Monday, 21 March 2016

The Government is failing the disabled and the vulnerable

The resignation of the Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith, because of cuts to benefits for disabled people, has certainly focussed attention on the failure of the Government to protect the most vulnerable in society.

Many claims have been made about other possible reasons behind Duncan Smith’s resignation, such as personal disputes with the Chancellor of the Exchequer and / or the politics of the EU referendum.

But, be that as it may, the growing injustice at the heart of the cuts is undeniable.

Duncan Smith’s resignation letter to the Prime Minister pulled no punches and centred on George Osborne’s announcement of £4 billion of benefit cuts for the disabled when, at the same time, he pledged tax breaks for the better-off.

He challenged the Government to look again at the “balance of the cuts” to make certain “enough has been done to ensure ‘we are all in this together’.”

Others have used much stronger language to condemn the cuts.

Plaid Cymru MP Jonathan Edwards slammed the “aggressiveness” of the Government’s “deliberate targeting of disabled people, the most vulnerable people in our society.”

Parkinsons UK meanwhile described the changes as a “big backward step for the welfare system” and one which would have “devastating consequences for claimants.”

One newspaper editorial simply said it was “cruel” to reduce funding for the “personal independence payments” for disabled people, which often cover the “extra costs of living with disability, such as wheelchairs and help getting dressed and going to the lavatory.”

At the time of writing this article, it has been reported that the Conservatives have agreed “not to proceed with the policies in their current form,” but that claim has even been ridiculed by prominent Tories.

Bernard Jenkin, Chairman of the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Select Committee, made it public that the “£4 billion savings in the budget from welfare still stands” and that “similar cuts from other benefits for working age people, including for disabled people” would have to be found. He added this was what his colleague found “morally indefensible.”

In a separate but related development, the Institute for Fiscal Studies has analysed recent Government announcements to “highlight the disingenuousness” of claims by George Osborne that he was helping the less well-off.

In assessing the impact of all post-2015 policy changes, it found that by 2020, on average, the poorest fifth of households would be £550 a year worse off while the richest fifth would be over £270 better off.

This is simply wrong and shows that the present Government needs to change direction and put social justice at the heart of everything that it does.

[This is my article in this week’s Cornish Guardian].

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