Monday, 28 March 2016

The mask has slipped

This column was published in the Llanelli Herald on March 25th 2016

Graeme Ellis was a disability activist, with a difference. He was a Conservative supporter.

A lifelong Tory voter, Mr Ellis was an active member of the Conservative Disability Group and ran its website.  On Budget day he sabotaged the website and resigned from the Conservative party.

The tipping point was the Chancellor’s announcement of cuts in disability benefits at the same time as cutting tax for high earners.

Actually, that’s the same reason Iain Duncan Smith gave for resigning as Work and Pensions Secretary. But Graeme Ellis isn’t convinced IDS meant it. “I read his resignation letter. I can’t believe he is sincere,” Ellis said. “He has had ample opportunity to speak out, but he has voted for cut after cut after cut after cut. Has he just now developed a conscience?”.

It is hard to square the fact that he upset at the latest cut on the disabled but was just fine with the rise in food banks, the huge rise in homelessness, the suicides of those being sanctioned, the disabled suffering because of bedroom tax, the end of the Educational Maintenance Allowance for kids from low-income families (In England - Labour have kept it in Wales), and the systematic attack on the financial position of single parents, predominantly women and children.

Iain Duncan Smith blames the Welfare Cap for the planned cut. That’s ironic because the policy of limiting the overall amount of money we spend on ‘welfare’ was designed to embarrass Labour in the run-up to the General Election and present them as the party who stood up for ‘scroungers’. And now it has bitten George Osborne back.

The majority of the amount we spend on ‘welfare’ is in fact spent on pensions and the Tories don’t want to do anything to upset some of their solid supporters, so all the savings instead come from people who are the least able to speak out.

Because the economy isn’t growing like they said it would, the Tories have to keep cutting to meet their own unnecessary austerity targets. Having had to abandon their disability cuts they now face finding £4.4bn but now don’t know where from. You can be sure it won’t be from millionaires.

Despite the spin, many of the cuts to the vulnerable are going ahead, including the £30 weekly reduction in employment support allowance (ESA). It will have catastrophic consequences.

Graeme Ellis is disgusted with his former party. He’s joining Labour to help bring about change.

Lee Waters is Welsh Labour’s Assembly candidate for Llanelli

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