DWP is planning to force yet more sick and disabled people into work
The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) is planning on forcing more chronically ill and disabled people back to work. That’s according to its new boss – who seems to be ignoring the fact that there aren’t any jobs out there for them.
DWP: too many sick people
Mel Stride is the new work and pensions secretary – and he’s already making his plans for the DWP clear. As the Telegraph reported on Wednesday 30 November, Stride gave evidence to the work and pensions select committee. He was talking about how the DWP needed to get more people into work – with no mention of the fact that successive Tories have trashed the UK economy. Stride noted that the pension age would probably have to go up again – something much of the corporate media were quick to report on. But he also has chronically ill and disabled people in his sights.
The Telegraph reported that:
No 10 has become increasingly alarmed by the rise in the number of economically inactive people since the pandemic.
Nine million people aged 16-64 now fall into this category. As the Canary previously reported, this figure has increased partly due to a rise in the number of chronically ill and disabled people. There could be a link between the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic, long Covid, and the increase. This is because 363,000 more people are now off due to ill-health than before the pandemic. Regardless of this, the fact people are too sick or impaired to work clearly won’t stop Stride from trying to force them to.
The Telegraph said that:
Stride is carrying out a review into how to get many of those [economically inactive] people back into the workforce amid record vacancies. He told the Commons work and pensions committee there was an “overarching case” for setting ambitious targets for doing so.
It also noted that:
Stride said his department used other targets, such as on getting more disabled people into work, which was “a very useful metric”.
However, there are several problems with this – the first being the number of job vacancies, despite what the Telegraph claimed.
The Office for National Statistics (ONS) said in November 2022 there were 1.225m job vacancies. The problem is, there are 1.264 million unemployed people (those who claim out of work social security). You don’t need to be an economist to work out that there aren’t enough jobs for all the unemployed people – let alone anyone else. Plus, the redundancy rate has started to rise again too. With the UK recession set to last into 2023, the number of job vacancies isn’t going to improve anytime soon. However, the fact that there are no jobs for chronically ill and disabled people probably won’t stop Stride, either. This is despite the evidence that his department making unwell people work just makes them more unwell – or worse.
Forcing chronically ill and disabled people into work
The DWP has a long history of forcing chronically ill and disabled people into work, and rarely successfully. For example, as the Canary previously reported, the Personalisation Pathways back to work programme trial in the 2010s was an abject failure – with the majority of people not getting a job or seeing their lives improve. The DWP’s use of sanctions against chronically ill and disabled people is another area where the department has faced criticism. As the Canary wrote in 2018, a report by think tank the Economic and Social Research Council stated:
that “welfare conditionality did very little to move disabled people closer to the labour market”. It said the Work Capability Assessment (WCA) was seen as “uncaring” and “insensitive”, leading to “inappropriate outcomes” for disabled people. The report noted sanctions generally triggered “profoundly negative outcomes”, exacerbating physical and mental ill health. The report said compulsory work training (‘workfare’) was of “poor quality” and “limited use”.
However, at its worst the DWP forcing sick and disabled people into work has led to deaths.
DWP: blood on its hands
Between December 2011 and February 2014, 90 people a month died after the DWP told them they were fit for work. Furthermore, between March 2014 and February 2017, 10 people a day died after the DWP put them in the Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) Work Related Activity Group (WRAG). This meant it told them they were healthy enough to start moving towards work. The latest figures show that the department’s approach to chronically ill and disabled people hasn’t changed. As the Canary reported, the DWP is already putting more people in the Universal Credit group that’s the equivalent of the ESA WRAG.
Stride’s plans to force more people into work are hardly new. However, what they do show is that the DWP has failed to learn any lessons over the past 15-odd years. This is probably because it institutionally doesn’t care. However, Stride’s comments should ring major alarm bells. The historical evidence shows that any attempt to force chronically ill and disabled people into work often ends in disaster. Any fresh push by the DWP to do this must be resisted – because few things have been more heinous in recent times than successive, capitalist governments’ drives to make people work when they really shouldn’t be.
Featured image via Chris McAndrew – Wikimedia, resized to 770×403 under licence CC BY 3.0, and Wikimedia
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