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Casualties of cuts - and a rotten system
BANKERS AND speculators have been bailed instead of jailed. But for our class, the cruel casualties of this rotten system have been mounting for a decade.
Wally Kennedy, Secretary, Hillingdon Against Cuts
I offer an informal 'surgery' to assist people with pursuing their rights. A very disabled man begged me to visit a 73 year-old neighbour whom he had been trying to look after. The woman had lived without heating, electricity, hot water, fridge or cooker for six years in her council flat.
I saw the appalling conditions and contacted the council. It turned out that the flat above hers had been sold and that subsequent refurbishment by the new owners had cut off her supply. The very proud woman was clearly distressed and had mental health problems. The council's initial response had been, "She has turned off her supply ... she has made a 'lifestyle' choice"!
Such cases of neglect are not uncommon. Housing Welfare Officers no longer exist. The increasing numbers condemned to live in overcrowded, damp and mouldy accommodation are a direct consequence of years of council cutbacks, which will considerably worsen in the coming cuts onslaught.
Benefit tests introduced by New Labour also had a devastating impact on the sick and vulnerable. I have done dozens of appeals to tribunals on behalf of the sick and the dying. One building worker with a serious heart disease, who was awaiting a transplant, was refused benefits. We won the tribunal after a five-month wait. His backdated benefit was eventually paid into his account on the morning of his funeral.
A 63 year-old car mechanic, who was dying from cancer, had his Disability Living Allowance stopped. Again we eventually won the tribunal appeal but he died within months. The list of casualties is growing.
Increasing numbers of people with serious mental health problems, who have to wait up to a year for counselling services, are being found fit for work by the 'medical assessors' of Atos Origin despite the medical evidence of GPs and consultants. Sadly many have tried to take their own lives.
Former service personnel returning to civilian life receive little help. I have dealt with six cases in the past 18 months of former soldiers who have been destroyed by their experiences; many of them are now mentally ill and homeless.
After the Napoleonic Wars there were such levels of homelessness that the government introduced the 1824 Vagrancy Act. I explained to the ex-soldiers that I think we are now witnessing the same processes all over again. They don't want parades; they want medical care, housing and jobs.
Many newly unemployed people will be shocked at the low levels of benefits and support. The realisation that they have been duped for years about the 'benefits paradise' will alter their class and political perspectives.
Public sector unions such as Unison and PCS need to produce joint leaflets, with information for users of council services and benefit claimants. They should also help set up organisations for the unemployed. This will help break down the barriers and prepare the ground for unity in action.
In The Socialist 9 March 2011:
Socialist Party youth and students
International socialist news and analysis
Socialist Party news and analysis
Socialist Party workplace news
Socialist Party feature