As a disabled person, I can’t find anything in the appointment of Rishi Sunak as Prime Minister worthy of celebration. Yes, it’s good to have someone from another underrepresented group as Prime Minister and it’s noteworthy that he is the first UK PM of colour, the first person of Asian descent and the first Hindu to hold this office.
However, it is all meaningless if he does nothing to address the abhorrent UK Immigration policy, which sees a six year old refugee and their mother sleeping on the streets of Glasgow at the end of October 2022, because to register their asylum claim in the quickest way they have to make their own way from Glasgow to Croydon without any assistance. If they don’t go in person to Croydon the telephone process will take 10 – 14 days for their claim just to be registered, before even being processed. Meanwhile, they aren’t entitled to help with accommodation.
Nor is there reason to celebrate when disabled people last winter, when Sunak was Chancellor, were living in a single room, wearing outdoor clothing and wrapped up in a duvet to try to keep warm because they couldn’t afford the heating oil to heat their home. Skipping meals (only eating once a day) because they couldn’t afford food. That was last winter: inflation has now risen to double figures, but Sunak chose to increase benefits by only 3.1% (the rate of inflation in September 2021) despite the OBR predicting inflation would rise to 6.2% by the following February. This was Sunak making the choice to give the poor a known real terms cut in income of 3.1%. For some disabled people, the combined cost of their Council Tax and Electricity bills alone takes up almost 40% of their monthly income. If they live in rural Scotland, have a low paid job, a car and a mortgage, I shudder to think about their situation. People are spending their days in libraries, cafés, community centres, etc, to avoid the cost of heating their homes and putting electric appliances on.
Does anyone really think that Rich Rishi has the first inkling of the plight of these people? Does he care? Tories might point to the one off Cost of Living payments which he delivered this year, and while this was welcome extra money, it didn’t make up for the cut in Universal Credit which Sunak made against the advice of the OBR, IPPR, financial commentators and multiple third sector organisations. In some cases, the Cost of Living crisis payment for disabled people was only just above their monthly electricity bill. Coupled with the deliberate real terms cut in benefits strongly suggests that, to a Sunak government, vulnerable groups are nothing more than another number on a spreadsheet which can be reduced in his drive to plug the massive black hole left by his actions coupled with those of Kwasi Kwarteng and Liz Truss.
Scotland is a rich country, we are energy rich and yet with the “broad shoulders of the UK, pooling and sharing of resources” (remember that phrase?) we have an energy crisis or rather a greed crisis that is condemning refugees, the disabled, the elderly, the poor and our most vulnerable people to a winter of abject poverty, misery and in some cases there will, yet again, be preventable loss of life. This is a fact – not hyperbole – but the cold hard facts of Scotland in the Union.
The simple, inescapable fact is that Westminster is a broken system, and democratically we’re powerless in the Westminster system. The City of London, investment bankers and people who influence the Westminster administrations don’t care about Scotland or our people – this is why Scotland NEEDS our Independence.
When making these arguments I often get the response, that this is just about disabled people its nothing to do with me, well first it’s not, as I said it’s also about refugees, the elderly, the working poor, those in rural communities, and many others under the policies of the Tories. Disabled people make up one fifth of the population of Scotland (that is one million Scots), and one inescapable fact is that everyone is only an accident or an illness away from joining the ranks of Scotland’s disabled people. Finally, with an ageing population and people living longer, the number of people who will have an age related disability in their twilight years means you are much more likely to become disabled. Dignity, fairness, and respect for our disabled community today may very well be a fair deal for you or a loved one in the future, and that will not come about for Scotland as part of the Union. Supporting Scottish independence is our only way out of this mess and to create a fairer, greener, and better country for everyone who calls Scotland home.
SNP Disabled Members Convener