From our activists – On Labour’s appeal to disabled voters

Dayna Latham - PortraitWritten by Dayna Latham, local activist and journalist

How disabled voters have been let down

People with disabilities and long term conditions often suffer disproportionately in times of economic hardship.

The economic crash of 2008 and the austerity policies that followed were no exception. Lest us forget that Tory-led Austerity has caused preventable deaths of 130,000 people.

Several tory governments have withheld investment in public services whilst giving tax breaks to their billionaire friends. It’s clear that the needs of the top 1% will continue to be put first if we don’t secure a Labour government.

Current Personal Independence Payment and Universal Credit policies push people into work who aren’t physically well enough to do so, whilst also failing to lift successful applicants out of poverty.

First hand experience

For myself, as a recipient of Personal Independence Payment (PIP), as an individual with invisible illnesses, and as a millennial worried they will never achieve financial security, the fight for disabled rights is incredibly personal.

On PIP, every winter I have to choose between food, heating or petrol. This can leave me with heavy reliance on friends and family help, very high and infuriatingly preventable pain levels, and little faith in the system that’s supposed to keep my head above water.

There have been thousands of horror stories where individuals have died, some even on shift, after being falsely declared ‘fit for work’, due to the incompetence of current tory policy.

All of this suffering comes after being subjected to an incredibly dehumanising, undignified, and red tape riddled application process.

The system was created in bad faith

Applicants for disability benefits are treated as ‘guilty until proven innocent’, treated with suspicion, having to prove their illnesses over and over, often having to answer incredibly triggering questions about past trauma and day to day difficulties.

Applicants are toyed with in this way without any aftercare whatsoever.

There are many reports that over 35% of assessments are deeply flawed. The treatment you recieve is also somewhat of a postcode lottery, with those in the North West and South East having the greatest fluctuations. This comes as no real surprise when you consider drastic regional inequalities more generally.

These meetings are more interrogation than assessment, and often plunge applicants who are already on the very brink of giving up, into intense depressive episodes. Trick questions are laced into assessments once the applicant is noticeably frazzled, trying to catch them out and contradict something they’ve said previously. In some casesthis leads to self harm and suicide attempts.

These are no ‘accidents’ in policy design. The malicious intent of such applications is to deter those who are genuinely eligible for this financial help from making it to the end of the application process.

The hope is that unless you’re incredibly desperate, that you won’t find the emotional exhaustion induced by the process as ‘worth it’.

It’s evident at every turn that to the Department of Work and Pensions, you’re an unwanted expenditure they’re trying to avoid — a number and not a person.

Privatisation means less accountability

For PIP, health assessments are outsourced to a private company called Atos. This is a great example of how successive Tory governments have slipped in incremental privatisation of NHS services (currently sitting around 7% of the total NHS services, according to their ownfigures).

Not only does this outsourcing mean paying private companies with NHS budgets, but it also means that if you wish to complain about how you were treated, you have to reach out to the private company and cannot go through the NHS complaints system.

Being a private company, they are not subjected to the same stringent rules and regulations that NHS nurses are bound to. Simply put, these companies are not accountable to their patients, but to their shareholders and profit motives.

The private nurses that conduct such assessments will decide after less than an hour of meeting you, whether you qualify as ‘disabled enough’, to put it crudely. They also have quotas to hit in terms of how many applications they reject, regardless of how many applications were genuine.

Often times these decisions are painfully misinformed, and made before/without requesting any information from the medical professionals responsible for your care, such as your GP, physio or psychiatrist.

Withholding money from disabled and desperate people is bad enough, but this is compounded heavily by roll backs of many community services that disabled people rely most heavily. Examples include public transport, NHS care, and affordable public sector housing.

The alternative

Exploiting the most vulnerable members of our society is absolutely disgusting, and Labour are the only party offering a comprehensive replacement to the PIP and Universal Credit cycle that many like myself are trapped in.

Labour really are the only option for disabled people, carers, and other individuals who recognise the overwhelming need for a humanist, needs based and dignified approach to welfare reform.

People’s lives are quite literally at stake here.

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