Friday, 24 October 2014

An Open Letter to the LGBT+ Community

I went to see Pride last week. Yeah, I know it was released a month earlier but my dad was in hospital at the time so I was mostly just seeing the A12 as I drove up and down it.

It was a period of British history that I know very little about: I was only 5 in 1984. I heard mumblings about miners; but what 5 year old actually pays attention to the news? And it was certainly a long, long, time before I realised I was gay.

I went to see the film after 3 nights of no sleep because of a shoulder injury. Due to the sleep deprivation I was just a tad over-emotional. I spent the whole film alternating between laughing and crying, and was in floods of happy tears at the end. The second the house lights came up I had to make a dash for the nearest toilet to hide until my red splotchy face looked less red and splotchy.

The miners were probably the hardest hit during that particular 4 year term of office. And it was deeply heartening to hear a story about another oppressed group the government loathed - the LGBT community - coming to the support of others in solidarity just because it was the right thing to do.

But after the film I couldn't shake the thought "where are the LGBT community now while disabled people are being kicked even harder than the miners were then?"

The Centre for Welfare Reform calculated that severely disabled people will be hit 19 times harder by the cuts than other people. So many cuts that even I probably can't remember to list them all. But here are just the ones I can think of off the top of my head:

  • The creation of Personal Independence Payment to replace Disability Living Allowance. The intention was to reduce the budget by 20% by making the criteria stricter. DLA is only paid to meet care needs and mobility needs. It's to be spent on things like wheelchairs and having someone help you out of bed in the morning. Not exactly luxuries that a disabled person can cut back on. Did you know that now if you can walk a mere 21 metres you probably won't get that help to put towards buying a wheelchair? With the DWP and the private firms hired to carry out the medical assessments unable to organise a proverbial in a brewery; people are waiting for up to a year for their application to be processed and there are 145,000 people waiting for support they need to function.
  • Employment and Support Allowance is the benefit for people too ill or impaired to work. There are 394,000 people waiting to have their application for that processed. 394,000 waiting to put food on the table. Such an appalling system that we regularly read about people who were so ill that they died of their condition while allegedly "fit for work". Larry Newman and Cecilia Burns are just 2 of those people. The company doing the fitness for work assessments got it so wrong so often that 40% of appeals against their decisions were successful.
  • Two thirds of households affected by the bedroom tax contain a disabled person.
  • In most parts of the country; working age benefit claimants have had their Council Tax Benefit cut by 10%.
  • At the moment there's something called the Severe Disability Premium. It's not a benefit in its own right; it's a top-up premium on top of ESA/Income Support. The clue as to who is eligible is in the name: Severely disabled people. The eligibility criteria are so complex that only 230,000 people in the whole country are eligible. Under Universal Credit; the SDP is being abolished completely. Not made a bit stricter: Abolished.
  • The Independent Living Fund, which allows 18,000 disabled people with the highest care needs to live in the community, is being closed next year.
  • Social care is being cut to the point that continent people are being told to use incontinence pads because they're no longer allowed help to go to the toilet. Once I caught the local news while at my dad's house. A representative of Norfolk Council actually went on TV and said "we're cutting things like adult social care in order to preserve popular services like libraries." Disabled people are so loathed that council officials can go on TV and say that with their head held high.
  • We're all aware how this government made it more expensive to get an education. Did you know that Disabled Students' Allowance, which pays for things like Deaf students to have a BSL interpreter, is being cut? They recently announced these cuts are being postponed. Not cancelled, just postponed.
  • Access to Work, a scheme which funds support to allow disabled people to function in the workplace, has been utterly screwed up. Jess and Julie have both written recently about how these cuts are jeopardising their jobs. They are far from alone.

And these are only the cuts so far. Recently we've heard how the Tories want to cut housing benefit for 18-21 year olds, freeze working age benefits (which will affect disability benefits, despite Osborne's claim at the Tory conference), and pay benefits by cards instead of cash. Then IDS wants to charge income tax on support to pay for wheelchairs and for someone to wipe your butt, despite the fact that many disabled people don't see penny of it because it's immediately deducted to pay for support services. And, of course, Freud let it slip that he wants to be able to pay disabled people only £2 an hour.

Do you remember last Wednesday? It was a great day. For one day the entire country cared about how this government wanted to undermine disabled people's right to the same minimum wage as everybody else. He was the top story for most news outlets, he trended on Twitter all day: And for just one day it felt like the entire nation cared about our equal rights.

Then everyone went to bed that night and by the following morning most people had forgotten about us again. This week disabled people have been in court again fighting the Independent Living Fund closure. Where was the outrage this week that the government want to withdraw the funding that pays for severely disabled people to have food put in their mouths and their butts lifted onto the toilet?

I kind of get it. I mean, in 1984 LGBT people were really oppressed. Relationships weren't legally recognised, the age of consent for gay men was 5 years older than for heterosexuals. AIDS was misunderstood, treatments hadn't been developed, and it was far more stigmatised than it is today. There were no anti-discrimination laws protecting us from being fired for being LGBT or protecting us from being discriminated against by B&B owners when we just want a break for a couple of days.

Now we can get married, the age of consent is equal, HIV is a controllable chronic condition. We do have the legal right to sue our employer if they fire us for coming out at work and we can sue B&B owners who refuse us a room.

In 1984 LGBTs could look at miners and see people who were equally oppressed. The same can't be said of LGBTs looking at disabled people today. Except for those of us who are both LGBT and disabled; most LGBTs have the freedom to have a proper meal every day. The same can't be said for disabled people who are physically unable to cook, can't get social care for someone to help them with that, and so end up eating mostly just crisps. Most LGBTs can have a shower every day. The same can't be said of disabled people who were forced out of their accessible home by the bedroom tax, no longer have an accessible shower, and can only get clean by wiping themselves down with a flannel.

You have to remember that the LGBT community and the disabled community have so much in common in so many ways. We both still experience discrimination, even though it's illegal and we have the law on our side. It's a fight we both face. Hate crime affects LGBT people just like it affects disabled people. Some people are even attacked for being both disabled and LGBT. Both disabled people and LGBT people are massively unpopular with the senior party in the coalition: Not only are the Tories stripping away all the support systems that allowed for the equality of disabled people, but more Tories voted against equal marriage than for it. The law only went through because of supporters in the other parties.

The main difference between the 2 communities I belong to, of course, is society's response. When lesbians were thrown out of Sainsbury's, protesters quickly responded. A few days later a blind woman was kicked out of Tesco. Protesters were nowhere to be seen. Disabled people are more likely to be mocked for going shopping than supported if we get discriminated against in store.

In Pride we see Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners (LGSM) helping to fund and distribute food parcels to the striking miners. Where were the food parcels for David Clapson or Mark Wood? I don't mean to suggest that the LGBT community is in any way responsible for such tragedies for not being more supportive: But the handing out of the food parcels had such a resonance with the issues of today.

The film depicts LGSM getting to work before consulting miners about what it is they actually need. If LGBTs started supporting disabled people (LGBTSDP?); I'd beg of you to ask us how you can help. Disabled people's lives have historically been dominated by non-disabled people thinking they know what's best for us. There's a common saying in the disabled community "nothing about us without us," and that applies as much now as ever. A couple of years ago UK Uncut organised a protest specifically about disability benefit cuts. But because they didn't consult with disabled people for the meet-up arrangements: They chose to meet at a tube station that has no access for mobility impaired people.

Disabled people have loads of ideas for creative ways of challenging the cuts; but we need help to pull them off. We've written films about the ILF closure that we can't find anyone to produce. We organise protests and sometimes only 10 people turn up. There are far more LGBT people with social influence than disabled people. When there's a story like this week's court case we need the help of people with prominence to amplify our message because our collective voice amounts to a mere whisper; where potential LGBT allies have the power to really shout about it. Bronski Beat supported the miners; who is going to support us?

Another very common saying in the disability community is "rights not charity". In Pride LGSM start out their work with the collecting buckets to raise money. At the moment the disabled community is in a paradoxical position: We need to raise money in order to fight for the rights which are being stripped away. Paypal is the 21st century collecting tin and Disabled People Against Cuts are currently asking people to donate 50p to carry on their excellent campaigning.

Pride was a beautifully told story of the LGBT community rushing to the support of those who really needed it. I can't wait for it to come out on DVD so I can watch it again. But ever since seeing it I haven't been able to shake the slight feeling of sadness. There have been so many wonderful changes in the last 30 years that have benefited both communities I belong to. As a disabled person I first had the Disability Discrimination Act, which then became subsumed by the Equality Act. As a gay person I also have protection under the Equality Act. I can even get married now!

But the passion LGSM had for supporting people whose lives were being utterly destroyed by the government: The film just made me acutely aware that disabled people doesn't have that same support. And as someone with a foot in each community, that awareness is slightly frying my brain.

So, LGBT community. Please help us. Our equality, our independence, our jobs, our education, and even our lives depend on winning this fight.

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

Not Worth It

You'd have to be away from all means of communication today to have not noticed that Lord Freud thinks that disabled people "aren't worth" the minimum wage. Surprisingly even the mainstream media are outraged; BBC News are leading with it.

I'm not going to go into depth about everything wrong with his initial remarks because it's already been covered extensively. If you're looking for comment pieces on his original remarks, I recommend this from Frances Ryan, or this from Richard Exell.

The only things I have to add on the subject of his initial statement are these:

  1. He's not the first Tory to say this during this term of government. Philip Davies said the same thing in 2011. Then there is Cllr David Scott who raised the idea of us being not "worth" it with Freud. It's starting to seem like a common thought in the Conservative party.
  2. Disabled people make more reliable employees than non-disabled people. A report by DePaul University in the US found that disabled people stay with an employer for longer, take less time off, and are "loyal, reliable, and hardworking.". That doesn't sound to me like people who are "not worth" even the minimum wage, does it?
  3. Disabled people currently in work are having their ability to do their job screwed about with by the hideous mess this coalition have made of Access to Work. Read Julie's and Jess's accounts. These are people worth more than the minimum wage, having their capability undermined by an incompetent government.
  4. Over 50,000 disabled people in work may be forced to quit their job by DLA cuts. Again, people who are perfectly good at their jobs being prevented from functioning by a government that aren't good at their jobs.

What interests me more is Freud's piss-take of an apology. He said:

I care passionately about disabled people. I am proud to have played a full part in a government that is fully committed to helping disabled people overcome the many barriers they face in finding employment. That is why through Universal Credit – which I referred to in my response – we have increased overall spending on disabled households by £250m, offered the most generous work allowance ever, and increased the disability addition to £360 per month.

From Spectator Coffeehouse.



We all know that he doesn't give a toss about disabled people. Increased spending on disabled households? Tell that to the 394,000 people waiting for their ESA claim to be processed so they can put food on the table. Or the 145,000 people waiting for their PIP claim to be processed so they can afford to pay for a wheelchair or for someone to get them out of bed in the morning. Or the bedroom tax victims: Three quarters of whom have a disabled person in the family. Or the people who currently get DLA because they're only capable of walking less than 50 metres, but will lose it under PIP because they can walk more than 20 metres. Or all the terminally ill people who've been deemed "fit for work" like Larry Newman or Cecilia Burns.

And as for Universal Credit increasing spending on disabled households: They're abolishing the Severe Disability Premium under UC. Not replacing it with something a bit stricter - like the move from DLA to PIP - they're just abolishing it. The country's 230,000 most severely disabled people will be significantly worse off under Universal Credit.

While it's great that the mainstream media are - for a change - coming to disabled people's defence over Freud's original remarks: Why are they accepting his apology without delving into the outright lies it contains?

Edit 16/10/14: Yet another Tory thinks the minimum wage is "A barrier to work". She too presumably was complicit in the DLA cuts which will force disabled people to quit work (the Tories were whipped to vote for cuts.)



Even Mr Money Saving Expert himself thinks disabled people should be exempt from the minimum wage:




Remember yesterday when people thought disabled people were worth it? What a great day. Shame it's "shit on those disableds" business as usual again today.

Sunday, 5 October 2014

Taxing Disability

Not satisfied with canning the lowest rate of Disability Living Allowance (DLA) care, or reducing the distance one can walk from 50m to 20m in order to be able to qualify for its successor benefit Personal Independence Payment (PIP): Iain Duncan Smith now wants to tax DLA and PIP.

The Independent writes:

A government source said to the paper: “It cannot be right that those on the lowest incomes get the same disability benefits as those who are millionaires.


Which on the surface seems fair. I mean, the independently wealthy David Cameron didn't need DLA to buy the basics like wheelchairs for Ivan in the same way that my parents needed it to buy a wheelchair for me, right? He could afford them anyway, without needing extra money to cover the extra costs arising from being disabled.

But there are 4 fundamental problems with this plan. (Which the Indy does note IDS has spoken "on the issue but no official policy announcement has been made.")

1) This won't just apply to millionaires

Yes it is true that more disabled people live in poverty than non-disabled people. A great many disabled people are broke.

But just because someone's earning enough to pay income tax doesn't mean they can miraculously afford to cover all impairment-related costs. It's estimated that being disabled costs on average an extra £550 a month. It's only people on the highest rates of both care and mobility components of the benefit that get more than £550 a month in DLA/PIP (and they only get £2.20 more than that figure of £550). Most people on DLA/PIP are getting far less than £550 a month to cover their extra costs already; they simply can't afford to have money deducted from a benefit that's already not enough to meet their needs.

If you do get the highest rates of both components because you need assistance 24/7 (if you only need help during your waking hours the highest rate care DLA you're eligible for is the middle rate) that comes to £7,178.60 a year. Meaning that you can only earn £2,821.40 in wages before you have to start paying tax.

Even if you only get the lowest rate of £21.55 a week that comes to £1,120.6 a year; meaning that you have to start paying tax after earning £8,879.40.

In other words: Non-disabled people will have a personal tax allowance of £10,000. Disabled people will have a considerably lower allowance on what they're allowed to earn before tax gets deducted from their wages. Equal, huh?

Many disabled people don't even see a penny of their DLA. With the care component taken by the council to pay for someone to get them dressed in the morning, and the mobility component taken by Motability to pay for a mobility aid - whether that's a car, a scooter, or a wheelchair - we're going to see people taxed on money they're not receiving. They can't deduce the tax from the money they're getting in benefit because they're not getting a penny of it.

2) It will hit those on the lowest incomes too

Contributory Employment and Support Allowance, Incapacity Benefit, and JobSeeker's Allowance are all taxable. If the only taxable income you have in a year is cESA; your income will not be enough to pay tax on. At the moment pretty much the only time you'd be paying tax on ESA would be if you'd worked for the first half of the tax year and hit that taxable threshold, and then developed an illness like cancer and had to claim cESA for the second half of the year.

But if DLA/PIP become taxable income too; there's the chance that your combination of ESA and DLA will push you over the personal tax allowance. IDS is lying if he claims this is about making sure those on the lowest income get the most support.

3) Disabled people in work will be pushed out of work

The Disability Benefits Consortium found that over 50,000 disabled people currently in work would have to give up work if they lost their DLA. If DLA pays for someone to get you out of bed in the morning to go to work: You can't work if that DLA is stopped. If DLA pays for your wheelchair to get you to work: You can't get to work if your DLA is stopped.

While taxability is only going to equate to a maximum of 45p in every pound for the highest rate taxpayers; almost all disabled people in work will see bites taken out of their DLA because of the fact that they'll have a smaller personal allowance as I mentioned under point 1. For a lot of people it will be the difference between having help to get out of bed in the morning, and not having help to get out of bed in the morning. For some it will be the difference between having a wheelchair and not having a wheelchair.

The "senior government source" claimed that taxing DLA would raise "several billions". A not very clever senior government source who doesn't have the ability to realise the amount this policy is going to cost them in out-of-work benefits for all the disabled people forced to quit their jobs.

4) It undermines the universality of the welfare state

Yeah, some rich people partake of "legal tax avoidance schemes". But those that do pay their tax know that they're investing in their own future, not just benevolently giving to others. They know that when they reach 65, they'll be eligible for a state pension because it's universal. They know that if they develop cancer, or their heart starts to fail: They'll be eligible to claim contributory ESA because it's universal. They know that if they break their spine in a car accident; they'd be eligible for DLA/PIP to pay for a wheelchair, or for someone to wipe their butt if they have a high level injury and lose the use of their arms.

Yes, under this scheme they'll still be eligible for DLA/PIP; just less of it. It might be the difference between getting their whole £550 extra costs met, or only part of them.

DLA/PIP is fair because it says "we recognise that being disabled is expensive. It doesn't matter if you're comfortably off; we think those extra costs are unfair so we're levelling the playing field for all disabled people." DLA was fair to the Cameron family in meeting some of their extra costs. Extra costs introduced by a discriminatory society that places financial burdens on disabled people that just aren't placed on non-disabled people.

But the "government source" did have a point...

In addition to the universal DLA available to rich disabled people and poor disabled people alike; there currently is some extra financial help available to the poorest of disabled people called the Severe Disability Premium (SDP). SDP isn't a whole benefit on it's own; it's a top-up premium for those getting either Income Support or means-tested ESA. The SDP is being scrapped under Universal Credit.

Until Iain Duncan Smith came plundering along with his incompetency; it was never, ever, the case that disabled people on the lowest incomes got the same as disabled millionaires. It's only now that he's come along with no experience or insight that poor disabled people and rich disabled people will get the same because of his abolition of the SDP.

While I think it's fair that rich disabled people should get DLA because they're still hit with bills that their non-disabled peers don't; the reality is that families with fortunes like the Camerons aren't going to be affected by this cut at all. It's just a drop in the ocean to them. The people who are going to be hit hardest are the disabled people earning £4000 a year who'll suddenly be getting a tax bill because their DLA pushes them over the personal allowance. The people with cancer on DLA and ESA who'll find that those 2 benefits combined will push them over the personal allowance. The disabled people who have to quit the job they love because they can no longer afford to pay for someone to help them out of bed in the morning.

The rich disabled people will just indulge in schemes like those partaken of by people like Jimmy Carr and Gary Barlow. The people who'll really be hurt by these policies will be those who can afford it least. Remember that when the DWP insist that it's a tax only for rich disabled people.

Wednesday, 1 October 2014

Four things from the Conservative Party Conference #cpc14

1) Housing Benefit for 18-21 year olds

In general students are ineligible for housing benefit, but many disabled students are. Which considering that most non-disabled students are able to take a part-time job, but most disabled students aren't it's rather sensible. Because of my impaired mobility I certainly could never have done the bar work or waitressing that my classmates all did. This is a way of levelling the playing field and allowing disabled people to study like their non-disabled peers.

Cuts to Disabled Students' Allowance were announced earlier in the year, though they've recently been postponed.

But now the Tories are planning an extra cut which will hit young people if they win the next election: they're going to prevent 18-21 year olds from claiming housing benefit. Many young people are going to end up homeless; both disabled and non-disabled; and it's going to be horrific. But it's going to have an extra impact on disabled people in that it's going to be yet another barrier in accessing an education that won't hit non-disabled people in quite the same way.

2) Freeze on working age benefits for 2 years

In his speech; Osborne announced that if the Tories win next year, he'll freeze working age benefits for 2 years. He lied outright when he told the assembled crowd and adoring media that this wouldn't apply to disability benefits. Dr Campbell explained on her blog how it definitely will be hitting ESA claimants. Please spread her post far and wide for people who haven't read the fine print of Osborne's announcement and took him at his word when he said it wouldn't apply to "disability benefits".

3) Benefits cards instead of cash

Because IDS doesn't realise that Shameless was a piece of fiction, he's going to be trialling paying benefits by pre-paid cards instead of cash so that people can only spend them on items he deems acceptable; and at stores that have negotiated deals with the government.

So if you live in the village where I grew up, can't use the train station or the buses because they're not accessible, and you don't have a car: You're fucked. Because the chances that the one family-run tiny village shop have got in on the government scheme are slim.

There's a host of other problems too. Addiction isn't the only criteria you'd get put onto the cards for. Debt is another one. Scope estimate that being disabled costs you on average an extra £550 a month. When you've got those extra costs mounting it's very easy to rack up debt.

What happens when you then need to buy a piece of equipment like a walking stick or a chopping board adapted for one-handed use from a company that's not signed up to the government benefit card scheme and you don't have any cash?

What about the 58 year old woman who's paid her National Insurance premiums for 40 years? She's now developed cancer and had to claim ESA while undergoing treatment. Because being ill is expensive she ran up some debt during treatment and as such was shifted from cash payments to a pre-paid card. She's just been given that all clear by her doctor; but it'll be at least a month before the effects of the treatment have worn off enough for her to be well enough to go back to work. Should she really not be allowed to buy a bottle of champagne the day she gets her all clear? After 40 years of paying her NI contributions?

It's very easy for people with mental health problems to get into financial difficulty when they're especially unwell. I know a lot of people end up with some quite large debts. For me, personally, the most effective antidepressant is TV. It's easy to immerse yourself in a fictional world to forget - just temporarily - how terrible real life is. I spent much of Monday upset about how isolated and alone I am. Wanna know how I distracted myself from the thoughts that my life really isn't worth living? I watched TV.

So you're ill, you're in debt, you've been given a card and are only allowed to spend money on pre-approved items from pre-approved stores. Your TV breaks and you need to repair or replace it for the sake of your sanity; to give your brain some respite from how miserable your life is. You're not allowed to buy a TV because TVs aren't on the list of things you're allowed to have. Are you supposed to just wallow in your depression until you finally do end up causing yourself serious harm?

Or you're so physically impaired that you're unable to cook. Your council won't give you a care package because their budget's been cut by central government. The only way you can get some food is to order a takeaway. You've got yourself into debt because buying takeaway every day is expensive, but you've got no choice. You get transferred from cash payments to the cards because of your debt and takeaways are a prohibited item. What are you supposed to eat then?

Or a card-holder in the situation that I'm in now where they need to buy a new mattress but the only things they're allowed to buy with their card are food, toiletries and clothes? Or if they are allowed to buy a mattress, but only from a supplier that's got a deal with the DWP. And that supplier won't remove old mattresses for disposal and they can't get rid of a mattress themselves because they're too physically impaired?

Then there are people with addictions. People who aren't going to stop buying drugs or alcohol because of a switch from cash to pre-paid cards because they are addicted. Instead they'll sell their £30 card for £15 of cash. Or resort to crime to meet their physical need for the substance they're addicted to.

4) Acceleration of Universal Credit rollout

On Monday IDS announced that Universal Credit will be rolled out to all JobCentres from early next year. They say this is because of the "success of the policy so far". Such a "success" that they keep lowering the target... And still missing it. For now it'll only be for single people claiming JSA. But with an accelerated timetable it won't be long before people reporting a change of circumstances can kiss their Severe Disability Premium goodbye, and the rest of us will watch it gradually fade away.

And a bonus piece of news that's not from the conference but got published this weekend

The DWP don't collect information on people who've died as a result of having their income stopped. Read the article from the Disability News Service who submitted the FoI request.

Tuesday, 16 September 2014

Cuts to Disabled Students' Allowance Postponed

As David reported in April, Disabled Students' Allowance was recently targeted for some major cuts. There have been many of us very worried about this. But as the TES reports this week, the cuts to Disabled Students' Allowance have been postponed until academic year 2016/17.

But there has been no u-turn here, despite what the NUS is claiming - just a worry about timing. Ministers have said that they want to give universities more time to ensure that they can plug the gap left by Disabled Students' Allowance. (This probably has a lot to do with pressure from panicked university representatives, who've realised they can't afford that gap-plugging.) Government policy continues to be the same: move the responsibility for meeting disabled students' extra costs away from the government and onto the universities. As we've seen with the changes to the Access to Work fund, when you remove funding and expect employers/providers to plug the gap, it simply doesn't happen. The same thing will be true with DSA.

Will cuts to DSA keep disabled students out of university? Image: empty dining hall at Oxford University. Photo by David Illiff, Creative Commons.

Ultimately, how many universities are going to be willing to take on expensive students whose costs are no longer funded by the government? I forsee a lot of excuses along the lines of "We are not equipped to support you on your course." (I've already been threatened with that excuse myself in the past, though the threat didn't end up materialising - in part thanks to DSA.) Even more likely is an increase in general social inequality. How many prospective disabled students can afford to make their own courses accessible? Given how inaccessible they are now - not many.

Disabled people are excluded from educational opportunities, which contributes to the poverty, lack of qualifications and limited opportunities that we experience. A key reason is the inaccessibility of university courses. DSA goes some way towards helping to rebalance things, making university courses more accessible. These changes mean that many more disabled people will be unable to afford to do university courses. And this at a time when we're living under a regime that wants all disabled people to work. Ensuring that disabled people get equal access to degree courses would be one way to help with that. This is a short-sighted policy.

All that said, I remain encouraged by the support shown by NUS for disabled students on this issue. Let's hope we can keep their #degreesofdiscrimination campaign going, and change the government's mind on DSA for good.

As a disabled postgrad student, I've experienced some serious discrimination and access barriers. Without my DSA, I simply wouldn't have been able to continue with my course. In what ways have you been enabled to attend university by Disabled Students Allowance?

For more on the changes to DSA, and the consultation about it, follow the Disabled Students' Allowance Observatory blog.

Thursday, 31 July 2014

Confirmed - The FULL Impact of Cuts Disabled People Fac


Since the coalition came to power, sick and disabled people have claimed we are being fundamentally harmed by the coalition welfare reforms. Not scroungers or skivers, but people living with long term serious illnesses like me, or who live with physical disabilities. Adults AND children. Young and old. People with terminal conditions, people with kidney or heart failure, people waiting for transplants and even people in comas. None have been spared. The government repeatedly assure you they have.

The government have of course denied that they are putting an unreasonable share of austerity cuts on us. Repeatedly and often aggressively. This is how they respond to the UN of all people :

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2681313/The-Brazil-Nut-strikes-IDS-anger-former-Marxist-Raquel-Rolnik-attacks-benefit-cuts.html

Since 2011, almost every main voice involved in the services and systems that support sick and disabled people have argued that we must know how all of the changes TOGETHER have affected us so particularly.

Everything we rely on has been cut severely - in some cases by up to 40%. Disability benefits, sickness benefits, social care services, housing support, legal aid for tribunals, respite care, the independent living fund, council tax relief, higher education funding, everything.

It is very possible that if you were affected by one of the changes, you were affected by several or even all of them.

Whilst the government paid lip service to assessing what impact their reforms would have on sick and disabled people, they only did so one by one. They always claimed it was impossible to assess them all together and specifically, how they would affect disabled people when combined.

It has been a long and dishonest journey. As with so many things, the government have done everything in their power to keep the figures from the public.

They said that it wasn't possible despite a petition gathering over 100,000 signatures calling for what they called a "cumulative impact assessment" or CIA.

http://epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/43154 (Scroll down for gov response)

The government treated the debate it generated in parliament - a debate sick and disabled people themselves worked so hard for - like a Punch and Judy show of partisan nonsense. You can watch it for yourself if you click on the following link :

http://www.parliament.uk/business/committees/committees-a-z/commons-select/backbench-business-committee/news/mps-debate-welfare-reform-e-petition/

They said it wasn't "robust" when both the very well respected Dr Simon Duffy from the Centre for Welfare Reform and the equally well respected think tank Demos produced models they believed were viable.

And finally, just 2 days ago, Lord Freud, the failed millionaire ex-banker who re-designed our entire welfare system in just 3 weeks, wrote an official response to the SSAC, the government's own Social Security Advisory Committee, who alsocalled for a CIA relating to disability, confirming yet again, that he believed it was impossible to assess all of the changes sick and disabled people have faced and claiming that the IFS, the all powerful Institute for Fiscal Studies, agreed with him.

This was yet another lie from Freud - there is no other word for it. As the IFS have confirmed

“We can’t find anything we have written down saying we can’t do a CIA....We do think it is possible to do a CIA of tax and benefit changes for the disabled population as a whole."
http://disabilitynewsservice.com/2014/07/ministers-humiliated-over-cumulative-impact-assessment/

As it happens, they did one themselves for Wales

http://dera.ioe.ac.uk/18405/2/120228reformsummaryen.pdf

Today, at the request of the European Human Rights Commission, (EHRC) NIESR, the National Institute for Economic and Social Research have produced a definitive CIA and it is shocking 


"Figure 4.9 shows that households with disabled children lose out by more in cash terms than households with disabled adults, with households with disabled children and adults losing out by more than either group – around £1,500 per household per year on average.
"Households with no disabled adults or disabled children in the 7th and 8th deciles [wealthier households] actually gainslightly from the reform package, whereas households with disabled adults or children (or both) lose out. At the bottom of the distribution, households with no disabled people, or with disabled adults, do not lose as much on average as households with disabled children, or both disabled adults and children. In percentage terms the distributional effects are fairly regressive across all four groups, with households with disabled adults and children doing worst of all up to the top decile."
 As one of the authors, Jonathan Portes says in an article for the Guardian today

"Modelling the cumulative impact is feasible and practicable – at least by gender, age, disability and ethnicity. Our model isn’t perfect and could be improved, but it can be done.....Families that have a disabled adult or child lose perhaps five times as much proportionally as better-off able-bodied families."
There is now absolutely no doubt at all that sick and disabled people have been hit over and over again by a barrage of cuts and the more vulnerable the family; the more disabled people within it; the more they have lost.

The DWP, Iain Duncan-Smith, Lord Freud and many right wing media outlets have kept this information from the public through every possible means. They will probably do so again today.

But over 100,000 people signed the WOW petition.

http://epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/43154

Think tanks and charities and many journalists know that this is hugely significant. And as ever, we can and will make our own news.

PLEASE, CROSS POST THIS IF YOU HAVE A BLOG, WRITE ABOUT IT IF YOU HAVE A COLUMN, FIND A SLOT FOR IT IF YOU ARE A PRESENTER, TWEET IT OR SHARE IT IF YOU ARE A SOCIAL MEDIA USER, SEND IT TO EVERYONE AND ANYONE YOU THINK MIGHT CARE OR WHO COULD HELP YOU GET IT TO A WIDER AUDIENCE.

YOU CAN USE THE BUTTONS BELOW THIS ARTICLE TO SHARE IT TOO.

We now know that this government have harmed the very people they promised us they would protect. They have harmed the very people that voters never wanted to be harmed. They have lied about the harm being done at every stage and have actively tried to keep it from both parliament and the media.

If ever a story needed to be seen and understood, it is this. If you never bothered to click on the links in an article for more information before, click on these. It is a shameful and repellant story and those responsible have no place whatsoever within 100 miles of Westminster. 

Tuesday, 22 July 2014

PIP judicial review: Court rules against us but vindicates our case

We lost. The judge ruled that in the end the consultation process for PIP was not unfair.

However that is not the whole story. You see, the judge found that it was the second consultation that made things right. The first consultation, he had some harsher words for. Words such as:
"Unfortunately mind-bogglingly opaque." (Paragraph 105 part ii)
"At best ambivalent" (Paragraph 105 part vii)
"Convoluted, inherently unclear, ambiguous and confusing.  No construction allows for full coherence." (Paragraph 106)
Not exactly a ringing endorsement of the way the government chose to do things, I think you'll agree.  The government's legal team also agreed, and in fact they have accepted that they must share a portion of the costs of this judicial review in the face of evidence that it was indeed justified.

Not only that, but the government made it perfectly clear that they know exactly how much their policies will hurt people but want to do it anyway.
“… [T]his was recognised from the outset.  In developing the PIP assessment we were aware that the vast majority of recipients of DLA were individuals with genuine health conditions and disabilities and genuine need, and that removing or reducing that benefit may affect their daily lives.  However, we believe that these impacts can be justified as being a logical result of distributing limited resources in a different and more sustainable way…”.
(Paragraph 80)
Let's see that again:
"we were aware that the vast majority of recipients of DLA were individuals with genuine health conditions and disabilities and genuine need, and that removing or reducing that benefit may affect their daily lives."
And again:
"genuine need"
So we have the government's lawyers arguing that the DWP and the government ministers know full well that they are removing vital support from hundreds of thousands of people who have few other options and who will suffer as a result. And they are doing it to save money.

The judge agreed with the DWP that taking money from physically disabled people to allocate to other PIP claimants achieves "substantive equality between physically and non-physically disabled." I argue that this has reduced the equality of physically disabled people compared to not-yet-disabled people, purely because of budget.

This is Lowest common denominator equality.

This is your government. This is what the society that we live in is prepared to accept.

The court's findings and what's next

The judge was persuaded by Dr Bolton's evidence that the government could have changed their decision had they decided to listen to the overwhelming opposition to the 20m rule in the second consultation, and so it was not unfair. My legal team and I disagree. We still argue that the decision had long since been made and that the secretary of state had a closed mind by this point, and so the second consultation was not at a formative stage.

Although the judgment went against us I feel that the judge's analysis of the first consultation is vindication for our bringing this case to court. Don't forget that the second consultation only came about after this case was given permission to proceed and the DWP realised that they could not get away with such a shambles.

I hope that the admission by the government that they know exactly what they are doing will make people wake up to what is happening. Meanwhile, this is not the end. The legal team and I are considering our options to appeal this result.

Press Release from Public Law Solicitors

PIP Consultation Judicial Review Press Release

This article is crossposted from latentexistence.me.uk

Thursday, 17 July 2014

#DisabilityConfident - a Wasted Year

It's coming up on a year since DWP launched Disability Confident, their campaign to try and get more disabled people into work by not challenging workplace disablism (yes, you read that right), and DWP are trying to drum up attention for the anniversary by organising a Twitter Thunderclap, which shows every sign of being more a drizzle in a teacup than a thunderclap as a day before it executes it only has 245 supporters, about half of whom are individual DWP Job Centres or government ministries. Which if you think about it means they can't even get a significant fraction of the people who have been through Disability Confident events in this last year to voice their support for it.

I've talked about my problems with Disability Confident in earlier blogs, about its deeply offensive focus on inspiration-porn and how the 'It's about Ability, not Disability' tagline sends entirely the wrong message in 'So What's Wrong With Disability Confident?' and about its failure to address workplace disablism, the root of the problem, in 'Disability Confident and the Elephant in the Corner', so with a year gone, how has Disability Confident performed?

The answer isn't a good one. Make no mistake, I agree with the stated aims of Disability Confident, because the difference in the rates of non-disabled and disabled employment is a national disgrace, but I think they've picked a godawful way of approaching the problem, and that that is a deliberate decision, as demonstrated by then Minister for Disabled People Esther McVey's statement at the launch that she wasn't comfortable with telling people what to do - unfortunately when she said 'telling people what to do' she actually meant enforcing our employment rights under the Equality Act, 2010. Rather than take on the actual problem of workplace disablism, Disability Confident tries to pretend that the problem is just that employers might be a bit 'embarrassed and uncomfortable' with disabled people, and tries to challenge that by painting us as 'inspiring'. The 'embarrassed and uncomfortable' message was handled far better by Scope's #EndTheAwkward campaign, which achieved greater penetration in a week with its three ads than Disability Confident has achieved in an entire year of events; meanwhile people, including keynote speakers, are still coming out of Disability Confident events and tweeting about how inspiring we all are - so that's another generation of managers and recruiters taught to objectify disabled people rather than treat us as normal, which actually pushes the workplace equality cause backwards rather than forwards.

Nor have the online Disability Confident materials been much better, not only do they try to avoid emphasising our legal rights as job applicants and employees under the Equality Act, 2010, but one so-called 'resource' for employers trumpeted by the #DisabilityConfident tweet stream of @DWPGovUK managed to classify Autism, which is a Pervasive Developmental Disorder (i.e. a developmental disability with general effects), in with the Specific Learning Difficulties such as Dyspraxia and Dyslexia (i.e. developmental disabilities with localised effects), this is about as correct as classifying a potato as a flower.... That entire 'Hidden Disabilities Toolkit' website has currently been taken down for rework, and the notice for that claims that the SpLDs are part of the Autism Spectrum, completely reversing their prior statement, and still getting it utterly wrong!

I'm trying to think of something Disability Confident actually gets right, I really am, but I'm coming up blank. We are faced with a chronically discriminatory jobs market, which has been resisting legislation to fix it since at least the Disabled Persons (Employment) Act 1944 (which created the old Registered Disabled system and employment quotas), together with rampant workplace disablism, and DWP are trying to fix it by saying the problem is that people are a little embarrassed by disability. I've been through the workplace disablism wringer, and my manager's problem wasn't that he was 'embarrassed' by me, it was that he openly stated all disabled people should be forcibly retired, and set out to make sure precisely that happened to me.

The first year of Disability Confident hasn't been the success DWP are trying to paint it, if anything the inspiration-porn focus of the campaign has worked to entrench the problem of disabled workers being perceived as the other, and until we are seen as no different to any other worker we will not make progress on disability employment. Of course the fact that every other mention of disability by DWP is aimed at portraying us as lazy, frauds and scroungers doesn't exactly enshrine us as ideal workers in the eyes of recruiters and managers.

Disability Confident is meant to run for another year, the only way that it will make progress, and counter the damage it has already done, is to actually get out there and challenge workplace disablism. The message disabled people need Disability Confident pushing isn't 'We took on X as a token and they're sooo inspiring', it's 'Company Y refuses to employ disabled people and we are therefore taking them to court for breaching the Equality Act 2010', because when you have been trying softly-softly for 70 years without progress, its probably a sign that it's long past time to start kicking butt and naming names, pour encourager les autres.

Wednesday, 16 July 2014

New Disability Minister, Same as the Old Disability Minister

In an utter farce during yesterday's Cabinet reshuffle, disabled people were left for several hours under the impression the post of Minister for Disabled People had been axed. Existing minister Mike Penning, no loss, had been moved off to become Minister for State for both Policing and Justice, the sort of authoritarian roles which will clearly suit him better, and the odious Esther 'they get better' McVey, his predecessor in the role before being promoted to Minister of State for Employment had had her government web page amended to say that, 'from July 2014' she was taking over the responsibilities for the Minister for Disabled People role. Then, much later, came the announcement, and via 'rumours from within DWP' to quote the Guardian's Politics Blog, rather than being announced via Cameron's twitter feed as with other appointments, that Mark Harper would be taking over as Minister for Disabled People. Clearly disabled people are beneath Cameron's dignity to address as he does for other ministerial posts.

So who is Mark Harper? Well, for a start he's the former Minister for Immigration who signed off on the 'Go Home' racist vans, and I say 'former Minister' because it then emerged he was employing an illegal immigrant as his cleaner and had to resign. But after a bare six months on the back benches his record has been washed clean and he's back in government. The question is whether he'll be any different to his three Tory predecessors: Miller, Miller, the Cripple Killer, the odious 'they get better' McVey, and Penning, all of whom have functioned more as Ministers against Disabled People than Ministers for Disabled People. Well the good news is he actually has some background with disability, having been Shadow Minister for Disabled People before he was elected, the bad news is that he has form for openly accusing disabled benefit claimants of being frauds and scroungers, and he did this while Minister for Political and Constitutional Reform in the Cabinet Office. Appearing on Any Questions on 10 September 2010, Harper stated: "There are definitely some people in our country, and everyone in every community knows who they are, who are able to work, and don't, and those people mustn't be given the option of staying on benefits when other people are going out and working incredibly hard to try and support their families" and then, when told by the original questioner that he should be condemned for his language: "I gave a very balanced answer, when I said there are some people, and it was very clear during the General Election campaign, because everybody sees them, able-bodied people who have no barriers to work who choose not to. And there's nothing that upsets people who work hard to take care of their families, who see other people living at least as good a life as they do, who don't work for a living. They find it outrageous and particularly when money is very tight, they want the government to do something about it." This is absolutely classic IDS-style demonization of disabled people with all the requisite buzz-words of 'hard-working people' and 'everybody sees them' to imply that the overwhelming majority of disabled people in receipt of disability benefits are frauds and scroungers, and that if you don't agree then you aren't one of the right-thinking people. Thrown into the middle of that there's also the gem of "the Work Programme... will be very personalized ... trying to fit the help that they get to the particular needs that they've got" - if anyone has come across the Work Programme doing that, let us know! You can listen to him saying all of this here, from 32:45.

So there we have it, the new Minister Against Disabled People, wielding the demonization brush with the best of them and clearly no more a friend and supporter of Disabled People than any of his predecessors.

Wednesday, 9 July 2014

PIP consultation judicial review starts today

Today a judge will consider whether the Department of Work and Pensions carried out a fair consultation when it decided that only people who could walk less than 20 metres would get the full amount of help for mobility.

Where with Disability Living Allowance claimants had to be able to walk less than 50 metres to qualify for the higher rate, under Personal Independence Payments the cut-off will be just 20 metres. People who fall between those two distances will receive the lower rate of £21.55 a week instead of the higher rate of £56.75. As a result they will no longer qualify to lease a car from the Motability scheme and if they currently have one it will be taken away. Other things that may be affected can include automatic entitlement to bus passes and local taxi or dial-a-ride schemes. The lower rate of £21.55 won't stretch much beyond one taxi trip to see a doctor or hospital in many areas.

Although three people initially pursued a judicial review, two cases were put on hold and my case was continued as representative of the others. The judicial review will examine the consultation about PIP that took place in early 2012 and the second consultation that focused on just the mobility component which took place in late 2013.

The main case is that the first consultation did not address the change to 20 metres while, by the time it got to the second consultation it was too late because there was no realistic possibility of change. The rest of the scheme had already been put in place and so money had already been allocated elsewhere.

In response to the second consultation the DWP unexpectedly claimed that the budget that in the past helped people with physical disabilities to get out and mobile had been reallocated to help people with learning disabilities and mental health problems. This pitting of one impairment against another is fundamentally unfair.. Rather than address inequality by bringing everyone up to the same mobility level, they have chosen to help one group by seriously disadvantaging another. It would seem that the government has seen the word equality but has not understood what it really means. If they had told us what was in their minds when they were consulting we might have had a chance to put them right.

The judicial review will be heard at the Adminstrative Court in Bull Street, Birmingham starting at 13:00 today and all day tomorrow. We don't yet know when we will hear the results. There will be a vigil outside the courts in Bull Street, Birmingham today at 13:00 which supporters may wish to attend. Please spread the word and tell your friends to look out for this story in the news.

Related blog posts

PIP 20 metre rule consultation response: “We’re not listening.”
Victory! DWP to launch PIP mobility consultation
PIP Judicial Review given the go ahead
Announcement: legal action against the DWP over the #PIP consultation
Why I am suing the government
If you can only walk twenty metres you’ll get no help
Replacement of disability living allowance headline news for hours
Two weeks until PIP Judicial Review – 20 metre limit in the dock