Words seem inadequate as I contemplate what this Government is doing to our country and its people. As I struggle with the reality of winter, so soon after autumn, when my health is at its worst, I know there is little or nothing I can do to change the cruel policies inflicted on those least able to fight back.
But I don’t want to accept it. I don’t want to accept that I’m powerless to change things for those who are desperate. So I sit here, thinking, wondering… who do I know, who might be able to influence the Government, even just a little bit? Will they listen? Will they demand ‘quantitative evidence’ – numbers, statistics – which I can’t provide? Or will they listen as I tell them how sick, disabled and poor people are suffering? How some are stockpiling tablets for the time when they can no longer face the fight for survival? How others are going on hunger strike in protest at how they and other sick & disabled people are treated? Do they read the same reports as I do? Or do they inhabit a different universe?
Ministers may be able to turn their backs, but I can’t. The only thing I can do is keep writing, tweeting, making contacts with those with influence. It’s slow, arduous work – far too slow for those suffering now.
Like Vicki, contemplating how the ‘bedroom tax‘ will affect her and her family from April:
I am a chronically sick and disabled parent, we currently live in a four bedroom house, waiting for rehousing into a three [bedroom home]. I have my own room and profiling bed due to my illness, I am doubly incontinent and need help moving. I am in bed 24/7, social services and GP both say I need my own room. I haven’t been out my bedroom for over 4 months. We are reliant on benefits, we already go without heating oil so that my bedding can be washed and dried as soon it’s soiled…. If we don’t get help covering rent on a three bedroom property then we probably will have to make other cuts… But I don’t know what we can cut…
Or like this person who commented on our Review of the Work Capability Assessment:
My experience of the WCA… All that time spent living in fear of every time the postman came or the phone rang. Nightmares, sleepless nights, constant anxiety and stress – all made my condition worse…. My condition is long-lasting and incurable, I will never be able to work. Yet despite abundant medical evidence it took so long and a medical to decide what could/should have been decided on the paperwork alone. This is a scandal on the face of any decent society, made all the worse by the deliberate and constant mis-briefing of the press.
This government is entirely responsible for leaving disabled people to live in fear, poverty and even homelessness and death. It is also responsible for the scale of propaganda which has infiltrated the public, so that now they feel they have the RIGHT to assault disabled people in the street, mutter insults or even question them on their disability.
This assessment is costing far more than it will ever save, with knock on effects for CREATING even worse health problems, [more] GP visits and hospitalisations. To be disabled now means having to think whether you dare even leave your house, to make plans to end your own life, to feel that you don’t have the right to live and that your existence is worthless. This country, its people and its politicians should be ashamed of what they have turned this country into.
But it’s not just disabled people who are suffering. In the Metro on Tuesday, a story from this country that we might expect to hear from a poor country in the developing world:
One woman walked a round trip of almost 20 miles through torrential rain to collect rations, while another, who had not eaten for two days, slogged 12 miles on foot despite suffering from rheumatoid arthritis….
The arthritis sufferer, 42, told Metro she visited a food bank in Salisbury, Wiltshire, after walking 12 miles. She said: ‘It was painful but I had no money left and I couldn’t afford the £5.70 bus fare.’
In another example, a mother hitchiked and walked to a food bank in Cornwall with her child in a pram. Oxfam’s Sarah Dransfield said benefits cuts were a major cause.
And what makes me so, so angry about the Chancellor’s Autumn Statement is the calculating, dishonest spin we get week in, week out from this Government, avoiding the issue of how few jobs are available. It goes something like this: we want to reward work, so we’ll cut/freeze working age benefits so those who lie in bed all day don’t receive more than those ‘doing the right thing’ by getting up and going to work.
It just won’t wash - the real-terms cut to tax credits and housing benefit will hit the working poor, reliant on benefits due to low pay. But you won’t find a Tory who’ll admit that inconvenient truth. Nor will they admit that by topping up low wages with benefits they’re subsidising big business using public money, or that by paying housing benefit to help working or non-working people with high rents they’re subsidising landlords.
But back to that Autumn Statement. Some in Government fought hard to exempt disability benefits from the plan to increase working age benefits by 1% rather than the rate of inflation, but the basic element of Employment and Support Allowance – for sick and disabled people who are unable to work – wasn’t treated as a disability benefit. And of course, disabled people also rely on benefits such as housing benefit and tax credits. Another inconvenient truth.
And what many may not have noticed was that, even as demand rises, social care services, on which many disabled people depend, will be squeezed even more, with further real-terms cuts to funding for local authorities.
Within a few hours of Osborne’s statement, the analysis came thick and fast, for example:
It seems the Government simply doesn’t care about those who are sick, disabled or poor through no fault of their own, whether living on benefits or in low-paid jobs. Even if they see the truth, ministers ‘pass by on the other side’, seemingly unmoved and unresponsive.
So much for ‘compassionate Conservatism’ – as the months go by it becomes more and more clear that this was only ever a sound-bite; and a sound-bite doesn’t pay the bills or stock the fridge. For the Government, this is the inconvenient truth.