When the Tories won the election last week, Tanya Marlow cried. Not just because she's a self-described "bleeding heart liberal", but because she believes it will have a devastating impact on disabled people already struggling to live under the austerity cuts.
George Osborne has pledged to slash £12 billion from the welfare budget in the next two years, and the Centre for Welfare Reform estimates that cuts in public spending will target disabled people nine times more than the majority of citizens. That figure rises to 19 times for those needing social care.
Living with a disability herself – formerly a theology lecturer, Marlow is now housebound with severe ME – she knows first-hand the financial cost of debilitating illness. She wrote a blog, published yesterday on Archbishop Cranmer, detailing the toll of Cameron's cuts.
"Austerity should mean that everyone tightens their belts, and yet the sharp edge of the cuts has fallen repeatedly and disproportionally onto the most vulnerable," Marlow said in her post.
"Disabled people have been cut so deep they are collectively bleeding."
Speaking to Christian Today, Marlow said disabled people have been hit disproportionately so far by policies such as the bedroom tax, and the replacement of the Disability Living Allowance with the Personal Independence Payment. An estimated 500,000 people living with disabilities lost their support through that move, and still more will lose funding for a full time carer when the Independent Living Fund is scrapped under Tory rule. Marlow described this as "particularly distressing."
"The rhetoric from politicians is that we are getting rid of the fraudsters, and making sure that the money goes to really severely disabled people, and the reality is that that isn't what's happening."
She has therefore begun Compassionate Britain; a call for people – especially Christians – to join collectively and petition the government to reconsider its welfare plans, beginning with writing to their MP. "It's about uniting Christians and others to speak up for disabled people," Marlow says.
"It's unique in its focus. There are lots of amazing Christian and other charities who work with disabled people and do a bit of campaigning, but they mainly support disabled people and their carers. This is a chance to bring all those people together, and say let's work together, and as Christians join our voices in this campaign to say this is an important thing."
In her blog, Marlow said many Christians are responding to the welfare cuts by suggesting that it's an opportunity for the Church to step in and help the most vulnerable, but this might not be enough. "Before you say that the Church will solve this, please consider the scale, urgency and the ongoing nature of the problem," she wrote.
"Usually disabled people have additional needs for the rest of their life. This requires indefinite commitment, not a temporary fix.
"These people are not theoretical problems; they are a physical reality. The Church is not an imaginary force; it is you and I, our local churches. This is my honest question: are we, the Church, going to wipe the bums of 18,000 people who've lost their Independent Living Fund?"
It is the role of Christians to be compassionate, and "affirm the humanity and dignity of disabled people" by not only meeting immediate needs, but also speaking out on their behalf, Marlow says.
"I would love to see Christians see this as a justice issue," she told Christian Today. "The Church is already doing wonderful things, and I think people are sacrificially giving their time and money, but this is a monumental problem that we need to call the government to address.
"Cameron is saying that he wants to lead with compassion and social justice, so I think this is about calling our government to account on that. I think it's a really great opportunity to pray and ask how we as individuals and as a Church can step in, and maybe that will be the creation of more charities...and maybe campaigning.
"I would love for every Christian to choose one of those options to do in the face of this crisis."