Thursday 30 September 2010

Threats and Fear.

It's impossible to overstate how terrified some disabled people are, in Britain right now.

The fear of benefit cuts is so high, and so real, and attitudes like those of Nadine Dorries add to the climate of terror.

Already people are scared to leave their house for fear of being reported to the DWP for faking their illness, now those who find networks like twitter to be a lifeline are becoming frightened to post.

If you are stuck in bed, and you've found a way to use your laptop lying down, or you can use a phone or iPad, sites like twitter are perhaps the only way for many to actually communicate with others. It may be the only conversation someone has for a week.

One purpose that these threats serve is, I suspect, to keep us all quiet. We can't complain about the process of reapplying for DLA, or of the ATOS assessments, if the very complaints we type will be used as an additional stick to beat us with. Even if typing those 140 characters used up so much energy that we then had to sleep for an hour to recover. Or hurt our eyes so much that we have a migraine for 3 days.

On days that I can't leave the house, and can't use the phone, the internet is the only tool I have to communicate with the outside world. I don't want to lose that. But the fear affects me as much as anyone, and right now so many of my outlets feel threatening.

This is what the threats to disability benefits are doing to me. It is worsening my madness significantly, which, ironically, will make me less and less able to work, not more.

Shop a Twit!

It feels like forever since I was last well enough to write here. Over the last few weeks I've had to put up with my dodgy stomach putting me through hell and preventing me from sleeping and a slight cold which has aggravated my always crap sinuses making sinus pressure pain and the migraines it triggers almost a daily occurrence (I tried to explain on my own blog how severe my sinus pain is).

I've been feeling rather guilty about it actually. WtB was, after all, my idea. I should be leading from the front and posting regularly. But how can I write intelligent, well researched posts about benefit reform when I can't even muster up the spoons to call back the Choose and Book people about my referral to the migraine clinic?

The one small contribution I have been able to make to WtB over the last few weeks is that I've been able to post links and other really short updates to the WtB Twitter account and the WtB Facebook page. Tweeting and Facebooking only takes a few seconds and doesn't require much brain function so it's something I can do using my iPod in bed, in the dark, when I'm too ill to be anywhere else.

Today Tory MP for Mid-Bedfordshire Nadine Dorries said on her blog about people who tweet a lot:

if it's someone you know is on benefits, contact the DWP.

That was 2 paragraphs after saying that people who tweet a lot should:

[get] a job which involves being sat at a key board because there's nothing much up with their fingers, brain or attention span!!

That's right; she'd like to see me reported to the DWP for having the audacity to write 140 characters from my bed when I'm too ill to get out of it.

Lots of disabled tweeters have hit back. @beccaviola Tweeted:

Thank you, Nadine Dorries. Obviously, being able to Tweet via assistive tech indicates that I am in fact not profoundly disabled after all.

Becca also points out that:

I tweet usually immobile from bed, using switches, inbetween nursing visits and personal care.

While Mind in Flux and Writer in a Wheelchair have both written passionate blog posts in response to Dorries.

While Dorries implies that we're scroungers if we're capable of using Twitter it's worth remembering that when it comes to scrounging: The pot probably shouldn't call the disabled kettle black.

Edit: She's written a follow up post!

She says:

If you Twitter all day, every day about claiming disability benefit in one tweet whist arranging a night out in the pub in the next. If you tweet about claiming six months rent from the social fund whilst tweeting how bad your hangover is and if you stride into political meetings and shout the odds with energy and enthusiasm with no sign of any physical disability and if you claim to work for the Labour party and write porn at the same time as claiming your disability benefit - then don't expect someone like me not to a) inform the authorities and b) tell you to get of your Twitter [sic] and get a job.

Or as @TaobhCle paraphrases:

you can't be disabled and express political views. 'Stfu and be glad for your benefits'

Edit #2: Blogger and tweeter Ms Humphrey Cushion has revealed that she is the Twitter user Dorries was referring to today.

The real difference made by Disability Living Allowance

This post was cross-posted to

It seems that Disability Living Allowance (DLA) can be quite misunderstood. Even government ministers seem to get confused, sometimes referring to it as an “out-of-work” benefit. (It isn’t.) And now DLA, along with many other essential benefits for disabled people, is under threat. Here are a few basic facts, and an illustration of why DLA can be critically important, in the words of those who receive it.

DLA is not means-tested. It is a benefit which exists to compensate the disabled person for the extra costs of living they incur compared to non-disabled people – many examples of which are given below. It’s paid regardless of whether the recipient is in work – in fact, in some cases DLA is crucial in helping the recipient get to or continue in work. There are two parts to the benefit – one covering care needs, and the other relating to mobility. The money is paid directly to the disabled person for them to use as they need.

The government has already said that, although fewer than 1% of claims are thought to be fraudulent, they intend to reduce claimants by 20% via new medical tests. Read the comments below and see if you can imagine one in five of these people having to manage without it. The government may not wish to pay them, but their needs will not disappear.

I spoke to a variety of people who, like me, receive Disability Living Allowance. Here are a selection of comments illustrating its importance.

Education and work:

“DLA means I can sustain myself enough to study. It also pays for taxi fares to university.”

“I damage clothes more quickly than other people because I fall over and sometimes have to crawl; DLA means I can buy new clothes and maintain a professional appearance in my work.”

“I spend my DLA on my education – I need a room on-campus (which is more expensive than alternatives), photocopying and books. I have mental health issues, and that course literally saved my life.”

Food and bills:

“My DLA is spent on food – from ready meals to takeaways – because I’m not able to cook for myself. Without DLA I’d rely on friends to cook for me or I’d simply go without meals.”

“I have extra costs such as delivery charges from supermarkets, but also I can’t buy the cheapest food because stores like Lidl and Aldi don’t deliver. So my shopping costs are more than for someone who could manage to get to the shops themselves.”

“I am so tired from my job that when I get home I can’t make food for myself. Takeaways are expensive and they have a minimum order price. DLA covers the difference.”

“My electricity costs more than most people because I need the heating on to reduce my pain levels, and I need to recharge my wheelchair. DLA helps pay for the difference in my bills.”


“All of my mobility allowance goes to pay for a Motability car – it’s the only way I could ever afford one. But there are still other costs like petrol, so some of my care allowance has to go towards that, because I have to get around.”

“If my money was stopped I would not have a car and would be stuck at home all day while my partner was at work.”

“Until my DLA came through I had to cancel hospital appointments because I couldn’t justify paying a taxi fare except in emergencies. This continued for several months...”

“Without DLA I would literally be house-bound. I wouldn’t be able to get out at all.”


“My DLA gives me back some control, it’s the one thing that doesn’t rely on someone else being willing to help me.”

“When my partner and I lived apart, I qualified for a lot more benefit, free prescriptions and so on. Now we live together, his job means that we get less money overall. This means that my DLA is even more important – so I have some income of my own.”

“I have a cleaner who comes every week – she does tasks that I can’t manage myself. It gives me pride that I can manage my responsibilities even if I’m not doing them myself.”

“The most important thing that DLA pays for is my independence. It means I am more equal to my partner and don’t have to keep asking them for money. It means I can pull my weight.”

“I’m recovering from mental health problems and I’m rebuilding my life. I use my DLA money for things like basic furniture and decorating costs. It’s providing much needed support in many areas. I also use it for help with transport. Otherwise I would be in debt.”

And finally...

“If I didn’t have DLA I simply wouldn’t cope. I have cut back on everything as it is, we don’t have any luxuries, so there is no room for me to exist with less.”

“Without DLA I would not manage at all. I would be forced to bed and to beg for assistance from my loved ones, but this position is unsustainable...”

Those last two comments are frightening but demonstrate how tightly many disabled people have to manage their finances and how close to the edge they are operating. They simply cannot imagine a way to cope if this money was taken away. Essentials such as meals, prescriptions or heating would be at risk if DLA was cut back, and disabled people could be stuck at home, unable to access jobs or education.

Everyone I heard from relied on their DLA payment for independence and quality of life; it was as simple as that.

It is critical that this benefit is protected in its current state and that the government’s proposal to reduce the number of claimants by 1 in 5 is robustly opposed. The treasury may need to make cuts, but when it comes to Disability Living Allowance there is simply no room to manoeuvre.

Friday 24 September 2010

Disability quangos facing the axe

The Telegraph has today published the full list of 177 government bodies that are facing the chop as part of the forthcoming spending review.

In among them are several that deal with disability issues:
  • Disability Employment Advisory Committee
  • Disability Living/Attendance Allowance Advisory Board
  • Disabled Persons' Transport Advisory Committee 
  • Independent Living Fund
The loss of these will not only mean no agencies overseeing how essential benefits are administered but also no one responsible any longer for helping us stay in work or enter it. Yet this government persists in misleadingly describing DLA as an out-of-work benefit and insisting we must come off benefits, stop scrounging and starting working.

This belies the fact that many of us do work already and losing our DLA may mean many of us will no longer be able to work. And the body supposed to help us with work won't be there to do so. Talk about a rock and a hard place...

The Equality and Human Rights Commission remains under review - it, of course, is responsible for dealing with breaches of the Disability Discrimination Act and ensuring we are treated fairly. Discriminating against disabled people is a lesser crime than racial or sexual discrimination - it's not actually a crime at all, unlike the other two. But any body that is there to fight our corner is better than none.

Remploy is also on the review list. Last year, many of Remploy's branches were arbitrarily shut, throwing many disabled people out of work and taking away much of their independence and sense of societal inclusion. If it goes completely, there will be no agency to help the more severely disabled among us to have even a taste of earning an independent living and feeling useful to society.

Still, this announcement comes as no great surprise. It's just the latest skirmish in the war on disabled people that was declared at the start of the summer. 
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Tuesday 21 September 2010

The Daily Mail's Deserving Few (Scroungers not welcome)

 Guest post from Rich of Arbitrary Constant

I'd love to know what it's like being someone with the mindset of a Daily Mail reader. It must be fascinating to be outraged by something today that is the exact opposite of the thing you were outraged by yesterday.

The subject of benefits is ripe ground for this: on the one side you have the "benefit scrounging scum" who are displaying frankly extraordinary skill and expertise in amassing small fortunes at the expense of your average hard-working taxpayer. On the other, you have "our brave lads" and "heroes" whose sacrifice and commitment to our way of life the government isn't valuing by scrimping and saving on the measly difference of a few quid a week.

Into this melting pot of prejudice, hypocrisy and knee-jerk reaction enters the "hero officer blinded by gunman Raoul Moat", David Rathband. The DWP has assessed him as being eligible for the lower mobility component of Disability Living Allowance, £18.95 a week, compared to the higher rate of £49.85.

Predictably, the Daily Mail is appaled by this decision, branding it "paltry" and quoting Mr Rathband as follows:

If only they knew how hard it is being blind. I need help just to get to the end of my garage. Each day is a challenge to get about. As a blind person you have to learn a route in your mind, if it's walking to the shops and back, and it's taken me six weeks just to do that. How on earth does that make me mobile? I'm going to appeal the decision. I don't know if I'll win or not but this is a point of principle.

This, of course, from the the paper which gave us:
George Osborne's remedy for a crippling benefit (bonus points for particularly distasteful use of language)
The boom towns transformed into benefit blackspots
76% of those who say they're sick 'can work': Tests weed out most seeking incapacity benefit
Osborne begins crackdown on incapacity benefit cheats with plans to treble assessments
Just one in six incapacity benefit claimants 'is genuine' as tough new test reveals TWO MILLION could be cheating (extra style points for use of capital letter for emphasis)

All in all, this amounts to the usual, ill-informed hypocrisy of the Daily Mail. Only it could glowingly quote a hero talking about the "principle" of the positive difference benefits makes in their day-to-day life, whilst at the same time lambasting every other benefit recipient as a "scrounger".

With all due respect to Mr Rathband and the difficulties he will undoubtedly face for the rest of his life, there are plenty of people in far worse a position than him who are being targeted by the coalition government's wilful confusion of Disability Living Allowance as an "out-of-work benefit" and the Daily Mail's gleeful coverage of people that fit the bill.

Perhaps the Daily Mail should recognise how hard it is being a disabled person by ensuring everybody gets the right level of welfare support they need, rather than just those it happens to think are the most deserving.

Monday 20 September 2010

Clegg's cuts will "destroy lives"

Our Twitter followers drew our attention yesterday to this article in the New Statesman on Nick Clegg's interpretation of what welfare means.
As hot-button political issues go, welfare reform isn't a whole lot of naughty fun. It's not as exciting as Lady Gaga's meat purse, or William Hague's room-sharing arrangements, or what particular piece of priggery the pope has stuck up his cassock today. For those who rely on state benefits to live, however, it happens to matter a great deal that the Liberal Democrat leader has just articulated his support for the coalition's plans to smash up and sell off what little remains of the welfare state and call it progress.
Laurie Penny's article is an eloquent analysis of the just how far the Lib-Dems' leader has strayed from his own party's policies and principles when it comes to looking after those in need, not to mention his own pre-election promises.

Yesterday, I marched through pouring rain in Liverpool with 4,000 other angry people to protest against the looming spending cuts. I was struck by the absence of a disabled grouping among the demonstrators, who were largely public sector workers waving colourful trade union banners. Proof, perhaps, that disabled people remain invisible even when they - we - sit on the frontline of the cuts carnage that is imminent. The cuts will take away the last vestiges of supposed equality we have and render us more invisible.

Sunday 19 September 2010

The coalition's war on disabled people is not just about money

As yesterday's post on Vodafone's teeny-weeny tax dodge shows, the coalition government's actions and attitude fly in the face of their claims about "fairness". At the coalition's inception, David Cameron said: "I want to make sure that my government always looks after the elderly, the frail, the poorest in our country." But the Vodafone scandal suggests otherwise.

It's curiously absent from national papers you'd expect to go large on it. Private Eye has a detailed explanation of what's happened, and the Daily Mail has also covered it (scroll down the page). But yesterday the Guardian's frontpage carried a story about how the Lib Dems have been given the green light to clamp down on tax evasion and while there's a story about Vodafone in today's Observer, it doesn't mention the issue of the tax bill. You might expect the Independent to be all over it, but a search on their website (haven't managed to leave the house yet today) turns up nothing.

According to the Guardian piece, a clampdown on tax avoidance among the super rich is being announced at the Liberal Democrats conference as part of a drive to show they remain committed to fairness. Danny Alexander is quoted as saying it's important to "make sure that everyone meets their obligation to pay tax".

But what does all this have to do with Where's the Benefit's remit, aside from the fact that the £6bn Vodafone isn't paying is greater than the £4bn of cuts George Osborne wants to make to the UK's welfare bill? Answer: it's the starkest proof yet that the coalition's talk about fairness and looking after those who need it is just that. Talk. In the Guardian article linked above, Danny Alexander is quoted as saying he "will not take a lecture on fairness from Labour".

Should anyone be taking a lecture on fairness from a coalition government that wants to cut the Disability Living Allowance caseload and expenditure by 20% despite the DLA fraud level being 0.5%; that repeatedly and spitefully misdescribes DLA as an out-of-work benefit; that wants credit reference agencies to snoop on disabled people; that is doing its best to convince the public that benefits are handed out like sweeties, more financially lucrative than working and a lifestyle choice; and whose party line is to assume that the increase in take-up of, say, DLA means it's "not reaching the right people" (as Steve Webb told me when I interviewed him for a piece in Disability Now, despite the stringent assessments involved and the fact that increased take-up may be down to increased awareness); a government that tells us we need to tighten our belts and accept deep cuts; and then lets Vodafone out of paying £6 billion in tax.

Anyone whose own political leanings were already unsympathetic to the Tories might have expected all of this: sympathy for big business, not poor people. Attacks on the "benefits culture" the coalition likes to talk about (forget the recession, or employers' attitudes to disability - clearly anyone not working is out of work because they can't stop watching the flatscreen TV the taxpayer bought for them). Decimation of vital public services. But did anyone expect there to be such a stark contrast between the talk and the walk? How much sheer Chutzpah is needed to claim that you are committed to fairness when your actions suggest anything but?

Ever since the coalition started its war on disabled benefits claimants, it has been putting everything down to money. We're told that we need cuts. Labour cleaned out the coffers and left the Conservatives a mess - a claim many people are happy to swallow, without stopping to think about the fact that the old and new governments like to take pot shots at each other and the new one spends a little too much time whining about how Labour smells and implying they would somehow have done a better job, a convenient claim to make as nobody will ever be able to test it out. When I spoke to Steve Webb, he told me that if the government had a choice, of course they wouldn't cut disability benefits, it's just that they have to. It's all down to money, apparently.

If it's all down to money, how can they afford to let Vodafone off this tax bill - yet they can't afford to not stigmatise and persecute disabled people?

If it's all down to money, why are they being the least lenient to the most vulnerable people in society?

There are two possible answers here. Either it is all down to money, but - for whatever reason - the government is not pressurising HMRC to collect the tax Vodafone owes and is, for whatever reason, happy with their decision. Maybe it's to do with job creation. Maybe it's because, if anyone's going to be given a hard time over money, the government would rather that happened to disabled people, not big business.

Or maybe it's not down to money at all, which is a far more frightening thought. The coalition government is selling its cuts to the public on the basis that they are supposedly absolutely necessary, helped along by plenty of nasty, spiteful pieces in the likes of the Daily Mail to convince the public that people on benefits are all feckless frauds, thus allowing people to absolve themselves of any guilt or worry about the cuts, because they're repeatedly encouraged to think they're necessary for reasons other than money. That what the coalition is doing is morally correct and necessary. That fairness and attacking disabled people are one and the same thing.

Whether or not the Vodafone scandal slips by unnoticed, one thing is very clear: the coalition's war on disabled people is about more than just money. And that is truly terrifying.

Saturday 18 September 2010

Vodafone excused from tax bill worth more than Osborne's welfare cuts

Amount HMRC has demanded from UK taxpayers due to screw-ups in the PAYE system: £2 billion.

Amount George Osbourne wants to cut from the UK's welfare bill: £4 billion (on top of the £11 billion they're already trying to save via the emergency budget).

Amount of tax Vodafone doesn't have to pay: £6 billion.

A former HMRC chief told Private Eye it was "an unbelievable cave-in" - yes, and then some. But it gets better. Did you know that Andy Halford, Vodafone's financial director, has been advising George Osborne on company tax?

So, amidst all the talk about how the UK needs to tighten its belt and we can't have people abusing the system and taking taxpayers' hard-earned cash when they're not entitled to it; in the wake of Nick Clegg's pronouncement that benefits are not there to "compensate" the poor for their "predicament" (silly poor people, bothering the state because they want to eat and not be homeless, tsk); a gigantic corporation gets out of a gigantic tax bill.

David Cameron likes to talk about fairness. There's nothing fair about this.

Friday 17 September 2010

Cuts to DLA 'The easiest bit of welfare reform to sell'

Benefit Scrounging Scum

The coalition’s assault on what the Conservatives refer to as “broken Britain” is underway. The government has announced for the first time how many of the UK’s 2.6m recipients of disability benefits it estimates will be reclassified as fit-to-work in this parliament. The answer: a cool 500,000 or 23 per cent of the total.

Although this will generate political heat among those affected, it is the easiest bit of welfare reform to sell. Britain’s out-of-work disability benefits have been abused. The last government belatedly recognised this and started to introduce a more rigorous system. But many of the 2.2m people who still claim the old benefit elected to do so because it is more generous than the dole."

Financial Times, September 16th 2010

This article in yesterday's Financial Times* makes very clear the ethos behind the Coalition government's slash and burn attacks on sickness related benefits, that cuts to disability benefits are perceived as the "easiest bit of welfare reform to sell" . The FT don't distinguish between the different types of sickness related benefits so I assume the figure of 2.2million people claiming what they describe as 'the old benefit' refers to Incapacity Benefit, the predecessor to Employment and Support Allowance brought in by New Labour. It seems equally safe to assume that the 2.6million they refer it is actually the 2.9 million Disability Living Allowance recipients, some 1.25 million of which are adults who claim both DLA and IB.

The official Department of Work and Pensions fraud rate for Disability Living Allowance makes it very clear that only 0.5% of the total number of claims are fraudulent. That's approximately 14,500 fraudulent claims out of an overall 2.9million.  So, less than 15,000 Disability Living Allowance awards are fraudulent and the coalition are determined to reduce the numbers claiming DLA by half a million. Playing fast and loose with the DWP's own statistics and assuming they're wildly underestimating the problem of fraudulent claims, which seems particularly unlikely, if an overall fraud rate of, say 5%, 10 times that of the official rate were assumed, that would still only be one hundred and forty five thousand fraudulent claims out of a total 2.9 million. Still some three hundred and fity five thousand short of the half a million proposed reduction.

The agenda is clear. To vastly restrict eligibility to DLA, already the most rigorously assessed and difficult to claim benefit of all.

So much for David Cameron's claim that "Those that can should, and those who can't we will always help. I want to make sure that my government always looks after the elderly, the frail, the poorest in our country." David Cameron, 11th May 2010

*10 articles available to view per month if free registration completed.

Wednesday 15 September 2010

Disability cuts - one opposition MP's perspective

Last week I emailed my MP, Gerald Kaufman (Manchester Gorton, Labour) to ask him to do a couple of things regarding the spending cuts and how they will affect disabled people.

First, I asked him to write to Iain Duncan Smith to push for assurances that the Department for Work and Pension's Comprehensive Spending Review proposals would be subjected to a full and robust disability impact assessment.

I also asked him to sign Early Day Motion 706.

EDM 706 says:
That this House welcomes the Coalition Government's commitment to ensuring that the public spending cuts will be fair; is concerned that the Government has not adequately assessed the impact that spending cuts will have on disabled people and their families; notes that nearly a quarter of individuals in families with at least one disabled member live in relative income poverty; further notes that only 50 per cent. of disabled people are in paid employment; recognises that millions of disabled people rely on state financial support to help meet their social care needs and the extra living costs associated with their impairment; seeks assurances that the Government's Comprehensive Spending Review proposals will be subject to a robust disability impact assessment; and urges the Government to take steps to ensure that spending cuts will not further compound poverty and social exclusion experienced by disabled people.

I've now received a reply and I hope Kaufman won't object to me sharing his comments widely.

He has promised to write to Duncan-Smith and keep me informed of the response, when it comes.

However, he has expressed reluctance to sign EDM 706 because:
[it] begins by welcoming a commitment by this government, since I do not welcome their whole approach to disability or other issues affecting vulnerable people.
I am torn. On the one hand, I applaud my MP's stance which seems based on sound principles and yet... apart from that opening line, the rest of the EDM is a strong plea for fair play regarding the cuts.

I think this is one for debate. Should I write back and ask him to reconsider? Or should I accept his position and wait, instead, for him to pile pressure on Duncan-Smith? What would you do? 

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Tuesday 14 September 2010

Work-shy, or work-incompatible?

This post was cross-posted to

Last week Chancellor George Osbourne paid lip service to helping disabled people saying “Of course, people who are disabled, people who are vulnerable, people who need protection will get our protection, and more”1 but then in the next breath made reference to people on long-term out-of-work benefits “who think it’s a lifestyle choice” – the same people that Labour have termed “work-shy”. Has Osbourne not considered that many people who are on these benefits ARE disabled people, exactly those who need his protection? He needs to think more widely, to realise exactly who he is hitting.

Today the Guardian published letters from a variety of people who deny that living on benefits is a “lifestyle choice”2- one calling this “the most crass and insulting demonstration of patrician insensitivity and ignorance to have crossed the lips of any politician in recent times”, another stating “to live off £102 as a couple leaves nothing that can remotely be described as a ‘lifestyle’.” Richard Hawkes from Scope asks “Where is the understanding that it costs more to live as a disabled person, or that to find employment many will need individually tailored support?”

Maybe there are a few people in the UK who prefer to claim benefits rather than go out to work, but that does not mean all long term unemployed people should be penalised, as for many it is circumstance rather than choice which is restricting their options. There are sure to be many disabled people who get caught out by these cuts.

One of the tactics proposed by government is to reduce housing benefit by 10% for people who have been on Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA) for more than a year.3. This is estimated to affect at least 24,000 disabled people.

That is: 24,000 disabled people which we know about. What about others, such as those who are on Jobseeker’s Allowance because they were wrongly assessed by Atos – the government’s medical advisor- as not qualifying for Employment Support Allowance? So far, 40% of those who appeal against the decision, win.4 There must be many more people out there who accepted Atos’s judgement without question, or who lacked the energy and wherewithal to appeal, and are now stuck on Jobseeker’s Allowance without the capacity to hold down a job.

However, there are also many disabled people legitimately claiming Jobseeker’s Allowance – perhaps they can do some work, where reasonable adjustments are made by the employer. Tell me, which employer, when faced with several similar candidates, would choose the one who would need concessions in order to do their job? Not just equipment (which may be funded by the Access to Work scheme) but perhaps assistance in the event of a fire alarm, a rearrangement of desks, or providing the chance to rest every few hours. Be honest, if all other qualities were equal, you’d hire an able-bodied person every time. Given the state of the economy, with [how many people to every job?] it is no surprise that disabled people are stuck on JSA in the long term.

It’s nothing new to suggest that disabled people are often treated less favourably in the workplace – indeed, when my own job was up for redundancy one of the criteria in deciding who stayed was how much sick leave each candidate had taken. I had taken more days off than the others but – as the company’s own doctor had said – “it is likely that Flash would have an above average sickness record due to her established underlying medical conditions”. Yet by adding the sick leave criterion to the remaining vacancies I was effectively excluded and thus discriminated against.

This sort of thing goes on every day.

So when considering which benefit cuts will affect disabled people, don’t just look at those with our name on them, think wider! The 10% penalty on housing benefit will hit those who really want to work, but just can’t get any. And disabled people will really hurt from the loss of every penny.

1. Welfare spending to be cut by £4bn, says George Osborne
2. Living on benefits is in no way ‘a lifestyle choice’
3. Warning over housing benefit cuts
4. Atos Origin don’t give a toss for the sick

"Pregnant mother leaps to her death with five-month-old son in her arms after losing benefits" Daily Mail

Just a quick post because the woman in question was neither disabled nor claiming (or trying to claim) disability benefits, so the story isn't 100% on topic for us. But I think it's relevant enough to justify a short post because it further illustrates an issue I brought up before: The human cost of benefits cuts.

A pregnant woman jumped to her death while clutching her baby son after her benefits had been stopped, an inquest heard.

Read the full story on the Daily Mail website.

Edit: I should make clear that this is news from 9 months ago so not directly related to Osborne swinging his axe. I felt it was pertinent to WtB (which didn't exist 9 months ago) because it highlights what happens when people find themselves financially unable to go on living; because these cuts will put more people in that position.

Church handouts feed family of man with epilepsy

Sir Gerald Kaufman, MP for Manchester Gorton, has intervened in the case of one of his constituents who had their tax credits cut off by HMRC.

Speaking in the House of Commons, Kaufman pointed out that his constituent has severe epilepsy but had only been able to feed his family by depending on handouts from parishioners at his local church. He challenged the Chancellor, George Osbourne, to rectify the man's situation urgently.

Let's not forget that the fate of all disabled people rests in George Osbourne's hands at present. Is he going to consign all 10 million of us to relying on charitable donations to survive? Kaufman's constituent is not an unusual case  - we are hearing more and more anecdotal stories like this. If you know of any disabled person who has been left in penury like this, let us know!

Friday 10 September 2010

‘It frightens me if, when I need support most, it’s whipped away’

Rosemary Bolinger, 53, had to take medical retirement from the NHS after having cerebral palsy diagnosed 14 years ago. A former nurse and hospital manager, she has some savings, a small occupational pension, and is entitled to incapacity benefit.
Her husband is a senior charge nurse — on about £30,000 a year — and they have a mortgage. She would probably lose all her incapacity benefit if it were means-tested. “It frightens me,” she said. “I would find it very distressing if having worked and pushed my body for years I found out that just when I needed the support most it was whipped away.”
She also has a wrist problem, making it difficult to do even desk work. “I don’t think I’ll have be able to work again,” she said. “I would love to be able to work a few hours a week, but I would never know when my body would be able to cope.
“I don’t know what I would do if I lost my IB. I am sure I would become totally isolated. We have a mortgage of £80,000 and I would not be eligible for any social services assistance or equipment, so I would have to pay for a cleaner and home help,” she said.
“I want to be as independent as I can but my health is dictating that I have to rely on benefits. You pay national insurance for years never expecting that you will have to claim benefit. But when you need it you expect it to be there.”

by Jill Sherman, The Times, Fri 10th Sept 2010

800,000 claimants face losing their incapacity benefit – The Times, Friday 10 September 2010

800,000 claimants face losing their incapacity benefit – The Times, Friday 10 September 2010*
George Osborne: said to be demanding up to £10 billion more from the £170 billion social security budget

Jill Sherman Whitehall Editor

Hundreds of thousands of people are likely to lose sickness benefits under a new assault on the welfare state, The Times has learnt.

The Treasury is considering means-testing incapacity benefit — given to those considered too sick to work — a change under which 800,000 people on modest to high incomes would lose it altogether. The entitlement, which is available to those who have paid national insurance contributions, costs the taxpayer more than £6.5 billion a year and goes to more than 2.5 million people.

Millions of disabled and sick people have been on the benefit — which is between £68 and £96 a week — for years and are able to stay on it until they retire, irrespective of their income or that of their partner.

Disability and poverty groups warned yesterday that means-testing would fly in the face of the principle of paying national insurance to fund benefits. They argued that the disabled and mentally ill were becoming the main victims of the Treasury’s spending cuts.

“It would be grossly unfair if someone who had worked for over 30 years and had paid [national insurance] throughout suddenly found the benefit taken away at the moment they needed it,” said Sue Royston, social policy officer for Citizens Advice.

Iain Duncan Smith, the Work and Pensions Secretary, has agreed to £11 billion savings a year. But George Osborne, the Chancellor, is said to be demanding up to £10 billion more from the £170 billion social security budget. Mr Osborne indicated yesterday that he had already identified £4 billion affecting those on “out-of-work benefits”.

“People who think it’s a lifestyle choice to just sit on out-of-work benefits — that lifestyle choice is going to come to an end. The money won’t be there,” he said.

One Whitehall official told The Times that means-testing incapacity benefit, which could save up to £2 billion a year, was being considered. “We are seeking more on incapacity benefit,” he conceded. “If more cuts are made to the welfare budget we should be able to reduce the bigger cutbacks to other Whitehall departments.”

Other benefits under threat include those going to pensioners, such as winter fuel payments and TV allowances, which could save £2.7 billion if scrapped.

Under the latest plans being considered, those on incapacity benefit — or employment and support allowance, which is replacing it — would receive it for a time-limited period of six months to a year. After this, those on higher incomes — generally those with working partners — would lose the benefit, and those on lower incomes would lose part of it. Those on the lowest incomes would still receive income support.

Mrs Royston argued that people would lose all entitlement to incapacity benefit if their partner had an income of about £8,000 a year or had savings of more than £16,000, if the present rules for other means-tested benefits were applied.

“This is causing enormous concern,” she said. “If someone who has worked for years became seriously ill and his partner earned over £150 a week, he would get nothing, despite his contributions.”

Treasury officials believe that many people remain on sickness benefits until they retire even if they could do some type of work.

Figures from the Office for National Statistics, published this week, show that in more than 840,000 households all members of the household over 16 are too sick to work. In a further 612,000 households, at least one member is too sick to work.

The Government is already clamping down on payments to the disabled and has pledged to introduce more rigorous medical tests for all incapacity benefit claimants by next March, but the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) is already having trouble finding enough doctors to carry out the checks.

The severely disabled, who receive disability living allowance to help to pay for carers, are also facing medical tests for the first time.

Sources at the DWP yesterday made it clear that negotiations were still going on but did not rule out reducing or scrapping benefits for those on higher incomes. “We are presently looking at a range of options for welfare reform and any decisions will be made in the context of the spending review,” a spokesman said. “Our reforms will ensure that the most vulnerable in our society are protected.”

Richard Hawkes, the chief executive of Scope, the disability charity, condemned the plans to means-test incapacity benefit, claiming that people would be denied the support they had paid for.

“People will effectively be penalised for working hard, saving and contributing to society,” Mr Hawkes said. “The Government has made much of its commitment to ensuring that the impact of cost savings is spread fairly, but this feels like another example of disabled people bearing the brunt of cuts.”

*No link provided as The Times is now behind a paywall.

Time for George Osborne to put his money where his mouth is

The BBC report that Welfare spending is to be cut by [an extra] £4bn - apparently this is what George Osborne has told them.

The article makes for grim reading. For example: 'The BBC understands discussions are continuing in Whitehall about whether it is possible to limit pensioner benefits - such as the winter fuel allowance, bus pass and free TV licence - without breaking Prime Minister David Cameron's election promise that he would preserve them.'

So they are trying to find out if there are ways they can weasel around and make cuts while still claiming they haven't broken any election promises?

'Mr Osborne said: "There are five million people living on permanent out-of-work benefits. That is a tragedy for them and fiscally unsustainable for us as a country - we can't afford it any more."'

He's right on one point; it's a tragedy when anyone is permanently unable to work and has to rely on benefits. I know many disabled people who would love to work but simply cannot manage it because their impairment makes it impossible to manage, or who would need so many adaptions and allowances that any prospective employer would run a mile. Yes Mr Osborne, that is a tragedy for them to be in this situation. However, if the country cannot afford it, then cuts need to be made elsewhere to ensure that disabled people can continue to be supported - there is simply no alternative to benefits for some disabled people.

However, George Osborne goes on to say: 'Of course, people who are disabled, people who are vulnerable, people who need protection will get our protection, and more."'

He needs to start spelling out how we will get his protection. All I can see on the horizon are cuts:
* Changes to the way ESA is assessed, so that fewer will qualify
* Changes to the way DLA is assessed, so that fewer will qualify
* Changes to housing benefit, which will particularly penalise disabled people, especially those who need an extra bedroom for a carer.

So come on Mr Osborne, how will we get your "protection, and more"?

It's time he put his money where his mouth is.

Thursday 9 September 2010

Welfare cut voxpops, and a few links

Firstly, a couple of blog posts relating to the proposed changes to ESA which you might find interesting: The Brighton Benefits Campaign's article Employment and Support Allowance - a new harsher test. It explains clearly what is wrong with the new test - and has lots of citations to back up their argument. Then, there is a protest against benefit cuts organised by the European Network on Independent Living western region (ENIL West) Join ENIL West to protest at the Tory Party Conference. I'm sure there will be more protests taking place, but there's one for starters.

On another note, ahead of tonight's TV Spending Review debate Nick Robinson presented some voxpops on the evening news yesterday. People said:
"It's too easy for people just to sit back [and not work]"
"[People on benefits] are lazy"
"There should be a means tested system"

and although some other comments were presented for balance, for example:
"We'd really struggle if we didn't get our tax credit"
the results of Nick's street survey was that people were all for benefit cuts - unless it affected them personally.

Not one person mentioned disability - there was a sweeping assumption by respondents that everyone who did not have a job was lazy - not considering the large number of people who are unable to work because of impairment.

One older respondent said that she was not on benefits so it didn't affect her, until Nick Robinson ascertained she received pension credit, a bus pass and winter fuel allowance! How worrying that people may be dismissive of welfare cuts without realising who it will truly affect, and not considering disabled people who may be unable to cope when the cuts come in.

Wednesday 8 September 2010

One to Watch: The Spending Review

On Thursday 9th September 2010 at 22:35 BBC1 will be showing local debates throughout the country about the government's spending cuts. No doubt in most regions the subject of scrounging benefit claimants will come up.

The TV page about the London edition of the show is here.

Tuesday 7 September 2010

ESA: All About Appearances

More concern this week from disabled people's organisations and charities, particularly in relation to ESA and its medical tests.

It's interesting to see a case highlighted in the press that relates to people with mental health problems - but the case itself shows the horrific effects that these tests, and the way they are administrated, are having on claimants. A woman with mental health problems had evidence from her doctor and psychiatrist ignored, and was found fit for work. She then attempted suicide. As Lisy noted in her recent article here, on the human cost of benefit cuts, attacks on claimants from both the media and the government have very real consequences for people's lives.

Concerningly, the Guardian article notes that "Charities say people who are not in visible distress are often wrongly being found fit for work." This is an issue that seems likely to affect increasing numbers of people. How many of us actually 'look' ill, or generally fit the presentation stereotypes of our particular conditions? I'd have thought a minority. And with even those who are acutely and/or very seriously unwell being turned down for ESA, there doesn't seem to be much hope for anyone.

But perhaps most concerning is how little the government seems to be responding to these ongoing concerns expressed by organisations. There are 'issues', they admit. They claim there have been changes made by ministers, presumably to the way the tests are carried out, but without making it clear what these changes have involved. More accountability and transparency might be the first step if they want to regain the trust of claimants. It seems they're more interested in how things look to the mythical taxpayer, though. Once again, it's all about appearances.

* * * * *

There's still time to present your evidence about the Work Capability Assessment to the ESA review board. This could be something as simple as a short account of your experience of the WCA. You can e-mail with your evidence, but you must do this by 10th September. The current Benefits and Work newsletter has news that the review board would also like to hear what changes claimants would like to see made to the WCA process, so make suggestions via that e-mail address if you have some. Benefits and Work suggests that it would be good for claimants to be allowed to record their medical assessments, for example.

Monday 6 September 2010

Q.61 Please tell us anything else you think we should know about your (DLA) claim

This is the actual answer provided on my current application for Disability Living Allowance for Q.61 Please tell us anything else you think we should know about your claim. This post should be read in conjunction with the part answer to Q.31 Do you need someone with you to guide or supervise you when walking outdoors in unfamiliar places in the blog Helping Hands, and the blog Page 18, Other Information IB50 form.

I was diagnosed with Ehlers Danlos Syndrome in 2004 after many years of being fobbed off and dismissed by medical professionals. After so long living with increased disability without knowing the reasons why I was relieved just to get an answer. Perhaps naively I hoped that diagnosis would be the first step towards getting better and regaining the many things I'd lost, friends, relationships, career and family. 

Day to day my life just is what it is, constant pain, dislocating joints, medications, falls, choking, incontinence, mobility equipment and many other indignities are always there but things I deliberately choose not to consider. I make jokes out of difficult situations, give mumbled half answers when people ask how I am, or just insist I'm fine even when it is patently obvious to everyone that I am anything but. I do this because to focus on the difficult things would make me incredibly depressed and to be blunt, I have enough problems already. Depression would just tip me over the edge. So instead I slap a smile on my face, no matter how hard or horrible the day. I smile because otherwise I'd cry and that just gives me a headache. I choose to be happy by focusing on how fortunate I am to have a roof over my head, to be able to see the sun shine, and to live in a country which still, just about, believes that looking after those who are more vulnerable is a collective responsibility. 

Filling out these forms has been a depressing and traumatic process for me. What I expected to be a straightforward task of explaining my disability has actually been a complex and difficult confrontation of the issues I face but choose not to think about on a day to day basis. Not only does it hurt my hands, but it breaks my heart to type the words I avoid saying out loud. That for the past six years I have fought every day; to gain an understanding of my condition, to take the correct medications, to eat the right food, to do the endless, painful, frustrating and incredibly boring physiotherapy exercises, to accept having to use a wheelchair, to learn to accept that the physical pain which is my constant companion will never go away, and will instead be joined by the emotional pain of a million tiny losses. 

It has taken me weeks to fill out this form as every time I try to answer a question I give up. How can I explain what it's like to have forgotten how not being in pain feels? That even the smallest movement can cause one or more joints to dislocate. What it's like to try and do even the simplest tasks with joints that won't hold themselves together, let alone do anything of practical value. When I dislocate my knee just rolling over in bed it's easy to swear a bit and refuse to think about the white hot pain, or subsequent tears, or the shoulder that's dislocated trying to relocate the knee, but that filling that information out on a form defeats me. All those individual dislocations and consequent lost opportunities I ignore in favour of those created, but to see them in glaring detail, not just once but the 53 different ways required by an official form is too much for me to bear. 

Thursday 2 September 2010

No wonder people think we're all scroungers part 2

After writing the previous entry I sent an email to the Centre for Social Justice. I complained about them using false statements about DLA to further their own ideological interests (copying the email to my MP).

A researcher has replied to me today. Here are some extracts from their email:

"The piece you refer to was written by an MP who took part in our Inner City Challenge. This aims to give MPs first hand experience of working with people in our most disadvantaged communities, and should help to reduce misconceptions about people, and the challenges that they face. Ultimately, by encouraging MPs to visit grass roots charities and come face to face with the challenges faced by their most disadvantaged constituents, we hope to better inform public policy."

Got it. Reducing misconceptions. Better informing public policy. Really?


"Our researchers are aware that entitlement to DLA is not affected by a person’s work status, but also recognise that employment rates among DLA recipients are very low. While the quote risks misleading readers about the relationship between DLA entitlement and work, it is an accurate reflection of what the MP saw during his inner city challenge. The point being made is that there are some people who remain on benefits without any intention of working, and this is what needs to change."

They hope this addresses my concerns. Short of writing "DLA is not an out-of-work benefit and does not belong in a discussion about worklessness - so could you possibly stop lying?" in 72pt-type, I'm not sure how anyone is going to get this message through to people who think demonising DLA claimants is an acceptable way to address welfare dependency. All I know is that we must all keep trying.

Wednesday 1 September 2010

No wonder people think we're all scroungers

The coalition government's attack on disabled people isn't limited to reassessing benefits or encouraging members of the public to shop "scroungers". Something rather more terrifying is going on: the government and associated entities are repeatedly, and persistently, describing Disability Living Allowance as an out-of-work benefit - which helps convince the general public that it's a waste of "their" hard-earned tax.

As I wrote in this piece for Guardian Comment is Free, the government's State of the Nation report offers a woefully misleading representation of the nature and purpose of DLA. "There is a high degree of persistence among claimants of many low-income and out-of-work benefits", it says. "For example … around 2.2 million people, including 1.1 million people of working age, have been claiming disability living allowance for over five years".

People who are not disabled and have no experience of the relevant benefits tend not to understand the difference between, say, DLA, ESA and IB. After all, why would they? But not knowing is one thing. Being misled is quite another. The government should know better and do better. This is not an issue of political ideology, but one of fact. The government is not giving people the facts. The State of the Nation report implies, wrongly, that DLA is for people who do not work, to name but one instance of many. Take the website of the Centre for Social Justice, the think tank founded by Iain Duncan Smith (which appears to have a very subjective take on what "social justice" should entail). On this page, for example, it says (scroll down to point 6):

"One of the most striking observations I made during my time there was the extent of a benefits culture and a lack of any form of work ethic. There were many people whose aspiration went no further than getting the maximum amount of benefits they could. Indeed one of the service users used as his trump card when trying to chat up a woman that he "was now on full DLA, the works". This is the type of culture we must overturn. Once they have those benefits it is almost impossible for them ever to earn enough money working to make it worth their while to get off benefits."

Excuse me? Aside from the current reliance on anonymous quotes to prove ideological points (I no more believe in the existence of this "service user" than I do of the people who have told Nick Clegg they want a simpler test for DLA, but no doubt they're all mates with David Cameron's "40-year-old black man"), DLA has nothing to do with people's employment status or work ethic. People who are eligible for DLA are eligible whether or not they work.

Yet MPs and the likes of the CSJ are still merrily implying that people on DLA could stop receiving it if only they got jobs. The minimum wage does not go up, and the price of basic esssentials does not go down, just because someone's basic needs cost more than other people's.

But people really do believe this. Read the comments on any newspaper article about DLA and you will see just how many people think that DLA claimants do not work - and that, as a result, they are "scroungers". Even a member of my own family, who knows why I receive it, interrupted my explanation of my worries about what the government is doing to tell me about someone they once heard of who got signed off sick from work when they weren't really that sick. Which, again, has absolutely nothing to do with DLA.

And it gets worse. I've just been sent a copy of Breakthrough Northern Ireland, a report by the CSJ. Here's a quote:

"Mental ill-health leads to worklessness
The majority of people claiming illness-related out-of-work benefits do so on
account of mental and behavioural disorders. This includes
z Over 42,000 people claiming Disability Living Allowance (DLA)..."

Once again, DLA is being wrongly described as an out-of-work benefit. It's got to the point where I don't know if politicians are deliberately lying about DLA so the public supports their plan to reassess everyone and drastically cut the caseload, or if they actually believe the misguided statements they're making. I made a Freedom of Information request to try to find out how the State of the Nation report came to do this, but with no luck - they gave me the basic memos and briefs, but claimed they had no written details of the appprovals process (ie any amends, and who requested them), and they avoided sending some of the info under various exclusions. What I can tell you is this: the State of the Nation report was written at very short notice, and the original brief said it should be "fact-based". Again, you've got to wonder who actually knows the facts any more.

The other day, I received an email from someone who had contacted her MP over concerns about what is happening to the DLA application process. His reply talked about the need to lift people off benefits and back into work. And who is her MP? Danny Alexander, chief secretary to the treasury. It is clear that the treasury, and the public purse, are now in the care of people who either don't know, or don't care, what DLA is for.