Why is government so determined to slash benefits for disabled people?

By Savi Hensman
January 20, 2012

Why is the UK government so determined to slash benefits and public services for sick and disabled people and carers? Many people have pointed out the flaws in a harsh Welfare Reform Bill targeting those who are already badly-off.

The surface explanation – that money needs to be saved because of the economic crisis and everyone must do their part – is hard to believe. For a start, there are costs as well as savings involved, in the short and long term. What is more, the same government is more than happy to throw away billions of pounds on its own favoured causes.

The Prime Minister strongly resists a financial transaction tax (sometimes known as the Tobin or Robin Hood tax) which would not only raise public money from the financial sector but also reduce the risk of future crises, which could wipe huge amounts from the economy in a few days.

Likewise money is splashed out on expensive public sector reforms which open up lucrative opportunities to the private sector, and on overseas wars.

It is also probably not personal prejudice against disabled people, at least on the part of Prime Minister David Cameron, though the government and its media allies have been happy to stoke up and exploit such prejudice to get its way. His son Ivan was born with severe disabilities and, sadly, died at an early age.

This was why so many believed David Cameron when, during the election campaign, he visited a mother and her disabled daughter at home in Bristol and pledged that, if he was elected, he would not do anything to harm disabled children. This trust was clearly misplaced.

One reason why the government might be so enthusiastic about taking resources away from disabled people and carers may be to give the appearance of doing something about the economic situation, while in reality ducking the real problems which might involve inconveniencing rulers’ rich friends and corporate backers and lobbyists.

In addition, many in the ruling elite may see members of the working and lower middle class as mainly functional, though they may have some compassion for the occasional individual such as their cleaner.

When there is a labour shortage, it might be worth patching ordinary people up, or paying for aids and adaptations to help them get to work or carry out other functions. But at a time of high unemployment, it may seem too costly, like trying to fix a worn-out vacuum cleaner or washing machine when there is a new model going cheap in the sales.

So strictly rationing services such as physiotherapy that can help people stay in work, then treating them as lazy layabouts if they get laid off because they cannot get timely NHS care, slashing welfare benefits and leaving frail older people with minimal social care may seem to make sense.

After all, someone might have been a labourer, machinist or typist for decades, paying national insurance and taxes and helping others amass fortunes, but when that person is retired and no longer profitable, why spend too much money on them when it could instead be used to make the rich richer, or increase the prestige of the powerful through showy projects? And if that person has a chronically sick or disabled grandchild or great-niece or – nephew, why bother to invest in enabling him or her to lead a positive and fulfilling life?

(That is: someone may be creative, helpful, loving, beloved - but if this does not show up on a balance sheet, why should it count? So goes a certain mentality.)

People of faith, and others of goodwill, may highlight the value of justice and mercy, and that cruelty and harsh indifference degrade everyone. They may also point out that a society built on exploitation and contempt for the needy is on shaky foundations, and sooner or later will come crashing down.

The government may not want to listen, but increasing numbers of people are waking up to what is happening to their neighbours – and what could happen to them. It might be prudent, now, for those in power to back down on measures that deepen social and economic divisions.

* Benefits & Work, 'PIP losers revealed' - http://www.benefitsandwork.co.uk/news/latest-news/1512-pip-losers-revealed

* 'Responsible Reform' report - http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/responsiblereformDLA

* Ekklesia on the Spartacus Report - http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/spartacusreport

* Join the debate on Twitter: #spartacusreport #wrb


© Savi Hensman works in the equalities and care sector. She is a regular commentator on politics, religion and social issues. An Ekklesia associate, she also writes for Guardian Comment-is-Free and others.

Although the views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent the views of Ekklesia, the article may reflect Ekklesia's values. If you use Ekklesia's news briefings please consider making a donation to sponsor Ekklesia's work here.