He was called Jim and we became friendly when he worked for the old Strathclyde Regional Council. A really bright bloke who loved his job and was good at it. And his was, when you think about it, a quite inspired appointment. Who better to work as a disability rights officer than someone with cerebral palsy.Behind every successful man stands a determined woman – in Jim’s early case, his mum. Told he wasn’t suitable for mainstream schooling she begged to differ. Quite loudly. Just as well really since the unsuitable boy went on through school to university where he gained a degree in psychology.A useful qualification when you spend a fair bit of your life unpicking other people’s mental prejudices.
I thought of Jim this week when I heard a wheelchair bound actor and campaigner vent her frustration on Channel Four news at a UK government spokesman mouthing the usual party line about the unsustainable and rising cost of the welfare budget. The campaigner did not miss him and hit the wall. What about the cost of care homes for people who might have stayed independent with half decent support, she wanted to know. What about the human cost of people who had been freed from a housebound existence to go out and do useful work only to be shoved back in their domestic prison.
Jim used to call the fully mobile folk in his life TABS. It stood for temporarily able bodied, which, he said, was what we all were. And by the time we weren’t we would probably be in no fit condition to take on a system which could only do crude sums. I was profoundly underwhelmed by the crocodile tears of the resigning Iain Duncan Smith, as he blamed that bad man in the Treasury for trying yet another raid on disability allowances. It was the self same IDS which brought us the bedroom tax – a “spare room subsidy” – this from a man who lives rent free in a grace and favour stately pile belonging to his father in law. It was IDS who phased out Disability Living Allowance the modest sum which gave people the chance to live a life outside their own four walls. Not to mention presiding over a benefits system where the disabled and mentally fragile found themselves sanctioned for not getting to the job centre on time, or failing to keep an arbitrary number of appointments for posts they had no chance in hell of securing.
It was IDS who tried to manhandle all targeted money into a system of Universal payments which process has already squandered billions in failed IT pilots, and tens of millions more in legal fees trying to stop journalists finding and publishing the truth of one of the most expensive failures in social security history.All week ministers including the avuncular former chancellor Kenneth Clarke have been wheeled out to suggest that Personal Independent Payments needed fixed since people were claiming money for aids and assistance they didn’t need. This is not an argument about people wanting money for incontinence pads or walking frames.
It’s about a rotten system where the housebound get a couple of 15 minute visits a day if they’re lucky, where people who have struggled against colossal odds to live meaningful lives are being serially battered, and where politicians who spend more money on one lunch than most claimants live on per week have the gall to talk about encouraging self reliance. Interestingly this administration has set its face against tampering with the bit of the welfare budget which costs by far the most. While many senior citizens struggle with their bills and generally find ends stubbornly refusing to meet, there are millions who gratefully chucked the odd ten grand at George Osborne’s tax free granny bonds.
The latter will not face cuts. They are well off, they vote in large numbers. And they usually vote Tory.