In the aftermath of the Tory win, as the dust settles despondently on Westminster, Britain’s future landscape is beginning to emerge from the foggy vagaries of election promises.
While the founding pillars of British society – family, community, industry and education – buckle ever further under the strain of government policies, the familiar shadow of austerity looms over us all, darkening the lives of those already stuck in the shade.
Throughout their election campaign the Conservatives stuck steadfastly to their preposterous assertion that they could, and would, carve £12 billion off Britain’s annual benefits bill if they were successful in their bid to control the purse strings. Taken in the context of the overall social security bill, which comes in at around £220 billion, that does not seem to be too much of an ask - but they have also promised to protect all state pensions and associated benefits, which accounts for around half of that figure. All of a sudden £12 billion seems quite a large amount when the vicious cuts of the coalition era are taken into consideration.
It is common knowledge that savings could be made elsewhere - clamping down on greedy incompetent landlords, improving post-education opportunities for young people - but the returns would be long term and ineffective in the current scenario. Which leaves the rest of the welfare recipients to foot the current bill – the young, the sick, the unemployed and the disabled. Every individual who falls into one of these categories has just cause to believe that they have been unfairly treated during the last parliament in the name of austerity with the additional savaging of social services in those five years leaving the latter group feeling totally abandoned by a state that once promised to provide them with the care and support they so desperately need.
Since a leaked document in 2012 suggested that Tory plans included huge cuts to, and in some cases the end of, disability benefits, the grim spectre of this policy has hung over disabled people and their families. Conveniently delayed until after the election, that spectre is about to become a reality as services are cut and support is withdrawn, while commissioners all over the land scratch their heads and try to figure out how they can meet George Osbourne’s newest – and undoubtedly most damaging – targets, due to be laid out in the unexpected Budget announced for July.
In recent decades Britain has been a world leader in terms of the opportunities afforded to allow disabled people to achieve their potential at work and home. Driven by a strong social and political will to enshrine in law and conscience the equal rights of people with disabilities, health care has been supplemented with social care and blanket provision has been replaced by personalised budgets giving choice and support to individuals so that they may look forward with aspiration and hope. Under the coalition that aspiration was replaced by worry and if the Tories get their way, egged on by the right wing media, the last vestiges of hope will be snatched away in one of the cruellest policy moves in living memory.
As the Independent Living Fund draws to a close next month and the government’s axe swings ever closer to Disability Living Allowance, the future prospects of disabled people are disintegrating at a rate of knots. Ironically, not only will these cuts simply move expenditure to other areas of the welfare bill but in most cases they will actually increase the cost to the state per person as their physical and mental health deteriorates, their employment opportunities diminish and friends and family have to give up jobs and lose income to provide care and support for loved ones. More severely disabled people who rely on these funds to employ the support workers and assistive equipment to meet the most basic of personal needs will be left isolated and unable to achieve any level of acceptable living standard.
Speaking to residents in my home town who will be affected by cuts to disability benefits has raised more personal issues that the media, politicians and local leaders seem uncomfortable confronting. Many vulnerable people live alone and rely on benefits to employ cleaners and gardeners to maintain their homes – without these funds they become dirty, rundown and overgrown, prime indicators to opportunist criminals that the property is empty or inhabited by a vulnerable person. Loss of mobility allowances will leave thousands of people housebound, leading to greater issues around loneliness, depression, access to healthcare and other support services. On top of all that, our local authority has set its service charges for the next year at 90% of disposable income, guaranteeing that ALL recipients of disability benefits will be consigned to poverty for the foreseeable future.
Is that OK? As a society are we going to allow the poorest and already most vulnerable members of our communities to bear the brunt of these policies? Are we comfortable with the notion that the key to economic recovery is the dehumanisation and persecution of those most in need?
As a nation we are told that we are on the road to recovery, and Tory soundbites would have us believe that ‘we are all in this together’… however their definition of a recovery seems to be the preservation of wealth and position for those who already have both at the cost of choice and opportunity for everyone else.
The People’s Assembly wants to raise awareness and build support for a democratic way of life for everyone by reducing austerity. We can make these savings in fairer, more structured and well thought out ways. Join the demonstration on the 20th June to show your opposition to the governments targeting of disabled people and other groups who are being subjected so fiercely to the government's austerity programme.
Article written For The People's Assembly by Sam Davies