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Benefits – DLA, PiP, JSA, UC and other meaningless, purposefully obfuscatory acronyms.

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About five, or so my memory isn’t exactly clear on the subject, my mum had a massive stroke. I was around 15. For a couple of months my mum was taken away to the hospital and I didn’t see her. I didn’t want to see her, and my family barely questioned it. I stayed home, often alone – as my close knit family would visit my mum every night in the Royal, and do things like washing up (things I had hardly ever done before) because I wanted to help. When I finally worked up the courage, and it was a lack of courage that prevented me from going, I saw the woman who had raised on her own paralyzed completely down the right-hand side of her body and unable to coherently speak.

I didn’t see her again until she came out of the hospital. Not properly.

When she did come out though, she had improved. And in the years since she has improved more. Not physically. At all. But mentally. After a year or so she was recognisably my Mum again, although a lot less confident, dependent and docile.

I was raised on benefits, as was my brother. I’m grateful to the state for allowing me to live. My mum received Income Support before her stroke, and receives Disability Living Allowance now. In addition she has the majority of her council tax waived, and is granted Housing Benefit to pay the majority of her rent in the council house I lived in.

In the last couple of months she has received letters from the Departments for Work and Pensions and other government departments telling her that her Council Tax is going up, her Housing Benefit is going down (the bedroom tax, but that discussion is for another day – along the lines of the government think houses are just bricks and mortar but they’re actually homes where my Nan cooked dinner before she died, or so I’m told I was too young), and her DLA is getting overhauled and changed. She doesn’t understand what’s happening, but slowly and clearly laying it out lets it sink in a bit.

So I’ve been reading up alot on this, and I honestly don’t think most people know. So I thought I’d just quickly run through what’s happening.

It is billed as an efficiency drive. Most of the announcements came close around the time that the government was attempting to drive the media message home of a country divided between strivers and scroungers. My mum is not a scrounger. Not now, and not before her stroke. She raised me and my brother on a bare minimum of money (even during the New Labour years) and got them both into good schools, with good grades and into and out of University. My brother is months away from qualifying to be a doctor. After her stroke, she is severely disabled and the most clear ‘unfit to work’ person you’re likely to meet.

All of these quotes are from the government’s own Impact Assessment for the introduction of the Personal Independence Payment to replace the Disability Living Allowance.

Costs of £710m to implement a new benefit and move existing DLA recipients to the new benefit.

These are the costs estimated by the government (so presumably they’re lowballing) of creating the new structure of the new benefit (Personal Independence Payment, PiP from here on) and destroying the infrastructure of the DLA. The costs of training people in the new one, and changing the forms. Simple things like that. Over half a billion.

Net costs to individuals of £2,240m from reduced benefit expenditure over the three year migration period from focussing support on disabled people with greatest needs.

This is the amount the government will recoup from the new benefit system. The savings can only be made by reducing payments, or throwing people off the benefit completely. Now, two billion pounds over three years is nothing to be sniffed at. It’s a lot of money. A lot of money taken away from mostly deserving disabled people, but that’s another matter.

Due to forecast growth in working age DLA expenditure, reducing working age DLA expenditure by 20% in 2015/16 means returning working age DLA spending to 2009/10 levels in real terms.

This is a 20% cut in the amount given to every recipient (essentially) to move the cost of the benefit back to what it was when the Tories came into government. Before the true bite of the financial crisis had hit the real UK economy, and the unnecessary bite of government austerity eroded any hope of growth.

Net reductions in benefit expenditure from focussing support on disabled people with greatest needs will lead to benefits for taxpayers and the exchequer.

This is a euphemism for taking people on benefits. The phrase: “focussing support on disabled people with greatest needs” means throwing those not deemed deserving off. I’m not dismissing benefit fraud, it’s a real problem – but the DLA is probably the least abused, because it is so hard to fake. The benefits for the Exchequer are cash savings, obviously.

If there is a positive employment impact as a result of this policy there would be the benefit of higher economic output and the subsequent gain in revenue from increased taxation. There are also likely to be individual health benefits if more disabled people move into work.

This is total speculation. The idea that those thrown off the benefit will immediately start working (presuming they could, and aren’t being thrown off wrongly and so can’t work – the stories of which everyone knows). So these gains are illusory, they don’t exist – hence the lack of a figure applied to it. The ridiculous aside at the end that putting these vulnerable people back into work forcible will probably benefit their health is best ignored as callous rubbish.

However, no adjustment is made for additional costs associated with disability. This is because research shows these vary significantly in level and nature, and there is no general agreement on how to measure these costs.

This is after a statement that most recipients of DLA, and now presumably PiP if they haven’t been thrown off, are usually middle income – not very, very poor, and not very, very rich. So…pretty normal people. Not my mum. We’re at the lowest income level. This statement makes clear that the additional costs of being disabled (which are astronomical in case you didn’t know – the NHS does the best it can to help, but it can’t provide everything) crutches, wheelchairs (manual and electric so they can have independence), padding, a specially made bed, specially designed chairs, a special diet (for diabetes) – and these are just the ones, off the top of my head, and from my experience – there must be much more. All of these additional costs are not included at all, so let’s start by shifting the income levels of all of those DLA/PiP claimants right the way down towards the poorer end of the spectrum right away.

It’s clear, and pretty explicit – although you won’t hear it in most media outlets – that the switchover to PiP is not a drive for efficiency, or fairness as it is portrayed by the government; it’s a transparent attempt to reduce the welfare bill, throw people off benefits and cut the money going to those in need. These cuts are very, very painful and this is just a tiny, tiny angle of the welfare reform – let alone the totality of the cuts (which explain the bedroom tax, rent increases and council tax rises I mentioned before which will both push people into poverty – Source) – and this pain is to save just over £2 billion over three years, so £666 million a year.

To put that in perspective the renewal of Trident, Britain’s new nuclear deterrent, will cost the UK government (the statements vary) from £20 billion for the new equipment (excluding maintenance which is much more costly – Source), to  £76 billion (Source) and from a the Deputy Prime Minister himself £100 billion (Source) the new building and refurbishing of big ticket military items like aircraft carriers (including Trident) cost £130 billion. (Source). That’s at the conservative, government estimate ten times what these cuts are saving, and at the probably more accurate figure seventy times!

Tax evasion is another matter entirely. Figures for how much this costs the Uk economy range widely too. From £25 billion (Source), to £30 billion every year (Source), to £70 billion a year (as the Source helpfully points out is the equivalent for 56% of the entire NHS budget a year). So this at the conservative estimate is over ten times the cuts, and at the more likely numbers is thirty five times more expensive to the Exchequer.

[Benefit fraud in its entirety only costs £1 billion for the record – Source]

It’s the hypocrisy that really galls me. If we were all in it together, and we were all suffering to fix a crisis then that would be one thing. But we’re not. In the slightest. If they just enforced the law all of these cuts would be meaningless. The government needs to be spending to fill the absence of demand in the economy, and kickstart it – but even if that weren’t true enforcing our tax laws would negate the need for these deep, deep, painful, devastating cuts on vulnerable people. The broken promises of a failed economic plan have beggared millions and this number will only increase – and my entire generation has been lost to the sands of time.

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About thommurph

A History graduate from the University of Liverpool blogging about history, politics, music, television, gaming and literature.

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