Grace was persuaded to have her kidney dialysis at home rather than travel to a distant hospital. To qualify for a cheaper electricity tariff, she gets up at 3 am for each four hour session. She has to pay the bedroom tax for the “spare room” taken up by the dialysis machine.
This is one of many bleak human stories in this powerful piece of research by Jeremy Seabrook. It conveys the daily reality of people’s lives under the government’s benefits regime, where claimants are frequently sanctioned, often arbitrarily. Benefit sanctioning rose more than tenfold over a two year period so that in the year leading to April 2014, 16% of claimants had been sanctioned.
“I dread listening to the news,” is one recurring refrain Seabrook hears in his interviews, as every new budget brings a fresh attack on the poor. The bedroom tax is a major source of injustice. Only 6% of those affected have been able to downsize their accommodation: the rest are financially penalised through no fault of their own.
Privatised Work Capability Assessments are another: over a three year period, 2,380 people died within 14 days of being declared fit for work by ATOS, which ended its contract in 2015. Within nine months of US company Maximus taking over, the cost had doubled to £579 million annually and there was a backlog of over 280,000 cases.
Alongside marketisation in the NHS and education, welfare privatisation is part of a broader agenda where public services are being trashed in the pursuit of private profit. In the case of welfare, this is accompanied by a policy of punishing and demonising those on benefits. Labour urgently needs to offer a different vision.