It all began with a telephone call. Earlier this month, Malcolm Parker, who has not worked since his spine collapsed three years ago, was rung out of the blue by an official from the Department of Work and Pensions. There was only one question: did his wife work more than 24 hours a week? Yes, said Parker, reasoning honesty was the best policy.
A fortnight later a letter dropped on the Parkers’ doormat. The department wrote bluntly to say his contributory employment and support allowance (ESA) would disappear on Monday. Parker was taken aback. Having worked for 44 years in the construction trade and diligently paid his national insurance, he had expected to be protected should the worst happen. His wife Ruth was at first perplexed and then increasingly angry. Although her husband can visit the toilet by himself, with some difficulty, she comes home every lunchtime to feed and check on him.
“Malcolm is in a wheelchair. He’s 62. He can’t drive. He can’t concentrate and gets horrendous headaches because of the medication he’s on. He really cannot have a long conversation. To be honest he spends a lot of time on the sofa. I can’t see how he could work.” She says the £99 a week her husband received from the state was a “lifeline. It’s not right that Malcolm paid into the system and now he needs help it is not going to pay out.”
This week, about 70,000 seriously ill, disabled people will lose some or all of their £99-a-week allowance, in perhaps the most swingeing welfare cut proposed by ministers. In the past the public were told that by paying into national insurance, they would be guaranteed benefits should they find themselves unable to work due to sickness or disability.
29th April 2012