Saturday 26 February 2011

To err is human...

... but if you do it on DWP forms, you can expect a fine.

A £50 fine, to be precise, although that's just a starting figure. It could be as much as £300.

Apparently the point of this fine is to get claimants to take "responsibility" for their claims, because "I have to fill in this form right or I won't have any money for rent, bills or food" doesn't have enough impact on your life to make you take it seriously. Or something.

Leaving aside the class war bit where a bunch of millionaires (who make plenty of "mistakes" in their own benefit claims and consider £50 to be the cost of lunch) are imposing these fines on DWP claimants who are, for obvious reasons, some of the poorest people in the country for whom £50 is two weeks' groceries or more...

I'm reasonably bright. Not exceptionally so, but I have my selection of higher-tier grade GCSEs including English and Maths, I've been able to read and write since before I started primary school, most of the jobs I've held have had some sort of administrative element. I should be as well-equipped as anyone to fill out those forms correctly, and I have a distinct advantage over many claimants who are less academically inclined.

And I have made errors on my claims.

The first one, was when I first got sick and lost my job. Let's set the scene. I'm in my early twenties. I'm sick, so sick I cannot work, and more or less confined to bed so that I can manage the big bursts of effort needed to go out (I haven't yet been taught about pacing). I don't yet know what's wrong with me, so I'm scared. I have no income and the Jobcentre have given me three forms. The biggest one is for Incapacity Benefit. The next biggest is for Housing and Council Tax Benefit. The smallest - which is still some thirty or forty pages - is for Income Support, which I am told is a "safety net" in case my Incapacity claim is rejected.

Bear in mind the reason for my claim was that I was too sick to work in my mostly office-based job. I had something symptomatically akin to 'flu. I was not in a top form-filling state.

I worked on the forms as best I could. By the time I got to the IS one, time was running out, but I did my best and felt quite proud of myself for finishing it all within the deadline.

My mistake? In the Pensions section. Having ticked that no, I was not in receipt of any pensions, I was told to go to the next section of the form. So I skipped over all the questions about what type of pension do you have to the next section of the form, About Other Benefits. What I missed, was that "War Pensions", although tacked onto the end of "Pensions", was in fact a section in its own right - a one-inch strip with the single question are you in receipt of a War Pension and Yes/No tickboxes. The form was sent back to me, red-penned and with a stern letter of admonishment.

I've also made errors on my DLA forms before now, again usually at the level of missing a tickbox, although thankfully I've always caught them before sending.

The BBC article says:
The proposals also reveal that the government assumes there will be very few appeals against these fines.

Well, yes. If my incorrectly completed form and nasty letter had also included a £50 fine, I certainly wouldn't have had it in me to argue the toss, because I was too sick to do so, and THAT was the reason why I was filling in the forms in the first place.

That's the thing about benefits. You claim them when your life gets to a desperate stage. You're sick, perhaps terminally so. Your spouse has emptied the joint account and run off with So-and-so from Marketing, leaving you with a broken heart, no money and two kids who want to know where Mummy/Daddy's gone. You've finally managed to get up the courage to get out of a violent and abusive relationship even though you took nothing with you other than the clothes you stand up in. At the very least, you've lost your job. You're stressed. You're upset. You're running around trying to improve your situation and get back something which is recognisable as Your Life, whether that means you're attending countless hospital appointments or applying for countless jobs, and on top of this, the Jobcentre have presented you with over a hundred pages of forms to fill in?

And while we're at it, let's not forget the cuts to legal aid and the closures of Citizens' Advice Bureau offices which will make it even harder for people to get help filling in forms or conducting appeals. Nice one, George. Withdraw the support, thereby increasing the rate of mistakes, then charge people for those mistakes on the basis that they'll be unable to argue. It would make a wonderful Dilbert cartoon, if only it weren't targeted at real and vulnerable people at their time of need.

Minor mistakes are inevitable when people in these circumstances are filling in these forms. Fining people who can't afford to pay but aren't in a position to defend themselves, is appalling.

(cross-posted at This Is My Blog)

Wednesday 23 February 2011

The Dirty Dozen

As if it wasn’t bad enough that we have to live in fear of the next government attack and of thugs on the streets attacking us as benefit frauds, now big-business is jumping on the bandwagon. The Institute of Directors has put forward 24 "freebie" proposals, which it says would cost the government nothing and would boost private sector growth, with Miles Templeman, the IoD Director General, urging ministers to ‘seize the opportunity’. What the proposals would cost normal people, particularly disabled people, is left unsaid. But digging down into them, the kind of activity where you feel the need to shower afterwards, shows these freebies to be nothing less than a selfish attempt to undermine the welfare state in pursuit of the great god Profit. I’ve picked out the dozen (plus one) proposals with the greatest potential to negatively impact disabled people; so let’s look at exactly what these ‘freebies’ will actually cost us.

The Dirty Dozen (Plus One)

1) The IoD wants to introduce a minimum £500 employee deposit in employment tribunals ‘to deter weak cases’.

The IoD has been very vocal about getting rid of what it considers ‘vexatious claims’ – a cynic might suggest that would cover all of them. The particular problem we face as disabled employees is that the disablism running rife through UK management means that we have far more cause than most to take employers to an employment tribunal, lower physical and financial reserves to carry our cases through to completion and much worse employment prospects for finding another job afterwards. Taking an employer to an employment tribunal is already a stressful and disheartening process, and the behaviour of employers during employment claims is itself often vexatious. If we now add the need to find a £500 deposit and the risk of losing that entirely, while faced with a future claiming benefits of less that £100/week, then there is a very real pressure not to proceed, even with a strong case. The IoD seem to have forgotten, or, more likely, don’t care, that justice is only justice when it is justice for all, regardless of personal wealth or personal job title.

2) The IOD wants to allow firms to escape the risk of tribunals when they dismiss someone within the first two years of service.

The Equality Act just made it much more difficult to get rid of disabled people during the recruitment process, but if you dismiss them afterwards….

3) The IOD wants the legal rights to ask for flexible working and time off for training to be removed, in order “to increase productivity”.

Flexibility is particularly important to disabled employees who may find the typical fixed 9 to 5 regime to be particularly difficult and the law as it stands doesn’t give us a right to flexible working, simply to ask for it. The irony here, which the IoD seems oblivious too, is that for many of us flexible working leads to massive productivity increases, not decreases. Just a few minutes flexibility around my own start time often meant the difference between a full morning's work and several hours curled up in pain.

UK employers are notorious for underfunding training, sometime openly considering it cheaper to replace experienced workers with new graduates fresh from college rather than to train their existing staff. Faced with training policies like that, employees can find it essential to undertake professional development in their own time. But as disabled employees we may lack the spoons to do anything more than our normal 9 to 5, our disabilities may make studying in the evening literally impossible, meaning the only opportunities for professional development come through training leave. If the right to ask for that is taken away, then it will specifically disadvantage disabled employees.

4) The IoD wants the government to drop plans to abolish the default retirement age, asking "Why does the government want to make it harder to remove staff who are no longer effective?"

Words to send a shiver down the spine of many of us and with implications that stretch far beyond retirement age, making the IoD’s view of workers as identical, disposable cogs to be sacrificed to the machine perfectly clear. It is far simpler for a manager to claim a disabled worker is ‘no longer effective’, than to treat them as an individual and make the individual reasonable adjustments to allow them to be as effective as anyone else (even when those adjustments are provided for by law).

5) The IoD wants regulation on business slashed and they suggest that “The Government should establish a review of existing civil service practices regarding salary awards, bonuses, annual assessment criteria and broad career promotion structures in the context of their effect on regulatory behaviour.”

So in other words, civil servants would see their careers damaged by introducing regulations aimed at protecting workers, and enhanced by removing them. Someone remind me, is this being proposed by the IoD, or by organised crime? Because managing government policy through blackmail and bribery certainly sounds more like a Mafia plot. Would the DDA and the Equality Act ever have been drafted if the civil servants involved knew that their careers would be permanently damaged as a result?

6) The IoD wants radical reforms to turn Education and Health into key market growth areas for the private sector.

Anyone else see the problem here? Where’s the profit in making schools wheelchair accessible or in providing free medical care to people with chronic conditions. A society’s worth is measured on its ability to care for the minority even at a cost to the majority, not on the profit it generates.

7) The IoD wants Education and Health to shift even further towards genuine consumer power over the coming years – for example education vouchers with topup capability

So the more you earn the better the school (or hospital) you can send your child to. Better hope neither you nor they happen to be disabled…

8) The IoD wants “public services, with companies which can exploit the market potential of Health and Education”

Is ‘exploit’ really a word we want associated with Health and Education?

9) The IoD wants a fast-track planning system for key national projects to boost the construction sector and replace ageing infrastructure, overriding local objections.

And the access needs of disabled people alongside the other local objections?

10) The IOD wants an end to collective bargaining in the NHS and in schools.

At first glance this might not seem like something likely to specifically affect disabled employees, but conditions for disabled workers in public bodies do tend to be considerably better than in private sector companies. This is, at least in part, because collective bargaining allows the needs of the few, and disabled employees are almost always ‘the few’, to be considered with the weight of all employees behind them, rather than the small minority of employees for whom they are directly relevant. Establishment of worker rights within the public sector then provides a springboard for extending them into the private sector, where they are desperately needed. Take away collective bargaining in the public sector and you take away any chance of further improving the rights of disabled workers anywhere in the economy, if not outright exposing those rights to a disablist backlash.

And beyond that, strong unions in education and health are likely to get in the way of their agenda of turning schools and hospitals into profit centres, with all the negative consequences for us in that.

11) The IoD wants to focus regional policy and funding on 'winners' not 'losers', the communities likely to yield the greatest ‘return on investment’.

So the communities with the worst problems will get the least help, those same communities that statistics show to have the greatest support needs for disabled people.

12) The IoD wants to end the 50 per cent top rate of Income Tax and slash Corporation tax

They recognise that we’re all in this together, and want no part of it.

13) Perhaps most scarily of all, the IoD want to cut public spending to just 35% of GDP as opposed to current government targets of 40%

Just getting public spending down towards 40% of GDP is causing a terrifying onslaught on the support for disabled people within society, slicing another 12.5% off public sector spending once we get there will condemn the UK’s disabled people to a worse than Third World existence.

It is clear that these so called ‘freebies’ are designed to do nothing less than rip away the heart and soul of our society by turning schools and hospitals into profit centres that they can exploit for every last penny of profit available, while stripping away every fragment of protection and rights that workers have spent the past two centuries fighting for, and in these circumstances it is always disabled people who suffer first and suffer most.

And this new wave of the business community actively seeking to twist government policy against disabled people seems to be spreading, The Australian Business Council has just suggested that disability pensions there should be cut in order to pay for flood damage, because obviously that’s a far more equitable solution than raising taxes. Worse, they’re citing UK policy on disability benefits to justify it, which suggests a somewhat shaky grasp on logic. ‘He did it first’ didn’t work when we were five year olds on the playground, to see it recycled by heads of major companies trying to steer government policy beggars belief.

Tuesday 22 February 2011

Just Because You're Paranoid Doesn't Mean They're Not Out To Get You.

The media rhetoric around, and the threatened government cuts to, disability benefits are filling people with fear. They are contributing to deep suspicion and even aggression from the general public towards disabled people, and lots of us are feeling more than a little petrified.

From Nadine Dorries' Shop a Twit campaign, to virtually everything put out by the Daily Mail, many disabled people are becoming scared to go out, to have occasional treats, to try something normally outside of their limits, such as walking a few steps, or to put their name to anything they post on the internet at all, in case someone should see them, report them for benefit fraud, and accuse them of 'faking it'.

Of those who have continued to post on twitter, despite previous threats, many feel more limited about what they can say, lest they are judged to be faking, scrounging, or wasting taxpayers' money. Still more are finding they feel they have to justify everything they say, just in case somebody is watching. And programmes like the BBC's Saints and Scroungers do little to help, either people's attitudes, or the overriding fear and paranoia experienced by disabled benefit claimaints.

So I was saddened, but not surprised, to see one person's response to this build-up of fear.
I started to worry that my heavy use of twitter could be used against me in this process. I have already explained how and why I can use twitter without that meaning that I am fit to work, but I also worried that my tweets could easily be taken out of context. For example, a tweet about undertaking an activity of some sort could be used as proof that I can do that all the time. What an investigator would not see is how good or bad a day I was having, how much I had to prepare for and work around the activity, or how much pain and exhaustion that activity would cause for days afterwards.

So Steven Sumpter, aka latent existence, took, "the drastic step of deleting all 12,272 of my tweets". All of them. And why? Fear. Fear they would be used against him. Fear that they would portray an image of him actually being fine. Now, I follow him on twitter, and it's not like he's endlessly talking of weekends away skiing and trekking up mountains, and decided he'd better suddenly get rid of the evidence. This is the twitter account of someone who is clearly not well enough to work. This is someone who talks about a good day being when they open their curtains 'without fleeing in pain from the light'.

This someone who nobody could accuse of faking it. Anyone with a chronic illness can recognise straight away that these aren't a series of made-up tweets by someone imagining what it might be like to be ill, and even so he felt so threatened by the current atmosphere of suspicion and attack, that deleting over 12,000 tweets felt like the only way forward.

But he's not the only one scared. It's not a paranoid or psychotic illness which is making him have these suspicions, some of the most mentally healthy people I know concur with him. And I want our progressive, equal society to take a look at itself, and wonder just how progressive and equal it is.

(cross-posted at incurable hippie blog).

Sunday 20 February 2011

The TUC, March for the Alternative and Language Discourses which Promote Exclusion.

Two blog posts were brought to my attention yesterday that really merit a post each, but I don't currently have the capacity to do that, so they will have to share a space.

Firstly, an open letter to Brendan Barber, the General Secretary of the TUC, from Disabled People Against Cuts.

This letter is appealing to the TUC to work with them to make the March for the Alternative on the 26th March, more accessible to disabled people. They point out that
At the latest count it was found that disabled people were facing fourteen separate attacks against our lives and living standards as a result of the Coalition government’s policies. What we are witnessing is our human rights, supposedly guaranteed under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Disabled People, being violated by regressive and draconian cuts to benefit and care funding.

and ask that disabled people are as " fully included in this march and rally as our non-disabled peers would take for granted".

Disabled People Against Cuts have clearly explained the numerous barriers to disabled people's participation in this event, and have as yet failed to get a response from the TUC about their suggestions of ways to improve access.

Given how horrifically the cuts ahead are going to affect disabled people's lives, it seems that we should be at the forefront of planning such protests, not ignored and sidelined.

The second is a post from My Political Ramblings about Welfare Claimants and the Discourse of Threat, and articulates really well the process of scapegoating, rhetoric and stigmatisation involved in making the cuts to disability benefits acceptable to the public. This is a really insightful and useful post, and is well worth reading.

**Edited to add, as I posted this, Lisa posted simultaneously that the TUC have now released access information. Please check her post for the most up to date information.**

(Cross posted at incurable hippie blog).

March 26 March

The TUC have (finally) released the access info for the March on the 26th of March.

As a result DPAC have officially announced that they will be taking part.

If you are at all able to make it (even if you can only do the shorter route) I highly recommend that you do; disabled people need to be seen and heard at this event. For example, if you're not a wheelchair owner but have concerns about your ability to remain upright for the march it's worth remembering that the Red Cross have a wheelchair loans service. It's also worth noting that DPAC have a page where people can find "buddies" for rallies if you think you might need some assistance on the day.

If you're really, truly, unable to make it then DPAC have also made plans for protesters to carry photos of those who wanted to be there but are too ill.

I look forward to meeting lots of you on the day.

Friday 18 February 2011

Liz Carr's speech at Right to Work People's Convention

This is the speech Liz Carr gave at the Right to Work People's Convention last Saturday on behalf of DPAC.

Thanks to Liz for sending me a transcript which is available below the jump:

Thursday 17 February 2011

Suicide is part of the disability debate, because suicide is part of some disabled people's lives

This is a guest post from Zellieh, who can be found on twitter, and blogging here.

I'm writing this post because I'm so angry with this Guardian article, Suicide threats don't help disability debate, by Sharon Brennan:
I fear that the rhetoric used to draw attention to our community will close off the ears of the public. Threatening suicide is not just extreme, it sounds overtly engineered to make any discussion of disability benefit reform sound callous. Talking of increased pain, social isolation, inability to maintain a dignified life have a worthy place in the debate, but is it ethical to phrase the fight for benefits in the context of life or death?

Suicide isn't a political tactic for me, and you're lucky, dear readers and Guardian article authors, if you can look at the real risk of suicide among mentally ill disability benefits recipients and think of it as a tactical thing that other people do.

I don't know how much you know about claiming disability benefits on mental health grounds, but let me assure you that you don't get Disability Living Allowance, Incapacity Benefit or Employment Support Allowance for Mental Health issues because you're 'having a bit of a bad day' -- you need evidence, from a GP, a Psychiatrist, and a Community Psychiatric Nurse or Occupational Therapist, of serious long-lasting problems -- which often includes self-harm, suicidal thoughts, and/or actual suicide attempts.

The Department for Work and Pensions don't just hand over disability benefits because you ask nicely. The DWP & ATOS' medical assessments for benefits are designed for physical health problems, with mental health problems tacked on as a bit of an afterthought, so for someone who is mentally ill, they are the equivalent, in terms of stress, of passing a job interview or being made redundant, plus being threatened with moving house and/or having your house repossessed, since benefits link to Housing Benefit, so if you lose your disability benefits you can lose some or all of your Housing Benefit.

In your article, Ms. Brennan, you talk about
the talk of "potential" suicide
Thank you for using those patronisingly skeptical quotemarks around the issue of "potential" suicide. Or as I like to call it in my reality, suicide.

Suicide is not a tactic for me; it's a real risk: TWO of my four suicide attempts were triggered by the stress of medical assessments; one suicide attempt each for Disability Living Allowance and Incapacity Benefit.

I am genuinely happy for you, Ms. Brennan, if you manage to be both physically disabled and mentally well -- and I mean that sincerely; the world needs more happy, kick-ass people with disabilities leading full and varied lives, because disability ISN'T all about suffering and pain -- but I find your ignorance about people with mental health issues insulting.

Referring to a recent survey by Disability Alliance (which found that 9% of people who answered were considering suicide), you say,
I don't doubt that those who responded to the survey are genuinely in fear of losing the very support that makes their life bearable, but should they have been asked about suicide in the first place?
Well, considering that a third of people claim disability benefits due to mental health problems, and that many people with physical health problems are also often suffering form various mental illnesses or depressed due to the physical and emotional exhaustion that comes with living with disability, yes that is a valid question.

You go on to say,
Life is too precious to be used as an instrument to fight against government cuts and I can only hope that the very posing of the question hasn't led someone, already living in a climate of fear, to start down a very dark path of desperation.

Well, don't worry your passive-aggressive little head about that -- I was brought to suicide by the process of claiming disability benefits long before this survey came out, and in fact, I haven't even read it yet. Although, the current climate of fear has led me to think suicidal thoughts far more often; turning on the TV has become akin to playing Russian Roulette: will today's speech by [insert politician's name here] be the one that finally tips me over the edge?

Suicidal thoughts are a symptom of depression and also many of the anxiety disorders, eating disorders, and diseases such as dementia. Depression and anxiety often accompany physical health problems, for both disabled people and their carers (who are often invisible victims) due to stress and pain and grief and the severe limitations illness brings to peoples' lives.

Suicide is not a rhetorical device for me - it is a symptom of my illness. It is a symptom -- and a real risk -- of many peoples' illness. When you ask,
is it ethical to phrase the fight for benefits in the context of life or death?
I ask you -- is it ethical of you to ask me to lie about my life, my illness, my experience, because talk of my suicidal thoughts upsets you?

Quick Reminder

The deadline for responses to the DLA consultation is tomorrow.

Make sure you've responded. Remember responses don't have to be submitted by organisations or charities or campaigns; anyone can respond.

So make sure you do!

The Doctor, ATOS, and Ethics

There's a fascinating article in the BMJ in which a doctor questions whether medical personnel working for ATOS can be sure they are meeting the demands of medical ethics, and concludes they can't.

"We've Been Told to Cut Down on Referrals"

My disability means that I face major problems sitting or standing, which is ever so slightly limiting when it comes to work. Since my previous employer kicked me out a couple of years ago I've been claiming benefits, JSA initially, ESA since this time last year.

Even though it took until the end of November for JCP to decide I should be in the ESA Work Related Activity Group, I imposed my own work-related activity on myself at the start of last year. Rather than waste my time on job applications that weren't going anywhere, I would focus on trying to improve the management of my disability. More specifically, I'd push to get some sort of diagnosis on how my new c-spine problems are going to develop and interact with my existing lumbar-spine/pelvic issues, so that if a prospective employers asks 'So what does this mean, how will it affect your work in the future?' I will have a better answer than "Um, dunno".

So I have spent the last year having bone scans and the like and trying to get my ortho/rheumy guy to understand I need a prognosis for the whole body, not just one bit -- the whole hip-bone's connected to the thigh-bone thing. It didn't help when the bone scan showed up signs of osteoarthritis setting in to wrist, hip and knees - more questions - but I finally got through to him, only to be told "You're right, you need someone to look at your whole spine, but we don't have anyone here who can do that." That was in December and I was sent away to get my GP to refer me to a spinal surgeon, with the promise of a letter to her explaining what was needed.

When I first went to see my GP, the letter hadn't arrived, so I said I'd make a later appointment, which was today. Now it was bad enough that two months after the hospital appointment the letter from rheumatology still hasn't arrived (and apparently my GP has just filed a formal complaint over this, because two months is far from the worst delay from that department), and I'm fighting to get her to understand why the referral is needed without the explanation in the letter, but then she said something that took my breath away:

"We've been told to cut down on referrals"

So much for ConDem promises that NHS cuts wouldn't hit clinical services, but the impact stretches beyond the NHS and access to treatment and into the disability benefits arena.

The government is on a jihad to get disability benefit claimants into work. For many of us, people like me, the only way we will be able to convince an employer to take us on is if we can show that our chronic, work-limiting conditions are understood and under control. That's a much more difficult task than non-disabled people generally realise. For many of us it will need referrals to orthopaedics, or rheumatology, or physiotherapy, or whoever, because our disabilities require specialist knowledge beyond that GPs can offer. But if those same GPs who arrange the referrals for us are being pressurized by their Primary Care Trusts to cut down on referrals, because the PCTs in turn are being pressurized by government cuts, then it is going to be the people with non-urgent, chronic conditions -- disabled people, who find themselves sacrificed for party-political agendas.

So on the one hand the government is pressurizing me to undertake Work Related Activity to get me off benefit, and with the other its cuts are taking away the opportunity for me to do precisely that.

Illogic much?

Wednesday 16 February 2011

Hate from the Government, Hate on the Street.

Today I went to an appointment, and afterwards, when I was almost home, a man who was coming from behind me shouted something. I turned to him and laughed and said, "that made me jump", and he yelled it again, but I couldn't work out what he said.

He crossed over the road and yelled the same thing for a third time, and I worked out that he was saying "fucking DLA stick". I said, "I don't know what you mean?" but as I was saying the words I realised that I did. He was implying that, as I walk with a crutch, I was faking a disability to receive benefits.

For the rest of the length of the street, he yelled 'fucking DLA stick' at me again and again. I felt very intimidated and frightened.

And I knew. I knew that it was caused, as well as by a nasty, nasty man, it was also caused by this:

and this:

and this:

and every other story by the government and the media portraying disabled people as lazy (see the photo in that final screenshot!) scroungers.

I do not need to justify my use of a mobility aid to a complete stranger in the street, never mind one who is flinging abuse at me. The thought that I would carry a big, awkward metal thing around with me at all times in order to claim benefits is just ridiculous. The realisation that this is what some people think, that's frightening.

If anything like this happens to you, remember that it is a disability hate crime. You can report it directly to the police, or through an intermediary such as Stop hate UK.

The war against benefit claimants is, sadly, proving more effective than ever.

(This was cross posted at incurable hippie blog)

Thursday 10 February 2011

DLA Consultation Extended

The consultation on the planned reforms to DLA was extended this afternoon.  It will now end on 18th February, four days later than planned.  This was done very quietly - I've googled it and not found any announcements but the date on the website now reads as "extended to 18th February". 

No reason for this extension has been given, however there is a now a note on the website stating that the online submissions are broken and giving an e-mail address to use instead.  It is likely this is the reason why.

I'd like to encourage everyone to make the most of these extra few days to contact MPs, share what DLA means to them and to sign the petition against DLA reform.  Even just sharing the links to the petition and/or to One Month Before Heartbreak on your blog, twitter or facebook (or similar) would be a great help.

It's not just the lives of disabled people and their carers which will be altered by DLA reform. Lives change in an instant, and people become disabled. Tomorrow you could wake up find you or a loved one need DLA.  This affects everyone - even those who think it's nothing to do with them.

Wednesday 9 February 2011

Grill Chris Grayling about Benefits!

Well, two days after posting about a chat with one government minister, I get an email promoting another event, this time, Rethink are hosting a webchat with Chris Grayling, Minister of State for Work and Pensions coming in to Rethink’s offices for a Q&A about the Government’s proposed changes to the benefits system.
Rethink’s activists brought about the webchat by campaigning really hard towards the end of last year, so it’s great that they’ve given others who will be affected by these changes, a chance to hold the minister to account. People (like you!) have been sending in their questions for the event, and now we’d like to make sure that as many people hear about the webchat as possible

Here are the details:
Date: Thursday 10th February (tomorrow! (will be today approximately two minutes after I publish this post!)
Time: 11.30am

How do you spend yours?

There's a striking slideshow on the Society Guardian website in which a number of disabled people explain how they spend their DLA.

But, for me, the most striking bit of all is how many of the people photographed need to spend their DLA on essentials. Mahri says she needs to spend her DLA on toiletries and deodorant, Johnny says he spends his on clothing, food, toiletries and hair cuts. Kofi says he spends his DLA on his shopping, Lorraine spends hers on clothes and Rubina says she worries about how she'll afford clothes without it. Tony says he needs his DLA to buy food.

DLA is supposed to be for the extra costs associated with being disabled and is not classed as "income". Your Incapacity Benefit or ESA or JSA or wages if you work should be enough for you to pay for life's essentials leaving you to spend your DLA on the costs you have that a non-disabled person doesn't incur.

That disabled people are living on so little that they need to spend their DLA on the basics is scandalous. Or it should be.

Of course, sometimes disabled people need to spend more on the basics. One example is people who need to buy ready meals and takeaway instead of ingredients to prepare our own food, because we can't prepare our own food. One friend of mine who has what she describes as a "freestyle" walking technique spends a fortune on shoes because she wears them out so quickly; another "basic" that's more expensive for us. So using your DLA to pay the difference between what a non-disabled person would spend and what you need to spend is absolutely logical. But we shouldn't be so impoverished that we can't meet normal expenses at all without our DLA.

Research by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation found that in 2010 a single person needed £14,400 a year to reach a minimum standard of living. This equates to £277 a week. That’s just your average single person, not a disabled person who needs to fund the extra costs of being disabled.

If you disregard my DLA (because it's supposed to only cover the extra costs of being disabled and not everyday things) but include my housing benefit (which I don't see a penny of because it gets transferred straight from the HB department at the council into the council's rent collection department) then my income falls short of that £277 by £67.

You may think "well, she gets more than she'd get if she was on Job Seekers Allowance." But you have to remember that JSA is intended to only be a short term measure until you find a job (and I agree it's a paltry amount). My incapacitation has lasted 4 years so far and there's no end in sight. I actually have to live my life in the long term with monies falling short of the minimum income needed. There's no "we'll just pay you a poxy amount until a job comes up."

So it's not really any wonder disabled people end up using their DLA to pay for food and clothes, because if we're living on benefits we don't have enough money to actually live. And the government want to cut it back even further.

Are Politicians Deaf to the Sick and Disabled?

This post was written by Sue Marsh, but she's having computer issues at the moment so was unable to cross-post it herself (why it's showing up with me listed as the author rather than her). It originally appeared here.

So, it's welfare reform on the agenda today. Iain Duncan-Smith will address the Select Committee this morning on Universal Credit and Liam Byrne, Labour's new Shadow Dept of Work and Pensions minister will outline Labour's position.

How Labour came to this position is a mystery. Certainly to any of us campaigning for an overhaul of Employment Support Allowance (ESA), radical changes to the assessment processes,and a new consultation on the proposals to abolish Disability Living Allowance (DLA) and replace it with Personal Independence Payment (PIP) whilst cutting numbers by at least 20%.

  • Mr Byrne has been in the job for exactly 20 days. I've been seriously ill for 27 years.
  • Mr Byrne will state that no other pace of reform but the very fastest will do. I'd rather see the very BEST Mr Byrne
  • Mr Byrne thinks cuts should be made to "Shirkers not workers". But who are the "Shirkers" Mr Byrne?
  • Mr Byrne will speak out for the "Squeezed Middle" but not the "Desperate Sick"
  • Mr Byrne will ask "What kind of government takes £1bn more off children than bankers? I suggest one that will take away a full one third of the incomes of the sick and disabled? Billions more than high rate tax payers he's so keen to defend will lose in Child Benefit.
  • Mr Byrne will, most sickeningly, most heartbreakingly, support the disgusting policy of time limiting ESA, but to 2 years rather than Osborne's proposed 1 year. Few chronic, degenerative conditions go away in one year though Mr Byrne, or even two. Nonetheless, most sufferers of them are being found "Fit for Work"

The first thing I want to say is this is not Labour's position. This is the position of a few ill-informed, out-of-touch politicians, based on dubious research and ignorant assumptions. This isn't just my horrified conclusion, but is clearly illustrated and evidenced in this Compass Report Mr Byrne's position is not my position, nor any of my Labour friends, nor any of the the 1000 or so people who follow my blog in one form or another. Other than James Purnell, Douglas Alexander and now Liam Byrne in fact, I've never heard an ordinary Labour Party member say they support these changes.

The second thing is who do Labour engage with? Not with me, or grassroots members like me, that's for sure. I've written, sent emails, tweeted, Facebooked and written again. In just over three months, my blog has shot from total obscurity to become the 23rd highest ranked political commentary on the internet. Not because I'm anything special, but simply because this issue is totally ignored by all of the three political parties and most of the media. The sick and disabled are crying out for a voice, for someone to hear them. The Broken of Britain run a fantastic campaign with thousands of supporters, but no-one has asked them either. I've lost count of the people who've told me they've written to Ed Miliband or their MP or some DWP minister but never had so much as a reply.

I discussed ESA with Jonathan Shaw - the then Labour Minister for Disabilities for half an hour at conference once. I followed up with emails. He never even replied.

Today, I will write to Ed Miliband and Liam Byrne again. I will ask them to engage with us. I will ask them to spend just one hour reading the intelligent, articulate contributions to One Month Before Heartbreak, a campaign that aimed to present testimonials from the sick and disabled outlining how devastating these changes are to our lives. I will ask them to undergo a total review of sickness and disability benefit reform in co-operation with those of us who actually understand and appreciate what it will really mean. I will propose some ideas of my own that could transform life for those of us who's lives have been ravaged by disease without causing misery, fear and hopelessness. I will explain, yet again, that we are not against reform in itself, simply reform based on total misconceptions.

Whatever their reply, if indeed there is any, I will keep writing this blog and people, I hope, will keep reading it and linking it and sharing it with friends . If we can write for the Times or The Independent or the Mirror, we will. If we can make our voices heard on Television or Radio, than I, and other sick and disabled activists will. We will keep campaigning and explaining until this issue becomes the single most embarrassing issue for any politician.

Please join me. Today, welfare reform is on the agenda. Please click the Twitter or Facebook share buttons by and below this article. If you use Twitter, then please retweet and please, please post links on Facebook and tell your friends. Please help me be the anti-voice to the stream of misconceptions and lies we will undoubtedly be bombarded with in the mainstream media today. Help me stop this.

The simple truth is these reforms are wrong. Wrong in format, wrong in design and wrong in practice. Worst of all they are morally wrong and ignoring us won't change that at all.

I'm angry

Cross posted at Rage Against the Coalition

I'm angry a lot these days. Or more accurately, I vacillate between anger and despair.

The coalition are making a big noise about welfare 'scroungers'. The thieves are costing the taxpayers billions they say. Headlines about 'scrounger' scream at us from atop the Daily Mail almost every day.They want to make claiming harder to weed out those who are undeserving.
Benefit fraud costs £1.5 billion. Tax fraud costs £15 billion.
So why aren't they targeting the tax cheats? They are costing us more. Yet the government is making hundreds of HMRC staff redundant. They should be taking on more and training them properly.

The Atos system used to 'weed out' the cheats is not fit for purpose. This has been demonstrated time and time again. It finds huge amounts of people fit for work, yet 70% of those who appeal have the decision overturned. This is an enormous waste of money. And it hurts those it's supposed to help. Not to mention the staff aren't trained and they earn more for each person they find fit for work.

They are abolishing Disability Living Allowance. Sure, they're replacing it with the personal Independent Payment but this is nothing but an excuse to chop the amount of people eligible for it. DLA fraud is estimated at less than 1% of the total. Everyone else is legally entitled to it. But they have said we're 'unsustainable'. Do they have any idea how insulting it is to be told that?

They are privatising our NHS, all in the name of 'patient choice'. Apparently GP's are the most trusted people in the medical profession. Aside from the fact that I know several GP's who are terrible and made me feel like I was wasting their time, if they want GP's and patients to have more say why don't they put some of them on the boards of the PCT's, instead of spending £3 billion on abolishing them?
And for that matter, if GPs are the most trusted people in the medical system why doesn't the government allow them to decide if people are fit for work? When it comes to benefits, GPs aren't trusted. The government instead chooses to spend over £500 million on employing Atos, whose track record for mistakes is appalling, resulting in even more money being spent on re-assessments and appeals.

But worse, they are opening the market to private healthcare providers. We all know this is nothing more than paving the way for privatisation. I'm still blinking in disbelief at this. Healthcare should never be linked to profit, it's a basic human right. These reforms will end up with us having a system like America's. And no-one in their right mind can say that works well.

They have raised uni tuition fees to the point where many students will be put off going. Who wants to saddle themselves with £30k of debt before they've even bought a book or paid their rent? Nick Clegg would have us believe that a large number of students will end up paying nothing back. If this is the case then that's their argument for fee raising to pay off the deficit gone out the window.
Of course many of those poor kids won't be attending uni anyway since EMA, the money that enabled them to go to college or stay in the sixth form, has been abolished. A cost saving exercise that hits the poorest children without affecting the richer ones.
Kids who are determined to go to college despite no EMA can turn to the library to borrow their books. But wait, they want to close libraries. Again another cut that will affect the poor much more than the rich. One that will hit the young harder.

Tories apparently value traditions - unless there's money to be made it seems. Why else would they be in favour of selling off the nations forests? Forests that have belonged to the nation since the 1500's? They say they will favour charities or community groups but these organisations as a rule do not have the funds to buy them. They'll end up in private hands or worse, go to the timber companies.

It's like an attack on all fronts. How are we supposed to deal with all of this? And how can we not be angry about it?

Monday 7 February 2011

Live Q&A With The Minister in charge of DLA

Just a quick note to let Where's The Benefit? readers know that Maria Miller, the minister in charge of disability living allowance, is going to be answering Guardian readers' questions about the proposed scrapping of DLA, and this could be an ideal opportunity for those of us with concerns to put forward our comments, worries and suggestions.
The consultation on reform of the DLA closes on 14 February. But before this happens, Maria Miller, minister for disabled people, is giving you the chance to ask her questions and put forward your thoughts on the proposals directly to her live online, on Wednesday at 1.45pm.
To ask Maria Miller a question, go to this page on the Guardian website, and post your question as a comment at the bottom of the article.

Sunday 6 February 2011

ADHD and DLA fraud

There's an article on the BBC News website is entitled Unscrupulous parents seek ADHD diagnosis for benefits

The evidence for this assertion is that two anonymous headteachers claim this to be the case.
"Susan" has asked to remain anonymous, because she knows what she says is controversial and does not want to stigmatise the parents of every child with a diagnosis of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).
Not sure how anonymous sources make any difference to the stigmatising effect of the article. ADHD is already a massively stigmatised condition. Many people, including teachers, are sceptical as to whether the condition isn't simply a way for bad parents to excuse the bad behaviour of their children. I have heard it theorised that ADHD is a problem caused by middle class parents who aren't prepared to smack their children and demand a label when their children struggle at school, or that ADHD is a problem caused by working class parents who feed their children junk food and abandon them to the television. Bringing benefit fraud into this can only add to the stigma.

Psychiatric diagnoses with subjective criteria are always tricky and identifying abnormality in children's behaviour is particularly fraught, so there are bound to be misdiagnoses. But for children with these impairments, attempting to navigate the world and an inflexible education system, a diagnosis of ADHD can be a tremendous gateway, not to extra cash for their parents, but to proper treatment and the help they need to succeed. DLA can be used to buy time, peace, practical adjustments and special arrangments so that these children and their families can have as full and normal life as possible. Which in turn promotes normal development.

Their anonymous source continues
"Every child I have on medication, we are asked to fill part of the forms that they [parents] submit as benefit claimants, to verify they have ADHD, so it goes hand-in-hand."
As the article later points out, both NICE and the Royal College of Psychiatrist believe that Ritalin should only be prescribed to chlidren with severe behavioural problems. Therefore, it follows, those families whose children are actually prescribed Ritalin are likely to be in greastest need for help.

Only of course, there are only 328,000 people on DLA under the age of 16, including all those with mobility and special care needs, whereas there are many more children taking Ritalin (I can't find a figure that agrees, but somewhere past half a million). Ritalin prescription and DLA do not go hand in hand.

Then finally,
Abuse of the Disability Living Allowance by parents is one reason the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) is discussing reform.
No, it's not. It has been said before, but it has to be said again and again, DLA fraud is reckoned to stand at 0.5%. There are only 328,000 people under 16 claiming DLA, including all those children with mobility and special care needs. Presuming that fraud is as common amongst parents and guardians claiming for their children than amongst adults claiming for themselves – which seems extremely unlikely given the much stricter criteria for under 16s – then that's about 1600 cases in the country. The DWP are not reforming anything for the sake of 1600 fraudulent parents.

This article rattled me because it is such weak reporting and by the BBC, from whom I'd expect better. Disability fraud and the urgent need for reform has become a bandwagon, where an argument is built up around the word of anonymous sources who have no expertise beyond their anecdotal experience. Because there must be fraud. There must be massive fraud or else the government wouldn't be able to justify the cuts and increased stress and scrutiny in store for everyone on disability benefits.

The website article relates to a radio piece on this matter at 9pm tonight (Sunday, 6 February) on BBC Radio 5 Live. No, me neither.

What's a Life Worth?

Someone pointed me to a site called 5 Quid for Life,
a new charity-in-the-making, set up in January 2011 to support mentally ill people who may be adversely affected by changes to the UK benefits system.
and it made me so, so sad.

Set up in response to Aliquant's post about her plans for suicide if she is refused ESA,
to encourage people to give, ideally to commit to regular giving of £5 per month, to enable us to offer a life-saving safety net beneath the benefits system.

It made me sad, and then it made me angry. Not the site itself - the site is lovely, and caring, and a beautiful response to someone's utter despair. Rather, it made me angry that this is necessary at all. That anyone in this country in the 21st century saw a need to get strangers to donate money so that people with mental health problems can support themselves rather than kill themselves.

How has this happened? That we are under such scrutiny, and in a state of such terror, and so disregarded by the government, as well as the opposing party, that millions of us are at risk of homelessness and destitution, as some kind of punishment for being ill.

Any idea that once our benefits are stopped, we will 'buck our ideas up' will be proven again and again to be, at best, misguided, and at worst, downright dangerous. Threats of suicide are worryingly frequent in comments on this blog alone. Those of us with mental health problems are thought to be the most at risk of failing the assessments, which are reported to ask questions which are much less relevant to people with mental health problems, as well as other invisible disabilities.

One thing is for sure, the medicals, the reassessments, the regular hatred in parts of the media, the misinformation from the government, are all working together to make us more stressed, more depressed, more anxious and more paranoid. Therefore further and further away from the elusive 'wellness' which would enable us to start thinking about paid work and leaving the benefits system.

I am disgusted, and ashamed, to be in a country where people are having to hold collections in order that people will be able to eat. People, specifically, who are frightened, sick and vulnerable.

(Cross posted at incurable hippie blog)

Saturday 5 February 2011

Absolutely Outrageous!

Or not...

I'm feeling quite sad this week that the general public, and more specifically anti-cuts campaigners, all consider books and trees to be far more important in the grand scheme of things than I - a human being - am.

Don't get me wrong, I'm a big fan of libraries and trees. As a child I always had my nose in a book. Always. And that was partly a disability-related thing: I couldn't run around or ride a bike, I spent a lot of time in bed with broken bones. Reading was something I could do and could do well. Very well. I could read books by myself before I started school and had a reading age far advanced of my chronological age.

The library was a huge part of my life. I couldn't possibly own all the books I read, if I did my mum and I would've had no room to move our wheelchairs around because there would just be piles of books everywhere. My local library used to have competitions in the summer holidays to see who could read the most books and it was genuinely gutting that I never won (I suspect the kids who beat me must've cheated and not read the books they claimed to have read).

Libraries don't just loan out books, they also loan CDs and DVDs. In the days before sites like Spotify allowed you to listen to an album before you bought it I'd often get CDs out of the library to try before buying. And obviously as a film geek I've taken hundreds of videos and DVDs out of the library. As a teenager I recall hunting high and low for a film I wanted to see that had been deleted on video and eventually stumbling across it on the World Cinema shelf of Cambridge's Central Library.

At this point it's almost impossible to live a life completely free from the internet. There are people who can't afford to have internet at home, or their computer broke and they can't afford to fix it, and so have to go to the library to access information that people reading this blog can probably find out sat in their pyjamas in their living room. And I think we've all experienced moving house and not being able to get the new broadband set up for a fortnight so we've had to go to the library in the interim period.

Then there's forests. I have to confess wandering around a forest of a Saturday afternoon doesn't hold much allure for me because such spaces are often not the most wheelchair accessible of places. But trees turn carbon dioxide into oxygen and I'm a big, big, fan of breathing. Certainly when I've had allergic reactions which have resulted in asthma attacks I've been quite distressed by not being able to breathe. So yay trees!

Despite my passion for libraries and my need for oxygen-producing trees I'm not sure I'd prioritise books and greenery over human lives. Yet that's what's currently happening in the anti-cuts movement. I want to make it absolutely clear that I do not support the closure of libraries or the sale of the forests. I am not suggesting that we close libraries and sell forests to save benefits. I am opposed to all the government's cuts.1

Loss of benefits kills people. People like Paul Reekie and Christelle Pardo. A blogger called Aliquant has expressed her plan to kill herself if her transition from IB to ESA doesn't go smoothly. Here on WtB we've had plenty of people express their intention to kill themselves if they lose their benefits. Some of the examples are here and here.

I've written in the past on my own blog about how disabled people are seen as the lowest of the low, and that's still going on. Last week Melanie Phillips wrote a homophobic article in the Daily Mail. There was an outcry. Her name was a trending topic on Twitter and I must've read several hundred "gay agenda" jokes at her expense. As a lesbian I was among the horrified many (though part of me was looking forward to homosexuality becoming mandatory as she promised; I might get laid occasionally...) and shared in the collective outrage.

The following day the Mail published this article full of inaccuracies about the number of Incapacity Benefit claimants found fit for work. The outrage was limited to a tiny handful of disabled people. There were no trending topics and no jokes at the expense of Gerri Peev (the article's author) for being a disablist arse. In fact because there's been such prevalence of these misleading articles a lot of people of an anti-cuts bent probably believed it to be true rather than accepting the reality that it's just designed to incite hatred against disabled people. (In case you're wondering the fraud rate for Incapacity Benefit - according to the DWP's own figures - is 1%. See the table on page 8 of this report.)

The contrast in response to these two articles in the space of two days really made me feel like less of a human being because no-one's willing to speak out against this disablist prejudice. I speak out against racism, plenty of heterosexuals spoke out against Melanie Phillips' homophobia, but where were the non-disabled people speaking out against this disablist bile?

The issue is on my mind today because today there has been a national day of action to save libraries. It's been all over the news and twitter. That we as a culture value books more than disabled people is clear when you contrast today to the day of action against benefits cuts a fortnight ago.

457,500 people signed the save forests petition. Only 4000 and change have signed the save DLA petition. Really puts into perspective how much the general public prefers trees to disabled people.

I realise that most people support causes they understand. The campaign to save libraries will attract high-profile figures like authors because libraries introduce readers to their books. So famous people offer their endorsement to the "save libraries" campaign which has a top down effect; their fans become involved in saving libraries, which means there's enough people campaigning to get the story in the news, which means even more people campaign.

The same goes for forests. Most people off the telly will have enjoyed a walk through some trees with their dog at some point. So they tweet their support for the "save forests" campaign. Their fans then sign petitions and spread the word, which again results in newsworthyness so the campaign spreads like headlice in Downing Street.

Between health problems and discrimination limiting career options there aren't that many famous disabled people to set the snowball rolling down the hill. I explained in this post how we need non-disabled people to stand beside us and why it's important insurance for their own futures to do so. But still non-disabled people choose to prioritise libraries and trees over their fellow human beings whose lives are at risk from benefits cuts.

First They Came - Pastor Martin Niemöller

First they came for the Communists
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a Communist
Then they came for the Socialist
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a Socialist
Then they came for the trade unionists
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a trade unionist
Then they came for the Jews
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a Jew
Then they came for me
And there was no one left
To speak out for me

It'd make me happy beyond anything if this post could be seen as a 'call to arms' (not least because if the anti-benefits-cuts movement gained momentum it might save some lives), so please pass it on. Don't just dismiss me as a moaning scrounger but remember I could be your neighbour, your sister's friend, the customer in your café, the person you smile at on the bus every morning: We are real people being attacked by these cuts with no-one standing up for us.

"A call to arms? What do you expect me to do?" The Broken of Britain always have campaigns on the go that you can participate in from your desk. They've currently got details of several motions you can ask your MP/MSP/AM to sign. Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC) are where to look for information on getting out in the streets and protesting. Then there's us: We'll always have news and intelligent comment to keep you informed, and if you follow us on Twitter you'll be kept up to date on all news, petitions, protests and motions around disability benefits issues.

I want some outrage, dammit!

1 Retrospectively emboldened for emphasis because people were still accusing me of being in favour of closing libraries and selling forests to save benefits.

Friday 4 February 2011

Does your condition make you likely to be found fit for work?

A very interesting article was posted on the Benefits and Work website today, detailing which impairments are most likely to mean you are awarded Employment and Support Allowance and put into the Support group (who do not have to undertake work-related activities).

It’s a summary of these statistics from the DWP.

The statistics show that of those who applied for ESA, 39% were declared fit for work. 36% had their claim closed before the assessment was completed, and at the time the statistics were gathered, 3% of claims were still in progress. This means that only 22% of applicants were awarded ESA and of those, only 6% were put into the Support group – the other 16% were placed in the Work Related Activity Group.

People are placed in the Support Group for one of these reasons:
  • Chemotherapy – people receiving certain types of chemotherapy automatically qualify

  • Physical or mental health risk – if, in “exceptional circumstances”, it would cause serious harm to the person’s mental or physical health if they were found fit for work

  • Pregnancy risk – if a woman is pregnant and working would harm her or her unborn child

  • Severe functional disability – if the person meets certain critieria regarding their mental or physical capacity. This is laid out in legislation and uses a scoring system to work out if someone qualifies. This is done with a face to face assessment

  • Terminally ill – someone who is not expected to live for more than 6 months

Other people will be put in the Work Related Activity Group or classed fit to work.

There is also a breakdown of which conditions were put in each group. It shows that people most likely to be put in the support group are those with neoplasms (e.g. cancer), or congenital malformations / deformations (such as Down’s syndrome or spina bifida). Over 50% of applicants with these conditions were placed in the Support Group.

After that, a few groups were more likely than others to be placed in the support group – 16% of people with diseases of the nervous system (like Motor Neurone disease, cerebral palsy, Huntingdon’s disease) but most groups had fewer than 10% of claimants being placed in the support group. And if you have a disease of the musculoskeltal system and connective tissue – such as Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, fibromyalgia, lupus or arthritis – you have a 49% chance of being found fit for work. Yet I know from my own experience of Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome how limiting it can be.

I find it shocking that of those applying for ESA only 6% were placed in the Support group but, as I have a friend who struggles to move and breathe yet was declared fit for work earlier this year, very little surprises me anymore.

You will need to have a subscription to Benefits and Work to see the full article, which is here: although the DWP’s statistics are online here:

The Prime Minister's Instructions "You Have To Make The Fight"

Prime Minister David Cameron claims parents of 6 year old Dylan Scothern have to 'make the fight' to have his speech therapy reinstated. Dylan’s speech therapy was originally removed because he was ‘too old’

This order comes right from the top. All of us facing cuts to care services, DLA, ILF, ESA and a myriad of other benefits, supports and services for disabled people now have instructions directly from the prime minister as to how to respond.

Speaking during wednesday’s PMQ’s the Prime Minister said: "You have to make the fight" as a flippant response to the MP of the family of a Nottinghamshire boy with autism who faces his speech therapy being withdrawn.

The prime minister continued: "I know as a parent how incredibly tough it is sometimes to get what your family needs." This from a man whose inherited wealth means that he has never had to fight the fights of ordinary people in his life - he could simply ‘show them the money’ and enable himself and his family to get what they needed.

But perhaps the PM is right. The Broken of Britain and Where's The Benefit are concerned about the cuts faced by disabled people. David Cameron himself is urging us to "make the fight". So remember, you heard it here, direct from the top. The Prime Minister has issued his instructions to us all.

Let's fight then, and win.

By Kaliya Franklin and Rhydian Fon James

Thursday 3 February 2011

More Mail Lies

Not contented with their hugely untrue story about Incapacity Benefit last week (see Sue's analysis on her own blog), today the Mail are going after DLA claimants with a story massively deficient in facts.

Half the 3.2million people on disability benefit have never been asked for evidence to back their claims, it emerged last night.

The DLA application form (link at the bottom of this page) is 39 pages long. The DWP ask your GP for info, your "carer" (if you have one) for info and many people add supplemental information from consultants. A hell of a lot of people are called in for a medical carried out by Atos. And, of course, many cases go to a tribunal in which case reams and reams of supporting evidence is required.

In addition, nearly a million people have been on disability living allowance for at least 14 years, a Government analysis of claims for the benefit revealed.

That's incredibly surprising. Surprising because I'd have expected it to be slightly more. Most impairments don't just vanish. Amputated limbs don't grow back. Snapped spinal cords don't heal. My own Osteogenesis Imperfecta has been present since I was conceived and will never go away. In fact as I smash up more bones and joints I'll only become more impaired. I would hazard a guess that the majority of DLA claimants who cease needing DLA do so because they died.

Cuts to DLA, which is meant to help people who have specific mobility or care needs and cannot do things such as walk or wash and dress themselves, have been criticised by charities and Labour MPs.

However, ministers say figures showing how the benefit ballooned under Labour – and has been paid to people for years with no checks – demonstrate an urgent need for reform.

Since DLA was introduced in 1992, and since Labour came to power in '97 there have been massive medical advances. These mean that premature babies that wouldn't have survived in the past now do, but they're often left with cerebral palsy and other impairments. More people survive horrific accidents and illnesses like cancer, but are left permanently ill or impaired and require help with getting around or personal care. We should take pride in our great health service that the number of disabled people is increasing because people can survive things that were previously fatal.

Of those, 31 per cent – almost a million – have been claiming for 14 years or more, while 46 per cent have been on the benefit for more for ten years.

I've been on DLA since it's inception in 1992. No-one told my genes that the Daily Mail thinks there should be a 14 year limit on being disabled.

The problem is there is no system of review. People can be given the benefit and no one checks if they still need it.'

More than two million people on DLA have been given indefinite awards, which means they have no further contact with officials about whether they still need the benefit.

What part of "a disability is for life, not just for Christmas" do the Mail not understand? Oh, that's right. It's not about facts, it's about whipping up disablist harassment (which the Mail will then report in a faux horrified manner).

I have an indefinite award. My bones will never stop being brittle. My bones will never stop hurting. My smashed up joints will never become unsmashed. My tendons and ligaments will never stop being like overstretched elastic bands which fail to support my joints while Mail journos will continue to have steady tendons and ligaments like sturdy pieces of string. Why waste DWP time and money having officials contact me to see if anything's changed?

Some people do have conditions that might improve, for example mental health problems which may respond to drugs and/or talking therapies. Such people are not given indefinite awards, they're given awards for limited periods e.g. 3 years or 5 years. Indefinite awards only go to those of us who have no chance of ever improving.

The Government now wants all claimants to undergo periodic medical tests to justify the payments. Ministers propose to end the automatic right to DLA, worth up to £70 a week for care and up to £50 a week for travel.

What a brilliant idea! Why not waste more money on bureaucracy? According to this source DLA medicals cost the government either £51.37 or £77.33. The government actually wants to throw away that money every year or three years just for a doctor to look at me and say "her skeleton is still crap"? Less than a hundred pounds to declare someone as having not got any better may not seem like much money, but if they're spending £77.33 annually on the 3.2 million claimants of DLA? That's a cost of £247,456,000.

As for automatic entitlements, there are only 6. One of the entitlements is "terminally ill and not expected to live more than a further 6 months." Once that automatic entitlement has ended you can be sure the Mail will be outraged at dying people not getting benefits.

And it's not up to £50 a week for "travel;" it's either £18.95 or £49.85 for "help with getting around." I'm sure the Mail wouldn't consider getting from bed to toilet as an exotic adventure but if someone needs to use their £49.85 to fund a wheelchair then that might be the extent of the travelling they're doing.

The article finishes off by inaccurately talking about the removal of the mobility component of DLA from people resident in care homes:

A group of 27 organisations for the disabled has warned against plans to axe the mobility part of DLA, which it says will hit 80,000 care home residents unfairly.

Which makes it sound like the mobility component of DLA is being removed, full stop, but that care home residents will be the most severely affected. That is not the case; people like me living in our own homes will get to keep our mobility component (for now, anyway).

Care homes are pretty bleak places, just have a read of this article by Johann Hari about his experiences with his grandmother while she lived in a home. At the time of the announcement in the CSR @beccaviola tweeted that having her Motability vehicle while she was stuck in a care home was the thing that stopped her killing herself.

Jen from Aylesbury has commented at the bottom of the article that:

I am afraid its the scumbags and scroungers that make things bad for everyone

There are almost no scumbags scrounging DLA. Have a look at the DWP's official figures for DLA fraud on page 8 of this document. The fraud rate for DLA is 0.5% and the only benefit with a lower fraud rate is retirement pension. There's only the perception of a massive rate of fraud because of rags like the Mail printing inaccurate articles like today's.

Last year a study found that those who watch Fox News are the most misinformed Americans. It'd be really nice if I could sit here and say that Mail readers like Jen are the most misinformed Brits but, sadly, the idea that benefit fraud is a massive problem has even been fed into the minds of people who really, really, REALLY should know better.

Edit: Rhydian at the Broken of Britain has put together a template message to send to the Press Complaints Commission about today's Mail article.

Edit 2: The folks at have taken apart the stats used in the Mail article

Good Advice Matters

Someone drew my attention to a website called Good Advice Matters, which is a non-profit organisation dedicated to offering 'accurate and relevant information' on welfare rights.
We have many years experience behind us and specialize in disability and sickness benefits, appeals, benefits for foreign nationals, better off calculations, benefits for young people, benefits for carers etc.

Good Advice Matters supports the rights of individuals to claim the benefits that they are entitled to without experiencing judgmental attitudes, un-necessary delays and confusing and contradictory information. Good Advice Matters is frustrated with the lack of accurate information and advice currently being offered by the DWP. In short we feel that benefit claimants are being let down by the system.

Good Advice Matters is extremely critical of changes to the benefit system such as the introduction of employment and support allowance for claimants with limited capability for work and the planned cuts to benefits such as housing benefit. We have seen at first hand the devastating affect that a decision to stop benefit can have on an individual and we will actively campaign to ensure that claimants receive a fairer, more transparent and supportive service.
They invite people to contact them with any benefit query or question.

They have already answered one query about Is my Incapacity Benefit Safe? and under their DWP tag and benefit advice tag they have plenty more advice on benefits. looks like it could be a really helpful resource for disabled people, regarding benefits and rights, especially as more, confusing and punitive changes come into law.

(Cross-posted at incurable hippie blog).