By a Newsnet reporter
Delegates at the Scottish Lib Dem conference in Dunfermline this weekend have been confronted by harrowing evidence of the damage caused by the brutal welfare reform changes that their party is supporting in Government.
The film ‘Hardest Hit’ is being screened at a fringe meeting at the conference, and features disabled people describing in graphic detail the effect of benefit cuts on their lives, as well as their fears over losing this vital support.
The Hardest Hit campaign, organised jointly by the Disability Benefits Consortium (DBC) and the UK Disabled People’s Council, brings together individuals and organisations to send a clear message to the UK Government about the harm and damage their cuts are causing to disabled people. The campaign hopes that the film will shame Lib Dem delegates into withdrawing their support from the UK Government’s cuts to the vital benefits upon with disabled people rely.
Last month the Scottish Parliament’s Welfare Reform Committee heard from a blind former health worker, suffering from chronic heart disease, diabetes and depression, who said that he had been reduced to begging as a result of the Government’s welfare reforms.
The report which accompanies Hardest Hit’s video noted that when Chancellor George Osborne delivered his emergency budget in June 2010 he said:
“Too often when countries undertake major consolidations… it is the poorest – those who had least to do with the cause of the economic misfortunes – who are hit hardest. Perhaps that has been a mistake that our country has made in the past. This Coalition Government will be different.”
However despite the Chancellor’s pledge, disabled people have experienced a massive drop in income of £500million since the Emergency Budget of 2010. Recent reports have shown that cuts range from £200 to £2,065 for typical disabled households just in the past year. The latest estimates suggest disabled people will experience £9bn cuts over the lifetime of this Parliament; half the total cuts being taken from the welfare budget.
The cuts have a direct negative impact in the most personal areas of disabled people’s lives. One disabled person quoted in the report said:
“I’m cared for by my partner of 44 years. He will reach retirement age in October and will consequently lose his Carers Allowance. When he is no longer able to lift me which is now a minimum ten times a day or help with the intimate matters such as toileting and showering, what then? Do I reach for the tablets?”
The report quotes the alarming statistic that up to 100,000 families with a disabled child could receive only £28 a week under Universal Credit compared with £57 a week under the disability element of child tax credit today. This is equivalent to the loss of around £1,500 per year for most families with a disabled child.
Mid-Scotland and Fife SNP MSP Annabelle Ewing – a member of the Welfare Reform Committee – said:
“In a week where Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith snubbed an invitation to our Welfare Reform Committee to hear harrowing evidence about the devastating impact of the welfare reform agenda, Lib Dem members should pay close attention to this film, and to what their Party is helping ‘achieve’ in Government.
“The Scottish Government is doing everything it can with limited powers to mitigate the impact of welfare cuts. An agreement with COSLA will shield Scots households from the UK Government’s 10% cut in Council Tax Benefit.
“And last week Nicola Sturgeon announced the creation of a Scottish Welfare Fund, which will reverse the UK Government cuts to the Social Fund and offer financial help to an extra 100,000 vulnerable Scots.
“But we are powerless to stop many of these harsh, punitive changes to benefits which the UK Government is inflicting on people with disabilities – which is exactly why Scotland needs an independent Parliament, so that we can decide welfare policies in and for Scotland.
“So while senior Lib Dems are busy telling delegates tell their grassroots members how great it is being in coalition with the Tories, it’s unsurprising that they avoided the issue of welfare reform. The whole party needs to reflect seriously on how they have ended up completely on the wrong side of the argument.”
The Hardest Hit video can be seen here.