Universal Credit is a crime against claimants, it should be stopped and scrapped before it claims more lives. In this article for the Pluto blog, Disabled People Against Cuts describe their activism against austerity’s structural violence.
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On March 1st Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC) and our supporters are taking to the streets again to highlight our concerns about the impacts of Universal Credit. We say that Universal Credit is a crime against claimants which no civilized Government should impose on its citizens.
DPAC is a campaign founded in October 2010 and led by disabled people to raise awareness of the impact of government austerity cuts on disabled people and to challenge government policy on disability which is eroding the human rights of disabled people in the UK. Longer term, we seek systemic change so that disabled people are fully included in society and get the social justice they are entitled to.
Even before austerity cuts, Britain’s social security benefits, including pensions, are among the least generous in Europe. 2.8 million disabled people are in deep poverty (earning 50% below the median income). Disabled people have faced cuts up to 9 times more on average than non-disabled people. For disabled people with the highest support needs, this figure rises to 19 times more. Meanwhile research has shown that the average extra cost of being disabled is £550 a month.
DPAC was founded on values that include the social model of disability and the principle of Rights not Charity.
We campaign in a number of ways through research, legal actions, traditional lobbying, the use of social media, which is especially important for people who for a wide variety of reasons can’t get to our protests and direct actions. We also have a large network of peer support helping people facing cuts to their social security benefits and care funding.
For us, street protests and other direct actions are particularly important as they make disabled people who are often invisible, visible. They give these same people a voice rather than being spoken for by well-paid charities who often collude with our oppressors.
We are proud to be solely responsible for the UN Disability Committee launching the first ever investigation into any country in the world. The investigation found that the Tory government was responsible for both the grave and systematic violation of disabled people’s human rights using the Optional Protocol in the UNCRPD. Last year at the normal periodic review of the UK in Geneva by the UN, the committee described what was happening to disabled people in the UK as a ‘human catastrophe.’
The original UN submission showed 39 separate attacks against disabled people’s human rights ranging across all aspects of life from access to public transport to the lack of an adequate income which fails to keep disabled people above the poverty line, plus vicious cuts to funding for care and support which should allow disabled people to take part in society on an equal basis to others.
Living independently and taking part in society
DPAC has and always will campaign for a legal right to independent living and a national system of social care and support funding free at the point of delivery.
Being able to live independently doesn’t mean just being able to do things for yourself, but rather having the vital support you need to help you do something whether that is hoisting you out of bed, helping you go to the loo, or assisting you to meet up with family or friends.
One of the main areas we worked on was the prevention of the closure of the Independent Living Fund (ILF) which was closed for people with high support needs in England only in June 2015. Our opposition to this closure was mainly due to the way a post-code lottery operates for the provision of social care funding at local level, and because of the drastic cuts that were made to Local Authority budgets for social care from 2010. To date, the total amount cut from local authority care budgets is now £6.3 billion and four in ten disabled and older people have lost all entitlement to care since 2010. On top of this, many, even those on very low incomes, are asked to pay more towards the cost of care than they can’t afford to.
To put this in human terms, whether or not you get the care and support you need to take part in society depends very much on where you live. An example is a young man who had 24-hour care but has now been told he will get 3 short visits a day, meals on wheels and although continent, a pack of incontinence pads he will be forced to use. This is not untypical and currently we are being inundated with requests for help with care funding cuts.
Social Security Benefits
There is now mandatory retesting for every claimant for all forms of disability benefit sometimes as often as once a year. This is on top of being reassessed for care and support services annually. It doesn’t matter whether your condition is likely to deteriorate, or never get better, you are repeatedly subjected to this humiliating process. Most of the time disabled people want to think about what they can do but during these assessments they are forced to concentrate on what they can’t do which is very depressing.
These Tory reforms masterminded by former banker Lord Freud have led to thousands of unnecessary claimant deaths through people falling into debt, becoming more ill both physically and mentally or having their benefits sanctioned and stopped completely. David Clapson, for example, was an ex-soldier with diabetes who died when his benefits were stopped and he could not pay for electricity to run his fridge to keep his insulin in.
For people with a mental health condition sanctions rose 600% in 2015. People can be sanctioned and left with absolutely no money from the state for up to 3 years.
Benefits for disabled people have been slashed with 20% of people losing entitlement to Disability Living Allowance (DLA) – replaced by Personal Independence Payments (PIP). Over 700 people a week have had adapted vehicles repossessed due to this and are no longer able to work, visit family or leave their homes and unbelievably people have also had their wheelchairs, hired from Motability, repossessed after losing DLA.
Those on Employment and Support Allowance placed in the Work Related Activity Group and who are not fit for work have had one-third of their meagre weekly incomes removed by a legislative change since 2016.
These problems are compounded by the Bedroom Tax. Rooms needed to house specialist equipment became a financial liability. Reduced income and rising costs mean that many thousands of people have had to leave their (often adapted) homes, support networks and communities to move into smaller homes. Others have chosen to remain in their homes, pay the charge but skip meals or sit in the freezing cold.
Universal Credit – the biggest threat of all facing both low paid workers and social security claimants
So far, we have seen only the tip of the iceberg in terms of an ideological neo-liberal attack against us and the terrors of future reforms to the social security system are only just starting as the accelerated roll out of Iain Duncan Smith’s Universal Credit happens across the country.
Universal Credit replaces six benefits – Child Tax Credit, Housing Benefit, Income Support, Income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance, Income-related Employment and Support Allowance and Working Tax Credit.
Seven million households will be affected, including over one million low paid part-time workers. For the first time ever, people in work could be faced with having their benefits stopped if they don’t prove to the Jobcentre that they’re searching for better paid work or more hours. Pensioner couples will also be affected if one of them is under pension age.
For disabled people there are many problems including UC is claimed and managed entirely digitally which is difficult or impossible to manage for many disabled people. Any mistakes on the form will likely lead to loss of benefit or a claim being disallowed, and under Universal Credit the GP’s fit note is completely ignored and no claimants are seen as unfit for work anymore. They must have a mandatory Health and Work Conversation (HWC) during which medically untrained Work Coaches will decide what they must do to retain their social security payments.
Further, there are massive cuts to the amount of benefit paid to severely disabled people as the Severe and Enhanced Disability Premiums have been scrapped. This means single disabled people lose over £2,000 per annum and a disabled couple over £4,000 per annum.
Many disabled people work part-time or are self-employed, yet under UC both of these options will become more difficult to continue with. Permitted work where a disabled person can work 2 days a week and earn a small amount has also been scrapped in UC. So much for IDS’s ‘slivers of time’ work.
Mental health claimants are particularly at risk of coercion under UC and as part of the Health and Work Programme we are seeing the use of the DWP nudge unit and psycho compulsion. This effectively means the introduction of forced treatment through the use of therapists based in Jobcentres. If claimants don’t take the treatment prescribed, they face being sanctioned.
Loss of women’s rights
Changes to benefit payments which will be made the male partner in any relationship will make women financially dependent on men trapping many in endless domestic violence. Disabled women are already much more likely to face domestic violence, than non-disabled people.
The appalling Tax Credit ‘rape clause’ means that women can only get Child Tax Credit payments for their first two children unless they can prove they were raped. This involves filling out a detailed 45-page form about the rape.
The appalling costs of UC
Ignoring the human costs to date, at least £15.8 billion has been wasted on the implementation of UC yet even by 2022 only £1 billion will be saved. Can anything illustrate more clearly that these attacks are not based on logic but cruel political ideology where anyone who needs the safety net of our welfare state is victimised and scapegoated.
In spite of these cuts to basic benefits, which are so vital to disabled people, the government happily pay private corporations to carry out inadequate testing. The contract to assess people for PIP has cost £700 million in 5 years yet when people appeal against not being awarded this benefit only 61% win their cases.
Similarly, Maximus who assess people for sickness benefits will be paid £1.6 billion for 3 years which the National Audit Office has said will cost nearly double the amount saved.
We already live in a country where millions of people including nurses, police officers and others in work have been forced to use foodbanks. Foodbank use has risen to over 1 million people a year while the Tories have been in power.
The Food Standards Agency says that 8 million people in the UK are in food poverty and many low-income households cannot afford to eat regularly.
Nearly 400 citizens died from malnutrition or hunger in 2015, up 27% from 2008, and 2 people every day were admitted to hospital with malnutrition in 2016. Victorian diseases such as Ricketts and Scurvy that had been eradicated for years have returned. Teachers have to provide food in schools for starving children and a further 1 million children will lose entitlement to free school meals under Universal Credit.
DPAC says none of this is acceptable in one of the richest nations in the world, and we will keep fighting to change things. We are not going away and we will not be silenced. Join us on March 1st to add your voices to ours.
Find out more about DPAC via their website.