Yet again we struggle to reconcile the Britain described by George Osborne with the place where we actually live. In a characteristic example of news management, the brutal cuts to disabled benefits had already been announced, but Osborne’s spin machine was working overtime as he smugly referred to this as better targeting support in a rising disability budget. The budget documents claim that the latest changes to how PIP is assessed will save the government £1.3 Billion over the course of the parliament. PIP is the benefit that is meant to cover the extra costs of being disabled, and the ‘savings’ will be made because fewer disabled people will qualify for the benefit, and others who would have qualified for the higher rate will get the lower. And this follows on the heels of the £30 a week cut for people in the ESA Work Related Activity Group (those found not fit to work at present but forced to prepare for work in the near future). Both of these changes will further reduce the amount paid to disabled people. Assuming that Osborne-world must have some sort of twisted relationship to reality I have been trying to look for anything that could conceivably be presented as increased spending on disabled people. The only reference in the budget documents appears to be schemes for getting more disabled people into work. And then it dawned on me. The spending he has been boasting about is the money spent on the whole disciplinary regime. Maximus (the private company that carries out the assessments for ESA) and Atos (who used to do the ESA assessments an now carry out many of the assessments for PIP) don’t come cheap. You have to pay a lot to nurses to make them sell their souls, and then there is the cost of all those ‘work psychologists’, not to mention managers expecting full multinational salaries and perks. This is not money for the disabled, it is money for the disability industry – for controlling the disabled.
Otherwise the budget was the predictable list of tax cuts for the better off: not just income tax cuts for high-earners (dressed up as ‘a budget for working people’), but also help for those who already earn enough to save, and huge cuts in capital gains tax. The inequalities of wealth in this country are even starker than the inequalities of income, and cuts in capital gains tax will only make this worse. Turning income into capital gains is also a standard way of tax avoidance, so Osborne’s hope to recover more taxes seems even more unrealistic than at first glance.
I am sure there will be much more on the budget tomorrow when people will have had the chance to crunch some numbers, but meanwhile here’s another example of disability spin. The other day I accompanied someone to their PIP assessment. The Atos nurse – who was anxious to stress that she did not work for the DWP – introduced the interview by explaining the difference between PIP and the old Disability Living Allowance (DLA) in a way that made the change of benefit appear all in the interests of the disabled. I have no reason to doubt that she believed what she was saying, but perhaps nobody told her that when PIP was planned in 2012 it was expected to save billions of pounds by ensuring that half a million fewer people received disability benefit by 2015/16 than would have been the case if they had kept DLA.