The Tories have kicked off the next round of 'bash the poor' with their new proposals on incapacity benefit. Their minister has an article in the Daily Telegraph, here, explaining it. His argument goes like this:
The minister met someone who talked to someone else who said that someone else was claiming Incapacity Benefit when they shouldn't (or possibly should, the anecdote isn't clear) have been entitled to. They think that there are 200,000 people (about 6% of the total) who are claiming but shouldn't be - this figure is 'based on the experience of other countries'. So they are going to spend lots of money on re-testing everyone, possibly with the same people who assessed the claimants before, possibly by hiring a whole load of new people.
So a policy based on an anecdote, to hit a target plucked out of thin air, which will cause a lot of worry and hurt to millions of people. There can hardly be anyone who could believe that these officials will have a 100% success rate in correct assessment of who should be entitled to benefit and who shouldn't. This means that thousands of sick and disabled people will find their already meagre income cut by a quarter to hit these arbitrary targets.
This, by the way, is what they actually mean by 'compassionate Conservatism'.
Labour's response has been pathetic (though I guess it's worth being grateful that this is one policy they haven't adopted). Gordon Brown said that, "We have set down our proposals. They are proposals that are detailed to deal with both the flow on to IB and the stock." (You wouldn't have realised he was talking about actual people). Peter Hain's been arguing that Labour will manage the problem more efficiently and that the Tory proposals are expensive and unfunded. It's been left to charities like Mind to make the point that there is already a shortage of people who are qualified to assess mental health problems.
Even after all these years of newspaper stories every day about people fiddling Incapacity Benefit, and no major party challenging the consensus where claimants are abused as 'scroungers', 'workshy', 'cheats', the Tory proposals themselves assume that over 90% of people are genuine claimants, and either need the benefit, or need expensive help and support to be able to work.
On the Daily Telegraph's own website, there was a strong negative reaction to the proposals. Gordon Brown can talk about his vision and leadership all he wants, but here is a perfect opportunity to set out an alternative moral vision - standing up for people who can't work because they are sick, showing how the Tory plans are based on prejudice and lies and tackling the real problems. And instead he talks about the IB flow and stock, as if it were an argument between two middle managers about how to solve a technical problem.