Some work of noble note may yet be done

It was Freud who identified the two basic human needs: work and love. Unfortunately, the rise of the ‘benefit culture’ has meant that many Britons have not satisfied the former of these, and its significance to the human condition has become undervalued.

This has come to the fore in the arduous task of tackling the national deficit. The matter was raised for discussion at the recent G20 summit in Toronto, and George Osborne has responded to this problem by announcing his intention to cut incapacity benefits by denying people the higher rate if tests reveal that they are actually able to work. This move would serve the dual purpose of addressing both the deficit and the languorous ‘benefit society’ for which the country has been criticised.

Of course this is an extremely sensitive topic, and one which must be approached with the requisite caution. The grave consequences of making the wrong decision require little explanation. This was demonstrated all too well by previous attempts to reduce spending on incapacity benefits. A report compiled by the Citizens’ Advice Bureau has illuminated numerous errors, revealing cases of people who were registered as fit to work despite suffering from multiple sclerosis, or advanced Parkinson’s disease. Needless to say, we must not allow such mistakes to be made again.

However, we should not allow the prospect of such aberrations to frighten us into inaction. If the necessary safeguards are put in place, and testing is carried out conscientiously, the benefits to be gained by society would outweigh those lost by the individual. Substantial expertise must be invoked in devising such tests, which should be subjected to rigorous scrutiny before they are treated as decisive.

One of the major challenges facing the authors of such a test is the impact of mental illness on a person’s ability to work. Recognised psychiatric illnesses such as depression and bipolar disorder can be extremely debilitating and can interfere materially with the sufferer’s daily life. This should certainly not be overlooked because of the difficulties in measuring the extent of this disability.

Shockingly, the £1.8 billion given in incapacity benefit to those suffering from certain mental illnesses has been said to bolster George Osborne’s case without further qualification. This figure needs to be reduced just as much as that provided in cases of physical illness, but is certainly not the waste of money that proponents of this argument would have us believe. This view is retrogressive and does little to minimise the stigma which has traditionally blighted the issue of mental health. This does constitute a “genuine need” of the kind the incapacity benefit was originally designed to meet.

The proposed cut would promote the interests of those whom they were introduced to protect. It would represent an important step in ensuring that incapacity benefits actually support those whom they were intended to support. In pruning the number of people who receive benefits, the focus will be returned to the core group of people who are genuinely unable to work to support themselves. This would be helpful in dispelling the negative image surrounding benefit recipients as they would be required to demonstrate the legitimacy of their benefit claims. The taxpayer should have fewer qualms about paying a bill whose merits have been empirically tested.

This cut could well provide the invigoration necessary to revive Britain from the slumber of its so-called ‘benefit society’. The message is clear: If you are fit to do some work, then it is no longer acceptable to leech off the labours of the rest of society. In a time of economic crisis, the country must unite and work collectively to address our deficit. We simply cannot afford to fund those who favour the parasitic lifestyle despite being capable of working.

It is likely that those who are found to be capable of working would begin receiving Jobseekers’ Allowance. The requirements of this type of benefit are far more stringent under the current regime, and as such more pressure would be placed on such people to find work. This would constitute another vital step in the endeavour to rejuvenate the national economy.

Addressing the G20 summit, George Osborne provided an apt summary of the aims of the proposed welfare reform, explaining the need to ensure that the incapacity benefit “protects those in genuine need, protects those with disabilities and protects those who can’t work but also encourages those who can work into work.” Apparently, in the words of Tennyson, “some work of noble note may yet be done”.


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