UK General Election: Why disabled people oppose the Tories

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Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May makes a campaign visit to Abingdon Market near Oxford, 15 May 2017 where an angry voter scolded her over cuts to disability benefits. © REUTERS/Justin Tallis/Pool

After seven long years of Tory austerity cuts and their relentless attacks against disabled people’s human rights, which the UN has documented, disabled people in the UK are left feeling that their very lives depend on the outcome of the forthcoming General Election. Who can blame them? In total, 2.8 million disabled people are in deep poverty, with an income that is 50 per cent below the median.

The thought of enduring five more years of Tory ‘reforms’ that target disabled people is leaving vast numbers in fear and feeling suicidal.

Britain's benefits, including pensions, are among the least generous in Europe and women born in the 1950s have lost up to six years of their retirement income following changes which have left many in poverty and struggling, having been forced to remain on Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) for up to six years.

The Tory welfare reforms, masterminded by former banker David Freud, have led to thousands of unnecessary claimant deaths, either through people falling into debt, becoming more physically and/or mentally ill, or through having their meagre benefits sanctioned and stopped completely. David Clapson, for example, was an ex-soldier with diabetes who died when his benefits were stopped and he could not pay for electricity to run his fridge to keep his insulin working. Several years later, his family are still fighting for a Coroner’s inquiry into the cause of his death.

For people with mental health conditions, sanctions rose 600 per cent in 2015. People can be sanctioned and left with absolutely nothing from the state for up to three years.

This is just the tip of the iceberg. At the expense of disability benefits, Iain Duncan Smith’s proposal for Universal Credit will be dribbled out across the country at god knows what cost. This is an ideological neo-liberal attack against us and the terrors of future anti-human reforms to the social security system are only just beginning.

Universal Credit will seek to further divide disabled people into the deserving and undeserving as those who have been able to work will be able to continue claiming Contribution based ESA under the old system while those who may never work or who haven’t recently been able to work will be forced to claim ESA under Universal Credit.

At the moment, when people claim ESA because their GP has said they are not fit to work they are placed in the assessment phase and paid £73 (USD$94) a week until they have a Work Capability Assessment (WCA) and there is no conditionality attached to this until there has been a decision made about whether they are fit or unfit to work. This process is chronically flawed.

However under Universal Credit the GP’s fit note is completely ignored and no claimants are seen as unfit for work anymore. They must have a mandatory Health and Work Conversation (HWC) during which medically untrained Work Coaches will decide what they must do to retain their social security payments and if people fail to meet these requirements until they have had a WCA they will be sanctioned and left to starve or freeze to death.

Further benefits for disabled people have been slashed with 20 per cent of people losing entitlement to Disability Living Allowance (DLA) – a benefit to help meet the extra costs of disabled people – which has been replaced by Personal Independence Payments. (PIP) More than 900 people per week have had adapted vehicles repossessed due to this and are no longer able to work, visit family or leave their homes. Unbelievably, people have also had their wheelchairs repossessed after losing DLA.

In spite of these cuts to basic benefits that are vital to disabled people, the government happily pay private corporations to carry out inadequate testing of disabled people. The contract to assess people for PIP has cost £700 million (USD$890 million) in five years. Yet when people appeal against not being awarded this benefit 61 per cent win their cases.

Similarly, Maximus, who assess people for sickness benefits, will be paid £1.6 billion (USD$2 billion) for three years which the national Audit Office has said will cost nearly double the amount saved.

We already live in a country where millions of people, including nurses, police officers and others in work, have been forced to use foodbanks. Foodbank use has risen to more than 1 million people per year while the Tories have been in power and it is not, as Tory MP Dominic Rabb claimed, that they have a cash flow problem. Rather, it is because they are starving.

The Food Standards Agency says that 8 million people in the UK are in food poverty and many low income households cannot afford to eat regularly.

Nearly 400 citizens died from malnutrition or hunger in 2015, up 27 per cent from 2008, and 2 people per day were admitted to hospital with malnutrition in 2016. Victorian diseases such as Ricketts and Scurvy, which had been eradicated for years, have returned. Teachers have to provide food in schools for starving children.

This is the reality of life for many in Tory Britain. We say enough is enough, they must go. Please use your vote on 8 June to help make this a reality. And remember, when you vote, they want to hunt foxes too not just disabled people.

Linda Burnip is an activist with Disabled People Against Cuts.

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