Says ex-labourer Robert Jones, of Merthyr Tydfil
Worked up … ex-labourer Robert Jones says many people in his town refuse to get a job
IT was once an industrial powerhouse – important enough for Admiral Lord Nelson to visit its foundry where the 104 guns for HMS Victory were struck.
The town of Merthyr Tydfil in the Welsh valleys was built on back-breaking graft in its coal mines and steelworks.
After the heavy industry declined, it developed a new notoriety — as the sick note capital of Britain.
Figures released in 2011 showed 14.5 per cent of the working age population were claiming incapacity benefits, the highest in the UK.
Yesterday a chippy in Merthyr’s sprawling Gurnos estate was doing a brisk lunchtime trade with its £2 sausage batter “special”.
Sian Jones walked out in her pyjamas carrying two portions of chips. “All my family are on benefits,” admitted Sian, 22. “I’m on the sick for three years for depression and coming off the booze.”
While many genuinely sick people claim benefits here, others, locals say, are happy to cheat the system.
In November, dad-of-two Terrence Hutchings, 65, admitted in a Merthyr court to cheating taxpayers out of £55,000. While working as a bingo caller, he claimed incapacity benefit, a pension, housing and council tax relief plus income support.
Others on incapacity benefit admit being unable to work through drink or drug problems.
Merthyr Police found amphetamines worth £250 and £120-worth of cannabis when they raided the home of Carl James, 50, who was on incapacity benefit at the time.
It emerged in court last year that his daily consumption was seven grams of amphetamines, ten joints and around nine pints of beer.
Retired labourer Robert Jones, 75, said: “Work brings self-esteem but many here don’t seem to want to know. A lot of people just want to watch telly and get benefits.”
For decades both Tory and Labour governments “parked” people on sickness benefits to make unemployment numbers look better.
Now the annual bill for Disability Living Allowance (DLA) is £13.2billion, shared among 3.2million adults.
But we are facing a revolution in how disability handouts are made.
DLA is being replaced with Personal Independent Payments (PIPs) and many incapacity claimants will be reassessed and may now be deemed suitable for work.
Disabled People’s minister Esther McVey said last month: “By October 2015 we will have reassessed 560,000 claimants.
“Of those, 160,000 will get a reduced award and 170,000 will get no award. However, 230,000 will get the same or more support.”
Atos Healthcare has a £110million contract with the Government to run these work capability assessments plus a £400million deal to assess mobility benefits.
Critics say the tests are flawed, with one in six deemed fit to work winning an appeal against the decision. Last week former Labour minister Michael Meacher accused Atos of “ruthlessly” pressurising the sick and disabled into work.
Atos say their “fully trained” medical staff follow Government guidelines and “make no decisions on a person’s eligibility for benefits”.
Chronic lung disease patient Marilyn Blakeman, 58, says she has been stripped of £340-a-month Employment and Support Allowance.
The grandmother, from Barry Island, has been told to look for work.
She said: “It’s crazy. I go on a breathing machine 12 times a day and have to be near a toilet. So the sort of work I can get is very restricted. It’s ridiculous. I’m genuinely ill, not one of these shirkers.”
Figures obtained by The Sun show that, across Britain, sickness benefits for drug users and alcoholics shot up by £34million last year.
In total they received £327million, claiming their addiction to booze or drugs made them too ill to work, up from £293million the year before.
These DWP figures were released under Freedom of Information laws.
Matthew Sinclair, boss of the TaxPayers’ Alliance, wants the Government to scrap handouts to addicts.
But Dr Victoria Winckler of poverty charity the Bevan Foundation in Merthyr, said: “Half the jobs have disappeared here since the 80s.
“The long-term unemployed tend to get sick through low self-esteem, which leads to drinking too much.
“Merthyr has a high number of incapacity claimants because of this. And most seem genuine. The new Atos tests means a lot of ill people are being deemed fit to work.”
Merthyr is bracing itself for the sweeping changes.
David Jones, 61, who has been on Jobseeker’s Allowance for four years, said: “There’s little work here — no wonder so many are depressed.”
But there is little sympathy from retired shop worker Sally Thomson, 81.
She insisted: “There is work but a lot of people just want an easy ride on benefits.”
By NICK BIDDLECOMBE
NICK, 30, of Southampton, was paralysed after a “tombstoning” accident in a river aged 17. His disability benefit is a lifeline. He says:
I am completely dependent on my disability benefit.
I don’t use it on luxuries but on rent, bills and food. After I’ve paid for essentials, I have about £35 a week left, just enough to give me a bit of independence.
This week I have a big bill so I won’t be able to go out and about. Without the disability benefit, my life would be unbearable. I’d be trapped in my house.
I can’t work, I’m wheelchair-bound and I need 24-hour care. But people read about cheats and assume everyone who claims disability benefit is lazy. That’s not true.
SOURCE: The Sun