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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Free movement isn't free: the truth about EU immigration

The UK does not need to leave the single market to restrict European migration - it already can.

In the Brext negotiations, the government has unashamedly prioritised immigration control over the economy. The UK must leave the single market, ministers say, in order to restrict free movement. For decades, they lament, European immigration has been "uncontrolled", making it impossible to meet the government's target of reducing net migration to "tens of thousands" a year.

It's worth noting that non-EU immigration alone (which ministers can limit) remains more than ten times this level (owing to the economic benefits). But more importantly, liberals and conservatives alike talk of "free movement" as if it is entirely free - it isn't.

Though EU citizens are initially permitted to live in any member state, after three months they must prove that they are working (employed or self-employed), a registered student or have "sufficient resources" (savings or a pension) to support themselves and not be "a burden on the benefits system". Far from being unconditional, then, the right to free movement is highly qualified.

The irony is that the supposedly immigration-averse UK has never enforced these conditions. Even under Theresa May, the Home Office judged that the cost of recording entry and exit dates was too high. Since most EU migrants are employed (and contribute significantly more in taxes than they do in benefits), there was no economic incentive to do so.

For some Brexiteers, of course, a job is not adequate grounds for an immigrant to remain. But even beyond implementing existing law, there is potential for further reform of free movement - even within the single market.

As Nick Clegg recently noted, shortly after the referendum, "a number of senior EU figures" were exploring a possible trade-off: "a commitment by the UK to pursue the least economically disruptive Brexit by maintaining participation in the single market and customs union, in return for a commitment to the reform of freedom of movement, including an 'emergency brake' on unusually high levels of intra-EU immigration." Liechtenstein, a member of the single market, has recently imposed quotas on EU migrants.

Yet with some exceptions, these facts are rarely heard in British political debate. Many Labour MPs, like their Conservative counterparts, support single market withdrawal to end free movement. The unheard truth that it isn't "free" could yet lead the UK to commit an avoidable act of economic self-harm.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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