Crackdown on fraud – and the vulnerable

The Guardian, Wednesday 9 December 2009
Minister Helen Goodman claims she agrees "that the early years of a child's life are so important" (Letters, 3 December). Yet Labour, with almost 100 women MPs, many calling themselves feminists, voted on 10 November for benefit sanctions against single parents of children aged three upwards, if they refused "work-related activity". The "family-friendly" provisions Ms Goodman takes credit for were won in a knock-down fight in the Lords spearheaded by carers, including breastfeeding mothers, and women with disabilities. Labour already had in place that mothers with newborns had to report for "work-focused interviews". We won exemption from interviews until the child is one; exemption from work-related activity, if there is no childcare; and for mothers of disabled children receiving any care benefits, among other concessions.

Better-off families can choose for one parent to stay at home, but children from low-income families are denied their right to care from someone who loves them. Few employers allow flexible working when teenage children need and deserve attention. At a recent single parents' conference, minister Yvette Cooper heard the profound problems mothers have of job insecurity, as well as discrimination against part-time workers. On top of coping alone with debt, high rents, stress, children's behavioural problems, the enforced double day is a recipe for family breakdown. Professionals at the conference showed they know these problems inside out, but they do not protest publicly.

Kim Sparrow Single Mothers' Self-Defence

Claire Glasman WinVisible (women with visible and invisible disabilities)


• It's ironic that the day the government announced a blitz on benefit fraud, our 39-year-old severely disabled daughter who has very high support needs received a summons for fraud, with a substantial penalty charge levied, in threatening language, from our local NHS Fraud Office for a prescription from April. The prescription was ticked in the appropriate box as free, as she has always been in receipt of free medication, as disabled from birth. She has lived at the same address for 13 years, has not changed her GP and, unfortunately, is reliant on several medications that require constant repeat prescriptions that are ongoing.

Fortunately we, as parents, are able to challenge this inexcusable action, that was seemingly made without any checks on who she was or her status. Now the "blitz" is being rolled out, how many other of our most vulnerable and poorest citizens are going to be treated in such a way, and traumatised in the run up to Christmas?

Name and address supplied


•How will Tory plans to slash already inadequate benefits
support people suffering from depression?

H Powell, Alvechurch, Worcestershire


Letter opposing the Welfare Reform Act 2007 which introduced Employment and Support Allowance:


Disabled and sick fear welfare penalties

People with disabilities and long-term ill health, single mothers, pensioners and other claimants oppose the welfare reform bill, which passed its second reading on Monday with little coverage. We face benefit penalties if we don't take up training or medical treatment, erasing our right to consent to treatment. More private agencies in the benefits system opens the way to profit and thus to more disability discrimination, bullying, sexism and racism. Doctors are to get patients "back to work". But we're already working. Coping with disability in an inaccessible, prejudiced world is hard work. Many disabled women are also carers, meeting other people's needs while lacking help. A quarter of single parents (mostly mothers) have some kind of disability.

The Disability Rights Commission and charities claiming to represent low-income people promote jobs as the answer to poverty and discrimination. DRC chair Bert Massie writes that 84% of mothers of disabled children are "not working" (Letters, March 13). Hasn't he heard of caring? What's to happen to those who need care if we're all out at work?

Disabled adults are getting poorer as more of us take jobs - the lowest paid, of course. If mothers don't attend the work-focused interviews, now more frequent, their benefits are also threatened. Suicides, destitution, rape and the exploitation of women forced to depend on violent men increase with benefit cuts. People are forced to shoplift or do sex work to survive, leading to Asbos and prison. We are treated as if society can't afford us. But the military budget continues to rise, bringing death and disability to thousands, with little or no discussion about whether we can afford that.
Claire Glasman
Women with visible and invisible disabilities
Denise Lonsdale
Bolton TUC Unemployed Advice Centre
Tony Greenstein
Brighton Unemployed Workers Centre
Niki Adams
Legal Action for Women
and five others