In July 2016, following a sexting scandal, the Work and Pensions Secretary Stephen Crabb was dismissed and replaced with Damian Green, the third Work and Pensions Secretary in four months. In his seven months as the helm, he has kept a low profile. Iain Duncan Smith was always pontificating on the news about the evils of people who had the audacity to be ill, redundant or live in an economy recovering from one of the worst recessions in history. Green, however, prefers to stay under the radar and given his appalling track record it’s hardly surprising.
Damian Green admittedly was handed a poisoned chalice. Social security is in a terrible state. Job centres have gone from organisations that help people find jobs, to sanction factories policed by GS4 security guards. Sanctions have gone from being a last resort, imposed on the so-called ‘doleites’ (who account for a negligible amount of unemployed people) to being handed out, in order to fulfil targets and quotas (job centre staff who give out insufficient sanctions incur the wrath of their supervisor). Universal Credit has gone from replacing every single means-tested benefit, to replacing six and has been repeatedly delayed. Personal Independence Payment (the replacement for Disability Living Allowance) is behind schedule, and recently the UN Committee on the Rights of Disabled Persons found that the UK government was guilty of ‘grave and systematic violations’ of disabled peoples’ rights.
Damian Green, however, is handling the situation in the same way Captain Smith handled iceberg warnings, and is pressing on regardless. Have things gotten worse under Green? Yes and no. Yes they have worsened, but this more a continuation of the work started by John Hutton in 2005, rather than a new direction.
Here is a cross section of Damian Green’s victims:
Nicola Mackenzie: Nicola was a 19 year old single mother who had her tax credits stopped after Concentrix accused her of being married to a deceased 74 year old . When Nicola rang them to explain her alleged husband was dead (he was the previous tenant in her flat) they stated they would need to speak to him, to confirm he was not her husband.
Debbie Balandis: 40 year old Debbie had her tax credits stopped after Concentrix decided she was in a relationship with the corner shop Martin McColl.
Melanie Woolcock: Single mother Melanie was wrongfully imprisoned for 40 days for non-payment of council tax. Melanie had lost her part-time job and was unable to find a new one due to depression. She was released after the high court ruled that the council had failed to assess her financial needs.
Lawrence Bond: 59 year old Lawrence died of a heart attack within months of being declared ‘fit for work’ (his appeal was pending).
Elaine Dyer: 59 year old Elaine has severe depression, cannot walk far due to Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease. In august 2016 she was required to attend a Work Capability Assessment. She phoned them to explain she had missed her bus and would be late. Her assessment was consequently cancelled and her Employment and Support Allowance (the replacement for Incapacity Benefit) was stopped.
Alistair Campbell: 41 year old Alistair reduced his work hours to care for his 9 year old son. He applied for Universal Credit. During the first ten weeks, he received a single penny.
Wendy Mitchell. Due to degenerative Alzheimers, Wendy requires instructions to make a cup of coffee and her meals are cooked by her daughter. Yet the assessor concluded she could “prepare and cook a meal unaided”. She lost her Personal Independence Payment on the spurious grounds her condition had improved (which is medically impossible).
William Miller: William is practically housebound can barely walk to the end of his road (and is required to rest his foot, to avoid amputation), yet his assessors concluded he could walk to his GP (which is a mile and a half away) and was, therefore, fit for work.
These people represent the tip of the iceberg. They are by no means exceptional cases. Damian Green’s handling of these problems has been at best incompetent and at worst draconian. Concentrix has since been released from their contract and is no longer responsible for tax credits, but Green insists the private sector should have an increased role in the welfare state. Capita is still responsible for PIP assessments (despite the BMA stating that they are “putting patient care and safety at risk”). Maximus have caused an alarming fall in the number of claimants qualifying for Employment and Support Allowance. Yet Green has no intention of dismissing them. Typically whenever someone dies, loses their house, is rushed to hospital with malnutrition etc., a copy and paste statement is released by the DWP stating that their ‘reforms’ are making work pay and are making it easier to find work (claims which are not supported by reality). They refuse to take any responsibility for the lives they have ruined. Make no bones about it: Damian Green is systematically dismantling and privatising the welfare state; he must be stopped.