The argument made by the Tory MPs who this week voted through a £30 cut to the out of work sickness benefit Employment and Support Allowance, is that it will incentivise claimants to look for work.
The trouble is, the people who receive this benefit aren’t fit to work, that’s why they receive it. In order to receive it in the first place they are signed off by their GP. Then they must submit evidence of their illness, often at a significant cost, before going for a DWP medical assessment.
Eligibility for the benefit has very narrow qualifying criteria: you are not assessed as to whether you can do your job, but as to whether you are physically and mentally well enough to do any job at all.
They will now have to live on £73 per week. £73 a week isn’t enough for a healthy and fit person to pay the gas, electric, water, transport (for job seeking), phone (needed for job seeking), internet (needed to claim benefit in the first place) and food.
People with illnesses and disabilities have a higher cost of living than those of us who are fortunate enough to be healthy. They often need taxis rather than buses, need more heating, have frequent medical/rehabilitation appointments that they need to attend or have specific dietary requirements. With appropriate financial support they can live comfortably and work towards finding work they are capable of.
Without it, they will be punished for their poor health. They will become indebted. They will be stripped of their income when they don’t attend job interviews because they couldn’t afford to get there or they were too ill. Their illnesses will become worse from the stress. The will become malnourished. They will have to choose between heat and food. Their relationships will suffer. Their lives will be miserable and they will die, either due to the unnecessary deterioration of their conditions, or because it’s a better choice than living.
In our society, our big society, where we cut corporation tax, where we cut the top rate of tax, where we give peerages to people who do the best at avoiding tax and where we knight paedophiles, it is our most vulnerable people that are treated as being sub-human. Choosing the stick over the carrot isn’t just an ideological standpoint. It is to place a divide between us like a perimeter fence at a zoo.
This is the latest in a long line of cuts to disabled people, and it won’t be the last. Currently under government review: whether the need to use prescribed adaptations (such as a grab rail) constitutes disability. These slow nicks to the flesh are a gradual, unglamorous, and barely reported-upon genocide of people without enough prominent voices for the rest of society to notice.
If this cruelty is not reversed or addressed, then the bystanders, as well as the perpetrators, will not be forgiven by history.
Gareth Roberts is a musician and writer who lives in the North West of England. His band, Man & The Echo are signed to 1965 records and will release their debut album in 2016.