The May 2015 General Election has given way to a Conservative majority and was met with outrage from left-wing protesters. This election carries grand significance as it serves to justify the Conservatives’ stricter policy of austerity.
One of the most controversial measures proposed by the Conservatives is a cut on the DLA (Disability Living Allowance), which is estimated to cut the allowance given to 500,000 and save £2.2 billion. This has raised alarm bells and led the left to brandish the reforms as an attack on the most vulnerable within society. Yet is this the case?
Do cuts kill?
The left view these reforms as despicable and strongly believe that there is a direct link between benefit cuts and the rise in suicides. This reached a scandalous level in 2014 when the Big Issue reported that 10,600 sick and disabled people died within six weeks of their benefit claim ending. Nevertheless, Tom Chivers, the former Assistant Comment Editor of the Telegraph, investigated these figures and illustrated how these numbers have been grossly inflated. This is because the statement ‘within’ does not mean within the following six weeks but ‘within six weeks either side’. Consequently those that died before and then those who died after their benefits were cut, were jointly included thereby grossly increasing the figure.
Chivers’ asserts that he would find it hard to believe that these cuts ‘made up more than the tiniest fraction of that 10,600 figure’. Nevertheless, liberals insist that there is a strong correlation and support these claims through the ‘Calum’s list’. Yet, is this a fair appraisal? Or is it just a case of ‘low, apolitical, super-cynical emotional blackmail’, as Brendan O’ Neill states. Personally, I do not dismiss the idea that economic hardship contributes towards suicide, however, it is not the sole reason. To reduce the issues these people face to mere financial difficulties is incredibly disrespectful as they deal with a plethora of problems which cannot be resolved simply with a large pay check. I believe it is shameful to simplify their hardship in this manner in order to pursue a tactic of emotional blackmail. Economics may play a minor role but it is by no means a deciding factor.
Is it necessary to cut?
The politically right have labelled this cut as a ‘difficult decision’ but a necessary one for the sake of Britain’s economic future. They defend this statement by observing the rising national debt which increases at a rate of £5,170 per second. David Cameron has attempted to depict this reform as a replacement rather than a cut stating that, ‘we’ve replaced one benefit with a new benefit’. This is technically true as under the Coalition, PIP (Personal Independence Payment) was introduced and these reforms will not undermine this new benefit. Nevertheless, it is clear that the core factor driving reform is economics; this is shown by the proud assertion that it will save £2.2 billion.
DLA costs £12,300 million a year, which is roughly twice the amount spent on unemployment benefits. Furthermore, 70 per cent of claimants hold a lifetime award and are allowed to claim benefits indefinitely without revaluation. Such a system raises questions, especially when medical advancements have helped those with once-crippling disabilities become far more able-bodied people who do not require a special allowance from the state.
The reforms will primarily hit those who are within working age and therefore it will not hinder pensioners or the young from claiming disability benefits. With the rising debt and harsh economic climate Britain has endured, it is understandable why many feel that the system should be reformed in order to improve efficiency and save money.
Personally I do not oppose the idea of reform, however, I am deeply concerned that such reform is merely driven by economic concerns. Mark Lever, Chief Executive of the National Autistic Society, expresses similar concerns stating that:
This appears to indicate that there is already a preset quota for the number of people who will have their disability benefits cut regardless of their condition. This must not happen and we should fight to have free, fair and independent medical revaluations of those who hold disability allowance. The failure of Atos to provide fair medical diagnosis has been illustrated by the plethora of criticisms over its, ‘unfair assessments which are skewed against those claiming benefits‘.
The government has confirmed that it has ended its contract with Atos and they will no longer be in charge of ‘fit for work’ assessments, but I am still sceptical as to whether or not new medical revaluations will be fair. In essence I agree with the principle of reform – to improve the efficiency of the current system; however, I fear the execution will be poor and indeed harmful to the most vulnerable in society.