American election debates are even more contentious than their British counterparts

NEW YORK — The advent of American-style TV debates as part of the British electoral landscape proved hugely popular during the 2010 and 2015 general election campaigns. Yet for broadcasters, organising an event that can have such a decisive impact on the result (the 2010 success of the Liberal Democrats started with a strong debate performance by Nick Clegg) is a difficult exercise, balancing fairness to the candidates while providing a service to the electorate — all while creating a watchable spectacle.

Witness David Cameron’s machinations before the 2015 election in which the prime minister laboured to participate in the fewest debates with the most possible candidates. As the incumbent, he had the most to lose by either making a mistake or inadvertently bestowing statesmanlike parity on his rivals. The opposite ran true for the non-incumbents, whose natural inclination was to target the prime minister in the hope of gaining an imprimatur of legitimacy.

If dragging Cameron into a studio to face his adversaries was a testing task for the British broadcasters, that obstacle seems trite compared to the brouhaha engulfing the first Republican primary debate of the 2016 presidential election, scheduled for Cleveland, Ohio on August 6th.

The debate is being produced by a partnership of Fox News, Facebook and the Republican Party with the broadcaster deciding the best format would be to limit the number of candidates to 10. A second debate organised by CNN with the same format is scheduled for September. Unfortunately, there are currently 17 Republicans vying for the nomination, the largest presidential primary field in the history of the Party. So who makes the cut?

Fox News and CNN plan to use an average from five major national polls ahead of the debates. Unfortunately, polls are often wrong, particularly with some candidates polling similarly low numbers. Also, early polls tend to favour candidates with better name recognition. As such, the 10 candidates on stage in Ohio may not be the best 10 candidates in the Republican field.

Some are guaranteed a place on stage due to their consistent high polling. Businessman Donald Trump, former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, Florida Senator Marco Rubio, Kentucky Senator Rand Paul, retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson and former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee will, short of a meltdown in the next two weeks, be at the debate.

Ted Cruz, who has suffered most from the Kraken-like emergence of Trump, is still likely safe. Trump’s nativist siren song has enchanted the party’s populist wing, a role formerly occupied by the Texas senator. Yet Cruz is polling high enough to not miss out. New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and former Texas Governor Rick Perry, however, are in peril should a rival candidate surge.

Even if those 10 are the final selection, some heavyweight candidates will miss out, including former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum, who came second to Mitt Romney in the 2012 primary race, winning 11 states. Ohio Governor John Kasich (whose state hosts the debate) would also sit on the bench, alongside Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, businesswoman Carly Fiorina, South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham and former New York Governor George Pataki.

Critics, including Santorum, have complained about the “arbitrary” nature of the 10-person cut off, which could have far-reaching consequences for the nomination and even the Presidency. Those candidates who do make the cut will benefit from huge national exposure not only to prospective donors but also to voters in states the elect the Republican nominee early. Exclusion from the first two debates will, in effect, smother candidacies in their crib.

This has pushed some candidates to spend precious campaign dollars trying to secure enough support just to appear at the debate. Other aspirants – Graham and Perry – have turned on frontrunner Trump, hoping to build their profile by attacking the playground bully. Some have used the media to call for a rethink of the format, including Jindal, who argued in the Wall Street Journal that “all 16 candidates” should debate. Or as Graham brusquely reflected on the selection criteria, “It sucks.

The Republican National Committee hatched a plan to limit the 2016 primary race to just nine televised events hoping of avoid the exhaustive 2012 schedule in which candidates bloodied each other over 22 debates. The longer debate schedule gave Democrats time to organise, while leaving little more than a Romney Husk by the time he emerged the eventual Republican nominee.

As RNC Chairman Reince Priebus reflected after the 2012 defeat, “While we were playing footsie debating each other 22 times, they [the Democrats] were spending $100 million on technology.”

The move to limit the debates was designed to help Republican candidates with the aim of recapturing the presidency. However, by handing control of the debate mechanics to the broadcasters who, for production reasons have limited the number of participants, the RNC may well have distorted the democratic process, while inadvertently intensifying the internecine bloodshed.

Having reality TV star Trump and conservative author Carson on the stage makes for great TV. Yet having them ahead of senators and governors dilutes the Republican field. Also, unlike the British debates in April, which boasted three female participants, American voters will not be given a chance to hear the only woman in the Republican race, former Hewlett Packard Chief Executive Fiorina. As one of the lesser-known and lesser-funded candidates, a good debate performance could help the impressive Texan break out into the mainstream, while giving the field at least a whiff of diversity. That is unlikely to happen.

Yet despite the criticism, Fox News and CNN have shown no inclination to adjust the format. As Fox News Executive Vice President of News Michael Clemente told Bloomberg earlier this month: “National polls are the traditional, time-tested yardstick by which presidential hopefuls have long been measured and remain the fairest, most objective and most straight-forward metric for gauging the viability of these candidates.”

And why should they adjust the format? They are in the ratings business not the democracy business and will do whatever creates the most compelling TV. The problem rests with the RNC, which has done nothing to force a compromise. As Curt Anderson, a consultant to Jindal’s campaign, recently noted: “The Republican Party should be looking forward instead of backward — and seeking every opportunity to feature its roster of excellent candidates, rather than trying to find ways to constrict the field.”

This article first appeared in The Huffington Post. The original article can be found here.

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Nicola Sturgeon on cybernats, Farage and the SNP in Westminster

Nicola Sturgeon on cybernats, Farage and the SNP in Westminster

NEW YORK — It was during the TV election debates in April that the new face of the post-referendum Scottish National Party was first unveiled to the British public. Following a poll-winning performance during the seven-way leaders debate on ITVNicola Sturgeon appeared on a five-person panel for the sequel, flanked by Labour’sEd Miliband, Ukip’s Nigel Farage, Natalie Bennett of the Green Party and Plaid Cymru’s Leanne Wood.

Broadcast live on the BBC, the vignette concluded with the SNP leader beseeching Miliband to ally against the common enemy in Downing Street, a proposal the now-former Labour chief rebuffed. Earlier, Scotland’s first minister had instigated a testy exchange with Farage on immigration. Sturgeon emerged from both unscathed. What’s more, she exited the broadcast looking like the only opposition leader able to articulate a credible anti-establishment position.

“I didn’t go into the debate intending to engage with Farage,” Sturgeon tells HuffPost, sitting in a meeting room on the top floor of Morgan Stanley’s headquarters overlooking Times Square in New York. Instead she resolved to draw her blade only if he was “offensive.” He was and she did, capping a bad night for the Ukip boss who was earlier booed for attacking the audience.

“I think Farage was exposed in those debates,” she reflects. “Once he’d blamed the foreigners, there was pretty much nothing else. I think people saw him for what he was.”

In the days following the debate, Sturgeon’s inbox was deluged by emails from English voters asking her to stand candidates south of the border, a flood she ascribes to a “deep disillusionment about the lack of choice on offer.”

Decrying the Tories, Labour and the Lib Dems as “different shades of the same thing,” the 44-year-old says the appetite for an alternative “is just as strong” in the rest of the UK as it is in Scotland. “But my goodness, there’s a market for a really social democratic party in England,” she suggests.

Yet a month later David Cameron returned to Downing Street, his tenure at Number 10 freshly unshackled from coalition. “They [the voters] opted for the devil they knew,” says Sturgeon. Her post election analysis is simple: Miliband failed to “do the deal with voters in England” and was therefore not a “viable alternative.”

The former solicitor quickly rebukes any notion that the SNP aided the Tories by splitting the opposition vote. “Labour could have won every seat in Scotland and they still wouldn’t have won the election because the failed to beat the Tories in England,” she says. “It’s not for me to answer why Labour failed in England, but that’s the question they’ve got to answer.”

Sturgeon admits the debates were “nerve-wracking” with “a lot riding on it for all of us.” Emblematic of the relief was the now-famed hug between Sturgeon and her fellow panellists, Natalie Bennett and Leanne Wood, as David Dimbleby closed the show.

Yet the SNP chief suggests it was more than just respite, calling it a “vivid illustration” of how women approach politics. “Three men wouldn’t have done that, even if they felt the same,” she says, recalling the positive reaction she received “to see women represented” and how it had “changed the tone.”

The day before our interview, Sturgeon was similarly anxious ahead of an appearance on “The Daily Show With Jon Stewart.” Despite being broadcast on Comedy Central, the show has become the sole proponent of oppositional political debate in the US, much to the shame of mainstream news outlets. As such it has a huge following nationally and around the world. Invitations to appear are not to be snubbed.

“I got through it,” she laughs, describing the show’s outgoing host as “charming and very well informed.” Her appearance was the centrepiece of a four-day tour of the US to promote business, tourism and study. Within the segment, the first minister was asked about the tribal nature of British politics and whether Blighty was becoming polarised, similar to the US.

She reflects further on this during our sit down, saying “it feels like it has” but attributes that to social media, that has given “people who want to be aggressive and abusive… ways of being heard.”

“The referendum, by its nature, had a ‘yes’ camp and a ‘no’ camp, which can make people feel as though they’re divided, but overwhelmingly the experience of the referendum on both sides was positive,” she says.

sturgeon the daily show

The SNP leader appears on Comedy Central’s ‘The Daily Show with Jon Stewart’, part of her four-day tour of the United States

Last Sunday Alastair Campbell appeared on the BBC’s “Andrew Marr” show, the former political aide decrying the so-called cybernats (a catchall term for abusive nationalists) following some rough treatment of the late Charles Kennedy during the election campaign.

Yet Sturgeon insists the invective doesn’t solely emanate from her corner of the Union, with people “on both sides” engaging in online abuse. “I could shown you the abuse that gets hurled at me on Twitter,” she says, nodding to her phone. Still, the first minister remains a fan of the micro-blogging site, which “democratises public debate” even if the tone is “impossible to control.”

“Party leaders do have a responsibility to speak out,” she says, “and I do that more than any other party leader. Even people who are professing to be on my side, I’ll call them out.”

The cybernats emerged during the bruising referendum campaign, culminating last September in a narrow defeat for the nationalists. Scotland was to remain in the Union and the groundswell of SNP support would quickly dissipate. Except, it didn’t. The momentum increased, propelling Sturgeon’s party to a landslide victory at the general election, securing 56 of the 59 Scottish seats.

Parliament started a new session and Westminster welcomed a raft of fledgling MPs from the north, some indifferent or unaware of the traditions of the House of Commons. Headlines followed in which nationalists were accused of not following protocol and being disruptive.

“We are not deliberately going around Westminster trying to annoy people,” says Sturgeon. “We’ve got people in our group that are new to politics. They don’t know what the hundred-year traditions are. Clapping is commonplace in the Scottish parliament. Who knew it’s forbidden in the House of Commons?”

Still, she remains bullish, insisting the SNP is doing “what it should be doing — asserting its position as the third biggest party in the House of Commons.” Her MPs are not there to “be disruptive or destructive,” but are there “to get things done.”

Despite general election success, Sturgeon still regards the referendum as a “devastating defeat” though she notes it quickly became clear that “something had changed in Scotland” and the country would not go “back to the way we were before the referendum.” Having tasted “what it was like to be in charge of the destiny of our own country” that appetite would not be sated.

Yet victory in May created fresh problems for the party, whose ultimate ambition remains to leave the Union. How quickly can they call for a second vote on independence? Waiting has a generational benefit (young people are more likely to vote ‘yes’ so better to be patient) however delay risks diminishing the enthusiastic support that has propelled the nationalists to lofty heights. Sturgeon cuts a middle road, describing the “deep pragmatism” of the people who want independence.

“We know we can’t rush it,” she says. “We didn’t persuade the majority [at the referendum], and there’s no shortcut. You can’t just keep asking the question over and over again until you get the answer you want. You have to build a case through patient endeavour.” In the meantime, Sturgeon is determined to “get on with running the country,” including pushing for more devolution from Westminster, even more than was promised by the post-referendum Smith Report.

Smith was a response by the Westminster parties to the referendum result,” she says. “They need to come up with a response to the general election result. To say it’s business as usual and carry on with ‘Smith’ won’t satisfy people.”

Sturgeon is unmoved by the argument that further devolution could undercut her quest for independence, machinations she dismisses as “Machiavellian.” She is more open to idea that an EU referendum could lead to a second independence vote, though admits her preference would be not to hold an EU vote at all. “I hope the UK votes to stay in,” she says. “If that doesn’t happen we’ll have to see. But it’s one scenario that could increase demand for a second referendum because Scotland is not going to look kindly on being taken out of the EU.”

We return to Labour and the question of whether the SNP needs a robust opposition party in Scotland if only for accountability. “I think it’s healthy in any democracy to have a strong opposition but as first minister I can’t create one,” she says. “Also, I’m still a politician. I’m not going to wish for the quick recovery of my main political opponent, not when I’ve got an election in 11 months time.”

This article first appeared in The Huffington Post. The original article can be found here.

Atheists in Parliament and Congress highlight disparate political cultures

Few outside the US would have heard of Congressman Pete Stark, a Democrat who served in the House of Representatives for 40 years before losing to a rival in the general election of 2012. Yet when Stark, a former banker with an engineering degree from MIT, left office, Congress lost its first openly atheist member.

Yet with 535 seats in the Senate and House of Representatives, it is implausible that Stark was the only non-believer. Barney Frank, other Democratic Congressman also admitted to a lack of faith, but only after he retired early this year. For perspective, Frank had come out as gay more than a quarter of a century earlier.

In a 2011 interview with the Guardian, Herb Silverman, the head of the Secular Coalition of America, said he knew of several members of Congress (excluding Stark) that had “no belief in God”. Apart from Frank, none have so far stepped forward.

The situation in the UK is almost the reverse of the US. There is no concrete data on the religious beliefs of MPs, but while American politicians frequently go out of their way to declare their fervent belief in God, British politicians tend shy away from public declarations of faith and atheism is no barrier to election.

David Cameron is a Christian yet his deputy, Nick Clegg, is an atheist. Asked in 2007 whether he believed in god, Clegg replied: “No”. Ed Miliband also declared following his leadership victory in 2010 that he was not a believer. ”I don’t believe in God personally, but I have great respect for those people who do,” he said.

And while Tony Blair is deeply religious, his top spinner Alistair Campbell famously intervened to prevent the then-prime minister for publicly declaring his faith. “We don’t do God,” Campbell said when Blair was asked in an interview about the issue. Whitehall officials also stopped Blair from ending his TV broadcast informing the country that the 2003 Iraq War had begun with the phrase “God bless Britain.” One civil servant told him: “I just remind you prime minister, this is not America.”

The US has always been a far more religious country than its colonial progenitor, with only a gentle increase in those who profess atheism (to pollsters at least) in the past hundred years. Research by Pew in 2012 found that only 2% of Americans admitted to non-belief, while 9 out of 10 Americans say “yes” when asked if they believe in God (Gallup). In the UK, only four out of 10 are likely to admit to belief in God, while 25% of Britons are happy to profess their non-belief (2010 Eurostat Eurobarometer poll).

Even taking 2% as a base figure for atheism in the US, more Congressmen than just Stark and Frank are statically likely to share their non-belief. That none have said so is a statement on American political culture, one that has become so entwined with religion that it is often difficult to tell well the stump starts and the pulpit ends.

According to Dr Uta Balbier of King’s College London, the nuance of US national discourse remains deeply religious. “This subtext shines through Presidential inauguration speeches and is prominent at Congressional Prayer Breakfasts,” she told The Huffington Post UK. “Through patriotic rituals that blend religious and national language like in the Pledge of Allegiance with the reference to ‘One Nation Under God’ citizenship and faith become intertwined.”

For Balbier being America means having faith, which makes it difficult for anyone of non-belief, particularly in public office. “If your faith is questioned, your abilities as citizen or office holders are questioned at the same time,” she said. “That makes it hard for US politicians to come out as atheists.”

According to Paul Raushenbush, the HuffPost’s religion editor, in the US the term atheism suffers from “misunderstanding and prejudice”, making atheists an identity most people are unfamiliar with. However, there is hope. “As increasing numbers of good and moral people begin to acknowledge their lack of religious convictions, while articulating the positive influences that cause them to want to serve, the more voters will become comfortable entrusting them to serve them in public office,” he said.

This trend will no doubt be aided by the increasing number of Americans who do not identify with any religious tradition or affiliate themselves with a single denomination church. Yet it remains unlikely that in the near future Washington will be welcoming its first atheist President. As Balbier quipped: “An atheist President of the ‘One Nation Under God’? At this moment, it’s unthinkable.”

This article first appeared in The Huffington Post and was written with Ned Simons. The original article can be found here.

The Bilderberg protesters – conspiracy theorists or concerned citizens?

Nefarious plots by one-world governments, bankers, politicians or, in the case of this weekend, the infamous Bilderberg Group are nothing new. The latter, a “cabal” of influential Atlantacists that first met in 1954 to solidify relations between Europe and the USA (and who have been meeting ever since), has become a catchword for those who like to see “beyond” what they are told by government or media.

Yet for the 2013 conference, hosted at the Grove Hotel in Watford, the vale of secrecy had been partially lifted; the event boasted not only a website detailing attendees and the agenda but also a fringe festival on the perimeter, allowing those who believe the group’s activities might not be in the best interests of democracy a chance to protest in front of the world’s media.

For people who don’t see plot and intrigue behind every door, “Bilderberg” is something of a buzzword attached to the conspiracy theory community, along with “truthers”, “birthers” and countless other alleged “cover ups”, from JFK and the moon landings to the more recent accusations thrown at the families of the Sandy Hook victims late last year.

However, with one or two notable exceptions the attendees of the Fringe were far from the kooks, crazies or harbingers of a lizard apocalypse one might be led to expect. Several people told the HuffPost UK they were there because they were worried about issues of transparency in government. Several more voiced concerns about the concentration of power embodied by the politicians and business leaders enjoying canapés in the hotel up the road. Yes – there was talk of “shadow governments”, “hundred-year agendas” and “orchestrated media blackouts” but there was also talk of Libor, the problems of the EU and the unfolding Prism scandal.

When asked how they felt about being dismissed as conspiracy theorists, many pointed to large spa hotel next door as vindication that clandestine groups not only exist, but they could be unveiled by pressure.

Russell, a middle-aged man from Tiverton in Devon, was sat alongside his wife on deck chairs in the corner of the field. Both sported David Icke t-shirts. He told the HuffPost UK they were there to voice opposition to this “small group of people that wield such power”.

“Most people unfortunately still have their head in the sand,” he said. “They [the majority] are driven by the system, they’re controlled by the system and they’ll die by the system. They’re even told what food to eat and what medication to have.”

“It’s an undemocratic meeting,” said Claudio, 23, who had travelled from Germany to protest. “There are several attendees from German parties in there and a couple of CEOs. If you think this is just a conspiracy theory, why was the Bilderberg Group so secretive for so long? We’ve finally forced it into the open.”

John, in his thirties, had travelled to Watford from Aylesbury to raise public awareness about the group. “George Osborne and Ed Balls are both up there,” he told the HuffPost UK. “They work for opposing parties. Why are they discussing financial agendas behind closed doors? Also, you can’t discuss matters about Africa without African people here to represent those countries. Who are they [The Bilderberg Group] to make those decisions?”

John said that the influence of the group might be waning, particularly with the rise of the Chinese economy, but thought the group’s real focus was likely to be foreign policy rather than financial matters.

Despite the relaxed atmosphere inside the Fringe (it felt more like a picnic than a protest) security was heavy, with a strong police number backed up by guards in G4S uniforms. Everyone entering the event was given a thorough search with metal detectors, while guards in jeeps patrolled the perimeter fence.

Wearing a pink shirt, a cowboy hat and a large placard, protester Glynn Ellis, offered some flamboyance to the event, insisting he had been “groped” by police. “There are more questions than answers,” he serenaded before launching into a rant: “I don’t exist, this field doesn’t exist, I didn’t get groped on the way in here by G4S security, and there are definitely not 120 world leaders in that hotel up there… which doesn’t exist.” When asked what he thought was on the agenda, Ellis was clear: “The bombing of Iran.”

Then there was Alex Jones, the American radio host, who first came to British attention sparring with Piers Morgan on his CNN show over gun control. Jones, who along with the late Jim Tucker is seen as one of the founders of the movement against Bilderberg, was rapturously welcomed by protesters, being surrounded by cameras and peppered with questions, whilst making his own recording via an iPhone on a small tripod.

Yet in contrast to his bruising encounter with Morgan, Jones was charming, polite and measured in his criticism, his objections bouncing from corporate groups in Europe controlling policy, to manipulation of the media, to how Bilderberg “sets the agenda” for less secretive meetings, such as the G8 and G20.

Jones has been criticised in his homeland for cashing in on people’s fear and paranoia, and devotees of his radio shows will know his beliefs go way beyond Bilderberg, seeing the hand of government everywhere from the Sandy Hook killings to the Boston Marathon. However, it was ironic that the Fringe was held on the weekend that The Guardian broke the Prism surveillance scandal, perhaps giving pause for thought to even the most ardent sceptic who might just think there’s something in this after all.

This article first appeared in The Huffington Post. The original article can be found here.

Austerity in the United Kingdom leaves disabled in fear for their lives

“The big problem for me is fear,” said Lisa Egan.

Since birth, the 33-year-old has dealt with a rare genetic disorder called osteogenesis imperfecta, also known as brittle bone disease. The condition has caused more than 60 fractures in Egan’s lifetime, including five separate breaks in 2011.

“I once broke my back sleeping in an awkward position,” she said. Because her disease is “wearing out her joints,” doctors told Egan to use a wheelchair.

“I can walk a very short distance and very slowly,” said Egan, who lives in Camden, North London. “But sometimes things happen, such as my knee dislocates or I will tear a tendon out of a metatarsal and pull the end of the bone off with it. … So I use a wheelchair most of the time.”

Despite her condition, Egan said she does not like to be seen as “vulnerable.” Intelligent and articulate, she has written extensively on disability and politics, and has even tried a stint at stand-up comedy.

As one of nearly 500,000 people in the United Kingdom who rely on welfare benefits, however, Egan now experiences fear daily: fear for her future, fear for her ability to live independently, even fear for her life.

The global economic crisis cast a shadow over the 2010 general election in the U.K., and the new coalition government, led by the center-right Conservative Party, introduced sweeping austerity measures, to the tune of £80 billion over five years.

The reductions are widely regarded as the most severe cuts in any developed Western nation so far. The London-based Institute of Fiscal Studies described them as “the longest, deepest sustained period of cuts to public services spending” since the Second World War.

The cuts have touched nearly every part of the state, from public sector jobs to the military. But welfare recipients have been the hardest hit, with upwards of £18 billion slashed from the welfare budget in 2010 and an additional £11 billion per year scheduled to be cut by 2014. The Tories have long criticized Britain’s “something for nothing culture,” and since coming to power, they have clamped down on those perceived to be leeching off the system.

As Prime Minister David Cameron explained in a recent blog post for The Huffington Post, “By reforming welfare we will get people into fulfilling jobs, not abandon them to poverty and dependency, save billions of pounds of taxpayers’ money and make sure those who really need help get it.”

The Welfare Reform Act, which Parliament passed earlier this year, replaced a number of benefits with a “universal credit,” which is capped at £26,000 annually.

The new scheme for disability benefits has left people like Egan in limbo. She currently collects around £95 a week in Disability Living Allowance (DLA), which she uses to pay for her car. Egan said that if she is no longer eligible to receive the money, she may be forced to give up the vehicle.

“If I lose my car, I lose everything,” she said. “I’ll be rendered virtually housebound. Without it, I can’t go shopping. … As a manual wheelchair user, I don’t have spare hands to carry shopping bags home. If I lose my car, I lose my social life. And what about my frail, elderly father? I can’t drag luggage to the train station. And I won’t be able to afford a taxi. If my car goes, how am I going to visit him? My car is everything to me.”

The government is evaluating each welfare applicant to determine how much money the individual needs, a process that will continue through the end of next year. Claimants must pass a series of activity tests, ranging from food preparation and communication to dressing and bathing.

Egan has yet to receive a date for her evaluation, but the prospect hangs over her head like a sword, ready to sever the payments that have allowed her to lead a full and independent life. “They are currently reassessing everyone on incapacity benefit, finding a third of people fit for work even if they’re suffering from suicidal depression,” she said.

Government figures back this up. In March, following the first round of reassessment, the Department for Works and Pensions found 37 percent of 141,100 individuals who claimed incapacity benefit were “fit for work.” Despite the government’s contention that it is now saving money by weeding out cheats, official estimates published in 2011 found fraud and error within the DLA system accounted for only 0.5 percent of the total cost.

Separate from the welfare system, social care, which is provided by local authorities (not the central government), has also undergone dramatic change. The old system was split into three parts — moderate care, substantial care and critical care — with claimants receiving help depending on their needs. The reforms did away with the moderate care category.

Even before the cuts, not all local authorities provided moderate care. Egan was lucky: Camden did. But not any more.

“People rely on this moderate help,” said Sue Marsh, a 38-year-old with severe Crohn’s disease and a campaigner for disabled causes. “They are terrified.”

“People with fluctuating conditions, such as Crohn’s or Parkinson’s, could get help during prolonged periods of suffering,” she explained. “Now that has completely gone.”

“This when combined with the loss of the Disability Living Allowance is absolutely catastrophic,” Marsh said.

Cameron’s support for welfare cuts has baffled many because he has firsthand experience with the problems of disability. The prime minister’s son Ivan, who died in 2009 at age 6, had cerebral palsy and severe epilepsy.

“It’s an aspect I’ve thought a lot about,” Marsh said. “Cameron had his experience with a profoundly disabled child, but his attitude appears to be if you’re not profoundly disabled, you need to pull yourself up, take the knocks and get to work.”

In a recent parliamentary session, Cameron prefaced an answer to a question on the removal of disability benefits by reminding the House that he is “someone who has actually filled out the form for disability allowance and had a child with cerebral palsy.”

Yet the cuts have gone ahead, and for some, the prospect of losing their benefits has already proved too much.

In February, Craig Monk, who had lost a leg in an accident a few years earlier, hanged himself at his home in Lancashire. At the inquest, his neighbor reported that Monk had been worried about his benefits being cut.

Last month, Karen Sherlock, who faced a raft of debilitating conditions, including diabetic autonomic neuropathy, gastroparesis, diabetic retinopathy, a heart condition, chronic kidney disease and high blood pressure, died of a heart attack after some of her benefits were stopped.

In a final blog post, she wrote, “I am worried and frightened, I do not see how they can just snatch this away from me. I am chronically ill and I am never going to get better, not even with the [kidney] transplant will I feel better, all my conditions cannot be magically cured.”

Egan knows how Sherlock must have felt. “If I lose the money, the consequences of what will happen to me do not bear thinking about. It’s pure fear.”

This article is part of a Huffington Post series on the global impact of austerity — “A Thousand Cuts” — from affordable housing funds lost in San Francisco to increasing class sizes in New York, food inspector cuts in Canada, disability benefits taken away in the United Kingdom, decimation of France’s solar industry, and more.

The original article can be found here.