UPDATED: 12:19, 1 February 2012 Comments (69)
I have a question. It’s one that I can’t seem to get to the bottom of no matter how often I ask it. So, I will ask it again in the hope that something new will emerge because the desire is sufficiently strong to make sense of my confusion.
Why, when it comes to the needs of disabled and sick people, is David Cameron so hopelessly, and dangerously, out-of-touch? And, I should add, not just with the reality of the situation facing those who are disabled and sick, many of them terminally so, but of the opinions given by those who profoundly understand disability, both personally and professionally?
I can’t compute that. Our Prime Minister, through the prism of personal sorrow, has known the devastation that disability can bring to a person – such as his own son, Ivan – and those who love them, and yet he is pursuing some of the most punishing cuts to disabled people that we have witnessed in decades, if not centuries.
What is going on? I’m shocked by the intentions and actions of his Coalition. I struggle to make sense of his proposals. Perhaps there is no sense to be made of them because the disability reforms are not about sense, common or otherwise.
Dangerously out of touch: the Government have refused to be beaten by every opposition to these disability cuts
I am forced to ask this question again because Mr. Cameron will attempt today to overturn the recent ruling in the House of Lords against disability cuts. He is hoping that MP’s will unanimously agree to ignore the wishes of the Lords (who voted to give our disabled and sick a halfway decent existence) – and, instead, follow his savage and breathtakingly cruel measures of reform.
I’ll give Cameron this, he’s nothing if not tenacious when it comes to achieving a goal, that much is apparent. Or, at least, that’s what he has revealed during this fortnight of Welfare Reforms.
As our MP’s and the Lords have debated and voted on all forms of public assistance from housing benefit caps to income support, it has become increasingly clear that David Cameron’s coalition will not allow any obstacle to blight the path of their intentions.
And nowhere is his hostile aims more apparent than when it comes to disability and sickness. It’s like he’s waging his own personal war.
Cameron has displayed a ‘no low is too low’ attitude when it comes to shoe-horning his amendments through Parliament, whether the Lords back him or not, and despite the fact that his own party rejected such proposals, and very strongly, when they were first drafted during Tony Blair’s tenure as PM.
When Labour tried to push through similar disability living changes in 1999, they were opposed, violently, by the Tories and LibDems. It’s all there in Hansard, the official, verbatim parliamentary report.
Quentin Davis, Conservative MP and spokesman for social security – and under the guidance of William Hague – attacked Labour for holding an attitude towards disabled people as being ‘scroungers’.
In an extremely robust opposition he noted that: ‘Those who are disabled should get the support they need to lead a fulfilling life with dignity’.
He said, and I must quote him fully here so as to eliminate any doubt.
‘I am proud that we in the Conservative party never thought of taking such measures when we were in power. We made our share of mistakes, and received our share of criticisms of different kinds. However, we never trampled on the contributory principle in this fashion. We never decided that the disabled were the softest target, and went for them if we needed to raise a bit of money in a hurry for some purpose.
‘I am proud that we stand today on our previous record, which is that the disabled, far from being a soft target and an easy touch for a Government, are a group of vulnerable people who should be the last people to be disadvantaged when changes are made to our welfare and benefits system.’
It is a speech not disimilar to one given by Lord Patel recently, who brilliantly led opposition to disability cuts in The Lords, when he said that we have ‘entered a different type of morality’ when we ‘rob the poor to pay the rich.’
To be clear. We all acknowledge that we have a deficit in this country, the proverbial billion pound black hole as it were, and we all understand – no matter how basic our grasp of economics – that we have to fill it somehow.
Why, though, does it have to be from the pockets of those who need help the most? Why are we penalising people with disabilities for the misdeeds of others? Can anyone tell me that? For that is what we are clearly doing, as Lord Patel accurately outlined.
The matter of moving millions of people from DLA to PIP may be only an issue of different letters for most people but for those directly affected by the migration from DLA to PIP, the devastation will prove all too real
Why, instead of directing all this national vitriol at disabled people – as several newspaper columnists and MP’s have done in the past week, shame on them – aren’t we sincerely tackling those at the top of the financial hierarchy who led us into this calamitous financial nightmare? Including, but not limited to, CEO’s and bankers?
And, given, we need billions to rectify our economy, why are we allowing multi-nationals to write off, literally, billions of pounds in taxes? That sounds like a fairly simple sum to me, only those with loyalties to business rather than people would disagree.
Even this week David Cameron and George Osborne have proved utterly ineffective – and have revealed where their true priorities lie – by refusing to get involved in the issue of RBS chief Stephen Hester’s obscene, and undeserved, bonus.
If only they were quite so reserved when it came to interfering in the financial affairs of those who are currently contemplating whether they dare put their heating on for fear of not making ends meet, it would make for an infinitely fairer world.
So, the Conservatives were repelled by the proposals when Labour wanted to instigate them but they support them wholeheartedly now. Other than party leadership, you have to wonder what happened to make them switch from a more compassionate conservatism to one that appears to lack serious understanding, or care for that matter, of the issues facing people with disabilities.
And all that from a Government led by a man who experienced the death of his own profoundly disabled child. I can’t fathom that at all. Can you?
At least the Conservatives of 1999 appeared to have some ethical framework as to how we were going to care and protect some of our most vulnerable citizens whereas David Cameron’s Tory party wants to remove significant and far-reaching support from all disabled people from the very young to the oldest.
(Left) Quentin Davies Quentin Davis, Conservative MP and spokesman for social security attacked Labour for holding an attitude towards disabled people as being ‘scroungers’
So far, the Government have refused to be beaten by every opposition to these disability cuts from ignoring extensive public consultation to attempting to overturn the Lords’ votes. And even when the DWP were forced to admit that some of the new measures were insufficiently trailed, DC’s team have continued to bulldoze their way through.
To proceed with his ghastly endeavours, Cameron has enlisted the aid of Lord Freud – a man on a mission when it comes to welfare reform.
Originally a member of Tony Blair’s Labour, Freud switched political allegiance to ensure the optimum chance of success. Clearly, then, we can deduce from his wholehearted and persistent support that like Cameron, Freud is determined to force these measures through – no matter the challenges or delays.
Over the last two weeks, the Government disability crack team – Cameron, Freud, Chris Grayling, Iain Duncan Smith and Maria Miller, minister for disabled people – have done their damndest to persuade the court of public opinion over to their perspective.
The Department for Work and Pensions have been supremely busy issuing skewed statistics and encouraging us to wage war on the fraudulent claimants (who, it turns out, amounted to less than 0.5% of claims, so not such a show-stopping figure at all).
No-one is saying that our welfare system doesn’t need to be reformed. It does. Clearly. It’s a shambolic and disorganised mess that takes billions more to administer than it needs to. The process of assessment is problematic and riddled with anomalies and need to be reviewed.
If the reforms were targetted towards creating a system that was able to efficiently – and with some traces of humanity – manage the millions who rely on it, then we would already be saving billions.
Campaigners, most noticeably those behind the Spartacus Report, are not asking to leave the system as it stands, they are requesting more consideration in the reforms rather than rush things through at breakneck speed.
For example, the matter of moving millions of people from Disability Living Allowance (DLA) to Personal Independence Payment (PIP) may be only an issue of different letters for most people but for those directly affected by the migration from DLA to PIP, the devastation will prove all too real.
According to the Government’s own criteria for PIP, many disabled people will not qualify for assistance and will find themselves unable to leave their homes as they will be excluded from motability assistance including wheelchairs.
People who cannot bathe independently will no longer qualify for a carer to help them and employed people with disabilities will be forced into unemployment because PIP will not be able to faciliate their role in the workplace.
So even though we are heading towards an all-time high of three million unemployed, the Government want to make those who are working intentionally job-less. No good sense there, either.
Abandoned: People who cannot bathe independently will no longer qualify for a carer to help them
Over the past few weeks, and as the debates have increased, it has become clear that abolishing DLA and replacing it with PIP is neither advisable or ethical. And, yet, David Cameron has displayed a dogged determination to see it come to pass. I can’t help but wonder why.
After all, didn’t he, himself, utilise Disability Living Allowance for his own child? And yet both he and his wife Samantha, independently wealthy, would not need it in the same way as the millions who do. Pity it wasn’t means-tested.
As one campaigner said to me: “You want my Motability car? Have it. You want my DLA care component? Have it. You want my incapacity benefit? Have that too. But also have my Cerebral Palsy, my inability to vocalise my thoughts and feelings, my inability to hear yours. So, if in spite of all this you still want everything I have, then take it all and let me have your life and your freedom of choice.”
It’s not much of a choice when you hear it like that, is it? The way some people talk you would think it was a desirable lifestyle to have inherited or contracted sickness or disability.
The argument of disability has become an exercise in de-humanisation and it must stop. The levels of anxiety that have been created among disabled and sick people as a consequence of these merciless reforms is a stain on our national character.
Personally, I’m getting used to being called a ‘bleeding heart Liberal’ when it comes to the issues of disability – even if it is entirely inaccurate – but I cannot allow that to distract from the fact that we, as a nation, are being led into measures against our disabled that lack all morality and compassion.
What David Cameron’s coalition is proposing is heinous and we should reject it in the strongest possible terms. I hope, with every fibre of my being, that our Members of Parliament give the bill a proverbial bloody nose as they are asked to overturn what the Lords’ already found so repugnant.
To be clear, this is systematic mental, physical and emotional abuse of our sick and disabled at the hands of our Government and I say again, as I have before, not in my name.