I believe that there comes a point in the life of any Prime Minister when the electorate is entitled to ask – and loudly – does this person actually know what they are doing?
So it is that I have just posed this question of our current PM and the answer to come back has greatly alarmed me.
David Cameron is lost in his role as PM. That much is apparent. Like a toddler at big school he has no true understanding of the issues before him and blunders in apparently unaware of danger or the need to tread carefully.
I can only conclude that being out of his depth is the problem because I can’t, for the life of me, fathom some of his policies. They make no sense to me on any level, human or otherwise.
His current big idea – the Welfare Reform Bill – may yet prove to be his Margaret Thatcher – Milk Snatcher moment. The point when people will look back and shudder at the sheer callousness of it.
My problem is that I was hoping for too much from him when it comes to the sensitivity and understanding of the UK’s disabled community.
Foolishly I believed that he, of all prime ministers, would be acutely aware and therefore appropriately empathetic of the difficulties that disability bring to the day to day existence of people.
Who can forget the national sorrow and compassion we all felt for him, regardless of our political persuasion – when he and his wife, Samantha, experienced the loss of their disabled son Ivan?
Given David Cameron’s painful, yet remarkable, insight into disability – and the wide and diverse range of needs that disabled people have – there was a general feeling that this would be a PM who would enable our country’s disabled population to lead as full and secure a life as possible.
And this would occur without feeling humiliated to ask for assistance because, after all, the care of it’s vulnerable should be a priority for any decent society.
So it is that I am barely shocked, but no less disappointed, to discover that when it comes to Welfare Reform – and disabled people in particular – David Cameron has been less than straightforward.I refer to the Coalition’s plans for Disability Living Allowance (DLA) and the proposed – and vast £9.2bn in cuts to services and benefits.
A great deal of opposition has been registered to these cuts but the chances are you won’t have heard about them seeing as the Government has worked incredibly hard to keep it quiet.
Well, its an unpopular proposal for starters – and they’ve already had their fair share of those in less than two years in the job – so they can ill-afford any more initiatives that appear to have been conceived during a midnight feast on a dorm in Eton.
Do I need to recall the recent idea of having a taskforce show up on the doorstep of trauanting children/drug addicts of a morning and marching them off to their destination? Course not. We all remember that and some of us are still laughing.
But now they are more mean-spirited than ever – proving that when it comes to politics, David Cameron’s Conservatives retain their place as ‘the nasty party’.
Let me clue you up. For those of us fortunate enough not to need Disability Living Allowance, we would have remained in sweet ignorance about the untenable pressure and stress that is currently being applied to some of the most inordinately vulnerable members of society: our disabled.
That was until the Spartacus report published this week which blows the lid off the Government’s plans and makes abundantly clear the true level of opposition to the intended reforms – and this includes the extent to which the Government misled MPs and Peers over the hostility to disability benefit reform.
Oh me, oh my. Surely Dave and his boys wouldn’t only give us the information that they would want us to know about, would they? Apparently so.
Despite conducting a public consultation, the Department for Work and Pensions – whose arm DLA falls under – have chosen to blanket ignore the opinions of their respondents.
The unexpurgated version of the consultation goes something like this:
98 per cent of respondents objected to the qualifying period for benefits being raised from three months to six months. 99 per cent also objected to DLA no longer being used as a qualification for other benefits. And just to seal off the 90 percent-ers, 92 per cent of people opposed removing the lowest rate of support for disabled people.
In real terms what we are talking about here is less money in the disabled benefit pot and to the tune of billions. Yet despite the opposition to these intended cuts – and even Mayor of London Boris Johnson opposing the proposals so worried was he about how this would impact the disabled citizens of our capital city – no one knew about this.
It was kept away from public dissection and would’ve remained so had it not been for researchers using the Freedom of Information Act to obtain more than 500 responses to the consultation that were submitted by disabled people’s organisations, disability charities and other groups.
That was when the true scale of the deception became clear. And the alarm to these proposals – backed up by their iffy statistics – can be heard from Scunthorpe to Southend as thousands of disabled people come to terms with the fact that if the Welfare Reform Bill goes through then there is a very real chance that DLA will be abolished completely and replaced with a benefit that looks suspiciously like the Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) and utilises a number of flawed tests to ascertain eligibility.
The upshot is that 3.2 million people will be transferred to a system that will include yet more assessments and a cutting of existing claims by 20 per cent.
Even more savage are those disability cuts that will result in as much as 50 per cent of weekly benefit deducted. When you are receiving little more than seventy pound, as it is, then reducing the income by half is a frightening and shocking amount. People are already dying through lack of food and heat and it will surely only increase. Remind me. We are living in a privileged country in 2011, yes?
This Coalition love to talk about our ‘shameless’ generation but we are led by a shameless government. One that runs regular ‘Sweetheart Deals’ with multi-nationals and allow them to get away without paying billions – yes, that’s right billions – of pounds in taxes and yet turn on the very people we need to protect.
My screen saver, taken from a popular poster, reads: ‘Put politicians on minimum wage – and watch how fast things change.’ I believe there is a great deal of truth in that.
Our MP’s are entirely out of touch because they are not living hand to mouth like too many of us.
There’s an absolute feeling now – and I certainly have it – that our politicians are nothing but self-serving egomaniacs. Across all parties there are reprehensible examples of people behaving in manners unbefitting of elected members of parliament.
Like their fatcat mates in The City – who they protected again last week when David Cameron vetoed a financial transaction tax for business – this Coalition is symbolic of the ‘me, first’ era.
Interestingly, four days after they voted to keep their city friends in the luxury to which they are accustomed, the House of Lords also voted to reduce top-up payments for disabled children.
Translated that means they will reduce some disabled benefits to less than $30 per week. Roughly the amount, no doubt, that David Cameron spends on toothpicks for a weekend party for his Chipping Norton set of elite friends.
The thing about disability or illness is they are not always visible. My fifty-something brother had a kidney transplant and has had a casebook of illnesses ever since – ranging from cancer to diabetes and depression – and yet, on a good day, he can walk for 10 or 15 minutes at a time with me. Admittedly, it’s not very far but he can physically move.
Anyone seeing him may deduce that he is one of those fabled characters ‘the benefit scrounger’ but the reality couldn’t be further from the truth. He requires literally hundreds of tablets each week, and daily injections, to keep him alive.
Like so many others now in receipt of disability benefits, my brother worked for decades, paid into the system and then found himself on the receiving end of detestable and diabolical behaviour when it comes to getting some support back.
He endured a year of utter misery at the hands of the Department for Work and Pensions who shuffled his claim back and forth and treated him with indifference on the one hand and belligerence on the other .
At one stage I worried for his mental health so severe was his depression when his DLA application was rejected, subject to several – and costly – appeals and then finally re-instated.
Disabled or sick people have more than enough to cope with without having to put out the begging bowl to be helped when they are entitled to be and should not be treated as a leper when they need it.
Regardless of whether this Coalition is determined to take us to hell in a handbasket we should really ask if we want to be represented in such a callous and coldhearted manner. And then when we’ve decided – we should make that clear by standing up and being counted.
That’s not a country that represents me or, indeed, any of the decent and fair-minded people of my acquaintance. We want to know that should the worst happen and people need help and support that it is available for them without making them despair or feel humiliated.
To reprise a slogan, Mr. Cameron, one that was dreamt up when your predecessor, Tony Blair, was conducting his own dodgy dossier so that he, too, could push for action that few others agreed with – when it comes to your proposed welfare cuts, the ones you seek to change but by giving us only half the story in which to make up our minds, I say this: not in my name.