Where do disabled people fit into George Osborne's "aspiration nation"?

From 1 April, six different cuts to support started affecting disabled people. The result will be disabled people losing their independence, struggling to heat their homes and forced to withdraw from communities. What part can they play under such conditi

George Osborne has been talking about building an "aspiration nation". It’s left disabled people scratching their heads. They’re wondering where they fit in.

Life simply costs more if you’re disabled. But in 2013 disabled people are struggling to pay the bills. They’re feeling more keenly than most the effects of flat-lining incomes and spiralling living costs. We know many disabled people are turning to loans to pay for essentials.

What’s the Government’s response?  At the last count, cuts to thirteen different pieces of financial support that give disabled people the chance to do things everyone else takes for granted.

We asked the think-tank Demos to make sense of impact this will have on disabled people – many of whom are already struggling to make ends meet. We released the results; they paint a bleak picture.

Their research showed that by 2018, disabled people are set to lose an astonishing £28.3bn worth of financial support. These changes are going to affect up to 3.7 million disabled people in total.

What’s more, the research also showed that thousands of disabled people are being hit by different cuts to support over and over again.

For example, it’s very possible that someone could see their Disability Living Allowance taken away, see their Employment Support Allowance capped at one per cent and have to pay the bedroom tax.

We have spoken to disabled people who are going to struggle to pay their bills, heat their homes and buy food.

But that’s not all. There is a real danger we make it impossible for disabled people to be part of the community.

Councils – facing huge cuts – are rationing the basic, practical support they offer disabled people to get up, get washed, get dressed and go out.

Sue from London who has emphysema, asthma and is doubly incontinent told me that she’s being hit by care bills, the bedroom tax at £16 a week, bills for her incontinence pads and council tax at the same time.

She says “There’s no hope for me. I’m looking down a long dark tunnel with no light at the end. Unless they get rid of Cameron and revoke all of the cuts, I don’t think I’ll see this year out. I can’t afford to put my heating on. I don’t use my oven any more. I’m scared to run up any bills. By 7pm, I’m huddled up in bed with my dog. I have a halogen heater in there which goes on at night - I can’t afford to heat the whole house.”

The Government is writing this research off as scaremongering, arguing that some disabled people may be better off after the benefits changes.

But as Claudia Wood from Demos argues, how can the Government know? It has so far refused to do any cumulative impact assessment of the impact of welfare changes on disabled people. This is no longer acceptable.

But for Scope there’s also a broader point. This is about the kind of country we want to live in.

At the moment it’s not the done thing to say the state needs to spend money. But if we want to live in a country where disabled people can pay the bills, can live independently in the community, where they can work, have relationships and ultimately be visible then that’s exactly what needs to happen.

For instance, if disabled people are to live independently – and not be shunted away, out of sight and out of mind – we need properly funded social care.  However, the Government continues to insist that simply capping costs and introducing a new means testing threshold will solve the social are crisis. It won’t.

The Government needs to decide if it wants disabled people playing a part like everyone else, or side-lined, out of pocket and more or less invisible. I know which one I want.

Richard Hawkes is the Chief Executive of disability charity Scope 

The solution to the care crisis is not simply capping costs and introducing a new means testing threshold. Photograph: Getty Images

Richard Hawkes is chief executive of the disability charity Scope.

Garry Knight via Creative Commons
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Why Barack Obama was right to release Chelsea Manning

A Presidential act of mercy is good for Manning, but also for the US.

In early 2010, a young US military intelligence analyst on an army base near Baghdad slipped a Lady Gaga CD into a computer and sang along to the music. In fact, the soldier's apparently upbeat mood hid two facts. 

First, the soldier later known as Chelsea Manning was completely alienated from army culture, and the callous way she believed it treated civilians in Iraq. And second, she was quietly erasing the music on her CDs and replacing it with files holding explosive military data, which she would release to the world via Wikileaks. 

To some, Manning is a free speech hero. To others, she is a traitor. President Barack Obama’s decision to commute her 35-year sentence before leaving office has been blasted as “outrageous” by leading Republican Paul Ryan. Other Republican critics argue Obama is rewarding an act that endangered the lives of soldiers and intelligence operatives while giving ammunition to Russia. 

They have a point. Liberals banging the drum against Russia’s leak offensive during the US election cannot simultaneously argue leaks are inherently good. 

But even if you think Manning was deeply misguided in her use of Lady Gaga CDs, there are strong reasons why we should celebrate her release. 

1. She was not judged on the public interest

Manning was motivated by what she believed to be human rights abuses in Iraq, but her public interest defence has never been tested. 

The leaks were undoubtedly of public interest. As Manning said in the podcast she recorded with Amnesty International: “When we made mistakes, planning operations, innocent people died.” 

Thanks to Manning’s leak, we also know about the Vatican hiding sex abuse scandals in Ireland, plus the UK promising to protect US interests during the Chilcot Inquiry. 

In countries such as Germany, Canada and Denmark, whistle blowers in sensitive areas can use a public interest defence. In the US, however, such a defence does not exist – meaning it is impossible for Manning to legally argue her actions were in the public good. 

2. She was deemed worse than rapists and murderers

Her sentence was out of proportion to her crime. Compare her 35-year sentence to that received by William Millay, a young police officer, also in 2013. Caught in the act of trying to sell classified documents to someone he believed was a Russian intelligence officer, he was given 16 years

According to Amnesty International: “Manning’s sentence was much longer than other members of the military convicted of charges such as murder, rape and war crimes, as well as any others who were convicted of leaking classified materials to the public.”

3. Her time in jail was particularly miserable 

Manning’s conditions in jail do nothing to dispel the idea she has been treated extraordinarily harshly. When initially placed in solitary confinement, she needed permission to do anything in her cell, even walking around to exercise. 

When she requested treatment for her gender dysphoria, the military prison’s initial response was a blanket refusal – despite the fact many civilian prisons accept the idea that trans inmates are entitled to hormones. Manning has attempted suicide several times. She finally received permission to receive gender transition surgery in 2016 after a hunger strike

4. Julian Assange can stop acting like a martyr

Internationally, Manning’s continued incarceration was likely to do more harm than good. She has said she is sorry “for hurting the US”. Her worldwide following has turned her into an icon of US hypocrisy on free speech.

Then there's the fact Wikileaks said its founder Julian Assange would agree to be extradited to the US if Manning was released. Now that Manning is months away from freedom, his excuses for staying in the Equadorian London Embassy to avoid Swedish rape allegations are somewhat feebler.  

As for the President - under whose watch Manning was prosecuted - he may be leaving his office with his legacy in peril, but with one stroke of his pen, he has changed a life. Manning, now 29, could have expected to leave prison in her late 50s. Instead, she'll be free before her 30th birthday. And perhaps the Equadorian ambassador will finally get his room back. 

 

Julia Rampen is the editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog. She was previously deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines.