McMillan Asks First Minister About Cruel Disability Cuts
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has today said that the Scottish Government is “fundamentally opposed” to the cuts to Personal Independence Payments announced by George Osborne yesterday.
Responding to a question from Stuart McMillan on the impact of the UK budget on Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon said that around 40,000 disabled people in Scotland would be affected and around two-thirds will see their income cut by almost £3,000 per year.
Despite significant cuts to disability benefits, the OBR is sceptical over George Osborne’s budget plans and the IFS believe that the Chancellor has only a 50 per cent chance of meeting his own surplus target. Opposition to his plan has also been voiced by around 20 Tory MPs who have written to him expressing concern about the proposed cut to disability benefits.
Commenting, SNP MSP Stuart McMillan said:
“Once again George Osborne has produced a budget with tax cuts for the rich and austerity for all, hoping that he could add just enough sweetener to hide the cuts.
“People won’t be so easily fooled: this is a cruel Tory budget that will cut £130m each year from the incomes of 40,000 disabled people in Scotland, simply to meet the Chancellor’s ideologically driven austerity targets.
“Not only are the OBR sceptical about his budget, the IFS say that there’s only a fifty per cent chance that he’ll actually meet his own surplus target – even his own backbenchers are now in open revolt over disability benefit cuts.
“These cuts are callous and unnecessary from a savage Chancellor. George Osborne has shown before that he is not averse to a welfare u-turn, he must do so again and scrap his plans to change disability benefit eligibility.”
Iain Duncan Smith resigns over disability benefit cuts
Iain Duncan Smith has said he is resigning as Work and Pensions Secretary, complaining of Treasury pressure to make cuts to benefits.
Sometimes, you just don’t know what to say.
Other than the obvious.
You know, it’s strange. Back in 2009, Iain Duncan Smith was hailed as exemplifying “a radical new form of conservatism.” His visits to Easterhouse were heralded as proof that the Tories were starting to listen to the working people again; his criticisms of Thatcher and Blair held up the charge of a very different party under Cameron’s rule. You’d think people would learn.
It seems strange to think that the Chancellor would make cuts so deep, so merciless, so exsanguinating, that if even Iain Duncan Smith says they go too far, you must be doing something wrong. After all, this is the man who is possibly responsible for more deaths by criminal negligence & dereliction of human decency in the UK than the Tainted Blood Scandal. Has IDS finally realised his folly? Has he undertaken a Damascene conversion that would match Saul of Tarsus himself? Will he now renounce his old ways and begin a life of evangelism and poverty, spreading the Word while beset by shipwrecks and stonings and near-deaths?
I can’t stop laughing, even though this isn’t remotely funny. IDS already underwent his conversion. Everything he’s done since 2010 has been his evangelism. He truly believes he is doing God’s work. The man compared himself to Wilberforce, for crying out loud. It’s one of those rare times I truly wish a politician was lying.
Here’s Iain Duncan Smith’s resignation letter. I am striving mightily to resist the urge to boak.
I am incredibly proud of the welfare reforms that the Government has delivered over the last five years. Those reforms have helped to generate record rates of employment and in particular a substantial reduction in workless households.
… I’m not going to make it.
So, for the avoidance of doubt, IDS is incredibly proud of his welfare reforms. He genuinely believes they’ve been good for the UK, and indeed for the people of the UK.
As you know, the advancement of social justice was my driving reason for becoming part of your ministerial team and I continue to be grateful to you for giving me the opportunity to serve
Oh no, I’m really not going to make it.
That’s right, the advancement of social justice. This, from the man who is so clueless about anyone poorer than a millionaire that he thinks an annual salary of £2,756 is a perfectly reasonable living wage. This, from the man who lives rent-free in a £2 million country house with no less than four extra bedrooms. This, from a man who married into money. This man dares to talk of social justice.
I truly believe that we have made changes that will greatly improve the life chances of the most disadvantaged people in this country and increase their opportunities to thrive. A nation’s commitment to the least advantaged should include the provision of a generous safety-net but it should also include incentive structures and practical assistance programmes to help them live independently of the state. Together, we’ve made enormous strides towards building a system of social security that gets the balance right between state-help and self-help.
Again, the man who said: “Work is actually a health treatment in a sense. Those who are in work tend to be better and those who are out of work, on sickness benefit, tend to get their conditions worse.”
Throughout these years, because of the perilous public finances we inherited from the last Labour administration, difficult cuts have been necessary. I have found some of these cuts easier to justify than others but aware of the economic situation and determined to be a team player I have accepted their necessity.
If in doubt, blame the previous administration. Even though the current government has now run up more debt than every Labour administration combined.
You are aware that I believe the cuts would have been even fairer to younger families and people of working age if we had been willing to reduce some of the benefits given to better-off pensioners but I have attempted to work within the constraints that you and the Chancellor set.
And here we get to the heart of Iain Duncan Smith’s grotesque interpretation of “fairness”: our cuts would have been fairer if other people were punished too. Not “our cuts would have been fairer if they were less severe,” or “if they were balanced by tax breaks or other financial levers.” The cuts, he says, were fair, and would have been fairer, if other people suffered.
This is a cruel twist on the old “crabs in a pot” metaphor: the idea that crabs could individually escape from a boiling pot of water, but end up dooming themselves as they drag each other down in the scramble. Only here, the Tory crabs aren’t in the pot at all: they’re nice and cool in the aquarium, only emerging to occasionally push any crabs that look like they could escape back into the frothing agony.
The following paragraph is the most significant in the letter:
I have for some time and rather reluctantly come to believe that the latest changes to benefits to the disabled and the context in which they’ve been made are, a compromise too far. While they are defensible in narrow terms, given the continuing deficit, they are not defensible in the way they were placed within a Budget that benefits higher earning taxpayers. They should have instead been part of a wider process to engage others in finding the best way to better focus resources on those most in need.
“While they are defensible in narrow terms… they are not defensible in the way they were placed.” IDS is not saying that the cuts are too severe – he is saying that they were placed in the wrong context, i.e. that putting cuts to the needy in the same budget that includes tax breaks for high earners is “a compromise too far.” In other words, it utterly betrays the party’s insistence that Austerity is a necessity – for how can they possibly justify making cuts in some areas and tax breaks in others, when the country is meant to be “all in this together”? It isn’t about principle, it’s about public perception. IDS is more concerned about looking bad than being bad.
Again: Iain Duncan Smith does not condemn the cuts. He just condemns the Chancellor’s utterly boneheaded decision to lay the Austerity lie bare in the unforgiving light of day.
I am unable to watch passively whilst certain policies are enacted in order to meet the fiscal self-imposed restraints that I believe are more and more perceived as distinctly political rather than in the national economic interest. Too often my team and I have been pressured in the immediate run up to a budget or fiscal event to deliver yet more reductions to the working age benefit bill. There has been too much emphasis on money saving exercises and not enough awareness from the Treasury, in particular, that the government’s vision of a new welfare-to-work system could not be repeatedly salami-sliced.
Again, what might be interpreted as a concern that the cuts are too severe is nothing of the sort. IDS worries that the fiscal self-imposed restraints are only “more and more perceived” as political rather than economic – he never acknowledges the truth, if he actually believes it. He talks of his team and himself being “pressured” to deliver reductions – not that the cuts are devastating and unjust. He speaks of the Treasury’s preoccupation with money-saving and not that the government’s vision couldn’t be salami-sliced – blaming the Treasury when he himself must shoulder the burden of embarassing and ruinous incompetence.
It is therefore with enormous regret that I have decided to resign. You should be very proud of what this government has done on deficit reduction, corporate competitiveness, education reforms and devolution of power. I hope as the government goes forward you can look again, however, at the balance of the cuts you have insisted upon and wonder if enough has been done to ensure “we are all in this together”.
If there were any lingering thoughts the the scales had finally fallen from IDS’ eyes, then this should surely snuff them out. This government has failed to reduce the deficit. This government saw the UK fall from 9th to 10th place in global competitiveness. This government has utterly wrecked the education system of England & Wales. This government has done more to further the cause of Scottish independence following a referendum than anyone could have dreamt. For IDS to assure the Chancellor of his success in those areas is to show that he is either a craven liar, or he is utterly deluded. I can believe either could be true.
Yet, as ever, the failures of Iain Duncan Smith are not his alone – he was, after all, once the leader of his party. The UK government has utterly failed, which is one reason why support for Scottish independence continue to rise despite the monumental opposition in our path. Even after winning a majority in an election predicted by nearly all to be a hung parliament, even after “winning” the independence referendum, even after utterly routing their junior coalition partners, and even with a supposed opposition more interested in tearing itself apart than standing against the government… they continue to fail. And we’re stuck with them… for now.
One of the few victories of the Scotland Bill was the partial devolution of some Welfare powers. While the SNP pushed to have welfare devolved in its entirety, it was rejected out of hand – can’t expect the Scots to possibly be able to handle social security. Most significant was the Department of Work & Pension’s role in the Smith Commission and subsequent Scotland Bill discussions: the full extent of their role to be kept secret, the Secretary of State for Scotland could have vetoed any Scottish government decision on areas like welfare, and IDS himself tried to fool Scots into thinking Holyrood didn’t need welfare powers to be devolved anyway.
Yet even the powers to create additional benefits is more than we had before. The more powers we take, the closer independence becomes. We deserve a government which will refuse to punish the poor in the name of balancing the books – no, you balance the people before you think of the books. What good is deficit reduction when your people are dying in their droves? What’s the point in hounding “benefits cheats” when you lose more money through mismanagement and waste, let alone unclaimed benefits? Scots did not vote for IDS or his party: they voted for a party who would look after the vulnerable, not one that would play morality games with their lives.
It is difficult to think of a more powerful example of why Scots should have control over their own affairs than of Iain Duncan Smith’s miserable tenure as Secretary of State for Work & Pensions. Incompetent, reckless, illogical, and immoral, he has wasted money in the pursuit of saving costs, wasted time in the name of efficiency, and lost lives in the pursuit of enriching them. We have seen the spread of food banks orders of magnitude greater than any point in recent history. The Red Cross have been delivering food packages for the first time since the Second World War. And the people who need the government the most are suffering. All because of a man whose record was already marred by incompetence and utter failure.
His constituents deserve better. The people of the UK deserve better. And the people of Scotland deserve better.
I don’t want to end on a dark note, no matter the sobriety of the subject. I certainly don’t want to end the article with him. Even with the bleakness of the situation, there is always hope.
I have suffered personally from IDS’s reforms. I cannot count the number of friends, family and acquaintances who have suffered – continue to suffer. I’m lucky: I have an incredible network of support who will not hesitate to help me if I’m ever in need. I have not had to choose between heating and eating. I have not had to tell my children sitting down for dinner “I’ll eat later, darling,” knowing that I wouldn’t eat at all. I haven’t had to endure the stigma and shame of turning to a foodbank, misplaced as those feelings are. I cannot say the same for some of the people I know.
Stuart McMillan assisting in collections for Inverclyde Food Bank at the Port Glasgow Tesco
As an MSP of nine years, Stuart McMillan has encountered all sorts of groups, charities, projects, and initiatives. He has facilitated those groups in their connections with Holyrood, and with each other. He has done what many politicians have – collected for foodbanks, donated to charity, helped at functions – but he has brought real change in Holyrood:
Stuart McMillan, who represents the West of Scotland, said it was “scandalous” that retail giants were dumping perfectly edible products at a time when increasing numbers are using foodbanks.In a letter to cabinet secretary for Rural Affairs, Food and Environment Richard Lochhead, he also pointed out that reducing food wastage would help improve the environment.The French Government has forced supermarkets to donate food to charities or for use as animal feed rather than throw it away, with the legislation passed unanimously by the country’s national assembly. Heavy fines or even a jail sentence of up to two years can be imposed if rules are not followed.Mr McMillan said: “I have watched the legislation recently passed in France with interest, and I believe introducing such a law in Scotland would be a massive step in helping cut down on this wastage, while also helping Scotland become a greener nation.“It is important to add that not all supermarkets fall into this category, many are very active in donating unused food and should be congratulated for doing so. However, I think the time has come for those who are not to be forced to do so. I hope the Scottish Government take this idea forward and give it the serious consideration it deserves.”The Scottish Retail Consortium, however, described the idea of adopting the French proposal as a “distraction from the bigger targets of food waste reduction” and said many businesses give away food on a voluntary basis.A spokeswoman for the Scottish Government said it supported the UK-wide voluntary Courtauld Commitment in which grocery retailers and brands agree to reduce food and packaging waste.She added: “The commitment recognises that the majority of food waste occurs during production and in the home, rather than at point of retail, and commits signatories to take action in the supply chain and support customers in reducing food waste.”
(The Scottish Retail Consortium can gang bile thair heids, by the by, as can Glasgow City Council)
The next month, Tesco launched a new scheme to donate unsold food to charity. Only a few months later, Morrisons announced that it would donate unwanted food to charity – not just in Scotland, but the whole UK. While it might be a smidgen cheeky to credit the two supermarket giants’ decision to Stuart’s motion, it certainly vindicates him, and reflects the mood of the nation.
You could argue that this could be counterproductive, and further entrench the normalisation of food banks in Scottish welfare culture. I used to think that way. I used to actively avoid donating to food banks, as I didn’t want to justify their existence or legitimise the government which promoted them as a viable solution to hunger. I wanted to change things, reject the reality in favour of new ideas. In the meantime, people were starving. I saw what was happening to people. I’m sure most of the people using food banks felt similarly – worse, for they were in need. All of a sudden, I realised I was no better than the ivory tower intellectuals who sip their champagne as they talk of socialism. These people didn’t need our talk, they needed our help.
LAST week, I led a Members’ debate in Parliament on society’s increasing reliance on foodbanks. My debate was secured with cross party support and a number of those contributed to the debate.
The commitment and the dedication of the volunteers at the Trussell Trust and other organisations which provide emergency food aid cannot be highlighted enough.
However, it’s a sad indictment on today’s society that an ever increasing number of people are relying on foodbanks to feed themselves and their children. In 2011, there was one Trussell Trust foodbank operating in Scotland, by October 2013, this had increased to 42.
Recent figures estimate somewhere in the region of over 55,000 Scots rely on emergency food aid.
In Inverclyde 1,967 vouchers that have been distributed by the foodbank since it started operating in April 2010 and they have fed 2,571 adults and 974 children.
But despite this evidence Westminster has failed to act. It’s not just the coalition government, as we are now in the middle of a dutch auction between the Tories and Labour to see who can cut benefits the most, with Labour stating they will be tougher than the Tories.
The Scottish Government has done what it can to alleviate the worst of the hardships imposed by Westminster but to tackle the root cause of poverty and the rise of foodbanks we need the full powers of a normal, independent nation. With the goal of creating a fairer, more prosperous, Scotland for all.
– Stuart McMillan, Greenock Telegraph, 14th February 2014
Yes, I would love to live in a society without food banks. But we’re not there yet. Until we are, we have to do what we can. We may be striving for a better future, but we can’t leave the present behind.