Letter: A Labour government should not be cutting disability benefit

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The Independent Online
Sir: As someone who is paralysed from the neck down, I would like to know how cutting my benefit will "incentivise" me back to work or, more to the point, will encourage employers to feel that I am more employable ("Disability benefit cut but those who go back to work will get bonus", 2 February).

How much lower will my income need to be to effect this aim? Would a cut of pounds 20 counter the lure of Celebrity DIY Makeover Bargain Hunt or re-runs of Norman Wisdom films on daytime TV? Perhaps if I were hungrier I would make more of an effort of doorstopping the MD of my nearest equal opportunities employer (providing there were no stairs)?

Living through the 1980s and 1990s it became de rigueur to claim that those on disability benefit were parasites, culminating in John Major's (in)famous suggestion that it "beggared belief" that so many could be legitimately claiming incapacity benefit (IB), notwithstanding the fact that Tory governments were conniving in massaging unemployment figures by "encouraging" some to switch to IB. No doubt there were those claiming a few quid a week more than they should have been because of this. No doubt, also, many who should have been claiming IB were not, because of the stigma attached and the onerous Kafkaesque system one has to enter in to.

What has been more depressing, however, is to see a Labour government pick up where the Tories left off - but this time with little opposition in Parliament. Since 1980, disability benefits have fallen further and further behind earnings, such that incapacity benefit now constitutes just 15 per cent of the average wage. The number receiving IB, at 1.4m, is at its lowest for 10 years.

If some are abusing the system, then they should be weeded out, but across- the-board cuts, irrespective of the genuineness of the claim, does not strike me as the action of a decent government.

CHARLES HOPKINS

Norwich

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