On Wednesday, politicians will meet in parliament to debate and vote on an issue their constituents have actually asked them to. This in itself might seem remarkable, but what is truly incredible is that it has taken them this long to agree to it.
For years now, sickness and disability campaigners have argued that sweeping government cuts to every service and support they rely on is doing – and will continue to do – great harm. Perhaps if just one area was scaled back, we could cope, but when all are attacked at once, some of the most vulnerable people in our society are left feeling helpless and hopeless.
Imagine for a moment that you rely on a carer coming to your home just to help you get out of bed. Without them, you can’t get dressed, can’t prepare a meal or have a wash. Yet as local authorities try to cope with eyewatering 25% cuts, social care has been slashed up and down the country.
Imagine that day the doctor diagnoses terminal cancer or lupus or a broken spine. You can hardly take it in, let alone think about going to work. You will need time to adjust, to put away those lifetime ambitions or cherished dreams. Yet our politicians aim to remove employment and support allowance (ESA) from up to a million devastated lives.
Imagine you cannot walk well around your own home. You can shuffle a few painful steps, but no further than the end of the drive. You rely on your car for everything, for getting out to see friends, for getting to work, without it you would be completely isolated. Yet this government plan to remove disability living allowance (DLA), the benefit that provides sick and disabled people help to fund transport, from half a million people.
Imagine you are so profoundly disabled that you cannot eat or communicate without help. You use a wheelchair and your home has been modified to ensure that you can carry on living in it as independently as possible. Until recently, you received top-up payments from the Independent Living Fund, but that has been scrapped too.
Now just imagine what might happen if all of these cuts affect you at once. No carer to help at home, no ESA to replace your lost income, no car to get about and no support to stay in your own home. What might have been manageable becomes the most terrible, frightening scenario possible. Without these vital elements of your life, you are left with nothing; bedridden, housebound, isolated and living in crushing poverty. Add in cuts to housing benefit and the NHS, and it doesn’t take much imagination to see that the results could be devastating.
When politicians devise policies from the comfortable bubble of their Westminster offices, they are required to carry out what is called an impact assessment. The government has performed the most basic of impact assessments for each disability “reform” – and when I say basic, would it surprise you to know that they concluded the above changes would have no impact on health, no impact on wellbeing, no impact on human rights and no impact on the justice system?
Campaigners have begged the government to conduct a cumulative impact assessment to assess what will happen if several or all of these cuts hit the same people at once and this will be the subject of Wednesday’s debate. At first ministers refused, claiming that it would be “too expensive” and “too complex“.
This isn’t good enough. If it is simplicity itself to strip away the dignity of the most vulnerable, to leave no stone unturned in the destruction of compassion, then surely it can’t be too difficult to assess the true impact?
Either campaigners are right, and lives will be ruined, or MPs are right and these are the correct reforms, done in the best way. Surely the very least that sick and disabled people can demand is that we know for sure?