Tuesday 22 March 2016

Disarray and Disability

It's important to keep a sense of objectivity when writing a blog on ethical issues. But it's sometimes difficult not to pull out the revolutionary banner and start swinging. Recent developments around the spring Budget have put a red rag over my eyes–and I know I'm not alone. Events have shown a government in its true colours–one happy to trip up the neediest in society in order to push through its own agenda.

The trouble, at least as far as the Tory government is concerned, is that for once there has been pretty significant pushback. Plans to chop disability benefit by thirty quid a week was instantly met with heavy and sustained bombardment from the press, charities and the Opposition side of the House of Commons. Sixty different disability charities signed a furious petition, and then took more direct action. Three Tory MPs, including London mayoral candidate Zac Goldsmith, were asked to leave their posts as patrons of charities that would be directly affected by the cuts. Meanwhile, the MPs that voted for the cuts were named and shamed on social media, in meme-style posts that pulled no punches in pointing out the mind-mangling hypocrisy at work.

It was a bruising assault, that led to an almost immediate climb down from the government. Claims were made on BBC Question Time that the cuts were only a suggestion. But the fun was only just starting.

Last week's Budget included 'improvements' to disability payments yet again, under the guise of recalculation to the way they were allocated. These stricter guidelines would mean that someone with disabilities who under the old system qualified for assistance with Motability or carer help could no longer claim. A cruel system was about to get even harsher. That, in conjunction with tax cuts for higher-rate tax earners, was the final straw for many.

Including the Works And Pensions Secretary, Iain Duncan Smith, who dramatically quit his post over the weekend, claiming he could no longer support the government's targeting of the most vulnerable. An interesting position to take, given the brutal and often bullying policies over which he presided over his six years in charge of the benefits system.

Whatever you think of IDS and his sudden conversion to sainthood, the disarray of the Tory side of the House has been the greatest show in town for a good few days now. The new Works and Pension Secretary, Stephen Crabb, has now said the changes to disability payments will no longer happen, leaving a whopping multi-billion-quid hole in the Budget. George Osborne, the Chancellor was not in the House to answer his critics yesterday, leaving his second-in-command to take the flack. He's due in today to explain how he's balancing the books, which should make for very interesting viewing.


Our View: The charity sector has come in for a lot of flack over the last twelve months, not least for its poor money management, lack of accountability and opaque operating practices. All of which seem like lessons they have taken from this government. We should note that Saint Iain's martyrdom came after a week in which the injunctions he'd slapped on opening papers related to the abysmal performance of his department failed in the courts. For the third time.

No-one takes his claim to have suddenly grown a conscience seriously, once you take the most cursory glance at his voting record. Very few people will miss him, but he's just the most obvious symptom of a much more endemic problem. The lesion as indicator of terminal cancer, if you will. The best way to deal with disease and disability, of course, is through careful observation to make sure the most appropriate treatment is given. It will be very interesting to see what Cameron's cabinet do next, now they understand the uncomfortable truth.

That we're watching every move they make.

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