Let me raise a glass to your festive generosity. You, the taxpayer, have showered your charity on the needy and deserving: otherwise known as Atos and Capita, two private companies that have been given more than £500m of your money since 2013.
Your munificence is boundless: you don’t expect returns from your donations, given to these companies to provide effective personal independence payment assessments (PIP) for disabled people. No: despite years of being solemnly told that there simply isn’t enough money to properly fund services and the welfare state, you have made it your mission to look after the hard-done-by shareholders of state-dependent companies.
I realise it’s Christmas and anger should be reserved for burning the sprouts or arguing over the TV remote, but seriously, you should be teed off. Companies such as Atos and Capita are paid to carry out what are, frankly, pretty degrading government tests on sick and disabled people to see if they really do deserve benefits.
Many claimants fail these tests, forcing them to endure a long period of anxiety and worry, and then go through a stressful appeal process. According to figures obtained by the Daily Mirror, six out of 10 of the 90,000 claimants who appealed over PIP decisions won at tribunal. So the companies get a fat cheque, courtesy of HM Taxpayer, disabled people get treated appallingly, and all for what?
This is, in the grand scheme of things, a rich country. One of the richest countries that has ever existed, in fact. The problem is how we decide to allocate the nation’s huge wealth, much of it concentrated in all too few hands. Hundreds of millions are doled out to companies like Atos and Capita, while our government does all it can to prise paltry sums of money from the hands of disabled people.
Just look at the society in which we live. Banks plunge the country into economic calamity, get bailed out with huge sums of money and yet so little is asked in return. Train companies that offer an embarrassing, uncomfortable service in exchange for rip-off ticket prices get subsidised to the tune of billions. Accountancy firms get lucrative state contracts to help draw up tax laws, then tell their wealthy clients how to get around them. The state has to step in to top up wages that millions cannot afford to live on, while landlords charging extortionate rents get billions in housing benefit. I could go on. And yet – while those at the top enjoy the generosity of the state – our country strips social security away from disabled people, fails to build housing, provide jobs with a decent living wage, and hacks away at essential services.
Atos and Capita are just two striking examples, but there are countless others. It is unjust, unfair, but above all, it defies basic common sense. This is, to repeat, a wealthy country. Let’s start spending that wealth on people who need it, not the failed vested interests which certainly do not.