Wednesday 29 February 2012

Sanctions removed from work experience - but only a small victory

The government today caved in to bad publicity and agreed to remove the possibility of sanctions from those who refuse to take part in the work experience scheme. Those guilty of gross misconduct may still be sanctioned with removal of benefits.

However, a DWP spokesperson confirmed this afternoon that it is only the work experience scheme which is affected by this change. Those on the work programme, which is run by third party providers such as the disgraced A4e, may still face sanctions if they do not cooperate with the programme. As detailed in the previous article on this site, it is mandatory to attend the work programme after a set amount of time receiving Job Seekers Allowance or Employment Support Allowance. The DWP spokesperson pointed out that the work programme provides much more than just work experience placements and referral to the programme does not necessarily mean undertaking work experience.

I also raised the issue of those who are receiving ESA and placed in the work related activity group being referred to the work programme and possibly for work experience. This is problematic since at the current time many people overturn the decision to place them in the WRAG on appeal and appeals can take a year in many cases so that people who are not fit for the work programme, never mind fit for work might be sent for work experience. The spokesperson did point out that people can present evidence and ask for a reconsideration before going for an appeal, although since at least 40% of those who appeal their decision go on to overturn it I do not think this is enough to ensure that everyone on the work programme is physically and mentally up to the task.

As it stands then, the removal of sanctions from the work experience scheme is a minor victory but the danger is that it will convince the public that all is well once more and the anger over people being made to work without pay may cool. Jobseekers and sick people can still be referred to the work programme where companies such as A4e can send people to do unpaid work experience or face loss of benefits. In the case of those who recieve ESA there is no limit to the length of time they may be made to work without pay.

Wednesday 22 February 2012

Meanwhile in "faker rhetoric fuels abuse" news...

Two tweets and one news article from this morning alone:

Young disabled stay silent over hate crimes - Crime - UK - The Independent including case study of one woman who was grabbed by the hair for having not "looked disabled" in her school days. Which would imply that her attackers presumed that she was faking now.

Saturday 18 February 2012

Emergency Meeting: Organising Against the Welfare Reform Bill

Via Claire from Winvisible:

Monday 20 Feb 5pm-6.30pm at Tent City University, Occupy London, St Paul’s
London EC4M 8AD
All welcome
Buses 4, 11, 15, 23, 25, 26, 100, 242
Tube: St Paul’s, Central Line
Overground: City Thameslink

This is outdoors, so dress warm. Hot drinks available and accessible loos nearby.
For more info: Global Women’s Strike
020 7482 2496 , 07904 255 145

Short and Sweet Truth

A screenshot of a tweet by @stavvers, reading, "Imagine being diagnosed with terminal cancer, facing a humiliating series of tests then being told you have to work for free in Tesco."

It just about sums it up.

Friday 17 February 2012

Shocked headline as fat disabled woman has fun

Obese woman demanding 50 hours care a week 'went to pop concert', screams the Telegraph. Obese? Disabled? Had a night out? This is surely an outrage to all common decency! Nobody who is fat should have fun, especially not if they are mentally ill and fat. Never mind that a good night out could have made this woman feel a bit better. Never mind that it might have been her first night out in years. Her weight and her mental illness make it an indisputably horrifying thing to have done, according to the paper.

When the paper reports that she is 'demanding 50 hours a week care', what it means is that she previously received care through Direct Payments, which has now been withdrawn and she is appealing for it to be reinstated.

Reading the article, despite the numerous mentions of her 'morbid obesity', none of her reported care needs relate to her weight at all. All of these references serve simply to stir up prejudiced feelings about this woman, to build up the readers' outrage.

The paper reports that she has been diagnosed with a personality disorder, following traumas and bereavements, and her psychiatrist has decided that she should 'break her reliance on the support of others'. This happens to a lot of people with personality disorders, in particular female survivors diagnosed with borderline personality disorder. Mental health services commonly do not like treating people diagnosed with BPD, or services diagnose people with BPD when they do not like them - either or both are commonly true. It is not known as the 'wastebucket diagnosis' for nothing.

This does not mean that people with personality disorders do not require support. The council, in court, argued that because she can play computer games, buy cigarettes and go to a pop concert, she should have all her care withdrawn, despite evidence that in the past she went for months on end without washing, due to a massive fear about bathing without somebody there.

The Telegraph then offers a poll. A poll! So that readers can vote on whether they think this woman's care needs should be provided for.

As if constant, irrelevant references to this woman's weight, and scare quotes when describing things like her "extreme paranoia" and "lack of motivation", mocking her all the way through - a woman who already has mental health problems - as if all of that was not enough, let's allow the public to vote on what they think her future should be.

The Daily Telegraph have humiliated a vulnerable woman for committing the sins of being fat (many people on certain psychiatric drugs are, it's a significant side-effect), for having suffered trauma in her past, and for going to see The Wanted in concert, whoever they are. Their ridiculous poll adds insult to injury, and I just hope the woman in question never reads it.

This post originally appeared at The F-Word

[The image is a photograph of a warning sign reading "Caution Do not play on, in, or around this container". It was taken by Brittney Bush Bollay and is used under a Creative Commons Licence]

The Magical Thinking at DWP Gets Worse

In my earlier piece on Magical Thinking, I said that it was clear that DWP didn't have the faintest understanding of long-term disability, and were basing their policy on their lack of understanding.

Just how bad that lack of understanding is became chillingly clear in an article in the Guardian on Thursday. The article reports that in a meeting with disability groups in December, DWP announced that it intended to extend a Workfare-like scheme to disabled people. Under Workfare, unemployed people can be forced to take 30 hours a week of unpaid work experience for 8 weeks, or even 6 months in some cases, with the threat of being sanctioned and their benefit withdrawn if they do not comply. Workfare is already under severe fire from many unions and campaigning groups who view it as akin to slave labour, with people effectively working for far less than the minimum wage and jobs effectively taken permanently out of the marketplace as companies like Poundland, Asda, Tesco, Argos and others just take one Workfare assignee after another. Public pressure has already forced several companies, such as Sainsbury's and Waterstones, to withdraw from the scheme.

For disabled people the potential of Workfare alone would be bad enough, but when asked about time limits on the disability scheme, a DWP official said "There are no plans to introduce a maximum time limit." and also made it clear that sanctions would be applied to force people onto the scheme, or punish them if they refused: "Ministers strongly feel there is a link-up to support those moving close to the labour market, and the individual's responsibility to engage with the support. Ministers feel sanctions are an incentive for people to comply with their responsibility."

The scheme will be targeted at people in the ESA WRAG, which includes people with long term disabilities which are severe enough to mean they are not currently capable of work, but are expected to potentially be capable at some point in the future. As I made clear in my earlier article, that 'potentially' means 'might become capable', not 'will become capable' and for many people we are looking at years not decades of them being unfit for work. Unfortunately DWP are sticking their head in the sand in an attempt to deny the reality of disability and replace that reality with magical thinking in which we all have miracle cures at the 12 month mark and become miraculously capable of competing in the job market on an equal footing with none disabled people. Forcing anyone from WRAG into work is a subversion of what the scheme is supposed to stand for, and the limits on the scheme as currently proposed mean it could even be applied to someone with a terminal illness if they have more than six months to live. Worse, it could be applied to someone with severe mental health issues, with no regard for the consequences to their mental health, or to someone with a physical disability with no thought to the negative physical consequences for them.

We knew DWP was being run to an ideological diktat, sorry, Christian principles, with a disregard for facts that would have embarrassed the Communist Party of the Soviet Union at its worst, but this is a step far, far beyond the pale. I know both from direct personal experience and the experience of others that JCP Disability Employment Advisers have an appalling inability to recognise and understand disability, in particular how it will impact working (which considering that is their sole professional purpose is a pretty utter failure). To now give these people the ability to decide on their own initiative that a disabled person should be forced into a work assignment, with only the vaguest notion of what the consequences for that person's health might be, is taking the DWP's duty of care and tossing it not just out of the window but into a passing bin wagon.

A lot of stuff coming out of the DWP worries me, but the consequences of this notion truely scare me. The whole point of people being in the ESA WRAG is that they have been assessed as not currently fit for work, and to design a scheme whose sole purpose is to force people who aren't fit for work into work, and then to try and justify it both having no limits and being subject to sanctions, suggests that DWP are truly placing diktat above reality and that magical thinking has displaced any other form of thinking they might once have been capable of.

(Edited to correct who has withdrawn from Workfare - should have been Sainsburys, not Tesco, Tesco admit to having taken 1400 people under the scheme in the past 4 months, potentially 168,000 hours of unpaid work ).

Monday 13 February 2012

Magical Thinking and Miracle Cures

The Welfare Reform Bill is back in the House of Lords this week, so Iain Duncan Smith has a comment column in the Independent telling us how we are all wrong and that the WRB is going to make things better not worse. Which is going to be a tough sell to the 700,000 disabled people who will lose Employment and Support Allowance due to time-limiting, the 500,000 disabled people who will lose Disability Living Allowance and the tens of thousands of disabled kids whose families will lose £1500 a year of tax credits (however IDS assures us that £1500 isn’t a significant amount of money, not even to families already below the poverty line). And those are just some of the cuts, the list goes on, and on, and on.

IDS talks a good tale, and he’s extremely proficient at half-hidden appeals to petty-minded jealousy against those forced to rely on benefits (an odd talent for a minister who professes to be guided by Christian principles) but when you look at the actual details of the WRB the loopholes he glosses over start to appear, particularly when you look from the harsh reality of the inside of the benefit system. I worked for 20-odd years doing highly skilled development work in the aerospace industry, so getting me back into work makes sense on multiple levels, but my disability now means that I can't sit at a desk without rapidly ending up in so much pain I can't think straight (and when your work is safety-critical that’s not great). Having been forced out of my job by redundancy, the Department of Work and Pensions eventually admitted  that I'm far too disabled to claim JSA and pushed me onto ESA.

If we look at what the WRB says about ESA, then we find that IDS and his minions, particularly Lord Freud, who famously anointed himself as our national expert on disability employment a couple of weeks after first looking at the issue, would now have you believe that all disabled people receive an automatic miracle cure at the 12 month mark which means we can then compete equally in the jobs market, and therefore won't be disadvantaged by time-limiting ESA to 12 months.

Strangely enough I am 23 years into my disability with no cure, miracle or otherwise, in sight; in fact my doctors specifically ruled one out over a decade ago. The disability isn't going to get better and the cumulative damage to joints is going to carry on building year on year. And I am far more typical of disability's reality than IDS's 12 month miracle cure. A psychiatrist confronted with an expectation of miracle cures would likely label that as magical thinking and there would probably be frowning and tutting and a lot of note-taking; magical thinking is not a good thing, it signifies a loss of touch with reality, and a belief that supernatural forces are manipulating the world around you. Of course when you consider IDS’s frequent claim that he is implementing a Christian benefit policy then the magical thinking and miracle cures start to fit into a wider pattern of thought.

The problem for the rest of us is that we can’t ignore reality in favour of supernatural intervention. The Work Related Activity Group of ESA (which I am in) is supposedly for disabled people who are not currently fit for work but can potentially return to work at some point with appropriate support. That potentially means might, not will, and some point could be decades away, but DWP, at IDS and Freud's behest, is interpreting that as the 12 month miracle cure. More than that, DWP policy fails to acknowledge that there is an enormous range of disability that falls into the gap between someone who just needs a little extra support in WRAG to get straight back into work, and those people whose disabilities are so limiting that they are eligible for the Support Group and not expected to worry about work at all.

Hundreds of thousands of disabled benefit claimants in the WRAG have disabilities which will leave us unable to work over periods of years, if not decades. For most of us the reality is that a disability is for life, not just for Christmas, and there is no magical Medical Model fix to make it all go away with a wave of Lord Freud’s fairy wand, nor is DWP’s beloved Bio-Psycho-Social Model (aka the floggings will continue until you admit you’re better) going to make one jot of difference, unless it is to pressure people into damaging themselves further. No matter what Lord Freud may proclaim in the Lords in the next few days, I and other disabled people in the WRAG are not going to have a miracle cure at 12 months; to make my disability go away you would have to reprogramme the genetics of every cell in my body to correct the faulty connective tissue, and then fix all of the damage caused by nearly 50 years of those ligaments and tendons failing to protect joints, never mind the two distinct and individually disabling spinal injuries. What you see is what you get and that is someone who can't manage a job that involves sitting at a desk, standing or walking around. Find me a job I can do flat on my back (and I have problems even there) and there is a chance I can work, but how many jobs allow for that possibility? And each disabled person will come with their own individual set of limitations and issues.

IDS, Lord Freud, Chris Grayling and Maria Miller proclaim at every opportunity that disabled people could compete in the job market on a level footing with non-disabled people if we really wanted to. The under-the-counter briefings to the tabloid attack-hacks preach that we’re all idle scroungers who have been trapped into a life of idleness for no other reason than the easy availability of benefits. I’m not sure whether that counts as yet more magical thinking, or just plain wishful thinking, because even before the WRB axe the benefit system pays a pittance of what I used to earn and the long term financial implications are frankly terrifying. Getting out of the house once a week, not speaking to anyone from one week to the next, watching the death spiral of two decades worth of savings and pension; not really a life I would choose for myself.

To get a disabled person from WRAG to work involves at least three fundamental steps: first their disability needs to improve to the point that work is feasible, and that is simply not in the control of either DWP or the disabled person; next they need to negotiate the job market, more on that in a moment; and finally their job needs to be adapted to suit their individual needs, more on that too. I’ll be generous and accept that DWP are probably trying to help in the first of those steps, unfortunately their practical understanding of disability appears to be totally lacking (or perhaps driven by the kind of remorseless, fact-agnostic ideology that gave Soviet Five Year Plans a bad name). As so often seems to be the case with DWP, we would probably achieve far more if they would just stop trying to help.

So what is the reality of the job market for disabled people? Can we compete with other, non-disabled, people? IDS says yes, but once again the reality is something different. While I was claiming JSA and before DWP accepted that I really wasn’t fit enough to work, I sent out around 200 job applications. I had two decades worth of cutting edge engineering development experience on prominent multinational projects, and a CV that multiple employment consultants said could not be bettered, and I was registered with all of the appropriate specialist recruitment agencies; so how many interviews did I land? One. And that was from a company specifically looking to cherry-pick people with my skillset being made redundant by my ex-employer and which was working directly with the outsourcing consultants. Even more alarming, interviewers working for a company which made a selling point of its socially responsible employment policies admitted that it had never occurred to them that they might actually get a disabled job applicant. And that one interview is now nearly three years in the past, when the jobs market was in a far better condition than the state it has slid to under the Coalition.

The reality gets worse. In talking to multiple employment consultants, I was told that I should do everything possible to hide my disability from prospective employers, because I would be discriminated against. Not might, would. Nearly twenty years after the Disability Discrimination Act required employers to ensure disabled people are able to work and compete for jobs on an equal footing, with the new Equality Act making it illegal to even consider disability in a recruitment decision, people who had spent years as recruitment professionals were telling me that discrimination against disabled job applicants was so universal I needed to hide who I was in order to have any hope of making it past the first cut. One employers’ group proclaimed it a triumph for equality that slightly more than one employer in four would consider employing a disabled person. Meanwhile the other seventy-odd percent of employers surveyed openly acknowledged their intent to flout the law, confident in being able to do that because the government does not enforce disability equality law, that is left to the disabled victims themselves, who overwhelmingly have neither the health, wealth nor legal background to be able to challenge the offenders. The disablist attitudes of employers represent perhaps the single most fundamental barrier to moving large numbers of disabled people into work, and also a barrier open to being dealt with by action from central government, yet the silence from DWP, and from IDS’s ministerial team, is deafening.

Even if you get through to the interview stage, the moment an employer looks at a disabled potential employee and imagines that they may need to fund access changes, specialist seating, telecoms, whatever they might need to actually do the job, the potential for the disabled person to be surreptitiously dumped as ‘too costly’ raises its ugly head. Extra costs are actually minimal in most cases and the DWP’s Access to Work scheme was designed to take care of the non-minimal cases, funding a range of equipment and services for employer (seats, telecoms, access changes etc.), or employee (P.A.s, taxis etc.). AtW was unique, it was a benefit that actually turned a profit for the government, with the Treasury receiving about £1.48 in income tax etc. for every pound AtW spent. Before the election there was even talk of tweaking how AtW worked so that someone like me could arrive for interview at a potential employer and tell them that a package of extra support to cover little stuff like only being able to work while lying flat was already arranged. So of course when the Coalition took power, with their absolute focus on pushing as many disabled people as possible back into the workforce, they promptly slashed AtW’s budget and the range of items covered, leading to a marked drop in the number of people being helped and meaning that many disabled people will now present potential employers with a distinct capital cost for selecting them over a non-disabled candidate. Thanks, IDS!

IDS goes for the grand exit in his article by proclaiming we must restore fairness to the claimant through making work pay and fairness to the taxpayer by ensuring money isn't wasted on trapping people on benefits. But again we see him descending into magical thinking (the alternative would be to accuse him of trying to sell the big lie). I am not trapped by the benefit system, it pays a pittance of what I used to earn; I am trapped by three things: the discriminatory attitudes of employers, the hamstringing of Access to Work, and, ultimately and unavoidably, by the reality of my disability. IDS can ignore that reality, pretend it doesn’t exist, but are magical thinking and miracle cures really a sound basis for government policy?

Tuesday 7 February 2012

Simplified Version of Draft PIP Criteria

Here is the simplified version of the PIP criteria we've been working on.

Draft Pip Criteria - Simplified Version

We hope it will give you all the information you need to decide how you will be personally affected by the change from DLA to PIP. Soon, we will publish a guide to the consultation too, so perhaps we can use this simplified version to start to think about what submissions we might make to the consultation.

Hopefully by later in the week, we can start writing our submissions when the guide to the consultation is finalised. We hope it will mean that many, many more people will engage with this process and we can make our views heard.

If you've already done a submission or don't want to wait, we would like to invite you all to send any submissions you make to us, so that this time, we can keep a public record of as many responses as possible. We will be inviting Charities, DPOs and other campaigning groups to do the same.

Clearly, this will not suit everyone. Some may wish their submission to be private and we wholeheartedly respect this. However, to avoid any suggestion that our views may not be properly considered, we feel it would be helpful to provide a space where they can be collected.

Draft Pip Criteria - Simplified Version

Thursday 2 February 2012

The Death Of Decency #wrb

It's been a long, hard eighteen months. Harder and tougher than I could ever communicate to you. I could try and tell you of the times Sue and I spent hours fevered, medicated and desperately unwell just trying to string together a few coherent sentences. The times we tried frantically to finish articles for newspapers interrupted by journalists, politicians or charities wanting us to help with research about issues they didn't really understand, or the times we took turns to cry with despair about what was happening to our country which no-one but a handful of seriously ill people seemed to care about.

I could tell you of how receiving messages from people so terrorised they wanted to tell us their lives were no longer worth living became routine. Of sleepless nights fearing that the person had gone ahead with their plans, or even of the devastating night when despite the online community rapidly rallying help we heard that the prompt police response was too late and another person was found dead.

I could tell you that we always knew this to be an unwinnable battle. That very early on we decided that whatever dirty tricks politicians pulled we would not sink to that level. That we would always act with honesty, ensuring our facts were double and triple checked, that we would counter lies with integrity and truth. That the more justice appeared to be absenting herself from this process, the more we were determined to ensure her voice remained.

I could tell you all those things and more, but never would you be able to truly understand how much this battle has cost those who had least to give. We have lobbied, debated and pleaded, often ignoring issues which would affect us personally as we decided on principle that we would act for the the best interests of all our community, even if that was to the detriment of our own personal lives, financial situations and our long term health.

I could, but that's not the most important thing to say.

The most important issue of all is the message sent by a British government to the British people. That disabled children who aren't the most disabled of all will have their support cut to 'justify' increasing the support to the most severely disabled children by less than £2 a week. That newly disabled or seriously ill adults living alone will lose the money previously deemed vital to pay someone to provide care. That children with serious illnesses and disabilities will have their entitlement to National Insurance contributions removed. An entitlement previously supported by politicians of all parties as sending a crucial message of the inherent value of life. That people with serious illnesses such as Multiple Sclerosis, early onset Alzheimers or cancer will, after 12 months, no longer be entitled to the financial support they spent their working lives paying National Insurance for if their partner earns more than £7500 per year.

I could tell you of how this was sold to the British public. A people with 'it's just not cricket' hardwired into our DNA. Of how carefully, deliberately, knowingly successive governments moved from all agreeing that it was inhuman to demonise the sick or disabled to carefully, deliberately, knowingly, drip feeding a complicit media into a propoganda exercise stunning in its success, to label these very same people as unworthy of empathy, compassion or support. Of how calculated this rebranding exercise was to ensure the public believed the empty promises of 'always supporting the most vulnerable' because, after all, these people are mostly faking fraudsters anyway. Doesn't it say so in the papers, on the news, even on the BBC?

I could try and explain to you that this isn't about eliminating fraud, that this will affect you or your family when inevitably accident, sickness or ageing moves you from being 'not yet disabled' to 'one of us'. I could try, but that's the nightmare of 4am no-one wants to remember when they awake. I could tell you that understanding, that empathy, that sense of life altering devastation is an insight that will only come to you when it's too late.

I can, with pride, tell you of a demonised community who have found strength in each other. I can tell you of how inspiring it is to feel the love and support of these people, and the awesome sense of privilege in witnessing the broken come together. I can tell you of the values we all grew up with, principles our ancestors fought for, our playground guilt as we were chastisted for hitting the bespectacled child.
I could tell you of how bewildered we have been to witness a British government act in a manner more befitting China. I could tell you how each deliberate lie, each serpent tongued statement and guarantee of consultation rankled and oozed. I could tell you that something fundamental in us was mortally wounded when finally we produced cold, hard evidence to prove the government were saying one thing and doing quite the other, to then witness the government's nose grow proportionately only to it's falsehoods.

I could tell you that actually, this is not about the money. That the financial cuts will be detrimental to lives, but that the message the government have sent to the British people, that the weakest, the frailest, the most vulnerable are no longer worthy of collective support will be rejected once that same public understand that message.

I could tell you all of that, but over the next few years you will discover this for yourselves. So all I will tell you is this;

Something fundamentally British died yesterday. If you thought it was already dead, think again.