This week’s budget – which confirmed cuts of more than £1 billion a year to disabled people’s support, while awarding huge giveaways to high earners – has sparked almost universal anger among disabled people.
The chancellor, George Osborne, said in his budget speech that the changes to the eligibility criteria of personal independence payment (PIP) – announced days earlier by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) – would ensure support was “better targeted at those who need it most”.
But at the same time that Osborne (pictured delivering his speech) was laying out plans to cut projected spending on PIP by £1.2 billion in 2018-19 and £1.3 billion the following year, he also announced an increase in the higher rate threshold of income tax, a cut in capital gains tax, and a sizeable reduction in corporation tax.
The cuts to PIP come on top of the £30-a-week reduction that will be faced from April 2017 by new claimants of employment and support allowance (ESA) placed in the work-related activity group, a measure passed by parliament earlier this month.
Yvette Cooper, Labour’s former work and pensions secretary, pointed to budget documents that showed the PIP cut was the single biggest revenue-raiser in Osborne’s budget, raising £4.375 billion over the next five years.
Jon Moore, chair of the disabled people’s organisation Equal Lives, said the latest cuts meant that disabled and older people would be “forced to live as second-class citizens”.
Professor Peter Beresford, chair of the service-user network Shaping Our Lives, said in a Facebook post that every one of Osborne’s budgets had told the same story, with more wealth handed “to those with the most” and disabled people the “key target to lose vast amounts of money”, while the national debt continued to grow and the “government’s pretence to be securing a stronger economy is shown up as untrue”.
He said: “What is really worrying is not that this charade goes on, but it seems that there is nothing to stop it.
“Meanwhile disabled people and their friends and families are being pushed out of the mainstream, impoverished, excluded, marginalised, stigmatised and their lives put at risk.
“This is a bench mark for social disaster. At some point even our right-wing media will have to admit the truth as the body count grows bigger.”
Labour’s Emily Brothers, a disabled candidate for May’s London Assembly elections, said Osborne’s “disabling” budget “prioritises giveaways to the affluent and erodes the dignity of disabled people”.
She said: “Coupled with closure of the Independent Living Fund, changes to ESA, the impact of the bedroom tax and systemic problems with social care, disabled people are being neglected.”
On Twitter, there was widespread anger from disabled campaigners.
Catherine Scarlett, tweeting at @cathscarlett, said: “#Budget2016 How many tax breaks are disabled people paying for?”
Jenny Morris, who helped write the Labour government’s Improving the Life Chances of Disabled People white paper, and tweets at @jennymor, said: “Osborne’s #Budget2016 does nothing to change my conclusion that this government is harming #disabledpeople.”
And Dr Sarah Campbell, who tweets at @spoonydoc, said: “On the plus side this time #Osborne hasn’t cut disability benefits and lied about it. Now he does it openly and gets away with it. #Budget2016.”
But probably the most embarrassing criticism for Osborne came from disabled campaigner Graeme Ellis, who has voted Tory for nearly 50 years and until this week ran the Conservative Disability Group’s (CDG) website.
Ellis quit the party in disgust at Osborne’s budget, leaving a message on the CDG home page saying: “This website is temporarily closed owing to Disability Cuts.”
Ellis, who runs a benefits advice service, told the Daily Mirror: “How can I morally represent clients when I remain in an organisation that’s doing these cuts?
“I’m a disabled person and I’m involved in politics. I decided being a disabled person comes first.”
He called for the disabled Tory MP Paul Maynard to quit his membership of the group because of his vote in favour of the ESA cuts.
Maynard had not responded to a request for a comment from Disability News Service (DNS) by noon today (Thursday).
But Karim Sacoor, CDG’s chair, told DNS that he would discuss the issue with Maynard.
Sacoor said that Ellis was “entitled to his views” but that he was “a bit disappointed that he decided to do what he did” and that it was “the view of one person who is disgruntled”, while he insisted that he and his colleagues “work very hard fighting the corner for disabled people” as volunteers.
He added: “I haven’t had the chance to talk to Graeme. I understand where he’s coming from. I have the greatest respect for Graeme.”
In his response to the budget, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said the budget had “unfairness at its very core, paid for by those who can least afford it”.
He said: “While half a million people with disabilities are losing over £1 billion in personal independence payments, corporation tax is being cut and billions handed out in tax cuts to the very wealthy.”
John McArdle, co-founder of Black Triangle, said Osborne had announced that his government would “steal yet more from some of the poorest and most vulnerable people in Britain – in order to fund tax breaks for those who are already very comfortably off.
“The true nature of today’s Conservative party has been laid bare for the whole nation to see.
“Look upon this naked greed and cruelty and ask yourselves, ‘Is this is the kind of country I want to live in?’”
Meanwhile, a petition launched earlier this month on the UK parliament website, calling on the government to reverse the £30-a-week ESA cut, has already secured more than 100,000 signatures.
This means that it will be considered by a committee of MPs for a debate in the House of Commons.
DJ and producer Sanial McCormick, who launched the petition, told DNS: “I’m not in receipt of benefits, but I have been before, and I know many that still are.
“I started the petition because there wasn’t one there to sign when I read about it.
“If they go ahead with the cuts, there are thousands of lives at risk.
“At a time when the need for food banks is at an all-time high, the last thing we need to do is take from those who need it the most.”