The Conservatives have not covered themselves in glory on social security issues recently. The removal of Housing Benefit from young people, the totally immoral restriction of benefits to two children and the deeply objectionable 8 page form that women have to complete if they want to claim for a third child conceived by rape, the cuts to disability benefits and cutting back eligibility to Personal Independence Payments for those suffering psychological distress have all shown a cruel lack of understanding of real life.
Let’s not forget the five year benefit freeze imposed by George Osborne in 2015. With Brexit bound to increase prices, that is simply unsustainable.
The cuts are significant, but even more reprehensible is the inhumane stripping of dignity from those who need our help. A civilised society supports those in need. If that makes me a bleeding heart Liberal, as Tim Farron declared he was on Question Time the other night, then I’m proud to be so.
Ruth Davidson’s Scottish Conservatives may pretend that they are nicer than their Westminster counterparts, making the right noises on mental health recently, but we can’t forget that they are the same party. Every awful thing that Theresa May’s Brexit government does reflects on them.
As health and social security spokespeople for the Scottish Liberal Democrats, Alex Cole-Hamilton and I have written to Ruth Davidson asking her to state her position on the cuts to PIP. Our letter says:
We were pleased to see your party last week join the Liberal Democrats and campaigners in declaring that the SNP Government’s new mental health strategy lacked ambition. It was the right thing to do because the new strategy will not deliver the transformation we desperately need to see.
However, we were deeply concerned to see that, in the very same week, your colleagues at Westminster were voting to restrict personal independence payments to people with mental health and anxiety conditions, affecting tens of thousands of people both in and out of work.
This shows little understanding of the complex needs of some of the most vulnerable people in our society, for example those trapped in their homes because they are too anxious to leave without someone. These people can need help to leave their home every bit as much as someone suffering from a physical condition.
Can we ask if you will urge, or already have urged, your colleagues to drop these proposals, in the interests of people suffering from mental ill health in Scotland and across the UK? Are you willing to take on those in your own party who are set to discriminate against those suffering from mental ill health? And do you agree that we cannot afford to increase the stigma surrounding these conditions, say to people that their conditions are not serious, or backtrack on work to give parity of esteem to physical and mental ill health?
We look forward to your reply.
Time and again it has been shown that you can’t trust the Tories with mental health. South of the border, mportant initiatives have been abandoned and cash meant for mental health has been diverted to plug gaps elsewhere.
Now they are looking to make a deplorable attack on some of the most vulnerable people in our society, showing no understanding of the support needs of people such as those trapped in their homes, too anxious to leave. Ruth Davidson needs to admit this is fundamentally wrong and at least try to do something about it.
* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings