The new Work and Pension Secretary Stephen Crabb’s first statement to Parliament confirmed that drastic cuts to disability benefits announced in last week’s budget will now not go ahead.
While this is welcome news in the short-term, it will be of little comfort to the many thousands of disabled people who have already found themselves stripped of vital welfare support. The statement also raises some important unanswered questions.
Iain Duncan Smith has left behind a legacy of regressive and punitive welfare policies. Under his watch as Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, there were changes which will see people lose £30 a week in Employment Support Allowance (ESA); millions of low income families affected by cuts to work allowances under the new Universal Credit; thousands of mostly disabled people affected by the Bedroom Tax; and women born in the 1950s affected by the repeated shifts in the goalposts on their State Pension Age.
The roll-out of Personal Independent Payments (PIP) has consistently failed to meet the UK government’s own targets and delays have caused unnecessary stress to people. The Tories have also failed at every opportunity to sort out the fiasco that is the implementation of Universal Credit. The Tories’ cuts have butchered the very aspect of Universal Credit that might have created work incentives and instead hammered low paid workers.
The appointment of a new Work and Pensions Minister gives us an important opportunity to change and influence welfare decisions in the future, but the Tories must also urgently review their ideological obsession with austerity. I hope that Stephen Crabb will take this opportunity to go back to the drawing board, not just on PIP but on the wider social security reform agenda including cuts to ESA, bedroom tax, and the work allowance.
The most important question that remains is for Chancellor of the Exchequer. Given that he has failed in his bid to seize £4.3 billion from the pockets of disabled people in order to balance the books, can he promise that the axe will not fall elsewhere in the welfare budget and that he will not look to low-income, vulnerable, and disadvantaged individuals to help him meet his targets?
The SNP are committed to working to build a fairer social security system that protects the disabled and the disadvantaged. We have asked the new Work and Pensions Minister to engage with us in order to find a more progressive way forward.
Eilidh Whiteford MP is the SNP spokesperson on Social Justice and Welfare in Westminster