Friday, 28 April 2017

Why Disability Benefits are Political - General Election 2017 (week 2)

I am amazed how some people claiming disability benefits like ESA and PIP can still be in ignorance as to why things are so bad for them, why they are being put through repeated tests, why they have been sanctioned and so forth.    For many they don't see the Welfare Reform Act brought about by the last Coalition government, consisting mainly of Tories (and propped up by the Lib Dems) as having any relevance to where they find themselves today.

I am amazed but shouldn't be. It has all been carefully choreographed by the Tories and the largely Right Wing media that supports them: Daily Mail, Sun, Express, Channel 5, often the BBC. It is in their interests to have the poor set against the poor, the working poor vs the out of work poor, the 'genuinely' disabled vs 'all those other people faking it', the poor vs the immigrants, the 'deserving' vs the 'undeserving', the young vs the old. You name it.  What you will never see from the Right Wing media is the obscenely rich vs the obscenely poor.  Because if all the poor united against the rich, there would be no more rich. So, the slow drip drip of poverty porn piped through our TV screens and newspaper, month on month, year on year, has softened people up, has made people turn on 'the other'.  Divide and rule they have us.  United we stand, divided we fall. It's as simple as that. And the Tories know it and have exploited it. They have the power, the influence and the money to carry it off. 

Many people are disengaged with politics and will come out with phrases such as 'They're all as bad as each other'. One person who said this recently in relation to disability benefits qualified it by saying that 'it was Labour that introduced Atos and Capita assessment'. While this is true to some extent, previous Conservative governments had paved the way long before under the likes of Peter Lilley. You only have to check Peter Lilley's name on Wikipedia if you're too young to remember (which I'm not) and you will find all the information you need, such as: "Shortly after his appointment, Lilley entertained the Conservative Party's annual conference by outlining his plan "to "close down the something for nothing for society" (I've previously written a blog on that myth too). Lilley also replaced Invalidity Benefit with Incapacity Benefit in 1995 "in the hope of checking the rise in sickness benefit claims. Unlike its predecessor, Invalidity Benefit, this new welfare payment came with a medical test that gauged claimants' ability to work."

Whatever you may think of New Labour and the other scandalous horrors that occurred under their watch internationally, they introduced a raft of measures at home to reduce inequality.  In terms of benefits, they introduced Tax Credits, Tax Credits for the over 50s, the Minimum Wage,  an extra £28 for disabled people on JSA, free Legal Aid for people on benefits and other people on low incomes, voted against the Bedroom Tax, reduced homelessness, introduced the National OAPs and Disabled Bus Passes and voted against the worst of the Welfare Reform Bill to name a few.  Many of these measures helped the poorest in society and many of them have been scrapped. Many more people have been found wrongly fit for work under this and the last government and countless lives have been lost needlessly as a result. You get more true negatives when you set the bar too high - that is too many ill people being found fit for work - and yet the government have been prepared to sacrifice lives in this way. And yet benefit fraud is as low as it gets, especially among disabled people and in any event there are DWP fraud officers to deal with that tiny amount of fraud.  It's not for anybody else to make that judgment.

Jeremy Corbyn has pledged to scrap the WCA and put benefits in line with inflation. He wants to bring back Legal Aid and get rid of punitive sanctions. He has promised the Waspi Women £155 a week, those women born in the 1950s and robbed of their pensions by a sudden hike in the pension age, denying them time to prepare for their retirement.  Of course, it's not going to happen the day after the day of the General Election. It takes time to pass new legislation and reverse existing legislation.  That is how democracy works.

It will certainly take time because the Tories have continued their onslaught at lightning speed since being the 2015 election. 

Since 2010, the Coalition and then the Tories, have made the WCA harder and harder to pass, they have replaced DLA with PIP, in order to cut benefits, they have denied people the immediate right to appeal against a wrong decision, not until they go though a Mandatory Consideration first. This was introduced as way of ostensibly cutting down the number of cases needing to go to appeal, but the cynical part of me knows that the real reason was so that fewer people would appeal.  Even before Mandatory Reconsideration, people dropped out before appeal stage.  Now with one more hoop to jump through, many more give up.  It is all too much when you are vulnerable, stressed, fatigued, in pain.  In a word, it is cruel to have added this extra hurdle.

Not only this, the Tories have closed down the Independent Living Fund, they have introduced Council tax for the poorest and they have made legislation so that disabled people can be sanctioned - in fact, the more vulnerable you are, the more you are seen as an easy target by Job Centre staff who have to stick to their sanctioning targets. Several hundred disabled people are losing their motability scooters every week and 18-21 year old ones will not be routinely paid housing benefit.  The Tories have voted for disability benefits cuts in the ESA WRAG group by £30 for new claimants - £30 from a measly £100 a week or so!  People in the ESA WRAG group who have passed one of the most difficult tests in the world to pass - the flawed Work Capability Assessment (WCA) - and yet are still being punished because the government want to treat all out of work people the same (regardless of their limitations). And if you think you've been let off the hook because you're in the ESA Support Group, the New Health & Work Green Paper outlines plans to coerce this group too.  Food banks have rocketed since the Welfare Reform Act and yet the government denies there is any link between the rise in food banks and the change in legislation.

The third child 'rape clause' in order to qualify for benefits for that child is perhaps one of the most pernicious of the Tories obsession with what they call 'welfare dependency" (again, I did a previous blog on this too) and shows them to have plumbed the depths.  Anyone who thinks this is an acceptable thing to do in a supposed humane society is completely morally bankrupt and 'the nasty party' are well and truly back. In Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon rightly called this measure 'obscene' and said Ruth Davidson had tried to shake off the toxic image of Westminster Tories but on this she had failed.

But I fear that many people will either vote for a party who doesn't have their best interests at heart because of half-formed ideas that 'they are all as bad was each other'.

A lot of myths abound, for example, the one about there not being enough money in the pot for everyone to have what they need but again people have been sold the politics of austerity for so long they believe it. But we are the sixth wealthiest nation in the world. We can afford to look after the sick and the vulnerable and let's not forget how many millions - if not billions - go unclaimed in benefits every year.  It is not about austerity but ideology.

Therefore we have to share the facts as to how disability benefits and ergo people's quality of life  will be affected according to who they vote for. Because if they don't vote for the party or parties most likely to help the disabled then they can't complain when the Tories continue the rest of their brutal destruction of the welfare state.

Friday, 21 April 2017

Stand By Your Team - General Election 2017 (Week 1)

OK, so here we go again...

Even though we were promised fixed term parliaments of five years, to stop any incumbent government from calling an election any time and thereby gaining advantage when the polls were favourable, Teresa May has gone ahead and done it anyway.  All she needed was two thirds of parliament to vote for it and she knew she would get her wish.  Labour were caught between a rock and a hard place - if they voted against it, then they couldn't call the country's bluff and say 'bring it on'.

So in the few days since the election has been called it is already being talked as a formality by many - and not all those on the Right either.  Many on the Left are just as gloomy and want Corbyn gone. 'He's not leader material' I hear so many say. 'He's not got that oomph, that a leader needs'.  And in these days of slick presidential-style politics, they might have a point, even though they should be voting on policies and not leadership style.

But what they don't seem to realise is - if not Corbyn, then who? Who do they see in his place, these Labour naysayers who won't vote for Labour because of Corbyn?  Few of them can put forward a name of someone they'd prefer to Corbyn unless they are vehement supporters of New Labour.  But when New Labour became so indistinguishable from the Right, they moaned then too, didn't they?  They wanted someone more Left Wing. Many of them moaned about Ed Miliband not being Left Wing enough.

But what I really don't get is this.  Why ever would a Labour supporter not support Labour just because of Corbyn?  His ideas are hardly radical: build more houses, more affordable housing, save the NHS, renationalise the railways, redistribute wealth, look after the vulnerable, pay carers and so on.  What's not to like?  It's not as if people are voting for Corbyn anyway, unless they happen to be living in Islington. If you support Labour, then you vote for your MP who represents you in parliament. He or she may be to the Left of the Party or they may be to the centre but they will support the Labour ethos by and large.  If this was football, you wouldn't abandon your team, would you, just because you don't think like the manager.  You would give a new manager a chance to prove himself, wouldn't you?  You'd see if he delivers and gets the results that you want from your team. This election is too important for people to exercise a protest vote against Corbyn.

The media must be having a field day when those on the Left are doing their job for them.  What some people have quickly forgotten is that the Right Wing media nearly always attacks Labour leaders whoever they are - with one notable exception (more about that in a moment). The media attacked Miliband because of his father, because of his face.  The Tories run the media, they benefit from tax breaks and reduced corporation tax, and obscene salaries.  They don't want to redistribute wealth.  The odds are stacked against Corbyn, just as they were stacked against Miliband and against Neil Kinnock 25 years before. Here's a sobering thought - the only Labour government we've had since the 1970s is a New Labour government which had to cosy up to Murdoch and his cronies in order to be electable. So Corbyn has a nigh on impossible task.  He is perhaps canny to brand himself as the anti-establishment figure - seeing as such figures have done so well.  But usually these are Populist right wing figures and not on the Left.

So what other criticisms are levelled at Corbyn? 

 'He whipped the party over the triggering of Article 50,' they say.  'He should have done more.'  Another fair criticism, maybe.  But if he'd opposed the triggering of Article 50 then he would have been seen as scuppering the will of the people.  He was in a no-win situation.

But then we come onto the unfair and the downright ridiculous reasons not to vote Labour, filtered through the lens of a largely Right Wing media or the self-important on social media.

'Cornyn's a terrorist sympathiser.'  Really?!  The man's a pacifist, ffs!  He knows, as anybody with a few brain cells knows, that you don't get world peace by war-war, you get it by jaw-jaw. Like it or not, history has showed you have to engage with the enemy.

'He's anti-Semitic and most Jewish people don't like him'. Well, as someone with Jewish ancestry myself, that's another sweeping generalisation crushed by first-hand experience from family and Jewish friends who support Corbyn because they want a better world.  To criticise Israel isn't anti-Semitic, any more than criticising the Tories is anti-English.  

The graphic above shows just how important it is to vote.  People are tired - they have voter fatigue, having had the referendum last year, a general election the year before, and that's just in England! But Labour have a mountain to climb because they need Scotland to get enough seats to make a difference. Far be it for me to tell people which way to vote (as long as it's not Tory!) but I would urge everyone who can vote to do so. It's been shown that most people vote on things that affect them personally: jobs, wages, schools, hospitals, the NHS, affordable housing and rents, the environment, looking after the disabled and their carers and this is Labour territory.  Teresa May pretended to care about those left behind when she came to do her speech on the steps after Cameron's demise.  But what has changed?  Same old same old as far as I can make out.

Of course, it may be hard to get behind your preferred team, especially with our antiquated First Past The Post voting system which is outdated in a modern democracy.  This will mean that often people have to vote tactically, rather than with their conscience, to get the nasty party out. For instance, in the south west, Labour may do a deal with the Green Party so that instead of wasted tactical voting, the Green Party won't stand in those places where Labour are likely to win in exchange for areas where they stand a better chance. What matters at the end of the day in the FPTP system is to stop the Tories getting a working majority so that when they try and pass unpopular bills in parliament there will be enough opposition MPs to vote against.

Next week, I shall be looking at who is more likely to have policies safeguarding the long term sick and disabled. It may seem obvious but it is surprising some of the myths that abound online every day.