Monday 5 September 2011

The 100% Income Tax

Imagine the outrage if a government proposed a 100% income tax stretching across all income.

Imagine how much worse the outrage would be if that tax was proposed purely to fund one minister's pet project.

Now imagine the outrage if it was targeted solely on a disadvantaged minority.

Never happen? Let me introduce you to Iain Duncan Smith, the Work and Pensions Secretary, Time-Limiting of Contributions Related Employment Support Allowance, and the 100% of 700,000 disabled people's income he proposes to take away.

Iain Duncan Smith is on a mission, he wants to transform the UK benefits system through Universal Credit and the Work Programme. Universal Credit is bad enough for disabled people, because wrapped up in it is the replacement of DLA by PIP and an absolutely arbitrary 20% cut in those eligible (worse, the supposed justification for this, an 'inexplicable' rise in DLA claims, turns out to be totally explicable once you account for minor things like people retiring and children being born, but DWP managed to hush that up for 3 months while they got the Welfare Reform Bill through its second reading in the Commons). But new welfare systems need years to put in place, so Universal Credit is something for the future, the Work Programme is the flagship programme IDS can implement right this moment.

The one problem in IDS's plan to leave his mark on benefits is that that nasty George Osborne at the Treasury won't give him the money for it, and has told him he has to find it from the existing Department of Work and Pensions budget. So IDS cast around and settled on the perfect victims, disabled people who are too sick to work, after all he already had his allies in the tabloids hard at work convincing the public, which has always been in two minds about disability, that disabled people were universally lazy benefit cheats and fraudsters as part of the justification for the Incapacity Benefit to Employment Support Allowance migration, so why not take advantage of that twice over.

The ESA Work Capability Assessment is a success in the DWP's eyes, it discourages 36% of claimants, rejects 39% (though an awkward 30% appeal, and c40%, 70%+ with advocacy support, of those have the audacity to win their appeal), leaving 17% going into the Work Related Activity Group and 7% into the Support Group. Now it's a bit difficult to hit the Support Group, because these are people even DWP recognise are too ill ever to work, and there is too much risk they'll get the sympathy vote from the media, but the ones in the WRAG, they may be unfit to work at the moment, but DWP have managed to get the media all confused about that, to the point that they largely think those in WRAG actually are fit for work, and so they make a nice, ripe target for cutting. You can't cut them entirely, there has to be some pretence of support, so why not give them a year of benefit, because if they can't find a job in 12 months, then clearly they can be spun as not bothering, to lazy to go out and help themselves (and icky little details like their not being fit for work can be glossed over). Of course it can't be called a cut, that would be too blatant, but 'Time-Limiting' has such a nice ring to it, not remotely negative, and doesn't it really sound like the kind of thing the responsible person would do?

And so there we have it, if you're in the ESA WRAG, no matter you are too disabled to work, no matter DWP admit you are too disabled to work, come 12 months into your claim, Time-Limiting will kick in and if you have a spouse earning a few thousands pounds, or a few thousand in savings or pension fund, then your benefit will be stopped in its entirety, taxed at 100% to fund IDS's darling Work Programme.

The changes leading to Time-Limiting aren't some future fantasy, they are part of the government's Welfare Reform Bill and they are going for their second reading in the House of Lords in just a few days time.

So where's the outrage?

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