Wednesday, 1 February 2012

Disablism, Con Dems and Lib Dems: No More Excuses

From The Morning Star newspaper
As I write, the Con Dem Government is comprehensively voting down in the House of Commons various amendments passed a couple of weeks ago in the House of Lords which would have partially mollified some of the harshest aspects of the new Welfare Act. These amendments included extending from one to two years the period of time people previously on Incapacity Benefit would keep the new Employment Support Allowance before it becomes means-tested (at which point, if the disabled person's partner earns more than £7,500 p.a., they get nothing). This amendment has been removed today even although the Government acknowledges that at  least 94% of those on the new ESA Work group will not find employment within twelve months.

The Lords' amendments also included exemptions from loss of benefit for cancer sufferers and widening eligibility criteria for young people. However, the Coaliton MPs have swept these aside and, a few minutes ago, they voted to cut disability living allowance (to be renamed personal independence payments) to disabled children.

Concerned that the Lords might reimpose their amendments when the Bill goes back there for its next reading, the Government has invoked the Parliament Act and declared the legislation to be a financial measure. Now, to be sure, the Act will involve spending money; but on this basis, virtually all legislation would be classified as financial. The Parliament Act was introduced a century ago to ensure that the Lords could not block indefinitely a Budget passed by the Commons - so it is stretching the spirit of the law far beyond breaking point to try this sort of ruse. But, there again, as the Government has already written to many disabled people informing them of the changes to their benefits from April, when the necessary legislation has not yet been passed by Parliament, perhaps they are in a bit of a hurry.

Never has the assault on the literally most vulnerable people in our society been so full on, so evident and so utterly vicious. The whole Act is petty and narrow-minded in its conception and unyielding and bigoted in its execution. This Government, led by a Prime Minister who has had to apologise for making so-called jokes about disabled people, is the most unashamedly wicked in modern history. Not even Thatcher pushed through such mean-spirited legislation.

"Proof the Tories know nothing about real life!" I noticed someone blog today.

Well, yes, many people do think we have a Tory Government. It has certainly out-Toried every previous one by a long shot. But never, ever let us forget that this is not a majority Conservative Government. It is a Conservative-Lib Dem Coalition. And today, these measures have been passed only with the vital support of Lib Dem MPs. Oh yes, a handful of them rebelled, and plenty of them doubtless wrung their hands and muttered about the deficit. But they still put their hands up to support this pernicious assault on some of the poorest and sickest people in Britain. They are not passive bystanders helplessly witnessing some unfolding tragedy; rather, they are active participants in a crime against society.

Yes, they whine and shake their heads apologetically alongside people like Nadine Dorries MP who declare people not to be disabled if they are able to text or twitter; alongside people like Philip Davies MP, who thinks people with mental health problems should be exempted from being paid the national minimum wage, and alongside Tories who echo and support the words of Cllr Luke MacKenzie of Basildon who thinks "unwashed" disabled people should move to North Korea.

I am married to a disabled person who got her letter informing her of her ATOS assessment for future eligibility last week. She had been expecting it for some months but needless to say, the prospect of an employee of a French IT company deciding whether or not she is disabled enough after a forty minute interview (if it lasts that long) is not an appealing prospect. And in the climate of hostility engendered by the Government, with its peddling of myths about scroungers and the workshy, she has, like many others (including police statistics) tracked a rising degree of overt hostility from complete strangers in recent months. This is fuelled by the lies repeated over and over again by Con Dem MPs, who often muddle things like Incapacity Benefit and Disability Living Allowance - I choked with bemusement and anger listening to Nick Clegg talking about the need to get people off DLA and back to work last year: DLA is not an out-of-work benefits, but rather paid in recognition of the higher costs faced by disabled people in participating in society. Frequently, DLA is the vital aid that ensures many disabled people CONTINUE to work. Without it, tens of thousands now in work will end up on the dole.

To be fair, the Lib Dem federal conference voted substantially against most of what the Government is doing. Many Lib Dems are far more than slightly uncomfortable about the changes. But Lib Dem members can't have it both ways - their MPs and Peers have, with a handful of honourable exceptions, consistently voted for this legislation. Their leader and parliamentarians have ignored their demands and concerns. So if ordinary members really disagree with this most disgraceful piece of legislation, targeting vulnerable people and using dubious parliamentary methods to rush it through it time, the only true course left to them is to leave their party. If they genuinely hold to any shred of socially progressive belief in the welfare state or a vaguely humane society, they will walk away from a party which is now simply one of the twin engines of a vehicle driving forward on full-throttle the most extreme rightwing project in British history. There can be no more excuses.

If they don't leave, if they stay in collusion with the rank disablists who run our government, then as the saying goes, by their friends shall you know them.

A Joke No More...


  1. Mr Cameron should be ashamed of himself! He has so easily forgotten disabled people. Too soon after his own severely disabled son died, he lost all memory of how difficult life can be with, and for, a disabled person and their family!!! I am amazed at how quickly this has happened and how his policies reflect this loss of memory. Am I the only one who remembers this child existed in Cameron's life, and am I the only one who thinks that HE of all people should be ASHAMED of these policies??

  2. Why should we leave our party - the Liberal Democrat party belongs to its members - not MPs and peers.

  3. Anonymous - not from where most people see it. If it belongs to the members, how come your MPs and Peers overwhelmingly backed a set of measures which I would accept the bulk of your members probably don't support and your conference and a number of former candidates called on them to vote against?