Saturday 29 January 2011

TUC March and Rally, March 26th

The excellent Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC) are already planning their participation in the above event.

A lot of disabled people are unable to get out to marches and protests so DPAC members who can make it are planning on carrying banners and placards showing photos of those who wanted to be there, but couldn't.

If you'd like to show your face in defiance against the cuts but can't get down to London and march then send your photo and a short message by the end of February to:

Linda Burnip c/o Melanie
Warwickshire and Coventry Council of Disabled People
Room 6, Koco Building
Unit 15, The Arches Industrial Estate
Spon End

If you are unable to do this please email to

£9 billion cuts to disabled benefits. Kat, Sara, Charlotte, Benny, Nemo, Jean: Too sick to protest - living in fear

(One of the placards from last Monday's protest.)

Thursday 27 January 2011

Holocaust Memorial Day 27/1/11: Untold Stories

Untold Stories HMD 2011 27 Jan

Today is Holocaust Memorial Day. The annual memorial falls on January 27th as it's the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau.

I was planning on writing a whole big post about how we're seeing a return of the rhetoric used in the 1930s and 40s, but I'm just too ill today. It's taken me about 3 hours to write this much (5 hours if you count the 2 hour nap I needed to take after one paragraph).

So instead, have some links:

Genocide doesn’t happen overnight, it’s a gradual process which begins when the differences between us are not celebrated but used as a reason to exclude or marginalise. By learning from the lessons of the past, we can create a safer, better future.


Wednesday 26 January 2011

Euthanasia Kits. Joke or Tragic Truth?

What Do They Know? is a fascinating website. You can submit Freedom of Information requests through it, and view the requests submitted by others, as well as the responses from the various public sector organisations. So you can do a search for, say, work capability assessment and see all the requests and responses made through the site, or search for your local area, or hospital, or a government department.

But when someone sent me a link to this FOI request to the DWP about euthanasia options for those who are removed off DLA / ESA I assumed it was going to be a joke. It turned out, in fact, to be horribly, chillingly apt.

The request by Stuart Wyatt begins,
With your department aiming to remove the benefits from 25% of DLA
claimants, and deem 91% of ESA claimants as fit for work, please
could you inform me what provisions have been made for those
disabled and sick people to choose a quick and painless death in
preference to slow and painful death by starvation, neglect or
and goes on to ask whether ATOS will therefore be providing suicide kits.

The same man has made a video of telephone calls to ATOS asking for the same information.

It would be funny if it wasn't so damn true.

Back to the Freedomof Information request, the DWP have to reply by the 21st February, so do check for their response.

Tuesday 25 January 2011

A perfect storm of policies will make disabled employment impossible

Today the Government announced its latest statistics on how many people have been denied Employment and Support Allowance. Only 22% of people in the last quarter were found eligible for ESA. Commenting on these statistics, Employment Minister Chris Grayling said: "These figures show just how vital it is that everyone who has the potential to work receives the right help and support".

Except that statement just doesn't add up when you look at other measures the Government is taking. 2011 will be the year that disabled people, and those with long term ill-health will find it almost impossible to find work.

The Government is planning to scrap Disability Living Allowance and replace it with Personal Independence Payment. In its budget last year it already announced it expects to save at least 20% from the DLA budget. This is before it has worked out any criteria to reassess claimants. Worryingly the Government is confused over whether DLA helps claimants work or prevents them from working, a contradiction apparent throughout its reform paper.  Yesterday the Disability Alliance announced the interim findings to its survey of DLA claimants, finding that 50% of respondents would have to quit work or cut their hours if their DLA payments were reduced.

Secondly, the Government has been changing the rules of entitlement to the Access to Work fund, effectively implementing cuts to a benefit without bothering to tell anyone. Access to Work is a dedicated resource that can pay towards any additional employment costs associated with disability. The Government has reassessed what the fund will help cover and has decided that it will no longer fund such items as analogue hearing aids and voice-activated software. It argues that it is the responsibility of the employer to pay for such items under its lawful requirement to make 'reasonable adjustments' to the work place. However, this is clearly unlikely in current circumstances. With profits tight and unemployment high, employers will bulk at hiring someone that will cost them money that they just don't have.

Finally, a report today suggests that private companies are already pulling out of the Government's back to work scheme. Companies such Avanta, Reed and Setec have declined to bid for high-risk areas such as the West Midlands as they believe that they will be unable to make a profit in such regions, so dire are the employment prospects. If these companies are cherry-picking which areas it will work in, surely they will also cherry pick which of their unemployed 'clients' they will focus most of their attention on? I can't see someone with a long history of ill-health and hard-to-explain gaps on their CV being top of their profit-driven list.

So dear Government, I ask you - Do you have a cohesive plan at all for disabled people? With one hand you push them into the work environment, while with the other hand you simultaneously take away all support to help them find work. According to the Disabled Alliance, disabled people are already twice as likely to live in poverty compared to any other sectors of society - I presume your only plan is to increase this figure to 100%?

National Protest Against Benefit Cuts - Party and Picnic in Triton Square

Please note that I/WtB do not endorse any of the sentiments expressed in these photographs. I'm merely reporting images I saw at the protest.

Here's a selection of placards I snapped during yesterday's protest:

Stop Atos mugging disabled people

£9 billion cuts to disabled benefits. Kat, Sara, Charlotte, Benny, Nemo, Jean: Too sick to protest - living in fear

Disabled people will not be Con-Dem'd by the banker's friend!

Atos don't give a tos - My DLA was stolen

2010! When is a sick note not a sick note? When it's a well note. Is this a sick joke? Or 1984?

No to abolition of Income Support and Carer's Allowance

Atos are scum

Atos kill cripples

It was actually a really nice spot for a protest: There were places to sit, somewhere to shelter if it had rained (which thankfully it didn't) and a Starbucks and a Pret A Manger only a few yards away. I think Starbucks did a roaring trade in selling hot drinks to cold cripples. Lots of people brought communal food and cake and it was all very lovely. We even had support from trade unions and UCL occupiers, which was refreshing after the lack of solidarity we saw last time. I think in part we have to thank Laurie Penny's call for support for that.

I've read lots of rumours that we were Kettled Crips (pardon the pun, couldn't resist). I have no idea what happened after the protest moved to Marylebone, but we weren't kettled in Triton Sq. I was rather confused reading all these tweets claiming we were detained considering I'd just nipped out to get a cuppa and come back. Whilst inside Starbucks I saw several other protesters who, like me, had just nipped out of the protest area to get a hot drink.

Yes, there were fences around us to keep a footpath free of protesters for people needing to walk past. But we weren't "detained" at any point. If we wanted to leave police let us out of the eastern end of the protest area. Admittedly they weren't letting us out of the western end, which was outside Atos's door, but the fact that they were letting us out of the eastern end means that we were not detained.

As I arrived I did hear one police officer say to the two standing near him "look out, here comes a wheelchair." (As if I was rolling menacingly towards them...) I don't think he meant for me to hear that, I don't think he realised the acoustics of the corridor between 2 buildings which carried his voice. Once I was close enough for them to intentionally speak to me they were perfectly polite and friendly. I think at one point there were just as many police as protesters present and they were never threatening and were perfectly friendly to everyone I saw engage with them. The only time my safety was in jeopardy yesterday was when I was pushing back to my car after the protest and one of my front wheels caught on a sticky uppy paving slab and I nearly landed on my face. So thanks for that, Camden Council.

Monday 24 January 2011

National Day of Protest

Today is a big day for the sick and disabled.

It is the second National Day of Protest against the cuts sick and disabled people now face.

The emphasis is on ATOS Origin, the company responsible for the astonishingly unsuitable medical testing of disability and sickness benefits. At their headquarters in London, Triton Square, and at offices in Edinburgh, Leeds, Tyneside and Burnley, sick, disabled and able-bodied protesters will raise awareness about exactly why the system was not fit for purpose before the Conservative-led coalition ever came to power and simply cannot take any more strain. ATOS uses "medical professionals" to assess whether someone is sick enough or disabled enough to receive state support, but they aren't doctors or nurses. They are paid on results, incentivised to find us miraculously fit for work. The assessments are demeaning and frightening too, and sick and disabled people find them so distressing that some are even forced to consider taking their own lives.

Perhaps David Cameron and George Osborne will be more concerned about the protests planned in Gloucestershire or Hastings or Islington. When Sussex and the Shires stand with Glasgow and Birmingham, the public start to realise that something must really be wrong. Hastings plan to lay a trail of red drops, all the way to London and the breadth of the protests show that this isn't a minority problem - it's affecting millions of people from all backgrounds, all colours and all creeds in every town and village of the UK.

As with One Month Before Heartbreak The internet will be awash with bloggers and linkers and tweeters and Facebookers telling the world their messages, so do please join in even if you just send this article to three friends - you will be making an enormous difference to how these cuts are perceived and getting the protests in front of a wider audience.

If you need a little inspiration, then please watch this on YouTube : "Danny's Speech, Brassed Off, 1996"

If you watch nothing else today, then click on the link above - just a moment away from the kitten that can count or the bloke who can put his legs up his nose. You see, we've been here before. We don't have the luxury of saying, "Oh well, they'll be fine, they'll get through, we all just need to tighten our belts" because sick and disabled people often can't get through. They can't get out to protest and they wouldn't have the energy even if they did. If the miners were broken men in the 80s, then imagine how those who can't physically fight will be affected as they are targeted in the same way in 2011?

For those who can get to a protest today, thank you. For every person there today, there are 10, 50, maybe a thousand people at home, willing you on and manning the keyboards. If the recently departed Pete Postlethwaite from the tremendous clip above is watching, then I think he would be willing you on too.

**If you want to read testimonials from the sick and disabled and learn more about why ATOS and politicians are making a dreadful mistake over ESA and DLA, please do take a few minutes to read some of their powerful stories by clicking on the One Month Before Heartbreak link.

Saturday 22 January 2011

Whose care is it anyway?

Like most of the country, the Riven and Celyn Vincent case has taken up a considerable amount of space in my brain this week. Thing is, I seem to be concerned with very different elements of the case to the majority of the population.

The press coverage of the story has weighed quite heavily on my mind. Most news outlets are referring to it as the "Riven Vincent case." Celyn, the disabled person in need of a care package, doesn't usually get a name check until paragraph three; as though she's an unimportant afterthought in the story. In fact I'd bet that the majority of people who've seen/read the story probably don't even remember Celyn's name, only that of her mother. Sure the articles all come with a photo of her so people might remember that she's an absolutely beautiful girl with adorable ginger curly hair, but the photos are captioned "Riven Vincent's daughter" rather than "Celyn Vincent".

There are thousands of disabled people in the UK, both children and adults, with inadequate assistance packages. No-one wants to hear those stories. It's only when a non-disabled mother reaches snapping point that it's national news. It reminds me of how the story of Francecca Hardwick and her mum is usually referred to as the "Fiona Pilkington case". Disablist hate crime has killed many, many people over the years and none of those stories have come to the forefront of public consciousness. So why did that case? My theory is that, for the first time, disablist hate crime was responsible for the death of a non-disabled person.

And so it is with Celyn and her mum. Disabled people up and down the country are forced to sit in a puddle of their own piss for the best part of a day until their carer comes in for 15 minutes at bedtime to help them change; and inadequate social care is not a national scandal. A mother reaches snapping point and people are, rightfully, horrified.

One of my friends said "But at least there's a story involving social care cuts that the public is getting behind. It's something, and a step forward." I, however, wonder if it is a step forward or if the story is actually going to prove advantageous for disabled children and their parents at the expense of the social care of disabled adults.

I'm not for a second suggesting that support for disabled children should go out the window in favour of support for disabled adults. Not only do I think that everyone should have their support needs met, but once upon a time I was a disabled child myself so I understand that in some respects a disabled child's social care needs can be more complex and costly than those of an adult. A really good example is wheelchair provision; as a child I needed new wheelchairs much more frequently than I do now because I was growing.

I think there's a very real risk that with so much attention being directed at children's social care packages at the moment that more cuts will be aimed at adult services to preserve the funding for assistance of children and their parents.

David Cameron said that "he did not believe the case was connected to public service cuts." And as the Vincents have always had 6 hours a week assistance and that hasn't gone down, he was probably telling the truth. But if he wants disabled children and their families to have more help while his buddy Osborne is cutting local authority budgets, where is that money for the extra help going to come from if the money isn't being taken from adult social care to pay for child social care?

We have to remember that in the run up to the election Cameron kept on saying that he wanted life to be simpler for the parents of disabled children. He never, ever, even once, expressed any interest in or concern for disabled people over the age of 16. So I really don't think I'm just being cynical when I expect him to hang disabled adults out to dry.

I really hope Celyn Vincent gets a care package that will allow her to be an equal in her family, rather than just a stressor. I want to see all disabled children get the assistance they need to be a "normal" part of family life. I want to see all disabled parents have the help they need for their child to not be a carer. I want elderly people to not have to sit in their own incontinence for 12 hours. I'd quite like someone to help me with the more painful aspects of housework rather than having to look at my filthy floor wondering how much longer I can get away with not hoovering. I'd also very much like to be proved wrong and for the current focus on children's care to not have the end result of making life harder for over 16s.

Thursday 20 January 2011

Incapacity Benefit: Watch out if you go back to work!

The latest broken promise by this government relates to Incapacity Benefit. In the past, if you have been on Incapacity Benefit, you were able to return to work – and if your health failed again, you could go back on benefit at the same rate under the “104 week linking rule”.

This is about to change; from the end of this month, people who are still on Incapacity Benefit will be unable to return to it (if they try going back to work, but find they are still too ill to manage, or become sick again thereafter). Instead they will have to make a fresh claim, for Employment Support Allowance (ESA). Worse still, the first 13 weeks of ESA would be paid at a lower rate than you could expect under the linking rule for Incapacity Benefit. And of course, it will mean going through one of those frightening ESA medicals – frightening because of the number of people who are passed fit for work when they are not capable of doing a job.

More information is available on the Benefits and Work website.

This may have the opposite of the desired effect: instead of going back to try working as soon as they think they may be able to manage, people on Incapacity Benefit may well opt to stay at home until they are certain that they can manage the duties of their job again. It's another example of the short-sighted unfairness typical of this government.

The Cost of Care - (Riven and Celyn Vincent case)

Celyn Vincent is a six year old girl with quadriplegic cerebral palsy and epilepsy.  She requires round the clock care from her mother, Riven.  Six hours of respite care is provided per week by social services.  Yesterday, Riven Vincent asked for Celyn to be taken into care as her request for additional respite had been declined and she felt unable to cope.  As yet, Celyn has not been taken into care, discussions are still on going as to the best way forward.

Riven Vincent is a user of Mumsnet and had David Cameron to tea pre election.  During this visit he assured her that more would be done to support families with disabled children.  A promise he is now being accused of breaking.

The statement released by Ms Vincent can be viewed here.

Carers are estimated to save the government in the region of £80 Billion every single year.  Riven Vincent has estimated that the cost of caring for Celyn in residential care would be between £2000 and £3000 a week.  The cost of a respite carer for Celyn is approximately £15 per hour according to Ms Vincent.  It is likely that Ms Vincent is in receipt of Carers Allowance at a rate of £53 a week.  Financially the provision of additional respite is obviously more cost effective.  It will also have many other benefits for Celyn and her family which can't be measured.  Time as a family, the ability to make memories.  For Celyn's brothers and sisters to spend time with their mum.  And for Ms Vincent to have time to rest and recover.

The fact that there is now a lot of attention on the issue of support for carers and the valuable work they do is great.  However this isn't a one time only thing.  Nor is it new.  For many years now families have been expected to care for their disabled children (even when they become disabled adults) with little or no support for years.  The planned cuts to disability benefits and services are likely to make this much worse meaning even more carers find themselves in this situation.

Personally I was refused all support when I left university as I was living with my parents (in a property they had moved to whilst I was at uni and which wasn't adapted) and we "could cope".  The fact my Mum was working full time and also caring for my elderly Nanny (and my Dad had just had spinal surgery) and saying she couldn't cope was irrelevant. We were told we simply needed to "pull together as a family."  This situation was only resolved because my parents refused to have me in the house and I was made homeless.  That's a very distressing and painful procedure.

I know of other disabled people who have had to go down that route.  Of a 40 year old who was given a suitable flat to live in but couldn't move from his parents house as no care was available.  And of parents of now adult disabled children who have had to accept there child is never going to leave home and they'll have to keep trying to cope as best they can.  Twitter is full of similar stories today.

The focus on care provision needs to move from the cost of it financially.  It needs to look at the bigger picture.  The question shouldn't be "can we afford to provide X service" but "can we afford not to?"

The fact that Celyn Vincent's family have found themselves in this situation has been described as "shameful".  The fact that hundreds and thousands of carers and disabled people are in the same situation is even more shocking.  I hope that Riven Vincent's brave decision to go public gets results for her and she can keep Celyn at home.  But mostly that this brings the issue into the public eye more and that reforms are made to provide much needed support and independence for all disabled people and their carers.

Wednesday 19 January 2011

National Protest Against Benefit Cuts 24/1/11

Benefit Claimants Fight Back have organised a number of protests around the country for this coming Monday, January 24th.

This post lists all the various protests around the country.

If you're not sure why you should come; please re-read the post I wrote after a protest in December.

The Vulnerability Spectrum

The Vulnerability Spectrum

“The test of a good society is how do you protect the poorest, the most vulnerable, the elderly, the frail.

“That’s important in good times, it’s even more important in difficult times. People need to know that if they have me as their prime minister and they have a Conservative government, it will be that sort of prime minister.
David Cameron

I think if you take the quote above, stir in a little "We can't go on like this. I'll cut the deficit, not the NHS" and sprinkle with any combination of "We will keep the free TV licence, we will keep the pension credit....Those leaflets you have been getting from Labour are pure and simple lies" you have in a nutshell why the Conservatives won the election. (Or rather, didn't quite lose the election - they didn't "win" after all.)

The genuine fear of enormous debt pervaded everything, and in the end, these reassurances at last gave people the permission to trust the Tories once again. They wanted the debt cut and as long as those "most vulnerable" were left alone, it was time for belts to be tightened. Voters wanted their public services to be more efficient, they wanted fewer bureaucrats, they were fed up with reading about scroungers and cheats while they slogged to make ends meet.

It would be ridiculous to argue that 36% of UK voters stepped into the privacy of the ballot box and thought "Now then, Tory, Tory, Aha, there it is. I do so hope they make sure those paraplegics can't get about any more and that they do something about all these old people cluttering up the NHS," though you might get the impression that hoards of Labour activists believe that. It was simply a choice - largely economic - and no-one but no-one voted in cruelly. (Well, possibly the odd BNP supporter I suppose, but that's for another article)

The problem is that no-one defined "Vulnerable." What did it mean to you?

The minute you try to decide who is truly vulnerable you enter a swamp of subjectivity so murky, it's probably best if most of us avoid it altogether. Do we set an absolute minimum at damaged and abandoned children in care, or should all children be untouched by austerity? Do we support all elderly care home residents or just those with no family to support them? Maybe only those with 6 months or less to live are truly vulnerable? Is it only the profoundly disabled that we define as "vulnerable" or should we use a broader definition, including those living in constant, terrible pain or mental despair? Are the homeless vulnerable or does it depend on what put them on the streets? Are the unemployed vulnerable or can they fend for themselves?

I suppose if I look at myself from another's perspective I'm towards the fluffy end of the vulnerability spectrum. I believe all of the groups above are vulnerable. I'd probably give myself a '3' though, due to my slightly Tory emphasis on getting "on yer bike" and stiff-upper-lip attitudes to adversity.

Yesterday, someone suggested that if we stopped treating sick and disabled people on the NHS and developing ever more effective medical treatments, they would be less of a drain on the state through sickness and disability benefits. NHS efficiency and cuts to the benefit budget all in one. Job done! Obviously more towards the Tough-Love-Mr-Goebbels end of the spectrum. (!!)

Calls to sterilise the poor to stop them breeding or exclusions in elderly NHS care because older people are soon going to die anyway are probably off the spectrum altogether, but then so are calls at the other end of the scale to protect everything and increase childcare and pension budgets. Sorry guys, not a good time.

I do think it's pretty safe however, to say that most voters expected the genuinely sick and profoundly disabled to be protected. Can you imagine Cameron standing in one of his sky-blue-thinking, man-of-the-people, call-me-Dave visits to Planet Everyman making this speech?

We will take away freedom from the most disabled adults dependent for all their care needs by cutting their mobility payments. To sick children in specialist residential schools I say the same "Sorry, the money's run out, we can no longer pay for you to get about." We will force nearly all people with serious illnesses to find work and if they don't, we will stop their benefits entirely afterone year. To paraplegics I say this : "If you use your wheelchair too efficiently and it allows you to get about, you must now be classed as fully mobile. We can no longer support you to stay in workor support you to remain in your own homes and we will cut local budgets so severely that disabled care packages and hospice care for terminal cancer patients will need to be slashed. We must remember that we're all in this together and because these are going to be really difficult times, no-one should expect to stay as they are, particularly if they have an awful, progressive, degenerative condition that ruins every moment of their lives."

Still, as if that would ever happen eh? He would have been lucky to get a vote from Nadine Dorriesor Rory Stewart!

Well, certainly, the speech would never happen but are you shocked if I assure you that every single example I used is either proposed or already in place since we voted for "that nice Mr Cameron" on May 6th. How does it sit with your own personal place on the Vulnerability Spectrum? How many of us are honestly happy with a policy that effectively makes the most disabled people in society permanent prisoners within their own four walls? That says wheelchair users can now be classed as fully mobile? Very few I imagine.

If '1' is the most fluffy-lentil-munching-do-gooder and '10' is Jeremy Clarkson, then surely the above proposals/policies from the coalition are at least a 12? Are we OK with that?

If we remember that the government's own figures show that less than 1% of Disability Living Allowance claims are fraudulent and that it is a working benefit, paid to help disabled people enter or remain in the workplace, or to give them a shred of independence, I imagine very few of us are.

When you develop policy that would make Enoch Powell blush, it might be an idea to backtrack a little.

Tuesday 18 January 2011

I Wonder What You Were Thinking

… when you informed on me to the DWP?

Did you believe the yellow rags, the Scum, the Heil, the Vexpress? Do they shape your every thought when they label us fakers and fraudsters and the cause of all your woes?

Did you believe Ian Duncan Smith when he blamed us for the banking collapse? George Osbourne and his lackeys when they label us workshy?

Do you envy me ESA’s £95 a week, which with Benefit Reform will soon enough be £0 a week?

Did you thrill over giving me an imagined kicking for my sins, not knowing I might still feel every punch, every blow, physical act or none?

Did you wonder about practicality, think how I might manage to hold down a job, when I’m lucky to get out of the house for a whole four hours in the week?

Did you realise that it was you who was committing the crime, not I; Hate Crime, spite crime, little-minded bigot’s crime? 

Or do you simply despise me because I’m disabled?

Monday 17 January 2011

The Inept Leading the Clueless: JCP, JSA and Disability

Professor Malcolm Harrington’s review of the ESA WCA claimed that disabled ESA claimants had nothing to fear if they were rejected and placed on JSA instead because 'Support is available on JSA that if explained to claimants could allay some of their fears about “failing” the WCA'. As a recent disabled JSA claimant (December 2008 to February 2010), I thought it might be interesting to take a look at the reality behind that blithe assurance. 

With an extensive outsourcing process behind me I was likely better informed than many JSA claimants and I made it clear in my initial contacts with JCP that I would need to talk to a Disability Employment Adviser. Getting the initial JSA paperwork back full of errors was worrying, the initial interview with the DEA was worse. Having explained to her that I was a highly qualified, highly experienced engineer and that the only thing stopping me being a strong candidate for any of dozens of available posts was my physical inability to commute or relocate, she promptly started advocating that I apply for minimum wage positions and it was fairly clear that that was her default setting for any disabled person sent to talk to her. As far as I am concerned there are two words that define that attitude: Institutional Discrimination. As I had suggested one possible way ahead for me would be to study for a doctorate she did pass me on to a careers adviser colleague of hers, who somewhat floored me by revealing that until the month before she hadn’t been allowed to talk to anyone with more than two GCSEs; how she was meant to help someone wanting to talk about a doctorate I’m not certain. To her credit she did manage to pass me on to an actual university careers advisor, but that was through a personal contact of her own rather than a regular JCP route.

I then moved into the fortnightly grind of signing on; initially with the DEA, but within two months she had thrown me back into the general pool, saying she couldn’t offer me any further help. This put me on a par with most JSA claimants, which may not seem like a problem, but my disability means that I am not most people. The Job Centre was pleasantly decorated and furnished, but it doesn’t seem to have occurred to anyone that they might need on-site disabled parking, or that couches and non-adjustable seats, no matter how smart, might not be adequate for someone who has problems sitting or standing for any length of time (and when you are running the better part of an hour behind scheduled appointment times with twenty people waiting and only eight seats in the waiting area…). It averaged out that every other trip to sign on was leaving me curled-up in pain for the rest of the day. That was just the physical access issues, I was also seeing a different JCP clerk pretty much every time, some of them obviously half-trained back-office staff dragged out to try and deal with the ever-increasing number of claimants, and almost every time I would be questioned about why there were agreed restrictions on commute distance in my Job Seeker’s Agreement. Surely the whole point of defining the Job Seeker’s Agreement with the DEA was to have it agreed by someone with some knowledge of disability? Not for it to then be questioned by everyone else who came into contact with it? Nor for me to need to explain the details of my disability to every JCP clerk I dealt with in order to justify myself. As soon as the DEA dumped me, and even though my crutches demonstrate to everyone who sees me that I am disabled, JCP lost sight of the fact that I was disabled and started trying to treat me as indistinguishable from anyone else, if not actively pressuring me into being precisely that.

JSA working practices for signing-on were enough to make any efficiency expert curl up in the corner in despair. Their computer system seems to be some Heath-Robinsonesque lash-up, part working in Windows, part needing them to spawn out into some proprietary tool. My part of the process as the claimant was to provide a list of job search activities made in the past fortnight and a little slip of a paper form was provided for this. As part of my disability means I can’t write legibly or comfortably, and the form was in any case too small to cover more than a fraction of my job-search activities, I simply ran-off a word-processed list each time, only to have several of the JSA clerks take umbrage that the list wasn’t on the ‘official’ form. What did they do with the form once I handed it over? They copied it, manually, into an on-screen form, taking anything up to five minutes of hunt-and-peck typing, then handed me back the original. Hello, this is the 21st Century! Why drag me physically into the Job Centre, causing me considerable pain and distress, for a transaction that can be done more quickly and more efficiently using a telephone and/or email?

As I passed various JSA milestones I would occasionally have a more in-depth interview with someone at which I would have to justify everything yet again. Facing a highly-qualified disabled person clearly puzzled them, their systems could barely cope with a highly-qualified claimant, add disability to the mix and they simply had no reference point on how to deal with me. They did send me to talk to an ‘executive’ recruitment consultant at one point, but as soon as I explained what effect disability has on my ability to work, a look of absolute panic swept across her face and the only suggestion she could come up with was to pass my details to the Royal British Legion’s training agency – 18 months later I’ve still heard nothing back from them. The one real change was that after 6 months of claiming Contributions-Based JSA I stopped receiving any benefit at all.

When I reached the one year anniversary of my JSA claim, I became subject to ‘Flexible New Deal’ and received a letter telling me that if I didn’t attend an interview with a training contractor my benefit would be docked – that would be the benefit I wasn’t receiving anyway? No ‘Dear Sir’, no ‘please’ or ‘thank you’, just ‘Be Here or Else’. I know a lot of disabled people who would be seriously distressed by, if not completely unable to deal with, a threatening letter of that nature, yet the DWP propose to expand ‘conditionality’ of this sort to all ESA claimants, never mind just the ones rejected onto JSA.

So I turned up on time for the appointment with the training contractor, only to find that the address they had given me was wrong. Fortunately I was able to figure out which building on the out-of-town trading estate was likely theirs, even though its signage was for a completely different training contractor. If I had turned up using a wheelchair I would have been completely unable to access the building, as it was the step was so high that I fell over the threshold. The downstairs office was completely unmanned, with a handwritten sign on a piece of torn cardboard propped on a chair advising me that I needed to go back outside and up the stairs. How a visually impaired client was supposed to deal with that arrangement is anyone’s guess. The staircase I was supposed to climb was an exposed iron arrangement of the type commonly found in warehouses. On a wet day I would never have attempted it, and this was the middle of a notably wet December; even on the one dry day of the month I had to seriously consider whether I could safely make it to the top.

Having decided to risk the stairs, a corridor at the top led to a small office, into which were crammed a dozen desks with workstations surrounding a large central table. Inside the office were two staff members and another client. If I had somehow been able to get a wheelchair to the entrance to the room I would not have been able to get it inside, and even using crutches I had considerable problems navigating to a chair. Telling the staff who I was, and who I was due to see, produced consternation. I was apparently scheduled to see their ‘disability specialist’, but she was scheduled to be in a completely different office in an entirely different town. So one of the other staff decided that she would deal with me instead, and started working through a computerised form. Before I quite realised what was happening I was being asked intimate questions about my disability, despite the fact there was a complete stranger sitting immediately behind me. Apparently the entire concept of data protection, and their legal obligations under the Data Protection Act and the Disability Discrimination Act, had completely passed them by. To give them their due, once I had explained the limitations resulting from my disability the staff member immediately said that she felt that I was completely inappropriate for their programme, which apparently allowed them to compel me to apply for jobs, but did not allow them to first consider whether I was physically capable of doing the job, and that the only action she was giving me was to urgently contact JCP and tell them that she thought I needed to be on ESA, not JSA. The physical after-effects of that 45 minute interview put me in bed for the next week with massively increased pain levels.

After that clowning glory of incompetence I decided enough was enough and wrote a formal letter of complaint to JCP, copying it to the then-Minister for Disabled People (also my local MP as it happened). I also called JCP, spoke to a supervisor and left the switch from JSA to ESA in their hands while I went to visit family over Christmas. I returned home, a week later than expected due to the snow, to find a letter dated 5th of January saying I had failed to sign on and my JSA claim had been stopped (hello, national crisis, massive snow disruption, not claiming JSA any more) and a letter dated the 6th confirming that and sending me my P45. Despite my supposedly terminated JSA claim there was also a letter from the training contractor demanding I attend another interview. I rang JCP to complain, only to be told by the supervisor I had spoken to before Christmas that she had never heard me say anything about switching my claim to ESA, and had phoned me on my home number (despite me having told her I would be away) to confirm that I should be on the scheme with the training contractor

I arranged a face-to-face meeting with the supervisor, but by the time the meeting happened my complaint to the minister had obviously filtered through as I was greeted with a slightly awed ‘You’re the one that wrote the letter, aren’t you?’ and a general falling over themselves to get my JSA claim reinstated and then transferred over to ESA, which eventually happened a full two months after I had initially asked JCP to put it in hand. I also received a fairly abject written apology for the way I had been treated, which admitted JCP had completely lost sight of the nature of my disability, but still attempted to push the majority of blame onto the training agency – apparently the concept of being legally and morally responsible for the behaviour of your contractors hasn’t penetrated into JCP.

So there we have it, my experience of just how well JCP manages to deal with disabled JSA claimants: Professor Harrington, I am afraid that I will have to differ with your review; disabled ESA claimants whose claims are rejected and who are placed on JSA have everything to fear from JCP’s complete cluelessness about disability and their total lack of support for disabled claimants.

And my ESA claim? That’s a sad tale for another day.

Sunday 16 January 2011

Where are all the Politicians?

It’s Sunday! We’re all exhausted, but the response to “One Month Before Heartbreak” (OMBH) has been astonishing. I don’t think there’s a blog or charity website or anti-cuts group that haven’t posted a link to one of our stories, or written about the impending DLA cuts.

One month before Heartbreak has achieved great, great things. Tens of thousands of people have read our stories, and not just other disabled people, but across the entire web, In my own bizarre and ever entertaining stats, I have been randomly taken to heart by a tattoo site, a knitting site, a forum for discussing films and a group of football fans.

But still no politicians.

Every day, we write. We tweet, we phone, we sign petitions and using our weapon-words, we plead with them to get in touch. I speak for myself, but not one has yet replied.

Labour bought in the terrifying Employment Support Allowance with its demeaning assessments and its “unfit for purpose” design. Now the Conservative led coalition will abolish Disability Living Allowance altogether too, replacing it with “PIPs” and reducing the eligibility by up to 25% along the way. I can’t think of a corner of our lives they’re leaving alone, with changes to work programmes, eligibility, housing entitlement, care packages, work guidelines, education provision and hospital care. Yet the opposition say nothing. When the ESA changes were first announced in the CSR, time limiting ESA to one year in the grossest act of betrayal I can remember from any government, it was the only policy area that Labour felt comfortable to immediately support. Douglas Alexander said this in his response,

"Pathways to Work, using the private and voluntary sector to provide back to work support, with payment by results...and proposals such as; reforming the DLA gateway, continuing the IB to ESA transition and continuing to drive down fraud (and).... a role for private and voluntary providers. Funding based on outcomes not processes..... Virtually everyone on benefits should be on an active journey towards work."

(Full analysis here)

The other, Lib Dem, Alexander, Orange Danny, used to be a fierce advocate of the sick and disabled.

"The Scottish Secretary has warned hundreds of thousands of sick people may be wrongly forced back to work under reforms designed to reduce Britain’s £171 billion annual welfare bill.

Danny Alexander also claimed the benefits system may be brought “close to meltdown” by tens of thousands appealing rulings they are no longer eligible for state support.
Although his comments were made before the general election, sources close to Mr Alexander said that he remains concerned and would be lobbying Cabinet colleagues”

(From The Telegraph)

Sadly, that would be just before he got that top treasury job slashing those very same benefits still further. Not a peep since.

And Mr Cameron. We really thought he would understand. He has genuine experience of profound disability and all the challenges and extra pressures it involves. When he gave this interview to the Independent in 2009, it was clear he knew exactly what was wrong with the system and he pledges to change it in ways that sick and disabled people found quite impressive.

“The second lesson was that life for parents of disabled children is complicated enough without having to jump through hundreds of government hoops. After the initial shock of diagnosis you're plunged into a world of bureaucratic pain. Having your child assessed and getting the help you're entitled to means answering the same questions over and over again, being buried under snow drifts of forms, spending hours on hold in the phone queue.

I am determined to make life simpler for parents. One option we're looking at is inspired by something they're doing in Austria. There a crack team of medical experts – doctor, nurse, physio – act as a one-stop-shop to assess families and get them the help they need.....

.....Because we can never forget what an amazing job they do. Just consider what it would mean if the army of parents and carers in this country gave up, packed up, said they couldn't cope any more. The financial cost of looking after those children would be immense”

(From The Independent)

Reading that article now is shameful, every promise, every insight forgotten the minute that key to No.10 finally fell into his hands.

“But why?” you ask. “Why do they all treat you this way?”

Well, the entire system is based on two flawed assumptions. In the 80s, with unemployment spiralling out of control, Maggie needed a way to massage the figures. In no time at all, the figures of people claiming Incapacity Benefit (now ESA) more than trebled from around 700,000 to 2.5 Million. It went “under the radar” if people were declared unfit for work instead of claiming unemployment benefit.

During the entire period Labour was in office, the figure barely changed, hovering around that two and a half million mark. “Eureka!” Exclaimed James Purnell, uber-Blairite, and the succession of clones that followed him “They can all work! They were never sick in the first place!”

Sadly, it never seems to have occurred to his reformist mind that the NHS circa 1985 is a very different place to the NHS of 2011. Survival rates for serious illness have soared, medication has been revolutionised compared with over 3 decades ago. Children born prematurely survive earlier and earlier with all the complications that can sometimes involve. Surgical procedures are unrecognisable with new ways of treating conditions discovered almost daily. Gradually, Maggie’s forgotten 1.75 million found jobs or died and were replaced by new claimants, the miracle by-products of a medical revolution. The tests are now so tough to claim sickness or disability support, the forms so arduous the checks so rigorous, that fraud is actually remarkably low – less than 1% according the DWP’s own figures.

The other flawed assumption, is that we don’t want to work, we need urging and coercing. Well, we do want to work. For most of us, the day we had to give up our ambitions and dreams was the worst of our lives.

There are schemes that can help. I’ll be talking about them at length on my own blog, over the coming weeks before “Heartbreak”, but on the whole, politicians show a breathtaking lack of understanding about illness and disability. They only ever really mention those with physical impairments such as blindness and paraplegia. They never consider how one might possible hold down a job with the symptoms of a full blown illness or a devastating mental condition. More to the point, they never consider who will employ us! With our vomit bowls and syringes and blackouts and seizures, do they really think an army of employers are just waiting to take us eagerly into the workplace?

Still no matter. Every last scrap of evidence shows that their schemes are unfit for purpose, that ESA and DLA reform are causing considerable distress, that “assessors” aren’t qualified to make decisions about who can and can’t work with 35% of decisions going to appeal and around 70% of those appeals being upheld.

But at a time when unemployment is creeping towards 3 million, let’s press ahead with making 2.3 million of the 2.6 million (91%!!!) who claim ESA unemployed too! And hang it, let’s add 750,000 or so of the most profoundly ill too, by “assessing” DLA all over again.

They can’t do much about it, after all.

But, as OMBH has shown, we can. And this time, we will.

Ed Miliband on The Andrew Marr Show 16/1/11

Marr gave Miliband rather a grilling this morning about his, and the Labour party's, opinion on the cuts. Marr accused Miliband of being anti-cuts (as if that's a bad thing!) to which Miliband responded that, actually, he's pro-cuts; he just wouldn't have cut as deeply as the ConDems.

On benefits specifically Miliband said:

In relation to welfare let me give you a specific example: On the reforms to the Disability Living Allowance, the gateway for that. On the reforms to Employment Support Allowance Douglas Alexander has said very clearly we'll work with the government on the changes. And he's even said in relation to benefit uprating, that while we don't accept a permanent lowering of that, we would be willing to look at a change for 3 years, in order to save, in fact, rather large sums of money. So I don't accept this mythology that's being put around, Andrew. I said very clearly when I became leader "we're not going to oppose every cut."

Which essentially means that the Labour party support making less people eligible for DLA to cut the bill by 20%, even though only 0.5% of claims are fraudulent. It also means the Labour party support removing your contributory ESA after 1 year.

Wednesday 12 January 2011

More on the possible cuts to Access to Work

Note: this is a cross-post from arbitrary constant

I blogged on the question of whether cuts are being made to Access to Work. In summary, the DWP has issued unannounced, updated guidance on Access to Work which reduces the amount of support that was previously available to disabled people in securing employment. Furthermore, this has been done before an announced review of Access to Work has been published.

Let's look a little more into what Access to Work (AtW) is and the numbers behind it. (All statistics from the DWP's own Core Evaluation of Access to Work in 2009 - available here (pdf) - unless stated otherwise.)

AtW is essentially a pot of money that can support an individual if their health or disability affects the way they do their job by giving advice and support with extra costs to meet any extra costs associated with someone's needs.

Over time, AtW has grown: in 1997/98 its budget was £14.6m rising to £69m in 2008/09. In 2009/10 spend was £95.3m. According to figures published by the Guardian based on DWP data, only Statutory Sick Pay (£65m), "Non-Contributory Xmas Bonus" (£33m) and additional expenditure on Council tax benefit (£62m) cost the DWP less last year. The previous government committed to doubling the AtW budget to £138m by 2013/14, with a commensurate increase (i.e. doubling) of people benefiting.

In terms of beneficiaries, some 10,000 "customers" received AtW in 1994/95, rising to 27,500 in 2007/08 and 32,000 in 2008/09.

Thus, someone receiving AtW has around £2,150 on average to support them into work. But this isn't a one-way cost: there are significant benefits to the taxpayer from AtW: for every £1 spent on Access to Work, the government recoups an average £1.48 in tax and National Insurance contributions (from Destination Unknown).

Importantly, AtW is not just about meeting "reasonable adjustments" under what was the Disability Discrimination Act. As the DWP's own evaluation of AtW states:

Access to Work is designed to supplement rather than replace any reasonable adjustments made by employers in line with the DDA.

Thus, in principle, and despite the coalition government suggesting new guidance starts only where reasonable adjustments end, the question of reasonable adjustments has never been one that AtW was ever supposed to answer.

In summary: Access to Work supports disabled people in securing work; it s not about reasonable adjustments; it is the fourth smallest "benefit" paid by DWP; it acts as a net income generator for the Treasury.

Given the general success of Access to Work, what's driving the government to put in place what are effectively cuts to the service? Politically, I'd suggest something like this: there is a policy direction of moving disabled people off benefits and into work. This means (in theory) there are more disabled people looking for work. If the Access to Work budget has been protected, then this means more people either are or will be applying to it. Thus, there is a requirement to ensure that the existing budget can go further than it currently does.

Or, succinctly put, they want more for less.

I'm not quite sure where this leaves us.

The current government's policy is to decrease the number of people on welfare and get them into work. Access to Work is a funding stream designed precisely to do that, specifically supporting disabled people to access work opportunities that they otherwise couldn't. If it didn't already exist, it couldn't be a better-designed financial support to enabled disabled people to make a worthwhile contribution as employees and taxpayers.

Of all the things the coalition government has done so far with regard to welfare and benefits for disabled people - DLA, ILF, Housing Benefit, mortgage relief, Employment & Support Allowance and so on - there's a significant argument that says it's political ideology that has driven the cuts. Though I don't agree with the decisions, that's the prerogative of governments.

But the effect of the apparent decision on AtW, before it was stated a decision would be made, and that goes against even the government's own policy intention of supporting people into work, is quite bemusing. I look forward to some clarity on it soon.

Are cuts being made to Access to Work?

Note: this is a cross-post from arbitrary constant

New and unannounced guidance issued at the end of 2010 by the Department for Work in Pensions has subtly changed what can and can't be met by Access to Work.

Since Access to Work is a dedicated resource that provides practical advice to overcome issues arising from disability in the workplace, and can pay towards any extra employment costs associated with disability, it is a crucial part of the government's drive to get (disabled) people back into work.

But the practical application of the guidance means that disabled people who are trying to get back into work, or have secured a role and are liaising with their employers to ensure the workplace is accessible so they can do their work, are effectively receiving less support than they would have before the new guidance was issued. Those who do receive support are experiencing significant problems in securing this support.

The list of items that will no longer be covered by Access to Work is here (you can also download the full Access to Work guidance from the Deposits section of the Parliament website - it's paper DEP2010-2088 here). Items include hearing aids, any telephony, some voice-activated software and walking aids. (There's a related point here about the proposed reforms to Disability Living Allowance, which also mean these types of items wouldn't be paid for by state support.)

There's another crucial point as well: these practical changes have taken place ahead of the government's planned reforms of Access to Work: the DWP's business plan states that changes are being designed for Access to Work until December 2010 and the implementation plan of changes will be developed between January to April 2011.

The explicit reason given for the new guidance is that employers should be meeting some of these access costs as a "reasonable adjustment". However, there is a clear political imperative here, based once again on cost saving (more on which in another post).

It thus appears that DWP has issued unannounced, updated guidance on Access to Work which reduces the amount of support that was previously available to disabled people in securing employment. Furthermore, this has been done before an announced review of Access to Work has been published.

It may not be a cut in name, but it feels like a cut in practice.

Sunday 9 January 2011

Legal Aid Cuts

Legal Aid cuts – the quick version!

The Government is proposing to cut civil legal aid, which helps people deal with debt, housing, benefits, immigration, family law and many other issues. This will leave tens of thousands of vulnerable people without access to help and support to access their rights, and will result in destitution, debt and homelessness. The amount of money being cut equals a tiny percentage of the deficit, and is a true false economy as all the research shows that early advice saves the state money in the long-run. You can help us challenge these proposals by sending a letter to your MP asking them to oppose the proposals and by submitting a response to the consultation – a suggested response and sample MP letters are available here. For more details on the proposals please read the information below. Thank you for your help!

Legal Aid cuts – the longer version!

What will you do the next time you need help with benefits? Or when you are unfairly dismissed? Or when your landlord refuses to fix the leak in the roof that is making everything you own damp and mouldy?

If your answer was ‘Get some legal advice’ then get it while you can, as the government are going to take away Legal Aid funding for all of these kind of cases and many more – this is going to result in tens of thousands of people not being able to get advice in future. The government states that the rest of the voluntary sector will be able to pick up the pieces, but this simply isn’t true – thousands of voluntary sector agencies, like Citizens Advice Bureaux and Law Centres, are funded via legal aid and local authorities, so will be reducing services at a time when they are most needed. These changes will leave people living in disrepair, leave people without money to eat or heat their homes, and will leave people struggling with debts they cannot manage – all of which will cost the state more money in the long run than they will save by cutting the funding for advice to deal with the problems. Advice agency clients did not profit from the boom years, and certainly did not cause the bust – why are they now made to suffer to help the government balance the books?

Access to justice for all is essential in a democratic society; these proposed cuts are simply not fair as they hit the poorest the hardest.

How can people help to make a difference?

  • Write to your MP and or local councillor, sample letters are available from your local advice centre or on
  • Comment on the government’s proposals by February 14th 2011: - suggested responses are available on the Advicewest website.
  • Join our Facebook campaign: ‘Say No to Legal Aid Cuts in the South West’
  • Join us for a demonstration outside the South-West offices of the Legal Services Commission: Queens Square, Bristol, 7/02/11 from 12noon.

Thanks for your help – future users of legal advice service will thank you too!

Saturday 8 January 2011

DLA - the gateway benefit

The government's proposed changes to DLA have been much reported - and you can see articles about why it matters on Flash Says and across the blogosphere, including Where's the Benefit of course. The news that 20% of people will no longer qualify, and that the new Personal Independence Payment (PIP) will become harder to obtain than the existing system is a bitter blow to those who worked hard just to demonstrate their entitlement. Indeed, it is reported in the news today that the proposed change from DLA to PIP could breach human rights laws; the fight to save DLA goes on.

But I think there is one more important aspect to DLA that has been overlooked; it is a gateway to many other things.

By that I mean that the standards for mobility and care levels are fairly well defined; organisations which deal with disabled people and assess their need can simply look at the individual’s DLA award to understand what that person’s needs might be, rather than reinventing the wheel and creating their own assessment system. In many cases, receipt of DLA at a certain level provides automatic entitlement to other benefits and services.

For example, here are some useful schemes for which you would automatically qualify, if you get DLA at the levels specified

  • Disabled person’s railcard - Any mobility award, or higher or middle rate care

  • Warm Front scheme – a grant for heating and insulation work – Any DLA award

  • Disability Premium – extra money if you are on income-related benefits – Any DLA award, although middle or higher rate care entitles you to a higher amount, the “severe disability premium”

and the items below are awarded if you have a Higher rate mobility award:

  • Freedom Pass – free travel on London Transport

  • Blue badge

  • Taxicard – reduced fares on London taxis

  • Dial-a-Ride

  • Refund on road vehicle tax

  • Motability scheme

  • National bus pass (in Scotland, higher or middle rate care award also qualifies)

Indeed, it was reported in the Northern Echo this week that “claiming [Disability Living Allowance] not only benefits the recipient and helps stimulate the local economy, it also simplifies the Blue Badge process. This is because people are automatically entitled to a Blue Badge if they are in receipt of the higher rate of the Disability Living Allowance mobility component so don’t need medical evidence to show they have mobility problems and so there are fewer appeals against the refusal of the badge.”

Many other organisations use DLA as a method of determining entitlement – it is a simple way to demonstrate need, and it’s rather less embarrassing than asking someone’s medical history at the front desk. For example many museums, theatres and concert venues will allow a “carer” to enter with you for free. Waving your letter from the DWP can get you the help or concession that you need!

Glastonbury and other festivals also use DLA as a guide to need – for example, in order to access facilities such as disabled camping, accessible toilets and viewing platforms, as well as being permitted a free ticket for your personal assistant, you need to be in receipt of higher rate mobility, and/or middle or higher rate care DLA. (If you don’t claim DLA then you can always make your case to the access co-ordinator, but then provision is discretionary rather than automatic, which can make for a nervous few weeks until you hear whether your application is approved!)

I also haven’t heard anything about how the Motability scheme will operate after the demise of DLA. Over half a million people use the scheme and will be part way through a contract when the changes come into force. Will PIP be enough to fund Motability car hire? How about those whose award level is changed after a PIP medical assessment – how will they be able to afford the car, scooter or powerchair that they need?

When DLA is replaced with PIP, things are going to get complicated. After all, the government has stated that it wants to get 20% of people off this type of benefit, but those people’s needs won’t go away. They will be left with no easy way to demonstrate their level of disability. Organisations won’t have a clear understanding of what the relevant levels of PIP correspond with – at least, not straight away. Will old DLA letters be able to be used? For how long, until everyone is required to hold a PIP entitlement instead?

People may be up in arms at the thought of losing DLA, and frustrated at the thought of having to apply for a new benefit - but they should also be fearful of losing the many extra benefits that they use, with no easy route to prove their need once the DLA rug is pulled from under us all.

[This article was crossposted to Flash Says.]

Friday 7 January 2011

A letter from my MP

Cross posted at Rage against the Coalition

Just before Christmas I wrote to my MP expressing my concerns at the DLA reforms. I didn't expect much because he is a staunch Tory but I had to at least try.

Here is his reply

"Dear Ms Thomas,

Thank you for contacting me about reforms to Disability Living Allowance.

I believe that the Government owe a duty to disabled people to promote their independence and equality and I also believe it has a duty to ensure that it has the right governance in place to deliver this support efficiently and sensibly.

The Government is already undertaking a large-scale reform of the welfare system, for example the Universal Credit and it's flagship Work Programme. These welfare reforms are designed to protect people in the most vulnerable situations, including disabled people. The Government has made it clear that it is steadfast in its support for the principles of DLA, as a non-means-tested cash benefit contributing to the extra costs incurred by disabled people.

However, DLA is currently a poorly targeted and unsustainable benefit. Almost three million people receive this benefit at a forecast cost of £12 billion per year. We now have a disability benefit which is confusing for individuals to understand, based on unclear criteria and often results in inconsistent rewards, and since 1992, both the case load and the cost of DLA have grown to a level that is unsustainable. Change to DLA are long overdue and must address questions of fairness and value, while supporting disabled people to lead independent lives. We must ensure DLA better reflects the needs of disabled people today, rather than in the 1990's, and that it enables support to be targeted to those with the greatest need.

The Government wants to bring disability benefits into the 21st century by replacing DLA with a new Personal Independence Payment. This is an opportunity to improve the support for disabled people and enable them to lead full, active and independent lives. The Personal Independence Payment will maintain the key principles of DLA, but it will be delivered in a fairer, more consistent and sustainable manner. It is only right that support should be targeted at those disabled people who face the greatest challenges to leading independent lives and this reform is required to enable that, along with a clearer assessment process.

The Government has launched a formal public consultation on DLA and wants the views of disabled people to be fully reflected in any change it makes to DLA and has asked disabled people and their organisations to join the debate on reforming DLA. You may wish to make your views known and you can contribute to the Consultation by visiting website:
I want to assure you that those who are genuinely sick, disabled or retired have nothing to fear. This Government does not regard caring for the needy as a burden, but as a proud duty.

I hope that this reassures you and thank you again for taking the time to contact me.

Yours sincerely

Robert Syms
Member of Parliament for Poole."

Cutting through the waffle, this says to me 'We are paying too many people. We don't want to pay that many people. So we are re-drawing the boundaries to ensure that those we don't want to pay don't get through.

We want to pretend we are caring but what we are really concerned about is how much money we will have to spend and our reputation'

I have no faith that my own MP will stand up for people like me.

Tuesday 4 January 2011

Osbourne: VAT Increase Designed to Hit Disabled Hardest

There has been considerable controversy in the press about who the VAT increase will hit hardest, yet Chancellor George Osborne himself made it clear in his statement defending the rise exactly who the increase is targeted against. Osbourne said:

“I think that a VAT increase is a tough but necessary step to dealing with Britain’s economic problems.

The alternatives are an income tax rise or a national insurance tax rise which is what the Labour Party is proposing today.

I think that would damage working incentives for some low income earners in our country.

We want to get people off welfare into work.”

Or in other words: “I deliberately targeted those people on benefit, because taking money away from them will drive them into work.” Nothing to do with fixing the deficit, everything to do with Tory Ideology.

So, Chancellor, which part of that money you have taken away from disabled people in the ESA Support Group, the group even the harshest ATOS assessment criteria categorise as completely unable to work due to their disabilities, will miraculously lead to them becoming suddenly employable?

ATOS: Making millions from our oppression

The excellent Cynical Journalist today has an exclusive report, based on a Freedom of Information request: the government will be spending £100 million on ATOS assessments of people moving from Incapacity Benefit to Employment Support Allowance. The same FoI request confirms that ATOS assessors will not have to be qualified doctors to undertake medical assessments.

Sunday 2 January 2011

The Devil is in The Details

Eric Pickles is in the New Years’ papers lambasting local authorities for being slow to follow the Coalition’s directive to publish all expenditure over £500 on the Net. On the surface, this sounds like a splendidly sensible idea for putting councils under pressure to eliminate waste. But is it really a good idea at all? Could the reality be that we as disabled people will find it to be just one more Coalition diktat  that turns around and bites us as soon as the headlines have faded and all the publicity about fiscal responsibility has been milked. Criticism is good, but only so long as it is informed criticism, and the needs of disabled people within the community are an area where the public are woefully ill-informed. Do we really want ‘Disgusted of Tonbridge Wells’ and his local fellow-travellers pouring through council accounts and pressuring councillors and officers to reduce care costs and associated spending because £500 is obviously far too much to pay to put safety railings outside a disabled person’s house, or £1500 clearly extortionate for providing a ceiling-mounted hoist? 

Other idealogy-driven fads flowing out of Pickles’ department may well have similarly problematic results for disabled people. Pickles talks about local people deciding local spending priorities and wants to drive funding down into parish councils and newly created ward councils. It’s difficult to top the BBC coverage which used the parish council from The Vicar of Dibley to illustrate this; but do we really want the local self-selected-great and maybe-good deciding funding policies when their idea of ‘Nothing For Us, Without Us’ is patting us condescendingly and telling us not to worry our little heads?

The problem at the core of the whole idea of ‘The Big Society’ is that it depends on society understanding the needs of those of us who need its support, and a huge swathe of society just does not comprehend what we as disabled people need to allow us to function in society as equals, or even just to survive from day to day. The practicalities and costs of actually providing for that are far beyond their understanding and we risk the Coalition’s ‘Big Society’ trampling ‘Nothing For Us, Without Us,’ underfoot.