A guest blog by Mo Stewart
Sometimes, you have to wonder which world the Prime Minister (PM) lives in, as it’s certainly not the real one.
She will realise this in time, when there’s a public reaction to her appointment of one of the most reviled women in British politics to a very influential government post, which guarantees that even more preventable harm will be created by this dangerous right-wing Conservative government.
Attempting to demonstrate her authority as PM, and disregarding the ever growing list of 40+ MPs who still really want her removed as leader, this week was the long-awaited Cabinet reshuffle. Theresa May didn’t have a lot of choice given that some Ministers refused to move, some resigned, and some were never under consideration, but, when it comes to kicking people when they’re down, the biggest catastrophe of the reshuffle is the appointment of Esther McVey MP as yet another Secretary of State for Work and Pensions. McVey is the fifth person to be appointed to the top job at the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) in the last two years. Clearly they don’t tend to stay long.
This is not the first time McVey has been at the DWP. The last time she was a Minister in that department of state – in various roles – was from September 2012 to March 2015. She worked with Iain Duncan Smith (IDS), a previous Secretary of State for the Coalition government, who almost single handedly transformed the wellbeing of several million people in the UK by his relentless demonising of the chronically ill and disabled claimants of social security, identifying them as ‘scroungers’, when he had no evidence for such a claim. Aided by the vicious right-wing tabloid press, prosecuted disability hate crimes increased by 213% when IDS was in office, and it didn’t occur to him to show concern.
However, McVey was the real power behind the throne. She failed to hide her delight when, with one policy after another, she introduced social security policies that were always destined to kill many of those who were too ill to work, and many more chronically sick and disabled people lived in fear. Savage policy after policy had negative implications for chronically sick and disabled people, added to the constant threat of sanctions which meant that the deaths started climbing, but McVey appeared oblivious to this human suffering.
One of her most memorable speeches was in 2013, when she declared that people being forced to access food banks was “…positive; people are reaching out to support others in church groups, community groups, local supermarkets and other groups.” This is the return of a 19th century vision of concern for the poor and disadvantaged that many of us thought had been banished for good, but clearly not. And, incidentally, McVey also thought it was a good idea to close the Remploy factories, thus guaranteeing that 875 disabled workers lost their jobs.
In December 2012, McVey actually boasted that when Disability Living Allowance (DLA) was replaced by Personal Independence Payments (PIP), more than 300,000 people would have their benefits cut or removed altogether, which she felt was a good thing. Of course, the ramifications of these savage attacks against chronically ill and disabled people also meant that with the loss of DLA, and the failure to qualify for PIP, chronically ill and disabled people would also lose access to their Motability vehicle, many of which had been specially adapted for the driver when a previous British government didn’t begrudge helping support disabled people get to work, or just enjoy their independence.
During her time at the DWP, McVey introduced sanctions for social security claimants despite various official reports warning they would cause harm and, in 2015, the DWP admitted that sanctions were linked to suicides yet they were destined to remain as DWP policy; despite academic research which exposed the link between the enforced disability assessments and a decline in public mental health.
Time has moved on. Detailed academic evidence demonstrates that the ongoing welfare reforms and austerity measures have introduced American social security policies into the UK (all planned a long time ago) as successive governments continue the legacy of the UK’s first female Prime Minister to demolish the UK welfare state, regardless of human consequences.
As the new Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, no doubt Esther McVey will continue where her predecessor David Gauke finished. The endless fear of British sick and disabled people who are too ill to work has meant that almost half of all claimants of the Employment and Support Allowance begrudged disability benefit have actually attempted suicide rather than face destitution, yet I guarantee nothing will change. Indeed, based on past practice it’s very likely that the situation for those least able to protest is about to get a whole lot worse now that McVey has again aquired a top job at the DWP.