A glance at the front pages of this morning’s papers gives a brief snapshot of the grotesque reality of ConDem Britain. The Daily Mail and Daily Express lead with vicious and misleading attacks on disabled benefit claimants, while the Daily Telegraph reports on Boris Johnson’s call for very wealthy people to pay less tax.
Welcome to the UK under David Cameron, where the poorest are blamed for the nation’s problems while the richest are portrayed as victims.
The gleeful headline on the Daily Express is “Sick benefits: 75% are faking”. The Mail uses the same figures to make a similar claim. To say that these figures are “out of context” would be polite. They are deliberately deceitful.
They appear to refer to disabled people who are assessed for Employment Support Allowance. It takes a fair bit of concentrated reading through the Express article to realise that they have combined figures for those assessed fit for work with those who don’t complete their applications.
Given the bureaucratic hurdles that the assessment process involves, it is no surprise that some give up before they have completed it, particularly if they are applying because of a mental health problem or learning disability.
The Express back up their position with quotes from David Cameron, junior minister Steve Webb (who was regarded as on the left of the Liberal Democrats before he became responsible for slashing benefits) and the Taxpayers’ Alliance, a right-wing lobby group whose main purpose seems to be to object to taxes being spent on anyone poorer than their own members. In a feeble attempt at balance, a brief critical quote from the TUC’s Brendan Barber is thrown in right at the end.
Conveniently, the article makes no reference to the number of claimants who successfully appeal against their assessment. Around 40% of appeals are upheld. This is amazing. It reveals the unreliability of the assessments in which the Mail and Express place so much faith.
The assessments are carried out by Atos, a private company awarded a multi-million pound contract to assess ability to work – and with a clear mandate to get people off benefits, unhampered by such considerations as reality. Atos have found people with terminal cancer to be fit for work. As mental health charities such as Rethink and Mind have pointed out, they also seem particularly unable to grasp the complexities of mental health problems.
Neither Atos nor their friends in the right-wing press take account of the reality that many disabled people would love to work but are prevented to do so by inaccessible workplaces, prejudiced employers and social structures that marginalise them. Disability is caused by society’s attitudes to people with certain impairments, not by the impairments themselves.
But companies will not have their fitness as employers determined by Atos in twenty-minute assessments by unqualified individuals with a biased mandate.
As the government and their friends in the press launch this vicious assault on disabled people, the Daily Telegraph reports that Boris Johnson has repeated his call to scrap the top rate of income tax. It is 50p in the pound and only about 1% of the population are rich enough to pay it. This income tax; when it comes to VAT, everyone pays the same, from a homeless person to a billionaire.
As Church Action on Poverty have pointed out, richer people spend a lower percentage of their income on tax. The poorest fifth of the UK spend about 14% of their income on VAT, while for the richest fifth the figure is only 7%.
The Tories and their allies tell us that cuts are necessary to address the deficit, but it’s hard to take them seriously when some of them are them are keen to offer yet more concessions to those whose wealth would allow them to contribute the most to tackling the economic situation.
In this warped response to economic problems, those with the least have to pay the most.