On Sunday 26 February, the chairman of the Conservative Party told a lie on the BBC’s Andrew Marr show. And the host failed to challenge it.
The Conservative lie
Conservative Party chairman Patrick McLoughlin told the BBC’s Andrew Marr that his government was “very generous” to disabled welfare claimants. Challenged on forthcoming cuts to disability benefits, McLoughlin told Marr:
We’re spending, as a country, over £50bn a year supporting people who’ve got disabilities in this country.
So I think we give overall…very generous schemes
— The Andrew Marr Show (@MarrShow) February 26, 2017
Marr could have challenged McLoughlin on this, but failed to do so. After all, the United Nations recently found the Conservative government guilty of systemic human rights abuses against people living with disabilities.
— Éoin (@LabourEoin) February 26, 2017
As The Canary’s Steve Topple reported at the time:
On 7 November, the UN Human Rights Committee published its report [.doc] into the state of disabled people’s rights. This is the first time the UN has investigated a country for possible human rights violations against disabled people. The report looks at the effects of welfare reforms that the Coalition and Conservative governments have introduced since 2010 as part of their austerity programmes. And the UN is scathing in its condemnation of the government’s policies and treatment of disabled people.
The UN found that the UK government has forced through reforms with no regard for the rights of disabled people. The government told the UN it was not possible to do an impact assessment on how reforms would affect disabled people. But the UN disagreed. It said with the evidence and data available, the government could have done this. Welfare reforms, it found, had “had a more negative impact on households with persons with disabilities”. It also said the government failed to listen to the concerns of disabled people it had involved in policy making processes.
As the UN agrees, the reality for people living with disabilities in the UK is far from McLoughlin’s version. The statistics can sometimes blind us to the very human consequences of policy decisions in Westminster. So here are some of the people caught up in the cuts.
Linda Wootton, 49, was on 10 medications a day after a double lung and heart transplant. She was weak and suffered regular bouts of blackouts. She was put through the Atos Work Capability Assessment and as she lay in a hospital bed dying, she received confirmation she was ‘fit to work’. She died nine days later. Her husband Peter said:
I sat there and listened to my wife drown in her own bodily fluids. It took half an hour for her to die; a woman who is apparently fit for work.
Brian McArdle, 57, had been left paralysed down one side, blind in one eye, unable to speak properly and barely able to eat and dress himself after a stroke on Boxing Day 2011. Despite this, he was deemed ‘fit to work’ by Atos. He died of a heart attack the day after his benefit payments were stopped. His 13-year-old son Kieran told the Daily Record:
Even though my dad had another stroke just days before his assessment, he was determined to go…He tried his best to walk and talk because he was a very proud man, but even an idiot could have seen my dad wasn’t fit for work.
Colin Traynor, 29, suffered from epilepsy. He was deemed ‘fit for work’ by Atos and forced to enter a lengthy, bureaucratic process to appeal the decision – during which his benefits would be frozen. He did not live to see the result of his appeal. Five weeks after his death, his family received the news that his appeal was successful. Too late for Colin. His father Ray said:
I firmly believe – 100% believe – that the system this government introduced has killed my son.
The same year, 10,600 sick and disabled people died within six weeks of their work capability assessment with Atos. According the government’s own figures, 1,300 of these people had been declared fit to work.
Disability rights campaigners Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC) produced the following video to raise awareness of the deaths.
This is not just some occasional poor decision. This is a Linda, a Brian, or a Colin, dying in distress every day. And all because the Conservative government’s austerity programme is designed to throw people out of the social security system, whether they need it or not. It is this same system that the chairman of the party describes as “very generous”. And Marr left viewers none the wiser.
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