22 Jan 2013

Government breaks disability benefit “promise”

Card spotted locally
I've already blogged on the immoral and economically illiterate cut to benefits - see here - well the cut also breaks a promise that disability-specific benefits would rise in line with inflation - see Mencap's press release below. It has been shocking listening to the news about these cuts - which will significantly reduce the living standards of millions of their voters.

We have seen large corporations evading taxes yet this government chooses to target those with very little. Benefits claimants are becoming scapegoated and stigmatised through notions of undeservingness or dishonesty whipped up by the government and some media. The perception has been created that there is mass benefit fraud yet the government’s own figures estimate less than 0.3%.

Research shows we see claimants as less deserving than 20 years ago and benefits stigma’ is now highest in Britain over other OECD countries. We have one of the least generous unemployment benefit systems in Europe and it is getting worse every year. Hundreds of thousands of people are surviving – not living, but surviving - on the measly sum of £71/week or less in job seekers’ allowance. Child poverty shamefully looks set to rise to one in four with this Bill.

Only 3% of the entire welfare budget goes to unemployed people and 93% of new housing benefit claims are for people who have a job; this says lots about the energy of people who go out to work even when it doesn’t pay enough to cover their rent.

The Green Party argues that the only ethical and effective way of reducing social security costs is to create jobs - not slash budgets. An astonishing one in five UK workers are paid less than a living wage – who either as parents, or as householders, will have been receiving state support to enable them to continue to live. If they were all paid a living wage the net benefit to the government would be about  £7.5 billion. As has been said before in the previous press release this cut is economically illiterate - facing a triple-dip recession, the government is pulling millions of pounds out of the pockets of people who, had they received it, would certainly have fed the money back into the economy in buying food, buying energy, and buying services.

We need a change of direction of the British economy – bring manufacturing and food production back to Britain, restore strong, diverse local economies built around small businesses and co-operatives paying decent wages on which their staff can build lives and communities. That’s a longterm project – but today we need to say no to the Welfare Benefits Up-rating Bill.

Locally Greens have also issued statements......

Anna Bonallack, (Green Party candidate for Painswick (with Bisley, Randwick, Whiteshill & Ruscombe and Upton St Leonards Division in the County Council Elections in May) has expressed concern that benefits claimants are becoming increasingly scapegoated and stigmatised for their condition. Victorian notions of the undeserving or dishonest poor are being peddled by the government. She said: “We have all come across the odd individual who plays the benefits system but they are very few in number.  The vast majority of unemployed people want to work. They and we all know what social, economic and personal good work does for us. The government’s critical focus on the unemployed is unjust and in my view entirely intentional since it distracts attention from the real cheats, the tax avoiding corporations and super rich individuals, who they are unwilling or unable to tackle”.

She cites research done by the Elizabeth Finn Care and the University of Kent. The research paper “Benefits Stigma in Britain” attempts to define and measure the nature and extent to which benefits claimants are stigmatised.  Many of the report’s recommendations refer to the divisive behaviour of politicians or officials in perpetuating or tolerating misleading information. For example, when interviewed it found that, basing their opinion on media coverage, which in turn was fed by government, people vastly overestimated numbers of people “claiming falsely” or “committing fraud”.

Mencap's press release: Welfare Benefits Uprating Bill sees ESA rise by just 1%

On 8 January, work and pensions secretary, Iain Duncan Smith, published the Welfare Benefits Uprating Bill. The bill aims to cap increases of most working-age benefits to just 1% – well below the rate of inflation. In his autumn statement, published in December, the Chancellor of the Exchequer said that disability-specific benefits would rise in line with inflation, in order to recognise the extra hardship that disabled people already face.

Despite this commitment, the Welfare Benefits Uprating Bill reduces the Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) for those in the Work Ready Activity Group to a 1% rise. In real terms, households receiving this ESA will be £87.65 worse off per year. This is in addition to reductions from non-disability-specific benefits, such as Housing Benefit.

Mencap has warned that the reduction would punish 500,000 disabled people, including those assessed as too sick or disabled to work.

Not skivers

“In his autumn statement, the Chancellor said disabled people would be protected from government plans to cap benefit increases at 1%,” said Dan Scorer, Mencap’s senior campaigns manager. 

“Yet half a million vulnerable, disabled people will see cuts. These are not skivers, snoozing behind drawn curtains in the morning, these are people who are either unable to work, or who would dearly love to with enough help and support.

“This is yet another cut to hit disabled people, who have already experienced a £500 million drop in support since 2010. We want to see the Chancellor honour his commitment to protect disabled people, by excluding people on Employment and Support Allowance from the cap on benefit increases.”

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