Prof Jonathan Rutherford – Editor of SOUNDINGS Journal

Throughout its history Soundings journal has been at the forefront of rethinking welfare policy. In the last decade Britain has been subjected to levels of reform that have undermined the old welfare consensus established in the years following the second world war. The issue of conditionality has shifted from being a reciprocal agreement to becoming a punitive method of controlling and monitoring claimants. The collapse in the value of benefits contributes to the fear and anxiety of being made redundant or becoming sick or disabled. The old welfare safety net is in tatters. The Disability Living Allowance is one of the last remaining universal benefits paid to those who are working and those who are not working and based on the principle of need. We know that the Labour Movement will need to create a new welfare system for the future, one that is not run for profit by business, which keeps people out of poverty and which while requiring a fair reciprocity does not punish or impose workfare. This is a major undertaking but it will be built on benefits like the DLA and for this reason we need to defend it as a priority.

Jonathan Rutherford
editor Soundings


  1. Essentially, it seems to me, we need to replace top-down ‘conditionality’ with balance of bargaining power, ‘Conditionality’ without balance of bargaining power is slavery by various gradations, and those gradations have got closer to the absolute in the time since I first became unwaged as a disabled jobseeker in late 1977.

    Green Party policy of Citizens Income advocates benefit entitlements based upon need — eg, cost of living, and the additional expenses associated with having a disability. These would be easier to administer than the current means-tested benefit system, while greater emphasis would be place on taxing surplus income. Parents need to parent, carers need to care, volunteers should be truly voluntary rather than slaves, people should access lifelong learning rather than lifelong student debt, etc.

    After more than two decades of jobseeker status and serial volunteer as a lifelong disabled person, I applied for Employment & Support Allowance in 2009 when given support in the necessary form filling. Apart from availability of complex-form filling support, the higher income and much higher ‘earnings disregard’ after so many years of much lower jobseeker benefit, I realised that the ‘conditionality’ placed upon JSA claimants was becoming more and more absolute slavery. Under what New Labour started with investment banker David Freud, a jobseeker’s CV created over several hours prior to abduction onto New Deal could be counted as a bonus-granting ‘milestone’ for A4e who did nothing to help me and actually hindered my progress through lack of true disability access.

    My problem after claiming ESA became proving to an Atos quack that I had any disability, and the connivance of DWP officials who should have known from their records that I was no ‘sloucher’ but a person whose progress had been marred by the ‘economic and social barriers’ that turn an impairment into a disability.

    From my experience of having been on disability-related schemes and programmes with JobCentre Plus and its predecessors since 1978, I would argue that one of the things that needs to be changed is an end to ‘confidentiality’ that excluedes the claimant / participant. Eg, the summary ‘vocattional assessment’ aptitude report from an ‘Employment Rehabilitation Centre’ recorded in 1978 that extremely slow working speed severely limited my paid employment prospects. Yet I was never allowed a copy of that report because it was allegedly so ‘confidential’ that I would only be allowed access to it in the ‘supevisory’ presence of a Disablement Resettlement Officer or their assistant. (In those days they were only just starting to close down the total institution mental hospitals; yes, Old Labour started the exodus that under Thatcher became derogatorily known as ‘community care’ because of its underfunded support.)

    Yet in 1999 my Disability Employment Adviser demonstrated how little progress had been made. In advance of a programme review meeting related to my Work Preparation period under Jobcentre Plus funding at a local college. I asked her for a copy of the Action Plan relating to my period there, and she told me that I could not have a photocopy or printout of it, because it was deemed “confidential between the college and the Employment Service.” Fortunately the college was more obliging.

    Against that sort of backdrop, an Atos Medical Services employee who was apparently not even qualified to general practitioner level inferred for my ‘Occupational History': “Last worked four years ago — support worker to adults with learning difficulties,” implying seamless salaried service for the 30+ years that I had been unwaged!

    Thanks to my JSA paperwork for the period of that last waged employment, I was able to prove that it had been less than 16 hours waged employment even.

    So let us make the DWP and their contractors much more accountable to us; let us have true bargaining power and get the bankers off our backs.

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