George Osborne's cruel Autumn Statement will create a winter of discontent for the disabled

The Chancellor has no intention of tackling multinational tax avoiders and the people after whom Mr Osborne is actually going have no cunning tax lawyers to defend them


I doubt this is text book advice on how to handle one of those psychotic jags that affect us every now and again. But in a bid to suppress, or at least postpone, a fantasy involving a baseball bat, various government horrors and indemnity granted by the Queen to mark the happy news, let us begin with the most trivial of the rage-generators on offer today.

Why the hell is the torrent of self-righteous disingenuousness due from the Chancellor’s sneery mouth this afternoon known as “the Autumn Statement”? Does it look like autumn to you? Does it feel like the season of mellow fruitfulness? The trees are leafless, snow covers swathes of the North, and even here in the soft South it is barely above freezing.

This is unforgiving winter just as it is for the economy, and whatever that professional failure of a misrouted Regency fop intones at the Dispatch Box, bleak midwinter it will remain for longer than he can possibly foresee. If this were Groundhog Day, Punsatawney Phil would take one sniff of the breeze and shoot himself through the head with a Magnum .44.

No doubt Mr Osborne will reiterate his Dirty Harry tough talk about “coming after” the multinational tax avoiders, but he might as well tell it to an empty Speaker’s chair. He has no intention of tackling massive concerns with arsenals of cunning tax lawyers to run rings around the Revenue and Customs, and he knows we know it.

The people after whom Mr Osborne and his chums are actually going, being in many cases literally sitting targets, have no defence against having marginally smaller sums reclaimed from them. To save a blisteringly irrelevant fraction of what multinationals avoid in corporation tax by licensing an “intellectual property right” to a subsidiary in Lichtenstein via a shelter company registered in Saturn’s third ring, this Government targets the disabled with a rigour it will never deploy against Starbucks, Google and Amazon.

It does so by paying hundreds of millions to Atos, the French firm contracted to appraise whether the disabled are rapacious scroungers. The imminently defunct Disability Living Allowance starts at £20.55 per week, after all, and for that sort of largesse which of us able-bodied wouldn’t spend years needlessly taking ultra-high dose antidepressants or voluntarily confining ourselves to a wheelchair?

Government by Grinch

Sometimes, a yuletide vignette encapsulates the spirit of a governing class with indecent perfection. A few years ago, the essence of New Labour’s cowardice in the face of tabloid scaremongering about illegal immigrants was bottled by a snapshot of a priest, dressed as Santa and bearing gifts for the traumatised children within, being turned away by a guard from a camp for the soon-to-be dearly deported.

The 2012 Christmas instalment of Government By Grinch is so repugnant that I hope Catherine Cambridge didn’t read it in yesterday’s Independent, what with her morning sickness being bad enough as it is. Geoff Meeghan, a 32-year-old Parkinson’s sufferer, had been summoned for an Atos assessment when the fire alarm went off. “The doctor held the door open for us to come out,” the immobile Mr Meeghan recalled of himself and a support worker, “but then ran down the stairs and left us there. I was worried that flames might come up the stairs or something.”

How exquisitely life imitates art. Back in January, writing about the Government’s intent to save the price of a few fighter jets by scrapping a benefit with a fraud rate of virtually zero, I likened David Cameron to David Brent in The Office episode where he ostentatiously fusses over a disabled colleague. Then the fire drill begins, and faced with having to carry her and her chair down several flights, he scarpers and leaves her marooned on the stairs.

For all the PM’s noble words about defending the most vulnerable, despite his experience (however practically cushioned by wealth) of caring heroically for a desperately disabled son, at the first sound of the economic sirens, I wrote, David Brenteron’s instinct was to save himself and leave them in the stairwell to burn.

 In a memorable South Bank Show long ago, Melvyn Bragg asked Ian Dury if being pitied and patronised was the worst thing about being disabled. No, Dury gently rebuked, the worst thing about being disabled is being disabled. But having Esther McVey as minister for the disabled may be a close second. Interviewed in this newspaper yesterday, Ms McVey unleashed a platitude of hyper-Brentian idiocy to offer a reason to be cheerful to those who have had their benefit removed or cut, or live in mortal terror of it happening. “Do not be fearful,” consoled the former children’s TV presenter. “This could be positive for you.”

Call this 'positive'?

Couldn’t it just? Does it get more positive than being told, by some Atos brute on commission to cut the number of claimants, that Parkinson’s, crippling agrophobia, mestastasized cancer, lifelong polio or any number of disabling conditions no longer qualify you as disabled enough. What could be more positive, after years of employ, than having a chance to expand the horizons in this bounteous jobs market because the Government reckons the £68m saved by shutting Remploy factories worth saving?

In all fairness, you would hardly call that peanuts. In an almost £2 trillion economy, it isn’t even the discarded shell of one peanut. Of the 1,021 redundant Remployees, Ms McVey reported, 63 have found work, while the glad tidings for the remaining 958 is that she tracks their progress “daily”. That must mean the world to them.

Over many years of closely observing British politics, I can remember little as nauseating as a minister blithely informing the heartbroken and impoverished, without a prayer of finding work in our perpetual economic midwinter, to regard the removal of income, purpose and dignity as “positive”. Even Brent, who introduced his promotion at the cost of his staff’s jobs as “good news and bad news”, never reached such a zenith of cretinous insensitivity.

All over this country, people dealt the bummest of hands by genetics, illness and accident are driven to desperation beyond imagining for the price of a few coppers in the Starbucks baristas’ tip box. We know after whom that tough muthah George Osborne is coming, and it shames not only him, but also a Prime Minister who inexplicably betrays an excruciating central experience of his life, condescending halfwits like Esther McVey, and Liberal Democrat quislings who collude by craven word or embarrassed silence in this rank obscenity. It shames every one of us with functioning legs, arms and minds who doesn’t use them to march on Westminster swinging a baseball bat with intent.

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