April 1st – when the cuts bite

April 1st, 2013

Today is a seminal day for the Tory-led government. It is today that the true extent of the cuts will become apparent to people. Many Labour activists have rightly focused on the scandal that is the ‘bedroom tax’. However, this is just part of a package of cuts that has come into effect as Polly Tonybee pointed out in the Guardian last week.

The bedroom tax means that many individuals and families are going to face being ejected from their homes by the rising costs. These are the same people who will have been struggling with the failure of Osborne and the Tories to restore the country to economic growth. Osborne’s mishandling of the economy means ordinary people are facing stagnating wages and rising living costs. The farcical nature of this change is underlined by the fact that some 660,000 tenants with a spare room cannot find smaller properties to move to.

In an effort to cut the legal aid budget by £350 million, the number of cases eligible for legal aid is going to be dramatically reduced. Some of the cases that will no longer qualify including family disputes (unless domestic violence is alleged), personal injury and most employment cases including recovery of unpaid wages. This means that legal redress will not be available for those who need it most. This risks creating a situation where justice will only be available for the people with the money to pay for legal representation. While the cuts may temporarily look good on the government’s balance sheet it is done at the risk of children caught up in residency disputes and other matters central to peoples’ lives.

One route that used to be open to people without money to pay for lawyers in civil claims used to be ‘no win, no fee’ arrangements. These are also subject to change from today and do not exist in the form they did before 1 April. It remains to be seen what funding arrangements will be offered in practice to those with limited funds. Without the traditional ‘no win no fee’ agreements access to justice could be severely compromised.

If you are not affected by these cuts, then perhaps you will be by the move from Disability Living Allowance (‘DLA’) to the Personal Independence Payment (PIP) from 8 April 2013. These changes will start in the North West and North East and will then be rolled out nationally in the summer. In December 2012, Esther MvVey told parliament that:

“By October 2015 we estimate we will have reassessed 560,000 claimants.

Of these 160,000 will get a reduced award and 170,000 will get no award. However 230,000 will get the same support or more support.”

Whilst McVey has subsequently tried to soften her position, it is clear that the numbers set out in her statement show that the government’s intention is to reduce the number of claimants. Setting arbitrary targets rather than looking at the needs of disabled people demonstrates the ideological drive behind the cuts.

Today shows what is at risk if we do not obtain a Labour win in 2015. Any political party has to govern with the economic climate in mind. However, we must not let the Tories convince voters that cuts must be borne by the poorest and most vulnerable in our society.

If we lose we could face a generation of people who have been blighted by the cuts. We cannot let this happen.