GP: "It is too difficult for ill people to claim benefits"

"The government withholding funds from sick and needy people through a bureaucratic claim system."

The British Medical Journal has a piece from a GP, Dr Anne Dyson, who writes that it is too difficult for ill people to claim benefits (£):

I have worked in the NHS as a principal and partner in general practice providing primary care for patients since 1986. I have met patients who have told me of the difficulties they’d had claiming sickness benefits, but I had previously had no personal experience of the system. . .

I was shocked by the bureaucracy of a system that is supposed to be a safety net for people who fall sick through no fault of their own and have paid national insurance contributions all their lives. Fortunately, I am not reliant on receiving any state benefits for my living expenses because I have sufficient private provision, but I am sure that many of my patients are not in such a lucky position. Furthermore, I do not feel ill or unwell as such, otherwise I might not have had the strength and perseverance to persist with my claim. And nor do I have hearing loss or a speech impairment, which would make a telephone interview impossible. I am also organised enough to know where to find my birth and marriage certificates and so on.

It is a scandal that the system is so complicated: it is likely to fail the very people who are most in need of help. I suspect this may be a deliberate government ploy to reduce the number of benefit claims and reduce the overall cost of welfare. If so this should be publicised and shown for what it is: the government withholding funds from sick and needy people through a bureaucratic claim system.

It's a view which is rarely allowed into the media, yet this is the natural end point of arguments that we should be more aggressive in withdrawing sickness benefits from people who "don't need them". In order to do that, you have to subject thousands of people who do need them to batteries of tests designed to prove that they aren't fraudulently claiming. And all of this in a system which suffers very low levels of fraud. The DWP estimated that the disability living allowance – no longer granted, due to reforms by the department – had a fraud rate of just 0.5 per cent.

Protestors campaign against ATOS, a company responsible for assessing benefit claimants. Photograph: Getty Images

Alex Hern is a technology reporter for the Guardian. He was formerly staff writer at the New Statesman. You should follow Alex on Twitter.

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Why Theresa May won't exclude students from the net migration target

The Prime Minister believes the public would view the move as "a fix". 

In a letter to David Cameron shortly after the last general election, Philip Hammond demanded that students be excluded from the net migration target. The then foreign secretary, who was backed by George Osborne and Sajid Javid, wrote: "From a foreign policy point of view, Britain's role as a world class destination for international students is a highly significant element of our soft power offer. It's an issue that's consistently raised with me by our foreign counterparts." Universities and businesses have long argued that it is economically harmful to limit student numbers. But David Cameron, supported by Theresa May, refused to relent. 

Appearing before the Treasury select committee yesterday, Hammond reignited the issue. "As we approach the challenge of getting net migration figures down, it is in my view essential that we look at how we do this in a way that protects the vital interests of our economy," he said. He added that "It's not whether politicians think one thing or another, it's what the public believe and I think it would be useful to explore that quesrtion." A YouGov poll published earlier this year found that 57 per cent of the public support excluding students from the "tens of thousands" target.

Amber Rudd, the Home Secretary, has also pressured May to do so. But the Prime Minister not only rejected the proposal - she demanded a stricter regime. Rudd later announced in her conference speech that there would be "tougher rules for students on lower quality courses". 

The economic case for reform is that students aid growth. The political case is that it would make the net migration target (which has been missed for six years) easier to meet (long-term immigration for study was 164,000 in the most recent period). But in May's view, excluding students from the target would be regarded by the public as a "fix" and would harm the drive to reduce numbers. If an exemption is made for one group, others will inevitably demand similar treatment. 

Universities complain that their lobbying power has been reduced by the decision to transfer ministerial responsibility from the business department to education. Bill Rammell, the former higher education minister and the vice-chancellor of Bedfordshire, said in July: “We shouldn’t assume that Theresa May as prime minister will have the same restrictive view on overseas students that Theresa May the home secretary had”. Some Tory MPs hoped that the net migration target would be abolished altogether in a "Nixon goes to China" moment.

But rather than retreating, May has doubled-down. The Prime Minister regards permanently reduced migration as essential to her vision of a more ordered society. She believes the economic benefits of high immigration are both too negligible and too narrow. 

Her ambition is a forbidding one. Net migration has not been in the "tens of thousands" since 1997: when the EU had just 15 member states and the term "BRICS" had not even been coined. But as prime minister, May is determined to achieve what she could not as home secretary. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.