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Disabled people suffering 'death by a thousand cuts' - Chris Matheson MP

Aden Simpson | PoliticsHome

4 min read Partner content

Speaking to PoliticsHome, Labour MP Chris Matheson slams the Government for “piling misery upon misfortune” in its relentless plunder of disability benefits.

The Government’s ‘salami-slicing’ of disability benefits is piling ‘misery upon misfortune’ for those who genuinely cannot work, a Labour backbencher has said.

Just less than a year into his role as MP for Chester, Chris Matheson is leading a Whitehall debate on Tuesday to stand up for people with disabilities whose ‘dignity’ and ‘equality of fairness’ are threatened by what he described as “death by a thousand cuts.”

“Government rhetoric - strivers versus skivers - has been extremely divisive,” said Matheson. “When you use that kind of rhetoric you cast your net and pull in people who, for whatever reason, genuinely can’t work; they are tainted and tarred by the same slurs. It’s demonised disabled people and in terms of equality, it has made things even worse.”

For those able to work, Matheson agreed that adjusting welfare could motivate them towards the inherent benefits of employment, whereas applying such financial incentives to those unable to work only increases inequality.

“Work is good for people, it’s good for their sense of self-worth, and for their economic benefit,” he said. “There are people out there who genuinely can’t be arsed to work, and we have ways of dealing with them.”

“People for whom this doesn’t apply,” he added, “are facing progressive cuts to their finances, which are already meagre, cuts to their dignity, and leaving them with terrible anxiety and reduction in their quality of life.”

“It won’t make a difference to them. Instead we pile misery upon misfortune.”

In any case, he assumes that encouraging disabled people to work is not the Government’s true motive, but a far more cynical one: because disabled people, unlikely to vote Conservative, present an easy political target.

“It just because they’re an easy hit,” he said, “an easy cut to make.”

Matheson intends to highlight the less reported cut of £30 per week to Employment Support Allowance (ESA), which will take effect next April. “This is a lot of money for people who are only on a small amount already,” he said.

He will also address the more politicised issue of Personal Independence Payments (PIP). Despite an apparent u-turn on the proposed £1.3bn of cuts to PIP - which triggered the shock resignation of former DWP Minister Iain Duncan Smith - in the days following the Spring Budget, disabled people cannot rest assured that these payments will not be targeted in future.

“We know there’s a black hole in the budget that needs to be plugged, we just don’t know where it’s going to come from. Until we have that kind of certainty, the anxiety that is felt by these people will continue. It’s a Sword of Damocles hanging over their heads.”

He explained that the Government’s perennial justification for ever deeper cuts has become incoherent and unconvincing, leaving those who rely on state support with no confidence this life-line will continue.

“We’ve heard this line all along: ‘We’re going to make cuts, but we’ll focus money on the people who need it most.’ You can only use this excuse once,” said Matheson.

“These people needed it in the first round of cuts, but somehow they don’t need it anymore in the second round of cuts, even though their condition hasn’t changed. It’s salami slicing, and they sling this bogus excuse as a cover for cuts for people who’ve already been dealt a bad hand in life.”

“Will they be considered desperate enough this year? Yes. But what about next year? They’re living from year to year at the moment, every time there’s a new round of cuts.”

Matheson will also be taking the Government to task for outsourcing disability assessments which he said were “humiliating and arbitrary,” and should not be run by private companies that “change from one week to the next.”

“We’re not going to change the world on Tuesday, but I want people out there to know that there are MPs on their side, and I want the Government to at least listen to the arguments I’ll be making. We’re talking about real people whose only crime is to be unlucky.”

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