Sometimes, looking at things from a sideways angle is helpful...

Monday, 11 May 2015

After the election the cuts are coming OR Why to protest them

Austerity has been debunked, reasonably thoroughly. Debate remains amongst economists, but that debate is becoming weaker. Or at least, austerity as an economic plan designed to fix the economy after the last financial crash, has been reasonably thoroughly debunked. Now, if Cameron was following that policy, he’d realise austerity was a mistake, and decide not to continue it, but 60% of cuts are yet to come. The first two years of this parliament will be as brutal as the first two years of the previous one. That includes £12bn in welfare cuts, which is 10% of non-pensioner welfare spending. Losing 10% of my care, and benefits, would trigger a financial crisis that would prevent me living independently. I’m aware however, that given the previous government closed the Independent Living Fund – designed to contribute to the cost of peoples care when they have high care needs, they possibly don’t care about the ability of disabled people to live independently. I realise this is not actually how the cuts are being imposed, but it’s worth a thought. Equally, if I imagine one in ten of my friends currently surviving due to benefits and care losing that, it could quite possibly kill that friend. I realise, again, this isn’t how they’re being imposed, but it’s a useful way for me of realising the impact of these cuts. There will be a shift to force people from Employment and Support Allowance to Jobseekers Allowance – I suspect part of this will be mandated treatment for mental illness (with sanctions) for people on ESA as well as JSA. The last attempt to make this shift failed because of successful appeals, so they’ll tighten the criteria. There will also be an attempt to force people off Personal Independence Payments, and massive cuts to housing benefits and things like carers allowance. A freeze on benefits – so in real terms, a cut. Taxing benefits perhaps (ridiculously counterproductive though this seems it’s another way of cutting them further – but they’re already taxed through VAT and DLA/PIP are explicitly to cover the additional costs of being disabled). The problem with cuts to welfare however, is that a certain level is needed for survival – so there’ll be cuts to that too, I fear (and I realise my name is on the list). In the student movement, the fight to defend Disabled Students Allowance has been wonderful, but I’ve failed to see the same gatherings to save the Independent Living Fund, for example. There have been individuals who have done a lot, but there hasn’t been the same universality of responses. We need to work with other movements for disabled people to campaign together – and if we don’t manage to do that networking then we’re not going to achieve nearly as much.

Austerity is an ideological project based on the idea of lower taxes, and less communal support. The idea is each for themselves, to their own personal benefit (and screw everyone else). As long as you’re able to work you’re fine – seems to be the idea. And if you can’t work or can’t find work, then shove off, because the rest of us won’t support you. This is antithetical to everything I believe. I believe we should be in a society that gives everyone the chance to achieve their own personal goals and interests, I believe we should value compassion over cruelty, communalisation over isolation. Maybe I only think that because I’m a beneficiary overall of the welfare and health systems, but I don’t think so. I believe it because nobody can predict the track of their lives, and people that need help should get it. I believe forcibly leaving anyone alone in an adult nappy with the TV on and no remote control, and nothing more to do or think about than that is abhorrent. And that’s what’s happening. Cutting spending and cutting taxes are a redistribution of responsibility from the social to the individual – and I believe as naturally social creatures we rely on each other – locally, nationally, and globally, and that reliance comes with responsibility to support one another across all these spectra. There are lots of ways this could be, can be, and is being done, but the best way in a financial system of sharing the burden of support across a wide network of people is through social services and the benefit system – with the added benefit of the financial burden being borne most by the rich thanks to progressive taxation.

Anti-cuts demonstrations are accused of being non-democratic – as if we democratically voted for Cameron, and therefore voted for cuts, and that means the majority of the population wanted these cuts. Firstly, while the Conservatives won the election, 22.5% of the population voted for him (36.9% voted for them out of the 66.1% who voted). Therefore, more people didn’t vote than voted for Cameron – not voting (whatever the exact reason) being a seeming rejection of the belief that voting can change anything. More than three quarters of the population didn’t vote for him, he was elected on a vote of less than a quarter. There are a number of reasons people cite for voting Conservative, and the cuts are one reason, perhaps, but not all of the reasons, so even voting for them isn’t equivalent to voting for cuts. However, even if one accepts that the Conservatives were democratically elected (or at least as democratically elected as any recent government) that shouldn’t give them the mandate to do what they’re doing. The ideological reason for healthcare free at point of access is that people should have the right to it – a human right, essentially. A government overtly stating that it was going to stop healthcare being free would raise a storm of furious protest (I hope). That right to healthcare is part of a right that I believe needs to be opened up. I believe that people should have the right to independent lives, with dignity. I accept that as the world stands, employment is a necessary evil (though I would posit that we could alter that state with technology to minimise necessary employment), for those that can be employed. The idea that one can be wealthy on job-seekers allowance is ludicrous. It allows most people the means to scratch together a survival, and no more. I believe that right to an independent life, with dignity, should be above the law, and above democracy, and it’s that right cuts to the welfare state are chipping away at, including, dare I say especially, for disabled people, who are often unable to work. That independent life with dignity for disabled people should not be subject to the government of the moment. It should mean people can access the care they need and the financial support they need to live.

The idea of kicking people off jobseekers benefit is that they will find jobs – although this isn’t an endorsement of the idea, but a statement of it (I think more beneficial would be cutting the mandatory application targets and sanctions and instead giving individualised support to people, and working with employers – big employers having to employ a certain percentage of new employees from people currently on jobseekers for example). The idea of kicking people off disability benefits is that…? That they will magically stop being disabled? Disability isn’t a choice, being unable to work isn’t a choice. If the world was better adapted for people currently disabled by their environments, more people might be able to work, but that would require vast housing and infrastructure investment – oh and the government is cutting even further the fund that can help your employer adapt your workplace to meet your needs. However, for quite a lot of disabled people currently unable to work, there could be no practicable adjustments made to make that possible. There is no way I could do an eight hour day without several more to recover, or even a four hour day. That would be the limit realistically, and once in a week. In order to have dignity and independence, I am reliant, not through my own choice, on government benefits and care. Give me a cure instead, I’ll take it and jog straight to finding work. Without one, through bad fortune, I will remain disabled and ill. I will also remain able to only see my future in five year terms, dependent on the government of the day to have my basic needs met. Not through choice, but through ‘democracy’. I don’t think people should have the right to democratically vote away the survival of a group of people – and that’s what’s currently happened. That isn’t democracy, and functions as an enshrined discrimination – one that targets disabled people specifically. So feel free to protest a government that three quarters of the population didn’t vote for, and that is selling off our survival – if anything I would consider protesting (whatever that means for you) a mandate if you care about disabled people remaining alive.

‘These cuts are going to kill people’ is probably a true statement, but as rhetoric, is agonisingly painful – especially when I hear it from people who a) aren’t themselves people whose survival is dependent on services, and who b) do nothing towards preventing these cuts killing people themselves. When the government stops washing me, dressing me, feeding me, helping me use the toilet, helping me leave the house, are you? Or are you going to use that rhetoric and then do nothing. Protesters are needed – people to make public the discontent of millions – but so are people who will react to our situation with humanity, and support us in finding ways of living independently as independently as possible. In the same vein as contributing to the legal fees of protestors is contributing to the survival of people being condemned by the government, whether the contribution is financial or practical (and no, I’m not soliciting donations here). I am lucky at the moment, to have the care I do, but I don’t bother telling myself it’ll continue any more – and that’s terrifying. When you write about the people the cuts will kill, if you know me, picture me, and then do more than write that line – or don’t write it at all, because whilst probably true, I tend not to like my friends predicting my death then doing nothing to prevent it. Hurtful.

One of the challenges I’ve faced over the past year, in which my health has deteriorated has been that I’ve barely been able to study half the normal amount of units. I’ve managed, and I will be graduating, but I’ve not been able to participate in the wider anti-cuts movement, or even the disabled movement, to the extent that I’d intended to. Whether looking at disabled students, or disabled people in general, typically those least able to protest changes and cuts to their care and benefits are those who have the most to lose, and those being targeted by the government. We shouldn’t just fight the cuts that affect us, but those that affect the whole community, and especially those you are able to protest (whatever that means to you), because there are a lot of people who can’t protest in the ways you can, or can’t at all.

From the Institute of Fiscal Studies:

“The overall distributional impact of the Conservatives’ proposals would probably end up looking not too dissimilar to that of the coalition’s policies during the previous parliament, with poorer households losing, the largest gains going to households in the upper-middle of the income distribution but the very richest doing less well.”

A/N: Just a note that protesting could be anything from marching in streets and chaining oneself to things to angry letters to encouraging others to protest via social media, etc. My inability to march doesn’t mean I think others shouldn’t – it means I think they should march for both of us.

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