‘Farcical’ UK workfare scheme damages disabled and ill

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by a Newsnet reporter

An SNP MSP is backing Inclusion Scotland in condemning the UK Government’s proposed Workfare Scheme for disabled people as a farce. The disability rights groups is disgusted that the UK Dept of Work and Pensions is currently considering proposals to force long term sick and disabled people to work unpaid or have their benefits cut.

Inclusion Scotland is a national network of local disabled people’s organisations whose main aim is to ensure that disabled people have a voice in policy and decision making.  The largest local member organisation is Glasgow Disability Alliance with 1200 members.

The UK government has admitted that its plans to reduce benefits are driven by the need to cut government spending, and not primarily by a desire to improve the quality of life or opportunities of disabled people.

Bob Doris, MSP for Glasgow, says that the issue provides another reason for devolving control of benefits to the Scottish Parliament.  

Under the new plans to be announced by Westminster, sick and disabled people receiving employment and support allowance, who have been assessed as being in the work-related activity group (Wrag), could be forced into unpaid “work experience” for charities, public bodies and private companies.  Those affected include people who have been diagnosed with terminal cancer but have more than six months to live; accident and stroke victims; and people with mental health issues.   

The Royal College of Psychiatrists is concerned that job centre staff will now be making assessments of people with mental health problems despite being untrained in mental health issues.  The College believes that claimants could be forced into inappropriate placements in order that private companies contracted by the DWP to get claimants into employment can meet their government targets.

Refusal to participate in the scheme will lead to a loss of benefits.  A spokesman for the Department of Work and Pensions said:

“Ministers strongly feel there is a link-up to support those moving close to the labour market, and the individual’s responsibility to engage with the support. Ministers feel sanctions are an incentive for people to comply with their responsibility.”

Inclusion Scotland’s Chief Executive, Bill Scott, said:

“Disabled people fought for their freedom and most of the old institutions have now been closed.  But it seems as though even though we are now allowed to live amongst the non-disabled we are still to be forced to work for nothing as a penalty for being different.

“I thought that slavery had ended over 200 years ago but forcing anyone to work for nothing is just that.  We also have real fears that this could damage some people’s health – particularly those with mental health issues and variable conditions like Multiple Sclerosis.”

Mr Doris said:

“If the UK Government press on with plans to compel terminally ill cancer patients and those with disabilities and mental health issues into long term compulsory unpaid work or to lose benefits is simply unacceptable.

“For the DWP to call this an ‘incentive’ is simply farcical and like so much of its welfare reforms the UK Government need to think again before significant and long term damage is done to many of Scotland’s most vulnerable groups.

“If work and pensions were devolved to the Scottish Parliament we would be able to have a system based on fairness that meets the needs and demands of everyone in Scotland including the most needy and sick people who are limited in their ability to work.”