“The fact is that Ministers are looking for large savings at the expense of the poorest and most vulnerable. That was not made clear in the general election campaign; then, the Prime Minister said that disabled people would be protected.” – [Official Report, Commons, 2/3/16; cols. 1052-58.]
A coalition of 60 national disability charities have condemned the government’s cuts to benefits as a “step backwards” for sick and disabled people and their families. The Disability Benefits Consortium say that the cuts, which will see people lose up to £1,500 a year, will leave disabled people feeling betrayed by the government and will have a damaging effect on their health, finances and ability to find work.
Research by the Consortium suggests the low level of benefit is already failing to meet disabled people’s needs.
A survey of 500 people in the affected group found that 28 per cent of people had been unable to afford to eat while in receipt of the benefit. Around 38 per cent of respondents said they had been unable to heat their homes and 52 per cent struggled to stay healthy.
The Government was twice defeated in the Lords over proposals to cut Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) for sick and disabled people in the work-related activity group (WRAG) from £103 to £73.
However the £30 a week cut is set to go ahead after bitterly disappointed and angry peers were left powerless to continue to oppose the Commons, which has overturned both defeats. The government has hammered through the cuts of £120 a month to the lifeline income of ill and disabled people by citing the “financial privilege” of the Commons, and after Priti Patel informing the Lords that they have “overstepped their mark” in opposing the cuts twice.
The Strathclyde review, commissioned by a rancorous and retaliatory David Cameron, following the delay and subsequently effective defeat of government tax credit legislation in the House of Lords, recommends curtailing the powers of Upper House. Strathclyde concludes in his report that the House of Lords should be permitted to ask the Commons to “think again” when a disagreement on proposed legislation exists, but should not be allowed to veto. MPs would ultimately make a decision on whether a measure is passed into law. The review focuses in particular on the relationship between the Commons and the Lords, in relation to the former’s primacy on financial matters and secondary legislation, and serves to highlight the government’s very worrying increasing tendency towards authoritarianism.
The cuts to ESA and proposed and probable cuts to Personal Independent Payments (PIP), take place in the context of a Tory manifesto that included a pledge not to cut disability benefits.
Yesterday in the House of Lords, independent crossbencher Lord Low of Dalston warned: “This is a black day for disabled people.”
Contrary to what is being reported, it won’t be only new claimants affected by the cuts to ESA. Firstly, it may potentially affect anyone who has a break in their ESA claim (and that could happen because of a reassessment with a decision that means needing to ask for a mandatory review), and secondly, those migrated onto Universal Credit will be affected. The benefit cap will also cut sick and disabled people’s income if they are in the ESA WRAG.
Paralympic gold medallist Baroness Grey-Thompson said she was bitterly disappointed that this “dreadful and punitive” part of the Bill was going ahead.
Parliamentary procedure had prevented her putting down another amendment opposing the move, which will have a harsh, negative impact on thousands of people’s lives.
Already facing a UN inquiry into grave and systematic abuses of the human rights of disabled people, Cameron remains completely unabashed by his government’s blatant attack on a protected social group, and the Conservatives continue to target disabled people for a disproportionately large burden of austerity cuts.
The Government have been accused of failing to fulfil their public sector equality duty. Under the Equality Act 2010, the Government must properly consider the impact of their policies on the elimination of discrimination, the advancement of equality of opportunity and the fostering of good relations. This is shameful, in a very wealthy first-world democracy.
The “justification” the Tories offer for the cut of almost £120 a month to the lifeline support of people judged to be unfit for work by their own doctors AND the state, is that it will “help people into work”. I’ve never heard of taking money from people who already have very little described as “help” before. Only the Conservatives would contemplate cutting money from sick and disabled people, whilst gifting the millionaires with £107, 000 each per year in the form of a tax “break”.
Reducing disabled people’s incomes won’t “incentivise” anyone to find a job. It will just make life much more difficult. The government have made the decision to cut disability benefits because of an extremely prejudiced ideological preference for a “small state” and their antiwelfare agenda. There are alternative political choices that entail far more humane treatment of sick and disabled people. The fact that ministers have persistently refused to carry out a policy impact assessment indicates clearly that this measure has got nothing to do with any good will towards disabled people, nor is it about “helping” people into work.
The cut simply expresses the Conservative’s contempt for social groups that are economically inactive, regardless of the reasons. Sick and disabled people claiming ESA have already been deemed unfit for work by their doctors, and by the state via the work capability assessment. Simply refusing to accept this, and hounding a group of people who are ill, and who have until recently been considered reasonably exempt from working, is an indictment of this increasingly despotic government.
I can’t help wondering how long it will be before we hear about government proposals to cut the financial support further for those in the ESA support group. There does seem to be a recognisable pattern of political scapegoating, public moral boundaries being pushed, and cruel, highly unethical cuts being announced. Social security provision is being dismantled incrementally, whilst the Conservative justification narrative becomes less and less coherent. Despite the arrogant moralising approach of Tory ministers, and the Orwellian rhetoric of “helping” and “supporting” people who are too ill to work into any job, or face the threat of starvation and destitution, none of this will ever justify the unforgivable, steady withdrawal of lifeline support for sick and disabled people.
Baroness Meacher warned that for the most vulnerable the cut was “terrifying” and bound to lead to increased debt.
Condemning the “truly terrible” actions of the Treasury, she urged ministers to monitor the number of suicides in the year after the change comes in, adding: “I am certain there will be people who cannot face the debt and the loss of their home, who will take their lives.” Not only have the government failed to carry out an impact assessment regarding the cuts, Lord Freud said that the impact, potential increase in deaths and suicides won’t be monitored, apart from “privately” because individual details can’t be shared and because that isn’t a “useful approach”.
He went on to say “We have recently produced a large analysis on this, which I will send to the noble Baroness. That analysis makes it absolutely clear that you cannot make these causal links between the likelihood of dying—however you die—and the fact that someone is claiming benefit.”
Actually, a political refusal to investigate an established correlation between the welfare “reforms” and an increase in the mortality statistics of those hit the hardest by the cuts – sick and disabled people – is not the same thing as there being no causal link. Often, correlation implies causality and therefore such established links require further investigation. It is not possible to disprove a causal link without further investigation, either.
Whilst the government continue to deny there is a causal link between their welfare policies, austerity measures and an increase in premature deaths and suicides, they cannot deny there is a clear correlation, which warrants further research – an independent inquiry at the VERY least. But the government are hiding behind this distinction to deny any association at all between policy and policy impacts. That’s just plain wrong.
Insisting that there isn’t a “causal link” established, whilst withholding crucial evidence in parliament and from the public domain is what can at best be considered the actions and behaviours of tyrants.
House of Lords debate: ESA – Monday 07 March 2016 (From 3.06pm)
MP attacks cuts hitting disabled people – Debbie Abrahams
Pictures courtesy of Robert Livingstone
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