Jewels and tiaras ‘fail to disguise emptiness of Queen’s speech’


newslatestDisabled activists have attacked the government for failing to include any measures in this week’s Queen’s speech to address disability poverty, provide a right to independent living, or fix the coalition’s disastrous welfare reforms.

The speech included references to 12 new bills and three draft bills, including a serious crime bill, a slavery bill, two pensions bills, an infrastructure bill and a bill that will allow voters to trigger a by-election when their MP has been found guilty of serious wrongdoing.

But there was no reference to disabled people in the speech – read out by the Queen but written by the coalition.

The speech did include a fleeting reference to welfare reform, with a pledge that “the overall benefits bill will continue to be capped so that public expenditure continues to be controlled and policies will be pursued so people are helped from welfare to work”.

In a briefing document published alongside the speech, the government delivers a lengthy justification of its welfare reforms, insisting that it is “fixing the welfare system so it is fair and affordable”.

It also claims that reforms such as the introduction of universal credit and personal independence payment (PIP) will “deliver fairness for taxpayers and help to control the costs of welfare”.

But there is no mention of the catastrophic implementation of universal credit, the huge delays facing PIP claimants, the failure to complete the migration of incapacity benefit claimants to the new employment and support allowance on deadline, and the failure to fix the much-criticised work capability assessment (WCA).

The disabled Labour MP Dame Anne Begg, who chairs the Commons work and pensions select committee, told fellow MPs: “I was hoping the government might give us some indication of how they are going to rescue their flagship policy of welfare reform in this parliament.

“It needs to be rescued because a lot of it is falling apart, particularly universal credit and its roll-out.”

She said she was also concerned that the roll-out of PIP “seems to be going the same way”, with new claimants waiting “six, seven, eight, nine months before they get their determination, and sometimes even longer than that”.

And she said the government had said nothing on replacing the WCA, which “has been a disaster for a number of years” but had now reached “crisis point”.

Dame Anne also said the government had failed to “see sense” on the “bedroom tax”, which had been a “disaster” and was “ill thought out and vindictive and malicious to people who had no choice but to continue to live in the same house”.

Disabled activists were equally dismissive.

Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC) said the speech had provided nothing for disabled people.

Linda Burnip, a DPAC co-founder, said: “While disabled people’s human rights continue to be abused and stripped away, the Queen’s speech failed to mention any planned legislation to safeguard our futures, our right to independent living, our right to a secure income to meet the additional costs of disability, or an end to any of the atrocities which disabled people are facing on a daily basis.

“The glitzy new royal carriage, the dripping jewels and tiaras only highlighted the ever-widening gap that exists between those with wealth and the poorest in society, who will continue to be demonized by this… government of millionaires.”

Andy Greene, a member of the DPAC steering group, added: “It’s clear that the only way disabled people can force these issues into the public and political arena is to take action on their own terms.

“We must continue to create spaces where our voices and our stories are heard.”

Philip Connolly, policy and communications manager for Disability Rights UK, said: “At a time when recent elections revealed a disconnected electorate – only one in three of those eligible voted – we are presented with a Queen’s speech with little connection to the problems faced by millions of disabled people, such as support to obtain work or receiving assessments or results of them promptly.

“The disability sector will look where appropriate to amend these bills to extract the best deal for disabled people.”

Ian Jones, one of the founders of the WOW campaign, said the Queen’s speech showed the government was not prepared to listen to disabled people, and the 104,792 people who signed the WOW petition, which demanded a cumulative impact assessment of the coalition’s welfare reforms.

He said: “The Queen’s speech demonstrates that neither the government nor the opposition is prepared to listen to sick and disabled people.

“Instead, David Cameron promises us further cuts to the welfare budget in order to fund his planned pre-election tax cuts. Disabled people who were looking for hope have been disappointed by this Queen’s speech.”

Pat Onions, founder of Pat’s Petition, said the absence of any mention of disabled people in the Queen’s speech left her and others feeling that they “don’t exist”.

John McArdle, co-founder of the user-led – Scottish-based – grassroots campaign group Black Triangle, said the Queen’s speech was a “stark reminder” of the importance of voting for Scottish independence in September’s referendum.

He said there had been nothing in the speech to give disabled people hope, and no announcement of new powers for the Scottish government over welfare and other key areas.

He said: “We have a clear choice on 19 September between more of the same cataclysmic cuts to our support or the chance of something entirely new, a welfare state fit for purpose in the 21st century.”

This week, the Scottish SNP government’s Expert Working Group on Welfare reported its conclusions on what a welfare system in an independent Scotland should look like.

Among nearly 40 recommendations, it calls for the WCA to be scrapped, for DLA and PIP to be replaced with a new benefit, for an end to the Work Programme, and for the current system of sanctions for out-of-work social security claimants to be abolished and “replaced with a system that is more proportionate, personal and positive”.

McArdle said: “Neither Westminster nor the Labour party offer Scotland’s disabled people and carers any hope.

“A ‘no’ vote in September guarantees that the cataclysm disabled people are now experiencing will increase in magnitude and continue to devastate our lives unabated.”

5 June 2014