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photo credit: Potatojunkie via photopin cc

The Liberal Democrats have set out their vision for social security, and it’s built on the foundation of erasing their complicity of cutting support to the very worst off in society.

One of the new policy announcements which will catch attention from disabled campaigners is the promise to remove the bedroom tax (which the Liberal Democrats still desperately seek to rename the ‘Spare Room Subsidy’) and to replace it with a “positive incentive” to downsize. Yet this has gone largely unacknowledged as a major policy shift by the Liberal Democrats. Without their support whilst in the Coalition government, the heavily criticised bedroom tax would never have come to pass.

Furthermore, the Liberal Democrats are still committed to the unfair aim of targeting the most vulnerable in society by the homes they live in and yet Farron’s voting record shows that he has been consistently against any form of mansion tax. Farron’s record then suggests his priorities are not with the most vulnerable in society.

tim-farron-dlaThe Liberal Democrats are simultaneously trying to remove their guilt from the failed Coalition policies and absolve themselves of any responsibility, whilst still targeting those who are vulnerable. Their new policy is also lacking in any description of what positive incentive may be offered to encourage people to leave their homes. The result is that disabled people in particular, are left feeling that they are likely to be targeted again but not knowing how.

The Liberal Democrats have also pledged to scrap the Work Capability Assessment (WCA). This is a move that would be welcomed by disabled campaigners. However, under the Department of Work and Pensions since 2010, there have been major administrative changes which have resulted in huge sums of money being wasted and people being left behind in the chaos. The cost of rolling out Universal Credit is already over £15 billion and millions have been wasted due to poor IT development and changing timetables. The Lib Dem proposal of overhauling the entire system, and diverting powers to a local level could again be risking causing serious issues to disabled people who need clear and consistent support that is accessible.

The Lib Dems cite the distrust of the WCA for being the main motivating factor for wishing to overhaul the system yet it was while the Liberal Democrats shared power with the Conservative Party that the WCA was used relentlessly against disabled people. Over two thousand people died after being found fit to work between 2011 and 2014, with Steve Webb being the Liberal Democrat representative as Minister of state within the Department for Work and Pensions.

The new plans of assessing jobs and capabilities based on the area one happens to live also seems to cause conflict when the Lib Dems have announced their intention to prompt people to leave homes which are deemed too big for them. The result is that many vulnerable people could go from administrative system to administrative system and find themselves easily lost.

There is also added focus on supporting those with mental health conditions but this tactic again seeks to whitewash the Liberal Democrats betrayal of those with mental health conditions when they were in government. Despite the Liberal Democrats routinely seeking to highlight the plight of those struggling to access mental health support, in government the Lib Dems presided over a huge 8% cut to mental health services.

The result of the Coalition government is that thousands of patients have not been able to access beds within mental health care in their own areas. Support services for those with mental health issues are a lottery depending on how well funded the area around the patient is and so the disparity in health between rich and poor, as well as north and south, has been widened even further.

Farron’s strategy seems to aim towards erasing the legacy of the Liberal Democrats and to hope that the election wipe out has made them so insignificant that people cannot remember their actions when they were in government.

Farron’s criticism of politicians not seeming to live up to the standards they impose suggests hypocrisy when Farron has sought to ignore his own record, as well as his party’s, on disability cuts and the cuts that were handed out to the very poorest from 2010 onward. Farron is setting a double standard by asking other politicians to answer for their past outside of parliament while not answering for his own within the House of Commons.

Even his own party has been disconcerted by the focus of Farron’s launch of the new era for the Liberal Democrats. While he has praised the campaigning style of Blair, members have disagreed and so there is a the potential for a contrast between style and substance to dominate the conversation for the party over recent months.

Tensions between the vision members hold compared to the parliamentary party have recently engulfed Labour, and while the Liberal Democrats seem to be managing well there is clearly still underlying tension, and Farron has added fuel to this by praising such a divisive figure as Blair. Farron’s focus upon image is at direct odds with how Corbyn runs Labour and so each party is projecting not just its own plans, but its own way in which it thinks it can achieve power. Farron’s plans do show that he wants major changes to the way that social security is delivered but it is also being overshadowed by rhetoric that dances around the mistakes of his party’s recent past.

While the Liberal Democrats are hoping to gain in the face of Labour’s internal squabbles, their new policies regarding social security are still likely to raise serious questions about whether they can be trusted to protect those who are most vulnerable to attack by the Tories. The new plans have shown the Lib Dems to be going down a potentially bold new path with services and systems being devolved to local authorities but with a party and leader with a poor record on disability rights, it may be too tough a sell to a still sceptical public.

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