When Chancellor Jeremy Hunt gave his Autumn Statement at lunchtime today, there was an air of trepidation about what this would mean for disabled people.
Hunt opened by saying the government will “protect the vulnerable, because to be British is to be compassionate and we are a compassionate Conservative government”. This was quite rightly met with laughter and jeers from the other side of the house.
Another burst of laughter erupted at him proclaiming "credibility cannot be taken for granted".
He then launched into his plans for the DWP, which seemed to largely focus on forcing people into work – ignoring the fact that many disabled people can’t work or are not supported enough to be able to work.
Hunt pledged to launch a “thorough review” into what was holding back workplace participation and plans to have 600,000 people on Universal Credit meeting with a work coach.
However, there was no mention of the fact that we’re still in a mass disabling pandemic that has made hundreds of thousands of people disabled or worsened disabilities.
Founder of Clinically Vulnerable Families, Lara Wong told The Mirror: “The ONS recently reported that 500,000 workers had dropped out of the labour market since Covid.
“Both the Clinically Vulnerable and Long Covid workers are adding to the disabled unable to return.”
He then said he would crack down on benefit fraud, once again feeding into the tory narrative of people on benefits all faking being disabled.
This is despite the fact that just 0.07 per cent of benefits claims are questioned as fraudulent. A Freedom of Information request also found that 89 per cent of benefit fraud investigations were overturned and found to be non-fraudulent.
The worry is that those suspected of fraudulent claims already have their payments suspended, while a sometimes lengthy investigation is underway. How many more disabled people will these witch hunts kill?
I can’t help thinking that the money it will take to investigate this could be put to better use in the DWP. What about the investigation into how many disabled people died whilst waiting for benefits that previous minister Therese Coffey used a loophole to get out of? They could also use the money to overhaul the claims process and make it all around less dehumanising.
But no, tackling less than 0.1 per cent of claims, or roughly 5,000 out of 10 million who they have deemed scroungers is more important. As a disabled person, this feels like an exercise in demonising us further to the general tax-paying public. It’s an unwelcome return to the grubby days of “benefits street” and encouraging people to grass up their neighbours who they think are “faking” being disabled because they see them walking about and having “normal” lives.
Hunt moved on from the DWP at this point. Prompting on labour frontbencher to exclaim “is that it?!”, my thoughts exactly.
He also announced that the government would not be upholding the plans laid out by Boris Johnson’s government to keep the cap for social care users would pay over their lifetimes, meaning many disabled people will receive no help with struggling rising care home costs.
The announcement of more help for the vulnerable in the cost of living crisis and with benefits seemed like good news, but always something sinister was lurking.
Hunt’s announcement that benefits with inflation seemed like a great step and a win for disability campaigners, but again he only focused on getting people back into work.
These pitiful increases received taunts from the other side, to which Hunt sneered “I thought they cared about the most vulnerable” ignoring the fact that it was because the left cares so much that they were voicing their disgust.
Last month the ONS revealed that 55 per cent of disabled people are struggling to pay their energy bills, £150 is a drop in the ocean for people who need constant heating during winter or electricity due to their conditions. Thor bills will likely reach much higher than the already sky-high prediction of £3,000.
Imran Hussain, director of policy and campaigns at Action for Children, said in a statement:
“Families we support will be greatly relieved the Chancellor has increased benefits in line with inflation next April. But even with this rise, previous rounds of cuts and freezes mean that basic benefit levels are still well out of step with what families need to live on.
The charity has found that more than 23,000 vulnerable children will miss out on support this year.
Hussain told The Mirror: “‘Rising unemployment and high rates of inflation will continue to keep hold of families grappling with the cost of living. Children and families rely on early help services for support, but without further investment from the government, local authorities will be forced to cut these vital lifelines."
The refusal to increase all benefits and support us equally shows that disabled people are only useful to the government if they can force us to work ourselves to death.
I wrote previously in The Mirror of my fears that Sunak’s government will leave disabled people to die this winter and this statement did nothing to stop those fears, if anything I’m even more scared.