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£30 is a lot of money

11 January 2016
Stephen John

Imagine this situation: 30% of your wage or benefits gets taken away. How would you feel? Would you be angry? Would you feel it’s unfair? I would imagine you would feel both, but you would mostly feel worried right? 

I am in the very fortunate situation of earning a good wage and being able to afford what many people, myself included, would consider luxuries. If I was told that I would have to take a wage decrease and had no choice in it, I would feel all of the above but I would have options. I could find another job and even if I wasn’t successful, I could live on a 30% reduction.

But what of people who are already living from day to day with only the essentials afforded? There will always be policies regardless of the party in government, that we both agree with and do not agree with but at the moment the government, in what I can only describe as an awful decision, has proposed that from 2017 any new claimants of Employment support allowance (ESA) in the work related activity group (WRAG) will get around £30 less each week, which is a near 30% deficit from those who currently claim it. 
This is due to the government’s belief that the current amount that people receive disincentivises people from looking for employment – something there is little or no evidence of. 

In reality, £30 is a lot of money for people who live on, or in most cases under, the poverty line. It isn’t the difference between having Sky TV or not, or having a big night out once a month instead of twice a month. It is having to make the choice of either having a meal or keeping warm.  

Priti Patel and most of her friends in the blue party are reasoning with ‘Joe public and the red tops’ (not a 70’s cover band) that the change is to bring the amount in line with job seekers allowance (JSA – they do love acronyms!). This is simply a ridiculous rationale. People with disabilities not only face higher living costs because of factors associated with their disability but also face added barriers when seeking employment, not least the intrinsic discrimination that sadly is still apparent in 2016, and the distinct lack of disability specific support that may be needed not only to seek employment but also to retain it. 

On the back of the hugely successful Hear my Voice campaign that Mencap undertook in the run up to the general election, we are now working with people with a learning disability and their families/carers to better educate politicians of all parties of the real issues and the real impact that the proposed changes will have on the people we work with. We are asking people to take our e-action to tell their MP what they think about benefits and about these unfair cuts. 

Even better would be for people to visit their MP at a surgery and tell them face to face about the real impact. It is important to remember that MPs work for us, the constituents, and must work to protect us in their role. Often, and I generalise, part of the issue is that MPs are not properly informed of the real impact, and I see it as part of our role as campaigners, as a society, to ensure that MPs are fully informed when making a choice and not just “whipped” into a decision. Over the next couple of months I will be supporting people with a learning disability to visit MP’s to talk about the issues I have mentioned and will make sure their voice is heard. Please, do the same and use the voice that your MP is supposed to represent.

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