Austerity was a lie sold to us in 2010 by our coalition government. Not only did they lie that the opposition party caused a global financial crisis but they refused to acknowledge that Thatcher’s deregulation of banks and financial institutions in the UK also played a part in it. However, it came as no surprise to anyone who follows politics that the Tories would find a way to make taxpayers pay for the crisis, although none of us could have possibly guessed how low they’d go, how utterly callous and degenerate our government would be. Instead of punishing the very institutions that caused the crisis, they decided to punish the most vulnerable in society – the disabled – and to do that they had to sell it to the public.
Every single day I see tweet after tweet by people completely outraged by Brexit and clearly not grasping the fact that without austerity we would have never have had Brexit. Yet austerity barely gets a mention. Chances are, if you’re more outraged by Brexit than austerity, you’re not disabled and/or have zero empathy for their plight.
Climate of austerity
It was inevitable that the Tories, having narrowly been voted back into government and being forced into a coalition, would have plans in place to make it difficult to remove them and secure votes. In a climate of austerity, far right politicians went from the fringes to mainstream in a decade, and the Tories with them. Political parties such as UKIP, with Nigel Farage at the helm, pushed disdain of the benefits system and the NHS. Tories didn’t want to risk losing voters or the power they held. Iain Duncan Smith was made Secretary of State for Work and Pensions in 2010. This was the man who laughed in the House of Commons whilst opposition MPs read out horror stories of the disabled being made homeless or committing suicide because of benefit cuts and bedroom tax. Duncan Smith once proclaimed that the disabled didn’t vote Conservative. We were disposable because our vote couldn’t be counted on. So began the assault on disabled people, the demonisation of them with the media playing their part.
Welfare reforms began under Blair and New Labour. Yvette Cooper, who was Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (2009/10), approved new reforms making it harder for disabled people to pass tests in order to claim ESA/DLA. Almost half of the 41 descriptors re mental health were removed. The changes were purely about pushing disabled people onto Job Seekers’ Allowance and saving money on disabled benefits. (See link below from Benefits and work.Org for full list of changes made.) It’s a shocking read and it was the green light the Tories needed to carry on with the assault on the disabled.
UN inquiry into rights of disabled people
In 2016 the UK was the first country in the world to face a UN inquiry into “grave or systemic violations” of the rights of disabled people. Did the UN report state there are no violations in the rest of the world? No. It clearly states that consecutive UK governments have removed vital support and legislation in place for the UK’s disabled people. Countries usually push forward with respect to disabled rights and equality, not backwards. This was the main point of UN report. Damien Green who was Secretary for works and pensions at the time (2016) described the UN report as “patronising and offensive” and stated that he completely refuted the findings, whilst disability charities and organisations welcomed the report and agreed with its findings.
In 2017 the EHRC released a comprehensive report on the rights of disabled people in the UK. The findings were damning. It found that changes to benefit rules have had a particularly disproportionate, cumulative impact on disabled people’s right to live independently. A government spokesman at the time released a statement on how much the government spends on disabled people in the UK when compared to the allocation in the GDP of Japan, Canada or France.
In conclusion, the government has created a two tier society in which disabled people are placed firmly at bottom. Every aspect of our lives has been targeted, education, employment, housing, healthcare, disabled people’s benefit cut by £30pw (ESA), independent living fund removed, and, on transferring to UC, they lose their severe disabled payments, leaving them even more out of pocket and unable to pay for carers. The government said local councils would be able to offer social care support for disabled people who lose money, only to then reduce council funding by 44%. Social care suffered as a result and hundreds of thousands of the disabled are left to cope on their own. UC is also benefit capped and the DWP are considering incorporating PIP into UC, and this would definitely push those on full PIP over the benefit cap.
Punished for being disabled
During this pandemic, disabled people have been treated appallingly by the government. 2.1 million of the most severely disabled on legacy benefits received zero financial help as opposed to those on UC who received £20 per week. Six out of ten people who died from Covid were disabled. Never forget this government discharged care home residents from hospital straight back into residential homes with no Covid tests.
No matter how you look at it, Tories have instituted a disability assessment system that makes bad decisions, repeatedly, and causes untold trauma and desperation to people who are either severely disabled, suffering with mental health or learning disabilities, or on the brink of death. They know disabled people have died in their thousands because of policies; died being denied benefits and forced into work; died from taking their own lives because the stress of assessments is horrendous; died from starvation. Half the people living in poverty in Britain are disabled or have a disabled person living in the same household. This is Britain 2021, one of richest countries in the world. This is why living in Britain for the disabled is dystopian.
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