“Dramatic” and “life-changing” benefits cuts will be imposed if the Tories are running the country after 7 May, Iain Duncan Smith has warned.
They could include taxing DLA, PIP and AA, axeing contribution-based ESA and JSA, cutting the work-related activity component of ESA to 50p, cutting carers allowance numbers by 40%, and making people pay the first 10% of their housing benefit.
For many, these will be life-threatening cuts, rather than life-changing ones.
But claimants are in a position to prevent them happening.
And it won’t take a miracle.
In fact, just an additional 5% turnout by working age claimants could have a dramatic and life-changing effect on IDS and his plans instead.
But a higher turnout won’t happen by itself. Labour are too frightened of the tabloids to try to rally claimants. Many of the major charities and disability organisations have been scared into silence by the Lobbying Act. And the media has little interest in benefits cuts, other than to applaud them as a good thing.
So it looks like it’s up to ordinary claimants to make sure as many other claimants as possible understand the threat they are facing.
IDS told Andrew Marr last week he didn’t become a minister to make “cheese-paring” cuts. Instead he has ‘dramatic’ and ‘life-changing’ plans for claimants.
And the tool for those dramatic changes is £12 billion of cuts to benefits in the space of just two years.
So far, we only know where £2 billion of the cuts will come from – a freeze on working age benefits. But the Conservatives are refusing to say where the other savings will be made.
A document leaked to the BBC, however, set out some of the cuts the Conservative party are considering, including:
- Taxing DLA, PIP and AA.
- Abolishing contribution based ESA and JSA entirely, so that only claimants who pass a means test can claim these benefits.
- Cutting the number of people getting carer’s allowance by 40%.
- Limiting child benefit to the first two children.
There are other proposed cuts too, including replacing industrial injuries benefits with an insurance policy for employers, regional benefit caps and changes to council tax.
Not enough cuts
But all of this will still not be enough.
According to the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS):
“If all of these were implemented, the total saving would be likely to fall well short of the missing £10 billion per year that the Conservatives intend to find by 2017–18”
So, what else might be in the firing line?
Housing benefit and ESA cuts
We know that pensioners benefits are protected. And JSA costs such a tiny amount compared to other benefits that further cuts there would make little difference.
Cuts to housing benefit are one possibility that the IFS have highlighted, however, as this makes up a large and growing proportion of the benefits bill.
The IFS have estimated that making everyone pay the first 10% of their housing benefit would save £2.5 billion over two years.
Another extremely strong contender is to cut the work-related activity component (WRAC) of ESA to just 50 pence.
We know that the Conservatives are keen to slash the WRAC, because they’ve considered doing it before.
Cutting the WRAC wouldn’t save huge amounts, probably less than £1 billion a year.
But combined with cuts to housing benefit and all the other cuts listed above, it would probably be enough.
What you can do
Is this all nothing more than unnecessarily distressing speculation? After all, we don’t know what cuts will be made until – and unless – the Tories are elected.
But by then it will be too late. As Andrew Marr said in his interview with IDS, if the Conservatives won’t tell us which benefits will be cut, sick and disabled claimants will have to expect the worst:
“What I’m saying to you is if I was on welfare, if I was on disability benefit and I was told that you were taking £12 billion out of the budget, I would really need to know before I voted was I going to be hit. Or if I didn’t know that, I’d have to be assume that I was going to be hit.”
IDS, Osborne and Cameron have all now said no details of the cuts will be given before the election. So there’s no time to lose.
Clearly, the most important thing is to make sure you are registered to vote and then actually vote for a candidate who can keep the Tories out, if that’s possible, in your constituency.
But there’s more.
Above all, alert other claimants and carers to the dramatic threat they face – because many people still have no idea how huge £12 billion in cuts in two years really is.
And then try to persuade them that voting isn’t a waste of time. Because it is no longer true that all the parties are the same.
Here at Benefits and Work we have no trust for either of the major parties. But Labour, unpleasant as they undoubtedly are, don’t drool at the thought of cutting welfare in the way that the Tories do.
And the £7 billion savings Labour say they plan to make are very much smaller than the Conservative cuts. Even if every single pound Labour saved was from cutting benefits, instead of from other measures such as raising taxes from the wealthy, it would still amount to just over half the benefits cuts the Tories have guaranteed.
Not that it has to be Labour that claimants turn to. There are other parties – most notably the SNP - which have a real chance to win seats in some areas of the UK and who don’t support big cuts to benefits.
Read our suggestions on how to fight back, possibly add your own and then make a start. Talk to people, contact your local paper, tweet, comment and write letters.
You can make a difference
And don’t imagine that your voice can’t make a difference.
This is a very close election so far.
There will be many seats where the winner’s majority is in the low hundreds, some where it will be less than a hundred. Even a 5% additional turnout by working age claimants – amounting to perhaps 400 voters in many constituencies - could make the difference between Labour and the Conservatives being the largest party.
If you can convince a handful of people to vote and to talk to other claimants, you could genuinely help to change the course of this election.
Remember, you’re not trying to persuade hard-faced, right wing tabloid readers that cutting benefits is wrong. That undoubtedly would be a waste of time.
You’re talking to people who already know how painful the Coalition benefits cuts have been - because they’ve been hit by them.
You just have to persuade them that it’s not time to despair.
It’s time to fight back.
It’s time to vote for your life.