Furious disabled activists have denounced the government’s “utter hypocrisy” in awarding a knighthood to Iain Duncan Smith, when his policies at the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) have been responsible for the deaths of countless benefit claimants.
Duncan Smith, who was recognised in the new year’s honours list, the first issued by prime minister Boris Johnson, was work and pensions secretary from 2010 until 2016, and was responsible for the introduction of both universal credit and personal independence payment.
Years of evidence shows that decisions taken by Duncan Smith (pictured) as work and pensions secretary – including those related to incapacity benefit reform – are closely linked to the deaths of many disabled benefit claimants.
Only last month, Disability News Service (DNS) published a 12,000-word article calling for a criminal investigation into alleged misconduct in public office by Duncan Smith and other senior DWP figures.
There was anger, frustration and disbelief this week from disabled activists, campaigners and claimants and disabled people’s organisations when the knighthood was announced.
Paula Peters, a member of the national steering group of Disabled People Against Cuts, said Duncan Smith had been rewarded for “10 years of heinous cruel welfare policies that have condemned a generation of kids to grinding poverty” and have caused the deaths of thousands of disabled people.
She told DNS: “We must push all the harder to hold this man to account and get him to face justice for the countless benefit deaths that he oversaw while head of the DWP.
“Rewarding him with a knighthood while disabled people have died is a huge punch in the guts.”
Disability Wales said: “The utter hypocrisy of Iain Duncan Smith being awarded a knighthood is staggering.
“He was the architect of deeply cruel welfare reforms that has damaged the lives of tens of thousands of disabled people.”
Ex-serviceman Loz Argyle said on Twitter that he felt “physically sick” when he heard of the knighthood after spending years supporting fellow injured veterans and losing two of them to Duncan Smith’s cuts to disability benefits.
Such was the anger at the knighthood that a petition set up by NHS psychiatrist Dr Mona Kamal Ahmed, calling for the decision to be reversed, has already been signed by nearly a quarter of a million people in less than a week.
She describes in her petition how she has sat in accident and emergency departments with “people diagnosed with chronic mental illness who have been driven to panic attacks, acute relapses of their depressive illness and to suicidal ideation” because of anxiety caused by fitness for work tests and the prospect of cuts to their benefits.
She said this had “intensified with the chaos and uncertainty” of universal credit, which was “causing hardship to millions” and for which Duncan Smith was culpable.
Another DPAC steering group member, Ellen Clifford, said: “The awarding of a knighthood to Iain Duncan Smith is the latest in a long line of insults heaped on those who suffered and lost their lives as a result of the Tories’ war on disabled people.
“It shows utter contempt for those who Duncan Smith so cruelly targeted as the architect of welfare reform, welfare reform that the UN held responsible for causing grave and systematic violations of disabled people’s rights.”
Disability Labour said it was “appalled and disgusted” by the knighthood, and it backed calls for a criminal investigation into Duncan Smith’s actions at DWP.
Kathy Bole, a Disability Labour vice-chair, said: “Giving him this honour is a kick in the teeth to every disabled person who has not been given the benefits they are entitled to.”
Pam Duncan-Glancy, a disabled Labour parliamentary candidate at last month’s general election, said on Twitter: “Work round the clock as a nurse, get a salary that means you still need to use a food bank.
“Create a system that kills people by design, get an Honour for your public service to the country. This is peak 2019.”
Disabled journalist Dr Frances Ryan said: “The honours system is an antiquated relic based in inequality and deference but knighting IDS is a particular low.
“If you’ve been hurt by his policies, know this: you matter. He deserves no honour. You are worth a hundred of him and all his ilk put together.”
Disabled campaigner Liane Gomersall said on Twitter that the knighthood was “a scary indication of the future”.
She said: “He waged war on disabled people, shredded social security, punished single mothers, evicted people whose carers sleep in the spare bedroom and wasted billions on Universal Credit.”
Other disabled campaigners to speak out included Helen Sims, who said the knighthood was a “reward for all the fear, hardship, misery and death DWP policies have caused”.
Another, who tweets at @imajsaclaimant, said: “His honour is more than just an annoyance, it’s an insult. Thousands have been hurt as a direct result of his policies.”
And @quinonostante said honours should not be awarded to “those whose biggest legacy is poverty/homelessness and death”.
But there was at least one dissenting voice.
The Conservative Disability Group welcomed the award, and said on Twitter: “Many congratulations to @MPIainDS on his much deserved Knighthood in the #NewYearHonours.
“His commitment and dedication to social justice and unwavering belief in democratic principles receives the recognition it deserves – #WellDoneSirIain.”
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