Editorial: Where is the public outcry over the cruel benefits freeze?

Are the poor and disabled any less deserving of our support than public service workers?

Increasing demand on the government to lift the 1% cap on public sector pay increases is fair and completely justified, but where is the public outcry over the benefits freeze that has left some of the poorest and most vulnerable people in our society in growing debt and dependent on food banks?

Our public service workers rightly deserve a payrise, after years of pay restraint inflicted by a cruel and callous government, but are poor and disabled people in any way less deserving of an income they can actually survive on?

Many of those affected by the benefits freeze are unable to work or are struggling to find a job, through no fault of their own, while the richest people in our society have been repeatedly granted generous tax cuts.

The 1% cap in increases, referred to as the benefits freeze and identical to the public sector pay cap, affects state benefits like Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA) and sick and disabled people placed in the Work-Related Activity Group (WRAG) of Employment and Support Allowance (ESA).

The freeze effectively means that those affected have seen their incomes slashed by an average of about £215 per year… even before other social security cuts have been taken into account.

At this point it’s worth noting that many of those hit by the freeze are battling with long-term illness or disabilities, and despite advances in modern medicine would still find it difficult to work in a labour market that isn’t set up to fulfill their needs.

However, of the 14.1 million working-age households with at least one person in work, around 7 million have also seen their in-work benefits and tax credits increases frozen at just 1% – in direct contradiction of government claims that it stands by “hard-working people”.

Data suggests that around 30% of all households in Britain have been affected by this ‘freeze’ to their benefit payments.

A recent survey by the National Centre for Social Research suggests that public attitudes toward benefit claimants are softening, but this important report went largely unreported by the mainstream media.

The British Social Attitudes survey of 2,942 people found that the majority (67%) believe benefits for disabled people should be a top priority for the government, up from 53% in 2010.

There has also been a notable fall in the number of people who think unemployed people are “fiddling” the taxpayer, down from 35% in 2014 to 22% in 2016.

Public support for the unemployed is lower than that shown toward people with disabilities – only 13% of those surveyed placed spending on the unemployed among their top two priorities – but we could all lose our jobs at a moments notice.

Furthermore, no one is immune from illness or an accident that may cause serious injury and disability.

Is it not time that we as a society showed more compassion and understanding toward those who are desperately reaching out for our support?