The new Tory minister for disabled people is against protecting benefits for cancer patients and disabled children.
David Cameron’s decision to install Justin Tomlinson in the post is a chilling indication of where the Tories will swing the axe.
The Tories want to slash a staggering £12 billion more from welfare spending. The cuts are part of a wider assault that has already had a devastating impact.
This time last year the Local Government Association warned that councils were buckling under the strain of £10 billion budget cuts in the three preceding years.
Councils were “on the verge of a tipping point” of not having “enough money to meet all their statutory responsibilities”.
Disability benefit claimant David from Peckham, south London, spoke to Socialist Worker about how cuts can affect vulnerable people.
“They closed down the day centre I used to go to in March this year”, he said. “It needed another £50,000 to keep going but the government wouldn’t pay it.
“It lost me £100 a week––I used to work in there catering. And I used to go three times a week.
“I have to go somewhere otherwise I feel suicidal.
“I have mental health problems and I have to get out of the house. Otherwise I get fed up.
“But they’re closing all the day centres now. We used to do things like woodwork and we had a pool table. A lot of people used the centres.”
Every mainstream party calls these cuts “difficult choices”. The reality is they put lives at risk. One of the leaked Tory plans would extend the bedroom tax to other tenants as well as those in social housing.
Lynne from Huddersfield is in one of the 600,000 households already hit by the tax.
The tax snatched £10 a week from her housing benefit. Lynne fought back with the help of local campaigners and forced Kirklees Council to give her a discretionary housing payment.
“But now the council are appealing the decision,” she told Socialist Worker. “I don’t know how long it’s going to go on for––It’s all getting me down.”
Lynne’s husband receives Disability Living Allowance (DLA). But after a “fit for work” medical test last year he had all his money cut not long before Christmas. The benefit was only reinstated after a long fight.
“It was cut off for almost seven months,” said Lynne. “We’ve had to go to a food bank all of this year––it’s been awful. This is why people have been killing themselves.”
Food bank use has rocketed since the Tories got into office in 2010. Some one million more people rely on them regularly now than they did then.
The most common reason forcing people to seek out help is because they’ve had their benefits stopped. For others the impact of this is far worse.
Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) statistics show that 10,600 Employment Support Allowance claimants died between January and November 2011 within six weeks of their claim ending.
Just before the general election senior civil servants warned of “very, highly or extremely controversial” cuts to benefits if welfare spending was capped further.
Yet that’s exactly what is set to happen.
Millionaire axeman Iain Duncan Smith is once again minister at the DWP. He is in charge of making the £12 billion of cuts. So far the Tories have only given details of £2 billion of them.
“I can’t begin to imagine where the cuts would come from––so much has gone already,” Disabled People Against Cuts activist Linda Burnip told Socialist Worker.
“They’ve already cut the Access to Work fund that helped disabled people to work.”
A cap on how much the fund can pay to individuals who use it will come into effect in October. It will mainly affect people who have difficulty seeing or hearing—the single biggest users of the fund.
“The Tory manifesto said they want to help people into work,” said Linda. “Then they take away any help disabled people had to do that.”
It isn’t just changes to disability benefits that hurt disabled people.
Attacks on claimants in general can have nasty consequences for people with disabilities.
“A big question is whether the government goes ahead with Universal Credit,” said Linda. “At the moment if you’re disabled and you get Employment Support Allowance (ESA) then you get a disability premium around £65 a week. You wouldn’t get that with Universal Credit.”
And while the Tories herald their “recovery” and “economic growth” the reality looks very different for many working class people.
Lucy was made redundant from her job in Huddersfield in 2012 and has been in and out of work since.
She was “devastated” when the Tories won this month’s election. Lucy told Socialist Worker, “I’ve been in my house for 30 years, I’m in my sixties, but I never thought I’d be in this position at my age. This bedroom tax is a struggle.
“The council wouldn’t give me a discretionary payment because I had scraped together bits of money I managed to save when I had work for a few months. That was to try and survive when looking for work but it ran out fast.”
Lucy says the constant attack on the right to receive benefits affects people’s health and wellbeing.
“Five years is a long time to wait,” she said about the new term in office.
In Glasgow Gail Morrow was upbeat, but angry at facing another Tory government. “It feels like lots of people are up for fighting them,” she told Socialist Worker.
Gail is the chair of the Scottish Anti Bedroom Tax Federation. It was at the centre of a successful struggle to resist the bedroom tax in Scotland.
She believes there are lessons to be learned from that battle.
“We organised everywhere, in small areas and big areas, and linked the groups together through the federation to make our voices heard,” she said.
“And we didn’t back down.”
The Labour Party and the Scottish National Party (SNP) did nothing before being pushed by the working class people who got organised.
Yet both parties try to claim credit for the bedroom tax being mitigated in Scotland.
Gail said, “We were told it was a Westminster issue and there was nothing the Scottish parliament could do. But we forced the politicians to act and we can do it again.”
The success there boosted campaigners elsewhere in Britain. Soon councils in England were being forced to adopt “no eviction” policies for people in rent arrears.
Pressure from ordinary people forced former Labour leader Ed Miliband to come out against the bedroom tax.
The desire for an alternative to austerity among many people pushed the SNP to talk left during the election campaign.
Leader Nicola Sturgeon was set to meet David Cameron this week. She should refuse to cooperate with austerity or implement cuts.
But the mainstream politicians can’t be trusted to stand up for ordinary people.
As Gail put it, “People need to get going. We have to unite now and fight austerity.”
In many places that fight is well underway—and it’s finding new activists.
Derbyshire County Council’s attempt to scrap school crossing patrols in Chesterfield laid the basis for an electoral challenge in this month’s council elections.
Teaching assistant Lisa Pritchard told Socialist Worker, “Political activism is something I’ve never done before.” Within a few months she stood for election.
After attending a Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition meeting Lisa became convinced to stand to be a councillor.
The campaign has so far forced the Labour administration to commit to keeping half the school crossing patrol sites. But Lisa isn’t satisfied with that.
At the end of the school term the council intends to issue redundancy notices to staff.
“If enough of us fight they aren’t going to be able to make the cuts,” Lisa argued. The same logic applies to the national picture.
Lisa said, “The scariest thing is most people don’t know about local cuts as councils keep trying to pass them as quietly as they can. Labour say it’s all the Tories’ fault––but they could stand up against the Tories and not implement them.”
The Tories’ plans for the next five years add up to a nightmare for working class people.
Extending the bedroom tax and imposing more attacks on disabled people are just part of them.
The Tories could snatch Carer’s Allowance from 40 percent of current claimants by restricting it only to people eligible for Universal Credit.
They have floated the idea of abolishing statutory maternity pay. Under 21s could lose the right to claim housing benefit. The GMB union has said more than three million families could lose an average of £40 a week due to cuts to tax credits.
Yet all of this still wouldn’t make up half the £12 billion welfare spending cuts pledged by Cameron.
The idea that there’s no alternative but cuts is a lie. As Lisa put it, “There’s enough money—they’re just not getting it from the people who can afford it.
“Lack of money is not a valid reason for messing with people’s lives.
“They will have blood on their hands from these cuts. When the Tories got back in I thought, ‘oh my god, we’ve got to get out there and campaign’.”
The thousands on anti-Tory protests since the election shows there is mood to resist. Lisa agreed, “We can do this––we can stop them.”