On 20th March I wrote to the new Work and Pensions Secretary. I was particularly concerned by the appointment of a man who laboured under the misapprehension that in voting to cut £30 a week from people too sick and disabled to work, he had in fact voted for a cut to the benefits of people who are capable of work. I was not writing as a political militant but as a concerned mother whose daughter is being adversely affected by the casual, uncaring policies of a government which would rather not have its attention drawn to the pain it is inflicting. Since he has not yet deigned to reply to my email (and nor has my own MP, Sir Gerald Howarth, to whom I also copied it) I have decided to publish it here as an open letter.
Dear Mr Crabb,
Congratulations on your appointment as the new Work and Pensions Secretary.
I would like to draw your attention to an anomaly and an injustice in both the working of your department and the way it is presented to the public. Mr Osborne has been able to claim to have increased spending on disability benefits by £1bn. This is not really true. If, as in this claim by Mr Osborne, only DLA/PIP is included in this figure, it is possible to claim a cash increase, although in real terms this represents a decrease when inflation is taken into account. But if all those who were moved from Incapacity Benefit to ESA are included there has been a very real fall in the amount of benefits paid to disabled people. Cutting a further £30 a week from ESA for new claimants is only going to make this worse, and is based on the illogical assumption that if someone is too disabled to work, adding starvation to their disability will make them suddenly recover enough to get a job.
But much of the spending allocated to disability is being wasted in a manner which is both profligate and discriminatory. People who have congenital, incurable, degenerative conditions and who were awarded DLA indefinitely, are having to go through the stress and humiliation of a reassessment. For the second time in a year I am being asked to prove to your department that my daughter has not suddenly miraculously recovered from her congenital quadriplegic cerebral palsy, autism, learning disability and partial sight. Apart from the immense waste of the time I have to devote to this and the distress caused to my daughter who has no understanding at all of the system, I cannot imagine how much your department is wasting on this ridiculous and futile exercise – money which might, with a little creativity and forethought, have been spent on improving the already very dificult lives of disabled people.
Along with the rhetoric in the media which portrays disabled people as skivers and benefit scroungers there has been a 213% increase in reported disability hate crime, with the unreported figure believed to be far higher, according to the Crown Prosecution Service. The government has always pretended to distance itself from the language used in the media, but who can forget Mr Osborne’s disgraceful remark about the shift worker “leaving home in the dark hours of the early morning who looks up at the closed blinds of their next door neighbour sleeping off a life on benefits”? As a result of unthinking, prejudiced remarks of this kind, people severely disabled by reason of conditions such as Myalgic Encephalomyelitis, Fibromyalgia or terminal cancer who cannot bear the glare of broad daylight have found themselves stigmatised and abused.
It is time to end this dreadful persecution of disabled people, and to ask what are their real needs, and how can these be met? And it is long past time, as Mr Duncan Smith so belatedly recognised, to stop raiding the pockets of disabled people to line the pockets of the well-off.
I hope that as you begin your new job you will take these points into consideration.