The Tories snubbed some of the most vulnerable people in society ahead of this week’s budget, as they continued to prioritise the rich.
It also refused a wheelchair sent by the Disabled People Against Cuts (Dpac) group. Dpac wanted to highlight the extra costs that disabled people and carers have been hit with since the pandemic took hold last March.
The deliveries were part of a day of action called by Dpac. It demanded that the Tories keep the £20 uplift to Universal Credit (UC) and increase other benefits.
People Before Profit, Homes 4 All, the People’s Assembly, Unite Community and the NEU union’s disabled members committee backed the action.
If the Tories shelve the £20 weekly uplift to UC they will plunge claimants into even more poverty and misery.
Testimonies gathered together by Dpac revealed the cold, hungry reality of trying to scrape by on benefits during the pandemic. UC claimants described the difference the uplift has made.
“I can eat more than one meal a day, and in winter use the heating every day,” said one. For another, the uplift “meant we ate for four weeks rather than three”.
Many said they hadn’t had to use a food bank since the uplift was introduced. One said, “It has been the difference between eating and starving.”
The uplift has also helped with heating costs. “I have the heating on when I first wake up to help me out of bed,” said one claimant. “I have arthritis so am incredibly stiff without it. I can barely afford this but I definitely won't be able to with £20 less.”
But the uplift still isn’t enough. One UC claimant said it was still “difficult” to manage despite it. “I usually manage my finances by doing reduced shopping – only buying the items that are going out of date and have been reduced,” they explained.
“But you cannot do this with online deliveries.”
The 2.2 million claimants who receive “legacy” benefits – those that predate UC – have had no uplift at all. Three quarters are disabled.
“This winter has been a nightmare,” explained one claimant. “I am currently without gas so have no central heating or hot water.”
Claimants said extra money would mean they could “stay warm” and “have the heating on instead of having to go to bed to keep warm”.
One said this would “relieve my joint pain, asthma and allergies, damp and mould in flat made worse by cold”.
Several claimants said they would be able to wash more if they could afford to heat water more often. One claimant said eating three times a day instead of two would help them as they take tablets that should be taken with food.
Another could “buy proper incontinence pads instead of sanitary pads which leak”. And another would put credit on their phone “so I could talk to someone as I haven’t spoken to anyone for months”.
Some two thirds of those on legacy benefits have gone without essentials since the pandemic began, the Disability Benefits Consortium found. Nearly half were behind on bills, rent or mortgage payments.
Disabled people and others with health conditions are more likely to die from Covid-19 or to suffer a more extreme response to the virus. This has forced many to shield at home, which brings extra costs such as delivery charges and higher energy bills.
“I’ve only managed one meal a day because other costs have gone up so much,” said one claimant.
The responses exposed how people were struggling before the pandemic hit. Claimants described difficulties in saving to buy a washing machine or paying to have a tap fixed. One said extra money would help them to “buy second-hand clothes to replace the ones with holes in them”.
The budget will not end the misery that millions of ordinary people are suffering.
People Before Profit has organised an online meeting on Wednesday to discuss resistance to the Tories.
Local groups planned events across Britain to say no to austerity and tax the rich.
The government callously brushed off criticism of its vicious welfare system by saying that benefits will rise by 37p a week in April. The rise is nowhere near what people need. And the cost of food, bills and other essentials is going up much faster.
Claimants said higher benefits would not only transform their lives in a material way but would also boost their wellbeing.
“It would mean a little peace of mind, not constantly worrying about bills, food, can I have the heating on or not for 20 minutes,” explained one claimant. “It would remove some of the financial stress and worry that makes your illness/disability and mental health worse.”
They said that not getting any support created “a sense of worthlessness and that you just don’t matter”. A number of people said more money would stop them being dependent on others for help.
The lack of support left one claimant feeling “totally abandoned”. “I have 9p left after essential bills and minimal food,” they said. “How is that not discriminatory?”