John Harris

Journalist & Author

Do you want people bullied off benefits? Because that’s what’s happening | John Harris

The DWP denies it has targets, but the fact is that cruelty in the form of sanctions is visited on thousands of claimants a week

“A Ukip parliamentary candidate named Lynton Yates this week suggested banning benefit claimants from driving: “Why do they have the privilege to spend the tax payers [sic] hard earned money on a car, when those in work are struggling to keep their own car on the road?” Ukip’s communications people said that Yates’s suggestions were “not Ukip policies and they will not form part of the Ukip manifesto”, and the media rejoiced in the week’s example of the party’s supposed fruitcakery – though at the time of writing, Mr Yates was still Ukip’s choice for the East Midlands seat of Charnwood.

But the problem isn’t his, or Ukip’s, alone. After all, in the sense that he proposed stripping “benefit claimants” of something most people take for granted, Yates’s plans merely sat on the outer edge of what now passes for mainstream thinking. When the state makes it clear that the poor and unfortunate are not to have spare bedrooms, and embraces the idea of stopping them buying booze and fags and shredding their entitlements if they have more than two kids, is it really such a leap to deny them non-public transport too? For all its inanity, there is a sadism at the heart of the Yates idea that is not a million miles away from the cruelties increasingly built into the benefits system: cruelties most of us would not put up with for a minute, but which are visited on thousands of people every week.

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