Socialist Worker

‘I was crying and in pain'—the truth behind the Tory benefit cuts

by Eleanor Claxton-Mayer
Issue No. 2546

Nicola Jeffrey (left) at her south east London home with her son

Nicola Jeffrey (left) at her south east London home with her son (Pic: Socialist Worker)


The Tories ramped up their war on disabled people with dangerous new “reforms” to the personal independence payment (Pip) benefits last Thursday.

Nicola Jeffery, a single parent from south east London, has fibromyalgia which causes chronic pain across the body. She is one of thousands of people with “invisible disabilities” whose benefits have been axed by the Tories.

“I was harassed for ten years as a single, disabled parent,” Nicola told Socialist Worker.

“First when I was on income support, then job seekers and Employment Support Allowance before I received Pip.”

“They completely dismissed all my medical information,” she added. “I was assessed twice within a week—and then had all my Pip cut.

“The fact that I had brought my medical files to the assessment was used against me as evidence that I was capable of mobility.”

Living on benefits is stressful enough—having them cut just piles on the pressure.

As Nicola explained, “My benefits were the only way I could afford the internet, but without that I am completely isolated.”

And politicians’ and the right wing media’s scapegoating of benefit claimants makes them live in fear.

Nicola said, “I’ve had people harass me just because I took my child to the park and yell that I should be working, not on benefits.

Stigma

“You can’t even have a good quality of life because it is used it against you.”

Denise McKenna, who has a schizophrenic disorder, agreed.

“There is a stigma around mental health conditions, but the stigma of being a ‘benefit scrounger’ is even worse now,” she told Socialist Worker.

Nicola struggles to manage as it is, and now there are cuts to deal with as well

Nicola struggles to manage as it is, and now there are cuts to deal with as well (Pic: Socialist Worker)


Two Upper Tribunals ruled that the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) should extend Pip to those who suffer psychological distress.

But the Tories have reversed these rulings—denying support to over 160,000 people with disabilities.

This could cut Pip to people with conditions such as autism, schizophrenia, depression and dementia.

Denise had the mobility component of Pip cut. “During the interview the social and psychological difficulties I have weren’t even discussed,” she said.

“The assessments are humiliating and they just assume you are lying.

“I have a box for my pills and my assessor spent ages trying to say that I didn’t need one so they could cut my payments.”

Under new DWP guidelines “the effects of psychological distress are not relevant for mobility”.

Coped

Nicola described a similar experience at her assessment. “I was crying and in pain, but the letter that said they were stopping my benefits claimed ‘I coped well at the interview’,” she said.

“The more anxious I was getting the more the assessor threatened to end the interview and sanction me.”

Tory work and pensions secretary Damian Green has now admitted that “a handful of people” could completely lose their Pip.

Denise said, “If I had lost all my benefits I would have been destitute and I likely would have taken my own life.”

The Tories are trying to present these changes as “tweaks”.

But these dangerous reforms are simply stealing even more money from disabled people while they give tax giveaways to the bankers and bosses.


Day of action on benefits

While the Tories are ramping up their assault on disabled people, there is resistance to their plans.

Disability rights campaigners are building for a day of action against benefit sanctions across Britain on 30 March.

It has been organised by the Unite union’s Community section.

Paula Peters from Disabled People Against the Cuts slammed the Tories’ attacks on the personal independence payment (PIP) benefit as “blatant discrimination”.

Conscious

“There is no logic to what they’re doing, it’s about saving money,” she told Socialist Worker.

“It’s conscious cruelty.”

But resistance can push back these assaults.

Cassidy, a 17 year old who gets Pip, agreed, “It needs to be a movement on the streets,” they said.

“That’s where change happens.”

As Paula said, “If they can U-turn on national insurance increase they can U-turn on these changes to Pip.”

For more information on the Unite union day of action go to bit.ly/1xX80yV

The attacks on disabled people are just one aspect of Tory chancellor Philip Hammond’s assault on millions of people who receive benefits.

Wave after wave of shattering new cuts in welfare come into effect later this month or next month.

They include:

  • Working age benefit rates remain frozen. April 2017 will mark the second year of a four-year freeze.
  • A £30 a week cut for new Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) claimants in the work-related activity group. This will slash around a third of the current weekly amount people receive in ESA. In the long run it will take £680 million a year from 450,000 people.
  • Removing extra tax credit for the first child for new claimants. Over the long term this takes about £2 billion a year split between four million families.
  • In households with two or more children, any subsequent children born after April 2017 will not be eligible for tax credit support. This hits nearly one million families.
  • Withdrawing entitlement to Housing Benefit from most 18-21 year olds. This will hit 10,000 individuals a year by 2020-21.
  • Widowed Parents’ Allowance will be replaced by Bereavement Support Payment for new claimants.

Over 2,000 families with children could lose out each year. Many of those affected are in work but are low paid.

Figures last week from the Office for National Statistics showed that more than two thirds of children in poverty in Britain are in working families.

This is more than ever before in figures going back 20 years—up from 43 percent in 1997 to the current 67 percent.

This exposes as false the Tories’ claim that attacks on benefits are to get people back into work.


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