Opinion

Jeremy Hunt didn't mention disabled people once in his Spring Budget. It shows how little he thinks of us

The much anticipated Spring Statement turned out to be, like much of the Tory Government announcements, a load of bluster.

The budget will not help te most vulnerable. Photo: Unsplash

It’s Spring Budget day, when chancellor Jeremy Hunt reveals how the government plans to drive the country out of economic recession, well or so we thought. The much anticipated budget turned out to be, like much of the Tory government announcements, a load of bluster that will have little effect on anyone who isn’t rich.  

Despite Hunt speaking about how the Conservatives want to turn the country around and help those who need it most, we actually saw very little plans to do so. As Paul Kissack, chief executive of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation put it “this was a budget for big earners and big owners.” 

This morning, despite looking all over, I realised I was yet to see any pre-announcements or leaks relating to disabled people. This left me uneasy as last time around most of the damning proposed changes to the work capability assessment had already been leaked or announced prior to the Autumn Statement. But this time, silence. 

On Monday we saw protests in Westminster from disability rights groups against the proposed changes to benefits that could lead to even more disabled benefits deaths. Today we saw a protest in parliament against fuel poverty. Almost half of disabled people told the ONS they were struggling to afford their energy bills in January.  

I would say I’m baffled that Hunt spoke for an hour and didn’t mention disabled people once, but I’ve been covering politics long enough to know how little the Tories think about us.  

What he’s tried to paint as the main areas of support for lower-income families, will barely benefit them in reality. The increase in the child benefit threshold to £60,000 won’t help families struggling to feed their kids on subpar wages. The National Insurance Tax will work at 2p a week so will benefit the rich far more.  

He claimed he would be introducing measures to help the poorest families, and then only announced that he would be increasing the repayment period for Universal Credit loans but not increasing Universal Credit itself. It’s great the loan period is being extended but if we’re not doing anything to stop people needing to get into debt it’s like putting a plaster on an axe wound.  

When this measure was met with jeers from the opposition Hunt responded “I thought they cared about people on the lowest income” which is luckily something nobody has ever claimed about him.  

The good news is that after much pressure from organisations such as the Joseph Rowntree Foundation and the Trussell Trust, the chancellor will be extending the household support fund, but by doing so for just another six months it doesn’t bring those who will need help beyond then much comfort. I also found it bizarre that he namechecked anti-poverty organisations like these but then didn’t commit to ensuring universal credit would guarantee people could afford the essentials they need to live on. 

As it’s an election year the government also love to pretend they care about the North. Before the Spring Budget prime minister Rishi Sunak claimed that the north had received some of the highest amounts in Levelling Up funding. This is technically half true at most. While Sunak’s constituency of Richmond, the 251st most deprived in the country got £19m last year, South Tyneside, the 26th most deprived were initially rejected. The whole of the North East was awarded just £108.5m while London alone received £151.3m in that round. 

Enter Hunt and his grandiose North East Devolution Deal, worth more than £100m. This to me felt like trying to appease North East in an election year, as it was interestingly the only area that had a figure attached to it, let’s wait and see how much that cash pot compares to other regions.  

Finally after much jeering from all sides, a huge dig at Angela Rayner about selling two houses from a man who owns seven flats and, bizarrely, a load of fat jokes, we came to what I call the “those who can work should” section. Because that’s literally all he said that even came close to mentioning people on out of work disability benefits. As always it’s a great sentiment, but without any specific plans to actually help disabled people into work, ways to make the workplace accessible or news about the proposed changes to the work capability assessment, it’s just words.  

It’s interesting they continue the “those who can work should” message yet don’t mention it’s the government and DWP who decide who can work or that they plan to change the goalposts for who they think is fit to work. I am however thankful they didn’t announce the April increase in benefits like it was some big amazing thing they were doing for us and not just the yearly increase, like they did last budget. 

Other ways the budget will affect disabled people, and it’s a tiny glimmer of good news this time. Hunt announced the funding to create new free SEND schools across the country. Though it’s just £105m over a total of four years, he seems to think that’s “an effing good job” as he told Michelle Donelan in an attempt to be funny, but the chancellor forgets that disabled children become disabled adults. You can’t just support someone until they stop being cute enough for Children in Need, what’s the point of specialist education if their disabled parents can’t afford to feed them? 

It’s hard to watch millionaires jeer at each other and make terrible jokes when day in and day out I receive messages from people terrified about having their support cut or that they’ll be forced into work that will kill them.  

Overall, the Spring Budget felt more like election campaign promises, long-term plans that they (hopefully) won’t even be in power to enact than actual tangible actions to help poor and disabled people. We don’t need long-term plans, we need short-term solutions and support.  

Where we are next year doesn’t even come into the equation for the poorest people who don’t even know how they’ll afford their next energy bill. 

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