The Observer view on the government’s punitive and repugnant benefits policy: 'From #immigration to #disability, the Conservatives have sought to draw a line between the deserving and undeserving' The Observer Sun 29 Apr 2018 - 'It was almost two years ago that Theresa May promised, in her first speech as prime minister, to fight against the burning injustices people face as a result of poverty, race or living with a disability. But with every week that passes, it becomes clearer that her political strategy hinges on the exact antithesis of that pledge.
'Lacking a positive vision or plan, this is a government whose agenda is defined not by finding solutions, but scapegoats.
'From immigration to disability to support for low-income families, the government has sought to draw a stark distinction between the deserving and undeserving.
'It has adopted a classic formula for addressing public concerns about issues such as immigration and housing.
'Create a series of bogeymen: the person faking a disability in order to sit at home all day; the NHS tourist who comes here for the free healthcare and never leaves; the single mother who has several children purely for the extra cash she gets in benefits.
'Through nods, winks and dog whistles, it’s made clear that it is they – not the government’s lack of investment following the financial crisis – who are to blame for the benefits bill, the burdens on the NHS, the lack of school places and the housing crisis.
'The nation’s problems are the product of people sponging off the system. Once politicians have constructed this analysis, the answer is simple: design a punitive system to catch the wretched freeloaders out.
'The problem is that these scapegoats are imaginary, at least at the scale the government would have us believe. NHS “health tourism” costs just 0.3% of the NHS budget; the real reason the NHS is creaking is years of underinvestment. The housing affordability crisis is a result of decades of insufficient levels of housebuilding and undertaxation of property, not immigration. Benefit fraud amounts to a tiny fraction of the revenue the government loses through tax evasion each year.
'And by gearing a system around catching people out, the government hurts those “ordinary” families whom it has pledged to protect. The Windrush scandal is only the latest exposure of the human cost of scapegoating. As a result of the government’s “hostile environment”, aimed at driving undocumented migrants to leave Britain, people born in the Commonwealth who have lived, worked and paid taxes in Britain for decades have found themselves being denied healthcare, the right to work or to rent a home – and have even been detained and threatened with deportation.
'These injustices, many of which have been raised repeatedly and effectively by the Labour opposition, can be found right across the state.
'People with long-term disabilities, forced to undergo reassessments of their capacity to work, have found themselves denied benefits for weeks, even months, as a result of a shambolic assessment system in which people with Down’s syndrome have been asked how they “caught it”.
'A staggering two-thirds of appeals against these decisions are successful.
'People who have lost their jobs in the wake of their financial crisis have their benefits sanctioned, pushing them into debt spirals, for the cruellest of reasons, such as missing appointments in order to attend the birth of their stillborn child or their best friend’s funeral. Women with more than two children cannot claim tax credits unless they declare that their third child was born as a result of rape.
'The results are all-too predictable. As this government has loaded the burden of austerity on to low-income families and people with disabilities, while cutting taxes for the better-off, child poverty rates are predicted to rise to their highest level since records began in the next five years, while food bank use is soaring.
'Half of households in Britain are net beneficiaries of the state. When the government tries to crack down on the imaginary army of freeloaders, it hurts countless families and causes immeasurable human suffering.
'In 2002, as party chairwoman, Theresa May told the Conservatives that they were seen as the “nasty party”. Sixteen years later and under her premiership, that description has never felt more apt.'