Theresa May’s attempt this election to avoid questions from anyone but the Conservative party faithful came crashing down around her today – all thanks to one disabled voter in Abingdon.
Kathy, who said she had mild learning disabilities, lambasted the prime minister for pulling support from people with learning disabilities, mental health problems and “wheelchair users”.
“I want them not to have their money taken from them, and being crippled,” she told May, surrounded by crowds. “The fat cats get the money and us lot get nothing.”
Kathy had lost her carer as well as her disability living allowance – the flagship disability benefit the Conservatives abolished to replace with the tougher personal independence payments (PIP) – and explained that she was now having to survive on only £100 a month.
“They just took it all away from me,” she said.
It’s hard to watch Kathy plea to May for “someone to help us” and not be sickened – not simply because someone such as Kathy is powerless to stop her small bit of support from being cut but that she is one of vast numbers of disabled people the Tories have done this to over seven years in office.
More than a million disabled people are now living without the social care they need: having to go to bed at 7pm, wait days without washing, or wear incontinence pads despite not being incontinent, all because a carer – like the one Kathy lost – is no longer there to help them. Almost every day I receive messages from readers desperate because they’ve been turned down for PIP – many who tell me they will soon be housebound as, like 50,000 disabled people and counting, after decades relying on them, they’re about to have their Motability car removed.
The Conservatives’ ongoing assault on disability support spreads far beyond this. The notorious “fit for work” tests force severely ill people to look for jobs and then sanction them if they’re in too much pain to get out of bed, while benefit delays push cancer patients to food banks, and the bedroom tax threatens bed-bound disabled people with eviction. “We’re going to do a number of things,” May mumbled in Abingdon, offering the standard line to Kathy that – despite all the evidence to the contrary – the Conservatives are actually focusing help on the disabled people “who are most in need”.
The exchange may have been barely more than a minute long, but after years of Conservative attacks on disability support, it speaks volumes: in her anger, Kathy represents the hundreds of thousands of disabled people suffering. And in her excuses, May represents all the Tory politicians who have shamelessly caused it.
No matter what her fixed smile and empty words say, May leads a party into this election that is overseeing devastating attacks on disability services. In speaking out, Kathy has stood up for disabled people up and down the country.