The last time I blogged, I wrote about the rise in unemployment, the social housing situation and cuts to public services and warned that the worst was yet to come. It’s now been over a year since I last wrote, and the reason for that is that the reprehensible actions of this government have been coming so thick and fast that I wouldn’t actually have had any time to work if I had blogged about them all.
I mean, where would I start? There is the embarrassing stance of isolation that Mr Cameron has left us in with Europe, the complete and utter failure to stimulate the economy, the idiotic suggestion that disabled people should offer to work for less than the minimum wage, and the proposed “efficiency savings” of changing Disability Living Allowance (DLA) to Personal Indepdendence Payments (PIP).
But today has made me feel incredibly embarrassed to be British. For months, disability campaigners (lead by Sue Marsh) have argued that the proposed changes to the welfare system are unfair and unrealistic. But worse than that, what they really do is force the poor and vulnerable to pay for the mistakes of the rich and irresponsible. And more worryingly, regardless of how you feel about the state of the country’s finances, this government seems determined to pass the debt on primarily to those most in need.
I am angry. I am angry that despite the (indepdendent) Lords overturning the three key aspects of the welfare reform bill, the government today voted to push the changes through anyway. So let’s look at those three aspects:
1. Employment Support Allowance (ESA) in the work-related activity group is currently time-limited to a year (government defeated 234 to 186)
ESA is the benefit claimed by disabled people, or those with transient health problems. However, it is also claimed by those with longer-term conditions. Under the current proposals, people will have to spend time searching for jobs instead of focussing on their health. The proposed changes recommended that this was changed to two years. In the eyes of campaigners this still isn’t seen as long enough, but it was a minor victory at the time.
2. Excemption from the time-limited for cancer sufferers (government defeated 222 against 166)
This one speaks for itself. While undertaking chemotherapy, cancer sufferers should be free to focus on their well-being and recovery.
3. Ensuring people who are disabled from a young age are able to claim ESA once they reach working age (government defeated 260 votes to 216)
Under the current proposals, young severely disabled people will NEVER be able to claim ESA because they will not have built up enough national insurance contributions.
In spite of the three consecutive defeats – and they were HEAVY defeats – the government has continued with their plans based on nothing other than financial reasoning.
Just think about that for a minute. You have been recently disagnosed with cancer. As well as fighting for your life, you have no money and no income because the chemotherapy leaves you too unwell to work. You are fighting with all your energy just to stay alive. You then receive a letter inviting you to a “work-related activity session”. You have no choice to attend, so you drag yourself to the group, knowing that failure to do so will result in your losing the £94 per week you have to live off, plus your home. In the meantime, there are bankers being awarded “bonuses” worth millions of pounds for putting the country into debt. There are MPs sipping champagne and eating caviar using the taxes you have paid. There is a government minister freeing up £250m for bin collections, but you can’t have your £94, or the security of your home, for no other reason than you have cancer.
And let’s not remember, as Lord Patel so succinctly told Lord Freud, the amendment is not about adding to expenditure but refusing to take £1.3bn from the most vulnerable.
I am angry that having developed a welfare system over the past 17 years that supports those most in need, we are now taking not money, but dignity and indepdendence away from them.
I am angry that this government is more concerned about putting people through a test to prove how terminally ill they are than they are chasing the £15bn of tax evasion from their pals.
But mostly, I am angry that I live in a country that now appears determined to rob the poor to pay the rich. A country that is making the poor and vulnerable pay for the rich and irresponsible’s mistakes.
A country led by a government so self-interested, it would quite happily ride roughshod over common decency to line it’s rulers’ pockets.
Enough is enough.
Addendum: If you’re interested in understanding what these cuts REALLY mean to disabled people, I thoroughly recommend Sue Marsh and co’s Diary of a Benefit Scrounger.