The Daily Telegraph reports today that "Up to two thirds of people claiming incapacity benefit are not entitled to the state handout, the Government's new welfare adviser warns today." What they're really reporting, if you read the next few paragraphs, is that this investment banker David Freud has plucked a figure out of the air and they are very happy to make hay with it. Reporting more suited to the Daily Mail, I would have thought. Compounded a bit lower down the page by them publishing a picture of "David Freud the new Work and Pensions Secretary". No, DT, the Work and Pensions Secretary is James Purnell, he of photoshop fame. Perhaps this is a new form of photoshopping.
Yes, we know there are too many people on Incapacity Benefit. Successive governments have put them there, starting with Michael Howard. That is a fact, not a claim, as the Beeb has it. But you don't solve that problem by throwing numbers around like Northern Rock financial managers, and taking cheap shots at those in this position.
What is most needed is a change of attitude among politicians, and in those officials in the DWP responsible for implementing changes. It doesn't work to blather about chucking people back into work - that's just posturing for middle England's benefit. Those who should be job seeking rather than on incapacity benefit should be put there; those who are cheating the system should be pursued. But it should not be done in such a way that genuine claimants are hounded or belittled. And above all it should not be done in such a way that those who are on the rather wide borderline between ill health and fitness are made to feel miserable. There is a way to be firm, forgiving, fair and flexible all at the same time, but not when you're posturing about how many more people you can make miserable than the other party.