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‘Grave and Systemic Violations’ of the Rights of the Disabled in the UK

Both Conservatives and New Labour have made the lives of disabled miserable — cutting benefits, creating arbitrary tests, and driving many to their deaths.

Natasha Drake

May 10, 2018
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Since taking power in a coalition government in 2010, the Conservative Party has forced disabled people to endure repeated abuses. Despite an official United Nations inquiry declaring that there have been “grave and systematic violations” of the rights of disabled people in this country [1] it is an issue that often goes unspoken about, as the lives of the disabled are given a back seat to more “pressing” matters. This article aims to spread the word about just a few of the ways in which British disabled people have been systematically abused by the Conservative government of Theresa May.

A Monstrous Injustice: the Work Capability Assessments

The Work Capability Assessment, or WCA, was introduced in 2008 (under a New Labour government, it should be noted) as a new tool to decide who is eligible for disability benefits and who isn’t. This was part of a long-awaited overhaul of the disability benefits system, and all those on such benefits, including chronically ill as well as disabled people, have been forced to undergo it. However, the WCA quickly came under fire for being a cruel, unfit-for-purpose, and arbitrary measure. Unsurprisingly, given the obsession of recent governments for outsourcing everything except the kitchen sink, the WCA isn’t administered by a public body like the National Health Service but by corporations: Atos from 2008 to 2015 and Maximus from 2015 onwards.
It’s much harder to qualify for disability benefit under the current WCA regime than under the pre-2008 system. [2] The assessment consists of a 45-minute test during which the candidate must score 15 points or more. That’s it: no room for nuance, no room for exceptional circumstances, and no attempt to truly understand the daily struggles of disabled people. A disabled person’s right to a dignified life really does hang on whether or not she scores the magic number of points in a short test. Those who “fail” the test are put on a jobseeker’s allowance, which is less money than they would be receiving under disability benefit, or have their benefits stopped altogether.

The WCA was also ruled unlawful for discriminating against people with mental health conditions, ranging from mental illness like depression to learning difficulties and autism. [3] Such conditions are often debilitating in less visible ways, which the clumsy and one-size-fits-all WCA utterly fails to pick up on. This court ruling inspired our compassionate government to rethink the WCA – oh, no it didn’t; the government carried on regardless, with a leaked memo from the Department for Work and Pensions telling civil servants that it is “business as usual.”
Despite the current Conservative administration’s apparent blindness, the WCA has inflicted a real human toll. Between 2011 and 2014, a total of 2,380 people died after being found “fit for work” by the WCA. [4]

All this suffering, and for what? Is it going to save the country money? Will it help reduce the deficit? Is it going to encourage more disabled people to find jobs?

Of course not. A National Audit Office report declared that the WCA system costs the government far more in corporate administration fees than it will ever save in reduced benefit payments. [5] Appeals against WCA rulings also cost the state £50 million a year. [6] All in all, this effectively means the country is spending more money to be more cruel to disabled people.

Institutionalised Idiocy: the Personal Independence Payments

The Conservative government also scrapped the Disability Living Allowance and replaced it with the Personal Independence Payment (PIP). The assessments for the PIP and the Employment Support Allowance (ESA) have become almost legendary. The following actual questions disabled people were asked in PIP and ESA assessments say it all: [7] “When did you catch Down’s Syndrome?” “Why haven’t you killed yourself yet?” – to a woman with suicidal thoughts, “So how does your OCD affect you then?!’ – to someone who reported not having a shower in months. Clearly, the people carrying out these assessments are shockingly and bizarrely incompetent, which probably explains why 65 percent of PIP decisions that go to appeal are overturned. [8]

To make matters even more worse for disabled people — who already have to contend with stressful and insensitive assessments to even qualify for the PIP or ESA in the first place — the Conservatives slashed these payments by 33 percent in April 2017, claiming that it would somehow incentivize those receiving the payments to find work. [9]

Needless Cruelty: the Bedroom Tax

The Bedroom Tax, introduced in 2013, follows in the long Conservative tradition of attacking the most vulnerable in society and legislates that anyone living in council housing or a housing association property will have their housing benefit slashed by 14 percent if they have one spare room, and by 25 percent if they have two or more spare rooms. At first glance, this might appear rational. However, so-called “spare” rooms are often vital for disabled people, who may require one to keep medical equipment in, or to give a caretaker some space to themselves.

There is the tragic case of Stephanie Bottrill, a disabled grandmother who was driven to suicide by the stress of having her benefits cut by the Bedroom Tax. She walked in front of a lorry, leaving a note to her family saying, “Don’t blame yourself for me ending my life. The only people to blame are the government.” [10] Stephanie will not be the only victim of the Bedroom Tax, which disability campaigners warned could affect 420,000 disabled people. [11]

Lazy, Burdensome Fraudsters: the Conservatives’ Attitude to the Disabled

The UN investigation into the violations of the rights of disabled people in the U.K. said that “disabled people were regularly portrayed negatively as ‘dependent or making a living out of benefits, committing fraud as benefit claimants, being lazy or putting a burden on taxpayers.’“ [12]

This sums up the entire attitude of the Conservative government toward disabled people. They are apparently not human beings, deserving of a dignified life, but worthless burdens on society. The government’s record – whether they are cutting disability benefits, interrogating disabled claimants, forcing people onto reactionary Work Programmes, slashing funding for mental health services, confiscating 900 adapted vehicles from disabled people per week [13], or driving people to suicide by their cruel and callous policies – clearly demonstrates that they are a party which sees nothing wrong in victimizing a vulnerable section of our society.

There is a saying that a society should be judged by how it treats its most vulnerable and least privileged citizens. If we are to use that metric, then an official UN investigation into human rights violations is unnecessary – it is obvious that the UK is failing badly.

[1] http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-37899305
[2] https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2011/feb/23/government-reform-disability-benefits
[3] http://www.disabilitynewsservice.com/dwp-declares-business-as-usual-despite-appeal-court-ruling/
[4] https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2011/feb/23/government-reform-disability-benefits
[5] http://anotherangryvoice.blogspot.co.uk/2016/01/reign-of-terror-false-economies.html
[6] https://publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201012/cmselect/cmworpen/1015/1015vw57.htm
[7] https://www.mirror.co.uk/news/politics/you-catch-downs-syndrome-shocking-11999874
[8] http://anotherangryvoice.blogspot.co.uk/2017/04/dwp-only-fraction-of-pip-decisions-are.html
[9] https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/esa-wrag-disability-benefit-cut-disabled-mps-vote-tories-iain-duncan-smith-a6918556.html
[10] http://anotherangryvoice.blogspot.co.uk/2014/01/deadly-bedroom-tax-blundering.html
[11] https://www.mirror.co.uk/news/uk-news/bedroom-tax-420000-disabled-people-1721706
[12] http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-37899305
[13] https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/benefit-cuts-disability-welfare-pip-adapted-vehicles-a7678926.html

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