Two years ago the United Nations released the findings of an inquiry into state-level violations of the human rights of disabled people in Britain. Its conclusion was that a “human catastrophe” was under way. In employment, education, housing and social security, disabled people are hugely disadvantaged. In Britain we still have huge problems in how we perceive disability. The Tories over the last nine years have systematically destroyed many of the rights, independence, dignity and mental health of many of Britain’s disabled people.Disabled people have been demonised as not really disabled. Meanwhile, the welfare state has become an instrument of punishment.
The Centre for Welfare Reform calculated in 2013 that disabled people have endured nine times the average burden of austerity cuts. The figure rises to 19 times for the most severely disabled. In 2017 figures show that 4 million disabled people were living below the breadline.
The gains in the 1990s, such as the Disability benefits, which provided more help for more people with care and mobility needs, have all been affected by severe cuts, and then we have the introduction of the bedroom tax, universal credit and the notorious “fit for work” tests. Sanctions against disabled people and the chronically ill rose 580%. Last year 70% of disabled people judged fit for work successfully overturned that decision on appeal.
Austerity has been a Tory political choice since 2010. Social security benefits will have been cut by £35 billion a year by the early 2020s. Tax cuts will cost the Treasury £47 billion per year by 2021-2. This is great, if you are wealthy.
Cuts to social care have pushed back disabled people's ability to live independently, cuts to benefits have pushed back gains in lifting disabled people out of poverty.
Social care is often portrayed as the basics – going to the toilet and getting dressed; that's obviously key, but cuts to care provision mean that there are many people who are having to pay extra costs and choosing between buying food or things like incontinence pads.
But it's more than that, it's your ability to live the sort of life that a non-disabled person takes for granted; going to the pub with friends, to a job interview, going on a trip to see a relative in a different city. You take social care away and disabled people are treated in a way that just isn’t acceptable. You have to tackle the attitudes that make those cuts easy as much as the cuts themselves. Ministers have worked with the right-wing press to spread the myth that disabled people are a drain on the public purse – Iain Duncan Smith backing the Sun's campaign to track down so-called benefits cheats, Esther McVey telling the Mail she's going after the bogus disabled, Philip Hammond blaming the economy stalling on the increase of disabled workers. That's very scary indeed.
So what can be done to effect change? Well representation is really important. More disabled people need to be involved in leading the conversation, for example disability charities led by disabled people. A future Labour Government will review this whole issue and invite disabled-led organisations to the table. There need to be more disabled people involved in the decision-making, and nothing decided without the disabled. This should be the standard rights stance, and is quoted as a key approach in Labour’s disability manifesto.
Labour’s manifesto will undertake many changes – for example, ending the use of private companies to do benefits assessments. It proposes to provide holistic assessments which would help disabled people overcome barriers put in their way; things like that would have a huge impact on improving disabled people's lives. It should be well within our capability to make the changes that would make life better for disabled people.
Please note that Debbie George has been elected as the Disabilities Officer for St. Austell and Newquay Constituency Labour Party so please contact her if you have any issues, and she will do her best to help.
Vote Labour. FOR THE MANY NOT THE FEW.
This blog will be created by members of the Exec committee on topics of interest to the St Austell & Newquay Labour Party