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Lisa Egan Headshot

An Open Letter to David Cameron

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Yo Dave!

I know you're a bit busy, but I was wondering if you could help me out with something? I like to think I'm fairly clever and that my comprehension is pretty good but I'm having a bit of trouble with the blog post you wrote here on Thursday.

In your penultimate paragraph you describe the Welfare Reform Bill as being the work of a "compassionate modern government in action." I think I might need to borrow your dictionary.

I have one dictionary and it's pretty old: It's the 1987 printing of the Oxford Handy Dictionary.

Only owning a 25-year-old dictionary is why I still find myself starting letters with "yo" though we're in the year 2012. I'd buy a new one except I live on benefits and my weekly food budget is almost certainly less than your budget for just one meal. I can't afford to splash out on something as relatively luxurious as a new dictionary.

My dusty old dictionary describes "compassion" as "pity inclining one to be helpful or merciful."

It doesn't mention anything about kicking disabled kids, pooping on people with cancer, or decreeing disableds to a life of destitution. So you can see where my confusion lies.

In your first paragraph you repeat your government's catchphrase of wanting to "make work pay". You and I both know that Disability Living Allowance (DLA) is not an out-of-work benefit: It's is to pay for such things as wheelchairs or human assistance with tasks like getting out of bed. Those needs stay with you if you get a job so the benefit to pay for that help stays with you too.

In converting DLA to Personal Independence Payment (PIP) you're cutting the budget by 20% (despite the fact that only 0.5% of claims are fraudulent, as you can see from your own official figures in the table on page 12). With around half a million genuinely disabled adults losing that support it will undoubtedly include some who will become unable to work because they've lost the support that prevented them being housebound. So how exactly is preventing people from getting up and going to work making work pay?

As you know; PIP will also involve regularly reassessing people to see if their condition has gotten better. Trouble is: Disability is for life, not just for Christmas. Amputated limbs don't grow back, severed spinal cords don't heal and many causes of blindness are unfixable. My own osteogenesis imperfecta will be with me until I die. I know you have familial experiences of lifelong impairment.

The assessment process for DLA is degrading, humiliating, depressing and frustrating. The process for PIP is set to be more so. Assessing is also costly to the taxpayer, as is the process of appeals when the assessor gets things wrong. In your blog post you boast that welfare reform will "save billions of pounds of taxpayers' money." So why do you plan to continually reassess us incurables, pouring taxpayers' money down the toilet in the process? Or does incurable not feature in your dictionary? Mine says "person that cannot be cured"; has the meaning changed?

Another problem with words obviously having evolved since my dictionary was printed is that my antiquated copy defines "bathe" as "immerse oneself in liquid".

However I notice that on page 10 of the second draft of the PIP regulations "bathe" is defined as "clean one's torso, face, hands and underarms". Your definition not only lacks immersion, but also apparently disabled people no longer need to be clean from the waist down.

If one can't clean oneself below the waist one will no longer be eligible for help to perform said task. Your councillor Luke Mackenzie's remarks were frighteningly prescient when he described disabled people as "unwashed".

Having crotchrot spread among the disabled population like a plague will probably be okay though: The Observer found in 2008 that 70% of people wouldn't hump someone with a physical disability so no-one's going to mind. Except possibly in enclosed spaces.

The subject of relations moves me neatly on from PIP to Employment and Support Allowance. The bill means anyone with cancer, or MS, or Parkinson's, or anything else, who might be capable of some work at some point in the future (not immediately) will lose their income after one year if they have a partner earning more than £7,500 per annum.

I know that people like you who've never had to budget your household expenses can't understand how little £7,500 is, so here's a bit of perspective: You and your wife couldn't afford return First Class flights to Sydney with that. Forget the kids, forget accommodation: Only one of you could fly, unless you downgraded to (*whispers*) Business Class. It's simply not an amount two people can live on, especially when one has a costly illness.

You once said you wanted this to be a "family-friendly government" and, yet again, I'm having trouble understanding your meaning. I would expect a family-friendly government to promote family units of more than one which is at odds with the ESA reform.

If you can't claim an income because you've got a partner and two people can't live on their income there's only one option: Separation. Not only does this seem to be the antithesis of 'family-friendly' but it'll cost the tax payer more. Paying Income Based ESA, Council Tax Benefit and Housing Benefit to the newly single sick person is more expensive than paying them Contributory ESA and allowing them to remain in the home they share with their partner. Didn't you say something about "saving the taxpayer billions"?

I presume this is only going to affect people already in relationships. I don't think we have to worry about disabled people meeting new partners and not being able to afford to move in with them: with many people no longer able to wash below the waist I think dating will be off the cards. No-one wants to do the business with someone whose unwashed crotch can be smelled from six streets away.

Then there are those in the Work Related Activity Group of ESA being forced into workfare placements. Just to refresh your memory: the group is comprised of people who are currently unable to work, but may be able to work at some point in the future.

My pesky dictionary... I thought that being unable to work meant just that. Without an updated volume I'm struggling to comprehend how someone that isn't capable of working suddenly becomes capable of working when remuneration is removed. Then there's the fact that these ill people who've been forced into slavery will never see an end to their punishment for having the audacity to be sick: while placements for unemployed people have a time-limit, placements for ill people do not.

I suppose working the already ill into the grave is one way of achieving your aim of saving the taxpayer a few quid. It's not very compassionate though, is it? Well, not by my dictionary's definition.

While I'm on the topic of workfare, there's yet another thing that perplexes me. In your piece you have a grumble about the "something for nothing" culture. But aren't big corporations taking on staff that they don't have to pay getting something for nothing? I know, all this getting confused by your use of English; I should probably sign up for a basic reading skills course.

You say that these reforms are "protecting the vulnerable". My dictionary defines "protect" as "keep safe, defend, guard." I'm intrigued to know what yours says, because removing the Severe Disability Premium from people who are severely disabled (the clue is in the name, even I can see that) would seem to be not very defensive.

I'd even go so far as to say that it's the antonym of guarding, defending and keeping safe. I'd also put forward that ensuring severely disabled children are never entitled to an independent income and halving Tax Credits for disabled children were the opposite of "protecting the vulnerable".

You say that you're "backing individual responsibility so that they can escape poverty, not be trapped in it." But capping housing benefit so that unemployed people have to move from expensive areas with jobs, to poorer areas with less employment opportunities would seem to be incongruous with that. Is it because I went to a state school that I'm having so much trouble comprehending your post? It surely can't just all be down to my old dictionary that it appears that you're saying the opposite of what you really mean.

Gosh, is that the time? I suppose I should go and sort out my bedtime medication. Like I said, I'd be so grateful if you could loan me your magical oppositional dictionary. I could do with a reversal of fortunes in which I become happy, healthy and able to go a day without worrying about money.

Now, let me see if I can get the hang of this inverted language thing. One is supposed to sign off a letter "yours sincerely" so, would I be right in thinking that in Cameronspeak "mine insincerely" is the correct end?

Mine insincerely;

Lisa

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