We had already had a hint of where Ed Miliband stands on welfare support for disabled people in his ‘I met a man’ speech, where he compared us to the bankers. There was the leader of the Labour Party telling the nation, when rates of disability hate crime are already rising, when tabloids vilify us daily, that disabled people who are unfit to work are just as irresponsible as the bankers who brought on the crash in pursuit of their huge bonuses. Nice. Well today he made his speech to the Labour Party Conference, and it’s more of the same.
We won’t be able to reverse many of the cuts this Government is making.
Cuts like the axing of the Independent Living Fund, the plans to time-limit ESA and leave 400,000 disabled people who aren’t fit for work without income from next April, and the scheme to cut one in five recipients of DLA under the guise of ‘simplifying’ it. Labour is letting the ConDems do their dirty work, and Ed is setting the stage to say he can’t reverse the cuts, when what he means is he won’t reverse them. I vilify the ConDems for cowardice when they blame Labour for all their economic woes, it’s only fair I do the same to Ed when he tries to pass off his policies as forced on him by the ConDems.
The something for nothing of celebrity culture.
The take what you can of the gangs.
And in parts of some of our communities, a life on benefits.
You know what your values are.
But they are not the values being rewarded in our benefits system.
We must never excuse people who cheat the welfare system.
The reason I talk about this is not because I don’t believe in a welfare state but because I do.
We can never protect and renew it if people believe it’s just not fair.
If it’s too easy not to work.
And there are people taking something for nothing.
I don’t know what he thought he was saying here, other than that it might go down well with the Little Englanders who read the Daily Mail, but look at what this section is saying about people dependent on welfare; it compares us to Z-list celebs, gangsters and rioters, and it says that people on benefits aren’t like right-thinking people, that we have different values, that we are ultimately all cheats. No doubt he’ll protest that wasn’t at all what he meant, but it is precisely what will be understood by huge swathes of our society, and the acceptance of disabled people who depend on the benefit system because they are too disabled to work will spiral ever lower.
And if at the same time people who have paid into the system all their lives find the safety net full of holes.
At last, something that sounds like he might have a clue, but the damage is already done, and there’s more to come.
We need a new bargain.
’s values. Britain
Which sounds fine, but there are immense problems with
’s values, we see that in the newspapers that brand us cheats and fraudsters on a daily basis, because they know that goes down well with their readership, we know that from the hate crime statistics, from the people who abuse us on the street for daring to be disabled. Britain’s values around disability stink, they stink at every level of society, from the Ministers who see us as a soft target, to the MPs who think we should be pleased to work for a pittance, to the police who too often dismiss the idea that disability hate crime exists, to the judges who inevitably reward our abusers with the lightest of sentences, to the media which demonises us because it sells papers and we aren’t strong enough to fight back, and the people on the high street who elect those MPs and Ministers and buy those papers and tut-tut about how they’re all at it, you know. We need a party with the courage to ignore Britain’s values when those values are morally and ethically wrong, and to drag us kicking and screaming into the 21st Century, with the moral courage to condemn bigotry in all of its forms, not pander to it because there might be a vote or two to be had. Britain
That is why I say all major government contracts will go to firms who commit to training the next generation with decent apprenticeships.
And none will go to those who don’t.
Sounds good, but what about the 70%+ of employers who openly state they wouldn’t employ a disabled person, in clear contempt of the law? Do they just get the wink to continue?
And we must challenge irresponsible, predatory practices wherever we find them.
Unfortunately I don’t think he meant ATOS assessment centres.
The wealth of our nation is built by the hands not just of the elite few but every man and woman who goes out and does a day’s work.
So what does that make those of us too sick or disabled to work? Parasites?
But the truth is that the problem in some of our schools is not just investment.
It’s also about values.
Of bright children held back when aspirations are low.
Or when closed circles at the top of society shut them out.
He might almost be talking about the way disabled people are excluded, but he isn’t.
VAT went up.
He called it a tough decision.
Tax credits were cut.
He said they couldn’t be afforded.
Help paying for childcare was hit.
He said it was the only thing he could do.
Even when he’s talking about Cameron hitting those who can’t afford it, ILF and ESA and DLA are beneath his notice.
Only David Cameron could believe that you make ordinary families work harder by making them poorer and you make the rich work harder by making them richer.
It’s the wrong priority.
It’s based on the wrong values.
How dare they say we’re all in it together.
So we need a new bargain at the top of society, and in our benefits system too.
So it rewards the right people with the right values.
Again he links people in receipt of benefits with those taking immoral advantage of the opportunities provided by their wealth. Repetition makes it clear it is an intentional strategy to demonize us by association, and the only reason can be that it will go down well with the knee-jerk contempt of the Daily Mail readers.
We have to face the truth.
Even after reforms of recent years, we still have a system where reward for work is not high enough.
Where benefits are too easy to come by for those who don’t deserve them and too low for those who do.
Again the underlying message is that if you can successfully claim benefits then you must be playing the system, and that work is the gold standard by which all else must be judged. But there are many hundreds of thousands of disabled people who can’t work through no fault of their own, and a message that only through work can you be valued is unfit for any Labour leader, or for that matter for anyone who claims to believe in even the vaguest concepts of equality.
So if what you want is a welfare system that works for working people then I’m prepared to take the tough decisions to make that a reality.
Except when it would come to saying that ATOS should be sacked and admitting that ESA is a failed, if not farcical, attempt to embrace the ultra-right-wing, American, definition of disability as a form of social deviance that should be punished, not supported and which has caused untold damage to millions of disabled people through the stress and fear it engenders.
Take social housing.
When we have a housing shortage, choices have to be made.
Do we treat the person who contributes to their community the same as the person who doesn’t?
My answer is no.
Our first duty should be to help the person who shows responsibility.
There it is again, the idea that if you don’t get out there and find work, contribute actively to society then you’re irresponsible. Precisely the same line he used to condemn disabled people as no different to bankers in the ‘I met a man’ speech. But what about those of us who can’t contribute to our communities, who are so disabled we can barely access them? When I spend most of my life flat on my back, because I can’t bear to sit or stand, then what exactly does Ed think I can do for my community? How does someone with severe mental illness contribute? Or severe ME, or any of hundreds of other disabilities? How do we compete in his little scheme as equals? And if we can’t compete, then is that scheme not just not fit for purpose, but is it something that scars and diminishes the Labour Party just by being something they would even consider?
David Cameron likes to talk tough on welfare, but do you know who the big losers are from his changes?
Time and again it’s those who work hard, who try to get on.
It’s the cancer patients who have worked all their lives but now lose their support
Ed’s keen on cancer patients, guaranteed vote-winner, almost as good as a little girl in a wheelchair with a puppy, but he’s less keen on the rest of us who are too disabled to work, we aren’t such good headline fodder, we aren't so photogenic, many of us have disabilities that the Daily Mail readers don’t believe in. And he’s not so keen on giving you the full picture either. Cameron wants time-limiting of ESA at 12 months, Ed wants it at 24. We don’t have Ed’s luxury of being able to ignore our personal realities, we know that a disability is for life, not just for Christmas, but Ed doesn’t want to acknowledge that, because then people might start wondering if cutting 700,000 disabled people who aren’t fit for work adrift without any welfare support after 2 years is really a policy Labour should be advocating.
It’s the couple who have put money aside and saved, but now lose their tax credits
And it is the single mum working as a dinner lady who loses help with her childcare.
But apparently it’s not the disabled person who will be forced to sacrifice their savings and their pension just to survive when ESA is time-limited, nor the disabled person who will be forced out of work because DLA will no longer admit that needing a wheelchair is a serious mobility impairment.
And while those who do the right thing are hit hard, the demands on those who don’t work aren’t tough enough.
He’ll swear this isn’t aimed at disabled people, but is that the message the Daily Mail readers will take away?
I believe in a benefits system with values.
And I believe in the value of work.
All through the speech the emphasis is that not working is somehow socially deviant, there is no simply no room in Ed’s mindset to acknowledge that hundreds of thousands of disabled people are unable to work, that it will take massive societal change to get any significant percentage of them into work, and that many of them will never be able to work, but that they must still be valued equally for society to have any claim to be equal and fair. It seems that James Purnell and the pernicious disability-denial message of Unum Provident and their
‘think tank’ are still defining Labour’s welfare policy, and that is something that should scare us all. Cardiff
The full speech can be read online here.