ConDem Welfare Cuts hit Medway, and disabled hit hardest by Trish Marchant

ImageLast week Medway Against the Cuts (MAC) hosted the first of their public meetings, at White Road Community Centre, specifically about the changes to benefits. Pete Morton from MAC chaired the debate with speakers Steve Wilkins from MAC, who summarised the effects the changes will have on those living in social housing and Ellen Clifford, from Disabled People Against the Cuts (DPAC)

Ellen told the group “400,000 disabled people are expected to lose their Employment and Support Allowance benefit by 2013/14 despite having paid National Insurance contributions, the coalition government claims that an estimated £1 billion a year will be saved. There is evidence that the Atos assessments which precede the loss of ESA has been linked to with the deaths of disabled people. A Freedom Of Information request in October found the weekly figure for people dying/taking their lives after being found fit to take part in work related activity following an Atos assessment was 73. Its a disgusting trend.”

A commission led by the Paralympic gold medallist Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson found that 450,000 disabled people and their families could lose up to £58 a week under the coalition’s Universal Credit Reform – cuts so deep that one in 10 disabled households with children fear they might lose their home, with many struggling to pay for basic essentials such as food and heating. There are other problems with UC including the fact that it will be an on-line assessment whereas only 61 percent of disabled households have access to the internet (compared to 86% non-disabled).
Steve Wilkins explained how the bedroom tax, the governments under-occupancy rules, will force many people into further poverty through loss of some part of their housing benefit. Steve said ” This is an attack on the poor and nothing the government has said justifies this move to force people out of their homes. Its not as if those in social housing will be able to move round the corner to a smaller property so not only will they lose their homes but they will be forced out of their communities. Previous governments have made sure that social housing stock is a rare commodity, through right to buy and lack of investment. The bedroom tax will force people out into the private rented market, which is currently not affected by the tax, so in the end there will be no saving as private rents are higher.”Ellen added “Of the 660,000 it is estimated will be affected by the Bedroom Tax nationally, 420,000 are disabled. Amendments to the bill were put through the House of Lords to make some groups exempt but the government overturned that amendment. So the under occupancy penalty will also affect disabled people, foster carers, and families with sons and daughters serving in the armed forces who used a bedroom when on leave

The closure of the Independent Living Fund will result in a loss of support for disabled people with high support needs and could mean forced moves into residential care. The Fund was closed to new applicants in December 2010 and is currently still received by around 18,000 disabled people with complex needs.

Ellen told the meeting “the cuts to benefit target people in poverty, disabled people and their families. By 2015 social care in England will have been cut by £8 billion, a cut of 33%. Benefits for disabled people and the poorest will also have been cut by £18 billion with disabled people bearing 29% of all cuts and those with the severest disabilities 15%. These cuts are not fair, they marginalise those in our society who need the most support.”

On Saturday 9th March the Benefits Justice Campaign will be hosting a conference in London to link up all those opposed to the benefits cuts. Meanwhile Medway Against the Cuts will be holding further public meetings to discuss the upcoming changes, the next one is planned for Tuesday 26th March at the Sunlight Centre in Gillingham from 7:30 to 9pm.

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