Monday 19 December 2011

Things to do this Christmas: Please act on and share this post!

There are so many things that need doing this festive season in the fight against the welfare reform bill and the closure of the ILF I thought I'd collate all the actions in one place. If there's anything I've missed out, please, please post it in the comments.

The most important thing to do is to sign Pat's Petition to get the Welfare Reform Bill paused for reflection. Activists manage to get the NHS bill paused to buy themselves more time to present evidence of the harm it would do: We need to do the same for the WRB. The petition needs 100,000 signatures and so far it's only had 7,935. We're a long way off but it can be done if people sign and share; in the summer petitions around punishing rioters reached the 100,000 mark in a day or 2. But it requires people putting in the effort and giving a crap. Please, please, sign and share this.

Other government e-petitions that need signing while you're on the e-petitions page:

The Welfare Reform Bill is currently at the report stage in the Lords. Votes on amendments like DLA and contributory ESA will be held in January. So far the votes have been really close with the amendment on the frequency of Universal Credit payments being defeated by only 3 votes and the amendment to not halve disabled children's benefits losing by only 2 votes. The government has suffered one defeat so far in the under-occupancy amendment. In that vote there was even one Tory peer who voted against.

This all shows that we can make a difference at this stage if we put pressure on the peers. We mainly need to target the Lib Dem and crossbench peers, but Lord Newton of Braintree has proved that even Tories can be persuaded to vote against these barbaric cuts which will have devastating outcomes for disabled people.

Some of the info in this template letter is now outdated as it was drafted back in September. But the list of contacts for Lords is useful for getting in touch and sharing your concerns. Tell them that you're worried about the effect arbitrarily slashing 20% from the DLA budget will have, tell them that limiting contributory ESA to one year is ludicrous as many - possibly even most - serious ongoing illnesses don't clear up within 365 days.

There's also a list of the peers that use Twitter. Tweet at them with your concerns, send them links to articles and blog posts that you feel express your worries best. As with writing EMails or letters; it's best to target your energies at Lib Dem and crossbench peers, but it can't hurt to send your concerns to all peers; Lord Newton of Braintree having proved Tories can be persuaded to vote against these brutal cuts.

Some members of the House are either depressingly ill-informed or simply liars. Lord Wolfson claimed on Question Time 2 weeks ago that disability benefits have the highest fraud rates. This is desperately untrue. One of our readers, Joss, has written to Wolfson pointing out his statement lacking in factual basis. I would urge you to do the same; not just to Wolfson, but to any Peer you happen to catch spouting inaccuracies. It's possible they are simply ill-informed rather than malicious so it's important we make sure they are informed before they go to vote.

Other petitions apart from ones on the government's own page:

There are many campaign groups out there that have had tremendous success this year but have done little (if anything) to engage with these welfare issues. We need to get their support.

38 Degrees have had so many successes this year like getting the forestry sell-off cancelled and getting the NHS bill paused. We really need their help but they're reluctant. They say they only carry out campaigns their members ask for so tell them loudly and clearly that you want them to campaign against welfare reform! Blogger Chrissy sent them this excellent Email and I'd suggest you do the same. It also occurs to me as someone with a bit of a background in the voluntary sector that if an organisation receives a restricted donation earmarked for a specific cause they have to either spend it as the donor requests, or return the money. With bodies like 38 Degrees funding their campaigns through asking for member donations, I don't see why one can't send them a restricted donation earmarked to only be spent on fighting the welfare reform bill. Not as underhand and manipulative as it might sound; charities get restricted funding every day, and returning unspent restricted donations is not uncommon either. They need to know people are willing to pay for an anti-WRB campaign, so give them the message loud and clear!

If you are, or you know people who are, in the UK Uncut inner circle then please beg them to do something. Occupations ditto. OccupyLSX were asked by WtB to support Hardest Hit rally in London in October. They didn't. Please, please try to change this.

And finally, get this to-do list out there. Tweet it, post it on Facebook and Google+, link to it from your blog, and Email it to all your friends. Ask left-leaning slebs or those who've shown interest in disability issues to retweet it. And not just celebs, of course: Ask anyone who can get the list of actions shared on to a greater audience. But most importantly: Do the actions too! So many people these days will retweet or share a link to a petition without actually signing.

We've only got until January to stop this list from exploding exponentially in 2 years when the proposed WRB would come into effect. Don't let this happen. Please do something to stop it.

Sunday 18 December 2011

DLA? Denied

This weekend has seen much justifiable outrage at the fact that disability rights activist Sue Marsh has been turned down for DLA.

But many of the comments I've seen seem to think this is an isolated incident of just one genuine claimant getting their application rejected. In fact, according to the table on page 14 of this DWP report from March 2011, in the 2009/10 year 36,000 people appealed their decision and 14,000 people had the decision overturned.

That's 14,000 vindicated Sues per year.

And then there are those who decide not to appeal because they don't have the strength to fight, because they don't have sufficient self-confidence or because struggling on in poverty seems easier than dealing with the bureaucracy. According to the Minister for Disabled People (*cough*) Maria Miller on 6 Sep 2010; records are not available of unclaimed DLA. but it's worth reading the stats for other unclaimed benefits on page 2 of this DWP report. The rate of underpaid other benefits varies from 0.3% to 2.1%.

It's from 2004 so quite outdated, and only looks at unclaimed DLA/AA by people with one condition: Cancer. But this report by Macmillan suggested that at 2004 benefit rates that more than £126.5 million goes unclaimed in a six month period. And that's only people with cancer, and doesn't take any other "disabling" condition into consideration.

Sue's story seems to have shocked people because she put a human face to the real problems faced when claiming benefits. A human face that isn't a Daily Mail-ised version of a disabled person. To help people understand how widespread this problem is I'd really like to hear from more people with similar experiences.

If you've similarly been turned down for DLA despite being a genuine claimant in the 18 months since the coalition came to power, please post your story in the comments of this post. Thanks.

Huge thanks to @queerpup for unearthing statistics for me today. My Google Fu has decided to go on Christmas holidays a few days early.

Wednesday 14 December 2011

Press Release: Welfare Campaigners to Hold Xmas Party Outside Atos HQ

From Benefit Claimants Fight Back:

Friday 16th December – 2pm
Triton Square, London NW1

Disabled people, benefit claimants and supporters will be holding a Real Victorian Party and Picnic in Triton Square, home of disability assessment company Atos, this Friday 16th December from 2pm.

The event is part of a month of action targetting Atos and the government over the brutal benefit cuts and Work Capability Assessment regime currently in place for sick and disabled claimants. As well as speeches in which people will speak of their experiences at the hands of Atos, a minutes silence will be held for all of those who have died as a consequence of Atos assessments.

Several claimants have tragically committed suicide due to the stress of the assessment process whilst thousands of others are now caught up in lengthy and distressing appeals. Some people judged fit for work have died of their illness whilst awaiting an appeal against Atos' decisions. People with terminal illnesses, severe mental health conditions and debilitating conditions have all been judged fit for work by Atos' scant assessment regime which ignores the opinions of GPs and specialist consultants in favour of a brief computer based interview.

It was announced last week that even patients undergoing chemotherapy will be expected to attend assessments at which they may be judged 'fit for work' by Atos. This could lead to cancer patients being referred to mandatory work activity, 30 hours a week unpaid work, just to keep the meagre levels of benefit available on Job Seekers Allowance.

Events will also be taking place outside Atos offices in Glasgow and Edinburgh on the same day, whilst a rolling mass phone complaint to Atos is also being held in the run up to Christmas.

For full details of all events please visit:


This event is part of a month of festive action against Atos and the benefits cuts which has also seen a protest against Atos' position as IT Partner for the Paralypic Games outside the Paralympic Goalball Test Event, a demonstration called by Boycott Workfare outside a lecture at the LSE given by Iain Duncan Smith and a Downing Street protest about soaring unemployment held by the Right To Work Campaign.

To join the Rolling Festive Phone In to Atos contact +44 (0)20 7830 4444 or +44 (0)800 783 3040 (Freephone) and make a complaint about the companies treatment of sick and disabled people. For more details visit:

Around 40% of appeals against Atos' decisions are successful, rising to 70% when people have representation. A recent investigation found that the benefits appeal system is already on the brink of collapse. Recent figures suggest that Atos have only carried out 56,000 assessments against a target of 11,000 assessments a week from April 2011:

This form of disability assessment is shortly to be extended to around 3 million claimants on Disability Living Allowance.

Tuesday 13 December 2011

Now it's Real. First Cancer Patients, Now Government slash benefits for Disabled Children

Last night, the House of Lords failed to support an amendment put down by Tanni Grey-Thompson, the most successful paralympian of all time, to protect the benefits of disabled children once Universal Credit is introduced.

You can read more here but effectively, under universal credit, all but the most profoundly disabled children will only get half as much support. Child Tax Credit additions for disabled children will fall from £52.21 per week to £25.95 per week - a loss of £1366 per year, or £20,000 over the course of a childhood.

You might wonder what possible argument a government who promised to "protect the most vulnerable" could possibly make for this change. I myself was fascinated to see how on earth they had justified throwing disabled children to the wolves.

Ready? OK, if they didn't betray disabled children, it would just have to be disabled adults. After all, disabled children have parents to look after them. What's more, if they didn't cut money used to buy wheelchairs and incontinence pads for disabled children, they wouldn't be able to afford to address the hideous failures of ESA (Employment and Support Allowance or sickness benefit) and ensure that all those who qualify for long term support, get it.

Could there be a more disgusting example of divide and conquer? Each man for himself. The image of a Victorian gent throwing a handful of pennies on the floor and leaving the cripples to fight it out amongst themselves comes to mind.

And remember, this is no longer theory.

I've been writing about these issues for 18 months now, sadly my blogs have often contained doom and gloom predictions of horrors to come. Well last night they started to come in a first blaze of in-glory. The Welfare Reform Bill is now at Report Stage in the Lords. These votes will almost certainly decide what becomes law and what doesn't. For disabled children, now it's too late.

Shame on us.

There is one more session before Xmas. Then 4 sessions after Xmas, then the final no-going-back vote to pass the bill. There is still time to lobby peers. There is still time to stop the time limiting of ESA. There is still time to oppose PiP and abolishing Disability Allowance. There is still time to fight Clause 52 and housing benefit changes that will leave thousands of sick and disabled people at risk of homelessness.

In a week where the government suggested all cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy ought to be assessed to see if they can work or not, I can only wonder where this will all lead. I can only hope history is no guide the future

If I can find any tiny silver lining, it is that we only lost by 2 votes. That is the closest vote I have seen so far.

2 votes. 2 Lords. 2 letters, 2 emails, 2 tweets.

There is still all to play for, but sadly disabled children just fought the last stage of their fight. And lost.

Saturday 10 December 2011

#HardestHit Jedi Mind-Tricks

This is a guest post by Lisa Ellwood. You can find her website at

Morale within the disabled community has seemingly hit a new low, no thanks to the ideological war being waged by the millionaire cabinet at Westminster and their sockpuppets in the media. Desperate times call for desperate measures in making our voices heard. However, these are also the moments when it is necessary to detach our emotions from much-needed outcomes and scrupulously examine so-called helping hands.

I was broadly aware of The Hardest Hit campaign, seemingly in support of disabled people against the genocidal ideology driving the Welfare Reform Bill. Being an avid social media user, I first head of it via Twitter. My understanding was that a number of large charities were behind this effort and initially I felt that the campaign could give us incentive to carry on with the fight, knowing that we had powerful, high-profile entities behind us. We needed to find a "middle way", I rationalised, of bridging the gap between our need to raise awareness about the dangers of on-going welfare reform and the efforts of the charities who would deem to represent us.

The disabled community was split on the issue. Being a relatively new-ish crip, I took on board the justifiable ire of fellow campaigners towards the so-called "poverty pimps". These large charities are reliant on government funds to stay afloat, certainly more than they seem willing to admit to. As such, their bottom line will be driven by the dictates of their bank balance more than the ethics of what is right and fair for disabled people. Despite all this, I took a leap of faith and decided to support the campaign in spite of nagging doubts. My past work with The Broken of Britain aside, I set up Crip Island in Second Life and my own take on Occupy Second Life as a means for creative virtual participation outside of Twitter and Facebook for those unable to take to the streets and protest.

Little did I know.

The Hardest Hit website makes some valid points in a bid to help, but all signposts lead back to the big charities who profit from government workfare schemes. Like private entities such as A4E and ATOS, these charities will profit from our misery as they pander to the disablist anti-benefits ideology being enshrined in law. These smoke-and-mirror Jedi mind-tricks were understood early on by DPAC, who withdrew their initial support in April of this year prior to the first march.

"we were concerned about working with the major disability charities because unlike Tom Shakespeare for example we do not believe these major charities have completely broken with their past practices or have acknowledged their role in disabled people’s social oppression..."

Marches are one thing, but now many disabled people and Carers have signed the Hardest Hit Christmas Card for the Coalition - without looking very carefully at what they are agreeing to. The campaign wants "a fair benefits system" for Christmas, but their idea of what is fair is anything but.

"Please make the New Year something disabled people can look forward to by:
Not bringing in an arbitrary time-limit on Employment and Support Allowance for those who’ve paid into the system and still need support."

As tweeter @BubbleJet observed: "Are #hardesthit using 'those who've paid into the system' rhetoric? Am I not being hit? Do I deserve to be?" What about those who were disabled from birth, those disabled early on in their youth or those who worked but not long enough for their efforts to account for much in the minds of politicos who have never had to account for much in their own privileged lives?

The language in this petition is divisive and pits those who were fortunate to be employed against those who weren't. Agreeing to it is akin signing your own death warrant -- and those of others who are disabled through no fault of their own. There can be no doubting that disabled people are "the hardest hit" by welfare reforms past and present -- and it's time grass-roots campaigners and organisations not reliant on government patronage own it.

Related articles
What's your Christmas message to the Government? (
DPOs boycott charities’ ‘independent’ review of mobility needs (
U-turn on mobility payments is just the start (
Protests highlight severity of benefit cuts for disabled people (
Hardest Hit Campaign Rally Bradford (
For disabled people on the Hardest Hit march, protest is personal | Frances Ryan (
Why disabled people are annoyed (
Hardest Hit March, Bristol, 22nd October 2011(
Disability groups fear further benefit cuts after miscalculation (
Pause welfare reform to listen to the Hardest Hit (

[The image is a photograph of a poster reading "Hard times hit parade". It was taken by Roland Tanglao and is used under a Creative Commons Licence]


This week Crimestoppers launched a new campaign to "fight benefit fraud". They say this is in response to benefit fraud being deemed the third "most worried about" type of crime in a poll they ran this year. (Hat tip to @Debbiegeorge65 for pointing out the link.)

This is despite the fact that there is already channel for reporting benefit fraud. And despite the fact that 96% of calls to the National Benefit Fraud Hotline are malicious or timewasting. David wrote a bit about what it was like to be falsely accused of fraud back in January.

It's worth reading the official fraud stats on page 12 of this latest report to compare fraud to error and also to see how much is actually lost to fraud. But here are the fraud rates:

  • Income Support: 2.4%
  • JobSeeker's Allowance: 4.1%
  • Pension Credit: 2.3%
  • Housing Benefit: 1.3%
  • Incapacity Benefit: 0.3%
  • Disability Living Allowance: 0.5%
  • Retirement Pension: 0.0%
  • Carer's Allowance: 3.9%

The benefit with the highest rate of fraud is JSA at 4.1%. Certainly a far cry from the lies in the Daily Mail that 94% of IB claimants are fakers.

But it's because of these lies that the voters in the Crimestoppers poll would think that benefit fraud is so prevalent. And these lies go totally unchallenged in the mainstream press. This week on Question Time judge Constance Briscoe claimed there were vast swathes of fakers out there, but when asked how many she, unsurprisingly, didn't know. Next boss Lord Wolfson then claimed that JSA wasn't the benefit with the fraud problem, but disability benefits. The same disability benefits whose fraud figures I've italicised so you can clearly see just how low those fraud rates are. No-one corrected him. (Mehdi Hasan has written a blog post correcting some flawed statements from the episode, but not the disability benefits one.)

According to those same DWP figures, the overall cost to the country of benefit fraud is £1.2bn. About a fifth of tax avoided by just one company: Vodafone. It's certainly a far cry from the £35bn to £70bn avoided in tax in total. So why aren't Crimestoppers campaigning against tax issues rather than pouring fuel on to the already raging fires of hate?

It's worth noting that while researching for this post I Googled "tax fraud facts," the top (non-sponsored) result isn't actually anything to do with tax fraud: It's the HMRC page about tax credit fraud. Which says everything you need to know about how our society prioritises those wildly differing amounts of cash lost to fraud on the basis of the perceived social status of those committing the crimes.

Friday 9 December 2011

Time Limiting ESA - We MUST stop it!

It seems that the Conservatives are simply not willing to give an inch on Time Limiting ESA.

Just to be clear, this means that if you have worked and paid national insurance contributions you will face an assessment. If that assessment finds that you are indeed unwell, but may be able to do some work at some point, you will only qualify for support for a year.

At the end of that year, no matter how ill you remain, if you have a partner who earns just £7,500 or more, or limited savings, you will lose all ESA. All of it.

Those with long term, serious illnesses, mental health conditions and learning disabilities are likely to be the worst affected. Sickness benefits as we know them will become a thing of the past. Just 6% of new claimants will qualify for long term support, the rest will have just one year.

I have written about time limiting extensively here (click for article)

The government accept that 94% will not have found work at the end of that year. They accept that they will not have recovered. They simply say "We can't afford it"

The only way we can now stop the government from going ahead with this most horrifying of policies is for Lib Dem Lords to vote against it.

Earlier this year, Lib Dem grasroots members voted for a motion and amendment at their conference opposing an arbitrary time limit for ESA. The vote was overwhelmingly in favour.

Here is the amendment in full :

After C. (line 25), insert:
D. That vulnerable cases like this, where a welfare recipient’s income is threatened ,should qualify
for free legal representation.

Delete 2 (line 35) and insert:

2. Liberal Democrats in Government to oppose an arbitrary time limit on how long claimants can
claim contributory ESA.

In 3. (line 36), after ‘representation’ insert: ‘and expert advice, and for Government to reconsider
the exclusion of welfare benefits casework such as this from the scope of legal aid.

After 3. (line 36), add:
4. A presumption that ESA claimants with serious and uncontrollable life-threatening conditions
should be allocated to the support group rather than the work related activity group.

5 A review of ATOS performance in delivering the Medical Services Agreement contract with
DWP in respect of the quality of medical assessments.

6. Effective contract compliance for contractors carrying out ESA eligibility assessments to avoid
poor performance, and a presumption that in future ESA eligibility will be carried out by the
public sector or non-profit organisations.

Once this vote was carried, opposing the time limiting of ESA became Liberal Democrat policy.

Today, I'm asking all of you - Liberal Democrat or not - to write to a Lib Dem peer and beg them to oppose the one year time limit. Here is a list of Lib Dem peers

Simply click on a letter at random, pick one and write to them. Beg them. Explain it to them. Feel free to send them my articles. Remind them about their conference pledge.

They're our only hope. If they support the Conservatives on this, despite the wishes of their members, 700,000 people will be affected. People with Parkinson's, Bowel Disease, MS, Cancer, Heart Failure, Kidney Failure, Lung disease, Schizophrenia, Bi-Polar and any other condition you can think of.

Please, write today. Then write again. Pick another peer and then another and keep writing until after Xmas.

Very early in the New Year, Lords will vote on this issue for the final time. It is only this vote now that stands between time limiting ESA becoming policy.

Please, if you've ever sent one of my letters, every RTd an article because I asked, every written to your MP, every written a blog post or an article, please, do this. Keep doing it until the day of the vote. Tell everyone and ask them to write too.

The welfare reform bill is almost law now. We don't have very many opportunities to make a difference. Let's make a difference over this.

**Feel free to re-post, share, RT and generally make sure that everyone knows, thanks.

The following articles may help:

Sunday 4 December 2011

You're frightening me

It started with a blog post, where David Gillon challenged 38 degrees about why, despite a disability benefit cuts campaign receiving lots of votes, it never reached the 'call to action' stage.

Then there was an article (now amended) which described an athlete's move from Paralympic to Olympic competition as a "move up".

I then read in Jezebel about a sex worker who is awesome because she works with disabled clients, which apparently makes her intriguing.

And I started to wonder, what do you think of us? Of me? In these three stages, the mainstream, and the left-wing, tell me that I am inferior, and I am other. So very, very other.

Then Lisa Egan wrote a post (trigger warning) about suicide, and her despair at the lack of support from even campaigning organisations, and I still, somehow, didn't cry.

Then, finally, the article that did make me cry, in which I learned that 2/3 of people avoid disabled people because they don't know how to act around us. In addition,
A third of those questioned demonstrated hardened negative attitudes towards the disabled. Reasons cited for this ranged from disabled people being seen as a burden on society (38%), ill feeling around the perceived extra support given to disabled people (28%), and the personal worries and sensitivities which rise to the fore during a recession (79%).
It went on,
Some 60% of Britons admit to staring at disabled people because they are different, with more than half of people (51%) admitting they feel uncomfortable when they meet a disabled person for the first time, with more men (54%) admitting to being uncomfortable compared to women (50%).
At a time when cuts are actually killing disabled people, we are also experiencing more negative attitudes, perceptions of being a burden, an additional cost, especially during a recession. How very inconsiderate of us to not wait to attain crippled status until the economy is fixed.

If you're questioning whether this is a feminist issue, then the point is being missed. I am a woman who 38% of people polled consider to be a burden. I am a woman who 2/3 of people polled admit to avoiding for reasons of prejudice. I am a woman who 50% of women polled admitted to being uncomfortable to meet. I am a woman who is witnessing her friends become more and more afraid to leave the house, for fear of government- and Daily Mail-inspired abuse in the street. I've experienced it myself.

There are so many issues at the moment which are putting us all into a state of crisis. This is one of many: people are starting to frighten me. Is the person I'm talking to one of the 38%? Or the 50% Or the 65%?

Given that women are the hardest hit by spending cuts, and disabled people are the hardest hit by spending cuts, disabled women are being overlooked, avoided, resented, marginalised and othered. It takes non-disabled people, at this stage, to make some of the changes that need to happen.

This post is cross-posted from The F-Word, so it was originally written for a feminist audience, from a feminist perspective. I don't underestimate, or mean to downplay, the impact of cuts on men. However, in the context in which this was written, I was focused on women. Also posted at incurable hippie blog.

[The image is a photograph of handmade print next to one of the stencils. They read "FEAR MORE HOPE LESS". The photograph and artwork are by Ben Murphy and are used under a Creative Commons Licence]

Saturday 3 December 2011

Not OK

Suicide and depression have been in the news a lot this week. First footballer Stan Collymore talked openly about his depression. This was followed a day later by news of the suicide of Wales football manager Gary Speed. Then that delightful chap Jeremy Clarkson "joked" on The One Show that trains shouldn't stop for jumpers.

Warning of possible triggers in discussion below the jump:

Thursday 24 November 2011

You Couldn't Make it Up...

We already knew that the Welfare Reform Bill was making some creative interpretations of standard parliamentary behaviour - such as putting a controversial bill into Grand Committee, but the nuance I found out about a couple of hours ago had me picking my jaw up from where it had hit the floor.

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

Sick? No you're not!

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

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.

It seems likely that Atos will be well placed to bid to assess people for time off work.

Thursday 17 November 2011

Charley Says 'Why We Need A Welfare State' 1948

A public information film from 1948 explaining why the welfare state is important:

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

Disabled people occupy the UK / Occupy Sheffield access info

While I hadn't been able to join an occupation on a Sunday, I went to my local occupation this afternoon and spent an hour or so there drinking tea and putting the world to right. What follows is not an in-depth access survey, but is rather the impression I got, based on the information I was told or observed.

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.

Friday 11 November 2011

Disabled people occupy the UK / Occupy LSX access info

It's that time of the week when I remind you about joining occupations on Sunday.

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.

DLA: just a form filling exercise? If only it was that easy!

In the early hours of this morning, this is the appalling story with which the Daily Mail were leading. “Disabled benefit? Just fill in a form”.

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.

Call for #myDLA podcast submissions

You may remember that 6 months ago (wow, it's been a long time!) we briefly had a WtB podcast (can be found in iTunes here or on Feedburner here). It floundered because most of us have been too ill to run with it.

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

Not In My Name.

Yesterday I wrote about why Workfare is exploitative and unfair, especially for disabled people. Today I want to talk about something insidious and disturbing within the plans for rolling this system out, and this is the details of who stands to benefit.

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
Disability Works*
Hammersmith and Fulham MIND
Leonard Cheshire Disability
Papworth Trust
Rochdale and District MIND
Royal Mencap Society
Royal National College for the Blind
Scottish Association for Mental Health
Shaw Trust
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

Cuts Kill. Again.

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.

“We’re living hand to mouth.”
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?

Workfare: Exploitative and cruel, especially for disabled people

Some disabled people are completely fit for work, but cannot find any, so claim Jobseekers' Allowance. This is particularly an issue because disabled people face many barriers to work, including inaccessible workplaces, employer prejudice and employers being ignorant of, or refusing to adhere to the Equalities Act in relation to reasonable accommodations.

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]

Guest post: BBC bashes benefit claimants two weeks running

This is a guest post by @indigojo_uk and originally appeared here.

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

Panorama - The Price of Hate

Dear Panorama Team,

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)

Monday 31 October 2011

Threat to legal aid for disability benefit appeals

The BBC carrys a worrying story today.

“Warning over legal aid cuts for disabled people” the article leads. “Ministers are being urged not to restrict legal aid for disabled people wanting to challenge benefit decisions”.

News comes of yet another way that government is looking to save money – this time on a £2bn legal aid bill which it claims is “unaffordable” – money needed by disabled people to get legal assistance when benefit claims go against them.

This action is being questioned by a group of 23 charities including Scope, Mind, Mencap, RNIB and Leonard Cheshire.

A spokeswoman for the Ministry of Justice told the BBC that the review of legal aid meant that it would be “targeted at the most serious cases”.

I would argue that ANY situation where you could potentially lose your benefits is a “most serious case”. Indeed, given the comments on this blog and my own (FlashSays) it can at times be life and death.

Comments on my blog include Roger, who wrote “Since this all began [cuts to benefits for disabled people] I have began to feel totally paranoid and at times have given thought to killing myself mainly due to the daily pain I endure but also due to the uncaring way this government is treating us.”

James Gilbert simply said: “If my benefits are cut I don’t know what I would do”

You only have to read one article - Suicide is part of the disability debate – to know how important it is for disabled people to receive benefits. As well as keeping them alive (funding a roof over their heads, food, heat and light) it also validates that person. “Yes, we know you are disabled. We believe you.”

The nature of disability can be such that it makes it hard to complete benefit application forms. People can have memory problems or find it hard to concentrate. They may have physical problems with writing or typing, or they may not be able to construct clear sentences. I know that when I am struggling with pain I find it harder to think, and this affects my ability to write coherently – it is clear to see when I review letters I’ve written, I can easily tell which were done on a “good pain day” and which on a “bad pain day”. But some people don’t get good days, only bad ones – and yet through this they are expected to complete long booklets explaining why they are entitled to benefits.

Disabled people should of course be supported to appeal when a benefit decision goes against them. It’s already been proven that less than 0.5% of Disability Living Allowance applications are fraudulent, for example – these are the government’s own figures. Therefore, when claimants find a decision goes against them, and come forward asking for help to appeal, they are almost certainly going to be genuine, people who really do need help. Likewise with Employment and Support Allowance.

Commenters on my own blog and this one have said that the whole application process (including the fear of perhaps having to appeal) is so stressful that they have decided not to apply and to try to live in poverty without the benefit they are entitled to. Surely people should be given legal assistance to appeal, and feel supported by the government, rather than being forced to live in poverty because they feel beaten by the system?

It is critical that legal aid is available for those who need to challenge benefit decisions. A third of disabled people aged 25 to retirement live in a low-income household – and twice as many disabled people live in poverty compared to those who are able bodied. Without legal support when benefit decisions go against them, this shocking figure is surely set to grow.

Paul Reekie and Christelle Pardo have already killed themselves when their benefits were cut. How many will follow?

Providing this legal aid really could be a matter of life or death.

Amendment to keep Legal Aid for welfare cases - Today

Legal help with welfare benefit appeals would be retained under Liberal Democrat amendment to the Legal Aid Bill.

Campaigners urge last minute emails to MPs

A Liberal Democrat amendment to the Legal Aid, Sentencing, and Punishment of Offenders Bill, which is being debated at Report Stage this Monday 31st October, would see legal help for people appealing or reviewing benefit decisions retained. Under current government plans all welfare benefits advice will be cut from legal aid, along with many other areas of law including much of employment, debt and housing advice. Charities like Citizens Advice, Law Centres, and advice agencies use legal aid to fund much of their work in this area.

Part of a motion on welfare reform passed at Liberal Democrat conference called on government to "reconsider the exclusion of welfare benefits casework such as this from the scope of legal aid." A group of Liberal Democrat backbenchers have put down the amendment, including Tom Brake MP, Co-Chair of the Home Affairs Parliamentary Party Committee. The other signatories are Stephen Lloyd MP, David Ward MP, and Mike Crockart MP.

Help with appeals is vitally important, particularly at a time when the benefits system is being radically changed. The introduction of Employment and Support Allowance has been beset with bad decision making - 40% of those appealing were successful. Yet in terms of the number of people affected, this will be dwarfed by the estimated 18 million people who will be caught up in the move to Universal Credit.

Campaign group Justice for All is urging people to email their MP urgently to ask them to speak during the debate and vote in favour of the motion. You can do this via their website at

Justice for All have also produced a pair of videos, highlighting why help with appeals is so important. They feature three women who have had help from local advice agencies in appealing wrong decisions. They are available to embed here

The amendment is number 149, the full text is available here

Friday 28 October 2011

Disabled people occupy the UK

It's a simple fact that a lot of disabled people can't camp out at the various occupations around the UK. Fatigue, sensitivity to cold, the access issues presented by camping or just having too many hospital appointments to go to make occupying impossible.

Disabled New Yorkers have started going down to Occupy Wall Street on Sunday afternoons at midday for a few hours. - a few hours on a Sunday is a very different proposition to camping full time.

Many non-disabled activists simply don't know or care how shafted disabled people are by issues like the welfare reform bill. Last week Where's the Benefit asked OccupyLSX for some solidarity and for them to support the Hardest Hit protests; they didn't.

So taking inspiration from New Yorkers I think we should join our local occupations for a couple of hours every Sunday afternoon. We need to go down to the occupations and tell them about the issues affecting us. We need to make sure the occupiers understand what we're facing and to get them to support us. Tell the crowd about the welfare reform bill and how you'll be affected. Tell them about how cuts to Access to Work mean that when your current equipment breaks (because wheelchairs, etc, don't last forever) that you might have to give up work. Tell them about how cuts to care packages will limit your independence. Hand out flyers for Where's the Benefit, DPAC, Broken of Britain, Black Triangle, CarerWatch or any of the other grassroots groups you feel do well at disseminating info about our issues.

Disabled people are around 18% of the population. The occupations claim to represent the 99% that didn't break the economy, but unless we participate the occupations are only really representing 81%.

The occupations in London have been the most newsworthy, but there are others around the country:









Cardiff: (in planning stages)




Like New Yorkers we will aim to participate for as long as the occupations are ongoing. And like New York we'll meet at midday on Sundays EXCEPT this weekend when we'll be following on from the DPAC conference in London by going down to the London occupation on Saturday 29th at 4:30pm instead of Sunday. Standard Sunday excursions will commence the following week.

Facebook event. The Twitter hashtag will be #DPoccupyUK

Thursday 27 October 2011

Vigil Against Hate Crime: Friday 28th October

The vigil will take place in Trafalgar Square tomorrow evening from 7:30pm to 9pm, with a 2 minute silence in memory of victims at 8pm.

The vigil was founded by 17-24-30 in 2009 following the homophobic murder of Ian Baynham in the square. Since then it has widened to remember/support victims of all hate crime; including disablist hate. Speakers this year include Beverley Smith from the Disability Hate Crime Network.

Disablist hate crime is on the up due in no small part to the rhetoric being peddled by the government and press in attempt to whip up support for welfare reform. People are getting called a "scrounging cunt" in the street or being followed down the road by someone shouting "fucking DLA stick" at them, making this vigil so relevant for us.

For more info see or the Facebook event page.