The Hardest Hit Campaign

The ‘Hardest Hit’ Campaign is has been organised by a number of disability charities which form the heart of the UK Disabled People’s Council which is an umbrella group for many organisations across the country and Disability Benefits Consortium which is another umbrella type body which includes a lot of well known major UK charities and organisations.

Between them, these two bodies substantial weight and experience of disability in the UK and the campaign which has organised a march tomorrow, is intended to highlight the cuts which are being focused on people with disabilities by the government.

Tomorrow, 11th May, there will be a march in London. The details of the march can be found here and will culminate in a lobby of Parliament between 1.30pm and 5.30pm. Unfortunately, I won’t be able to attend myself due to work, however, in  the spirit of inclusiveness there is a joint online campaign for those who are not able to attend. There is both an option to write to your own MP (if you are in the UK!) and/or to send a testament to the campaign so that experiences, worries and issues can be collated.  It is worth reading through some of the testimonies already sent in.

So what changes are being proposed? Why is disability targeted?

Well,  as the Hardest Hit website states, the government (and let’s not forget that the Labour Party are also backing these changes) proposes

–  Cutting 20% from the budget for Disability Living Allowance (DLA)

Putting a percentage figure of cuts necessary only means one thing. It means raising the bar to access DLA. It is not an ‘easy’ benefit to apply for. I know because I’ve filled in many many DLA and Attendance Allowance (the equivalent benefit for over 65s) forms in my time. There are many faults with the system of DLA at the moment but being too lenient isn’t one of them. My own criticism would be about the way that applications are made and the emphasis on physical ‘ability’ and ‘disability’. I genuinely think that more trust should be placed in GPs and teams that are working with the claimants rather than form filling.  It’s important to remember that DLA helps disabled people to WORK.

Disability Living Allowance is also a ‘gateway’ allowance for Carers Allowance. Carers’ can only claim Carers’ Allowance when the person that they care for receives either DLA or Attendance Allowance so a cut would have a substantial effect on carers as well – even though carers’ allowance is pitifully low, it is better than nothing.

– Taking mobility payments away from disabled people living in residential care and children going to residential schools

I think the government may well be backing away from this one already. Campaigns and demonstrations can work.

– Cutting off payments of contributory Employment and Support Allowance after a year to people struggling to get back into work due to disability or serious illness.

This, I think, will have a massive effect as well as ESA (Employment and Support Allowance) is the benefit that is paid when someone cannot work due to ill health or disability. There are so many issues regarding ESA but this one is likely to cause substantial hardship and limiting contributory payments for a year when the effects of the illness or disability are not time-limited will merely serve to reduce payments to those who do not meet the criteria for the income related ESA.

Remember, contributions based means that the person has worked and paid their National Insurance – this is not a ‘layabout charter’ that the government (and opposition) seem to think that ‘hardworking people’ imagine is in place for ‘scroungers’.

Our system should support people who are not able to work due to sickness and disability. I don’t doubt there are problems in the system but I don’t see how employing a private company (ATOS) to make perfunctory tests based on predominantly physical health needs rather than asking GPs and consultants to validate (or not) the claims of their own patients makes sense.

On the one hand the government is saying how trustworthy and fine our GPs are and how they can carry the ‘commissioning’ task as they know their community best but on the other hand they are not trusting GPs to make honest assessments of their patients’ ability to work or not as regards assessments for ESA.

So as for the campaign, I want it to succeed or at least to change some of the distasteful discourse that exists at the moment around benefits and people who rely on them more broadly.

In order for it to succeed, it needs widespread support and the people marching need to know that they are supported.

If you aren’t able to attend tomorrow, go to the website and see what you can do to lend support.  Anyone who has a belief in social justice needs to be involved in building a fairer society for everyone. That’s what social work is about as I see it.