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A House of Commons debate on welfare reform, secured by sick and disabled people via the WOW petition, will be held on 27 February 2014.
The WOW petition, supported by Ekklesia, called for a cumulative impact assessment of welfare reform as it affects sick and disabled people, and an end to the disastrous Work Capability Assessment.
Iain Duncan Smith’s claim that welfare reform is making work pay, and supporting those who need support, is becoming increasingly untenable, as sick and disabled people hit by multiple cuts fall into poverty and debt, and turn to foodbanks in increasing numbers.
In December 2013, Claire Nurden from the MS Society said: “The combined impact of the changes to the benefits system will be nothing short of devastating for many disabled people. It’s extremely worrying that disabled people are already being forced to rely on food banks. With many of the cuts yet to kick in, the situation can only get worse from here.”
The Secretary of State overseeing these changes is a Roman Catholic, and has famously compared his welfare reforms to the abolition of slavery, so it was highly significant when the Archbishop of Westminster, Vincent Nichols, recently called his policies ‘a disgrace’, saying: "The basic safety net that was there to guarantee that people would not be left in hunger or in destitution has actually been torn apart. It no longer exists and that is a real, real dramatic crisis."
As Mr Duncan Smith has from the outset seemed uninterested in how sick and disabled people would be affected by his reforming zeal, the think tank Demos did its own research. It concluded:“Our research reveals that disabled people are bearing the brunt of the austerity measures, losing an estimated £28.3 bilion by 2017/18. While striking, these calculations will invariably be an underestimate of the true impact of the cuts – as we opted for the most conservative estimates on the more unknown elements of reform.
“What’s shocking is that the Government doesn’t assess the likely combined impact of these changes – only the impact of each change individually. However, many disabled families are being affected by combinations of four, five and even six changes, so we’re asking the Government to change tack, and start to publish cumulative impact assessments.” Claudia Wood, Deputy Director of Demos.
Carers UK says carers, who are surely ‘hardworking people’, will also lose £1 billion.
“The Government heaps praise on carers as ‘heroes’ at the same time as it is slashing their support. Worse still, carers are being hit repeatedly by cuts which the Government says are designed to move people into work and penalise people who are ‘not contributing to society," says Helena Herklots of Carers UK.
Incredibly, it seems possible that many coalition MPs do not understand their own policies when it comes to welfare reform. Dame Anne Begg MP, Chair of the Work and Pensions Select Committee, recently said that Government MPs actually believe that disabled people are exempt from the bedroom tax, yet this is simply not the case.
If coalition MPs are so ignorant of the disastrous impact of welfare reform on disabled people it is vital for them to attend the debate and listen. One would hope that many would find their consciences pricked once they understand that some of the poorest and most vulnerable people in the country have shouldered the heaviest burden of austerity.
Having worked for over a year to secure this important debate, sick and disabled people are now trying to ensure that as many MPs as possible will attend. Please contact your MP and ask him or her to attend the debate and listen with an open mind. It is not much to ask when cancer patients are being forced to go to foodbanks to survive.
The WOW team have made it very easy for you to help, all the tools you need can be found here. You can also promote and follow the debate on Twitter using #WOWFeb27. Please help ensure that sick and disabled people are not abandoned to poverty and despair.
© 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. You can follow her on Twitter: @BernaMeadenTweet