Disability benefit cuts are still a real risk

This week is the first of the six-week summer recess of the UK parliament, which is a great time to look at welfare benefits for people with disabilities.

Regretfully, despite more than a year passing and a new government, albeit the same party, nothing has really changed.

In April last year, I reported that the then secretary for work and pensions Stephen Crabb was about to make a statement about government plans and cuts to welfare benefits. That was after he had said that it had decided not to proceed with planned cuts. They were unpopular with the disability community and controversial within the Conservative party.

benefits

Stephen Crabb.

A month earlier, I wrote an article headed ‘No further plans’ does NOT mean ‘no further cuts’ after Crabb spoke in the House of Commons.

He said that the government “will not be going ahead” with changes to the Personal Independence Payment (PIP) that were announced. He also said there are no further plans for welfare cuts this parliament. (Bold italics are mine).

Their words don’t always mean what you think

I warned that it did not mean PIP was safe – just that the cuts would not be going ahead in the form previously announced. And the part about ‘this parliament’, meant to take us to 2020, is now irrelevant as we have sinve had an early election and have a new parliament.

Then, on May 14, I wrote another post. It was headed ‘No further plans to cut benefits’ pledge lasts 51 days and told of new plans.

Prime minister Theresa May.

About the same time, prime minister Theresa May refused to rule out making further cuts to disability benefits. This wvas widely reported by British daily newspapers.

In March, I wrote about the meaning of the words we heard. In an article headed Don’t be fooled by government’s callous weasel words – disability benefits cuts are still planned, I reported the words of Stephen Crabb as: “We’re not going to be going ahead with these cuts to disability benefits that were proposed on budget day.

“The prime minister has confirmed that himself. I was very clear when I discussed the offer of the job this morning we were not going to go ahead with the cuts that were proposed.”

Cuts to benefits – and weasel words

I also added my own comments:

Sounds good, right? Well, err, no. The key words in the first sentence are ‘that were proposed on budget day’. Similarly, two sentences later the telling words are ‘that were proposed’.

Now, call me a cynic if you like but I have worked as a journalist, spent time in public relations and been around politicians long enough to recognise this for what it is – the use of prepared phrases, or callous weasel words, designed to trick us into thinking the cuts won’t happen.

The government is just trying to buy time to find a way to get them through in another form and without rebellion from within their own MPs.

David Gauke MP. (Picture: South West Herts Conservatives Association).

Trust me, despite what we are being led to believe, the cuts are still very much on the table

What has happened since then? Plenty, but absolutely nothing to prove me wrong or make me change my mind.

As for the current secretary of state for work and pensions, David Gauke, little has been heard, except a change to the timing of a planned increase in the retirement age.

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50shadesofsun.com is the personal website of Ian Franks, a Features Writer with Medical News Today. He enjoyed a successful career as a journalist, from reporter to editor in the print media. He gained a Journalist of the Year award in his native UK. Ian received a diagnosis of MS in 2002 and now lives in the south of Spain. He uses a wheelchair and advocates on mobility and accessibility issues.

Crabb set to unveil new plans for disability benefits

stephen crabb hocWork and Pensions Secretary Stephen Crabb addresses the House of Commons. Prime Minister David Cameron is watching on.

Stephen Crabb, who was appointed as the UK’s new Work and Pensions Secretary after the resignation of Ian Duncan Smith, is to make a House of Commons speech next Tuesday, April 12. He is expected to set out his (and the government’s) vision for the future. And what he has to say will probably have a significant impact on all disabled people with Parkinson’s Disease, multiple sclerosis, EDS and a host of other conditions both visible and invisible.

Rumours from the Department for Work and Pensions, as reported by leftist Vox Political, suggest that he is likely to announce renewed plans to change the descriptors to Personal Independence Payment (PIP) for aids and adaptations in August or September. That, of course, won’t mean that the government is backtracking on its statement of having no plans to make the changes dropped only two weeks ago – no, these will be ‘new’ changes.

The Sunday Times newspaper has already revealed that Crabb is expected to say that he is unhappy with the work of companies tasked with the role of assessing claimants for both Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) and PIP. It said he was looking to end the contracts with those companies – we will see.

Another possible development may be to follow the cut of £30 being made to new ESA claimants in the Work-Related Activity Group by making a similar cut to the Support Group’s payments – perhaps even, eventually, abolishing ESA altogether and instead including its payments within Universal Benefit.

Many of these welfare reform proposals appear to have originated in the right-wing Reform think-tank that published its recommendations in February. One of those was the cut in ESA for people in the Work-Related Activity Group.

In a nutshell, Reform’s plan includes:

  • Setting a single rate for out-of-work benefit. The savings from this rate reduction should be reinvested into Personal Independence Payment – which contributes to the additional costs incurred by someone with a long-term condition – and into support services;
  • Ending the Work Capability Assessment in its current form;
  • Abolishing Employment and Support Allowance altogether and rolling sickness benefits into Universal Credit with “a single online application for the benefit, including a ‘Proximity to the Labour Market Diagnostic’ to determine a claimant’s distance from work and a health questionnaire”;
  • To have all sickness benefit reduced to the same level as Jobseekers’ Allowance.

Yes, really! If Vox Political is correct, cutting ESA for people in the Work-Related Activity Group was only part of it. If the plan to roll sickness benefits into Universal Credit is implemented, then people in the Support Group – those with serious conditions that are not expected to improve within the foreseeable future – stand to lose a huge amount of their weekly income.

All this from the Conservative government that, Stephen Crabb said on March 21, has no plans to make further welfare cuts during this parliament. Of course, we must balance that with the word from the Treasury that same day; that what Crabb said didn’t at all mean no more cuts in this parliament, just none planned.

Next week, we may discover what plans there are now.