Wednesday, 1 October 2014

Four things from the Conservative Party Conference #cpc14

1) Housing Benefit for 18-21 year olds

In general students are ineligible for housing benefit, but many disabled students are. Which considering that most non-disabled students are able to take a part-time job, but most disabled students aren't it's rather sensible. Because of my impaired mobility I certainly could never have done the bar work or waitressing that my classmates all did. This is a way of levelling the playing field and allowing disabled people to study like their non-disabled peers.

Cuts to Disabled Students' Allowance were announced earlier in the year, though they've recently been postponed.

But now the Tories are planning an extra cut which will hit young people if they win the next election: they're going to prevent 18-21 year olds from claiming housing benefit. Many young people are going to end up homeless; both disabled and non-disabled; and it's going to be horrific. But it's going to have an extra impact on disabled people in that it's going to be yet another barrier in accessing an education that won't hit non-disabled people in quite the same way.

2) Freeze on working age benefits for 2 years

In his speech; Osborne announced that if the Tories win next year, he'll freeze working age benefits for 2 years. He lied outright when he told the assembled crowd and adoring media that this wouldn't apply to disability benefits. Dr Campbell explained on her blog how it definitely will be hitting ESA claimants. Please spread her post far and wide for people who haven't read the fine print of Osborne's announcement and took him at his word when he said it wouldn't apply to "disability benefits".

3) Benefits cards instead of cash

Because IDS doesn't realise that Shameless was a piece of fiction, he's going to be trialling paying benefits by pre-paid cards instead of cash so that people can only spend them on items he deems acceptable; and at stores that have negotiated deals with the government.

So if you live in the village where I grew up, can't use the train station or the buses because they're not accessible, and you don't have a car: You're fucked. Because the chances that the one family-run tiny village shop have got in on the government scheme are slim.

There's a host of other problems too. Addiction isn't the only criteria you'd get put onto the cards for. Debt is another one. Scope estimate that being disabled costs you on average an extra £550 a month. When you've got those extra costs mounting it's very easy to rack up debt.

What happens when you then need to buy a piece of equipment like a walking stick or a chopping board adapted for one-handed use from a company that's not signed up to the government benefit card scheme and you don't have any cash?

What about the 58 year old woman who's paid her National Insurance premiums for 40 years? She's now developed cancer and had to claim ESA while undergoing treatment. Because being ill is expensive she ran up some debt during treatment and as such was shifted from cash payments to a pre-paid card. She's just been given that all clear by her doctor; but it'll be at least a month before the effects of the treatment have worn off enough for her to be well enough to go back to work. Should she really not be allowed to buy a bottle of champagne the day she gets her all clear? After 40 years of paying her NI contributions?

It's very easy for people with mental health problems to get into financial difficulty when they're especially unwell. I know a lot of people end up with some quite large debts. For me, personally, the most effective antidepressant is TV. It's easy to immerse yourself in a fictional world to forget - just temporarily - how terrible real life is. I spent much of Monday upset about how isolated and alone I am. Wanna know how I distracted myself from the thoughts that my life really isn't worth living? I watched TV.

So you're ill, you're in debt, you've been given a card and are only allowed to spend money on pre-approved items from pre-approved stores. Your TV breaks and you need to repair or replace it for the sake of your sanity; to give your brain some respite from how miserable your life is. You're not allowed to buy a TV because TVs aren't on the list of things you're allowed to have. Are you supposed to just wallow in your depression until you finally do end up causing yourself serious harm?

Or you're so physically impaired that you're unable to cook. Your council won't give you a care package because their budget's been cut by central government. The only way you can get some food is to order a takeaway. You've got yourself into debt because buying takeaway every day is expensive, but you've got no choice. You get transferred from cash payments to the cards because of your debt and takeaways are a prohibited item. What are you supposed to eat then?

Or a card-holder in the situation that I'm in now where they need to buy a new mattress but the only things they're allowed to buy with their card are food, toiletries and clothes? Or if they are allowed to buy a mattress, but only from a supplier that's got a deal with the DWP. And that supplier won't remove old mattresses for disposal and they can't get rid of a mattress themselves because they're too physically impaired?

Then there are people with addictions. People who aren't going to stop buying drugs or alcohol because of a switch from cash to pre-paid cards because they are addicted. Instead they'll sell their £30 card for £15 of cash. Or resort to crime to meet their physical need for the substance they're addicted to.

4) Acceleration of Universal Credit rollout

On Monday IDS announced that Universal Credit will be rolled out to all JobCentres from early next year. They say this is because of the "success of the policy so far". Such a "success" that they keep lowering the target... And still missing it. For now it'll only be for single people claiming JSA. But with an accelerated timetable it won't be long before people reporting a change of circumstances can kiss their Severe Disability Premium goodbye, and the rest of us will watch it gradually fade away.

And a bonus piece of news that's not from the conference but got published this weekend

The DWP don't collect information on people who've died as a result of having their income stopped. Read the article from the Disability News Service who submitted the FoI request.

1 comment:

  1. Well of course there will be an immediate trade in these cards! You need a mattress that you're not 'allowed' to buy. I want to make a 10% profit out of your need. I buy the mattress, you buy 'mattress + 10%' food for me. Simple. Insanity. Ridiculous. Insulting. Most certainly more expensive to implement than would be saved (because savings are what it's all about).