Wednesday 22 November 2017 was the first Autumn Budget for 21 years and it was notable to me because of the silence surrounding social care.
My daughter Emily is 20-year-old, which means she wasn’t here when the last Autumn Budget was delivered. Notably she wasn’t in any of the Chancellor’s statements yesterday either. Emily is learning disabled with autism and epilepsy and she is reliant upon dual funding from the NHS and the council in order to live a semblance of independent life to which we all aspire. For Emily, complete independence is impossible because her independence comes with a 24 hour care package attached for life.
Emily is also due to transfer over to Universal Credit in February and there has only recently been a correction in her benefits, as they didn’t include Severe Disability Premium. I hope she doesn’t become reliant upon that money once she finally gets it though, because in February when she transfers to Universal Credit she will lose it once again.
Austerity is an obscenely cruel driver when you have a disability. Emily has already lost the Blue Badge parking permit which would make accessing services, hospital appointments, dental appointments, doctors appointments, shopping trips, and leisure activities much easier. That happened when the last welfare reform was delivered. Moving from Disability Living Allowance to Personal Independence Payments, made its rebrand an oxymoron, as “independence” when you don’t have a Blue Badge but you do have an invisible disability, is impossible.
When the fiscal agenda is cutting, compassion is thrown out the window.
There was good news apparently, over Universal Credit, one that wrought a cheer from the Tory backbenches and one that made me roll my eyes.
It was a non-entity, delivered as a triumph.
The Chancellor exclaimed that he was ending the week-long wait for Universal Credit, for those transferring on to it, as Emily will, from other benefits. That’s great, but the mandatory week-long wait you have dispensed with, is only one of a six week waiting period built into that “benefit” as standard.
Claimants like Emily will still have five weeks to live through, with no money to pay her heating bills, her food. her lighting, her water, and her rent. It’s entirely possible for someone to be evicted in five weeks. As possible as it is, to starve and freeze to death in the same time frame.
Given that the Chancellor is delaying this magnanimous gesture until next year, the winter ahead and Christmas 2017, for millions of people in the seventh richest country in the world looks as bleak as ever. With backbenchers now mollified, and rebellion quashed who is left in the government to advocate for people like Emily now?
That’s the reality of the claimants everyone wants to forget. They’re not benefit fraudsters playing the system, caught and exposed in CCTV footage for the world to hiss and spit at. There is only a tiny percentage of fraudsters who cheat the system to line their pockets. More money is lost at the DWP through admin error. Austerity measures for seven years don’t seem to have improved that at all.
Visit most supermarkets to collect your weekly shopping and you’ll see collection boxes for foodbanks. Drive through towns and cities in this country and you will see the queues for those collections. Fraudsters don’t queue in the rain with thousands of others, everyday. They don’t choose between heating and eating for themselves in order to feed their children. Fraudsters don’t die alone at home because they can’t get the help they so badly need. Fraudsters are ok. Austerity, which we were assured would pay down the deficit, shows no signs of decreasing, just like the deficit.
Emily, and millions like her will just have to keep paying for the mistakes of the bankers who caused the financial crash in the first place.
Despite all my disappearing hope as I listened to the budget there was something that the Chancellor said that I did support. I applaud Phillip Hammond’s TV choice of Blue Planet. Now that he’s taken steps to help the creatures of our oceans, I urge him to turn his viewing attention to I, Daniel Blake.
I admit to some confusion that whilst the Conservatives do not believe animals, including creatures of the deep, are capable of experiencing pain they are worthy of swift and complete action to protect them and their habitat. Yet humans, who claim benefits, are only offered a seven day reprieve from waiting for their money and remain trapped within a system, which makes survival and a home increasingly uncertain. I know that the mantra is that a week is a long time in politics, but an eviction notice is fast and final and unmoved by any amount of cheering from Tory backbenchers.
I do wonder if Phil Hammond paused Blue Planet as he noted down his concerns for inclusion in his forthcoming Budget speech. No pause is forthcoming for the manmade disaster that is Universal Credit sadly. We can just add that to the social care crisis of oceanic whirlpool proportions, which wasn’t deemed worthy of even a mention in yesterday’s budget.
There is a catastrophe affecting sentient creatures on land as well as at sea in this country and the Chancellor has the ability to change things in a meaningful way for my daughter. He could have offered me some hope, he could have offered her a decent future. He could have offered hope to the millions of others like Emily and by extension to their family carers. Emily will never need to be grateful for the removal of stamp duty from a £300,000 property, but really would benefit from not being evicted.
I’m not sure what the Makaton symbol is for foodbank, but the thing that keeps me awake at night is the fear that Emily will have to learn it.