This government IS killing people

First, from a blog I mostly disagree with. ‘Semi-Partisan Sam’ quotes an Interview on LBC (London radio) on 3rd Feb:

RMT leader Steve Hedley claimed the government is “murdering” people calling for them to be taken out and shot

There is of course no excuse for this kind of talk. Isis only do what they do because they are angry, and believe in the rightness of their cause. But although condemning him, we must look at the reason for Hedley’s anger..

Hedley claims that the government was “killing three disabled people a week by their cuts.” Semi-PS naturally dismisses this as preposterous.

But in another blog, by Christopher John Ball, I read:

Oxford University Study Finds 600 Deaths between 2010-2013 Linked To Work Capability Assessments. Even if that is four years and not three, it comes to 3 per week who have died as a result of this government’s policy.

There is something funny going on, because Ball gives no further details. I searched the internet for ‘Oxford Uni Study on WCA Deaths’, and got the title, and a message ‘Blocked for security reasons’. So I do not know how many of these deaths were suicides, but we can add  a few suicides due to the Bedroom Tax. Perhaps more sophisticated bloggers may find out more, but this is sufficient for my purposes. This link has been supplied in the comments:

Semi-Partisan Sam’s purpose is to show how nasty left wing hatred of this innocent, if mediocre government is. Unfortunately Hadley gives him what he needs, and could be seen as his own worst enemy, but rather more serious than one wild extremist, are the facts which also make Christopher John Ball, and me very angry.

There is a paradox. Demonization of scroungers, and that includes those claiming to be incapable of work, can only be exploited if there is not enough work available. Only then can it be made to look as though the unemployed are not trying hard enough. And the lame, the sick and the blind can be assumed to be trying to escape the sanctions imposed on the able-bodied by pretending not to be. Prior to the arrival of Thatcher in 1979 the system was not utopian, but benefits were generous enough for many who were disabled not to claim that they were. Those figures only ballooned after the ‘Fowler’ Benefit cuts during the 1980s. The vast majority prefer to avoid the humiliation of being claimants. The tiny minority who take the system at its word, and do what makes them financially better off can only be demonized when there is nothing for them to do.  And once benefits have been pared down to the bone, the pressure is on to make end meet by claiming to be disabled

But why do most of the public not affected by benefit cuts or Work Capability Assessments allow the government to get away with this obscene logic? They do so because so few recognize the malign effect of

Means testing.

Means testing creates a work disincentive, so that in turn creates an incentive not to be fit for work The government uses these purely theoretical facts as though they were facts in practice, which they are not, and never have been. Over the years an amazingly small number of people have taken the ‘anti-work’ system at its word. The vast majority prefer to work, even if it is not financially worth their while, and in many cases, even if they are not really fit.

But the paradox does not stop there. The only way to remove the work disincentive without killing 3 people a week is the Basic, Citizens’ Income which allows people to do nothing, but makes them better off if they do anything.

Sorry Sam, much as I agree with you about Bob Crow’s successor, this is the nastiest government in my 70 years of political awareness.


4 responses to “This government IS killing people

  1. Hi Clive,

    You and I agree I think on the potential merits of basic income as being something far preferable to the labyrinthine system of benefits and entitlements we have at present. And like you, I think that any disincentives to work in the welfare system are wrong, and should be removed.

    However, I also think we need to be careful when we talk about people being “murdered by government policies”. Tory policies – like Labour ones – may be inspired or misguided, right or wrong. But government being government, almost every decision made (whether to raise or lower taxes on different people and economic activities, whether to build this piece of infrastructure or that, whether to fund this social initiative or cancel another one) will lead to the loss of life at the margins. Cutting farm subsidies may be wise, but it may push one struggling farmer, already despondent, over the edge. Freezing or cutting welfare payments may do the same, as may raising taxes on others. By virtue of the power and sway it has over our lives, pretty much every decision that the government makes will be a “life or death” decision for someone.

    And so I think it’s important that we recognise this, even when we have serious policy disputes. Some on the left, like Hedley, are happy to talk about Evil Tories murdering the sick and disabled. But it’s a spectacularly unhelpful and hysterical thing to do. Government should secure the safety and liberty of the people, but it also has to be a steward of the taxpayer’s money. Spending more on welfare out of “compassion” requires greater taxation, which acts as a brake on economic growth and has other negative consequences of its own on the people forced to pay.

    That’s not to argue in favour of Workplace Capability Assessments or anything else. But it is a plea for a measure of civility in our discourse – one which I am happy to say exists on your excellent blog.


    • Valid points which do not affect the main thrust of my argument. We agree on the merits of Bob Crow’s successor. (I have just tweaked the piece)

  2. I believe is the various articles mention. Its conclusion was:
    “Conclusions The programme of reassessing people on disability benefits using the Work Capability Assessment was independently associated with an increase in suicides, self-reported mental health problems and antidepressant prescribing. This policy may have had serious adverse consequences for mental health in England, which could outweigh any benefits that arise from moving people off disability benefits”

    • Thank you Lee. It is not absolutely clear that this is the same study, but Hadley, the RMT boss and Christopher John Ball appear to be using the same source.

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