Reblogged from Diary of a Benefit Scrounger – Sue Marsh.
Welfare reform. Much needed shake up of a system out of control or cruel and ignorant attack of some of the most vulnerable people in society? Most have an opinion.
Many like me, were fighting the welfare reform bill way back in 2011. We know every last detail, every twist and turn, every sweeping change and every technical detail. Believe me, it’s cruel.
On the whole, I think the cruelty is in the details. Oh, not the headline grabbing Benefit Cap or Universal Credit. They’re largely PR stunts that won’t save any money at all. Universal Credit could have been rather clever if only ministers had understood the details. If only they’d really understood the people they were legislating for. Their lives, the difficulties they face, the traps in the system, the precarious fear of a life on the margins of society.
One of the most sickening details of all still grates with me almost daily. It was so cruel sounnecessary. It overturned decades of cross-party consensus and decency. It picked on a group so vulnerable it takes my breath away. And it stripped that group of basic rights despite ministers not actually understanding the policy at all. How cavalier can you be? How arrogant and out-of-touch?
It was called the “Youth Premium” It only related to children who were born so profoundly disabled that they would never work as adults. Forget your Work Capability Assessments and your Scroungers, these children would never take part in society like you or I. Many would never talk, self feed, walk, play, laugh, fall in love. But they could still lead independent lives. Because we were a society that believed they should have a right to if they chose to.
The Youth Premium treated these children as though they had paid National Insurance. For a cost of just 11 million pounds, on becoming adults, these children were treated as though they had “contributed” through work and because of that, they were entitled to contributory benefits, they did not have to be means tested.
Such a simple thing, but what did it mean in practise? What did it mean to the people behind the numbers? The lives being toyed with? It meant they were entitled to live independently if they chose to. They were entitled to benefits in their own name, not as a means tested part of their family. Often, such profoundly disabled children had considerable compensation to see them through lives damaged beyond recognition by accidents. This compensation was just that. Money for an expensive future of care, adaptations to homes, aids to independence. For a lifetime, this money would have to pay for support just to make their lives as manageable as society could achieve.
No more. Any money would be part of the means test. They would have to run down reserves of cash or savings before the state would step in. Compensation is not income. Nor should it be. From the passing of the welfare bill, any security or savings put aside by families terrified what life would hold once parents or siblings had passed, would have to slowly seep away, leaving insecurity and hunger a shadow away before these few profoundly disabled neighbours and daughters and brothers could rely on any help or support from the state.
Our elite cabinet talked of how “unfair” it would be if “these people” “inherited” money but were still entitled to support from our social security system. No, they would simply have a little security to underpin the often modest state income someone with profound disabilities might expect. And how many of us can rely on generous inheritances anyway? Is that real life? A likely scenario? Of course not.
You might be wondering why I bring all this up again today. The law passed (you can see me pointing out to Chris Grayling why he didn’t understand his own policy on Newsnight, here :
Well, it’s that 11 million pounds. £11 million. In Westminster terms it would barely pay for the DWP’s paperclips. It is a drop in the ocean of a welfare budget spanning 10s of billions. It only applied to a few thousand of the most disabled children in society (children just like Ivan Cameron, had he lived into adulthood.) But Lord Freud, failed investment banker and Minister for Welfare Reform, insisted that we could “no longer afford it” We could no longer afford to allow such profoundly disabled children lives of dignity and independence. No more security. No relief for worried families that they would be safe once they were gone. A cross-party consensus of decades, stripped away by ministers who didn’t even know what they were doing.
This week, William Hague assures us we can afford £10 million for a ceremonial funeral for Margaret Thatcher. Opinion polls show the public don’t want it, commentators from left and right are mystified, yet 2,200 people have been invited to a decadent funeral for a divisive PM who lies at the heart of many of the problems facing our society today. When I scanned the invitees yesterday, it felt surreal. A mish-mash of variety club has-beens, world leaders she shunned and elite aristocrats who shunned her when alive.
10 million for a dead PM, nothing for those living with some of the greatest barriers to society any of us will ever face. I actually feel a bit sick writing it down.
But perhaps, this is the most fitting legacy of all for a PM who assured us “there is no such thing as society”
Perhaps as she burns or rots (we will all do one or the other) every profoundly disabled life lived in chains of dependence because today’s government didn’t understand the details will haunt her. Perhaps she will see images of each and every one playing like a movie to her soul, wherever it ends up.
I hope so. Those children needed that £11 million. She doesn’t.