Kick them while they're down - Sickness and Incapacity Benefit

In the last quarter of 2004 it was obvious that a well-funded campaign was being conducted to get Incapacity Benefit cut. The Confederation of British Industry was a leading organisation in this campaign to persecute the sick. Journalists should have been informing the public about who was behind this campaign, what their motives were, the private lobbying that was going on, the stories which were being placed in the media, and the facts which were being ignored or distorted. Instead virtually all of the media allowed itself to be used as a propaganda outlet for the campaign. Among the worst offenders were ITV's "Tonight" program and the BBC's "Politics Show".

In an email to me on 8/12/2004 Gareth Butler (Deputy Editor of the Politics Show) said "IB is heavily concentrated in areas which have been associated with high unemployment, leading to the understandable suspicion that at least some claimants on IB are actually 'hidden' unemployed". However numerous studies conducted all over the world have found that the unemployed suffer more sickness and die younger than those who enjoy full employment. According to a UK government official report:

"mortality from all major causes has been found to be consistently higher than average among unemployed men" - section 4.3 of "Saving Lives: Our Healthier Nation" 5 July 1999 available at http://www.archive.official-documents.co.uk/document/cm43/4386/4386-04.htm

Any honest journalist would have pointed out that people can't be faking early deaths and that the only sensible explanation was that unemployed people actually were suffering from more sickness.

One of the most sickening aspects of this campaign was the way the Labour government joined in. Even before this campaign, some GPs were refusing Sick Notes to people who were seriously ill. Rest is essential for treating some medical conditions. Refusing Sick Notes can turn short term treatable conditions into permanent disabilities & can lead to other medical complications. On 18 October 2004 Alan Johnson, Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, told the Royal Society of Medicine that doctors should not give Sick Notes to people who were genuinely ill, even if they had suffered from a heart attack. Johnson is a former Trotskyist and Trade Union leader whose views have obviously changed radically, in line with his socio-economic circumstances.

The media, business organisations & politicians are constantly insinuating that there are lots of people falsely claiming incapacity benefit, without any evidence at all. The media will sometimes feature people saying they know others who aren't ill but who are claiming Incapacity Benefit. These claims are never made official and properly investigated. How can they possibly know that some one is not ill? The nature & severity of any illness is a confidential matter between a person and the medical staff who are treating them. Just because you can't spot obvious signs of illness doesn't mean they're not ill. Many people don't like to worry family or friends by mentioning they have a serious illness. Others feel embarrassed about admitting they're ill (especially with mental illness, problems with bladder control etc) and will deny being ill even if directly questioned about it.

People who are unable to work because of long-term illness or permanent disability obviously can't campaign on their own behalf, and can't fund an organisation to campaign for them. However, around this time, research commissioned by the TUC suggested that less than 1% of claims for Incapacity Benefit were fraudulent. Another report (from the Rowntree Trust I believe) revealed that people who are on long term benefits because of sickness or disability are living in dire poverty The media either played down or completely ignored these reports.

I'm making a small attempt to counter media bias. Below are some of the reasons why there is a higher level of sickness today than there was 20-30 years ago: