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Issue #1771      March 29, 2017

Hidden hits

BRITAIN: This month’s Budget brings absolutely no hope for sick and disabled people who are unfortunate enough to have to rely on benefits from the state. It’s with twisted irony that the Tories, the purported promoters of aspiration, had wanted to hit the self employed as all too often self-employment provides the only hope of work for many disabled people. This is due to the increasing pressure the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) applies on those who don’t fit in to traditional labour markets and also partly due to the continued failure by employers to recognise the many talents of people with physical and mental health limitations.

Disabled campaigners protest against government welfare cuts.

This hasn’t been helped by the many years of hostility and the hate campaigns directed towards disabled people meted out by the vile rightwing media.

However, the real problems faced by sick, disabled and some of the poorest people in Britain won’t be found in the Budget speech. The plan of attack has long since been drawn up and only relies upon Tory ministers to indulge in a little “policy policing.”

The clues are to be found in the documents that accompany the Budget. The most eye-catching is the Office for Budget Responsibility’s latest “Welfare Trends Report” (WTR) drawn up last September.

Successive WTRs provide a running record of the DWP’s catastrophic failure to forecast savings with any degree of accuracy from the time the Tories took up office. Their plans for Personal Independence Payment (PIP) to replace working age Disability Living Allowance (DLA) now result in admissions that claims are “reducing spending by far less than was originally intended.”

Equally it is revealed that “changes to incapacity benefits yielded far smaller savings than originally expected.”

The truth is the Tories know that “between 2010-11 and 2015-16, welfare spending increased by £24.4 billion to £216.6 billon, despite the substantial cuts announced by the coalition government in that period.”

The Tories loathe these rises in expenditure. They hate what these WTRs tell them because they know it’s all down to their incompetence in making credible predictions. It’s the shameful cost of basing estimated savings on an ideological fantasy rather than a sound evidence base.

They completely underestimated how many people would properly qualify, despite their tough regimes. More people are claiming, endless numbers have reclaimed and the numbers who successfully appealed still have Tory welfare ministers reeling in pain.

What makes this all the worse is the disgraceful impact these sickness and disability reforms have had upon the lives of those who’ve had to wait months for gruelling assessments, often to be told: “Sorry, you are not entitled.”

It’s driven thousands to the depths of despair and sadly some to their deaths. It’s no wonder Iain Duncan Smith did a runner. His welfare reforms are without doubt the Tories’ most toxic legacy.

This degree of toxicity hasn’t gone unnoticed. That’s what drove the Tories to a U-turn on the last round of PIP cuts. Similarly they had to backtrack on unwelcome cuts to tax credits.

The Tories have no room to move on further working age welfare cutbacks. They don’t want to go hard on pensioners; it would be an electoral disaster, especially given the possibility of a snap election.

Thanks to the continued support of the right-wing media, the Tories can deceptively boast of increased spending on disability benefits as a sign of generosity, when in reality it’s down to the cost of losing appeals.

It’s utterly contemptible that they continue to play political football with the sick, disabled and poor with a false show of compassion obscuring the reality.

Let’s not kid ourselves; the casualties are just around the corner. In April 2017, new families with more than two children will only get payments for two children. In time that could affect up to 870,000 families claiming child tax credit (a loss of up to £2,780 per child per year). Again, in time, up to 500,000 claimants in the Employment & Support Allowance (ESA) Work Related Activity Group will receive £1,500 a year less than they do now.

Cuts to housing benefit for those aged between 18 and 21 are being rolled out, not to mention the continued freezing of most working-age welfare benefits.

Alongside all of this, there is an illogical slashing of the Universal Credit working income thresholds from £6,420 down to £3,850 reducing in-work benefit help much more sharply. The damage list is immense and also includes dangerous moves to place fewer people in the ESA support groups, putting more severely disabled people at substantial risk.

It is policy policing at its worst. What makes it particularly cruel is the surreptitious way they’ve introduced these wretched measures, without them appearing in the Budget statement.

They’ve been in place since the summer Budget of 2015 and now the Tories have no alternative other than to pull the lever and hope no-one notices the punitive impact upon the most disadvantaged in our society.

They will be relying on the media to continue to distract us with tales of Trump-tweets, Brexit-bargaining and the continued character assassination of Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn.

Morning Star

Next article – Japan follows Trump lead

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