While the media obsessed over by-elections and Labour infighting, the government used the opportunity to bury some news it would rather you didn’t see. And, yet again, it’s bad news for the most vulnerable in society.
On Friday 24 February, the government sneaked out emergency legislation designed to prevent 160,000 people from claiming disability benefits they are entitled to.
Two tribunal judgements found that the current criteria for claiming Personal Independence Payment (PIP) were insufficient. In particular, one tribunal found that the mobility element of PIP should be extended to cover those who suffer from “overwhelming psychological distress” travelling alone.
And a second tribunal ruled that the daily living element should cover those who needed help taking medication or monitoring a health condition.
But the government decided to ignore the rulings. The Department for Work and Pensions warned that the changes would cost £3.7bn extra by 2022. And so the government introduced emergency legislation in order to save money at the expense of disabled people.
Shadow work and pensions secretary, Debbie Abrahams slammed the decision:
This is an unprecedented attempt to subvert an independent tribunal judgment by a government with contempt for judicial process.
While a spokesman for Disability Rights UK pointed out:
The DWP itself admits this will include for example those who have a learning disability, diabetes, epilepsy, anxiety or dementia.
And Disabilities Minister Penny Mordaunt was criticised after she failed to even consult the government’s Social Security Advisory Committee. Mordaunt claimed that the legislation would:
Make sure we are giving support to those who need it most.
Adding insult to injury
But if denying 160,000 people access to a much-needed benefit wasn’t bad enough, comments from a top government advisor added insult to injury.
George Freeman, Conservative MP, and head of the Number 10 Downing Street policy unit described the tribunal decisions as “bizarre”. Freeman further claimed that:
We want to make sure we get the money to the really disabled people who need it.
And that the tribunal decisions:
now mean benefits are being given to people who are taking pills at home, who suffer from anxiety.
Abrahams called for Freeman to “immediately apologise” and pointed out that:
Not only does this fly in the face of the commitment to ‘parity of esteem’ for people with mental health conditions, but it directly contradicts Theresa May’s comments on mental health and two recent tribunal judgements.
The Equality and Human Rights Commission also hit back against his remarks. Chief Executive, Rebecca Hilsenrath, stated:
There are many people who have unseen disabilities and they need just as much support. These comments will only feed into negative perceptions of disability and add to the stigma surrounding mental health issues.
The pay rise
Meanwhile, on the same day as this announcement of cuts to the most vulnerable in society, it was revealed that MPs will once again get a pay rise which breaks the government’s own cap for public sector workers. From 1 April, MPs will see their salaries rise from £74,962 to £76,011. MPs further saw a 10% increase in their wages in 2015 and an additional 1.3% increase in 2016.
This 1.3% increase is more than many public sector workers are likely to see. For example, Education Secretary, Justine Greening, said that she wants to cap teacher’s salaries at 1%. Meanwhile, many NHS staff and the armed forces will also see their pay increases capped at 1%.
Sneaking out news
Two important by-elections alongside Labour infighting were always going to be a good time to bury bad news. And the government certainly attempted to do so in this attack on disabled people. But to do so alongside news of an MP pay rise is disgusting.
The government appears not to care about the disabled. Despite Theresa May’s promises, her MPs are showing contempt for those with very real mental health problems. And while they’re bleating about austerity and cuts, they’re still prepared to accept regular pay rises themselves.
It should be clear to all where this government’s priorities lie. And it should be clear that we need to take action against it.
– Support Disabled People Against the Cuts.
Featured image via Flickr