve them out and they'll end their little displays of sickness, then you are very much mistaken. We have all the incentives we need to get back to work; cutting ESA will only make it harder to do so."
I don't think this letter needs any additional comment from me.