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Britain’s Sickness Benefit Injustice

Written By: - Date published: 12:03 pm, August 14th, 2010 - 19 comments
Categories: benefits, uk politics, welfare - Tags:

I’ve just been listening to a 30 minute BBC radio programme [in-depth reporting! Allows both sides of a story to be properly explored! Save (and expand) Radio NZ!] on how Britain’s reforming their sickness benefit – and turfing around 3/4 of people off it.

For those who want my summary:

Britain has a problem with 2.6 million people (7% of working population) signed off as long-term sick.  So they’re going to go through all the beneficiaries and see if they really are sick.

They’ve employed a private company to administer an arbitrary yes/no oral test as to whether someone is able to work.  The former IT company has transformed into the 2nd largest employer of medical staff in the UK after the Health Service due to the test, with 2000 doctors and nurses who are pressured to keep the average number refused up to the pre-determined national average.

If you can do the weekly shop, you’re fit to work – even if by “weekly shop” you mean you sit in the car whilst your partner shops.

If you can walk an hour a day, you’re fit to work – even if that hour a day’s walking is the exercise prescribed by your doctor to get over your triple heart by-pass and help your current stomach cancer, and takes absolutely everything out of you (and you don’t even get very far).

If you can turn a tap and pick up a pound coin today, you’re fit to work – even if you’ve got Parkinson’s and your motor skills differ markedly from day-to-day.

All these people are pushed onto the unemployment benefit, dropping them from ~$195/week to ~$140/week.  But they’re not concerned about the loss of money, as hard as it is.  It’s the fact that they no longer get support for their illnesses, or help for adapting their illness to a workplace that worries them.  With 7.8% unemployment in the UK, what employer is going to give them a job without support?  But still, they must keep applying for jobs or risk having their unemployment benefit cut…

With the Welfare Working Group beavering away here, hopefully they won’t take on too much of the injustice that’s brewing in the UK. Although the idea of giving counselling and education/skills to sickness beneficiaries so that those able to may eventually return to work at some point sounds good (and no doubt good for their long-term health).  But then that costs money (which would be paid back in future taxes no doubt), and National’s short-termism is always looking for cuts.

19 comments on “Britain’s Sickness Benefit Injustice”

  1. millsy 1

    There are striking similarites between what the Cameron government is doing in the UK and what the Key government is going in NZ.

    • Of course they will.! Their Right-Wing policies come from from the same “Think-Tank” the Democratic Union.The umbrella grouping of Right-Wing thinkers. Founded by Thatcher ,George .W.Bush ,Hermit Kohl , John Howard and many other Right and Far Right politicians ,some bordering on Fascist ideology.
      Its more than likely that this group financed the notorious “cossack” adverts in the Muldoon election campaignn
      Their purpose is to spread their nasty Right-Wing ideology everywhere .,privatize everything.
      Key is friendly with Lord Ashcroft a prominant member and one time treasurer.
      The senior members are the USA, Democratic Party . enough said. Just be aware and vigilent .Allied to this group is Crosby-Textor, Bloody scary

  2. Marco 2

    The Sickness Benefit in NZ is only designed to be temporary. If you have a more severe or permanent disablement you should be on the Invalid’s Benefit.

    The amount we pay our Invalid’s is pathetic. The minimum payment should be in line with the Superannuation as these people (who will never work again) are effectively retired.

    On the other hand the focus on Sickness Benefit should be to get people well and back to work. We tend to tell people they should work instead of actively placing a rehabilitation plan around returning them to work.

  3. Carol 3

    And along with that the Cameron government is planing to totally decimate the UK National Health Service.


    The government wants to change all that. Under its plans no hospital, no clinic, no district nursing service or mental health centre will be part of that one organisation. They will all be separated, converted into independent “social enterprises’ called foundation trusts.
    No doctors, no nurses and no therapists will work for the NHS. They will be transferred, made into employees of their particular institution. All their hard-earned national pay deals and pensions are under threat.
    Many NHS managers will lose their jobs and their roles outsourced. Primary care trusts and strategic health authorities will be abolished. Now all the unpopular decisions will be made by unaccountable “commissioning consortia’ and private management consultants.
    And here’s the sting in the tail. For the first time since 1948, private companies will have the same status as all these former NHS bodies, opening the door for them to make profits from illness once more. All of a sudden the NHS will be subject to laws on competition, meaning every service will have to be tendered and every bit of the health service will have to fight to survive. The admin involved will waste billions of pounds. There will be a new super-regulator called Monitor, a bit like Ofgem in the privatised utilities, whose job will be to enforce market discipline.

    And at the same time, research shows health inequalities in the UK are biggest ever since 1921.


    Bascially the research shows health inequalities are strongly related to socio-economic class.

  4. Ron 4

    The NZ Government is about to do the “simple test” process on education. TOPS courses are aboput to be split up with around 40% of them shifted to MSD and changed into “straight to work” courses the rest to remain longer “foundation” courses.
    Unemployed will be asked a set of basic questions: how long on benefit, age, gender, quals and that test will decide whether a person should be on TOPS ort Straight to Work. No questions related to health, literacy, drug use, home situation etc.. – so no way of knowing if this person is ready for work or needs longer term support.
    What will happen of course is that large numbers of unsuitable people will end upo going “straight to work” – fail, be stood down, get further in the shite and end up on longer TOPS courses anyway.
    But only after they’ve suffered some more, of course.

  5. lenore 5

    where is the information about this change with regard to courses Ron? I have not seen anything about this and am interested to find out more and how they are going to be running straight to work programmes. I know organisations like Chamber of Commerce have been running a “straight to work” programme for a number of years which is funded by MSD -is that what you are meaning? Work and Income have been running job search information seminars since last year, which I think have a similar title but they are certainly not courses and they also include people who are not on ueb yet. What sort of TOPS courses are being removed/ changed?

    • Ron 5.1

      TEC courses are going to be evaluated (don’t know how) and 40% moved to be funded by MSD and turned into 6-8 weeks straight to work courses.
      My point was the similarity between the health process described above and the “one size fits all process” which will decide what sort of assistance clients get through W&I now. This “targetting” process was described this week at meetings with providers as “The Indicator”.


      • Descendant Of Smith 5.1.1

        According to the TEC website MSD already fund TOPS. They just contraxt TEC to purchase them.

        What is a Training Opportunities (TOPs) course?

        The Ministry of Social Development (MSD) contracts the TEC to purchase Training Opportunities training. The training is for Work and Income clients who have, or will face, significant periods of unemployment and who have no or low qualifications.

        It focuses on learners acquiring a valuable set of foundation skills that enable them to move effectively into sustainable employment and/or higher levels of tertiary education.

  6. Rex Widerstrom 6

    And how is eligibility currently assessed in NZ? Purely on a doctor’s opinion? I thought you also had to answer a lot of yes/no questions (on a form rather than at an interview) in NZ as well?

    • Bunji 6.1

      Primarily on your doctor’s opinion, there may be a form as well, I don’t know.

      In Britain your own doctor now gets no say, except on appeal. Appeal now takes months due to huge back-log, what with so many wrongly de-classified…

      • Rex Widerstrom 6.1.1

        That’s insane. I know many less-then-healthy people who refuse to accept they have any infirmities at all and would bravely answer “yes” when asked if they could do just about anything.

        Presumably when such people classify themselves as fit and well and then go out an permanently injure or kill themselves, the state will absolve itself of responsibility by arguing that the person ought to have had better judgment.

        Okay so that’s a small proportion of the population but it’s illustrative of the illogicality of expecting people to self-assess and then making decisions based on that assessment alone, when it’s entirely possible their doctor could have a quite different opinion.

    • Descendant Of Smith 6.2

      As usual it’s not hard to find the actual policy instead of playing guesswork.

      Employment and Training

      Medical Qualifications

  7. ZB 7

    Think of the employers, 90 day fire at will, now they have no reason to not take the money and
    try out some recently cured (via the wonders of bureacracy) sod of an employee – who doesn’t
    want to be there, has issues that managers have never faced before, and at the first whim of
    the emplorer can drop. Geez, if National are right and there are all these individuals on the
    benefit bludging, then how long before they perfect the art of getting dumped at work?
    Now true, I for one think its a great idea to give people on the benefit opportunities,
    they might just take them, might actually kick the welfare habit. But honestly in this
    economic environment with businesses on the edge this is just business welfare.
    Get a few unemployed into work, for a MSM fee, and give them the run around because your
    business could do with some cheap labour – its not like they are going to stick around.
    The economy won’t pick up because business looking out 10-15 years is just in awe
    of a $140 barral of oil. Economists know that growth is linked to new oil finds and
    more supply isn’t going to turn around because of increasing alternative sources of
    energy as these have high upfront energy costs. So until the government can get its
    act together and build new employment by contracting out energy saving schemes,
    bums into build new fibre holes in the ground, etc, the scheme is just another
    holding pattern before we find new oil fields – good luck with that.
    So swapping welfare bums for business bums who hire people to fire them just
    for the money. You did notice that about the British case, no money goes on
    follow up. The new hires can just sit on their behinds until their boss gives them the
    flick. So like the right, no thought or research on the fraility of humanity.

  8. Gazza 8

    Maco’s points are correct but the main problem is that NZ hasn’t got enough job for the able workers without trying to find work beneficiaries.
    I agree that the not so invalid & sickness who are just using the system should be weeded out as that would probably only be about 25% of beneficiaries in that category, but until the economy recovers the is no quick solution.
    The one way to to solve some of the unemployment is to do as Australia may do, that is reduce the immigration/refugee level and look after our own backyard first.

    • ZB 8.1

      Sickness is a temporary benefit, so why are WINZ managers allowing people to languish on the sickness benefit?

      Labour managed the system much better, they worked with benefitaries illness to find them work.

      National can’t even promote job creation without been choked by neo-liberals shout slogans like ‘govt can’t pick winners’.

      Of course ‘sickness is temporary’ is just another slogan that hides the real problem not just with our welfare
      system but our economy, a bunch of rather niave boomers who have finally made it into power and think
      everything has a simple solution if only they avoid discussion of the consequences.

      National were hired not to disenfrancise.

      There are no saving from shifting sickness benefitaries back onto the unemployment benefit, except what?
      Suicide? Or people leaving the benefit eating their own assets in a new under class of deprivation? (only
      really works as a asset test). In fact the cost rise since you have to manage extra unemployed, interviews
      take time, tracking unemployed takes time.

      So once again what’s the problem with National, their policies don’t work to produce cost reductions?
      Or are they hoping to hire more WINZ staff and get the unemployment numbers down that way.

      True to bureaucracy, the manderins ‘accordingly all sickness will only last 2 years’, what a farcical
      big government edict to justify additional costs on the tax payer and lies to the taxpayers that it
      will save money! Think about that? National policy basis, its cry to battlements is that
      sickness last only two years, where’s the research for that? Its enough to make people depressed that
      their government is incredibly useless.

  9. prism 9

    People caught up in this type of welfare pressure can be driven to suicide, they can’t stand taking another test, or they can die of heart failure etc as even though they may be terminally ill they are forced out to work. Les Miserables in Britain.

    And must have been set up by British Labour.

  10. kenny 10

    Reports last week that the British government is planning to cut thousands of public service jobs in the UK so they can balance the governments books. Just like National are doing here.

    Why is it so much more important to balance a governments books than to ensure the well-being of its citizens? A government, any government, can live with these problems quite easily, but people who are thrown out of work can’t.

    It struck me just how unfair the world economic situation is when those people who caused it are (seemingly) getting away with it, while the rest of the world suffers.

    Many people keep insisting that communism has been shown to be unworkable; yet they can’t see the same is true for capitalism as we know it. Every 10 years or so we have to be reminded once again, but we still insist this is the only way.


  11. Deborah Kean 11

    I’ve heard already on Nat Rad about this having been suggested by Paula Rebstock! (I’d never heard of her, but it seems she is a middle aged American economist. WTF? Why is she considered an expert? On anything?)
    Captcha = sadly – very appropriate!

  12. Deborah Kean 12

    “Now true, I for one think its a great idea to give people on the benefit opportunities,
    they might just take them, might actually kick the welfare habit.”
    What does that mean “welfare habit”? Sorry, that’s a moronic slogan. I’d “kick the welfare habit” if I could, but that would mean simultaneously kicking the oxygen habit – that is, I have been looking for a job for 18 months. I am on what the RW call “welfare” because I can’t get a job being over 55. Don’t you get that ZB? No one wants to be on “welfare”. As an ESOL tutor I could earn $1100.00 a week as against the $180.00 a week I get on UB. If I could get a sodding job I’d take it in a heartbeat. So would anyone on SB if they only could – but they can’t – in their case because they can’t work.
    Grow up, ZB!

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