CamdenNewJournal

The independent London newspaper

Shocking reality of the government’s welfare reforms

16 February, 2018

Lawrence Bond collapsed and died months after being ruled fit to work

EMPLOYMENT figures may be high right now, but at what cost?

The story of the parcel courier who died after skipping medical appoint­ments for fear of being fined is a terrible indictment of 21st-century Britain.

The courier company DPD’s system of fining its drivers who cannot cover their rounds has been described as “appalling” by the chairman of the House of Commons Work and Pensions Committee, Frank Field.

The same committee published findings of a major inquiry into what has been one of the most disturbing scandals in recent years – benefits sanctions. Largely unreported by the national media, the committee heard evidence from thousands of individuals over several weeks, including a cache of powerful testimony from “clients” at the Camden Citizens Advice.

The CAB, as it was formerly known, and the Kentish Town-based campaign group WinVisible have worked tirelessly and selflessly to support many residents who have been stripped of their benefits over the years.

I, Daniel Blake director Ken Loach

Many need help with complex forms and help to negotiate the legalities of an appeals process. One of the cruellest elements of the government’s welfare reforms is that once an assessment has been made that someone is fit to work, benefits are stopped immediately. Stripped of income in this way, rent arrears will follow. All will need help with food. Isolated and beaten down the victims have no confidence of overturning the might of the state.

All these woes and more are listed in the terrible bundle of evidence supplied to the committee from Camden. But perhaps the most memorable case in recent years was the death of Lawrence Bond, who collapsed and died months after being ruled fit to work and on his way back from Kentish Town Job Centre.

I, Daniel Blake director Ken Loach and Labour’s John McDonnell came and spoke at a protest in Kentish Town. Mr Blake’s inquest was over in 10 minutes, nothing short of a whitewash. No one was ever held to account. Stories like this abound. We reported the case of a well-known tenants’ rep from Kilburn who suffered heart failure during the hearing of his appeal. A man with one working arm was told he could go back to work.

How much longer will this go on?

Mr Field, in his conclusion, referred to the “remarkable consistency and clarity of themes that emerged through thousands of individual accounts”. No one should have any doubt the process needs urgent change.

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