RISE Disability Network today welcomed the resignation of one of the most callous and brutal figures in modern British politics: Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, Iain Duncan Smith (IDS).
Since 2010, IDS has championed a programme of welfare “reform” which has seen billions of pounds stolen from the poorest and most vulnerable in our society. In just six years, his policies led to a mushrooming of food poverty as a million families depended on food banks to eat. This has been driven by the growth of sanctions, and the use of work capability assessments, both tools aimed at depriving people of an income.
Under IDS' reign, the UK became the first country ever to be investigated by the UN for systematic abuse of the human rights of people with disabilities. Time and again the sick and disabled have been attacked by a government that thought them an easy target. They have been eagerly egged on by a vicious right wing media, which has gleefully fuelled a rise in hate crimes against people with disabilities. We are living in a time when disabled people fear their own government as if they lived in an authoritarian regime.
Some of the most heinous measures implemented under Duncan Smith include:
-The notorious Work Capability Assessment, in reality a scheme designed to deprive people of benefits, which has classified hundreds of thousands of people “fit for work” who were no such thing. The WCA is the instrument of systematic discrimination against disabled people, and in particular ignores the experiences of people with less visible disabilities and health conditions. It has itself been a leading cause of mental distress, having been linked with thousands of suicides and cases of depression. Tens of thousands more have died after being found “fit for work”.
-The Bedroom Tax: 80% of the 82,000 households in Scotland that were hit by the “Under Occupancy Charge” contained someone with a disability. The majority of these were older people too unwell to work, including couples who could not sleep together for medical reasons, or rooms that were used to store equipment or accommodate carers.
-The masssive cuts and delays in the process of changing from Disability Living Allowance to Personal Independence Payments has seen many people suddenly reclassified and no longer entitled to support, or to much less. This includes not only financial support, but access to things like Motability vehicles.
Duncan Smith's resignation letter has to be one of the most disingenuous in history. He suddenly claims to have developed a conscience, claiming the latest UK budget's further attacks are a step too far. The latest budget's cuts involve a loss of income for 450,000 people and a complete refusal of disability benefits for 200,000 more. He in fact agrees with depriving more people of even further income, but feels it is politically impolite coming simultaneously with tax cuts for the better off. In reality, it is plain for all to see that his moves are all about cynical manoeuvring in a brewing Tory civil war. This is, after all, a man with the misery and premature death of hundreds of thousands of people on his hands. This was something that didn't seem to bother him before yesterday; in fact he was infamously seen cheering with glee at the approval of cuts in Westminster.
The fact that his personal six year reign of terror is at an end is due mainly to the tenacious resistance organised by people with disabilities themselves, something the government did not foresee when it picked them as a target. Groups like Disabled People Against Cuts and Black Triangle, among many others, have carried out a relentless campaign of building networks of mutual support, seeking all legal avenues and challenges possible, and taking militant direct action against a government that has proven that it thinks human lives are disposable.
According to the government, IDS' replacement, Stephen Crabb, is meant to a signal “a change of tone” on welfare reform, with spin doctors briefing heavily about his background growing up on a council estate. But his own comments about his mother's “welfare dependency”, and his record of vocally supporting previous attacks on people with disabilities, suggests otherwise. The only rebellions Crabb has made against the government have been about restricting the right to an abortion or same sex marriage – he is quite happy cutting the income of the poorest. Indeed, there is currently a 4000 strong petition to have him dropped as a patron of charity Mencap due to his voting for ESA cuts. Clearly the need to organise and fight back goes on, and RISE pledges to play its part in that struggle.
RISE member Willie Black, as part of a protest delegation disrupting an IDS speech, once famously told him, “You're a ratbag, and we'll see the end of you.” Today we have, and while we prepare for next round of Tory assaults on our human rights, that's something worth celebrating.