Only a matter of weeks to go now for the consultation on the social care green paper: Care, Support, Independence: Shaping the future of care together. But I won’t be the first service user or carer to say that we can’t consider the green paper without also taking into account the Welfare Reform Bill.
Recently our attention has been focused particularly on the links between benefits and social care because of the disturbing proposal contained in the green paper to end greatly valued universal benefits like Attendance Allowance and Disability Living Allowance and instead put the cash into the discretionary budgets local authorities have for means and needs tested social care. Currently the number of signatures opposing this on the Prime Minister’s website totals nearly 17,000.
Vicious and dishonest campaigns
The Welfare Reform Bill is a very different matter to the social care green paper. It was rushed into existence by a government determined to reduce the number of people on benefits because of the political stick it felt it was getting for being ‘soft on scroungers’. I wonder now that the Sun has switched sides whether the government will regain the courage to ignore the vicious and dishonest campaigns that tabloid has against powerless groups like people on benefits, refugees and asylum seekers, since there’s nothing to be gained now by brown-nosing its proprietor.
But the government committed itself to ‘getting one million people off incapacity benefits’ and as the party conferences have highlighted, benefit reform which makes life more difficult for people who are poor and marginalised or debarred from the labour market, is still seen by politicians of many colours as an easy vote winner.
The Welfare Reform Bill has been a mess. A major job as it has gone through parliamentary process has simply been to try and make it workable. But its ethical stance continues to be highly problematic. The essential problem that the Department for Work and Pensions still seems to have is that it frames people as intentionally dependent. Its model of human nature must be close to that of Machiavelli. People are, as best we can judge, in its eyes, inherently dishonest, lazy and on the scrounge.
Green paper undermined
All the positive rhetoric of the social care green paper, with its emphasis on inclusion, involvement and support are undermined by the DWP and its Welfare Reform Bill which are framed in terms of people’s deficits and pathology. Having a job is not seen as a right which the DWP and JobCentre Plus have conspicuously failed adequately to support people to secure. Instead it has been seen as a responsibility which it is assumed people want to shirk. You have to prove you need any help and then face the most negative stereotyping. Instead there should be an awareness that by ensuring people the support they need, they are likely to be able to live more independently and make the kind of contribution to their community most of us want to make.
You can’t have a social care green paper based on the philosophy of independent living successfully co-existing with a Welfare Reform Bill that still seems to suspect people who are poor, older, disabled or chronically ill of being the internal enemy. Something has to give – and my real fear is that it will end up being people at the mercy of such policy.
But there’s a real alternative. As Conservative plans to attack poor and powerless people become clearer, government might do well to remember that its positive history and the historic value people have attached to it have been as the creator of the welfare state and advocate of the disadvantaged.