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Welfare reforms threaten our dignity - Salmond

Alex Salmond used his speech to criticise welfare reforms. Picture: TSPL

Alex Salmond used his speech to criticise welfare reforms. Picture: TSPL

  • by EDDIE BARNES
 

NEARLY a third of people receiving an incapacity benefit in Britain have been told they are capable of working, according to new figures.

The Department for Work and Pensions revealed that out of 603,000 people on incapacity benefits who have been reassessed since 2010, almost 180,000 have been told they are fit to take up a job and no longer eligible for support. They have instead been redirected on to the government’s back-to-work programmes.

UK ministers last night claimed such people had been “condemned” by the old system to a life on benefits and said they would now be pushing ahead with controversial efforts to place people into a job.

But the government’s welfare reform programme was fiercely criticised last night by Alex Salmond who used a speech in Glasgow to claim that it was now the “biggest threat to human dignity” in the country. At the inaugural Jimmy Reid Memorial Lecture, the First Minister echoed the former union leader’s rectorial address to Glasgow University in 1971, saying the changes were creating a “new form of alienation”.

“He would be appalled by some of the brutal effects being felt on our doorstep here in Scotland thanks to the UK government’s process of welfare reform,” Mr Salmond said. His comments come with the Yes Scotland campaign planning to focus on the UK government’s welfare cuts in its bid to build support, sending a leaflet to 500,000 homes this week to warn that Britain is on track to become “the most unequal” developed country in the world.

The row revolves around a whole series of new welfare reforms being pushed through by the UK government. They include tests for people on disability allowances and incapacity benefit to see whether they are still eligible, a new scheme to find them jobs and a move to the new “universal benefit”.

At the same time, the coalition has agreed to set a cap on increases in benefits for the next three years.

UK ministers say the plans are necessary to cut the deficit and end the “benefit trap” which discourages people from taking up work because it pays less.

Publishing new figures on the reassessment of incapacity benefits yesterday, it said that 32 per cent of people had been cleared as fit for work and were no longer entitled to employment support allowance.

Only 27 per cent have been assessed as being so unwell that they are entitled to unconditional support, and the full £105 a week made available.

A further 41 per cent of people have been judged to be currently too unwell to work, but informed they must consider a return to work at a later date.

Officials are now halfway through reassessing all 1.5 million incapacity benefits claimants across Britain through the controversial work capability assessment.

It has already faced criticism with the government’s own appointed adviser, Professor Malcolm Harrington, who admitted last year that the test had been “patchy”, wrongly pushing some claimants who were genuinely unable to work into the labour market.

Earlier this week, reports revealed that one company contracted to help people back into work had referred to clients as “LTBs”, or “Lying Thieving Bastards”.

There were also claims that firms were simply “parking” people they were meant to help, claiming government money for their services, while setting clients to one side due to the lack of any work available.

Pro-independence supporters have insisted the plans are out of touch with “Scottish values”, saying an independent Scotland would help benefit claimants.

Speaking last night, Mr Salmond referred back to Mr Reid’s warning against “alienation” in society in his famous 1971 Glasgow University address.

“Forty years on, I’d argue that the biggest threat to human dignity is in a new kind of alienation. The alienation felt by those who need the help of benefits to survive and find themselves arguably being demonised by some sections of society,” Mr Salmond said.

He added: “Jimmy was a tireless campaigner for a better society and he would be appalled by some of the brutal effects being felt on our doorstep here in Scotland thanks to the UK government’s process of welfare reform.

“Many of us can think of human stories illustrating the misery being felt up and down the country.

“The person reduced to penury by removal of their disability living allowance, the working single parent made £30 a week worse off by the reduction in working tax credit, the sense of despair among the most vulnerable in our society as they bear the costs of an economic whirlwind not of their making – all human examples of people being alienated.”

However, Mr Salmond’s comments were dismissed by UK officials last night who insisted their plans were designed to pull people out of a life on benefits and into work.

A spokesman for the Department of Work and Pensions said: “Our reforms are about restoring dignity to people who for too long were left to a life on benefits. Repeated governments offered inadequate help and people had no hope or expectation of getting into work. That cannot be the mark of a welfare state that is fair to those who need it.”

On the incapacity benefit figures, employment minister Mark Hoban added: “Now we are over half way through the reassessment process it is clear that the old system condemned tens of thousands of people to a life on benefits with little help to move back to work.

“Now people who can work will be given help to find a job, while those who need unconditional support will get it.”

 

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