On the eve of the Conservative Party Conference a new coalition is emerging. Driven by the injustice of a range of policies - all of which target disabled adults, older people, children and war veterans. Now leaders from the anti-cuts world, like Occupy London, are joining together with disability groups, like Disabled People Against the Cuts and the WOW Petition, working together with the Church, in order to resist this devastating assault - not just on people's basic rights but on people's very lives.
On the 28th September, at 12 noon in Parliament Square there will be a public meeting and an act of remembrance for the 10,000 people who have died shortly after going through the degrading Work Capability Assessment, run by Atos.
For anyone unfamiliar with what is happening in the UK today here is a summary of the main points:
1. The cuts program has targeted disabled people. Someone with severe disabilities faces cuts 19 times greater than an average person, because of a combination of benefit, housing and social care cuts.
2. Social care faces the deepest cuts of all. Local services for people with severe disabilities, including children and the elderly - are being cut by 33% by 2015. 433,000 people have already missed out on adult social care services - this is the real cause of the current crisis in our hospitals.
3. The Independent Living Fund is being closed down. This means 19,373 people with severe disabilities will now lose their direct entitlement for money to support their independence.
4. The UK is the third most unequal country in the developed world. New rules disconnect the benefit system from growth (and even inflation). These changes guarantee that the poorest will get poorer and inequality will grow year on year.
5. Cuts in housing benefit and the introduction of the bedroom tax are further impoverishing disabled people and forcing people to leave their own homes. 420,000 disabled people or their families will each lose an average of £728 per year.
6. At the same time the government's subsidy to home owners, through an artificially low interest rate, has created an annual subsidy of £33 billion for home owners, with most of this subsidy only benefiting the richest 20%. Over five years this subsidy to home owners is worth £170 billion.
7. Disability Living Allowance (DLA) helps people who have serious health conditions and disabilities to live independently - this includes people with arthritis, learning disabilities, psychosis, terminal illness and dementia. It will now be replaced with Personal Independence Payments (PIP) and 500,000 people will lose individual entitlements worth an average of £3,000 per year.
8. The new system of Employment Support Allowance (ESA) has been designed to save £2 billion by introducing means-testing, and taking away rights for people who become disabled after many years of paying taxes, thus driving people unnecessarily into poverty.
9. The government's Work Programme will cost up to £5 billion, just to fund organisations who supposedly help people find work. The programme has a very low success rate and only 'helps' 5% of disabled people find work - this figure is so low that it's likely that doing nothing would have been more effective.
10. Instead of trusting disabled people and family doctors, the government has set up a contract with a private French medical firm Atos. This disastrous policy has fuelled an increase of 200% in tribunals appealing social security decisions since 2010. Today 42% of appeals are successful. Citizen Advice recently reported a 67% increase in disability benefit problems.
For people who want to see all the references you can go to an article on The Centre for Welfare Reform's website.
The injustice is great, but so is the challenge ahead. Most of the media and the public seem utterly disinterested. Partly these attacks are so broad, so complex and so obscure that it is nearly impossible to understand what is going on. Partly it is because people have their own problems - the housing bubble has left a lot of people feeling anxious and in debt - even if they are relatively wealthy.
The third problem is that this is not just a matter of party politics. The reason that politicians have targeted disabled people is not political - it's constitutional. It's not that the Conservatives are mean and nasty - it's that disabled people are an easy target group. All politicians are now entirely focused on the key swing voters - we live in a medianocracy where power is focused on the middle.
So many of the charities that we might expect to stand up for disabled people seem so dependent on government funding and the honour's system that they also seem unable to resist these policies. So it is encouraging to hear David Ison, Dean of St Paul's Cathedral, say:
It's right to stand in solidarity with people from many different organisations to draw attention to the needs of some of the most deprived members of our society. Many disabled people feel desperate facing possible cuts in support, the bedroom tax, and in particular an inflexible and failing Work Capability Assessment scheme which can blight and even cut short their lives. The Government needs to respond by enabling disabled people to live with dignity and security.
This is what makes the Church such an important ally. The Church may not have the power it once had - but it has a responsibility to stand up for people. Social justice is at the heart of Christianity - and hopefully the Church can help wake the country up to what is really going on.Suggest a correction