I think that in a fuzzy, undefined way, most of them think the cuts will mainly come from dole scroungers, healthy cheats "on the sick", cutting extortionately high housing benefit enabling massive immigrant families to live in mansions in Mayfair and mopping up the rest, the catch all conscience salve of "efficiency savings."
We're talking about at least £83 Billions of cuts. I'm sure most of us don't have a clue about how much money £83 Billions actually is - well it's eye watering. If you believe a single word I write, then believe me, it's not coming from "efficiency savings" and a few scroungers. Remember, tax rises on top of this £83 Billions (mainly VAT) will only account for around £20 Billions. (Only!)
Of course, I am most passionate about cuts to disability and sickness benefits. So often, this group can't answer back, (literally) can't physically march endlessly up and down Whitehall, and they don't have the financial alternatives to benefits that healthy people do. I know it's easy to turn a blind eye, (no pun intended) or believe the oh-so-smooth Mr Cameron when he assures you that the "poorest and most vulnerable" will be protected, but it's just not true, and my Conservative, Lib Dem and Labour friends are united in their belief that this section of society are being scapegoated, let down and abandoned in a way that is truly sickening.
This post won't be short and snappy. It might be a little detailed and specialist, but if you read it all, you'll find a litany of cuts that will make the world an impossible place for many of the most physically and mentally disabled in our society. I don't want to live in this cruel place and whatever your political persuasion, I think you'll agree. Get a cup of tea, find a quiet half hour, and please, please read this.
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Sarah and Keith are in their forties. They have two children, Oliver and Ruby. Oliver is 11 and Ruby is 9. Sarah used to be a Paralegal, but she developed MS 6 years ago. Keith was a Fireman. Oliver was born with severe physical and learning disabilities and is largely dependent for his care needs.
Keith had to first come to terms with his son's profound disability. Then he was dealt the double blow of finding that his wife too, had a progressive, degenerative illness that would shorten her life and slowly take her away from him. He faced a choice : Give up work and look after his family, or see his son and eventually his wife, go into care.
He gave up work and the family became completely dependent on the state for their housing needs, income to buy food and pay bills, care needs for Sarah and Oliver, and transport costs. Nonetheless, Keith undoubtedly saves the state thousands of pounds every month. The cost of pemanent residential care for Oliver would be massive and it will not be long before Sarah would also need full time, residential care. Keith does all of this, largely alone, with just the occasional support of a local hospice for Oliver, that provides a few hours respite care once a week. Oliver does go to a special school and with his modified transport provided through DLA, Keith's dream, is that, with state assistance and Keith's ever constant support, one day, he will be able to live independently, and manage some kind of fulfilling work.
After a year or so, when their lives had somehow settled into the new, (previously unimaginable) routine, Sarah found that claiming Disability Living Allowance (DLA) meant that she could in fact, still work part time as a paralegal. The higher rate mobility allowed her to pay for transport to and from her office and her small firm of lawyers applied for an "Access to Work" grant which meant that they could install a ramp and a special desk to enable Sarah to actually enter the building to do her job.
Today however, Sarah has become too ill to work. Her speech is slurred, she needs help feeding herself, dressing, and she uses a special chair to allow her some mobility. Now that she can no longer work, she has to claim the ridiculously entitled Employment Support Allowance (ESA).
Ruby is a young carer too. Unpaid and unrecognised, she reads to her Mum and brother, makes them meals and drinks and takes on many other small tasks to help her Dad.
Keith suffers from intermittent depression when the stark reality of his situation becomes too much to bear. However, he has no choice but to carry on, daily trudging through the enormously repetitive and physically demanding job of caring for two severely disabled loved-ones. There are regular hospital stays to deal with, Consultant's appointments, costly prescription charges for Sarah, 40 page plus forms to fill in for every bit of help - for DLA for ESA, for modifications to their home (though Keith does as many as he can himself if he can every find an hour or so).
Sarah has to be "assessed" every few years to keep her financial support. Incredibly, the private American firm ATOS, used to "assess" ESA claimants, placed Sarah in the Work Capability Assessment Group, meaning that she was considered by their non-medically trained assessors to be capable of doing some kind of work. (Only 6% of claimants are now being found entitled to long term support under ATOS's assessments. ( http://diaryofabenefitscrounger.blogspot.com/2010/11/compass-report-into-esa-assessments.html)
Oliver is regularly rushed to hospital by ambulance, his life in the balance, but so far, the incredible local children's ward have saved both his life and his fiercely nurtured dignity.
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Since May, the family have first been concerned, then astounded, then terrified and now desperate as they've heard the endless drip-drip of announcements from the new coalition government.
Their benefits are to be capped at £26,000, with only Sarah and Oliver's DLA payments excluded. They will almost certainly have to move, as from now on, their home needs will be assessed on the cheapest 30% of available housing. A local charity had raised thousands to install a special "Sensory room" for Oliver with lights and shapes and colours that help to stimulate his educational development. They will probably have to leave it all behind as the new home will need to be smaller.
Sarah was due to appeal the decision made by ATOS that she was capable of work, (40% of assessments were going to appeal with evidence from CAB that around 70% of appeals were being upheld with representation http://www.cas.org.uk/news/2010/may/call-to-end-misery-and-hardship-for-sick-and-disabled ) but legal aid has been slashed and she will no longer qualify. The government are also talking about limiting the right to certain tribunals anyway, so it's unlikely Keith can even represent her himself..
Oliver will never have the option to live independently now, as the Independent Living Fund is to be scrapped. http://www.scope.org.uk/news/independent-living-fund-comment This would have topped up his care by, perhaps £300 or £400 a month, meaning that with Keith's help, he could have lived in accommodation with only limited assistance. Going into permanent residential care would cost the state many times more and another cut announced, is that Oliver would no longer be entitled to mobility assistance in residential care. http://www.touchstoneblog.org.uk/2010/10/dla-and-residential-homes-a-nastier-cut-than-you-may-think/ He would lose the tiny bit of independence this afforded him and be stuck staring at four walls, unable to get out. Anyway, Keith can't bear it, so will probably just carry on caring for him at home until he's too old or frail himself.
The next time Oliver needs to stay in hospital, the family will lose his DLA. All the extra costs of car parking, extra care for Sarah while Keith is at the hospital with their son, accommodation for overnight stays, will now have to be found from somewhere. The last time he was admitted, there were only 4 trained nurses for every 28 patients instead of the usual 8. The hospital is even talking about closing the ward altogether because of the "efficiency savings" they are expected to make, (which are actually stealth cuts). This means Oliver will have to go to the larger hospital 34 miles away, where he knows no-one and Keith will incur even more costs visiting and transporting him.
In fact, even DLA is to be abolished, replaced with Personal Independence Payments.http://disabledpeopleprotest.wordpress.com/2010/12/06/dla-to-be-replaced-by-pip-from-201314/ First the government said they would need to cut around 20% of claimants altogether, recently the figure of 25% was suggested. As Sarah is only in the Work Capability group, it's unbelievable, but likely that she could be one of the 25%. They live in fear. If Sarah loses her DLA, they will lose Keith's Carers and Attendance allowance too.
Because local government faces cuts of over 7%, the council have cut £200,000 of funding to Oliver's hospice that Keith so relies on for a few hours respite. They have no choice but to close now, leaving the most disabled local children without this incredible resource that helps to develop them into adults who can play some role in society.
Keith and Sarah have looked at Keith returning to work, but it would mean most of their benefits would be cut, Oliver would have to go into care, and Sarah would simply have to wait for Keith to be off shift to get any care herself. Besides, Fire fighters are being cut too, so it's unlikely there would be work for him anyway.http://www.nhsonline.net/news/article.asp?CategoryId=37&ArticleId=4631
George Osborne announced in his Comprehensive Spending Review that for those on ESA in the Work Capability Group who have working partners, the benefit is now to be time limited to one year. (retrospectively) http://www.disabilityalliance.org/esacut.htm This means that Sarah would no longer have any personal income at all, despite contributing tax and NI for years as a paralegal. Ironically, this particular cut makes it impossible for Keith ever to return to work again.
The family is under so much stress, that Ruby is frightened to go to school, in case her home has been taken away when she gets back. Sarah has considered committing suicide to ease Keith's burden and Keith cries himself to sleep when he thinks no-one can hear him.
It is entirely possible they might end up destitute or even homeless.
Will you help? Will you stop this? Is it really credible that families like Keith, Sarah, Ruby and Oliver carry the burden of our financial woes while RBS give Hester a 2.5 million bonus?
Share, Retweet, Link, Write to Your MP, sign the petitions, join a Disability anti-cuts group, tell your friends, write a blog post or an article for your newspaper.
The dearly fought principles of equality and human rights for all, basic rights to dignity and a life as fulfilling as it is possible to live are being ripped away. The logical conslusion of these cuts are unthinkable. Please, please, don't let them happen.
** The family above are an example of real life stories. Names have been changed.