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The recent government u-turn on cuts to PIP payments left many disabled people breathing a sigh of relief. But after overruling the House of Lords, cuts of £30 a week to ESA payments agreed last month will still go ahead, despite warnings from the House of Lords, from disabled people, from the Disability Benefits Consortium (DBC) and The Equalities and Human Rights Commission (EHCR) that further cuts would have a devastating impact on the lives of disabled people.
A severely critical letter from the head of the EHCR states that cuts to the Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) will undermine the UK’s human rights obligations and widen inequalities. It also argues that the government’s official assessment of the impact of these cuts is limited, and contains “very little in the way of evidence.” Baroness Jane Campbell agrees, and claims arguments against ESA cuts were “pretty indisputable” due to an “absence of evidence” behind the government’s proposals; while the DBC Co-Chair, Rob Holland, argues that the government had ‘… pushed this cut through without showing any real understanding of the damaging effects it will have on people’s health, finances and ability to find work.’
But is Rob Holland’s statement correct? Did this decision show a lack of understanding from the government, or could it be argued that they were fully aware of the impact a further reduction in the incomes of the sick and disabled would have? Without accounting for the fact that financial cuts to those who are sick, disabled and already living in dire economic circumstances will quite obviously have an adverse effect on their lives, evidence shows that the government have been repeatedly told the consequences of these cuts, and are well aware of the impact this decision will have.
So why does this government seem intent on relentlessly attacking the sick and disabled? And what effect does the constant demonising of some of the most vulnerable people in our society have on their lives?
Since the coalition and the subsequent Conservative government came to power, their policies have become increasingly ideologically driven. The ruling party has created and propagated a narrative that sees people who are vulnerable, poor, and in need of assistance as less than human. They’ve done it with refugees, with people looking for work, with the low paid, with the homeless – so their moral compass would never allow them to fall short of including the sick and disabled as a group to be equally viewed with revulsion. And if my personal experience of living as a disabled person today is anything to go by, then they’ve been extremely successful.
There was the doctor’s receptionist who didn’t care to lower her voice, or hide her frustration from a room full of embarrassed patients, all because I’d complained once too often about the lack of action over disabled parking bays being used by non blue badge holders. The gig in Brighton where a complete stranger thought it acceptable to sit on the arm of my wheelchair, while another hung her ruck sack off the handles. Or the person in the lift who noisily tutted and rolled their eyes at another passenger because it took a little too long to manoeuvre my wheelchair in, and the neighbours who found the sight of my partner struggling to help me get me into a car absolutely hysterical etc… While disabled people have always experienced incidents like this, and anecdotal evidence doesn’t necessarily suggest a trend, statistics show a worrying increase in both the frequency and malevolence of incidents like this.
Figures released last year by the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) reveal a 213 per cent rise in the number of prosecutions for hate crime against the disabled. Stephen Brookes of the UK Disability Hate Crime Network and Disability Rights charity argues that the real number of incidents is much higher. Sitting uncomfortably alongside the CPS statistics are the government’s own figures – figures that they tried very hard to keep from the public – showing that between December 2011 and February 2014, more than 80 sick and vulnerable people a month were dying after being declared ‘fit for work.’ So is it just a coincidence that a rise in crimes against the disabled parallels government policies that have publicly vilified and humiliated this same community of people? I’d argue that it isn’t.
People are already dying, and this is before the cuts to those ‘lucky’ enough to receive ESA have been introduced. So in the name of austerity, or under the fictitious and nonsensical idea that cuts act as an ‘incentive,’ the reality is not that this government doesn’t understand the impact of their policies. It’s that they just don’t seem to care. They have systematically sought to destroy the lives of the sick and the disabled, and if cuts kill off a few thousand vulnerable people, then so be it. And if, as a result of these deaths, money can be put to ‘better’ use – subsidising banks, giving ‘investment incentives’ to foreign governments and large businesses, providing pay rises to MP’s and offsetting losses to the economy brought about by large scale tax avoidance – then who really cares about a few thousand dead people anyway?
You see people like me are a burden on the state, and according to our current government’s policies, the state would be a lot better off without us.