Naomi Care discusses new tory plans to axe billions from the welfare budget, continuing the attacks on some of the most vulnerable people in society
It is rare that a news article scares me, but the leaked documents from the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) that the BBC published details of yesterday made my heart stop for a second. The documents revealed that Conservatives have made plans to cut £12billion from the welfare budget by targeting a number of benefits, including limiting child benefit to the first two children, taxing disability benefits and restricting carer’s allowance to those who are eligible for universal credit (approximately 40% of carers would lose out). My fear comes from knowing that the Tories are more than capable of carrying out vicious cuts to the disabled, because they already have.
The onslaught that those with disabilities have already faced under this government should be enough to cause national outrage. Let’s check a few of the basics. In April 2013 the new disability allowance, PIP, was introduced with the explicit intent to cut spending on the benefit by 20%. Then came a show, reminiscent of Tommy Cooper’s magic acts, of such unimaginable incompetence that one can only assume it was planned. First came a backlog of PIP assessments, leaving over a quarter of a million disabled claimants waiting 28 weeks for their claim to be assessed. By January 2015 the waiting time was reduced to 20 weeks, approximately 5 months.
However, as if being left without vital benefits for half a year is not enough, then came the PIP disappearing act. During 2014 almost two out of three claims for PIP were refused for those who were not terminally ill. Currently one in three people who previously received DLA will not get PIP, which is pumping fear into those who know they’ll be forced to make the transition to PIP in the up and coming months.
And then, to demonstrate that the government absolutely wants to ensure that those who need to apply for these benefits are faced with as much incompetence as humanly possible, they appointed Atos to carry out the majority of assessments for PIP. I’m not sure if you’ve been introduced to Atos, they’re the firm that was forced to end their contract early for carrying out fit for work assessments in 2014 due to ‘significant quality failures’. They built up a backlog of over 700,000 people waiting for assessments to receive employment and support allowance (ESA) and became well known for pushing vulnerable people off the benefit, sound familiar?
This unbelievable level of cruel stupidity would almost be funny, except that it leaves vulnerable people in the harsh grasp of a benefits system that has little concern over their welfare. In the first 8 months of last year, 1,000 claimants died after Atos deemed them capable of some work. After their assessment their benefits were reduced and time limited to a year. By Christmas last year the DWP was urged to make substantial changes by mental health and disability charities after it emerged that over 60 people had committed suicide due to DWP activity. Campaigners believe this is just the tip of the iceberg.
However, what scares me most is that support for those with disabilities is waning. The government’s rhetoric of scroungers, fakers and frauds when discussing disability benefits has led to an increase in resentment and abuse directed at those with disabilities. Charities such as Scope report that increasingly people are aggressively questioned by members of the public to check if they’re really disabled. The public also have access to a handy fraud hotline to report disability fakers. A report of fakery to the DWP currently results in any DLA being stopped and the claimant being asked to apply for PIP (with the 5 month backlog), regardless of the validity of the original complaint. This does seem fair considering a whopping 0.3% of incapacity benefit is considered by the DWP to be fraudulent, oh wait.
My hope is that the leaked documents may make people think twice before they vote in May. However, my heart tells me that the public have enough information, they know that this government works against vulnerable people, they know they are happy ripping financial lifelines away from terminally ill people and they know that over 3.7 million disabled people have been affected by the cuts, and yet they do not care enough to take a stand. What’s required is love and anger in solidarity, letters to MPs, marches in the streets and protests until the weight of austerity is lifted off the shoulders of the most vulnerable. For me, I hope for change, but I remain scared for the future.