I feel like the Tories are punishing disabled people, so I’m voting Labour

Ramandeep Kaur says the government's proposed changes to the benefits system have played a big part in her decision to vote Labour.

As part of its election coverage, Yahoo News is speaking to voters around the country on the issues that will sway their vote. Read more from our election 'Your Voice' series here as we get closer to polling day on 4 July.

“It’s traumatising for families to explain again and again about personal things, like if their children has difficulties with toileting, just to prove they need help,
'It’s traumatising for families to explain again and again about personal things, like if their children has difficulties with toileting, just to prove they need help,' says Ramandeep Kaur.

When the prime minister announced proposed changes to the benefits system, particularly around personal independence payment (PIP), disability charities and people affected by disabilities were up in arms.

The plans, which include reassessments, swapping benefits payments for vouchers or therapies, and a receipt system, were described as a "reckless assault on disabled people".

For Ramandeep Kaur, from Sutton Coldfield, the proposals have played a huge part in her decision to vote Labour in the general election.

As a mum to Harry, 17, who has Down syndrome and a learning disability, Kaur says the changes could make her son's life considerably worse.

“Harry already has struggles ahead of him, getting the education and support he needs to have the life he wants and deserves. If his benefits are taken away it will strip him of his independence as he uses some of the money to visit his friends," she says.

“The suggestion of a reassessment for him is deeply upsetting. Harry has a chromosomal condition and he will always need extra help – that’s not going to change. It’s also traumatising for families to explain again and again about personal things, like if their children has difficulties with toileting, just to prove they need help.

“The Tories are punishing disabled people and blaming the Welfare Bill on them, instead of accepting the inadequacies of their own government.”

The Disabled Children’s Partnership (DCP), a coalition of 120 disabled children’s charities, has said that for many young people with a disability PIP “is the difference between accessing the world and remaining isolated, unable to work or access support".

Kaur is Harry’s full-time carer when he is not at school as he has a developmental age of a seven-year-old. He needs constant monitoring to keep him safe, whether it’s ensuring he crosses a road safely or avoids hurting himself when using the kettle.

The £800 in PIP payments each month go towards paying higher winter heating bills as his condition means he can’t regulate his body temperature, petrol to use the car more as it is hard for him to walk far, and specialist youth clubs that cater to his needs.

The government says the current welfare system isn’t working and the proposals will “make the system fairer to the taxpayer, better targeted to individual needs and harder to exploit”, as well as ensuring it is sustainable for the future.

Labour agrees the system needs reforming but its MPs are calling for a more “compassionate” approach, criticising lengthy delays, reassessments and a stressful appeals process, and have said disabled people are being "scapegoated".

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Kaur says that there are moral and practical issues with the scheme. She says: “PIP is a personal payment to cater for different people’s needs but disabled people are being treated as a homogenous group. They are also being treated with contempt and it makes me angry.”

The DCP wants whichever government comes into power to prioritise disabled children, fund services properly and make local authorities accountable when they break the laws that are supposed to support disabled children.

The charity has also highlighted "in crisis" special educational needs (SEND) provision, with many parents of disabled children having to fight to get the education they need. Kaur says thus far, Harry has been lucky in the specialist education he has received because of his disability, but she is seeing his rights get ‘stripped away’.

Birmingham council has gone bankrupt and has told families like Kaur’s that they can no longer provide school transport for children over the age of 16, which will mean a 90-minute round-trip for her to take Harry to school. This new policy could mean Harry has to forfeit his place at a special college where he wants to study dance as it is two hours away from his home.

“Harry has a real talent for dance,” Kaur explains. “He can watch a scene from a Bollywood film and recreate it. He has even performed on stage for an audience. I see my older sons being given opportunities to get the education they need to follow their passions but Harry is having his choices taken away.”

Though this is a decision from the local council, which is Labour-run, Kaur holds central government accountable, saying: “Failings from the local authority are steeped in a lack of support from central government. I lay the blame at the Conservatives' door.”

Kaur worries about the future for all her children including Thomas, 18, and Archie, 15. Thomas is going to medical school and will likely come out with more than £100,000 of university debt and Kaur has been concerned by recent news stories about medical graduates being unable to get junior doctor jobs.

For both her sons, she worries about their chances of getting jobs and onto the housing ladder. She says: “I worry about the next generation and think they are being let down. Political parties are focusing on the anti-migration vote or the pensioner’s vote but what about our future leaders and future entrepreneurs? The parties need to reassure young people too.”

Voter apathy is being reflected in the polls, especially amongst younger people. According to the Electoral Commission, only 67.3% of people voted at the last election in 2019. This figure drops to 54% for 18-25 year-olds.

Eighteen-year-old Thomas will be voting for the first time this year and has asked Kaur if his vote would make a difference. “I told him he should vote because people had fought for our right to vote and because it was important he had a voice,” she says.

“But it isn’t just young people feeling disillusioned. A lot of people have lost hope in politicians. I know I will be voting Labour because they aren’t vilifying disabled people though some of their policies are wishy-washy and need working on.

“In general though, I think people feel let down not listened to by politicians and it’s making it very difficult for voters.”

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