Martin Hannan: Heed tale of coalition war on poor

Like Archie's nephew, many of us are refusing to be pushed and are pushing back. Picture: Ian Rutherford
Like Archie's nephew, many of us are refusing to be pushed and are pushing back. Picture: Ian Rutherford
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This is Edinburgh in the Year of Grace 2013. A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about the bedroom tax and the benefit cuts which are directly affecting our fellow citizens here in the capital of Scotland.

I received quite a few letters and e-mails, but none moved me so much as the one that came from a gentleman of this city who is now in his 70s.

Let me call him Archie. It is not his real name, but I have checked and double-checked the story he told me, and have vouchsafed his identity to people who have verified his tale.

Archie has a close male relative who was diagnosed with juvenile arthritis when he was just a child. That boy, Archie’s nephew, grew up to suffer three months in traction to correct a bent leg, followed by three hip replacements over his life to date, and he also has a lifelong affliction which means that he has one leg much shorter than the other.

He developed asthma, among other diseases, and in order to preserve his health, he gave up alcohol and smoking. This man tried to work, to pay his bills and keep out of debt.

He managed to get a job. One day he was asked to replace a lightbulb at a height, and he fell off the steps and broke his leg, and was never the same man again.

His doctor advised him to stop work. Not surprisingly, since he could not bend his knee at all, and still can’t.

This man is now in constant pain, and for years he unquestionably qualified for benefits including housing and Disability Living Allowance.

His closest male relative is Archie. They do not live together, but every morning Archie walks over to see that his nephew is okay. He cuts his toenails, and puts on his socks. Because the nephew is not elderly, he does not qualify for free personal care in the home, one of the greatest achievements of the Scottish Parliament since it was reconvened in 1999.

Archie’s nephew was, nevertheless, doing all right, despite a problem with his blood and the fact that one of his legs is two-thirds the length of the other. Like so many Scots, he did not want to complain – he just got on with things.

Despite his crippling disease, and from personal knowledge I know how bad arthritis can be, and despite all the other attendant medical problems from which he was suffering, Archie’s nephew fell foul of the coalition government and its heinous – and yes, I will repeat it – its evil drive to criminalise the poor just because they are poor.

He was hauled in for an assessment by one of the companies which are making vast sums of profit out of the war on the poor. Archie had said to his nephew that genuinely disabled people like him would not be affected, and he would not lose his entitlements. Archie now regrets that advice. For his nephew had his blood pressure taken and was asked to move his arms, and a few minutes later after this “assessment” he was judged to be fit for work.

Since he had been seeking Employment Support Allowance, and had been judged to be no longer disabled, all of his benefits were stopped, and even though his doctor said that Archie’s nephew was clearly unfit for work, his money from the British state ceased immediately.

Thanks to his doctor’s refusal to allow a patient to become a victim, some of his benefits were restored weeks later, which is maybe just as well as Archie’s nephew recently suffered a hip dislocation when the bus he was travelling on stopped too

Now, as an SNP member, I should be delighted with Archie’s final words – “I am reluctant to vote yes on September 18, but I will.”

But in truth, I am utterly saddened by the tale of Archie and his nephew. In the last few days, it has been revealed that the coalition government has seen tens of millions of pounds wasted as the move to the Universal Credit system collapses in the disarray that was foretold. When the National Audit Office tells you in public that you have screwed up, believe me you really have, and all the spin put out by that unctuous smarmy failure Iain Duncan Smith – a Scot in Little Englander’s clothing – cannot disguise the fact that he has presided over departmental disarray.
All this pain being suffered by the poor is totally unnecessary, and the bedroom tax remains the most hideous example of a direct assault on poor people – as the Evening News revealed last week, it will afflict the poor of Edinburgh disproportionately because we have the highest rents here.

Let me quote you the Scottish Federation of Housing Associations. If they are not the experts, I do not know who is. They said: “There simply isn’t the supply of smaller homes for people to move to, so tenants are being punished for not occupying houses that don’t exist. The solution is simple – the bedroom tax must be repealed.”

As the federation has said, and Archie – a true hero in my book – and his nephew’s tale shows, the war on the poor is real and is here in Edinburgh, in this year of DisGrace 2013.