David Cameron should read out the names each Wednesday at Prime Minister’s questions of those who have died after the Government stripped them of sickness and disability benefits an MP has said. Denis MacShane, Labour MP for Rotherham, in a speech last weekend (Saturday 4 August) accused David Cameron and Nick Clegg of launching launched a ‘vindictive, vicious campaign to strip people with disabilities of their fundamental rights’.
The MP was speaking at a Community union conference held at Wortley Hall, South Yorkshire . He said :
“We judge a society not by how well it pays its bankers or how many gold medals are won but how well it treats the weak and vulnerable.
“Between January and August last year on average 32 people died every week who the Government said were fit to work. One man Stephen Hill died of a heart attack after the Department of Work and Pensions said he was fit to work and he was denied sickness benefits.
“David Cameron should read out each Wednesday the names of those who have been sacrificed to meet his targets for increasing poverty and misery among the weakest in society while he rewards his millionaire mates with tax-cuts worth £40,000 a year.
“The Government has handed over to a private medical constractor Atos, the task of carrying out medical tests to judge eligibility for these new benefits. Appeals against incorrect decisions by Atos are costing £50m a year, with tribunals having to sit on Saturdays and increase staff by 30% to deal with the backlog. Appeals find in favour of the claimant in at least 30% of cases though some experts reckon 9 out of ten appeals would be won if the victim was helped by an expert welfare adviser.
“The most terrifying letter in Britain today is the brown envelope from the DWP instructing a sick or disabled person that they must submit themselves to this firm making £100 million a year by carrying out these tests.
“Charities report that up to half a million disabled people of working age could lose their benefits when the tests are further tightened up next year.
“Yesterday Steve Ford, chief executive of Parkinson’s UK, said ‘Assessments carried out by Atos have led to many people being forced to appeal against decisions that are plainly wrong. How can someone with Parkinson’s – a progressive neurological condition – have an assessment report that implies they will be ready for work again in six, 12 or 18 months?’
“Labour MPs and our excellent Shadow Minister Anne McGuire have been constantly attacking the Government on this. Before May 2010 Lib Dems would also have stood up for disabled people. Not any longer. The record of LibDems MPs and Minister in acting as cover for this Tory attack on the weak and vulnerable is a disgrace.
“But it is part of a wider attack on working people and those who are not millionaires sitting in the Cabinet.
“We have seen this with the outrageous decision to close down Remploy factories. In 2007, Chris Grayling the Tory MP, now DWP minister, said ‘Let me assure Remploy and its employees that the next conservative government will continue the process of identifying additional potential procurement opportunities for them and the public sector workforce.’
“We know those words to be a lie. Remploy factories have been closed down and one of the proudest achievements of the post-war Labour government, setting up factories for the disabled, are now being destroyed. The Remploy workers and their unions are right to protect and strike though I doubt if it will have any impact on this hard-hearted government.
“ Anti-union attack dogs are on the rise everywhere. There is a braying Toryism that hates trade unions and like a child pulling bits off a daddy longlegs Tory MPs seek every opportunity to bash, trash and lash unions. Their main objective is to force a renunciation of the European Union’s social rules.
“The Tory onslaught on social Europe is an ideological and cultural attempt by Thatcher’s and Tebbit’s children and grandchildren to harness the anti-EU feeling in the nation against trade union rights in general.
“It is almost as if the end of communism which the Thatcher-Reagan Tories claim as their great victory is incomplete unless unions are also eliminated from their world. There is a constant grind of anti-union laws and policies. Access to industrial tribunals are made more difficult; backbench bills are introduced to deny shop stewards time off to carry out union duties; modest British financial support for the International Labour Organisation is axed; every time workers vote in a secret ballot to stop work there is a hue and cry about banning or limiting strikes.
“Long standing national pay structures are threatened by proposals for regional pay as if an army Colonel at Catterick in Yorkshire should be paid less than an army Colonel in Aldershot in Surrey.
“From a right-wing ideological point of view there might be some justification for this if the nation was being put back on the path of growth and job creation.
“As we know this is not the case. George Osborne is making a new film ‘Honey, I shrunk the Economy.’ We have the longest recession since the 1930s. Manufacturing output has hit an all-time low. Housing investment has been cut from £2.4 billion in 2010 to under £800 million today. We can win all the gold medals the Olympics can offer but unless we invest in our own nation, in our own people, in all of our regions, and in people like those with disabilities who need a helping hand not a slapdown then our nation will get weaker and weaker.
“The poet Oliver Goldsmith wrote
Ill fares the land, to gathering ills a prey
Where wealth accumulates and men decay
“Britain’s wealth is being accumulated by the undeserving rich while the disabled are expected to decay as their life chances are removed from them by Tory ministers and their LibDem helpers.
“It is still 3 years to go to the next Government. And have no illusions that despite negative opinion polls as the Fabian Society recently reported there is no support for higher taxation amongst rank and file Labour supporters.
“Labour needs to build a new 21 st century coalition of support that includes unions like my good friends in Community to whom I pledge my commitment and support but goes out to the young, to women, to graduates with and without work and speaks for all the nation not any single group within it.
“It is very hard after voters have lost confidence in a party after a long period of power to win that confidence and trust back again. The Tories have all the off-shore press on their side and on most issues the BBC and Sky reflect the interests of the better-off in Britain and the London dislike of social Europe.
“So the challenge is bigger than at any time in Labour’s history. In 1945 it had been 16 years since Labour won power and the country was changed by the egalitarian sacrifices made necessary by war. In 1997, it had been 18 years since Labour held office and the nation was ready for change and new leadership. It is only two years and a bit since we were defeated and although the nation is saying no Cameron it needs more persuasion to say yes again to Labour.
“That is a political challenge we must rise to. The party and its MPs are more united than ever before in period of opposition like the 1980s or the 1950s. Ed Miliband is making a bigger and bigger impression in the Commons. We have a brilliant intake of new MPs who are the smartest political generation in Labour history.
“But now we need to reach out beyond our comfort zone of Tory bashing. That is the challenge and I am sure with Community’s support we can start pedalling hard to win for Britain.”
Rt Hon Dr Denis MacShane | Member of Parliament for Rotherham House of Commons | London SW1A 0AA email: email@example.com | telephone: 0 20 7219 4060