Wednesday 9 February 2011

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.


  1. I will keep writing this blog and people, I hope, will keep reading it and linking it and sharing it with friends .

    No need to hope. We will link and share

  2. The above is a very good blog-post, and says things which truly need to be said.
    There does need to be dialogue with the Labour Party, and Labour ought to change its position.

    In his "keynote" speech at the IPPR, Liam Byrne used a lot of politician speak - lots of words but mostly vague and meaningless, and bugger all that you could hang your coat on.

    He stated that he believes that the overwhelming majority of Labour supporters are in favour of tough words and actions to sort out the problem of welfare reform (i.e. reducing the expenditure on welfare). He is clearly fearful that Labour voters will desert the party in droves if a hard line isn't taken on welfare. He acknowledges that 5 million voters quit Labour between 1997 and 2010, but doesn't seem to understand why they left. What sort of research has he had done?!
    Maybe Mr Byrne owes his career to New Labour?

    Worryingly, his parliamentary profile says he's interested in welfare reform - eek, a conviction politician is the last thing needed!
    Mr Byrne should listen and consult ... and it should be people like Wheresthebenefit and BrokenofBritain he consults. Reality matters! Experience matters! Being a user of the system matters! And, frankly, I care not one iota for the precious ego of any politicians who know nothing but think they can arbitrarily and piously act in others' best interests. And on this subject, they can't know best!

    One suspicious thought that I have, is that the Labour Party is scared of being viewed as the party associated with welfare benefits claimants (Mail and Express readers would be turned off from Labour. Big wow!). If so, this would be cruelly ironic because YouGov's surveys reveal that many people DO associate Labour with welfare claimants, and immigrants too, actually, ... but are not put off from voting Labour by this.

    Speaking personally, I regard the whole 'welfare to work' programme, initiated by New Labour and being "built upon" by the Conservatives and Liberals, as wrong on every level. Morally it's disgusting, politically it's an aberration, economically it's a huge waste of resources which could be allocated far more effectively elsewhere.

    The Welfare State was founded to work in conditions of full employment.
    Thus there is an onus on governments to support and promote industry and employment... and seek to have as high a level of employment as possible. But politicians fail at this.

    I agree with the writer above about Purnell, A;lexander and Byrne.

    The Labour Party ought to distance itself from New Labour on the issue of welfare, and do a major re-assessment of its position and policy on welfare,
    and start to represent the many, many, many people whom it should be representing!

  3. I am begining to wonder if Labour MP's have been briefed to keep quite about the issue of Welfare Reform, which is really not very sensible or consistent since they are quite rightly howling about housing benefit cuts etc. I say this because I and several other friends up and down the country have been asking non Left wing Labour Members for their views on the issue and getting no where, either stalled, deferred to the Shadow DWP team or ignored....and these are constituents questions and most but not all by Labour Party members, yet when asked about almost any other issue the MP in question will give a clear answer and usually their PERSONAL opinion as is as strange as it is disquieting and disheartening....they seem to have been told to 'say nothing until further notice'

  4. I read your blog alot, being chronically ill myself i fear for my future and have yet to see any political party do the right thing. It was labour that brought in welfare reform in the first place afterall.

  5. I tried to share your excellent post on Facebook and was told that it contains content that has already been blocked as abusive or spammy - please could anyone advise me on how to object?

  6. Oo er. First I've heard about us being "abusive".

    I'm afraid I'm not familiar with the protocol for telling Facebook that they're wrong.