Suicide training in Job Centres? Cancer patients scrubbing floors? Welcome to Cameron’s Brave New World
So, the Welfare Reform Bill – the part that refers to sick and disabled people – limped bruised and bloodied over the finishing line in Parliament last week. The various acts of treachery and betrayal it contained making its final journey into law once it has been granted the Queen’s royal assent.
It was inevitable, really, and disability campaigners who, for the past two years, have fought feverishly, and quite literally at times from their sickbeds, to oppose it, resigned themselves to the fact that nothing short of a Biblical-type miracle would reverse their fate.
However, it is only now that the full implications of what these reforms – or brutal acts of savagery as I prefer to call them – will actually mean to millions of seriously vulnerable people in our country. And it is an ugly realisation.
This is how I see it. In the life of most every politician there is one, or several, events that mark out their ‘D’Oh moment. This is not based on severity but on a feeling it should not have happened at all.
Brave New World? David and Samantha Cameron themselves claimed Disability Living Allowance for their child
For examples: Nixon – Watergate. Kennedy – Marilyn. Major – Edwina Currie. Tony Blair – Iraq. You get my point?
Well here’s my ‘D’oh moment prediction for David Cameron. He will be remembered as the Prime Minister – without a mandate, remember – who attacked the sick and disabled of our country with a vehemence beyond human comprehension. And when you think that he had a disabled son who tragically passed two years ago, well, then, it beggars belief even more so.
So, to bring the story up to speed.
Margaret Thatcher and Tony Blair’s Governments set the blueprint of the welfare reforms that David Cameron has just forced through Parliament. And when I say forced I mean the type that requires extraordinary levels of subterfuge and manipulation to shoehorn into place.
He ignored panels and focus groups, charities and campaigners and he overturned the Lords’ by invoking an archaic law of “financial privilege”, which allows the Commons the last say on money matters.
Such was his unstoppable zeal to push through reforms – contrary to all advice, personal and professional – that you had to wonder if it was a psychological issue driving him on.
Perhaps denied grief at the death of his disabled son. Bereavement affects us on an individual basis and there is no guarantee that it will manifest in logical ways.
So these cuts will now become law and, as a nation weeps, the details are sorrowful when applied to reality.
Here’s an example. Any disabled or sick person who has been given more than six months to live – and is unable to financially support themselves – will be sent out to work. If they refuse, or back out of a scheme, then they will be subject to benefit sanctions.
This, it must be noted, is extraordinarily punishing towards disabled people when we consider how DWP boss, Chris Grayling, treats others involved in ‘Workfare’ type arrangements.
Consider, if you will, how he was forced to back-track last week following pressure from campaigners and businesses. After a summit designed to get more businesses on board the Workfare bus, he announced that he would remove the threat of benefit sanctions for unemployed young people on job seeker allowance who drop out of the scheme.
Wow. In what world can young, fit people be given protection that we deny our most vulnerable? That’s more suited to an Aldous Huxley script than real life.
Next up in the reforms will be an increase in multiple testing of patients, including those with Alzheimer’s and Multiple Sclerosis, to see if they are fit for work. They will be tested repeatedly. It will cost a great deal of money to administer and it will wear already sick people to a pulp.
And as for children who dare to be born disabled, well that assistance previously available to them has been wiped out in Cameron’s Armageddon on the poor.
Sue Marsh, one of the co-authors of ‘Responsible Reform – The Spartacus Report’ – which launched a worthy counter-attack to the Coalition’s WRB measures said: “We begged for £11 Million to protect profoundly disabled children into adulthood, but nuh-huh.”
And yet we, as a nation, manage to find millions of pounds to pay Cameron’s army of advisers and assessors including the allegedly fraudulent activities of back-to-work company A4E which was set up by the Coalition’s ‘families czar’ Emma Harrison.
Could we consider this? If this is really a cost-cutting exercise to fill the billion pound deficit, when is the Coalition going to start from within? The DWP spend over 25 thousand pounds per month on travel, hotels and stationery – surely there is something that could be curbed there rather than taking 20% from disability which, according to their own figures, only has 0.5% of fraud.
I’m writing this and I’m struggling to believe it at the same time, which is quite a conflict.
With all this insistence of paid employment for the terminally ill (despite the fact that we have almost 3million unemployed) it is no wonder that job centres, up and down the land, have been issued with details on how to handle suicides in their establishments. Something, apparently, they are anticipating rather more of since the WRB was voted in.
I think the expression ‘you couldn’t make this up’ is appropriate here.
Perhaps the aim is to finish off the sick and disabled sooner rather than later. Well that way, at least, you get to save on the medical bills of our increasingly privatised National Health Service.
After all, what use are such people to our society?
There is a notion, false obviously, that disabled and sick people make no contribution and only ‘drain’ the system. What short-sightedness. Such a statement assumes that only paid work has social value.
What about other contributions including volunteer work – from charity shops to hospitals and schools? These roles are frequently staffed by disabled people, too.
Ironically, a number of disabled people will now be removed from such vital community roles and placed in a Workfare scheme – free labour to private businesses – so that they may mop floors, wash dishes or clean toilets. Ain’t life grand?
Disabled people, like the majority of people, want to work but they also have to take account of how their illness or disability will affect their working life. Unlike the able-bodied and healthy, they do not know which turn their well-being will take when they wake in the morning. Whether they will be able to physically climb out of bed much less make it to the factory floor.
People on disability benefit are not living it up. If only. According to the group Family Action, some families survive on less than two pounds per day. Quite a contrast when you compare it to the Peers in the Lords who receive 300 a day just to show up and then get to enjoy smoked salmon in the tax-payer subsidised cafeteria (cost to the taxpayer is a mere 1.44million a year. bargain). Oh how the other half live.
So where will disabled and sick have to turn to now in their greatest hour of need? Well they can forget the Social Fund because that was viciously axed in these reforms, too.
For millions of people, a Social Fund loan – yes it was repayable, it wasn’t a gift – was the difference between sleeping on a bed or a floor. The MP’s who voted to banish this have no understanding of such destitution and poverty. Not while they are able to subsidise the purchase of their country mansions with their parliamentary expenses.
People are already impoverished and it is certain to get worse. I read one online disability forum where a woman with breast cancer and liver disease didn’t know where she was going to get the ten pound needed for travel to hospital for an appointment.
Unlike David and Samantha Cameron, who claimed Disability Living Allowance for their child – and absolutely did not need to – many disabled now must adjust to seriously reduced circumstances since Cameron attacked DLA in the reforms and will replace with the patently detrimental Personal Independence Payment (PIP).
The transfer from DLA to PIP will remove help from 25% of those in receipt of the benefit now, despite the fact that this is a benefit that helps some disabled people to stay in work.
And therein lies much of the problem with these reforms. They lack joined-up thinking. They don’t appear to have been thought through to a satisfactory end.
Take for example the perception within the Coalition, the DWP and the care services that everyone has a spouse and family to fall back on but that is not the reality for many people.
As a consequence of these cuts, more disabled people will find themselves in bedsits, or hostels or on the streets. There is a significant proportion of people with mental health issues and learning difficulties who find themselves in this situation already and it is certain to increase.
Well then perhaps it’s time to resurrect another part of our history – seeing as David Cameron is clearly following a Dickensian blueprint for our poor – the workhouse. Yes, that testament to our proud, class-conscious society.
Talk to any disabled or sick person right now and there is a word that crops up more than any other, a running thread central to what they are feeling. It is this: fear.
Fear of losing their homes when they no longer have DLA to top up their Housing Benefit shortfall where, thanks to the previous Conservative Government, private rents are uncapped and extortionate. Fear of losing their carer because there will be no allowance for them. Fear of being bed-ridden for the lack of anyone to lend support. Fear of losing ramps and assistance to get in and out of the house. Cold fear that this feeling of being unwanted and excluded from society is how it is going to be for the rest of their days.
In internet circles, where many disabled campaigners congregate, names are bandied around of those who have committed suicide through fear of going cold and hungry and feeling that they are increasingly a burden to society.
At the last count there were some 103 names linked to such suicides and I have actually heard people say that they would consider suicide as a way out of this constant state of anxiety and despair.
What alarms me is how this dispassion towards people with disabilities appears to be spreading from the Coalition down.
There are commentators who openly deride disabled people (Rod Liddle’s ill-informed and hate-inciting rhetoric – a type of drunk-sick on paper – in a tabloid was one, but he’s not alone). There are also comedians who mock disability. Ricky Gervais’ ‘mong’ impersonation surely says more about him than it does about anyone else (although to be fair, Ricky has since claimed this to be naivety and that he was unaware that the term was still used to describe disability).
There is also, according to recent figures, a 40 per cent increase in disabled attacks in the past year alone. Hardly wonder when the general public are constantly being goaded with the idea that we are ‘mugs for supporting scroungers’. Talk like that tends to breed resentment.
And then there’s this. An occurrence that should serve to alarm us all.
The British Medical Journal published a paper from Oxford University don Francesca Minerva, a philosopher and medical ethicist, who argued that doctors should have the right to kill newborn babies including those born with disabilities because, according to Minerva, a young baby is not a real person and so killing it in the first days after birth is little different to aborting it in the womb.
But here’s what gives me hope. Ever since last week’s rubber stamping of the Welfare Reform Bill, disability campaigners have begun a serious fightback and are preparing, like an army, to overcome this wickedness that has been wrought on them. Information is being compiled and exchanged, despite ill-health and disability I have never witnessed such a bank of people determined to overcome the odds piled on them.
Let us not forget, and despite the mainstream media’s best efforts to convince us otherwise, this is not about the neighbor with the apparent bad back who plays golf at weekends (who can also be genuinely disabled but even disabilities allow for better days when activity can increase), but about some of the most horrendous acts against truly vulnerable people.
This may not affect you. Perhaps your parents, or yourself even, have a sufficient financial cushion not to worry about that. What an enviable position to be in.
But what about those less fortunate?
I believe – and I’ve 47 years of a colourful life to base this judgement on – that the UK is comprised of essentially decent people. Citizens who care enough to see beyond their own selfish existence.
The people I know don’t want to be – and neither are they – the type of people who turn their backs when the going gets tough. They actually seek a more compassionate life on earth where we are prepared to support and contribute to each others lives.
In is unconscionable that these disability reforms have been allowed to happen. To be fair, we all knew it was a Conservative agenda, but a Liberal one as well? Goodness how Nick Clegg can ever recover from this I do not know. My imagination is not that good.
So the Welfare Reform Bill, after decades in the making, has finally come to pass. Oh, how proud are we as a nation? We did it. Gave those sick and crippled unfortunates a good old kicking. Let’s give ourselves a collective pat on the back for allowing this to proceed. Makes you proud to be British, doesn’t it?