I’m angry. I’m so angry it woke me up this morning. And I’m angry about being angry because I can’t channel the anger into anything productive because I can’t do anything productive. I am powerless to stop being ill and I am powerless to stop being angry. Being disabled is infuriating. Something that happened to me and was beyond my control has left me like a machine that’s been switched off – disabled – unable to do anything that a 21-year-old of my intelligence and interests might want or need to do. I have been sick for almost half my life, and housebound for the last four years. But that's not the reason I'm angry. At some point in the near future an agent from Atos will be reviewing ‘how [my] health condition or disability affects [my] daily life’ so that a 'decision-maker' at the Department for Work and Pensions can say whether or not I’m still entitled to Personal Independence Payments.
On Thursday, Labour outlined plans to apply VAT on private school fees to fund free school meals for every primary pupil in England. The numbers add up: the provision would cost £900 million a year, and the prospective tax would raise far more than that. Speaking alongside the shadow education secretary, Angela Rayner, Jeremy Corbyn said the measure would help ensure that ‘no child is held back because of their background.’ Free school meals are far from gesture politics; their nutritional and cognitive benefits, especially for poorer children, are well documented.
Under pressure from Jeremy Paxman on Newsnight in February 2003, Tony Blair conceded that the number of asylum seekers coming to Britain was too high and pledged to halve it by the following September. The promise was widely derided, but Blair had done his homework: officials had assessed the impact of Labour’s 2002 Asylum Act, the closure of the Sangatte asylum centre near Calais and other measures to deter refugees from coming to the UK. When September’s figures were announced, the target had been met. David Cameron’s target of cutting net migration to 'tens of thousands' was first made before the 2010 election, then spelled out – 'no ifs, no buts' – in April 2011. A few weeks ago Theresa May called it an 'objective' the government was 'working' towards. But the nearest they ever got was two years ago, when net migration fell to 154,000. Since then it’s risen to 260,000, higher than when Labour left office. Cameron’s mistake was to assume that net migration to and from the rest of the EU, over which he has little control, would stay where it was in 2011 (under 80,000). The Home Office focused its attention on non-EU migrants – students, family members and skilled workers – all now subject to tighter rules. What Cameron didn’t foresee was that net EU migration would almost double. Or as he put it last week, 'our squeeze in one area has been offset by a bulge in another.'
‘We have come to assess you,’ the crowd in Triton Square chanted, outside Atos’s London headquarters. The French IT company is under contract to the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) to carry out Work Capability Assessments on everyone applying for Employment and Support Allowance. A ‘disability analyst’ asks a ‘claimant’ a series of questions and enters the answers into a computer: if you score fewer than 15 points you are considered fit for work. There have been more than 1.2 million appeals against Atos’s assessments, 38 per cent of which have been successful. Atos’s blunders include the cases of Linda Wootton, who had a heart and lung transplant and died nine days after her allowance was withdrawn, and Mark Evans, a brain-damaged amputee who lost most of his benefits. Protests were held yesterday outside the company’s offices across Britain. The slogans in Triton Square included ‘Atos don't give a toss’ and ‘Atos £500m contract killer’: that’s the estimated cost of the appeals; the company's government contracts are worth a total of £3.1 billion.
Last week John Humphrys was seconded from the Today programme to present The Future State of Welfare on BBC2. He wrote a piece for the Daily Mail to promote the programme: ‘Our Shameless Society – How our welfare system has created an age of entitlement.’ Returning to his birthplace – Splott, in Cardiff – Humphrys found that ‘one in four people of working age in this area are now living on benefits,’ which he puts down to the ‘perverse incentives’ of an overgenerous welfare system rather than a lack of jobs. But in a piece for Left Foot Forward showing why ‘John Humphrys is wrong, wrong, wrong on social security’, Declan Gaffney points out that only 5.3 per cent of wards in Britain have such a high proportion of benefits claimants, down from 9.5 per cent of wards in November 1999.