The people Sunak forgot – again

By Linda Burnip

Since disabled people accounted for almost 60% of Covid-related deaths last year one might have thought their welfare might be quite prominent in Sunak’s thoughts when he rolled out his budget on Wednesday. The horrendous numbers of older disabled people left to rot and die in care homes during the pandemic is yet another legacy to Tory shame and incompetence. A further 1.5 million older disabled people, existing rather than living in the community, are estimated by Age UK to have unmet care needs.

Younger disabled people living in care homes, often those with learning difficulties or autism, have been ignored or, worse, had ‘Do Not Resuscitate’ orders placed on them, without consultation with them or their families. Their lives are obviously viewed as expandable.

Cash-strapped Local Authorities, which have faced a loss of £8 billion from social care budgets since 2010, have slashed disabled people’s funding for social care and support to allow them to live independently.  The charges levied on those who use services have been hiked up so that in many cases disabled people are paying as much as £100 a week towards the cost of the social care they need. This wipes out any benefit they get from being in receipt of Personal Independence Payments or Attendance Allowance.

In spite of these horrific facts, the budget delivers no additional funding for social care, and no plan to implement a national social care service, funded through taxation and free at the point of need which disabled people are calling for. It is as if we don’t exist, and certainly as if our needs don’t matter.

The one mention of care in Sunak’s budget this week is a carefully hidden cut of £30 billion from the day-to-day running of the Department for Health and Social Care. The logic for this during an unprecedented public health emergency evades me but also is of great concern as the impact on the health and safety of disabled, and of course other, people is unknown.

In November 2020 it was estimated that the rapid death toll of older disabled people in care homes had saved Sunak and his cronies £600 million in pensions that no longer have to be paid. One might feel this money could therefore be used to support other grossly underfunded areas of our social security system, but no – in reality we haven’t even been thrown the crumbs from the table.

That is in spite of our timely, and Covid-safe, outing earlier this week on Monday to deliver letters to Sunak, Johnson and Coffey regarding the lack of uprating for legacy benefits – Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) and Job Seekers Allowance (JSA) which many disabled people get, receiving a miserly £73.10 if over 25 years of age and a mere £58.90 if under 25 years of age.

Of course we have also been told that legacy claimants have the option to transfer to Universal Credit but this is nothing short of another Department for Work and Pensions con-trick which would severely disadvantage those currently in receipt of the disability premiums in ESA, reducing their income by more than £2,000 a year.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, when many disabled people were forced to shield for their own safety or the safety of family members, legacy benefits have not been uprated in line with Universal Credit. This is in spite of over 1.5 million disabled people facing a whole range of higher costs which has pushed them into even deeper poverty and despair.

This is what Tory MP Roger Gale had to say about this to one of his constituents in a feeble attempt to justify that:

“Dear Mr  xxxxxx, ESA is designed to meet a specific need. The top-up on UC was made in recognition of the plight of many suffering losses as a result of the pandemic who have never had to claim in their lives before and have no other support.”

Translated, I assume this to mean: “Benefit-scrounging scum like you don’t deserve £20 more.”

Although we sent sacks of letters to the three prime targets we weren’t sure that even 190 letters and testimonies describing disabled people’s desperation would get the message through to billionaire Rishi, Bumbling BoZo, or Terrible Thérèse. So we created some very basic education tools as well, in the form of wheelchairs, to which we attached items and explanatory tags representing the essentials that disabled people are having to go without, due to the financial pressures of the pandemic. These included a blanket (heating); an incontinence pad (bathing, laundry and medicines); a face mask (PPE); an empty packet of Cup-a-soup (nutritious food); and an empty purse (enough money to live on).

Sadly though, the Treasury Department doors stayed firmly shut on the courier we had employed to deliver our sack of letters and educational tools, although someone was heard to shriek, in a panicky voice, loudly from inside something about “DPAC – let’s barricade inside.”

Here are a few examples of some of the hundreds of responses to a request from DPAC and Unite Community to disabled people on legacy benefits about what getting a £20 a week uplift would mean to them:

  • Everything
  • I would not have to worry if I could afford to eat and pay my bills
  • I am a disabled single mum of two. £20 a week undoubtedly would make a difference as it is around half our weekly food budget. My son has noticed how I cut back on food; this might prevent this happening.
  • I could put my heating on for longer each day.
  • Spending more on food delivery as shielding. Everything has to be Amazon, more expensive.
  • It would decrease my anxieties over keeping the heating on and food in the cupboards. It would also help with getting about.
  • An extra £20/wk would improve my diet and mean that I could afford to eat 3 meals each day.
  • I would not be so worried all the time. The pandemic is bad enough but worrying about whether I can afford what I need is a constant worry.
  • Carers should at least get what the government states is the minimum a person could live on.  Most of us provide far more than the 35 hours a week that is needed to get carers allowance.  Do we not deserve the £20 per week?  We save the economy billions.
  • It would help with the extra cost of having everything delivered and the fact that supermarket prices have shot up over the last year. Maybe if I paid more I could find a gardener/handyman who would help as my normal chap is shielding. The cost of broadband, electric and gas have all risen but not my income.

Linda Burnip is co-founder of Disabled People Against Cuts.

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