Tuesday, 29 November 2011
Fortunately in today's Autumn Statement Osborne announced that working age benefits will be going up by 5.2% after all. This will include the disability component of Tax Credits, but not other Tax Credits.
The other bit of good news is that The Times is reporting today that the government is set to abandon it's plan to confiscate the mobility component of DLA from those resident in care homes. This must be a huge relief to residents who had been facing the prospect of effectively being sentenced to a life of never going out again. Though Sue Marsh speculates that the idea was only ever a tactic to make the government appear sympathetic by giving one concession.
Thursday, 24 November 2011
I was already aware that Clause 102 of the WRB was going to introduce measures to allow DWP to recover overpayments made through its own errors, which may seem obvious and reasonable, but is more of a problem than most people will realise. The problem is that errors in payments may go on for a period of years before errors are noticed (a friend of mine had underpayments stretching back a significant number of years before DWP admitted there was an error), and by the time the error is realised we may be talking about a very substantial amount of money, particularly for someone living far below the poverty line on benefits. Equally that overpayment will have led people completely innocently into expenditure that they wouldn't have made if they had been budgeting for the amount DWP should have been paying them. They may not have been entitled to the money, but in a very real sense they will be the ones punished for the DWP's error.
Lord Freud insists that the DWP will be understanding about repayment rates, but frankly their reputation for being understanding about anything isn't good. As I say, I knew about this provision, but what had my jaw bouncing off the carpet was learning that it is going to be retroactive, an ex post facto law is the technical term. Why is it going to be retroactive? Because DWP have been forcing people to pay back overpayments for a while now, and have just realised it might not actually have been legal.
Now a normal person would expect the reaction to be a bunch of red faces, and then a quiet apology and re-payment of the sums involved to people who have bullied into repayments they couldn't afford and weren't legally obliged to make. But that isn't how DWP-think works. If DWP has broken the law, then the best way to react isn't to make amends, it is to change the law retroactively so that what they did is now legal, even if it wasn't at the time they did it, and that is what clause 102 of the Welfare Reform Bill does. Many countries (such as the US, and Iran) outlaw ex post facto laws, and the UK is theoretically forbidden from ex post facto criminal law by the European Convention on Human Rights, but there's no exclusion from passing ex post facto civil law, and apparently we have something of a tradition of it. I think that's something that will shock people, I know that it is something that has shocked me, and isn't it reasonable that we should expect government to obey the laws of the land as they stood at that time, not gerrymander the law to retroactively legalise their illegal cockups?
Saturday, 19 November 2011
This news item is worrying. Scary, in fact. GPs should 'not sign off long-term sick' [BBC] I've quoted most of it here, with my responses.
People should be signed off for long-term sickness by an independent assessment service and not GPs, a government-backed review says.
Strange. The government trusts GPs to run the NHS but not to decide who is too sick to work. Yet they trust Atos and Group 4 who have a proven record of ignoring evidence and making wrong decisions. I wonder which company the government will outsource this "independent" assessment service to?
The review also suggests tax breaks for firms which employ people who suffer from long-term conditions.
This, I actually like.
It is estimated the changes would send 20% of those off sick back to work.
This is blatantly a move in favour of employers and against employees. Tories always side with people with money. Perhaps the government should instead ask why so many people are sick.
A Department for Work and Pensions spokesman said: "The government is committed to supporting more people with health conditions to work."
Supporting? They mean forcing. Whether it's what people need for their health or not.
Around 300,000 people a year are absent from work due to long-term sickness.
Perhaps there is some problem other than people pretending to be sick. Perhaps being forced to do too much work for too little pay is the problem. Perhaps employers should pay more and stop sacking people and then forcing other employees to do the work of more than one person.
The review also calls for a new government backed job-brokering service, to find work for people cannot stay in their current job because of their condition.
Great idea. But don't force it on people that shouldn't be working at all.
A survey suggested 77% of GPs had admitted they signed people off sick for reasons other than their physical health, the report authors told the BBC.
What, like MENTAL HEALTH? This is an absurd, biased statement that ignores a huge part of health care.
The government asked Professor Carol Black and the former head of the British Chambers of Commerce David Frost to consider radical changes to deal with the human and financial cost of sickness absence in the workplace.
Ah. "Deal with". Because it must not really be sickness.
If the recommendations are accepted people who are signed off sick would also be put on to Job Seekers' Allowance, instead of Employment Support Allowance, for a period of three months.
They would receive less money and have to prove they were looking for work.
This is outrageous. In fact, it's evil. When someone has been signed off sick the last thing they need is to be forced to look for work. Being made to visit the job centre every fortnight can be very difficult and highly damaging to what little health remains. Looking for a more suitable job means being forced to leave the job you are in and abandon hope of going back which can be crushing. Even if there are jobs which a sick person could manage to fit around their problems, most employers would hire a healthy person, which means endless applications and rejections which cause stress, which in turn aggravates both mental and physical health problems. Sometimes a GP will sign a person off work because they need rest, both physical and mental, in order to recover from their illness.
The government's new policy to deal with the costs of sickness in the workplace appears to be to pretend that people aren't sick at all.
As is pointed out by Paul Cotterill at Liberal Conspiracy, Atos founded the Commercial Occupational Health Providers Association (COHPA) which has seats on Dame Carol Black’s select committee for occupational health and the Council for Work and Health. COHPA boasts
It seems likely that Atos will be well placed to bid to assess people for time off work.
COHPA has been active politically in trying to represent the interests of commercial OH providers to Dame Carol Black, Government and key bodies in the industry.
Thursday, 17 November 2011
Sometimes surreal, but basically brilliant. The auto-transcribed subtitles aren't that much worse than the subtitles on live telly like the news. Though I'm sure the state was handing out "maternity grants" rather than "maternity bras."
Via Benefit Scrounging Scum.
Monday, 14 November 2011
The Sheffield Occupation is in front of the Cathedral, so trams and buses stop nearby. It is on a flat courtyard and while there are some steps to access it from some directions, there are sloped alternatives alongside them.
The Occupy Sheffield has one portaloo, which is not accessible. The local Quaker Meeting House is offering the occupiers use of their toilets, and they do have wheelchair accessible toilets on each floor (with lift access to each floor). Once they close from 9pm - 9am, use of the portaloo begins, excluding many disabled people from using it.
The closest Changing Places toilets to the site are at Sheffield Town Hall and at Ponds Forge Sports Centre.
They have generators for electricity, but try to only use these at night. They also have gas heat, which is basic. If you need electrical power for any of your equipment, this could be problematic at the Occupy Sheffield camp. If you have a need to keep warm that would go beyond wrapping up really well, then again it may be an inaccessible protest for you in that respect too.
There is a good supply of food and hot drinks. I was the only visibly disabled person at the camp when I was there, but talked to a man who was a mental health service user. Another disabled person had clearly been at the camp at some point too. This photo is of a piece of paper taped to the main tent, which reads "I am one of the few disabled people who has a job. I am mad about what our society has become. I am the 99%".
The photo at the top of the post is of the main tent. It has a large banner on it, reading "Occupy Sheffield", and another fabric banner reading We Heart NHS. It was taken by me.
Sunday, 13 November 2011
Friday, 11 November 2011
I'm afraid that living in London I've only been able to scout out access info for Occupy LSX. Perhaps if you visit one of the other occupations you could post access details in the comments below?
If you're worried about getting cold and needing to get inside and warm up: The occupation is simply surrounded by cafés. There's all your big chains (Starbucks, Costa, Pret, Paul, etc) within sight of the tents. Tents are actually erected outside Starbucks, Paul and Tea, you can get from the occupation into these outlets within 10 paces.
Accessible toilets: There's an accessible toilet in Tea (I noticed it through the window as I was pushing past, I didn't go inside and scope out the interior of the cubicle). There's also an accessible toilet in One New Change (which is apparently open 24 hours). I wouldn't be surprised if other cafés also contained accessible toilets but they were the only 2 I found. The Costa across the street has a toilet, but not an accessible one; it's in the basement with no lift. Might be useful to know for anyone that can do stairs but is likely to need the toilet urgently. There are Portaloos on site but I didn't see an accessible one. According to the Changing Places website, the nearest Changing Places toilet is at the Tate Modern 0.45miles away.
I also understand the people who want to camp at the occupation for a night can ask in the Welcome Tent and be allocated an available tent. I can't see why someone with fatigue issues couldn't get allocated a tent for one hour if needed.
Hope to see you on Sunday.
They report that “Almost 200,000 people were granted a disability benefit last year without ever having a face-to-face assessment. A staggering 94 per cent of new claimants for Disability Living Allowance started receiving their payments after only filling out paperwork.”
The Mail goes on to explain that – shock horror – disabled people had completed DLA forms, and many of them had also provided evidence from their doctor. Yet because they had not had a physical assessment, there is apparently something wrong with this process. Another reason to erode disabled people and suggest that we are a drain on society. You can feel the implication that we are living on handouts because it’s easy, rather than because it’s essential.
How dare the Mail suggest that we “just” fill out a form! That form and notes comprise 55 pages – 38 of which have to be completed by the claimant. This involves a lot of writing, and having to be able to think straight and focus over a long period of time. It can require a huge effort, particularly if you have disabilities which affect communication, or your physical ability to write or type. Also, as the form focuses on activities which you can no longer manage, or need help to achieve, it is a depressing process – making you realise how disabled you really are. It can be soul destroying.
Perhaps the Mail ought to look at that form in more detail. That tiresome, frustrating, difficult form! Big, isn't it? Detailed, isn't it? Daunting, isn't it?
As well as the form itself, there is the need for supporting evidence. It helps if you include letters from specialist doctors, and for my own application I also provided a diary of a week in my life, and statements from people who knew and lived with me, describing the help they have to give. I know my GP was also approached by the Department of Work and Pensions to confirm the information I provided. I had to not only explain the sort of help I needed, but provide independent evidence.
Fellow claimant Mary told me: “I have usually had to go for an interview but once got a 2 year award on "just" the DLA form. That form included sections to be filled out by all sorts of people involved in my care and treatment - GP, specialist consultant, main carer and so on - plus the instructions on the form required me to submit with it a copy of my (then) current repeat prescription and formal social services care plan. Perhaps that can be described as "just a form" but it’s hardly as if I got my DLA based purely on my own testimony.”
The form and supporting information provided will be detailed, and sometimes the decision makers will have a straightforward task – for example if someone is both deaf and blind. Often the information provided will be enough for the Department of Work and Pensions to make an award straight away. So yes, many people do get awarded DLA on the basis of “just” paperwork. But if somebody has significant impairments, sufficient to tick the boxes for the decision makers, and this is documented by their GP or other medical professionals, surely it would be a waste of time and money to haul them in for interview?
Form filling is exhausting, depressing, frustrating, and repetitive, but we force ourselves to jump through these hoops because we need the support. The money to cover taxi fares for someone who is unable to carry their shopping home on the bus. The money to pay for incontinence pads and other medical supplies. The money to buy a few hours’ time from a cleaner or assistant. We are certainly not doing it for an easy life!
And then there are the cases where people don’t get the award they are entitled to based solely on the paper application, and have to attend in person for a tribunal. In fact, most of the people of whom I know have applied for DLA actually had to appeal before they received the award they deserved. Take Robin - he has regular reviews of his DLA, and after having been found eligible for support twice based on the same information, he was then turned down in June this year. He is waiting to go to tribunal in December, and told me: “The DLA decision maker considered my regular loss of speech production or speech comprehension, and my struggle to safely cross roads because I can't accurately judge distance or speed both non-issues. Well to me they are significant issues, and I regularly have significant difficulties because of communication problems, and I've nearly been run over more times than I can count.” Without the money provided by DLA, he is struggling to cover the additional costs caused by disability.
If you need more evidence of why DLA is so critical to the lives of disabled people, just read “the real difference made by DLA” or head over to twitter and see entries with the hashtag #myDLA to learn why this benefit is life changing.
Surely these stories make the point that, where possible, making a decision on a DLA award based “just” on paperwork is a perfectly reasonable thing to do. And where more evidence is needed, or the claimant appeals the decision, a face-to-face interview will be held.
Well, Daily Mail? What’s so unreasonable about that?
It is hard enough to get a DLA award as it is. Please, don't say we've got it easy.
Today there are a couple of DLA hate stories in the right wing press. Tweeters have started using the hashtag #myDLA to share in a sentence or two how important their DLA is an how they use it.
I think it would be awesome of we could do an audio version of this; especially as - of course - not everyone uses Twitter but might want to tell their story.
How to submit:
Record your submission as an audio file. You can use your laptop's built in mic, the "voice notes" function on your iPhone, or your digital dictaphone if you have one.
Ideally we'd only want your submission to be a sentence or 2 long. The shorter they are the more we'll be able to cram in. You don't have to speak in perfect Queen's English, it doesn't matter if you say "erm". You can mention your name or you can be anonymous; it's totally your call.
You can talk about your trials claiming DLA to counter stories about people filling in a form. You can talk about what you spend it on. Anything that conveys how important it is to you.
Once you've recorded your brief submission then Email it to wheresthebenefit *at* gmail *dot* com. I'll try and put it together ASAP.
I can't promise that all submissions will be included; it will depend on how many I get. I'll reiterate the point from above: The shorter the submissions are the more I'll be able to squeeze in.
Thanks all for your contributions. The end result can be found here.
Wednesday, 9 November 2011
Firstly, there are big companies who have signed up, unsurprisingly, to get people to work for them without a need to pay them, such as Poundland, Matalan, Tesco and Primark.
Secondly, there are public sector organisations who want to benefit from unpaid labour, such as the local councils of Barnsley, Blackpool, Bromley, Chester, Dudley, East Riding, Gateshead, Greenwich, Hartlepool, Islington, Kensington, Medway, Neath Port Talbot, Newham, North Lanarkshire, Northumberland, Portsmouth, Renfrewshire, Stoke-on-Trent; numerous further education colleges; and several NHS trusts.
And thirdly, and perhaps most disappointingly, is the depressingly large number of charities and third sector organisations who are seeking to benefit from people being forced to work without pay, at threat of loss of their benefits.
Just some of the organisations who the DWP state will be involved in delivering the Work Programme, are:
Action for Blind People
Autism West Midlands
Disability Information Bureau
Hammersmith and Fulham MIND
Leonard Cheshire Disability
Rochdale and District MIND
Royal Mencap Society
Royal National College for the Blind
Scottish Association for Mental Health
The Mind Consortium (Hull and East Yorkshire MIND)
Warrington Disability Partnership
These are the organisations from the list that stood out to me as disability organisations. Organisations ostensibly to represent and fight for the rights of disabled people.
Last year I wrote about Disability Works, a "collaboration of national third sector disability organisations including Leonard Cheshire, Mencap, Scope, Mind, Action for Blind People, United Response, Pure Innovations, Advance UK and Pluss". I argued in May that the Hardest Hit organisers could not represent me or fight for my rights when they also stood to benefit from the proposed changes in welfare reform.
Now Disability Works are amongst all of the above voluntary sector disability organisations who are seeking to benefit from workfare. Along with all the other charities above, and with all the problems Workfare will cause for disabled and non-disabled people, we simply cannot trust these organisations to have our best interests at heart. They, along with Primark and Tesco, aim to profit from labour which is unpaid, unfair, and is carried out against a threat of a loss of benefits.
These big disability charities do not represent me, they do not have my interests in mind, and they do not speak for me.
Not in my name.
Tuesday, 8 November 2011
In the video above you hear the story of a couple and their fight of being caught up in a system where they could not get any benefits because the woman's learning disabilities were undiagnosed. Unable to get either JSA or disability benefits, they lived in one room, and walked 12 miles once a week to get free food from a food bank.
“The job centre decided Helen couldn’t sign on as she was incapable of employment, as she has no literacy and numeracy skills. However the incapacity people wouldn’t recognise her disabilities until she has been properly diagnosed, which led to month after month of seeing specialists, we’re in a catch 22 situation.It has been reported today that the couple in the video above have been found dead in an apparent suicide pact. How many more people will die from these cuts before the government acts?
“We’re living hand to mouth.”
Increasingly, however, disabled people who are not fit for work are finding themselves claiming Jobseekers' Allowance, when they are reassessed and fail to meet the limited criteria for ESA. The result of this is that more and more people are signing on, but also unable to work, for health reasons.
The Guardian has published a press release from the DWP, which states,
People who have been unemployed for more than two years and haven't secured sustainable employment could be referred onto compulsory community work placements under plans being considered by the government.
Under the proposals people who have been supported intensively through the Work Programme for two years yet have still not entered sustainable employment, may have to do community work or ultimately they could lose their benefit entitlement.
Ministers believe a minority of jobseekers struggle to engage with the system fully, are unable to hold down a job and therefore require a greater level of support.
The government is to test compulsory community work coupled with more intensive support through Jobcentre Plus in four key areas ahead of rolling out the scheme
nationwide in 2013.
This is fundamentally unfair. We are in a position as a country where unemployment rates are rising, and job opportunities are shrinking. If someone has failed to get a job in 2 years, it is most likely to be due to circumstances outside their control, and to then force them into unpaid labour, against the threat of losing their pittance of an income from JSA, is exploitative.
For disabled people, even moreso. People who are disabled but genuinely fit for work will still require adaptations, accommodations, and accessibility. These people are less likely to have found a job in 2 years because of the reasons I explained above. And will the people who are happy to take unpaid labour also be happy to accommodate people with complex needs and requirements?
And those who have been found fit for work but are, in fact, not at all fit for work, will be in the most trouble. All of the above, on top of not being well enough to do it. Will their regular sickness absences or inability to be reliable cause them to lose their benefit entitlement? I would imagine so, according to what the press release says.
Workfare is exploitative and unfair to everybody who is forced to do it. For disabled people it has added layers of unfairness, which have the potential to leave, yet again, the most vulnerable abandoned without financial support.
Cross-posted at incurable hippie blog. Thanks to @m_s_collins for prompting me to write this.
[The image is a black and white photograph taken at a protest in New Zealand against a Workfare programme. There are numerous people with placards saying, "The rich get rich at the expense of the poor" and "Real jobs not workfare". It was taken by SocialistWorkerNZ and is used under a Creative Commons Licence]
I’m a little late writing about this, but I watched John Humphrys’ programme on BBC2, The Future State of Welfare, a few days after it was broadcast (I was working a night shift the actual night), and last week the BBC broadcast a Panorama programme, Britain on the Fiddle, which exposed people claiming benefits while driving Bentleys, owning yachts and houses in France, and running pubs. In between the “damning exposé” of the wealthy benefit cheats, they also showed people being caught using blue (disability parking) badges illegally (in one case, when the disabled person was not present). This was obviously done to make it look like the programme was defending the interests of “the little people” against the cheats, but it was entirely irrelevant to the rest of the programme.
Humphrys’ programme started by interviewing various people who were claiming benefits and giving some recollections about “his day” when he was growing up in Splott in Cardiff. Apparently back then, not working carried some degree of stigma, and there was one man in the neighbourhood who did not work, for some unspecified reason, and he was shunned by the community for that. The reason could, of course, have been quite genuine — he may well have had a disability or some health problem that he did not feel comfortable discussing with all and sundry. He interviewed various benefit claimants, including a family of several children with a single mother, a long-term unemployed family in an ex-industrial northern town where the father had calculated that working would not make him much better off than staying on benefits, a family from Spain who were on housing benefit so they could live in Islington, and a woman with ME who had been failed by her ATOS assessment (although she easily won on appeal).
The whole thrust of Humphrys’ argument was the need to cut the benefits bill, ignoring the issue of whether what the bill pays for is worth paying for or necessary. The reason why a modest flat in a district close to central London, where the work is, costs so much was conveniently glossed over (it was nothing like that expensive twenty years ago, before prices and rents became inflated by the sale of council properties and buy-to-let mortgages). Why a man in a northern town regards the work that is available as not worth doing was not asked (the fact is that there were serious jobs in the north until the factories and mines were closed down, and a large town like Middlesbrough cannot survive with just supermarkets and council jobs). The history of unemployment and benefits in the UK is a history of political decisions — unemployment figures (derived from numbers of dole claimants) used to threaten workers not to go on strike or demand rights, incapacity benefits later used to artificially reduce unemployment numbers, and so on. None of this is of the current claimants’ making, so we saw someone who had never had to worry about finding a job, not for a good few decades at least, making someone from a community which had been deliberately impoverished look like a scrounger. If you have ever had the notion to tell someone, “I’ve worked hard all my life”, you should consider yourself lucky that you had the opportunity to do that. Some people do not.
Humphrys also travels to New York to interview officials and charity workers involved with the “workfare” scheme there, and those dealing with its fallout. Early on, he presents it as a system whereby benefits are delivered only to those who prove that they are looking for work — the same is true of Jobseekers’ Allowance in the UK, in which claimants are required to keep a diary of their ongoing search for work, and are given jobs to apply for. Towards the end, he showed some of the soup kitchens and charity food outlets that have appeared in New York to serve people who are unable to receive welfare as their two-year allowance has run out with no work in sight. He also interviewed two women who had been in white-collar jobs and made redundant, and were afraid for the future as they had found themselves unable to get any more work. This provided some counter-balancing to the sermons from middle-class men in suits about personal responsibility (one of them claimed that people went back on welfare because they lacked the personal organisation to keep a job. But it did not seriously examine why people lost jobs and could not find anything else: people will not employ them, often because they are “overqualified”, and it might be assumed that they will not stay if employed, or they do not have experience, or the social skills the human resources department decrees that the job requires.
Last week’s Panorama really did bring the programme to a new low — the 30-minute format is something I have criticised again and again (such as here) as it lends itself to sensationalism rather than to serious investigation, but this just was not Panorama — it was more like a cheap prime-time infotainment piece, a bit like Saints and Scroungers without the “saints” (who were often people who helped the poor and disabled find benefits they were entitled to). The aim was obviously to show that the benefit bill was as high as it was because of fraud, and that “fraud costs all of us”, but the over-investigation of fraud can sometimes detract from the purpose of the benefit and make life very difficult for real claimants, so as to satisfy the mid-market tabloids. Nobody would object to someone who had been found out claiming benefits when they are not living in the country, or were perfectly well-off in their own right, or not as disabled as they claim to be, being punished or having their benefits cut, but some benefits are in fact not means-tested and the programme did not make that clear. It also did not mention that the rate of disability benefit fraud is extremely low, and therefore the cost of welfare is not being significantly inflated by fraud; it is just high because there is a lot of disability, and some people’s needs are severe and complex.
What makes this all the more disgusting is that excuses are being manufactured to “cut the benefits bill” at a time of scarcity when many people are falling into poverty. The same cannot be said of the introduction of Jobseekers’ Allowance under John Major — that happened in 1996, after the early 1990s recession had ended, although with much the same media baiting of the “workshy”. This time round, it is benefits as a whole that are being attacked, with the media — not just the newspapers which support the Tories because their wealthy owners tell them to, but the BBC which is paid for by public subscription — joining in the chorus. We have a welfare system partly to make sure people do not fall into destitution, partly to make sure that people with disabilities and other complex needs can live dignified and productive lives, and partly to pay for the costs of ideological trends (such as globalisation) and political decisions. If we wish to cut the benefits bill, we need to get people working, and that means reducing our reliance on imported manufactured goods, for a start. People who can work, and are offered a serious job (that is, one with prospects), will do so. Those who cannot, because of their own or a dependent’s disability (or because of prejudice, or some other genuine reason), must be supported. The alternative is to lose our status as a civilised country.
Thursday, 3 November 2011
As a disabled benefit claimant who sails, I'm wondering whether Panorama will be making a programme on the number of disabled people who will suffer hate attacks as a result of tonight's programme? Personally I'm into double figures with hate attacks from complete strangers who only need to see my crutches to know I'm a fraud and a scrounger and a fake. No need even to know if I'm claiming any benefit - disabled, guilty as charged.
I'm now scared to leave the house tomorrow, isn't that a proud addition to Panorama's legacy!
(Sent to Panorama's email address 22:00 3-11-11)