The Chancellor's hidden blow to disabled people.

By Bernadette Meaden
September 30, 2014

The Chancellor’s Conference speech contained a statement about disabled people and benefits which was misleading, but went largely unchallenged by the mainstream media. Mr Osborne promised a two year freeze on working age benefits if the Conservatives are re-elected but made a point of saying, "disability benefits will be excluded". Is that true?

Well, it all depends on what you consider to be a disability benefit. Included in the proposed freeze are people who receive Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) and are part of the Work Related Activity Group (WRAG). These are people who the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) have decided are not fit for work at the moment, but are required to undertake work related activity, with a view to returning to work in future.

The public would probably assume that this group was for people who had had an accident or injury from which they would soon recover, or an illness which was expected to get better. No doubt that’s what most of the audience in the conference hall who applauded the Chancellor’s speech would think, if they thought about it at all.

However, this is far from the truth. People placed in the WRAG may have serious disabilities or degenerative conditions, from which (barring a miracle), they will never recover. Last year Parkinson’s UK reported that 43 per cent of people with Parkinson’s, MS, or other progressive conditions, who found they could no longer work and put in a claim for ESA, were placed in the WRAG group. The DWP was telling them they would recover, but as Parkinson’s UK pointed out, "This directly contradicts the definition of a progressive condition, which can only get worse over time."

So when the government claims that disabled people will be protected from the two year benefits freeze, it is a very disingenuous statement. Sadly it’s not the first time the government has deceived the public over its treatment of disabled people.

Ever sine the bedroom tax was introduced, the Prime Minister has repeatedly stated in Parliament that disabled people are exempt. This is simply not true. As the Disability Benefits Consortium stated, "We have been deeply frustrated at reports that disabled people and their families are protected from this policy. The stark evidence since the policy was implemented in April clearly shows they are not. It is hitting disabled people who need an extra room for essential home adaptations or equipment which enable them to live independently; seriously or terminally ill people who sleep on hospital beds and cannot share a room with a partner who cares for them and parents caring 24/7 for disabled children who need a room for a care worker to stay in to give them a night off from caring.

"None of these groups are exempt and our organisations are seeing the devastating impact it is having on those who now face a shortfall in their rent as a result of the changes. Nine in 10 disabled people and three quarters of carers affected are now having to cut back on food and heating to pay the shortfall in rent they face as a result of this policy."

It is high time the government started telling the truth about the way it treats disabled people. Failing that, it is time the mainstream media challenged its deceptions.

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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. You can follow her on Twitter: @BernaMeaden

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