Monday 19 December 2011

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

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

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

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

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

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

Some of the info in this template letter is now outdated as it was drafted back in September.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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday 18 December 2011

DLA? Denied

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

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

That's 14,000 vindicated Sues per year.

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday 14 December 2011

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

From Benefit Claimants Fight Back:

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

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

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

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

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

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

For full details of all events please visit:


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

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

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

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

Tuesday 13 December 2011

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

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

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

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

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

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

And remember, this is no longer theory.

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

Shame on us.

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday 10 December 2011

#HardestHit Jedi Mind-Tricks

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

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

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

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

Little did I know.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday 9 December 2011

Time Limiting ESA - We MUST stop it!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here is the amendment in full :

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

Delete 2 (line 35) and insert:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The following articles may help:

Sunday 4 December 2011

You're frightening me

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday 3 December 2011

Not OK

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

Warning of possible triggers in discussion below the jump: