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Norwich disability protest outside St Marys House, July 2016

Disability cuts: Work isn’t the pull Sunak thinks it is

The recent welfare reform plans announced by Prime Minister Rishi Sunak have landed badly, and rightly so. The planned changes to Personal Independence Payments have been described as a move to get more support to people and more people into work. They’re not and they won’t.

Doubling down on expanding the hostile environment tactic, the government and the DWP has created for claimants, reforms include removing the ability of GP’s to confirm people’s inability to work, taking away disability benefits from people in mental distress, taking away benefits from anyone claiming for more than 12 months and ending cash payments for Personal Independence Payments (PIP). This will be replaced by a ‘voucher’ system with ‘accredited providers’.

This thinly veiled ‘red meat’ Sunak so casually dispensed has left claimants in shock and analysts bewildered. Given the past history of how this government hands out contracts to accredited providers, their friends down the boozer can start ordering their super yacht catalogues now — while the rest of us can continue with our suicide watch over friends and family, affected by previous austerity programmes under the guise of welfare reforms which hav ecost the lives of over a hundred and twenty thousand people.

The government has a struggle on its hands (along with the blood) if it expects to enact these changes before it’s ran out of power. That doesn’t mean it can’t. Or that a potential incoming Labour government wouldn’t pick up this particularly poisonous chalice. So far, Labour have been trying hard not to take a public stand on these reforms – but their commitment to continuing with other Tory welfare policies doesn’t bode well for claimants. Sustained pressure from claimants, their organisations and allies will be critical in seeing off these obvious ‘vote catchers’.

Nobody really thinks that a single claimant will come out of these changes with more income, support or services, all of which have been decimated over 14 years of Tory rule. Councils, charities and disabled people’s organisations providing support services have had their funding savaged under the Tories. Others have been run out of business and are barely functioning as entities, never mind meeting the demand for support and services. It’s at best a patchwork postcode lottery; at worst, it’s in shambles and costing lives.

And PIP isn’t an out of work benefit, it’s a pittance, supposedly a remuneration for the added costs that come with being disabled, but in reality barely papers over the cracks of the cost of living, in a society where disabled people have been designed out for centuries. Recent research has suggested that even with PIP, a family with one disabled person still needs almost another £1000 a month to meet the costs of barriers, in a society which is littered with barriers – whether practical ones like inaccessible transport, work places, products and services, or attitudinal barriers like discrimination or policy failures. They all come with added costs to navigate if you are disabled.

Added to this, years of stress, abuse, and being abandoned to their fate through austerity and the clownish mismanagement of the pandemic, have all left a population physically and mentally on its arse. The number of people identifying as disabled has gone from 16% of the population to 1 in 4 people. Having been starved, frozen, exploited and/or neglected for over a decade – people have had enough and are saying “no more”.

They’ve had enough of low wages (which even by the end of 2024 won’t be back to pre-pandemic levels). They’ve had enough of being overloaded at work, where the number one reason for quitting is stress related burnout. Automation, fire & rehire, zero hour contracts and the rise of AI have all seen the bosses hand strengthened when it comes to wages and conditions. Right now over half the children living in poverty in the UK live in in-work households.

The myth of working your way out of the poverty trap is done with. We see through the façade. Work isn’t working – not for the working class. Wage slavery, perpetual debt and no work/life balance isn’t the pull Sunak thinks it is. And people won’t be pushed into it.

We need a new vision of what work means. One which values and compensates everyone’s contribution, not just those with UTC numbers.

The crips are here to stay – and it’s time to pay up.

~ Andy Greene

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