Ever since the Tories sneaked into power nearly two years ago, having failed to convince a majority of voters to trust them, and having had to construct an unlikely coalition with the Liberal Democrats, my country has become an unrecognisable place: mean-spirited above all, as the tiresome David Cameron — an unqualified, whey-faced buffoon, but one with an opinion about everything, who is barely ever off our TV screens — has presided over a wholesale attempt to raze the British state to the ground, conceived by an array of unpalatable and arrogant ministers with no clue as to the true costs and ramifications of their tired ideology.
This has involved encouraging British citizens to turn on one another, and, when not blaming the Labour government for the crash of the casino economy that the Tories had also encouraged, and that almost everyone bought into for over a decade, David Cameron has taken cynicism to new depths, blaming the poor, the unemployed and the disabled for the debts racked up primarily after the economic collapse for which Wall Street and the City of London were largely responsible. In response, I’m sickened to note, the British people have obligingly bought into this disgusting charade.
After early success in axing university funding, the coalition government has struggled with its attempted hatchet job on the NHS, but appears to be largely getting away with its welfare reforms, under the guiding hand of Iain Duncan Smith, an allegedly kindly man who, in fact, blames the poor for their poverty, and is, therefore, the most dangerous kind of reformer — the kind of Social Darwinist familiar from the Victorian era, who, in the early 20th century, often began to embrace the deadly pseudo-science of eugenics.
Now that the bill has been passed, despite eight rebellions in the House of Lords, David Cameron hailed “the biggest welfare revolution in over 60 years,” and made a point of emphasising what he described as the “Benefits Cap” which “ensures no one can get more that £26,000 in benefits,” because, as he also stated, “It’s a fair principle: a family out of work on benefits shouldn’t be paid more than the average family in work.”
What he has never mentioned — and what has hardly ever been mentioned in the mainstream media — is that most of this £26,000 goes not to the claimants, but to the landlords, who may be as greedy as they wish in a market that has been unregulated since Margaret Thatcher’s days, and who are only able to make money out of taxpayers because of a lack of social housing. This also started with Thatcher’s council house sell-off and prohibition on using that money for new social housing, which has never been overturned, even under 13 years of Labour.
The other manipulated myth — the one about work-shy scroungers — was covered through David Cameron’s comment that “Our new law will mark the end of the culture that said a life on benefits was an acceptable alternative to work,” which is another disgraceful manipulation of the facts, given that only a small number of families have undergone “a life in benefits,” as alleged, and the main problem facing the unemployed is not an unwillingness to work, but the absence of jobs. If there were two and half million job vacancies, the government could perhaps complain about the “work-shy,” but as it is, there is only one job for every five unemployed people, so the sums simply don’t add up.
David Cameron also claimed that the government had “taken bold action to make work pay, while protecting the vulnerable,” which is a blatant lie, as the vulnerable — the disabled especially — will suffer more as a result of the bill, and its deliberate efforts to strip them of the meagre allowances that make life slightly more bearable, and that, in many cases, mean the difference between being dependent or being independent.
I reserve similar disdain for Cameron’s claim that “These reforms will change lives for the better, giving people the help they need, while backing individual responsibility so that they can escape poverty, not be trapped in it,” as this also is demonstrably untrue, with the government’s plans designed to make sure that many unemployed and disabled people, either through sanctions or time-limited benefits, will be consigned to further poverty, rather than being enabled to escape it.
Unfortunately for the government, the passage of the bill has also coincided with a damning report by the Joint Committee on Human Rights (PDF), who, as Sky News described it, have warned that “scrapping the Independent Living Fund and altering both housing benefit and the Disability Living Allowance could ‘interact’ in a ‘particularly harmful way.’”
As Sky News also noted, “The committee of MPs and peers said the Government may need to introduce a specific law setting out the right to live independently.” The chair, Hywel Francis MP, said, “We are concerned to learn that the right of disabled people to independent living may be at risk through the cumulative impact of current reforms.” He added that “United Nations obligations regarding the rights of people with disabilities are ‘hard law, not soft law’ and cannot be disregarded.” He also said that the government had been “unable to demonstrate that sufficient regard has been paid to the UN Convention in the development of policy with direct relevance to the lives of disabled people.”
Labour’s shadow welfare minister Lord McKenzie also criticised the bill. He acknowledged that the Lords had improved parts of the Bill, but noted, “In too many ways it imposes unacceptable burdens on the most vulnerable. They are entitled to better from their Government.”
Below I’m cross-posting a relevant and powerful article in today’s Guardian, written by the disabled crossbench peer Jane Campbell, a member of the Joint Committee on Human Rights, who sheds more light on the committee’s important findings, demonstrating how years of progress in helping disabled people to live independent people lives is under severe threat as part of the government’s savage cost-cutting, and its disregard for the needs of disabled people. As with the last time I wrote about these issues, I encourage any readers who are interested to find out more by reading some of the many blogs written by disabled people — see We Are Spartacus for a start, and also see Benefit Scrounging Scum, and follow other links there. Please also sign the e-petition urging the government to “Stop and review the cuts to benefits and services which are falling disproportionately on disabled people, their carers and families,” which currently has over 32,000 signatures, and will be discussed in parliament if it reaches 100,000 signatures.
As a severely disabled person, I am reminded every day of the tremendous progress made over the past 30 years in the UK to enable disabled people to become active citizens. Autonomy and freedom would not have been part of my vocabulary half a century ago. I might have been reliant upon my family for support, with the prospect of being put into an institution when they could no longer cope.
Instead, at 52, I am an independent crossbench peer and member of the joint committee on human rights (JCHR), which reports this week on its 12-month inquiry into disabled people’s right to independent living.
Since leaving university I have had the privilege of being involved in helping develop the complex weave of legislation and public policy necessary for disabled people to live in, and be part of, their community.
Keeping millions of disabled people inactive and dependent is costly, from a financial and moral point of view. I have witnessed disabled people raise families, work or simply be more cost-effective by keeping healthy and taking greater control over their personal care. It’s not been perfect. But by many standards, we were ahead of the game compared with much of Europe.
And now decades of positive progress are at risk of being reversed as economic austerity is used as justification for denying independence.
That is why I am so pleased to be part of the strong and unambiguous stand taken by the JCHR in publishing its report. We listened to a whole range of expert witnesses and took into account extensive research and consultation, looked at the context of the UN convention on the rights of persons with disabilities (UNCRPD), which was ratified by the UK in 2009.
Although I feel I have the right to independent living, the legislative and policy framework simply isn’t in place to make it a right; and what there is, is in danger of disappearing fast.
If my local authority cuts my care package or demands I transfer to NHS care (because they regard using a ventilator as the trigger for health services), I lose control of my life. I might have to leave parliament, or give up work altogether (because I need social care direct payments to do everything, from eating a sandwich to delivering a speech). I am only a few bureaucratic decisions away from returning to the inequality I endured at 18. It wouldn’t take long to transform all my relationships with my colleagues, partner, family, friends into one which gives little or nothing to anyone. Everyone loses.
The fact that all this could happen without my consent hangs over me and thousands of others. That is why I am so glad the JCHR report recognises and recommends the need for freestanding legislation to protect the right to independent living in UK law.
The report addresses recent government and local authority measures and austerity reforms that impact upon independent living for disabled people; such as reforms to disability living allowance and housing benefit, closure of the Independent Living Fund and restricting eligibility for social care to “critical or substantial” needs only.
The JCHR found no tangible evidence of the government giving due consideration to the UK’s obligations under the UNCRPD during this critical reforming time.
This lack of regard to the convention, coupled with the potentially retrogressive impact of these reforms, risks placing the UK in breach of its international obligations. This report is so timely. It sets out the risks to progress on independent living and makes sensible, achievable recommendations.
The UK’s international reputation in public policy and legislation which places more power in the hands of disabled people to assume control over their own lives, and to be included in all areas of life, is clearly in jeopardy.
Independent living has never made more sense. The government must heed the JCHR report and act fast. Otherwise history will repeat itself — the next generation of disabled people should not have fewer rights than I’ve had.
Andy Worthington is the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by Macmillan in the US, and available from Amazon — click on the following for the US and the UK) and of two other books: Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion and The Battle of the Beanfield. To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to my RSS feed (and I can also be found on Facebook, Twitter, Digg and YouTube). Also see my definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, updated in June 2011, “The Complete Guantánamo Files,” a 70-part, million-word series drawing on files released by WikiLeaks in April 2011, and details about the documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (co-directed by Polly Nash and Andy Worthington, and available on DVD here — or here for the US). Also see my definitive Guantánamo habeas list and the chronological list of all my articles, and please also consider joining the new “Close Guantánamo campaign,” and, if you appreciate my work, feel free to make a donation.
On Facebook, Subversive Dissident wrote:
Isn’t it sad when you, as a Brit, and me, as an American, are this deeply ashamed of our governments? We’re supposed to be the Good Guys of the world but we keep electing filthy little animals to our highest offices.
Adrienne Murphy wrote:
They are the do as I say not as I do brigade
Charmaine Dolan wrote:
Strange; some of us were thinking this nearly 40 years ago! (not that I remember…!). Yes a complete disgrace. May I say, goes back to a certain iron lady …
Subversive Dissident wrote:
And a certain senile old fool.
Adrienne Murphy wrote:
I left school in 81 so remember those days clearly and the riots of 81…I think last summers riots will look like a tea party as I do believe this country will see mass civil unrest. This is the worst bunch ever we have had in power and the most evil and deceitful.When the general public wake up to what is going on I worry it will be too late!
Thanks, Subversive Dissident. Yes, agreed, apart from the electing bit. Bush got in by stealing the election in 2000, and Cameron and Clegg didn’t get a mandate for the policies that they never mentioned while campaigning. That ought to be illegal. But your point is taken. Our fellow citizens keep electing the lowest kind of scumbags, and then approve of their heartlessness. The world just gets darker …
Waris Ali wrote:
Well said Andy!
Thanks also, Adrienne. Yes, Cameron might as well be permanently in his manor house, the way he can’t help but patronize all of us every time he opens his pinched little mouth. And Charmaine, I agree that this started with Thatcher, but she at least had a vision — of a deregulated City and of freeing up entrepreneurs. That led directly to the unfettered greed of the last 30 years and the crash of 2008, brought about by criminality on a scale that is so huge that people in general haven’t been able to comprehend it — or start the necessary revolution in response. Unlike Thatcher, however, Cameron and Osborne and the other mirthless misfits in the cabinet don’t even have a clue about how to breathe new life into the economy, only how to kill …
Thanks also, Adrienne and Waris. And I agree wholeheartedly, Adrienne. They are the worst in my lifetime, and although it’s been a progression of disasters since 1979, i.e no Blair without Thatcher, no Cameron without Blair, the cruelty of this lot and the ways in which they and the mainstream media are stirring up violent intolerance and division in society as a whole is deeply, deeply alarming. I hope people do wake up, even if it’s too late, but what I fear is that they won’t wake up at all. Picking on the disabled? That’s how the Nazis started …
Bennett Hall wrote:
Unfortunately Andy, as things turned out, some animals are more equal than other animals, especially those that control the allocation of resources and value exchange. I really wonder how this is going to turn out, and in general fear both probable outcomes that seem most likely. No doubt it will be interesting.
Brena Easterday wrote:
Why the average person votes against their own best interests is still a mystery.
Thanks, Bennett and Brena. I guess people vote against their best interests because of self-interest — the notion that they might get rich one day, and that when they do so they’ll be able to not care about anyone else. I’m not sure why that should be such a motivation, but I guess it has something to do with the atomization of society and the dissolving of tribal identities so that there’s nothing left for people to believe in. The sad thing to me is that the cooperative model has been so discredited, even though it is the one that is so clearly the best, as it allows us to put in the effort to raise children, which is a huge undertaking, and it has created civil society, which is another huge achievement, and allows us in general to be free to move around as we wish without having to fear for our lives.
Rachel Manston wrote:
as i am presently living of off food handouts for missing a medical and gaining myself a 6mth sanction of my disablity benefits i 100 % agree
Bennett Hall wrote:
This pivotal moment in which we all live is the where the collapse of the current, in fact long running system of ‘value exchange’ as I call it, is going down. The Roman’s suffered a very similar collapse but that is another story. Fiat currency et al is no longer working, obviously, when you consider that presently we have on Earth every necessary resource to feed, cloth and enable the basic success of the planet and all the humans and creatures on it, and yet over and over the thread you hear, the drone of the lemming-head is that, “it is not in the budget”. REALLY?? Then I guess MONEY no longer works. It is after all only an abstract at this point. Time for a new system where PROFIT means something entirely different. The time is now, and this is the opportunity not just of a generation, but rather for a millennial evolution of our planet. Just do it.
Disturbing to hear that, Rachel, and to know that it’s a story repeated up and down the country. And Bennett, yes, it is certainly the time for people to seek meaningful change, and in significant numbers. The awakening last year — from Tahrir Square to Wall Street — really was just a start.
Agastyan Daram wrote:
Every system needs a means of taking care of those that can’t take care of themselves and a means of making up the difference for those that hold the lowest paying jobs in our society. If this does not happen the system would ultimatelly fail. People need to wake up and realize that so many employeers exist primarily because they are able to function without having to pay for their employees total cost of living. This will come to bite all these rich conservatives in the end because they are benefiting from the system as well. Britain, America, and countless other places on earth are dealing with these same issues..
Naguib Megally wrote:
“The awakening last year – from Tahrir Square to Wall Street – really was just a start.” Could not agree more Andy. People always strive for ‘meaningful change’ and it’s an ongoing process almost everywhere now; for a better and much more promising future for all across the globe.That’s why we all have to stick together. Sometimes, we in this part of the world could never comprehend the philosophy behind adopting such policies in the supposedly more advanced and much more democratic Western world. The disabled particularly deserve all our respect and the decent care they just deserve anywhere in the world. thanks
David J. Clarke wrote:
Steals from the poor to feed the rich.
George Kenneth Berger wrote:
I just woke up and saw this. Rightfully the most impassioned text of yours I have seen yet. I’m older than you, but have the same feelings about the period 1979 through this morning. Besides disgust and fear, I remember reading Augustine of Hippo relating how desperate and powerless he felt (and he had some clout), as he watched Rome collapse. I’ll share this, and try to get it to some disabled people I know in three countries.
Thanks, Agastyan, Naguib, David and George, for the comments while it was the middle of the night here.
All great points.
Agastyan, yes, you’re right to point out the wealth distribution issues, whereby employers don’t pay the whole bill to support workers, and taxpayers in general cover the shortfall. You know, I find it really difficult to work out quite how stupid these politicians are. Their ideology is so blinding that it obviously fixes how they see everything, but they do seem to be particularly stupid when it comes to the details of their policies, and how they will mostly end up costing more while increasing misery and suffering.
And thanks for the historical context, George. Augustine of Hippo, eh? Analogies with Ancient Rome are not so far-fetched, it seems …
Come on, U.K.!! Johnny Marr said he’d get The Smiths back together if Cameron resigned!!
Ha! Excellent, Phil. Thanks. Good to hear from you.
Dejanka Bryant wrote:
Brilliant article, Andy. Our common friend, George Kenneth Berger, tagged me to read it on his wall. Your surname Worth-ington just suits you. What I like the most in your writing is your observation how this coalition succeeded in splitting us into two opposing ‘tabors’. I have so many friends who recently lost their jobs, now sitting home redundant, with their children going to Universities next year. They are lucky, being employed for more than 20-30 years, but what about the others, being so ill, disabled, poor, who also lost their jobs.
I hope you are not going to take so hard my following sentences. These vulnarable people (disable, poor and terribly ill) will suffer now because our welfare system in the past was so wrong. Many years ago, when I came here, I visited many people from my ex-Yugoslavia, being refugees. They all lived in the most luxurious flats and houses in central London, all paid by British tax-payers. You see, both of us, my husband and I worked so hard to pay our mortgage, sending our disable child to the nursery, private one, that cost fortune, hardly meeting the end of the month financially. My Yugoslavs, and many others from all over the world, got their generous benefits. They also worked illegally. They abused the generosity of that system at the expense of the most vulnarable persons in our society. That’s why my disable child, my friend who suffers from cancer, and so many poor people, have to suffer now, because of those people who belonged to the benefit fraud.
Our government target is to blame it all on the most valnurable in our society. Pity, we are so insensitive to their needs, real needs. A child born in a poor family is not guilty, neither is a disable person or cancer patients, but Tories want us to believe that they are benefit abusers. They are not and I will never forgive them what they did to us; to look at them as our ‘undesirables’. That’s the split you wrote about.
George Kenneth Berger wrote:
There is hope for an international movement of intellectuals and academics:
Dejanka Bryant wrote:
George Kenneth Berger, wonderful post. I urge everyone to read it.
Thanks, Dejanka and George. And Dejanka, I appreciate your analysis, and understand that the welfare state has been abused, but the much bigger criminals are the corporations and rich individuals who avoid paying tax, and the bankers who crashed the global economy. They’re like a very big, very powerful version of the type of cheats and criminals you’re talking about.
Dejanka Bryant wrote:
Yes, Andy, you are right.
Thanks, Dejanka, for understanding. I’m on a mission to try and understand the scale of the global economic meltdown in 2008 and how we’re still feeling the seismic shockwaves from it, still destroying our economies, while the super-rich remain untouched. I recommend this kind of research to everyone (I’m reading Paul Mason of Newsnight). It keeps the focus where it needs to be!
This is such a sick post and just shows exactly what is bringing this country down; an expectation that the state will pay people a living, the state will provide you jobs and the state is your mother and father. Well the stage is God damn bankrupt and you just winge on about this and that. Do things for yourselves and stop relying on the state. It’s exactly this big state/ Quango New Labour idea and claimant culture that got us in this mess in the first place. And the credit crunch, blame that on your stupid political correctness which forced mortgage lenders in the U.S. to given mortgages to everyone, and a lot of poor blacks took big risks thinking the market would rise and it didn’t. (Oops does that contradict your stupid religion which is that the holiest of holiest is to not say or do anything that discriminates?). What good does it do us to have third world immigrants claiming benefits in London? And the liberals keep banging on about how it’s good for Britain. What a God damn mess, and why just idiots who want to perpetuate the mess. Lefties, please take a reality check before we sink to new depths and read something other than the Guardian. (And keep blaming “the rich” – everything is their fault right?)
Well, you’re entitled to your opinion, Nick, but when the jobs started moving to China and India, so shareholders in the West could make more money for doing f*ck-all, some of us realized this would have a detrimental effect on the jobs market in the UK. Where are the jobs? Bring the jobs back here, and then start targeting the “spongers,” but in the meantime, kicking people when they’re unemployed and there aren’t any jobs isn’t sensible; it’s just cruel. You think our financial difficulties are because of a few dole scroungers, do you? Did you miss the scenes in 2008 when the entire global economy nearly collapsed because of the greed of Wall Street and the City? That triggered job losses, and a damaging loss of revenue, and yes, the state might need to be pruned slightly to compensate, but this “age of austerity” is an ideological weapon, not an economic one based on necessity. We still have money for our imperial wars, I see, and for the Olympics, and other multi-billion pound escapades that please our leaders, but not for the basic infrastructure of a first world state. Shall we have a chat again in a few years, and see how many more unemployed people there are, how many more homeless people there are, how totally ruined the Tory-led economy still is, and see who’s to blame for what?
david cameron and worse the man no one wanted, Ian Duncan smith is the worst example of men that would rather do whatever they had to do to please what ever keeps the good life going for those that have never known poverty or never will know how to make a few slices of bread last. I have seen four of my brothers struggle and die in the recent past under various governments trying to get help, so i know how the unemployed and sick suffer. now its my turn. it seems, 45 years of past work means nothing now to this country.
Thanks, Alex. That’s a heart-breaking final line – “45 years of past work means nothing now to this country” – but it strikes me as very true, and a demonstration of what a disgrace this government is.
Any objection to re-use of the lead image from this article? I’d like to put it up at the next election (if not before).
Of course not. I found it online, in connection with a number of the excellent blogs by disabled people, and I’m sure everyone connected with it would be delighted for you to use it. It is, sadly, an accurate summary of tis government’s approach to disabled people.
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