Archbishop Nichols tells the Government: leaving the poor facing destitution is a disgrace

When I wrote this angry post: “On poverty and food banks, the Coalition reveals its true colours” in response to the rising need for food aid, I never thought a prominent Church leader would heed the challenge, “What would Jesus have us do?”.  But I was wrong.

Archbishop Vincent Nichols, the leader of the Roman Catholic Church in England and Wales, has spoken up in a strongly-worded  interview with the Daily Telegraph. In his interview, Archbishop Nichols makes two points:

  • The Government’s reforms have now destroyed even the “basic safety net”
  • The welfare system has become increasingly “punitive”, often leaving people with nothing for days on end…

I’m not naive enough to think the Government will listen, but I am encouraged that an increasing number of people, from all walks of life, are starting to see beyond the Daily Mail-ification of our society. For those struggling to heat their homes and eat, and are even facing eviction, time is running out…

New Cardinal Vincent Nichols: welfare cuts ‘frankly a disgrace’ - Daily Telegraph, 14 February 2014

We’re a wealthy country… money’s no object…

FloodingI’m supposed to be writing an important human rights report, but the political messages around today have tempted me to blog – for the first time since the turn of the year, when my anger about poverty spilled into a much less measured blog than usual. My anger has now got the better of me again…

First of all I must say, very clearly, that flooding is terrible for those affected and my heart goes out to all those who have experienced the horror of dirty, sewage-contaminated water flowing through their homes. This blog is not directed against flood victims, but is a comment on the political message and reality behind the Prime Minister’s promises.

The floods have reached the home counties. Beautiful homes next to the River Thames are awash. This is archetypal middle England. Confirmed Tory voters are now being affected by the floods which have ravaged the West Country and other areas for many weeks. Strangely, now that the water is affecting the homes of the “middle classes”, money is suddenly no object. Cameron even says “we’re a wealthy country”. He should choose his words with care….

Since the 2010 election we’ve been told that “difficult decisions have to be made” – especially when it comes to social security for the poorest in our communities, those who are ill or disabled and unable to work or are unattractive to potential employers. We were been told the welfare bill had got out of hand – even before DLA, the benefit that started in 1992 (and isn’t perfect, but what is?), had worked its way through the population to steady state, we were told it cost too much. Local authorities have had massive reductions to their budgets – and as the lion’s share of non-ring-fenced LA spending goes on adult social care, it’s not hard to see why this has led to a dramatic reduction in the number of disabled and older people receiving support. We can’t even afford to support couples who live in social housing, where one partner is providing round the clock care for the other but needs a bedroom to sleep in. Carers UK have recently published a report telling the devastating stories of family carers trying to balance caring responsibilities and work with insufficient financial and other support; for those providing 24/7 care, the carer’s allowance pays the princely sum of 36 pence per hour….

There is no doubt that people have been, and are, suffering enormously as support and resources are stripped away from those most in need of help. People are having to choose between heating their homes and eating properly, mothers are choosing not to eat to ensure they can feed their children, families are finding themselves unable to make ends meet in the school holidays when their children don’t get free school meals. There isn’t enough money to enable everyone to have the basics; that’s how poor our country is. You get the picture. “We’re all in it together” – but those who are obliged to rely more on public services and support are clearly “in it” much more than those able to be more self-reliant.

This quiet crisis – exemplified, in a sense, by a terrifying story in the New Statesman today about a recent increase in the death rate of older people – only hits the news if some gobshite (sorry!) like Katie Hopkins (who I’ve nicknamed #walkingtabloid) says something outrageous. For months on end we’ve been waiting for the BBC to report properly what’s happening on the ground. Suffering, what suffering? Don’t know what you’re talking about. Poor people, really poor, in the UK today? Don’t believe it. They clearly can’t manage their money properly (er, what money??).

This dreadful suffering, desperate people waiting to hear whether they can get enough money to live on, is the price we thought we were paying for the financial “crisis”. Like a lone voice, I’ve contributed to the comment pages on right-wing articles, saying “but the UK is a wealthy country. We do have money”. Superior middle-class types, who have no concept of how quickly their lives could spiral downwards following a catastrophic injury or illness, have patronised me, explaining, as if to a two year-old, that the country doesn’t have money, only individuals do; how could I be so naive?!

So, here we are. Disabled people clearly don’t matter. Poor people clearly don’t matter. Older people matter a bit, but not enough to ensure social care is properly funded. But suddenly, after lots of people and communities have been suffering from dreadful flooding for many weeks, the Thames breaks its banks. As if by magic, the Prime Minister tells us “Money is no object. We are a wealthy country”. I feel sick.

When disabled people can’t get suitable housing, we have no money.

When we need accessible public transport, we have no money.

When poor families can’t afford both food and heating, we have no money.

When people who appeal an incorrect “fit for work” decision need money to live on while their decision is “reconsidered”, we have no money.

When those who care 24/7 for family members are penalised financially, simply to remain in their homes, we have no money.

When A & E departments are under severe strain and sick people are waiting hours even to get into the hospital, we have no money.

BUT, when homes in middle England are flooded, money’s no object and we’re suddenly a wealthy country. Sorry, but as I said, I feel sick :(

Now we know. The shrinking of the welfare state is ideological. We ARE a wealthy country, and we need to make the right choices in 2015. Flooding is awful – but extreme poverty, isolation, freezing cold homes and hunger are as well.


PS: Every time I see some news, my heart breaks for all those whose homes, whose private spaces, are ravaged by dirty, sewage-contaminated water and/or destructive winds. And I know that many of those who live near the Thames are ordinary people with ordinary jobs; not that different from those living in areas that have been flooded since December. Some of those who’ve read my blog have deduced I don’t care; I do. Flooding is one thing, politics is another – but disability, ill-health or poverty will have a major impact on the ability of many to pick up and start again.

These issues are neither simple nor – in the case of the weather – under the control of our leaders. But what is under our leaders’ control is their attitude and their response to both flooding and other disasters that befall our fellow citizens, whether that be a catastrophic injury, a long term illness, unemployment or anything else. I want our leaders to help – not just those who are flooded, but those who were struggling before the weather hit and are still struggling – or struggling even more due to the impact of the weather.

And finally, many will disagree with the points I’ve made. But the above post was written while I was watching Cameron on the TV, declaring that we are now a wealthy country and money is no object…. and I was immediately struck by the sharp contrast with the message the Government gives when it wants to remove support from those who need it most (flooding aside, of course; I DO NOT begrudge help going to those who have suffered flooding). I wasn’t seeking to pronounce on the state of the nation’s finances; I don’t have the expertise for that!!

On poverty and food banks, the Coalition reveals its true colours

This is a very personal blog. One of the issues that has troubled me greatly in relation to this Government is that I’ve been all-too aware of the support Iain Duncan Smith’s policies have enjoyed from the evangelical wing of the church. Indeed, a leading member of a church similar to mine is (still, I believe) one of IDS’s special advisers. I’ve found that very hard to understand or accept – that a committed Christian appears to support social security policies that are causing such hardship and suffering among those who have the misfortune to be disabled, chronically sick or poor. (See note 1) Continue reading

In its disability policy, the Government wants to “have its cake and eat it”

This morning the Court of Appeal quashed the decision of the High Court that the Government acted lawfully in deciding to close the Independent Living Fund (ILF), which provides funding for independent living for around 19,000 disabled people with the highest support needs. This has some significance for me because in the first article I ever wrote for the Guardian  I explained how adequate, self-directed social care support, provided by local authorities and/or the ILF, can enable disabled people to live active and fulfilling lives, engaging in paid work and participating fully in our communities, and how this is at risk due to cuts to social care funding and the proposed closure of the ILF. Continue reading

The PIP 20 metre rule remains intact

Despite hundreds of consultation responses explaining the devastating impact on people with significant walking difficulties of using 20 metres as the benchmark distance for eligibility for the enhanced mobility component of PIP* and therefore the Motability scheme, the Government has decided, as we suspected they would, to keep the assessment criteria the same. Whilst this is obviously a disappointment, there are several interesting features of the Government’s response to the consultation worth highlighting (although it’s impossible to unpack the whole document in one article). Continue reading

Miriam’s open letter to David Cameron

Miriam’s letter poignantly describes the sorts of battles disabled people face every day in our country… this is our reality:

Dear Mr Cameron

On 16th August 2006 I was judged to be sufficiently disabled to warrant being awarded the higher rate mobility component and lower rate care component of Disability Living Allowance, indefinitely as my condition is not curable. I have severe Peripheral Vascular Disease. I was also in receipt of Incapacity Benefit at that time. Continue reading

Welfare reform is a reality

Jane Young:

Brilliant to have an honest, realistic post on welfare reform on the Faculty of Public Health’s blog!

Originally posted on Better Health For All:

by Paul Southon

  • Public Health Development Manager
  • UK Healthy Cities Network Local Coordinator

Welfare reform is a reality. Reviews of the likely health impacts suggest that they will be significant, are starting now and will last for a generation. (1) (2)

Work to quantify the financial implications for local areas shows that the financial impact will be disproportionately felt by the areas with the largest health inequalities. (3) There is also evidence that the impacts on already disadvantaged sections of communities – such as disabled people, black and minority ethnic groups and women – will be disproportionate. (4) (5)

All of this is happening at a time of major reductions in budgets and staffing across the public sector which limits the local ability to respond. This has been described as a perfect storm for local government. It will also have significant impacts across health services.

Over the longer term there…

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This entry was posted on 01/10/2013, in News.