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The 'hardest hit' are being hammered - fight all cuts to benefits and services
By a disabled activist
'The Tipping Point', a new report by the Hardest Hit coalition, points to the huge impact the Tory/Liberal government coalition's cuts to benefits, welfare spending and central government funding of local authorities are having on disabled people.
- During 2012/13, 400,000 disabled people who have received Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) for more than a year are at risk of losing all or part of their benefits if someone else in their household works.
- Tens of thousands of disabled and ill people are being found 'fit to work' by the brutal Work Capability Assessment (WCA), who have no hope of finding paid employment. Cecilia Burns, a cancer patient who died in August after being found 'fit to work' in February, only had her ESA restored a few weeks before her death after a lengthy appeals process.
- Although the number of people needing help from social services continues to grow, £1.89 billion has been cut from adult social care by local councils in the last two years.
- There has been a £77 million rise in charges for care in the past year.
- Future increases in benefits and pensions are using a new measure of inflation that will mean their real value will fall by billions of pounds compared to the way they are currently calculated.
- When Disability Living Allowance is replaced by Personal Independence Payments (PIPs) from next year, half a million people are expected to lose out on vital help with the additional costs of care and mobility in a move designed to save about £2 billion a year.
- 450,000 disabled people will also lose out under the new welfare and benefits system called Universal Credit being introduced in October 2013.
This latter issue is addressed in more detail in the recent 'Holes in the Safety Net' report by Disability Rights UK (DRUK), Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB) and the Children's Society, which points out:
- Families with disabled children will lose £29 a week when the new 'disability addition' in Universal Credit replaces the disability element of Child Tax Credit.
- Disabled people living on their own will lose £58 a week when the Severe Disability Premium (SDP) is abolished - as a result parents living on their own will face enormous pressure to turn to their children for help.
- Families where a disabled person works more than 16 hours will lose £54 a week when the disability element of Working Tax Credit is abolished.
The Tory/Liberal coalition claims that 100,000 families with disabled children, 230,000 disabled people who live alone, and 116,000 who work more than 16 hours a week will get Transitional Protection, ie their current benefit levels will be frozen until the much lower levels of Universal Credit catch up.
However, this could mean years of living on the same income despite steep rises in the cost of living.
Instead of opposing the introduction of Universal Credit, DRUK, CAB and the Children's Society only call for: a limited group of disabled children to have their additional support protected if the Con-Dems press ahead with their changes; additional support for childcare costs for families with disabled children; the introduction of a self-care addition to Universal Credit if SDP is abolished; and additional disability support for working age adults found 'fit to work'.
Hardest Hit Protest: Disabled people and their families protest in central London against government spending cuts, Sept 2012, photo Paul Mattsson (Click to enlarge)
In the demands of 'The Tipping Point', the Hardest Hit coalition calls for disabled people and their families not to lose out in cash terms (which the Con-Dems have already guaranteed) and for the government to "urgently reconsider" the abolition of SDP and the disability elements of Child and Working Tax Credits.
It also maintains the fiction that systems designed to remove billions of pounds of disability and incapacity benefits have the capacity to change by calling for the WCA to be reformed rather than abolished.
Remarkably the Hardest Hit coalition also calls upon the government to learn from the WCA and ensure the new PIPs assessment is as fair as possible.
Supposedly the Tory/Liberal coalition can do this by taking into account the full range of disabling barriers and health conditions; make the assessment process as simple, transparent and proportionate as possible; and ensure robust evaluation and monitoring processes are in place.
Basic measures the Con-Dems have failed to take when implementing the WCA, as hundreds of thousands of people can testify to, to their enormous cost.
The leadership of the UK Disabled People's Council (UKDPC) and the charities running the Hardest Hit campaign have learnt nothing from the humiliation of the Lords peers in February whose strategy of making limited changes to the welfare reform bill was shown to be a failed one from the start.
Their amendments were voted down, and the 'financial privilege' rule was used by the Tory/Liberal coalition to prevent any further challenges.
When 5,000 disabled people and their supporters demonstrated in London on 11 May 2011, and then as many in regional protests five months later on 22 October, they were absolutely opposed to the welfare reform bill.
A mass campaign could and should have been built in every town and city against this bill. The limited demands and actions of the UKDPC, DRUK and the Hardest Hit coalition since May 2011 reflect the acceptance by a small layer of charity directors and activists that nothing can be done to stop the Con-Dems' austerity policies except minimise their impact.
The final demand of the Hardest Hit coalition is to call for "a lasting solution to the crisis in social care, which has endured years of chronic under-funding, by implementing the recommendations of the Dilnot Commission".
This means supporting the removal of social care from those with 'moderate' needs, accepting that people over their lifetime will have to pay tens of thousands of pounds towards their care and personal assistance, and only demanding an investment of £2 billion in social care when £1.89 billion has been cut by councils in the last two years alone.
Independent Living Fund
But what is glaring is the exclusion in 'The Tipping Point' of any demand to save the Independent Living Fund (ILF) which the Tory/Liberal coalition intends to close by 2015.
If this significant source of care and personal assistance funding for 19,000 severely disabled people closes, where local authority 'maximum expenditure policies' exist, those who need constant 24/7 support will be forced into residential care unless they get additional help through the NHS.
To stop the closure of the ILF means building a campaign that sets out to defeat the Tory/Liberal coalition.
If DRUK, UKDPC and the Hardest Hit coalition were associated with such a perspective it would raise uncomfortable questions for them about the failure so far to make any kind of dent in the Tory/Liberal attacks, and their unwillingness to campaign for the abolition of the misnamed 'welfare reform' policy and the WCA, and oppose the introduction of Universal Credit and PIPs.
DRUK's active support for the closure of the Remploy factories with the resulting sacking of 1,700 disabled workers illustrates where collaboration with the Con-Dems' agenda can lead.
Link all struggles
Disabled people and their families are already being hit very hard by cuts to local health, social care and community services; and cuts to incapacity, mobility, care and housing benefits are still to impact on millions.
By linking with the trade unions and the anti-cuts movement, opposition to the Tory/Liberal attacks can still be built that will stop and reverse them.
Whatever form opposition to the Con-Dems takes, it is vital that disabled activists also demand that the Labour Party drops its support for 'welfare reform' and the associated policies now being implemented, many of which originated under the Blair and Brown Labour governments.
At a local level we must campaign to build mass opposition to the cuts and for Labour-led councils to refuse to wield the 'little axe'.
Where they refuse, we must help build an anti-cuts electoral alternative through the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC).
The Socialist Party calls for:
- No cuts in benefits, jobs and public services.
- Mobilise now to end 'welfare reform' and cuts to disability services through a united campaign involving disabled people and carers' organisations, trade unions and the anti-cuts movement.
- Decent benefits, education, training or work for all, without compulsion.
- No privatisation of services. Take back in-house all privatised services.
- Sack ATOS Origin and scrap the Work Capability Assessment.
- A living wage and provision of respite services for all family carers.
- Provide free health and social care services to all who need them.
- Central government and councils to stop using children and family members as a substitute for professional services.
- Build an active campaign to stop the closure of the Independent Living Fund.
- Massive investment in social housing, services and infrastructure to create jobs and meet need.
- For a 24-hour general strike against austerity.
- For a socialist society that puts the needs of the millions before the profits of the millionaires.
This version of this article was first posted on the Socialist Party website on 30 October 2012 and may vary slightly from the version subsequently printed in The Socialist.