A week ago today I voted in the UK General Election. I voted because I didn’t vote in 2010 and the next day I immediately regretted it. For some reason I believed the outcome would be different if I had my say. Last Friday I learned I was wrong. I couldn’t believe it. After scanning multiple articles published by numerous media organisations, it finally started to sink in that the Conservatives had won. Once the shock wore off, fear set in. A Conservative (Americans, read: Republican) government sans the Liberal Democrats was going to be a bloodbath for those receiving benefits, whether healthy or disabled. £12bn of welfare cuts are going to be made, but no one knows who’s going to be hit.
So if the BBC’s document is any guide, George Osborne – reappointed as chancellor – could look to strip £1bn from carers’ allowances; means-test national insurance-backed unemployment benefits, saving another £1.3bn; and tax disability benefits to raise another £1.5bn. Then there’s limiting child benefit to two children – affecting a million families to save another £1bn.
I’m on Carer’s Allowance as a full-time carer for my mother, who’s on Disability Living Allowance. If either of those benefits are slashed or access to them reduced, many won’t be able to afford to care for partners, friends or relatives. As a result, there will be unnecessary deaths and those that can’t be cared for at home could grind the NHS and social care system to a halt. Reducing these benefits could prove more costly to the government than keeping them at current levels. In fact, increasing access could save the government money. It’s much cheaper to pay a relative £60 per week to care for someone than £800 to a nursing home.
For the disabled, a cut in their benefits would be isolating. That money has a mobilising effect. It pays for things such as wheelchairs and taxis. And as Rosa Davies states in her excellent article for the Guardian:
Disability isn’t only one way. It is imposed from outside as well as coming from within you. Just as we can disable or enable an internet connection, we all have the power to disable or enable human beings. If I go somewhere in my wheelchair and get stuck at the bottom of a staircase, it isn’t just my illness that prevents me from completing my journey: it is also the lack of ramps or lifts that disable me. Install a ramp or a lift and voila! I can proceed. My illness is about the way my body functions or fails to function, but my disability includes how accommodating or unaccommodating society is towards disabled people. If disabled people aren’t enabled by society, we simply become more disabled.
I know for a fact that if my mother didn’t have me to reassure her, she’d be joining hundreds, if not thousands, of others calling the Samaritans in utter terror for fear that their ability to not only survive but live and flourish could be compromised in the near future.
Only 66% of the eligible population voted, 37% of whom voted Conservative – meaning only 25% of those eligible to vote voted for this party, and yet they won. Commentators are calling the Tory voters in this election the ‘I’m okay, so I don’t care’ group who felt ashamed of their choice since so few of these ‘shy Tories’ admitted their preference in opinion polls prior to the election. Davies includes a quote by Richard Herring in response to this feeling which I’m going to replicate here.
“If you’re not disabled now, then one day you might be. When that happens you’ll want to go to the pub or get on public transport. You’ll want to be seen as a person, not as a disability. Purely out of selfishness you should be fighting for disabled rights. If you don’t, you are prejudiced against your future self. And your future self hates you and thinks you’re a dick.”