So right up front we'd like to say long-term sick & disabled people (LTSDP) are the new underclass (really the old underclass) and if we're going to have a government, we seek your help in exposing and publicising the scandalous absence of any extra UKgov "cost of living" and pandemic help for those most vulnerable.
ANY comments from UKgov, like Sunak's "we will support the most vulnerable, we did it in the pandemic and will do it again" from 26th Oct'22 and "fairness and compassion is at the heart of everything we do" from 2nd Nov'22 are simply LIES, we'll explain why and would like your help in getting the message out there.
We've returned, if we ever departed, to a chosen divide and rule strategy by UKgov where everyone "economically inactive" (not in paid work) is a lazy benefit scrounger, aside from the Tory core vote territory of (old age) Pensioners (OAPs). So, we must take care not to disparage their earned state income, which is double or almost triple that of LTSDP, as we would then fall into that divide and rule trap they hope we shall squabble in.
UKgov has made a triple lock special case to protect Old Age Pensions. Both OAPs and LTSDP received a 3.1% increase in Apr'22 when inflation was nearing 7% (uprates are based upon each Sept figure). Incidentally 3% might sound reasonable but that was an increase of £2.50 p.w. for most on Employment & Support Allowance (ESA). So a massive real terms benefit cut especially since any rise in benefits is not applied until 6 months later, the following April.
UKgov was cornered into honouring their promise of uprating benefits in line with the 10.1% Sept'22 inflation figure but by Oct'22 it was 11.1% and climbing (Guardian: Benefits rise brings relief but stark warning from poverty campaigners ). The current reality of a "cost of living crisis" is stark with RPI food inflation alone at 14.7% (Oct'22) and 16.2% (Nov'22) and even industry figures from British Retail Consortium fix it at 11.6% (Oct'22) and 12.3% (Nov'22). House of Commons Library (HoCL) briefing:- Rising cost of living in the UK .
Even back in Aug'22 the UKgov cost of living messaging wasn't credible, with widespread feeling (74%) that too little was being done to deal with rising prices and the crisis was a result of choices by the UKgov (48%) :- https://www.moreincommon.com/media/rkpognqn/britons-climate-and-cost-of-living-crisis-mic-briefing.pdf
There is a constant state of living crisis for most LTSDP as their qualifying benefits are intentionally paid at a "subsistence level" so "living" on them rather than existing, is merely aspirational to LTSDP. In fact as a result of deliberate policy choices, for 9 of the last 12 years of Tory "control", benefits have not kept pace with inflation and a there was even a freeze on uprating when Universal Credit (UC) was introduced (Guardian: Worst fall in UK living standards since records began, says OBR ).
Let's also not forget those many in the public sector and other essential services, who some of us inadequately only clapped on doorsteps, are now endeavouring to get a decent proper wage rise recompense for their stalwart work during the height of the pandemic, with many having been under a Public Sector Pay Freeze (along with benefit claimants) for years. We should do all we can to support them - far more than clapping, especially if they're forced to the last resort of losing money during strike action to make financial ends meet. # Applause is not enough ( https://www.brusselstimes.com/334240/fed-up-workers-call-on-policymakers-to-transform-applause-into-action ).
Cost of Subsistence Crisis
As energy prices rose, UKgov were finally pressured into announcing ( https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/cost-of-living-support/cost-of-living-support-factsheet-26-may-2022 ) support that households across the UK would receive. For LTSDP, this meant that: Disabled People who claim means-tested benefits - including some variants of Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) and Pensions Credit - would get a 2 part payment of £650. In addition, those left claiming Disability Living Allowance (DLA) or Personal Independence Payments (PIP) would receive a further one-off payment of £150, with an additional separate one-off payment of £300 to OAP households added to their existing Winter Fuel Allowance. HoCL briefing here:- Constituency casework: Government support for energy bills .
However, UKgov's incessant mantra that the most vulnerable in society will be supported and protected is a lie. If any LTSDP are excluded from this "most vulnerable in society" category then it's revealed as the shoddy subterfuge of lies it is. For a large number of LTSDP all they will receive is what every household will receive, £400 towards their electricity costs from Oct'22. More here:- http://disabilitybenefitsconsortium.com/2022/05/26/dbcs-response-to-the-chancellors-cost-of-living-support-package/ .
Personally, almost all the several scores of LTSDP I know once received DLA but after repeated Dept. of Work & Pensions (DWP) reviews, lost it, even though their condition had not changed. Those remaining lost it on transfer to PIP. This was not a surprise but part of the ongoing almost persecutory nature of constant DWP review when medical evidence says neither conditions nor circumstances have changed and is seen by LTSDP as a deliberate policy to reduce numbers claiming.
So why are LTSDP excluded?
Most are left with claiming ESA but not all those claimants will get the LTSDP extra cost of living payments. This is because many are not on the new qualifying means tested variants because they've been claiming for many years, on very low income indeed - but from before the conversion of Incapacity Benefit to ESA and even from Invalidity Benefit before that. Most of these have been through a Pennine Way's worth of gateways to be considered eligible to be placed in the so-called ESA Support Group (ESA-SG) and this is not means tested. Therefore they are not eligible for LTSDP cost of living payments with no specific extra support at all for their disability or long-term illness once again. The ESA-SG rate is set at an amount that will prevent most also claiming Universal Credit (UC). DBC wrote to the Chancellor to attempt to avoid this failure here:- http://disabilitybenefitsconsortium.com/2022/05/25/dbc-letter-to-the-chancellor-to-help-people-on-legacy-benefits-to-weather-the-cost-of-living-storm/ . New underclass.
....and why does this matter?
Those on UC will be getting the extra help and it’s been UKgov's intention to transfer all so-called Legacy Benefits (blimey what a legacy!) like ESA (& Jobseekers Allowance) claimants over to UC for a decade. In fact it was originally supposed to be completed 7 years ago but was only re-started this year and now, as announced in the Nov'22 budget, not to be completed till 2028! If the transfer had been undertaken by now we would not now find LTSDP in this excluded position through no fault of their own. Further detail here from CPAG Aug'21 https://askcpag.org.uk/content/207210/old-style-esa-who-can-get-it - take a deep breath first if you look! Those in receipt of the minimalist Carers Allowance are also not entitled to Cost of Living Support payments either, despite massive publicity around our failing care system. New underclass.
Energy guarantee cap doesn't fit, where's my woolly balaclava?
For many LTSDP, the energy unit price cap or average ceiling guarantee is irrelevant. The much repeated £2500 average guaranteed till Apr'23, is a big fat juicy red herring as it's not a ceiling or cap but a semi-mythical average use cost without any detail on the "average". Many LTSDPs' meagre benefit income allows far less than half of it to be spent on energy anyway meaning Fuel Poverty is an inadequate description. Most ESA income is £4k p.a.(Oct'22). Personally for literally decades I've only used gas-fired central heating from Dec-Feb for 3 hours a day. From Oct'22 standing charges alone annually will cost nearly £250 before any energy is used at all, that's 2.5 weeks worth of average ESA and the "regulator" Ofgem continues to allow further standing charge increases. UKgov Energy bills support & HoCL Domestic energy prices .
Suggested adaptations like managing lighting, heating only certain rooms, wearing layers, etc. have been used routinely by LTSDP for many many years and current media, energy company and government advice like most of this article:- https://helpforhouseholds.campaign.gov.uk/help-with-your-bills/energy-saving-advice/ , is frankly pretty insulting to those who are habitually forced to live like that due to poverty, let alone fuel poverty. HoCL briefing on Fuel poverty in the UK .
Some people in our Network help organise local groups for LTSDP. Their further recent experience of adaptations to low income and trying to save on energy also mean:-
- "at the pandemic's height my neighbours received full furlough on £30k p.a. salaries with no (£6k p.a.) travel costs, constantly being delivered stuff ordered online and takeaways. They made and saved taxpayers money while I ate pasta and tin peaches with zero UKgov help. Not once did they ask if I was okay!";
- "now there's apparently a cost of living crisis because middle class people might have to cancel one of their pay TV subscriptions";
- "i eat late at night so i can go to bed straight after to be warm enough to sleep";
- "i routinely only heat water by kettle, or by boiler every 9 days, washing in between in cold water";
- "i wash my clothes when i run out of clean ones but only change underwear every 3 days, tops every fortnight and trousers every month";
- "i buy the cheapest food and my diet rarely varies, mostly carbohydrate and lacking protein";
- "i cannot afford to clean or vacuum the house as cleaning products are prohibitively expensive and i need to use my electricity for heating and cooking";
- "my total "entertainment/pleasure" budget is limited to a TV licence and a £1.20 bottle of beer each Saturday from Aldi, i never go for a night out. What's a holiday?";
- "i know when Autumn is here when painful chilblains reappear on my toes from bad blood circulation due to the cold";
- "overall my health condition seriously deteriorates every year between October and April and that has a compounding effect";
- "I can only afford 2 meals a day, one being bread and home-made jam from foraged fruit and I cannot get referred to a food bank".
- "my energy company wanted me to pay a monthly direct debit 65% above my annual usage!"
- "I cannot afford a mobile 'phone, online access or a computer";
I'll stop there but there are many other similar quotes that illustrate that the "heating or eating" debate is chronically endemic to LTSDP and not new. Nor is the non-revelation that it costs more when you're a LTSDP, with essential electrical equipment you may need or the transport costs of mobility.
Monetary & digital gap trap
With reference to the last one of the above quotes, increasingly the UKgov (& the media) think everyone has internet access and a mobile 'phone in our pockets - but those on low income are much more unlikely to have either due to cost and such digital exclusion got worse during the pandemic's height 2020-21. More and more of what's left of Local Authority services can only be accessed directly online. Claiming UC can only be done online too. Check out https://digitalpovertyalliance.org/
Energy equity or bust?
From 2010, the "regulator" Ofgem and UKgov reduced regulations on the energy market allowing almost any herbert to set up as an energy supplier to try their luck in making some quick cash and supposedly introduce "competition" into the market. This was always going to be a recipe for disaster with new lightweight companies luring customers in, with cut-price deals using balance transfers to prop up their high-risk financial strategies. To ensure even more profits, they employed offshore low-waged workers to read prepared scripts as "customer service" when things went wrong - and when wholesale prices spiked, many of them went bust.
Since 2020, 29 suppliers, almost half the entire market, have bankrupted, leaving millions of their consumers high and dry. Not content with having caused this crisis, UKgov and Ofgem are now making us pay for their failures by passing the cost of picking up the pieces onto us. As a result every household is paying an extra £94 on their energy bills – and that’s not even including the £6.5bn bailout of Bulb! Ofgem then hiked up the energy price guarantee "cap" so consumers have to pay more and now Ofgem have tripled the profits energy suppliers are allowed to make under the average price guarantee - so consumers are made to pay even more to prop them up. This isn't regulation, it's the transfer of wealth from our bank accounts to the pockets of rich shareholders and company executives.
No wonder campaigns like Can't Pay? Don't Pay! ( https://dontpay.uk ) are growing exponentially with a quarter of a million plus, refusing to pay bills.
(The Good Law Project team further published these useful articles:- understanding the rules on energy disconnection and prepayment meters , understanding your energy bill support and discounts and claiming the welfare benefits you are entitled to ).
There's no sign that energy bills will come down soon and now Ofgem - the toothless "regulator", sucking consumers dry - has again pandered to the industry by switching the energy price guarantee ceiling to quarterly review instead of 6 monthly, making things worse for the customers they exist to protect. In Aug'22 The Good Law Project wrote to Ofgem asking for an explanation of how it had met its statutory obligations to consider and protect those in need. They heard back but are not satisfied, particularly that it met its legal obligations in having given proper consideration to the idea of imposing a social tariff or variable cap. These would be lower prices for those who need them most or that ensure everyone can afford a minimum energy supply at a reasonable price.
What we urgently need if we're going to have a regulator is one that stands up for LTSDP and others who are vulnerable trapped in energy poverty - but more importantly, social justice demands a social energy tariff to prevent people dying from cold this and every winter. It shouldn't cost the same tariff price to heat up a tin of beans as it does to heat up a swimming pool. Price banding could be similar to the tax system, the richer you are the more you pay. It's scandalous that people are put onto prepayment meters because they get into arrears and forced to pay a higher tariff! It’s likely that many LTSDP are in this category and some have even “self disconnected”. HofC briefing:- Self-Disconnection of pre-payment meters .
https://www.fuelpovertyaction.org.uk/ organised an ‘Energy For All’ petition signed by over 650,000 people, calling for a universal free basic energy guarantee, an amount of energy that would cover everyone’s basic necessities of heating, lighting and cooking. This could be paid for by ending the millions of pounds spent daily on fossil fuel subsidies, by windfall taxes on excess profits of energy companies and higher prices for profligate energy use. Currently it’s the opposite since those who use more energy pay less per unit than those who use little - in an age of climate breakdown emergency!
The EU's (& UK's) liberalised/privatised energy market is a total failure as shown in this great report by EPSU (European Public Services Union) from 2019. It also explains (if you need an explanation) why a public, decarbonised, affordable and democratic energy system is what's needed. You can read a 2.5 page summary which makes it all really easy to understand, even for MPs. It's called 'Going public: the failure of energy market liberalisation': https://www.epsu.org/sites/default/files/article/files/Going%20Public_EPSU-PSIRU%20Report%202019%20-%20EN.pdf .
In the absence of national grid-free, community owned renewable energy systems (for which we'll continue to campaign along with adequate insulation for buildings), any publicly owned model would currently need to be, to an extent:- publicly controlled but as a non-governmental organisation (NGO) on a not for profit model, with both worker and consumer representation, participation and control; rather than merely state controlled.
UKgov forces through further bill increase
Our preferred model certainly would not include nuclear power as part of the mix for a multitude of reasons we explain here:- "Same Old Not New Not Zero Nuclear" (or, most of what you need to know about Nuclear Power in the UK but weren't nerdy enough to ask):” . Nuclear power isn’t low carbon, despite at the CBI on 22nd Nov’21 the then PM saying UKgov was looking at reclassifying nuclear power as “green” energy for investment purposes (like in the EU!).
Whatever your views on nuclear power the Nuclear Energy (Financing) Act https://bills.parliament.uk/bills/3057 became law (with Labour support) on April Fools Day 2022 (we know!) despite Treasury opposition ( https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-59051025 ), and is “to make provision for the implementation of a regulated asset base (RAB) model for nuclear energy generation projects; for revenue collection for the purposes of that model; for a special administration regime for licensees subject to that model; and about the circumstances in which bodies corporate are not associated with site operators for the purposes of programmes relating to funding the decommissioning of nuclear sites.”
In plain English and with astonishing timing, the Act's provisions add a supplement to your electricity bill to pay for new nuclear power that won't be built in time to help with the climate emergency, by consumers paying extra upfront with an extra Nuclear Tax! Bet you haven't heard about that as even large so-called environmental NGOs have been ignoring it!
Party-endemic pandemic wasn't flush for the excluded new underclass
The exclusion of LTSDP from extra cost of living help is spectacularly compoundingly galling, following on from the total absence of help for them that UKgov (your taxes) paid out from the onset of the Covid19 pandemic. With the exception of those who continued to work throughout, every single sector of business had money thrown at them in the form of so-called loans, grants and furlough schemes. Even the large amount of publicity generated by the furlough-excluded newly self-employed claiming exclusion, neglected to include they were entitled to claim the £20 per week uprated UC.
Most LTSDP still on Legacy Benefits weren't so fortunate despite being in UKgov's EVG (Extremely Vulnerable Group) as they were not able to claim UC so were excluded from any help. The irony was that if the DWP could be trusted to do the work they said would be completed years ago, then those on the old ESA (both contributory and non-contributory - historically from Incapacity Benefit) claimants would've been transferred to UC as planned and got the £20/25% temporary increase worth over £1500, given to other category claimants already shifted over to a component of UC. This is the primary reason why it was unfair. Sunak:- "we will support the most vulnerable, we did it in the pandemic and will do it again" - errant lies, fake news, new underclass.
In Nov'21, two brave claimants supported by the DBC took the government to Judicial Review on this and the judges, though sympathetic, ruled against them. Here's the Chambers Report:- https://osborneslaw.com/news/high-court-decides-on-uplift-to-legacy-benefits/ and the actual Judgement:- https://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Admin/2022/351.html . The High Court decided UKgov acted lawfully when they denied nearly two million disabled people emergency funding to get through the pandemic. This meant that Ukgov was not required to backdate payments for people on legacy benefits. On 7th Dec'22 those claimants were back at the Court of Appeal to put this case under the spotlight again hoping for justice. UKgov cannot be allowed to keep leaving disabled people behind by exclusion. https://disabilitybenefitsconsortium.com/ . New underclass.
Covid19 cases may have fallen but we're at over 200k UK deaths with people wishful thinkingly pretending the pandemic is now over and generally taking no precautions. It’s not over for LTSDP in the EVG but we're back to then PM Bodger the Clown's "let the bodies pile high" herd immunity "strategy", where the most vulnerable LTSDP in society, the new underclass, are left to rot. It’s now even harder to find the figures in this "let's move on - nothing to see here" style of "government". If monthly excess deaths were due to an airline crash we'd all feel differently about it and those actually still wearing a mask might even pull it up over their noses. Obviously vaccination only means Covid19 might be less severe than without; masks are more effective at protecting others than yourself; oh and "we're all in this together".
Forest moon of Endor sized magic money tree
Where could the money come from to help the excluded LTSDP new underclass? Try these:-
- By the end of 2019 the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) reported that UKgov had collected an extra £0.9billion from Inheritance Tax after deaths resulting from Covid19;
- By the end of 2021 State Pension costs had fallen by £1.5billion due to Covid19 deaths of OAPs;
- Around £4bn was wasted on not fit for purpose masks and other PPE;
- Feb'22 - £21bn Covid loans written off by the Treasury as Ukgov say recovery unlikely.
- CityAM reported in Apr'21 that UKgov Revenue & Customs admitted £5.8billion had been lost to fraud on Covid19 economic support schemes, by Nov'22 this has risen to £6.7bn.The recovery unit has now closed!;
- As an example, £16bn Covid support was given to Rail = £600 for every taxpayer household in UK;
- £37bn spent on inadequate test & trace with 50 firms VIP fast tracked!
As a rough guide to how big these eye watering figures are, a million seconds equal 12 days. A billion seconds equal 32 years!
At the height of the pandemic politicians didn't seem interested in even asking why the £20 p.w. uplift of UC wasn't being extended to those on Legacy Benefits like ESA, which would've been 25% of the weekly £74.50 rate. Particularly AWOL were the Labour Party. The exception was when PM Bodger the Clown was asked why not, twice, via Scottish National Party MP Mhairi Black's PMQ:- https://t.co/QijAsoadij but he just waffled on irrelevantly about UC. It was left to consumer rights campaigner Martin Lewis to ask then Chancellor Sunak and the reply he got was telling. Sunak took the choice to only support those on UC looking for work but not those LTSDP "economically inactive" through no fault of their own. Now he's PM expect a further right wing ideological crackdown and scapegoating of "benefit scrounging" "undeserving" "layabouts", the LTSDP.
LTSDP fought the law but the law won?
“Whether or not people receive benefits can be a matter of life and death for some,” say campaigners from the Greater Manchester Coalition of Disabled People (GMCDP) who seek to launch a legal challenge after mounting concerns from LTSDP facing “gruelling and invasive” benefit fraud investigations. They say those being investigated are being selected by the DWPs “secret algorithm” with no explanation given and there is no transparency around how that algorithm works, why people are flagged for investigation, “how the government is ensuring the rights of LTSDP are protected and what checks and balances are in place to ensure that this algorithm doesn’t destroy lives....Incorrect decisions are made often, in fact so often that wrong decisions have to be overturned every minute of the working day.” They sent a pre-action letter and raised the funding. Read more here:- https://www.crowdjustice.com/case/dwp-algorithm/ .
The rise of the modern Disability Rights Movement
LTSDP are literally sick and tired of being treated by successive UKgov's as the (old) new underclass. In Mar'22 the BBC2 broadcast https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/m0015p4q/then-barbara-met-alan , a fact-based drama about the wave of direct action by disabled people in the 1990s led by the Disabled People's Direct Action Network demanding 'Rights Not Charity', they closed down the nauseating annual charity Telethon, forced public transport providers to make physical accessibility alterations and were the main pressure forcing politicians to bring in the Disability Discrimination Act in 1995:- . Also shown was https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/m000rh1g/silenced-the-hidden-story-of-disabled-britain a documentary on the shocking history of the incarceration and segregation of disabled people over the last 150 years and the rise of the fightback by disabled activists. Of course there's a difference between passing such a law and enforcing it, which we mostly still await - but LTSDP are angrier and more frustrated than ever and again taking to the streets to protest and take action, despite the personal difficulties and consequences that brings. Desperate times need desperate measures. https://dpac.uk.net/
So what can you do to help?
LTSDP are not an anonymous acronym but have the same rights as you to be included. Our population is divided into the disabled and the not yet disabled. LTSDP are angry, frustrated, disempowered and disillusioned as it feels like shouting into a vacuum. We're asking you to call out Sunak's LIE "we will support the most vulnerable, we did it in the pandemic and will do it again" and to publicise, support and highlight particularly the predicament of LTSDP who received no help other than a vaccine offer during the pandemic's height, especially those in the ESA-SG who've since received no extra cost of living help either.
The benefits system is meant, in the planet's 6th richest economy, to be a safety net for the most vulnerable. The ideological deliberate unravelling of that net has deteriorated it enough to become a single tightrope that LTSDP have to walk to survive. Please hang onto one end of that rope for us and prevent it becoming a noose.
Frank McAvennie on behalf of
c/o LARC, 62 Fieldgate Street, Whitechapel, LONDON E1 1ES
Tel: 07708 794665
http://www.networkforclimateaction.org.uk/ where you'll find the Climate Action Toolkit.
P.S.All article figures not accredited from BBC News