Pete was a line manager at a local factory. He'd worked there for 32 years. His spine is crumbling and he can no longer stand for any length of time. Despite several operations to reverse the damage, he suffers terrible pain, all day every day and can no longer do his job. His employer no longer wishes him to do his job. He's become a Health & Safety risk. His surgeon says there is nothing more he can do and he will need to use a wheelchair within the next year or two. His condition will only get worse.
Mary is an HR manager. She has breast cancer. This is the third time the cancer has returned and she's exhausted. Her employer has been very supportive, but it's a small company and he just can't afford to support her through another round of chemo and radiotherapy and surgery. Her grandchildren do her shopping and clean the house when they can, but they have no idea if she will survive yet again. Mary's job is her life. The thought of losing it fills her with despair.
Dan was a soldier. He served in Afghanistan. After just three months in Kabul, he stepped on a landmine and his left leg was blown off. He lost part of his left hand too. He is extraordinarily depressed. A young, fit man who feels his life is over. He may not always feel this way, but he needs intensive physio and counselling to get over the terrible trauma he's been through. It could take months or it could take years, no-one can say. His parents are heartbroken and desperately want to give him all the support they can to recover and live an independent life again.
Yesterday and today, the Telegraph and the BBC carry yet another DWP story trumpeting the great "success" of Employment Support Allowance. They are delighted to announce that of 1,175,700 new claims since 2008 a massive 887,300 failed to qualify for assistance. That's 75%. Isn't that wonderful? Hardly anyone was sick or disabled after all!
So which one will you choose? Nadeem? Pete? Mary? Dan? Which one should we help? You see we can't afford to support them all. MS, "Back problems" Cancer and amputation are all conditions up for debate under Employment Support Allowance. All have been found "Fit for Work" amongst these wonderful figures. We are told that our 4th richest economy in the world just can't afford to help them all any more , so which one do you think ought to qualify?
Remember, you can only pick one. Only one in four are really in need of our help, after all.
Behind these headlines are real lives. Real suffering. Real despair. Most of all they disguise real need. What happened to the 36% of claims that were "abandoned?" No-one knows. The DWP don't keep statistics. How many of those considered perfectly able to work got jobs? No-one knows.
These headlines actually tell us that ESA marks the end of sickness benefits. Make no mistake, of the paltry 25% who were considered sick or disabled, a large proportion around a further 18%) were then put into the Work Related Activity Group. They were considered capable of doing some work with the right support. After a year, they will lose all of their ESA too unless they've found a job. Just 7% were considered deserving of unconditional support. 7%!!
If you ever find yourself in the same position as Nadeem or Pete or Mary or Dan there simply won't be state support any more to catch you when you fall. That's the story behind these headlines. One day, statistics show that it will be you or your Gran or your Mum or Dad or son and there just won't be any help available any more. At the moment, you probably find it impossible to believe that it could happen to you. OR that you could be as ill as the people above and be found "Fit for Work". I hope you believe me before the Welfare Reform Bill goes through and it's too late to stop it.