End benefit sanctions … sack Maximus; sack capitalism!

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[pdf 700 800]US private healthcare company Maximus has been hired to follow in the footsteps of the now infamous French firm Atos after being contracted by the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) to carry out Work Capability Assessments (WCAs) on people receiving sickness and disability benefits.

‘Assessments’ consist of an interview with one of the firm’s employees (no medical training required) and a quick computerised test. On the basis of such ‘evidence’, thousands of sick and disabled people have been ruled ‘fit to work’ in the last two years, and have had their benefits substantially reduced or stripped away entirely.

Pre-assessment questionnaires are tailored towards physical disability, so people with ‘invisible’ illnesses and severe mental-health issues have also been found ‘fit for work’. Interview questions like “How did you get here today?” have been used to tip the scales. Apparently, “By bus” is the wrong answer for a person on disability benefit!

[b]Bleeding the sick and disabled[/b]

Atos’s poisonous legacy includes leaving some of the most vulnerable members of our society with no means of support at all. Having been ruled fit and transferred onto the minimal flat-rate ‘jobseekers allowance’, many have had their benefits stopped altogether after being unable to attend Jobcentre appointments.

There have also been many cases of Atos ruling people with terminal cancer, advanced cases of Parkinson’s disease or severe MS as ‘fit to work’.

Unsurprisingly, charities and healthcare workers report that a growing number of suicides are resulting from this inhuman treatment and the financial desperation it so often leads to.

Many more victims of this pernicious system have been forced to turn to food banks to get a meal. These are largely church and/or community-based projects (often cynically ‘supported’ by supermarket giants in a bid to sell an extra food item per customer while proving how ‘philanthropic’ they are), and the general rule is that a person can only use them 2-3 times in a 12-month period. Clearly, they are for the most desperate and short-term cases only – they can offer no long-term solution to the absolute penury into which people are being pushed.

Comfortably living down to this bloodsucking example, Maximus already has its teeth into the NHS, running the privatised Fit for Work occupational health service, designed to bully those on sick leave back to work. In some parts of Britain, it also runs the ‘work programme’ into which those found ‘fit for work’ will find themselves pushed.

Maximus is notorious in the US for violating wage law, for racist discrimination, and for fraud, dodgy expenses claims, workers failing drug and alcohol tests, etc. Its executives have stated that they will not respond to protests, and they are renowned for paying hefty lobbying sums to US politicians. After all, what do the sick matter when compared to the goal of ‘maximus’-ing profits?

[b]Fighting back[/b]

Across Britain, a determined campaign has been waged against WCAs by groups such as Disabled People Against the Cuts (DPAC). These admirable activists have put constant pressure on the government, raised public awareness and given help and advice to those who have been affected by unfounded Atos rulings.

It is widely believed that these campaigns were a large factor in Atos’s decision to withdraw from their WCA contract three months ahead of schedule.

Meanwhile, although it is popular to blame the ConDems for every evil suffered by the working class in Britain today, we need to understand that Labour are not about to ride in on a white steed and save us.

After all, it was Labour which in 2007 brought in the Welfare Reform Act, replacing Incapacity Benefit with Employment Support Allowance and Personal Capability Assessments with the Work Capability Assessments, all in order to make the tests more stringent and force the sick into (non-existent) work or lower benefits – to the detriment of their physical and mental health and wellbeing.

Moreover, Labour has promised to retain the illegal workfare system, which forces the unemployed to work for their benefit cheque (a payment far lower than 40 hours of the minimum wage).

Labour supported the introduction and implementation of the bedroom tax (its belated about-face is purely cosmetic), and Labour brought us PFI – the cunning system of bankrupting public services through building contracts.

Meanwhile, its latest minimum wage proposal is for a derisory £8 by 2020! No further proof is needed that Labour’s allegiance is to the capitalist ruling class and not to workers.

We have to face facts: the capitalist system has never offered and never will offer a way out of the problems that face our class. Reforms gained through parliament have been shown time and again to bring a [i]temporary respite[/i] at best – designed merely to pacify people who are beginning to fight back.

But what has been given with one hand can be taken away with the other, and we are back where we started, with it all to do again.

In their fight to defend their wealth and privileges, our rulers gain much by creating the stigma that presently attaches to people on benefits. Such stigma provides convenient scapegoats and creates division between workers.

But the unemployed, the sick and disabled, immigrants … these are not our enemies. Our enemies are the handful of ruthless exploiters who steal our wealth, and who force the burden of their constant wars and economic crises onto our backs.

A ruling class that sits by and watches as its poorest people are ejected from their homes and slowly starved, while keeping in its own hands the ill-gotten gains plundered from half the world, is not fit to rule. A system that creates so much and yet cannot provide a secure and decent standard of living to all is – like a Tesco sandwich at a food bank – long past its sell-by date.

We need a new social order, which will allow workers to use our resources and labouring power to solve our own problems. But this new order will not fall from the sky. We need organisation.

We must support every grassroots campaign that is fighting today to protect the interests of workers, and we must work to link all these little rivulets together into a mighty and unstoppable tide.

All the apparently separate issues: benefit sanctioning, universal credit, food banks, the bedroom tax, homelessness, privatisation of health and education services, racist scapegoating, war … are part of the same fight; the fight against our common enemy – the capitalist imperialist system itself.

The CPGB-ML stands in solidarity with all those resisting Maximus and resisting benefit sanctions.

We are opposed to the degradation and dehumanisation of the sick, disabled and unemployed.

We demand secure, well-paid jobs for the healthy and decent support for all those unable to work.

If the system cannot provide these things, the system will have to go.

[b]Join us![/b]