The LibDem Voice end of year survey gives us, as usual, much food for thought.
Net approval of the coalition’s record is down to 14% from 41% a year before. “Three big hits seem to have been responsible: first, the row over the NHS Bill; secondly, the omnishambolic March budget; and thirdly, the collapse of Lords reform”.
What issues might derail us this year? One is slowly poisoning our society, and with it the claims of the Liberal Democrats to be a party of fairness.
It is the combination of vindictiveness and incompetence in Iain Duncan Smith’s slow, deliberate wrecking of the benefit system. I was delighted to see Nick Clegg’s Christmas message, “Lib Dems are on the side of reasonable welfare reform, not indiscriminate welfare cuts”, but this needs to be backed up with action if we are not to be tainted by association.
Cuts to disability benefits are wrecking jobs and lives. The Work Capability Assessment is intended to get people off benefit, not to assess their actual fitness for work. A woman with cystic fibrosis who had recently had a lung transplant and was still under hospital care was found fit for work because she was able to walk from one side of the room to the other. Anyone with any common sense would see that she was not fit for work.
But it is not about fitness for work, it is about removing people from benefits. People are having their needs denied, and their benefits cut simply to reduce the bill. People are being driven to suicide by both the fear and the fact of losing livelihoods. There is a list here of some of the victims. These are not odd isolated cases. This is happening routinely up and down the country, to hundreds of people, every day. If the system were fair, there would be no need to fear it – but it is not fair, it is organised vindictiveness, and it is being done in the name of the Liberal Democrats.
We need to do more than just say we are for fairness. We need to demonstrate it. We have an opportunity this month. Disability Living Allowance is being turned into Personal Independence Payments, with the aim of reducing expenditure by 20% regardless of the effect this will have on disabled people. Discussion of the high rate mobility component assumed a maximum distance of 50 metres – if somebody could walk more than that they did not qualify. Revised proposals reduced the distance, without any consultation, to 20 metres. The effect of this is described by one potential loser. She is only one example of many who will lose money they need if these proposals go ahead.
There are hints that Liberal Democrat peers will rebel against these proposals. The party should encourage them to do so. We need to demonstrate in deed as well as in word that we will not tolerate further vindictiveness and persecution of disabled and workless people in the name of reform. We are still in government but we should not support Iain Duncan Smith’s poisonous policies. The Hardest Hit consortium has produced a tool for emailing MPs. We Are Spartacus has an initial briefing note for MPs and Lords.
* Rob Parsons is a Lib Dem member in Lewes. He blogs at http://acomfortableplace.blogspot.co.uk