Dear George Eustice,
Re – Invitation on behalf of the ‘Conservative Disability Group’ Executive Committee to attend the Third Annual Disability Colloquium to be addressed by Esther McVey, Minister for Disabled People
Thank you very much for this invitation. On reflection I have decided that the most effective way I can serve the interests of people with disabilities is by (1) declining and (2) explaining my reasons for doing so by the device of an ‘open letter’. I hope you will consider this a positive contribution to your forum.
I find the rubric of your gathering – ‘inclusion in society’ – ironic. I imagine you can anticipate why. The Treasury’s economic strategy has been to reduce the deficit by the imposition of ‘austerity measures’. These measures have impacted most significantly on those in low-income households. They have targeted the public sector in general and those in receipt of support via benefits in particular. People with disabilities have been caught up in this pincer movement. Monitoring of the practices of Atos, sponsor of the Paralympics and contracted by your government to conduct ‘work capability assessments’, has been especially illuminating. Openly pursuing an agenda to ‘cut benefits’, even the DWP noted an excess of enthusiasm, with one in five of the Atos decisions reversed on appeal. But the bottom line is that the Treasury is enacting measures ‘excluding’ people with disabilities even as you plan in your colloquium to discuss their ‘inclusion’.
Prone to evidence-based policy as I am, this could be a very long letter. However, I will content myself with three brief and readily substantiated statements as background. The first is that the richest 1,000 people in Britain have seen their wealth increase by £155bn since the ‘global’ financial crisis began. This is more than enough to pay off the entire government deficit of £119bn. So this gives us a general context.
The second is equally uncontroversial: best estimates show that the total tax gap between what is owed and what is collected is about £120bn per annum (approx: £25bn in legal tax avoidance, £70bn in fraudulent tax evasion, and £25bn in late payments). Given these remarkable figures it is ‘odd’ that the tax inspection workforce is currently being reduced and the use of tax havens glossed over.
Third, our best estimate of benefit fraud (£1.2bn annually) is by comparison ‘peanuts’.
You will forgive me for pondering too how many of the Executive Committee of the Conservative Disability Group voted for the Health and Social Care Bill that became law in March of this year. I can think of no better example of policy-based evidence delivering an undemocratic piece of legislation guaranteed to further disadvantage those unlucky enough not to inherit wealth (the principle predictor of ‘material’ success in life) plus, research tells us, sustained health and longevity.
Nineteenth-century pioneers in public health charged those who signed up to policies that led to the premature deaths of vulnerable citizens as ‘murderers’. I would be willing to accept a verdict of manslaughter. People with disabilities cast aside by Atos have died. Many more are facing futures without hope and on the cusp of despair. So while the rich prosper those less fortunate, perhaps people with disabilities above all others, bunker down to subsist.
I decline your kind invitation, in sum, because you and/or your Conservative/Alliance consociates are allowing policy-based evidence to underpin Treasury policies destined to exclude those you are inviting me to help rebrand as included.
I trust this short epistle will inform your deliberations on 13 November and thank you again for requesting my input.
Graham Scambler, Ph.D, AcSS,
Professor of Medical Sociology,
University College London.