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Protest outside the Tory party conference, Manchester 2015

Protest outside the Tory party conference, Manchester 2015. Photo: Jim Aindow

Lucette Davies condemns the cruelty and inhumanity of Tory welfare policies, and argues that activism can make the difference that will force change

How many people really understand how the UK welfare state can destroy a person’s life? I have been frustrated many times by people who seem astonished when I tell them of my circumstances. Surely those on the left, who believe in compassion and equality should pay more attention to the reality of our welfare state?

Our welfare state is creating many broken souls that live in every town and city, and cannot fight back. You won’t hear their stories, understand their suffering, or even meet them in polling stations, because our government is shattering their hopes of life ever improving.  Every ounce of their energy and fight will be drained by the endless battle to survive without the means to do so.

Despite my own understandings of the welfare state, I was shocked at how little I knew when I started canvassing last May in my local area. Even I had started to forget about the horrendous injustices and tragedy caused by the bedroom tax, for example.

What was even more shocking was how our media narrative has been internalised in the minds of the people being destroyed by the welfare state. I cannot tell you how many times somebody would explain that the state shouldn’t have to pay for them to live in a property larger than they needed. That was before they told me that they had pleaded with our local council to move them into a smaller property for years. Or that they often couldn’t afford to eat.

The cruelty of assessments

I try to always make a point of talking to the people who sleep on the streets. I understand their reasoning when they tell me about how they could no longer tolerate the ridiculous and humiliating process of pleading for sickness benefits. So they choose to become homeless instead.

I have met with friends who have sat and sobbed as they told me about work capability assessments. How can it be right to ask somebody, who talks about being suicidal, why they haven’t killed themselves yet?

I too have become ill with the stress of work capability assessments. Many people feel there is nothing to worry about if you are genuinely in need of these benefits. They couldn’t be more wrong. I know that each time they ask me to lift an empty cardboard box to shoulder height and I do so successfully, I could be declared fit for work. I know if the assessor tells me at the end that they will recommend I stay on benefits, the DWP could over-rule that decision. They have targets for how many people they need to declare fit for work.

I am one of the lucky ones. I have escaped some of the harshest policies and am left unbroken and willing to fight back. But I don’t have even the slightest sense of security, because I know that the DWP could easily pull the rug from under my feet tomorrow.

There needs to be a greater understanding of the impact our welfare state is having on people.  Simply discussing policy decisions won’t cut it. It is only when you hear the individual stories that you can really understand where our country is failing its own people. And you can’t rely on individuals who have suffered the most to come forward.

The need for mass activism

The left needs to get out and start speaking to people. I know in the past there have been unions for the unemployed. We need them now. DPAC are an amazing organisation, and they continually impress me with how they can support individuals to fight back. We need more organisations like them to support everybody who is at the mercy of the DWP.

It is outrageous that anybody working full time should have to also claim support from the welfare state. Work should pay enough for a person to live and be able to support their family.

The recent cut to Universal Credit of £20/week, when prices are rising so rapidly, is obscene.  It will have a serious impact on health and education, and will increase homelessness. But I am sure there will be many personal stories far more shocking than that last sentence of mine.

The DWP is making people ill. It is leaving so many completely broken I cannot believe this is helpful for our country’s future. The environmental movements have been awe-inspiring, but I haven’t heard them talk about poverty. People in poverty often live in poorly insulated homes, with the most expensive and inefficient heating systems. People in poverty can’t afford solar panels or organic food without a tonne of plastic packaging around it. Climate-change activists need to tackle inequality.

Laura Pidcock organised a debate in Westminster on the work capability assessment. The assessments didn’t change, but I breathed a sigh of relief that somebody both cared and was willing to fight this on our behalf. I believe activists could help heal a lot of those broken souls if they could hear the stories and act on what they hear.

The Tories need people to be broken, they need them to be too demoralised to fight back.  These welfare changes are ideological. The level of injustice cannot be denied, so they need people to not speak out.

I believe if activists do speak out on behalf of the people, they will be able to force change.

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Tagged under: Austerity Cuts Tories Welfare
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