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Sick and Disabled Forced Into Unpaid Labor

Mariam Kemple

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Feb. 22, 2012

Since coming to power, the current UK Government has used the financial crisis as a smokescreen to implement ideological cuts to services. Recently, those targeted have been the long-term sick and persons with disabilities. Under new proposals in the Welfare Reform Bill, these groups face being forced to work for free or risk having their benefits cut – benefits that provide a literal lifeline.

Although these changes will technically only affect people assessed to be fit for work, the current assessment system has been roundly denounced as deeply flawed – with 40 percent of claimants challenging decisions and 70 percent of such appeals being successful. But regardless of ability to work, forced, unpaid labor is abuse in itself. Furthermore, it reduces the number of paid jobs in the marketplace at a time of serious financial uncertainty.

The Welfare Reform Bill has already been widely attacked by charities and professionals for arbitrarily reducing support to the most vulnerable. This even led to a revolt in the House of Lords which voted against some of the bill’s most controversial points. Yet, Prime Minister David Cameron has fought back by dubiously stretching ‘financial privilege’ to ensure Parliament backs his plans.

However, this latest uproar must surely shame the Government into making some concessions. When the extremely vulnerable – from those with mental health problems to those with terminal cancer – are at risk of exploitation the response can, and should, only be shock and disgust.

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