Tuesday 21 June 2011

Another case of the human cost of benefit cuts

I've written before about the deaths of Paul Reekie and Christelle Pardo. But as right-wingers keep pointing out, those two both killed themselves before the cuts were rolled out. Of course most people can see that if people have killed themselves as a result of losing their benefits, even if it was before the austerity agenda, that it's a cautionary tale against attacking disabled people's meagre incomes.

But, still, there are some that assert that the suicides of Reekie and Pardo have no relevance to the cuts whatsoever.

Sadly the proof that cuts kill has arrived: 33 year old Paul Willcoxson who had mental health problems killed himself because he was so worried about benefit cuts.

A suicide letter and next of kin note were found in which he expressed concerns about Government cuts, Southampton Coroner’s Court heard.

Such a sad event. My thoughts go out to Willcoxson's friends and family.

Related: Someone wrote to DPAC explaining how difficulty claiming benefits was a factor in their sister's suicide.

Monday 20 June 2011

Tax benefits halved for 100,000 disabled children

This past week we've been distracted by the ill-judged comments of one MP who said that disabled people should be willing to work for less than the minimum wage - our hackles rose and the story was all over twitter.

But while this happens, other stories go under the radar. For example, the news that under the new Universal Credit, parents of disabled children could lose £1400 per year.

At present, parents can receive up to £54 per week via the disability element of tax credits; this helps with some additional costs of looking after that child. But the new Universal Credit will see this halved to £27, the Children's Society has said. The Welfare Reform Bill was passed by the House of Commons last week.

Bob Reitemeier, chief executive of the Children's Society explained to the Observer "This cut threatens to push many disabled children back below the poverty line," he said "With 100,000 children affected by this, there are 100,000 reasons to rethink this policy."

All but the most disabled children - those who receive Disability Living Allowance at the highest rate for care - will lose out.

While some families will lose £1400 a year, this sum could be even higher if the family has more than one disabled child to care for. The Children's Society calculates that it will cost families with just one child born with a disability about £22000 by the time the child is 16.

Of course the government has tried to lessen the blow by saying there will be transitional payments to cover the changes, but this does not apply to new claimants. Nor will the payments be protected from inflation.

With the swathes of council cutbacks already threatening services for disabled children, this cut to tax credit is yet another way that the families of disabled children will be suffering.

Sunday 19 June 2011

Benefits and BMWs

The Sunday Times has decided to be outraged about people on benefits getting BMW cars. The headline they ran with was State hands out BMWs to 'disabled' (Paywall link) and it was plastered across the front page.

Unfortunately there are so many errors in the article that even the headline is plain wrong. To start with, the state does not "hand out" any cars to "the disabled". Disabled people or the long term sick may get the higher rate mobility component of Disability Living Allowance to provide for their travel needs, and it can be spent as the recipient chooses but usually goes towards cars, wheelchairs, scooters, trains, buses, taxis and more. There is a charity scheme called Motability, and if a person wishes, they can pay the mobility component of their DLA to the Motability scheme in return for a car.

The state has not handed anyone a car, people have received the benefits to which they are entitled, and chosen to spend their money on a car.

The Motobility scheme works on the basis of leasing a new car out, and then selling it at the end of three years. (This works out cheaper than buying second hand cars and paying for their maintenance, and is more reliable and safer.) Motability has a set budget and any extra cost over the standard amount has to be covered by the user of the car - for example if the car has been driven more than the expected distance, there will be a mileage fee when the car is handed back. If someone wants a more expensive car to start with then they can pay the difference in cost so that Motability does not lose money. Some people pay a few hundred pounds extra to get a car more suitable for their medical condition, such as a car with a higher seat for people that struggle getting in and out of the car, or find low seating painful. These people often borrow at their own expense to pay the difference in cost. A BMW can be had through Motability for an extra fee in the same way that a slightly higher model Citroen could be. It's just that there is a big difference in the size of that extra fee.

To get a BMW on Motability costs the end user at least £1,399 extra, and it is a fee, not a deposit.

It should be noted that DLA is not an out of work benefit, it is paid to everyone that has a qualifying disability, regardless of their work status or income. People that are still in work, especially if in a high powered job, or that have savings, might be able to afford the extra fee. Whether that is right or wrong is a different argument, but no fraud has been committed as DLA was intended to cover the extra cost of disability when working as much as when not.

The Sunday Times also talked about people using the car without the owner present. Some of the the points they made were true, but they missed that the car may be used on behalf of the sick or disabled person or for their benefit. That means that a carer could drive the car to go shopping to buy food for the owner of the car, completely within the rules. Of course they can't use the owner's blue badge or park in a disabled parking space, since they can walk across the car park.

Someone else can use a Motability car on behalf of the owner without them present.

The Sunday Times highlighted two cases of fraud in an attempt to back up their argument. One was someone whose health had improved but who had not informed the DWP and had gone back to work as a boxer, and the other was someone that was using his wife's car to make deliveries as a courier. Benefit fraud levels are incredibly low, but with millions of people involved, even 0.5% means that a few people committing fraud can be found. Highlighting two cases without telling the reader how small a minority commit fraud is highly misleading. It should also be noted that while the boxer who didn't inform anyone of his improvement was committing benefit fraud, the person driving his wife's car was not. He was breaking the rules of the motability scheme and driving a car without paying the vehicle excise duty. (Which is waived for people receiving higher rate mobility component of DLA.) He had not defrauded the government out of any DLA benefit money.

The whole article has the same tone that we are becoming used to from mainstream newspapers. The implication that everyone on benefits is a scrounger. The article mentions that 123,000 people receive DLA for back pain, as though back pain is a simple thing or is somehow less worthy of support. (It covers scoliosis, degenerative spinal conditions, botched surgery resulting in nerve damage or paralysis.) Even the use of quotes around the word disabled in the headline is used to imply quite strongly that these people are not really disabled. I refuse to believe that the 'journalists' (see what I did there?) are that ignorant or don't understand DLA and Motability. There is a clear agenda in this article to smear these people and create outrage. It is not acceptable and an apology must be given. I urge you to complain to the Press Complaints Commission about the factual innacuracies in their article, as I will be doing.

Cross posted at Tentacles of Doom

Friday 17 June 2011

Those comments by Philip Davies...

I'm sure you've all by now read Philip Davies MP's comments that disabled people should work for less than minimum wage because he claims we're less productive than non-disabled people.

What he actually said was:

"Given that some of those people with a learning disability clearly, by definition, can't be as productive in their work as somebody who hasn't got a disability of that nature, then it was inevitable that given that the employer was going to have to pay them both the same, they were going to take on the person who was going to be more productive, less of a risk, and that was doing those people a huge disservice."

From: Channel 4 News

As the EHRC quickly pointed out, this would "by definition" mean that Richard Branson is less productive than someone without dyslexia. Or Kiera Knightley, or Henry "The Fonz" Winkler, or Ben Elton, or Eddie Izzard, or Steve Jobs… Of course, dyslexia isn't the only learning difficulty out there; what about dyspraxic Daniel "Harry Potter" Radcliffe? Was he less productive than the rest of the cast in those films? I have a specific learning difficulty, I have auditory processing disorder (yes, really, in addition to my mobility impairment and my chronic health problems. I really am spectacularly unlucky). Does that mean that when I was well enough to work that I was "by definition" less productive than my peers? Did I get halfway through a stand up set and then just give up and leave the stage? No. Did I write half an article and submit that? Of course not. In my rent-paying day job did I get less photocopying done than non-disabled person would? I wish, I could've done with less monotony. And as for the risk of employing learning disabled people, it's an oft quoted fact that there is evidence to suggest that learning disabled employees take less time off work their non-disabled counterparts (like here).

This morning's discussion was about the minimum wage rather than welfare reform, but you can quite obviously see what inspired Davies's chain of thought. It's been painted in the minds of every person in the country that all disabled people are both capable of working and not working currently. You hear of visibly disabled people who don't claim any benefits being called "scrounger" in the street, and Davies was obviously making a similar assumption here; that we must all be benefit scroungers who are capable of some form of work and need to be gotten off of benefits whatever the cost, ignoring the fact that 48% of disabled people are already in work.

Of course, making disabled people work for pence will hardly be an effective tactic for getting people off benefits. Housing benefit, income support, and working tax credits are all available to people on low incomes. The less disabled people earn, the more benefits they need to receive. So if this government really wants disabled people off benefits and into jobs then making us work for a pittance is a ridiculous idea as it means our income will still be coming from the DWP rather than from our employers.

This has been the news story du jour, so there's been hundreds of blog posts and articles about it. The best two I have read are by Richard Exell and Latentexistence.

Tories Compete to Plumb the Lowest Depths

A few weeks ago I commented on Facebook that the Tories seemed to have discovered a cache of 'The New Statesman' episodes that were rejected for being too outrageous even for Alan B'Stard at the heyday of Thatcherism and were having a competition amongst themselves to see who could propose the most outrageous idea of all.

Today Philip Davies MP (Conservative, Shipley), seized the prize. Christopher Chope MP (Conservative, Christchurch) was front-runner with his private member's Employment Opportunities Bill, aiming to undermine the minimum wage by creating a situation in which it would be legal for individual workers to be bullied into opting out of the Minimum Wage, but Davies leapt into the lead by using the debate on that bill to propose that disabled people should offer to work for less as they "cannot be as productive in their work".

Davies openly acknowledged the disablism that denies disabled people the opportunity to enter the workplace, no matter what the Equality Act might say, but, rather than challenging his Tory-voting chums over their open contempt for the law, proposes that the law should be changed to allow disabled workers to be treated as an underclass of workers, who can expect to see demands that we work for less than the minimum wage if we want a job.

Other Tories were quick enough to condemn him, but words are easy. Davies admitted the awkward truth, that disabled people face near ubiquitous discrimination in finding work. Abusing us off ESA and IB won't fix that, condemning us as scroungers won't fix that, the only solution is to take the fight into the HR departments and the Directors' offices and force them to live up to the promises of the Equality Act (an act Davies voted against).

Are the Tories willing to put their actions where their mouths are? Or did Davies simply say what they really think?

Wednesday 15 June 2011

It's never that simple

As readers of this blog are no doubt aware, yesterday Labour leader Ed Miliband made a speech attacking those disabled people who he believes can and should be doing some sort of (unspecified) work.

So far as anyone can ascertain, Mr Miliband doesn't have any basis for this belief - no background in Occupational Therapy, no medical qualifications - it goes right back to the old refrain of "if you can press a button, you can work," that we heard many times while Labour were in power and introducing ESA and their harsh Work Capability Assessment.

As I responded to Bendygirl's blogpost yesterday: it's never that simple.

If there is a button-pushing factory in my town (despite offshoring), or in a town I could move to (despite lack of accessible housing and the housing benefit caps), and if they're hiring (despite record UK unemployment), and if I can get up and washed and dressed in the morning (despite cutbacks to Social Services), and if I can actually get to work (despite inaccessibility of public transport), and if the button-pushing workstation and the route to it is or can be made accessible (despite Access to Work cuts)...

...and if the bosses and co-workers are happy to accommodate my need for frequent breaks at unpredictable moments (despite the hundreds of other applicants for the button-pushing job who are equally qualified for button-pushing and don't need breaks or adjustments), and if I will earn a living wage (despite the messing about with Tax Credits)...

...and if we can account for the fact that I only have the energy to function for about 10 non-contiguous hours out of every 24 and I must keep three or four hours of that aside for necessary things like eating, medicating, grocery shopping, banking, cleaning and managing my household, and the bureaucratic maze of disability...

...then I, along with many others, will be right there.

Monday 13 June 2011

Miliband: The Floggings Will Continue Until Morale Improves

"We should not demonise people anywhere in society."

So says Ed Miliband, while busy demonising a disabled benefit claimant he claims he met on the campaign trail.

So what exactly did Ed think he was doing with his example of the man on Incapacity Benefit? Since when has labelling an individual person as 'irresponsible' in a speech as head of the Labour Party, and through him disabled benefit claimants en masse, if not disabled people as a whole, not counted as demonising them?

I am currently in the ESA Work Related Activities Group, presumably where Ed thinks that man should be. I had 22 years in a good job as a software engineer, I've been unemployed since the end of 2008, but for me to get a job now I first need an improvement in my medical situation, which has worsened since my redundancy: can't sit, can't stand, can't reliably use my left arm is a bad combination for just about any job you can think of. I have been chasing that medical improvement for the past 2 years, but progress is slow, we are barely holding things back from getting worse, never mind making them better. Yet even if I can get an improvement in my situation to about where I was when I was made redundant (i.e. to merely can't sit, can't stand), I face a situation where multiple employment consultants have told me I have no hope of a job in the private sector and not much more hope of a job in the public sector.

The problem isn't my willingness to work, been there, done that. The problem isn't my willingness to try and find jobs in a different sector, been there and done that too. My problem is finding an employer who is within my very limited commute radius of about 10-15 minutes driving (all my back will stand), and, biggest ask of all, who is willing to offer me a job no matter my disability and who has the flexibility to accomodate someone who will probably need considerable reasonable adjustments (such as needing to work in a prone position). And what goes for me also goes for the disabled person using a wheelchair, a guide-dog, personal assistants or whatever. The only irresponsible thing about our employment situation is not acknowledging the difficulties we face, both practical in terms of accomodations to disability, and discriminatory in the attitudes of recruiters and employers towards potential employees with disabilities.

Demonising us won't help, nor will driving disabled benefit claimants through harsher and harsher assessment regimes and 'Work Programmes'. 'The floggings will continue until morale improves' has never been the most productive of management techniques. We need someone to shine the harsh light of public opinion on the willingness of British employers to employ disabled people. They even collected the figures for us, trying to proclaim that less than 30% of them being willing to consider employing a disabled person was some kind of triumph of equality. Where is the political party willing to take up this opportunity, challenge the disablist attitudes and bring about a real change in the attitudes of employers, creating the opportunity for disabled people to take part in the labour market as equals? It certainly seems the contemporary Labour Party isn't up to the job.

I will be generous and assume Ed is completely clueless about the kind of day to day discrimination disabled people are facing as a result of being branded workshy by the DWP's continuing campaign of demonisation (a campaign that sadly began under Labour), but today the leader of the Labour Party deliberately used a disabled man as a negative example and by doing that he has worsened the acceptance of every disabled person in the country. And isn't that a shameful thing.

Labour takes *another* pop at disabled people

There have been 2 Labour stories today about "responsibility" and welfare.

The first story was Ed Miliband's speech. You can tell it's not going to go well for disabled people from the outset. He starts off by telling this story:

While out campaigning during the local elections, not for the first time, I met someone who had been on incapacity benefit for a decade.

He hadn’t been able to work since he was injured doing his job.

It was a real injury, and he was obviously a good man who cared for his children.

But I was convinced that there were other jobs he could do.

And that it’s just not right for the country to be supporting him not to work, when other families on his street are working all hours just to get by.

Which sums up the Labour party's attitude to ill and disabled people: No qualifications in assessing people's health but meet someone for a minute and deem them "fit for work" without any additional info besides that minute meeting. It's the Work Capability Assessment in a nutshell.

No wonder strangers in the street feel it acceptable to deem someone a "scrounger" when our political leaders are doing the same.

You can read the full transcript of Ed's speech on politics.co.uk. [Warning: May induce vomiting or violent behaviour.]

Liam Byrne's been at it too today. His plans include:

rewarding those on the council house queue who are in jobs or doing voluntary work.

Need social housing because you're too ill to work? Tough.

Yet in that same article it says:

The potentially tough ideas come as Labour prepares to vote against the third reading of the government's welfare bill this week because they feel it punishes the ill, including victims of cancer, and cuts childcare provision.

Erm, what about people who can't get social housing because they can't work. Is that not punishing the ill?

Miliband says similar:

Just take their current welfare reform bill.

We support their attempts to build on our plans to make those who can work do so.

But their bill will make it harder for people to be responsible.

It undermines childcare support for those seeking work.

It punishes people in work who save, denying them the help they currently get through tax credits.

It cuts help for the most vulnerable, those living in care homes, who receive support to get out and about.

And, it takes away money from those who are dying even though they have contributed to the system all their lives.

None of this will help people show more responsibility.
In fact, it does the opposite.

Nor are they ensuring there is the work available for people who are responsible.

In the same speech in which he says the man who's been assessed by someone with medical qualifications as unfit to work should be getting a job. One of those ones that don't exist.

Both Byrne and Miliband comment on how Labour has lost sight of it's direction as "the people's party." Byrne said:

"The worst statistic for me was that nearly 60% of voters said Labour was not just a bit, but seriously, out of touch with the lives of ordinary working people. For the peoples' party, that was a hell of an achievement."

It seems to me that they've lost more than that. It appears they've lost the ability for making their minds up. Either they want to force that man incapable of working onto JSA OR they want to help the "vulnerable". Either they want to vote against a bill that punishes the sick OR they want to prevent ill people from getting social housing. I would remark that they need to pick a direction, except I know which one they'd take so I think I'll settle for them acting like dogs chasing their tails.

Disabled = Hate Target?

BBC Radio Kent led off the Breakfast Show today with me talking about the deteriorating situation on the street for disabled people as a result of the continual stream of press releases from DWP, which pick the most egregious examples of benefit fraud they can find, which are then described in the most outrageous way possible by the tabloids and end up giving the man in the street the impression that every disabled person is faking their disability, which they then use as justification for abusing any random disabled person they come across.

The interview on the Breakfast Show was backed up by interviews with Scope and a professor from UKC, they then did an hour long phone-in on the Julia George show, which had a couple of callers who demonstrated exactly the kind of problems we face, and I was able to email Julia George while the discussion was going on to allow her to put the lie to what was being claimed. She also interviewed Katherine Quarmby about her new book 'Scapegoat', which talks about the wider disability hate crime problem.

Next (busy day!) I was interviewed on camera by BBC South East for a piece on the same topic for South East Today, which had a brief snippet at 1:30PM and should have the full version at 6:30PM.

The Radio Kent Breakfast Show is available online at http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/p00h6qvy/Breakfast_with_John_Warnett_and_Clare_McDonnell_13_06_2011/ (apologies for the full link, but Blogger doesn't seem to want to embed it) . The interview with me starts 9 minutes in, and a shortened version is repeated at 1:07 along with the interview with Scope, while at 2:08 they have the professor from UKC.

The Julia George show is up on iPlayer. The phone-in about disability hate crime is the first hour of the show.

Both radio shows should be available for the next 7 days if I understand iPlayer correctly.

South East Today is at 6:30 PM and can also be watched at the link http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b011w6pf (blogger having problems again) . Unfortunately they don't seem to put that on iPlayer, so you'll have to catch it there and then if you want to watch it over the net.

Thursday 9 June 2011

Pontius Grayling has Spoken

So the Work and Pensions Committee had Chris Grayling over for a little chat, and the members chose to take him to task over the hatred of disabled people the DWP press releases on disability benefits are whipping up in the tabloid press, spilling out from there into the general population.

Mr Grayling promptly claimed himself "bemused" (not 'horrified'?) at how the tabloids chose to portray the DWP press releases, claiming he had been criticised for saying benefit claimants shouldn't be called 'scroungers' -- criticised by whom, Mr Grayling? Saying it when?

If DWP is so lily-white and innocent of all wrong, why exactly did it release press releases proclaiming 70% of people on IB were fit to work, when that 70% consisted of 40% in the Work Related Activity Group who by definition are not currently fit to work, and 30% placed on JSA, but still very much disabled. Why has DWP been trawling through the IB stats, looking for the most seemingly outrageous claims it can find? Why did the Prime Minister feel it necessary to proclaim on national news that disabled people whose disability causes addiction or obesity were not fit to receive benefits -- ever heard of Praeder-Willi Syndrome, Mr Grayling?

You have said much the same thing about being 'bemused' by the results before, Mr Grayling, and since then Scope has found it necessary to warn the government of the rise in disability hate crimes as a result of these press releases, so you can't claim to be surprised by the hatemongering headlines, and yet still your press releases go out. And each one seems to come with its anonymous quotes from 'a source close to the reforms', snidely wondering things like why someone with a mere bad back might need to claim benefit.

And then there is Polly Toynbee, on the list to receive all DWP press releases, yet strangely not receiving this latest one. And when she enquires about it, what is she told? That it was sent only to a small number of “key contacts”. That would be the Tory rags you can rely on for the 'bemusing' headlines, then Mr. Grayling?

So the DWP dug up the most extreme examples it could find, sent them only to the "key contacts" known to take the most outrageous stance possible, briefed them to take an extremely negative attitude towards people with long term spinal conditions, and yet Mr Grayling proclaims himself to be 'bemused'. Do you also proclaim yourself to be clueless, Mr Grayling? Or might your 'bemusement' relate to people actually having the audacity to try and hold you responsible for the hatred you are sowing?

Pilate, it seems, has washed his hands of responsibility for whatever the mob may do.

Really? This passes for Parliamentary Research?

Well, well, well, look what I've found!!

After weeks of asking and several Freedom Of Information requests, I've finally unearthed the "assessment" the DWP did into Time Limiting ESA!! Clearly I use the word assessment in much the way ATOS do. In other words, pick a policy and then write some stuff that proves what you want to say. http://www.dwp.gov.uk/docs/esa-time-limit-wr2011-ia.pdf

Just in case, in the very unlikely event that you are not an uber-geek like me and you can't stay awake long enough to plough through 16 pages of fairy stories, here's a quick summary :

-It overwhelmingly affects the poorest most. The % impact falls from the highest in the 1st decile of earnings to the lowest in the 10th.
-It estimates that 60% will simply switch to income based ESA and not be affected. This is absolutely ridiculous, pie-in the sky rubbish. I have absolutely no idea how they can make this claim.
- The report concludes that over the term of the parliament 90% of those placed into the Work Related Activity Group (WRAG) will be affected.
-ALL groups will lose income on average through this measure.
-It is based on an assumption that 50% of claims will be appealed!!! How are they able to go forward with a system this inaccurate?
-The report itself claims that 700,000 will be affected by the Time Limit - a figure previously hotly debated, ranging from 400,000 to 1 million. It is expected to cut benefits for those not fully fit for work by 1.2 billion per year.
- The report acknowledges, just as I've been warning, that this is a disincentive to work and may push couples into divorce or into giving up on work altogether. However, they admit that they have no idea how significant this will be.

Possibly the most astonishing part is the claim that the Social Impacts did not need to be investigated, neither under the categories of Health and Well-being, Human Rights or the Justice System. (It does go on to say that an equalities assessment was carried out, which I will do my best to unearth)

As far as I can tell, the research is deeply flawed, based on inaccurate assumptions, incomplete and surely, illegal. If you discount the assumption that 60% will simply move to income based ESA, which I believe is just not true, it is a damning look into what passes for parliamentary research in our so called democracy.

Sunday 5 June 2011

Another Poison-Pen Letter from IDS

So on Saturday IDS escalated the hate. His boss, David Cameron, crossed the line into direct attacks on disabled people last month with his open attempt to demonise those whose disabilities lead to addiction or obesity, attacks which led Scope and the Guardian to point out that government attacks were leading to increasing rates of Disability Hate Crime, but on Saturday his pet attack-dog ramped up the attack with more hate-filled articles from the sockpuppets at the Tory Rags. This time it isn’t just disabled people with addictions or obesity who are being openly derided as frauds and not worthy of benefits, the new target is DLA recipients, and particularly disabled people whose disability manifests through long-term spinal conditions, or as IDS’s anonymous source would have us believe, a mere ‘bad back’.

I talked about the myth of the ‘bad back’ a few weeks ago in That Proverbial ‘Bad Back’ , the myth that ‘bad-backs’ are some kind of scrounger’s charter or somehow less than other disabilities that is. My ‘bad back’ has destroyed my career and seriously limited the life I can live, even as I lie here to write this (sitting would be unbearable) it is causing me a noticeable amount of pain. No amount of money could compensate me for the pain I experience, and ESA, DLA HRM and DLA HRC combined wouldn’t come close to replacing the salary I have lost because of my ‘bad back’, even if I actually received them all – of those three benefits I only actually get ESA, the thought of putting myself through the ATOS ordeal again for DLA HRM is simply too much to face right now (DLA HRC, even LRC, I clearly have no hope of claiming). I did apply for DLA several years ago, but not knowing how to navigate the labyrinth didn’t get past the first hurdle of using the appropriate terms on the form rather than simply naively explaining how disabled I am (yes, there are hurdles, no matter what the Tories, the DWP and the attack-hacks in the tabloids would have us believe). I have been trying to gather the evidence to support another claim for several years now, side-by-side with trying to get myself the treatment to get back into the workforce, but the cuts to the NHS are making that a dreadfully slow process (so slow I’m actually going backwards), not helped when my local rheumatology department tell me that my ‘bad back’ is so complex that they don’t actually have anyone qualified to look at it in its entirety…

Yes, you didn’t read that wrong, even after having gone through the horror of the WCA test, and passing, even with my local rheumatology department struggling to cope, my disability is not clearly severe enough to entitle me to the benefit the Tories are trying to convince people is handed out like Smarties at a kid’s party.

But let’s get back to the tabloids, IDS, and their ‘anonymous source’. It’s amazing the courage that comes from having a tame journalist willing to quote you anonymously as ‘a source close to the reforms’, no need to hold back on the vitriol you can turn on disabled people. What we see here is demonization by insinuation. No direct statements, just the nudge-nudge, wink-wink, they’re all at it you know of your friendly neighbourhood poison-pen letter. Phrases like ‘a huge increase’ and ‘cash payments’ are clearly designed to imply that the sums involved are significant and somehow akin to backhanders, not the less than £20 a week that DLA is for many people, not the £51.40 per week that HRM claimants are expected to sacrifice for those ‘free’ Motability cars that provoke so much bitter jealousy against us (nope, I don’t get one of those either).

The ‘anonymous source’ then goes on to say “We are going to bring in a new assessment and regular checks to make sure support is getting to those who need it.” There’s a term to describe this, lying. DLA already has an assessment and regular checks, with stressful three-yearly renewals regularly terrorising disabled people, but the Tories and their tame attack dogs are trying, successfully, to mislead the tabloids’ core readership into believing that disability benefits are handed out just for the asking to people who fake their disabilities in order to scrounge from the State. The fact that seriously disabled people live in terror of losing their DLA in the Kafka-esque lottery of renewal, the intrusive medical checking, the thuggery of ATOS, these are inconvenient truths that they work to hide from their readership, treating them with precisely the same contempt they display towards us.

The Tories aren’t interested in seeing that support is getting to those who need it, if they were then they would never have closed the Independent Living Fund that provides for people with the most profound disabilities of all, it is just one more big lie to hide the truth from people by claiming the absolute opposite. The replacement for DLA, PIP, is simply an excuse to harden the rules and exclude 25% of the people currently in receipt of DLA, no matter their level of disability. Claims that it is meant to replace a broken system are simply more lies, DLA works, the aim is not to fix it, but to cut the numbers able to claim it, the predetermined percentage betrays that for all to see, yet the Tories lack the guts to admit it. Easier by far to demonise disabled people and convince the country that we deserve the cuts, after all, we’re only disabled, we probably vote Labour, what does it matter to the Tories if we’re attacked in the street as a result.

The only thing that surprises me about this is that I had thought that depression would be the next disability to be attacked, piggybacking on society’s poorly hidden fear of mental illness, with spinal conditions following afterwards. There is a clear strategy behind the attacks on us since the turn of the year. Before that the focus was simply on demonising us all as scroungers, but then opposition started to cohere and find a voice, whether from disabled people themselves, as seen in WTB, DPAC and the Broken of Britain, or from charities, campaigning groups, the Guardian alone amongst the national dailies, and even from members of the general public who had realised what the propaganda campaign really amounted to. Faced with a potential backlash, the Tory campaign has taken a new tack, seeking not just to undermine us en masse, but to divide and rule by targeting and demonising individual sectors of the disability community, implying that the people who fall within those sectors aren’t really disabled, and actively deserve everything that happens to them. Obesity and addiction have already had their turn in the stocks, on Saturday it was the turn of spinal conditions, I suspect depression and mental health will see their turn soon enough. We actually have a term for this in the disability community, we call it the Hierarchy of Disability and I have written before on why it is such a divisive, dangerous idea even in normal disabled life, but now we see someone actively seeking to use it against us for political ends and I am unavoidably reminded of the (sadly forgotten) earliest form of Pastor Martin Neimoller’s poem:

First they came for the Communists, and I didn't speak up, because I wasn't a Communist.

Then they came for the sick, the so-called incurables, and I didn't speak up, because I wasn't mentally ill.

Then they came for the Jews, and I didn't speak up, because I wasn't a Jew.

Then they came for me, and by that time there was no one left to speak up for me

Together we stand, divided we fall.

Rounding out Saturday’s diatribe of hate is the contemptible disdain of Martin Sinclair, the mouthpiece of the ‘Tax Payer’s Alliance’ who states DLA claimants are “a particularly unwelcome burden” on taxpayers, failing to acknowledge that a great many DLA recipients are taxpayers. Apparently Mr Sinclair doesn’t agree that part of the role of the state, the very reason we pay it tax, is to support those of us who, through disability, face extra financial burdens. I was a taxpayer for twenty-three years, Mr Sinclair, given my choices I still would be, and there are several million more disabled people like me who either pay taxes, have paid taxes, or would love to have the opportunity to pay taxes. Doesn’t your organisation feel an obligation to represent us too, or does the fact that we are who we are make us beneath your notice, too likely to vote for the wrong party, ultimately just unspeakably disabled?

There is one final name I haven’t talked about in this catalogue of shame, the Liberal-Democrats. This is the party that, even more than Labour, has traditionally portrayed itself as the party that puts Social Justice first, ahead even of political power, the party that currently shares in the government of the country alongside the Tories. So where exactly does your party stand on this, Mr Clegg? People like Danny Alexander were vocal enough about the problems arising from ATOS assessments in Opposition, but as soon as a ministerial position was wafted under their noses they became strangely silent. Less than three months ago your party’s Spring Conference, specifically addressing DLA Mobility Component, made it clear to the parliamentary party that attacks on disabled people had gone too far, finding it necessary to remind you of your obligations under the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. Your party has spoken, Mr Clegg, but they, and we, are still waiting for your reply….