Weekly briefings are common in most lines of work, I’m sure. The only difference in schools is that the agenda ranges from the mundane to the downright surreal on a weekly basis “we are still looking for the paper mache lamb from last Christmas’ nativity so if we could all keep our eyes peeled. Oh and if anyone sees James Edwards out of class please send him back as we suspect he is eating glitter off the displays.” You get the picture.
Our penultimate briefing of the last school year was dominated by one piece of “special” news: Iain Duncan Smith was to pay a visit to the school. I’ll give you all a minute to let that sink in. We’re in the last 5 days of the school year. In this hazy end-of-year time walking in a straight line requires effort and concentration and I consider myself lucky if I get through the day without a child crying. In the last 5 days of the school year I am not in the mood for small talk, long meetings, awkward questions from parents or visits from toxic Tory MPs. Thankfully my head teacher was incredibly understanding when I requested that I be kept out of his path as to avoid the awkward situation where I have to refuse to shake his hand. I explain to her that I have taught children who have been evicted from their homes as a result of his Bedroom Tax. I’ve sat with their parents at Parents’ evening whilst they cry and explain the reason their children have been late every day and never read at home or complete homework is because they are staying in their grandparent’s lounge at the moment. I will not shake this man’ s hand.
The Conservatives made no secret of the fact they planned to make £12bn worth of cuts to the welfare state – it was part of their “long-term economic plan” – the “balanced plan” – if you remember. They were also clear about where £2bn of that was being cut from the remaining £10bn was to remain a post-election surprise.
I would like to start by saying yes, I understand there are a few people that take advantage of the benefit system and make false claims. A few. The National Audit Office recently published figures of the Department for Welfare and Pensions payouts. It revealed that, based on projections made from 2013, approximately £1.6bn is lost to benefit fraud every year. NAO also released the tax evasion figures and tax evasion and avoidance costs the country £34bn. Thirty four billion. So forgive me if I don’t get too anxious about benefit fraud.
However the multinationals and individuals not paying tax are not this Government’s priority. They instead have decided to “clamp down” on those pesky good-for-nothings making fraudulent benefit claims. People like Mark Wood a man with a variety of mental health problems. The DWP assessed him as fit to work, removed his benefits and he was found dead in his home 4 months later having starved to death. Or David Clapson an ex-soldier who, having missed two appointments with the DWP, had his weekly benefits of £71.70 taken away and died at home three weeks later with £3.66 in his bank account and no food in his stomach.
All these grim cases were doing Iain Duncan Smith’s reputation no good at all. So the the DWP produced a reassuring leaflet to show, that if people work with them, there is no need for them to die. They used real-life case studies of people whose lives had improved since they had support from the DWP. Read them – they’re quite heart-warming:
You’ve all read the news so there’s no need to go into too much detail. Essentially, unable to find any real-life, positive stories the DWP did what any sensible Government organisation would do and made them up. For most politicians that would be a pretty bad Summer – but then there was the mortality figures.
Unsurprisingly, the DWP had been reluctant to release the stats and were eventually forced under the Freedom of Information Act. The figures reveal that 2,380 people have died within just two weeks of being taken off Employment Support Allowance between December 2011 and February 2014. That’s nearly ninety people a month. Most of the deaths were a result of the medical conditions and disabilities that had prevented them from working and others were suicides. This is clearly a very uncomfortable for the Government and for our society to process. If I was giving them the benefit of the doubt I would suggest this discomfort is the reason for the complete silence from either of the main political parties over this issue. We’ve been distracted by those people in Calais, the Labour leadership election and those girls on the X-Factor that were actually already professional singers (omg.) Jeremy Corbyn has suggested that Iain Duncan Smith should resign although I imagine he’ll just be made Government Chief Whip and be resurrected after the 2020 election as Justice Minister. Or something like that. I’ve often wondered why my generation is so regularly accused as being political apathetic and I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s because came of age under New Labour. Before he got all PFI-y and war-ry there was very little to take to the streets about in the Blair years, apathy was easy. Now is a different time. People are dying as a direct result of Government policy and if that doesn’t get people off the fence and onto the streets I don’t know what will.
I’ll leave the last word on this to a man called Michael Cutler. I have never met Michael and can tell you nothing about him other than that he is called Michael Cutler and he lives in Sidcup but he has been a hero of mine since 2013.