Ministers don’t have the right to say who is fit for work

Anti-poverty campaigners have accused the UK Government of using the threat of hunger and destitution to push people into unsuitable work.

The Poverty Alliance – Scotland’s national anti-poverty network – says proposed changes to give the Department of Work & Pensions the power to strip people of their social security are ‘immoral’ and unworkable.

Poverty Alliance Director Peter Kelly said: “It’s doctors and health professionals, not Government ministers, that are best placed to say who is fit for work.

“We live in an unjust economy, where low wages and insecure hours means paid work doesn’t cover living costs for too many people. Disabled people face particular barriers to entering good quality, appropriate work as employers are not yet doing enough to change their employment practices to make work more accessible.

“In that context, Ministers must focus on creating jobs that are suitable for disabled people, with decent pay, decent conditions, and appropriate support. We fail to see where these fully remote jobs reside in our economy, with employers rolling back on flexibility in the aftermath of the pandemic. This is the plans we should have been hearing about today. All we heard was a reheated proposal for back to work plans that have failed in the past.

“We built our social security out of justice and compassion. We wanted to put an end to the days when people who were unable to work were left to fall into destitution. Research by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation has found that almost two-thirds of people experiencing destitution in the UK were disabled or had long-term health conditions.

“We hope MPs will do the right thing, and ensure that nobody is deprived of their basic human right to social security.”

The Poverty Alliance welcomed the Chancellor’s decision to raise Universal Credit and other benefits with inflation, but pointed out that benefits still have to be increased further if they are to properly protect people from destitution.

Peter Kelly said: “Inadequate social security is the main driver of food bank need, with almost 1.3 million parcels given out from Trussell Trust food banks between April and September 2022.

“That’s why we support the Essentials Guarantee campaign by the Trussell Trust and Joseph Rowntree Foundation, so that Universal Credit is set independently at a level designed to protect people from destitution. This should be a staging post on the road to a Minimum Income Guarantee.”

The organisation also criticised plans to undermine social investment by lowering National Insurance rates.

Peter Kelly said: “People believe in looking out for each other, and taking responsibility for themselves and their communities, but these cuts will further undermine the services we have built together. The Government are pretending that our vital public services are not already in crisis.

“The people most affected by these cuts will be the poorest, because when the foundations of a decent society are weakened, their incomes just aren’t enough to support them.

“These changes will mean £10 billion less revenue to invest, with analysis showing that the people who will benefit most in their pay packets are the wealthiest in society. That’s not a responsible, or just, way to run our finances.”

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