The Tories’ vindictive and expensive fight to deprive disabled people of benefits is a national disgrace

One multiple sclerosis sufferer lost her amazingly generous personal independence payment of £87 per month because she was able to squeeze someone’s thumb

If a genie popped out of a lamp one night while I was setting about it with the Brasso and offered one wish in the field of political reform, it would be this. “Henceforth, the government must explain itself to a bright seven-year-old. If after 15 minutes the kid is scratching her head muttering, “But that’s just silly” or “Why are you being so horrid?” the policy is instantly revoked.

How would the Prime Minster explain to that kid why last year the Government wasted a bare minimum, though probably much more, of £39m in legal costs fighting challenges to benefit reductions or denials from the sick and disabled?

What would she tell the little moppet when asked why she wants to take more money from people who have very little and are not well enough to earn more? How would she justify the Government having already paid some £600m to two private firms, Atos and Capita, to do the dirty work for it?

If that strikes you as childishly simplistic, so it should. Since David Cameron came to power in 2010, the abuse of the disabled and ill has been a filthy, indelible stain on not only the Conservatives and their Liberal Democrat enablers, but an apathetic country.

Far from channelling the power of public opinion to correct a hateful aberration, the passage of time has normalised it. Weary familiarity has anaesthetised us to toxic immorality.

We have all read many accounts which straddled the borderline between outlandish auto-satire and vicious cruelty: the letters reassuring rejected applicants of their fitness for work which arrived a tantalising few days after their death; the incapacitatingly depressed effectively told, sometimes apparently by a physiotherapist, that they are fine. Those who can hobble for 20 yards, but not a marathon 50, having mobility vehicles confiscated. Families with an extra bedroom used to store life-preserving medical equipment forced to move; and so on, and on, and on.

One multiplesclerosis sufferer lost her amazingly generous personal independence payment (PIP) of £87 per month because she was able to squeeze someone’s thumb.

Neither the incumbent nor previous PM can use ignorance or lack of imagination as a defence. Just as Cameron knew the ravages of grave disability from caring for his late son, Ivan, May knows the horror of MS. It killed her mother.

Yet while she has done zero for her cherished “just about managing”, she has been busy doing minus for the “not managing at all”. Her government is spending almost twice as much vindictively fighting Employment and Support Allowance applications this year as last. In the first quarter of 2017, judges found that claimants were too ill to work in seven out of 10 cases – an even higher proportion than in the equivalent period of 2016.

Anecdotally, the blithe callousness of Atos and Capita assessors seem undimmed. These sad, ignorant, barely trained drones must disregard blatant incapacity to meet targets, and so maximise profits for private firms whose respect for human dignity would grace the management of one of Alabama’s less genteel penitentiaries.

Even if the purpose is solely financial, the effect of the maltreatment radiates beyond robbing the wheelchair-bound to help fund (entirely legal) tax avoidance from the likes of Atos, a French firm which with a sprawling history of paying £0.00 in corporation tax despite its massive UK turnover.

Stigmatising the disabled as crooks, who fake or exaggerate symptoms to defraud the state of almost enough weekly income to buy May and that Arthur Askey husband a Wiener-schnietzel-and-gluwein supper after a merry day’s hiking over an Alp, has encouraged the surge of verbal and physical violence against them.

God willing, in a century or two people will read about this with the stupefaction slavery incites in us now. Even today, it would take some explaining to the smart six-year-old interviewer. “Why don’t you believe them, Auntie Theresa, when they say they can’t work? Why do you think they are lying?”

As for her father, he was a hospital chaplain before becoming a vicar, so let’s hope he had more empathy than his daughter. If not, he’ll have been charging round intensive care banging a metal tray, yelling at the old boy flatlining in bed 4 to stop malingering and put in a shift as a porter over on orthopaedics.

I had come to assume that the young Theresa paid no attention to her dad’s work, being too enraptured by fantasies about girlhood hero Geoff Boycott playing the forward defensive to hear a word the Rev Hubert Brasier recited from his Oxfordshire pulpit.

But perhaps that wasn’t it at all. Perhaps she was listening intently, but he used a different version of the Bible to the King James. The Thatcher Bible, presumably, with its celebrated passage about Christ halting his mule during the journey to sneer at the Ephesian lepers.

“And Jesus did come upon a cripple begging beside the road. And lo, He did kick away his staff, saying unto him: ‘Weep not for hunger, and cease thy begging. For though you lay claim to be lame, verily I believe you have lain here contorted and sobbing these days and nights in the hope of cadging a weevil and a crust of bread. Besides, there is a food bank in Jericho but 4,000 cubits hence’” (Book of Tebbit, 2:14-15).


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