An open letter to Jeremy Corbyn
Under the last Labour Government sick and disabled people were unhappy with the way we were portrayed and treated. The proposed cuts and the policies enacted in that period lost the Labour party the votes of many of the 4.6million sick and disabled people plus their carers and families.
Many discussions were had within the community – some chose not to vote in 2010, some chose to vote Liberal Democrat.
However none wanted to vote for Labour in 2010 – in the main due to the introduction of ESA which was supported by the ‘scrounger’ rhetoric. This rhetoric has become firmly embedded in the public psyche.
The current Government simply wishes to extend this by cutting the ESA premium of those in the Work Related Activity Group, as this group is seen as being in some way “fit for work”, regardless of this group containing people who are degenerating and moving away from work.
But it wasn’t just ESA that alienated disabled people from Labour.
The Local Housing Allowance (LHA) meant disabled people were limited even further in the housing market. We don’t ‘automatically’ get social housing. I was homeless for two and a half years due to the combination of the LHA, private landlords not accepting benefit claimants, and the lack of suitable accommodation for a person with disabilities. The Coalition introduced the bedroom tax – to much furore, and yet disabled people housed in the private sector had to continue to suffer in silence whilst we made up the financial difference from our benefits.
To understand the true crisis for disabled people in housing please read the work done by Habinteg, who found that only 5% of housing in England is accessible.
There was also the suggestion of removing Attendance Allowance and the care element of Disability Living Allowance (DLA) from pensioners, and handing that money over to Local Authorities to prop up the financial gap in care provision. This meant that people judged to need the additional finances to buy in their care at a reasonable rate would be without that money, and with no guarantee that they would be given Local Authority care. Effectively people would be paying for the care of others. The care provision of Local Authorities is around twice the cost of the new minimum wage, averaging £15 per hour.
There was a real fear and a suggestion that all recipients of DLA Care rate would eventually be included, indicating that the Government failed to understand the economics of the situation, the scarcity of care available and the expenses that the Care component was spent on.
Badly named, the Care component was/is expected to pay for aids, adaptations, extra heating, lighting and other utilities, internet access, fuel, laundry, additional wear and tear on clothes etc, as well as flexible ‘as-and-when’ assistance to go shopping, medical visits, sporting and leisure costs.
I pay £25 a week so someone can get my scooter out of my house – just so I can go for a “walk” 3 times a week. I was paying £30 a week so someone would drive me to and from a para-sport activity, because of the distance. To remove my Care component would have meant no sport and very little chance of assistance when I needed it.
Now we see that the current Government are revisiting this idea. I can only assume the silence from Labour is due to embarrassment. You can hardly oppose a policy that the Labour Party itself proposed only 7 years ago (2009).
The Labour Party, and particularly the PLP, needs to readjust its attitude towards sickness and disability. It needs to shake off the ingrained beliefs that sick and disabled people are in some way scroungers and frauds.
The 2 benefits, ESA and DLA/PIP, have the lowest levels of fraud. They have the toughest assessments in Europe. The people in receipt of these benefits are too sick to work, and do face huge barriers and additional costs.
If you want those votes back then firstly you have to change the mind-set of the PLP, and start to vigorously attack the current Government. The PLP must not continue to allow the Conservative party to mislead the public with their skewed data. It is beyond me why, when Cameron states a higher percentage (such as for PIP) the Labour Party cannot respond with the absolute values for the number of people who it is proposed will be denied the allowance. (Some 24% of current case load of working age people).
We need more vim, more vigour, and some acceptance that the previous Labour Government got it very badly wrong. Sick and disabled people need a reason to trust Labour again. There is no evidence that sick or disabled people have returned to Labour in any great number, in the main due to Labour’s silence on these issues.
It is not enough to believe that people will return to Labour because the Conservatives are treating people worse. That “give them enough rope” thinking of the last Parliament failed. We must take the fight to them, not expect the public to make a judgement based on what the media chooses to portray.
I’m not suggesting this will be painless or in any way cathartic, but with 2.5m sick people and 3.4m disabled people, their carers, friends and families – who work unpaid to fill the shortfall – there are millions of votes available to reclaim. Please don’t let those votes continue to be lost to the Green Party, SNP, UKIP etc.
Its worth remembering 45% of pensioners have some disability. A good place to start would be with the proposal to remove Attendance Allowance, whilst winning back hearts and minds of those affected by cuts to ESA (WRAG) and the proposal of reducing PIP even further (currently under consultation).