PIP won’t cut the disability budget

Picture of Maria MillerLast Tuesday, BBC 5 Live’s morning discussion presenter Victoria Derbyshire hosted an interview with Maria Miller, the minister responsible for disabled people in the UK, and various disability activists including Kaliya Franklin of Spartacus Report fame, and Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson, a former Paralympic athlete who is now a cross-bench peer (that is, a member of the House of Lords who is not a member of a party, either government or opposition). You can listen to it on YouTube here — the discussion goes on for just over 30 minutes.

What stuck out for me was the bit where Maria Miller revealed that she did not expect the level of public spending currently required by Disability Living Allowance to be reduced by the purported 20% in the next four years; they instead intend to maintain it at last year’s levels, i.e. to check the growth of the cost of supporting disabled people, not to drastically reduce it. Given that many people have looked at the new criteria and found that they will no longer be eligible, despite considerable mobility needs: for example, Lisa Egan, who has Osteogenesis Imperfecta (which makes it easy for her to injure herself by doing normal things like walking) and uses a wheelchair, found that under the draft proposals, she would not be eligible for the new benefit at all because she can “mobilise” using a wheelchair. As many people with disabilities use their DLA to actually buy a wheelchair (as well as adapt their home), this would presumably exclude paraplegics as well (not quadriplegics, as they would need assistance in washing, cooking and so on).

A change to the entitlement criteria that excludes a number of very obviously physically disabled people, yet would not greatly reduce the cost to the taxpayer, reflects a scheme which is really intended to do two things. The first is to play to the tabloid gallery by contrasting “deserving” recipients (such as blind people, as in the example Lisa mentions) with undeserving ones, such as alcoholics who might need supervision to make sure they do not choke on their own vomit; but it might also weed out a number of people with hidden disabilities that are not tabloid-friendly, and might elicit hostility from ignorant people if they use a disabled parking bay.

The second is simply another opportunity for the British corporate welfare state that has been operating at least the whole of the Blair/Brown government and probably before. In this particular case, public money is going to be redistributed from those who need it — those with disabilities who would use it to enable themselves to go to work, to live in their own homes and generally stay independent and out of a care home — to corporate bigwigs and their (mostly able-bodied) lackeys. To employ (whether directly or through a large contractor) people to carry out repeated assessments on obviously disabled people, let alone those with mental illnesses who may find that the stress worsens their condition (and thus their burden on the NHS), is not exactly a worthwhile reapportionment of public money. The increased burden on the public purse in other areas does not appear to have been considered, such as the likelihood of hospital bed-blocking by disabled people who cannot be discharged as they have no suitable accommodation, as commonly happens today with the elderly.

This debate has also revealed the typically cowardly mentality of the Labour Party, which has refused to commit itself to reintroducing DLA if they regain power at the next election. Their excuse is that they cannot predict what the economy will allow by that time, but we all know that the real reason is their timidity in the face of the Tory press at any election time. There has been a series of articles berating the current Labour leadership for capitulating too easily to the Tories’ agenda in the name of seeking “credibility”, such as this one by Mehdi Hasan in the New Statesman which also argues that Labour should use its own terms of reference rather than appeal to Tory sentiments by using Tory imagery. The centre-left group Compass has released a pamphlet attacking “white flag Labour”, in which economist Howard Reed attacks the “tame surrender to the misguided economic policies currently wreaking havoc on the UK’s economic and social fabric”.

The white flag has, of course, been the rightful symbol of New Labour since the mid-1990s, as they invariably show timidity towards the Tory press but also towards foreign (particularly American) aggression, involving the UK in their wars and signing humiliating extradition treaties which offer British citizens no protection. It is difficult to see how they can gain any credibility with progressive voters while they maintain this position; they are more likely to inspire apathy, even among their core vote and especially those who abandoned them for the Lib Dems as they saw Labour as essentially the red Tories: a war-mongering, tabloid-appeasing party. With the predicted collapse of the Lib Dems at the next election, apathy about Labour can only help one of the major parties. They need to get themselves a backbone, pretty quickly.

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