Coming "off the sick"

Image copyright bbc
Image caption Phillipstown in the Rhymney Valley

There was a time when after just about every briefing where ministers spelled out, again, that the money the Welsh government had to spend on big, one-off projects was about to be cut dramatically and that the money it had to spend on day-to-day healthcare and education was about to start falling fast too, there was an official that used to catch my eye and mouth one word: "be-ne-fits".

He was reminding me of a conversation we had a long time ago. What he said then was that yes, slashing the capital budget would grab the headlines and cause great concern. Gradually taking away from revenue funding would guarantee constant scrutiny and stories, a drip-drip of worry for workers all over Wales.

But you wait, he said. Wait until changes to the benefit system kick in. He was reasonable enough not to deny the need to tackle it. He was honest enough to admit he was relieved the headlines would be directed at the government in London but he was convinced that the full force of tough economic times would be truly felt by those in power in Cardiff when benefit reform got going.

Back in 2009 I saw life as the Warner family in Perthcelyn saw it.

Tonight Week in Week Out capture how the Harris family are responding to being told to get "off the sick" and, instead, on to Employment and Support Allowance with its regular testing and assessments. Three generations of the Harrises are unemployed, half are not working on health grounds but can no longer simply remain "on the sick".

They live in Phillipstown - up on the ridge opposite Tirphil in the Rhymney Valley. It's the territory of my in-laws and has the look of a film set about it, rows of houses perched right above 'the slip' as our family used to call it. In Phillipstown 42.7% of those who are of a working age are on benefits, 19% are on sickness benefits and 12% are on Job Seekers Allowance.

Image copyright bbc
Image caption Tommy Harris: "If it works, it works".

Tommy Harris is already on ESA but would rather not be. He'd rather be working but doesn't think he'll get a job. "If it works, it works" is his line "If not, I'll just go back on the sick".

The Employment Minister, Chris Grayling, admits that yes, reforming the system will be "uncomfortable", "difficult" and a "challenging process" for some. He's clear, however, that everything is being done to make it "a fair process, a thoughtful process ... but if somebody can do something different to spending the rest of their life on benefits, surely we should try to help them do that".

I haven't seen the programme but I will be watching - tonight at 10.35pm on BBC1 Wales.