How Osborne's benefits cuts will hit the disabled

Disability campaigners accuse Osborne of misleading the public over his welfare cuts.

In his Autumn Statement, George Osborne sought to give the impression that he had protected the disabled from his benefits cuts. He told the Commons:

We will support the vulnerable.

So carer benefits and disability benefits, including disability elements of tax credits, will be increased in line with inflation

The Chancellor went on to announce that working age benefits would be uprated by just one per cent for the next three years. But what he didn't say is that more than half a million disabled people rely on one of these benefits - the Employment and Support Allowance (introduced as a replacement for Incapacity Benefit) - for their income. Today's Times (£) has an important report on how disability campaigners have responded.

Steve Winyard, co-chairman of the Hardest Hit Coalition, made up of 90 charities and campaign groups, told the paper: "The Chancellor’s statement that he will protect disabled people from welfare cuts is utterly misleading.

"It does not reflect the reality for thousands of disabled people who are already facing barriers to getting into work and education. Cuts to the support they depend upon risk pushing them into poverty, debt and isolation." The disabled stand to lose £400 over the next three years from the real-terms cut in ESA.

Paralympian Tanni Grey-Thompson said: "The people who can least afford appear to be getting hit again."

As Labour contemplates whether to vote against Osborne’s Welfare Uprating Bill (the bill, which is not necessary to introduce the below-inflation rise, is intended as a political trap for Miliband's party), the news that Osborne's cuts will affect the disabled could provide a useful line of attack. In addition to pointing out that the Chancellor is hitting "the strivers" - 60 per cent of the cuts will fall on working families - Labour can now argue that he's hitting the most vulnerable too.

Chancellor George Osborne promised that he would "support the vulnerable" in his Autumn Statement. Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Photo: Getty Images
Show Hide image

The Fire Brigades Union reaffiliates to Labour - what does it mean?

Any union rejoining Labour will be welcomed by most in the party - but the impact on the party's internal politics will be smaller than you think.

The Fire Brigades Union (FBU) has voted to reaffiliate to the Labour party, in what is seen as a boost to Jeremy Corbyn. What does it mean for Labour’s internal politics?

Firstly, technically, the FBU has never affliated before as they are notionally part of the civil service - however, following the firefighters' strike in 2004, they decisively broke with Labour.

The main impact will be felt on the floor of Labour party conference. Although the FBU’s membership – at around 38,000 – is too small to have a material effect on the outcome of votes themselves, it will change the tenor of the motions put before party conference.

The FBU’s leadership is not only to the left of most unions in the Trades Union Congress (TUC), it is more inclined to bring motions relating to foreign affairs than other unions with similar politics (it is more internationalist in focus than, say, the PCS, another union that may affiliate due to Corbyn’s leadership). Motions on Israel/Palestine, the nuclear deterrent, and other issues, will find more support from FBU delegates than it has from other affiliated trade unions.

In terms of the balance of power between the affiliated unions themselves, the FBU’s re-entry into Labour politics is unlikely to be much of a gamechanger. Trade union positions, elected by trade union delegates at conference, are unlikely to be moved leftwards by the reaffiliation of the FBU. Unite, the GMB, Unison and Usdaw are all large enough to all-but-guarantee themselves a seat around the NEC. Community, a small centrist union, has already lost its place on the NEC in favour of the bakers’ union, which is more aligned to Tom Watson than Jeremy Corbyn.

Matt Wrack, the FBU’s General Secretary, will be a genuine ally to Corbyn and John McDonnell. Len McCluskey and Dave Prentis were both bounced into endorsing Corbyn by their executives and did so less than wholeheartedly. Tim Roache, the newly-elected General Secretary of the GMB, has publicly supported Corbyn but is seen as a more moderate voice at the TUC. Only Dave Ward of the Communication Workers’ Union, who lent staff and resources to both Corbyn’s campaign team and to the parliamentary staff of Corbyn and McDonnell, is truly on side.

The impact of reaffiliation may be felt more keenly in local parties. The FBU’s membership looks small in real terms compared Unite and Unison have memberships of over a million, while the GMB and Usdaw are around the half-a-million mark, but is much more impressive when you consider that there are just 48,000 firefighters in Britain. This may make them more likely to participate in internal elections than other affiliated trade unionists, just 60,000 of whom voted in the Labour leadership election in 2015. However, it is worth noting that it is statistically unlikely most firefighters are Corbynites - those that are will mostly have already joined themselves. The affiliation, while a morale boost for many in the Labour party, is unlikely to prove as significant to the direction of the party as the outcome of Unison’s general secretary election or the struggle for power at the top of Unite in 2018. 

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog.