People choose to be poor and disabled – this is the logic behind the Tories' £12bn of welfare cuts

The idea that benefit claimants can be scared or starved out of poverty is a complete myth

Siobhan Fenton
Tuesday 23 June 2015 14:53 BST
Iain Duncan Smith was Work and Pensions Secretary for almost six years
Iain Duncan Smith was Work and Pensions Secretary for almost six years

We’ve known since May that welfare cuts under the Conservative government would be brutal, but it wasn’t until the weekend that we found out just how bad they're going to be.

It’s now been revealed that £12bn worth of welfare cuts will be included in next month’s budget, with even more rolled out in the autumn spending review.

Such cuts are based on nothing more than the Tory myth that poverty is a choice which people can be scared or starved out of. Osborne’s logic appears to be that if the Tories make life for poor people insufferable, they will simply choose to be well-off. As such, poverty is a lifestyle choice or a moral failing.

By framing the issue in this way, the Conservatives have narrowed the conversation, and hope people won’t be able to see the wider structural inequalities and economic failings, for which they are responsible.

But in reality, the reason why there are teenagers who will leave school this year and sign on for Jobseekers’ Allowance – rather going up to Oxford University like David Cameron and George Osborne – isn't because of choices they made as individuals. They didn't choose to be born into a family who could not send them to Eton or St Pauls, nor did they choose to be born into the most savage economic climate in living memory.

Nor does anyone "choose" to be disabled. Or to belong to a social class, gender or ethnic group which has been economically oppressed for centuries by the establishment.

Nor do unemployed people choose to not be in jobs which simply do not exist.

'Just last week, it emerged that Iain Duncan Smith is refusing to reveal how many people have died after having their benefits stopped'

Being further deprived of their right to live with basic dignity will not mean that people on welfare will simply decide to become employed or non-disabled. Rather, these welfare cuts will serve to test, punish and degrade them further. Under existing cuts to welfare, there have been reports of welfare claimants, disabled and unemployed, who have died after being sanctioned.

In July of last year, diabetic David Clapson was found dead with just £3.44 in his bank account, without food, electricity or essential medicine in his home after his benefits were stopped.

Just last week, it emerged that Iain Duncan Smith is refusing to reveal how many people have died after having their benefits stopped, despite the Information Commissioner telling him there was no justification for his refusal. Quite why he would seek to block the figures being public is tragically transparent and represents the real cost of welfare cuts.

For many on welfare, already stretched to their limits by current cuts, the only "choice" posed by £12bn welfare cuts is the choice between poverty and death. That’s not a choice which they themselves get to make, but a decision that has just been made by their Tory Government, and something that those on welfare will just have to live, or die, with.

The logic of such brutal welfare cuts reminds me of a trick which farmers used in my village when I was growing up in the Irish countryside. To force a fox out of a fox hole, they set fire to something and drop it down the hole. As the tunnel fills up with fumes and licks of flame, the fox has two "choices": to stay and burn to death, or rush out of the tunnel to the awaiting farmer’s pitchfork.

Similarly, this £12bn in cuts is simply dropping fire into the welfare fox hole and waiting for people to rush out of poverty and unemployment. But for many of the most vulnerable in our society, there simply isn’t anywhere to run to.

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