‘Derisory’ government response to welfare impact petition

The WOW petition, organised by sick and disabled people suffering the multiple impacts of welfare reform, has received a response from the government, as is required when any petition on the e-petition website reaches the 10,000 signature mark. This one is heading towards 27,000 already.

The petition begins by asking for: ‘A Cumulative Impact Assessment of all cuts and changes affecting sick and disabled people, their families and carers, and a free vote on repeal of the Welfare Reform Act’ and ‘An immediate end to the Work Capability Assessment, as voted for by the British Medical Association.’

It goes on to address other issues, including the dubious role of the DWP itself. Crowd-sourced by an online community of sick and disabled people and carers, the petition is wide-ranging, because welfare reform is affecting every aspect of the lives of people living with disability and sickness.

To say that the response is disappointing would be an understatement. It can be seen here in full, http://epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/43154 below the petition, but has been summarised by activists on Twitter as, “We care so little about the impact of our policies on vulnerable people that we don’t even consider it.”

In effect the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), which acknowledges that their reforms are the ‘biggest change in welfare for 60 years’ says that a cumulative impact assessment of how welfare reform affects sick and disabled people would have been too difficult, so they didn’t do one, and have no intention of doing one. The DWP response addresses the first sentence of the petition: the remainder of it is completely ignored.

We are rapidly arriving at the point where the most vulnerable people in society feel that the government would be far happier if they simply died quietly, rather than cost the taxpayer any more money. Many are frightened, and feel the rest of the population has abandoned them to their fate.

In an excellent Comment piece on the closure of the Independent Living Fund in the Guardian, Zoe Williams has pointed out that, “Disabled people with the greatest needs make up two per cent of the population, and yet they are weathering 15 per cent of the cuts.” She asks, “If we can’t afford for people to be disabled, what’s the plan?”

Despite its plainly derisory initial comment, the government response to the WOW petition does reiterate that it “will be considered for debate by the Backbench Business Committee should it pass the 100,000 signature threshold.” This makes it all the more vital that as many people as possible sign the petition (@WOWpetition), and promote it in their communities and organisations.

Go to www.wowpetition.com, where you can download posters and see how you can help in other ways. Please stand alongside our sick and disabled neighbours.

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© Bernadette Meaden has written about political, religious and social issues for some years, and is strongly influenced by Christian Socialism, liberation theology and the Catholic Worker movement. She is an Ekklesia associate and regular contributor.

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