- Six per cent of British doctors have experienced a patient who has attempted – or committed – suicide as a result of “undergoing, or fear of undergoing” the Government’s fitness to work test.
- In a commons debate, MPs revealed that 1,300 people had died after being told they should start preparing to go back to work.
In William Beveridge’s welfare state that is Great Britain, welfare has taken a hammering over the past five years. And if David Cameron gets his way in the general election on May 7, a further eye watering 12 billion pounds worth of welfare cuts are likely to come down the pike over the next five years.
Economists and think tanks alike are shuffling their feet uneasily at the prospect, so is it time to ask the question: “is Great Britain still a welfare state at all, or has it transmogrified into something worryingly different?“
Post Beveridge, Britain has enjoyed membership of the ‘welfare state’ club, providing support to citizens in need. It is what the lion’s share of our tax take is meant to pay for. Citizens impaired by anything from joblessness to limblessness are supported by the communal pot to bring them in line with the common standard of living.
I don’t know about you, but that doesn’t sound much like the Britain I walk around in nowadays. In fact, I see practically the exact opposite. I see a state with a concept of government in which the state plays a key role in the dismantling and regression of the economic and social well-being of its citizens. And its most defenceless citizens at that.
To promote this new Orwellian state, a type of Newspeak is being liberally employed: “Assisting people to get out of the something for nothing culture“, “making everyone better off in work than out of work“, “rewarding hard working families who play by the rules“, “helping the long-term unemployed“. Look again and all of these quotes mean exactly the opposite of what they say. Clever that.
So how should we relate to a government who just lies when the truth is patently unacceptable?
How do we tell the difference between spin, lies, political correctness and hypocrisy? Britain sets great store by political correctness and the unwary risk being found guilty as charged for being politically incorrect.
But what is ‘political correctness’ and what is rank hypocrisy? Does all this sensitivity in how we refer to certain sections of our community translate into equally sensitive actions when choosing how to “protect and promote their economic and social well-being”? Would Beveridge even recognise his welfare state anno 2015?
As this is “What Would Borgen Do” let’s paddle across the North Sea and find out if the Danes are managing to retain their own welfare state in what must be similarly challenging conditions. After all, Osborne insists that Britain last year grew faster than any other major advanced economy in the world so, by that measure, the Danes may be having an even worse time of it.
Let’s first listen to what they say. In another blog post we have already looked at how the psychology of Borgen’s welfare-speak differs significantly from the British version. There are no ‘benefits’, only ‘support’. There is no ‘job seekers allowance’ but ‘workless day money’ (which includes workless holiday pay). The curious sounding ‘Personal Independence Allowance’ becomes ‘Invalide-pension’ in Borgen land.
In Denmark there are no ‘disabled’ people. Anything that’s disabled has either been switched off, dismantled or stopped functioning in some way.
Human beings, on the other hand, can be either ‘handicapped’ or ‘invalids’. Many a polite Brit displays shocked indignation at encountering their first handicap parking space on arriving at Copenhagen airport. “Gosh! How do they get away with that? I thought Denmark was the model of an egalitarian, non-discriminatory country?”
Well, yes it is … so, referring to a ‘disability’ rather than a ‘handicap’ confers instant acceptability on the speaker, then? If that’s your view, you’re sure to be horrified at coming face to face with the swanky Danish Handicap Organisation building or the Danish Association of the DeafBlind. There’s also a whole lot of spastic Danes, well catered for by the highly proactive Spastics’ Union.
British politesse may dictate the use of the term ‘disability’ to denote someone who is different somehow, while the Danish equivalent may seem blunt. But, then again, Danes are blunt. Get over it. Blunt, but rarely hypocritical.
Having recovered from the Nordic linguistic frankness, let’s compare what kind of deal a disabled Brit and a handicapped Dane get from their respective communities. Does the British tenderness with which they select how to label handicapped people (calm down, I’m Danish) – does this verbal tenderness translate into material concern, in equal measure?
The UK disability benefit system is too convoluted to unravel in detail here. So imagine what it’s like to try to labyrinth your way through it, if you’re already capacity limited.
Especially when target driven assistants are not particularly helpful; a recent TV documentary featured a benefits assessor whispering to an undercover helpline reporter: “Don’t tell her about the hardship payments”. On the line was an anxious sounding enquirer forking out 40p a minute for her 0345 government helpline call. You get the picture.
Be that as it may, should you successfully negotiate the multitude of time-consuming, administrative hoops, you may receive weekly payments ranging from £76 to £139 – max £7228 per annum to live on, and that includes any additional transport costs. No, me neither. But life isn’t led on a spreadsheet, so how do the effects of Osbornomics play out in the real world?
Plagued by relentless occurrences of breakdowns, suicides and people dying from their illness weeks after being assessed “fit for work”, vilified assessment contractor Atos last year threw in the towel and quit their contract. The government chose not to publish the outcome of their internal investigations, but have now appointed a new American outfit, Maximus.
Paid by results, will Maximus do any better? At the heart of the programme, very little will be different. Most of Atos’s staff will be given the option to transfer to the new company. Some of the senior managers have already left Atos to join Maximus. Plus ça change…
Elsewhere in the land of disability, what has become known as the bedroom tax penalises people on housing benefit for having a spare bedroom. Disabled people needing the extra room to store additional paraphernalia or to house an overnight carer have no option but to pay. The government thus effectively claws back £18 a week from people’s disability support.
And, should they be re-elected, the Conservatives are planning to tax disability support. Yes. You just couldn’t make it up.
In Britain 2015, should you have the misfortune to be too sick to work or incapacitated to such an extent as to be unable to support yourself, you can expect to suffer the slings and arrows of a social support system that really would rather that you weren’t there at all.
- So let’s ask again: Is Britain still a welfare state?
- And is Borgen doing any better?
If the British system baffled, Borgen’s approach is no less convoluted, albeit so different that it might just have been devised in a galaxy far, far away. The emphasis is firmly on the mental and physical wellbeing of the recipient, rather than on the administrative and financial benefit of the system.
The first thing that strikes you when Googling ‘socialhjælp Danmark’ is that there are no results featuring sordid demeaning benefit tales of one sort or another. Now try Googling benefits Britain and you are spoilt for choice of wall-to-wall media coverage portraying claimants as useless scroungers, bleeding the system dry.
Danish handicap support is called førtidspension ‘early pension’ and is not available to anyone under 40. Instead, they continue to receive any support they might previously have been receiving and, in any event, will be paid not less than £1000 a month or £1300 a month if they have children. This is not means tested and not affected by your partner’s income.
Meanwhile you are enrolled in an individually tailored ‘resource programme’ to develop your skillset. Your programme is designed by advisers from multiple departments – education, health, social and work and can include anything from a university education to an apprenticeship or language training. An individual mentor will be assigned to you by your local authority and the programme can last up to five years and even be renewed for as long as it takes.
However, as soon as it transpires that you are simply too sick or incapacitated to have any realistic chance of returning to work, your mentor will request that you be transferred to the ‘early pension’. This can happen anytime after you have been enrolled on the programme.
Throughout, you continue to receive any other state ‘contribution’ to which you are entitled such as accommodation support, cash help and day money.
In fairness to Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith, this does sound suspiciously like what he says he wants to see in Britain. He’s just not prepared to put a realistic price tag on it. He wants to lower taxes in order to get elected and in Britain we seem to want Borgen size welfare while paying US size taxes. And a quart into a pint pot just won’t go.
What a shame that political correctness does not translate into Pounds and Pennies.
If you’re thinking of packing your bags and wheeling yourself off to [not-so-sunny] Denmark, pack some patience. You’ll be eligible for support alright. A decade from now. Your social security rights in Denmark state that Danes or foreign nationals are eligible after 10 years’ residence in Denmark. The support is means tested but is not dependent on previous earnings. An additional cash benefit is payable to compensate for extra expenses on the grounds of your handicap. These expenses include cost of a carer, heating, medical costs, special equipment etc. The amount is assessed in each individual case, taking into account the expenses to be expected.