The gluttonous disabled population received a blow in the form of the cutting of the Independent Living Fund (IDF). The luxury of education was made even more luxurious with a price hike of an extra £6,000. The scroungers who claim they can’t afford university got a wake-up call when the grant element of student finance was wiped out. Finally the corrupt and powerful are being cut down to size … or not. Devastation. That is the fallout of George Osborne’s latest budget; and all of this within weeks of Greece rejecting austerity outright.
The two groups most affected by the new budget are the same ones that are always attacked when the government cuts: the disabled and students. Having only recently been a student I could very well spit venom on their behalf but I won’t. While education is a right that should not be taken lightly, I want to talk about those who have suffered most under austerity.
On the 3rd of June, shortly after the IDF was cut, comedian-turned-activist Russell Brand interviewed actor and writer Sophie Partridge. Sophie brought her own harrowing perspective. Herself disabled, though preferring the term ‘bendy’, Sophie explained that the IDF gave people the funds needed to hire a Personal Assistant (PA) who would then be able to help them go about their work and earn their own money. There are some things that a disabled person can’t do at work without a helping hand and such is the role of the PA.
Sophie has tirelessly campaigned to stop the cut of the IDF for years and yet despite her best efforts, and the DPAC (Disabled People Against Cuts) as a whole, the government refuses to accept its responsibilities. Austerity trumps empathy, it would seem. The irony can’t be lost on anyone, no matter how obtuse they choose to be, that by cutting welfare many would-be recipients risk losing their chance at contributing to the economy.
Even charities are feeling the wrath of austerity. Mental health charities help thousands of people on a daily basis. They work with the most disadvantaged and unwell people in society. Yes, some of them are on benefits. Likewise, some of them are suffering with manic depression, bipolar disorder, or PTSD. In short these are people that are unable to work.
To reiterate, not don’t want to work, not don’t feel like working, but can’t work.
Those who haven’t suffered with issues of this magnitude, either physical or psychological, don’t understand the extent of havoc they can wreak. If you can’t imagine a scenario in which you would be utterly unable to work, then you’re living a life of enormous privilege. Take me for example. I’ve worked a few jobs and am currently working in a shop. It pays fairly well but I’m only contracted for twelve hours. If I only worked these twelve hours I wouldn’t even be able to afford to keep a roof over my head much less bills or food. Instead, I work an average of almost forty hours a week in total. If I were to suffer from ALS for instance, and were to be put on long-term sick leave, then without government aid, my life would fall apart within a month. I’m lucky enough to have a family that are capable of supporting me if something disastrous were to happen but not everyone is that lucky.
During protests in Westminster on the 8th, I spoke with one woman, Gill Thompson about her brother. She told me the tragic story of her brother’s death in the face of rampant austerity. David Clapson’s body was found on September 2014 next to a pile of CVs. Clapson was a diabetic who died of a combination of starvation and diabetic ketoacidosis, indirectly due to not receiving a benefit payment. Clapson was already surviving on a meagre £71.70 per week.
Clapson was a scrounging lowlife though, right? He probably never worked a job in his life? Let’s rename him Jakub Kowalski just to round out the hateful trifecta.
But no, Clapson wasn’t a scrounger, in fact prior to his last, fatal, stint of unemployment Clapson had worked for 29 years straight. He only stopped to care for his elderly mother.
Now Clapson is old news on the grand scale of things. 2014 seems so long ago and virtually Jurassic in terms of news cycles. Not so for Gill Thompson. David’s sister still cares, still loves her brother, still campaigns and protests so that there won’t be another tragic story like this. There won’t be another hard-working man who dies for the love of his family with just £3.44, six tea bags, a tin of soup and some out-of-date sardines to his name. She fights so that we remember there are vulnerable people in our society and that it is our duty to protect them. She fights so austerity won’t be allowed to end more lives. This is not our duty as Britons, not our duty as ‘civilised’ folk, but our duty as human beings to protect those who need it most.
We have two options then:
1. We turn inward
By this I mean we look at how we are taxing people. We take a moment and question the idea that somehow we can get more by taking from the poor than the rich. If we were looking for water would we get more from a pint glass or the Thames? It’s not a difficult idea to grasp but it’s not one the rich like and the rich are in control so it would take some doing.
2. We turn outward
The other option is to say, as so many picket signs did on the 8th: ‘OXI OSBORNE’ (oxi being Greek for ‘no’) In Greece, the birthplace of democracy, the oligarchy was finally dealt a significant blow. What reason could there be that we don’t do the same? Well, aside from the obvious apathy and cowardice.
Or we could continue as we’re going. Until the endpoint of austerity wherein we will have wiped out the disabled and dumbed-down the population to a controllable level. Truthfully I’m not optimistic. I doubt we will bother motivating ourselves to help the needy. It’s just not how things are done. Maybe I was wrong when I said it was a basic human duty to protect those who need it. Maybe it’s something better than human; something we haven’t quite reached yet. But maybe it’s something worth striving for.