Why is the coalition making a public spectacle of picking on the poor?

Reposted from The Guardian Society

benefit appeal charges

In the last year, nearly a million people had their benefits stopped and of those who appealed, 58% won their case. Photograph: Christopher Thomond for the Guardian

We all know that the government’s plan to fix “broken Britain” is predicated on blaming our national scapegoats: the undeserving poor. Sitting at ease behind closed curtains, fecklessly “breeding” life that they haven’t the means to feed, we are told, the poor are the real scourges of a society in which the richest 10% own 40% of our country’s wealth. They do not deserve the same rights that we might expect, were we ever to find ourselves in their position, because, truth be told, we are better people than those awful scroungers. And just when you thought such treatment of our poorest citizens couldn’t get any worse, the coalition is proving itself willing to plumb new depths.

Leaked internal documents from the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) have shown that it is tabling a proposal to charge people who challenge a decision to strip them of their benefits. There is no mention of refunds for those who manage to win their appeals. That’s right, some of the poorest in our society could be forced to put up and shut up, even when a government department is at fault.

In the last year, nearly a million people had their benefits stopped and of those who appealed against the decision at independent tribunals, 58% won their case. It leaves me wondering about the efficacy of such a manoeuvre. This is a department that gets its decisions more often wrong than right. Why does it have the mettle to even attempt such a policy? I guess you have to admire the pure chutzpah of this public-school cabal.

Aphorisms often appear too trite to tell us anything meaningful, yet this is not the case with the assertion attributed to Mahatma Gandhi that “the true measure of any society can be found in how it treats its most vulnerable members”. The Tories have transformed what should be our national shame into a public spectacle in which we should all revel in kicking those on the rung below us; it’s easier that way to forget about what is happening above you.

Rather than question why parts of our stake in the bailed-out Lloyds Banking Group could be sold at a £230m loss, we are supposed to champion draconian measures such as cuts to disability living allowance. The DWP’s own figures show that only 0.5% of those claiming incapacity benefit do so fraudulently, yet the company it placed in charge ofcarrying out its work capability assessments, Atos Healthcare, judged a third of claimants to be fit to work. These are the sorts of people who stand to lose if the government charges them for appealing against a process that is skewed against them.

The policy seems like a kite-flying exercise to gauge just how far we are willing to go when it comes to making the most vulnerable pay for the City’s excesses. If, as I hope and pray, the measure is deemed too extreme and is shelved, Iain Duncan Smith’s department will still come out smelling of roses. To the Tory heartland it continues its incessant drumbeat of being “tough” in “lean” times. To the rest of us, it hopes to appear measured and able to accept criticism.

We should distrust any government that is willing to go where this policy would take it. To call it Orwellian would be a sober assessment of facts rather than an emotive exaggeration. When the state removes all avenues for the individual to hold it to account in respect of how it treats them, we are living in hard times indeed.

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1 Response to Why is the coalition making a public spectacle of picking on the poor?

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