Disgraceful neglect of the disabled in Britain

Official government policy: nobody knows you when you’re down and out.

Proletarian writers

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Proletarian writers

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In October 2015, the Just Fair Consortium, a grouping of more than 70 civil society organisations that work or campaign on human rights in Britain, submitted a report assessing how well Britain is living up to its responsibilities to implement the United Nations’ International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and submitted the report to the UN committee for economic, social and cultural rights. (See Dignity and Opportunity for All: Securing the Rights of Disabled People in the Austerity Era)

The report was damning indeed. Its authors pointed to the horrendously inadequate provision for ensuring even the most basic standard of living for disabled people in Britain today. They demonstrated many factors that, individually and together, increase the risk of disabled people becoming destitute.

The report’s findings reflect a total failure by the British government to comply with the minimum core obligations contained in the international covenant and in the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD), or to guarantee the right of disabled people to social security, social protection and an adequate standard of living.

Factors that disproportionately affect the disabled include problems with the timely payment of the correct benefits, the low monetary level of benefits, low pay levels in the labour market generally and the increasing cost of many essential commodities such as food and heating. Most of these issues also affect non-disabled people, but disabled people are very often less able to find ways to avoid their inhumane consequences.

The vindictive punishment of ‘benefit sanctions’ – ie, stopping benefits for a given amount of time, often many months – for such heinous crimes as being late for a meeting, not filling in forms correctly, not being available to take a call when told to, etc, also affect disabled people disproportionately. Moreover, it has now been established as fact (thanks to revelations by a series of whistle-blowers) that ‘frontline’ workers in benefit offices are given sanction quotas to fill – which they often do by use of such truly unpleasant tricks as changing the dates and times of interviews without letting the claimants know.

Every benefit change that has been rolled out in recent years has been accompanied by an increase in the application of benefit sanctions and in the number of new ‘hoops’ that claimants have to jump through in order to qualify for what little benefit is left to them. Those who are simultaneously coping with disability tend to have more difficulty in adapting to the constantly changing demands.

Meanwhile, arbitrary and vindictive caps on what an individual or family can claim in total – even if they are theoretically entitled to receive the full amount of several separate benefits that have already been set somewhere just below the absolute minimum needed to allow them to do such things as feed and clothe their children – are also being lowered with every round of benefit ‘reform’.

Each change leads to thousands of workers being lopped off the benefit registers altogether, leaving many of the least able to survive with little or nothing on which to get by. Those who domanage to keep a roof over their head despite the cuts were often still being hit by the ‘bedroom tax’ if there was an “unused” room in their home. It was the government, of course, that decided what constituted ‘unused’ in such cases.

However, just as we go to press, the Court of Appeal has determined that imposing the bedroom tax may amount to unlawful discrimination against victims of extreme domestic violence and carers of severely disabled young people who need overnight care. It will be no surprise, however, if this decision is reversed on appeal, as, for the most part our ‘justice’ system is geared to serving the interests of capitalism, not its helpless victims.

The very roof over people’s heads is also being subjected to a continual assault. Housing benefit, supplied to the poor by local councils, is under increasing pressure, and will soon be denied to many more people, just as they need it most, when Prime Minister Cameron has finished forcing through legislation designed to kill off what remains of subsidised social housing.

The report is useful, however, in revealing the extent of the planning that goes into attacks on the most vulnerable, showing how these attacks are introduced in never-ending waves of ‘reform’, each taking a little more than the last.

“In June 2010, the newly-elected coalition government published an ‘emergency budget’, which set out a five-year plan to reduce the deficit. The plan was to reduce government spending by £32bn per year by 2014/15, while supporting people into work and out of poverty. £11bn of the £32bn was to come from welfare spending. In fact, by 2015 the government had made net cuts of about £17bn [each year] in social security spending.”

And still the cuts go on! “In his first budget of this parliament, the chancellor of the exchequer for the Conservative government elected in May 2015 announced that a further £12bn of cuts to the annual social security budget would be made by 2017/18.”

The report also highlights the fact that “concerns have continued to grow about the degree of conditionality inherent in the system: the prevailing characterisation of vulnerable claimants as inappropriately benefit dependent; and the lack of realistic opportunities for young people, lone parents and other vulnerable individuals in demographically disadvantaged areas to engage in labour markets; especially in a recessionary climate”

The blaming or scapegoating of the weaker sections of the working class who find it hard to defend themselves is not accidental; it is a deliberate policy. As far as the capitalists are concerned, anyone or anything can be blamed, pilloried, victimised and generally hounded so long as attention is diverted from the massive elephant in the room: the continued parasitical existence of capitalist imperialism and of the elite bourgeois class that is becoming ever richer off the back of our misery!

According to Just Fair’s report, this strategy is set to continue: The government’s proposals for the next round of savings are set out in the Welfare Reform and Work Bill 2015/16, which is currently before parliament. They include:

  • A lowering of the cap on welfare benefits to £20,000 for couples and £13,400 for single parents (£23,000 and £15,410 respectively for claimants in Greater London);
  • A four-year freeze on the rates of the following benefits:
    • jobseeker’s allowance;
    • employment support allowance;
    • housing benefit;
    • universal credit; and
    • certain categories of tax credits.
  • Child tax credits will only be paid for the first two children in a family.

It doesn’t take a genius to imagine the catastrophic effect these cuts will have on individuals and families who are already living well below the poverty line, as prices for essential commodities and rents continue to rise.

Only a socialist future that enables and welcomes the participation and ownership of all in both the production and use of the necessaries of life and which stands for and facilitates the happiness of all can start to heal the tortured, fragmented and sick society that we are forced to endure today.