This is the most important, and the closest, election in a generation for claimants.
The Tories are threatening “dramatic” and “life-changing” benefits cuts, while Labour are saying as little about benefits as they possibly can. And neither party is likely to get into power without support from other parties, who have their own views on benefits.
Yet there’s a real lack of information about where each of the parties stand on the issue. And what the options are for voting to protect yourself from savage cuts.
So, now most of the manifestos are online, we’ve decided to bring out ‘election special’ newsletters in the weeks between our usual fortnightly mailouts. The aim is to help you decide whether to vote – we hope you do – and who to vote for.
You’ll hear from us once a week until 7 May. But as soon as the election is over we’ll go back to our normal, once a fortnight schedule.
And please remember that the deadline for registering to vote is 20 April.
You can register to vote here.
CONSERVATIVES AND CLAIMANTS
The Conservative manifesto published yesterday gave no more clues as to how £10 billion of the planned £12 billion benefits cuts will be made. We still only know for sure that £2 billion will be saved by freezing working age benefits.
We have already published leaked details of cuts we know the Tories are considering, such as taxing DLA and PIP, abolishing contribution-based ESA and JSA and cutting the number of people getting carer’s allowance by 40%.
But the Conservatives have now made a number of new, unfunded promises, such as an additional £8 billion a year for the NHS. These could amount to £21 billion in extra costs.
So, there is now a real possibility that the Tories will have to make even harsher cuts to benefits to help fund these new promises.
The message is still very clear: the Conservatives are sick and disabled claimants worst electoral nightmare.
LABOUR AND CLAIMANTS
As we said when it was published on Monday, the Labour manifesto offers little comfort to claimants.
There was an undertaking to abolish the bedroom tax and review the work capability assessment.
But there was no mention of, for example, food banks, sanctions or saving the Independent Living Fund. These are all subjects on which even the right wing press occasionally publishes pro-claimant articles.
However, Labour only need to save £7 billion– or possibly much less – to meet the fiscal targets they have set themselves. And they claim most of these will be met by tax rises.
So, the likelihood of Labour making cuts to benefits on the scale of the Tories is very slim indeed.
For many people, although they may despise what Labour did to sick and disabled claimants during their time in office, Labour remain very much the lesser of two evils at this election.
LIBERAL DEMOCRATS AND CLAIMANTS
The Lib Dems have some pro-claimant commitments in their manifesto, published today. They say they willl:
- introduce a ‘yellow card’ warning system for sanctions
- review the Work Capability Assessment and Personal Independence Payment assessments
- Simplify and streamline back-to-work support for people with disabilities, mental or physical health problems
- Only impose the bedroom tax on tenants who have refused an offer of alternative accommodation.
But the Lib Dems are also promising £3 billion in benefits cuts, including a 1% freeze in working age benefits uprating until 2017/18. However, they say that they will not go into a coalition with the Tories if they stick to their £12 billion cuts plan.
So a future Tory/Lib Dem coalition would require some haggling by the Lib Dems to get Tory benefits cuts reduced and replaced in part by tax rises.
The Lib Dems have also said they would consider going into coalition with Labour rather than the Tories, but only if Labour is much clearer about what its fiscal targets are and when and how it will meet them. This may mean that the Lib Dems would insist on benefits cuts in the low billions as the price of supporting Labour.
Whether Labour would need, or accept, the support of the Lib Dems may depend on how many seats the SNP win.
But a coalition that included Labour and the Lib Dems would still be a less awful outcome than an outright Conservative victory, from most claimants point of view.
So, in seats where only the Tories or the Lib Dems can win, this may be sufficient reason for claimants to vote tactically for the Lib Dems.
UKIP AND CLAIMANTS
The UKIP manifesto published today contains policies which will appeal to many claimants, but also fully endorses George Osborne’s economic plans for the next parliament, which include £12 billion in cuts to benefits.
UKIP’s manifesto includes a number of pro-claimant policies, such as pledges to:
- scrap the bedroom tax
- end ‘unfair ATOS-style Work Capability Assessments and return assessments to GPs or appropriate specialist consultants’
- increase carer’s allowance from £62.10 a week £73.10 a week, in line with JSA
- continue to pay housing benefit to young people under the age of 25
However, the manifesto also supports ‘a lower cap on benefits’ and ‘limiting child benefit to two children for new claimants’.
Most alarmingly of all , the manifesto also says very clearly that UKIP support George Osborne’s fiscal plans:
“While this current Treasury plan is a reasonable target, there is little public faith it will be achieved, coming as is [sic] does in the wake of previous failure. UKIP MPs in the next parliament will make sure the Treasury sticks to this latest plan, with no backsliding.”
So, at this point, as far as sick and disabled claimants are concerned, a vote for UKIP looks like being a vote for £12 billion in benefits cuts. Certainly, Farage is not saying that the £12 billion in benefit cuts would be a deal breaker for a Tory/UKIP coalition.
You can download the UKIP manifesto here
SNP AND CLAIMANTS
The SNP have called for an end to the bedroom tax. They also want universal credit and personal independence payment roll out to stop in Scotland, until they take control of welfare spending and can make decisions on the future.
If the polls are anywhere near correct then the SNP are set to be the third largest party at Westminster. There are undoubtedly many claimants who would be very happy to see a large group of SNP MPs supporting a Labour led government and possibly making it a little more claimant friendly.
So, in Scotland, at least, claimants have a choice about who they would prefer to vote for to keep the Conservatives out.
OTHER PARTIES AND CLAIMANTS
Plaid Cymru and the Greens appear to be far more pro-claimant than the Labour party. If you live in a seat where they have a real chance of victory then they may well be an attractive option.
The fear that many posters on the Benefits and Work site have expressed is that a vote for the Greens, or any small left of centre party, could end up splitting the Labour vote and letting the Conservatives in.
HEAD OR HEART?
In the end, it probably comes down to the arithmetic in your constituency. If the outcome is already certain – as it is in most seats – then there’s nothing to stop you voting with your heart for the party that best represents your views.
If you live in one of the 150 or so more marginal constituencies, then your fellow claimants will be praying you turn out to vote – and vote for the party most likely to save them from the Tories.
WHERE TO FIND OUT MORE
To get the latest polling information about what is happening in your constituency, try sites like the New statesman election site.
You can find out what’s happening in the key marginal from the Lord Ashcroft site.
And you can discover how many working age claimants there are in your constituency from the DWP website and decide whether you want to try to encourage more of them to vote.
Remember, in many marginal constituencies, as few as 5-10% of working age claimants could decide the outcome.
So, if you don’t want the Tories to change it ‘dramatically’, choose a candidate and vote for your life.
Benefits and Work Publishing Ltd
Company registration No. 5962666
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