An open letter from disabled people about further welfare cuts

By Bernadette Meaden
May 3, 2015

People with disabilities or a long-term illness, having borne the brunt of welfare cuts in this Parliament, fear what will happen after the General Election. With the Conservatives promising a further £12 billion cuts without specifying where the axe would fall, they fear the worst.

Disabled people wrote an open letter, signed by many celebrities and prominent figures, which appeared in the Guardian. You can view it here. They want it be read by as many people as possible, so it is also published here.

"The general election is upon us. In 21st century Britain we like to think we live in an equal and fair society, but equality is hard won. There was a time when women chained themselves to railings for their right to vote, a time when gay people were imprisoned and when signs proclaimed “No blacks, no dogs, no Irish”. All have had to fight for their right to equality. Disabled people are fighting too, but not simply for equality – for their very survival.

"A third of disabled adults already live in poverty. Disabled people and those needing social care have already been hit up to 19 times harder by cuts than others. Under the Conservative-led coalition every aspect of their support has been reduced, abolished or failed, costing the taxpayer and costing lives. But just weeks before the election we discover through a leaked document that the Tories plan £12bn more cuts to social security, including disability benefits (Report, 30 March).

"The UN is said to be conducting a confidential inquiry into “grave or systemic violations” of the human rights of disabled people in the UK. If these cuts went ahead it would be a further breach of the UN convention on the rights of persons with disabilities, which the UK ratified in 2009, with cross-party support. Every week we learn of more people who have lost their lives, many others will follow if more support is stripped away.

"The Institute for Fiscal Studies has said the chancellor must specify how he will reach the targets. Yet George Osborne, David Cameron, Theresa May, Matthew Hancock and David Gauke have all doggedly refused to give any details before the election. Iain Duncan Smith has said: “We may, we may not, decide that it’s relevant to put something out there about some of those changes.”

"It is unfair and irresponsible to conceal changes that may heavily impact the lives of those who have already been hit the hardest. Perhaps they think disabled people are an easy target, because misleading articles and the rhetoric of “scroungers” and “skivers” has skewed public perception of people who need support. But more and more, people are becoming aware of how unfairly disabled people have been treated. The tide is turning.

"Disabled people wrote an open letter calling on politicians to stop any further cuts which would increase their already profound social and economic disadvantage and asked the public to show their support. We, like those before us, are prepared to fight until disabled people are treated equally and difference doesn’t matter anymore.

"Armando Ianucci Writer, director, producer, Bianca Jagger Council of Europe goodwill ambassador, Founder Bianca Jagger Human Rights Foundation, Michael Sheen Actor, director, Peter Tatchell Human rights campaigner, Dominic Minghella Screenwriter, Aamer Anwar, Criminal defence solicitor, Human rights campaigner, Rev Andy Smith Ecumenical Dean of Telford, Richard Hughes Drummer, Keane, Sophie Christiansen Triple gold medallist, London 2012 Paralympic Games, Steve Peers Professor of human rights law, Jonathon Tomlinson GP NIHR research fellow, Eddi Reader Musician, Professor Peter Beresford Professor of social policy, Brunel University, London, Cherylee Houston Actor, Dr Sam Majumdar Consultant surgeon Dundee, Surgical advisor Royal College of Surgeons Edinburgh, Francesca Martinez Comedian, author, campaigner, Deborah Bowman Professor of ethics and law St George’s, University of London, Terry Christian Broadcaster, Dr Simon Duffy Director, The Centre for Welfare Reform, Lisa Hammond Actor, Jonathan Bartley Green party spokesperson on work and pensions, Rabbi Debbie Young-Somers, Dr Kailash Chand, Rev Fr Patrick Brennan Priest, archdiocese of Birmingham, Cameron McNeish Broadcaster, author, Bill Bowring Barrister, professor of law, Birkbeck, University of London"

The letter is linked to a petition which you can sign here to show your solidarity and support.

Ekklesia's election coverage: http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/generalelection2015

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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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