Ah, winter, with its combined joys of dark afternoons, SAD, and plummeting temperatures. Hands up if you wear a hat and gloves indoors in the evenings, so you don’t have to turn the heating on!

Today I’m getting my links from the excellent Carer Watch blog, which I highly recommend you add to your reading lists.

Employment Benefit Reforms “Forcing” Disabled People into Jobseeking.

The Parkinson’s Disease Society revealed that two-thirds of people under the age of 65 with Parkinson’s disease who had responded to its survey, believed they had been wrongly forced into job seeking, despite being physically unable.

The charity said the Employment Support Allowance (ESA) tick-box style medical test, used to determine whether a person is capable of work, did not allow for fluctuating conditions such as Parkinson’s, in which people can be capable one minute, but severely disabled the next.

It believes decisions are based on the opinion of the assessors, who in many cases, do not refer to a person’s medical history, and are untrained in Parkinson’s.

The same goes, of course, for people with a variety of conditions and disabilities, particularly the “invisible” kind like ME and mental illness.

Carer Watch also points to the damage the Welfare Reform Act will do to people on benefits because they’re out of work, and single parents:

On 12 November, it became legal to force unemployed people to work for their benefits – to do 40-hour-weeks for under a third of the minimum wage. The Government’s Welfare Reform Act introduced ‘Work for your Benefit’ pilot schemes, which once completed can be rolled out without any further debate. It also attacked single parents – who face sanctions if they fail to prepare for work outside the home as soon as their child turns three – and people with impairments, disabilities or severe and enduring illnesses.

I strongly agree with their call for solidarity amongst people on benefits, of whatever sort.

The Act seeks to make our worth dependent on work; work defined in the really narrow terms of waged work for someone else’s profit. By making us compete with those in waged work for non-existent jobs, it helps drive down wages and conditions. We all take the brunt as the rich make even more money out of us.

We want solidarity with and from people in low-income, temporary and insecure work. These are the jobs that ‘work-for-your-benefit’ would replace.

We want caring to be recognised as important work in society. Single parents are already working and benefits are their entitlement to a social wage.

We want justice for people with severe or enduring illnesses. The drive to get people off incapacity benefits and Employment and Support Allowance and into work is making people more ill with stress. Only we know what we are capable of and it is wrong for conditions and sanctions to be imposed on us to force us into unsuitable work, unwanted “work-related activity” or “motivation sessions” which press us into their programmes of treatment for addictions and other conditions.

Forcing people to work for under minimum wage is outrageous. If these jobs are available, people seeking work should be given them at the wages they deserve.

And what about carers in particular, and David Cameron’s call for “big society” to take care of those who cannot work, rather than “big government”? Big Society would demand many more carers, yet if removing “big government” means taking away benefits, how are carers to survive? You cannot attack those who are not working for profit as “economically inactive” and at the same time insist they take on more of the workload – not unless you don’t mind being an intellectually bankrupt hypocrite, at any rate.

Carers need strong and reliable support services. They need allowances and benefits. They need recognition and appreciation for the vital work they do. And they need us to speak up for them, just as they so often speak up for us.