Thursday 6 September 2012

What's the difference between 1930s Germany and modern-day Britain?

Before we start I would like to point out that I am not a historian and I am not a sociologist and as such I have done my best to present the information here as I understand it. With that out of the way, I'll start with an overview of how disabled people were treated in Germany during WWII.

1930s Germany

A poster about how expensive disabled people are.
The Aktion T4 programme ran in Germany from 1939 to 1945. In the 1920s  Alfred Hoche and Karl Binding, part of an extreme eugenics movement, advocated killing those who were judged to have "life unworthy of life."  In the 1930s there were huge cuts to state institutions causing overcrowding and Nazi propaganda emphasised the cost of caring for mentally ill and disabled people. In 1939 parents of disabled child Gerhard Kretschmar wrote to Hitler to ask him to permit their child to be killed. Hitler agreed and immediately set up a committee whose job was to organise more such murders - Aktion T4. When the war started parents were told that their mentally ill and physically disabled children were being sent to special treatments centres. In fact they were murdered without the knowledge of the parents. The programme was soon extended to adults, starting in Poland then in Germany. Throughout the programme Hitler knew that there would be huge opposition to such killing and so he never put his orders in writing. The one exception was a secret letter written to authorise the formation of the Aktion T4 programme, mainly because his justice minister would not cooperate without one. The programme operated in secrecy until it was too late for most people. Under the programme at least 200,000 disabled people were murdered over six years, either through lethal medication, starvation or gas chambers.

Modern Britain

Now we jump forward to Britain today. The events I describe in the paragraph above are unthinkable. No government minister, no tabloid newspaper, no man in the street would advocate such things, right?

That's not quite true though. Most of the pieces are in place. We have propaganda pushing the idea that sick and disabled people are scroungers, workshy, lazy. This propaganda is coming from government ministers, their special advisers, and tabloids like the Daily Express, The Sun, the Daily Mail. Even broadsheets like the Times and the Telegraph have contributed. Such propaganda has even been raised by MPs in the Work and Pensions Select Committee and ministers told to stop. The propaganda is working too, with hate crimes against disabled people up in vast numbers.

We have many people fighting to legalise assisted suicide, inadvertently promoting the idea that life for some people is not worth living. Sure, we're only asking for voluntary euthanasia, but what other factors might be in play? Pressure to stop being a burden, financial problems, cuts to care all contribute to a desire for death. If euthanasia becomes legal what is to stop people from being pushed to kill themselves? It may be overt or it may be through suggestion and through making their lives hell. (This is more my fear of how it could go wrong than any judgement on my part for or against euthanasia.)

We have cuts to local authority care budgets, starting in Worcestershire, that mean anyone whose care costs more than sending them to an institution will lose some care. The politicians argue that it's a choice because people can choose to move to a care home or to cut some of their care provision. But what to cut? Eating? Washing? Dressing? Using a toilet? We have already seen people lose in court after fighting to not have to wear a nappy. Adults are expected to soil themselves rather than get help to use a toilet. We have also seen the loss of the independent living fund. The net result is loss of care or institutionalising people. Most care homes are run by private companies and neglect does not seem uncommon. I think more abuse and neglect is likely especially when companies are cutting costs because they have underquoted better homes.

We have sick and disabled people being  judged as fit to work and told to claim job seeker's allowance and look for work, and we have even more seriously sick and disabled people being placed in the Work Related Activity Group. Both groups are subject to The Work Programme where they are expected to undertake unpaid work experience for large companies, and government plans are to make such work placements of unlimited duration. Work makes you free.

Under these plans anyone who is seen to not be cooperating with The Work Programme and other work related activities will see their benefit income slashed. Those on Job Seeker's Allowance can have their entire allowance removed entirely for weeks even six months. Those on Employment Support Allowance (e.g. too sick to work) will see three quarters of their allowance removed. Of course anyone who has been judged as fit to work or has been placed in the WRAG is expected to be capable of going on work placements even if their assessment was wrong and they are waiting a year for an appeal, and even if people are seriously harmed by trying to work. The result is that those who don't destroy themselves trying to find jobs that don't exist or going to endless work placements will instead not be able to afford food, clothes, fuel bills, rent and more. Many will be able to use food banks but some will not be physically able to get to them and food banks rely on charity from other people who are struggling too.

The result

Is it such a large step for disabled people to be dying? No. It's already  happening. Reports in April claimed that 1,100 people had already died after being placed in the work related activity group. That's more than thirty people a week. This is what Chris Grayling calls "Tough love."

Some government ministers make policy decisions without thinking about the consequences of what will happen in practice. Others are fully aware of what will happen and just don't care. Either way, they are often covered by claiming that their policy in itself does not harm people, even though the flaws with implementation allow people to fall through the net and come to harm. Government ignore evidence. They dismiss statistics, they blame the previous government, they claim that processes are being sorted out now, they claim that any harm is the fault of the sick or disabled or unemployed individual. The Government are hiding behind Atos and A4e who are "just carrying out orders" but they way they carry out those orders makes things even worse. Government ministers have the same attitude as many other people in power - they can say "make it happen" and the minions do the murdering.

In 1930s Germany the government themselves ordered the rounding up and the killing of disabled people. In modern-day Britain the government can claim that it is not their fault, even that it should not happen, but private companies and the chasm of bureaucracy between various government departments are what kill people. Starvation, homelessness and neglect are what will kill people. The implementation is different but the outcome is the same.

Further Reading

Godwin’s law must die [A Latent Existence]
Action T4 [Wikipedia]
Disabled benefits claimants face £71 a week fines for breaching work plan [The Guardian]
32 die a week after failing test for new incapacity benefit [Mirror]
Early day motion 295 [Parliament]
Work-or-starve plans for seriously ill welfare claimants might backfire [Eklesia]
Past Caring? [We are Spartacus]

Wednesday 5 September 2012

Consultations: Make Your Voice Heard

At least four consultations/calls for evidence important to the future of disabled people are ending soon, so if you want the opportunity to make your voice heard, the clock is ticking.

First to close is the Year 3 Harrington call for evidence on the operation of the Work Capability Assessment which is due to close on September 7th (i.e. this Friday). Professor Harrington has announced he is being replaced after this year, and the likelihood is that any replacement will be worse, so get your opinions in while there is a chance they will be heard.

The Harrington Call For Evidence can be found here.

Next to close after that is the consultation on what to do once the Disabled People's Transport Advisory Committee is abolished, which is due to close on September 14th (i.e. a week Friday).

(While not well known, DPTAC has done some useful work in making our voice heard on transport issues, but is falling victim to the Tory horror of voices they can't control, or, as they put it, a desire to 'increase accountability, reduce duplication of activity, improve transparency and discontinue obsolete activities').

The DPTAC Consultation can be found here.

Third to close is the consultation on Personal Independence Payment and Blue Badge Eligibility, this is looking into how to deal with the changes in the migration from DLA to PIP which may mean that people who are currently automatically eligible for a Blue Badge due to receipt of Higher Rate Mobility may not receive PIP, no matter the severity of their mobility disability and therefore introduces the question of how to ensure they remain able to obtain a Blue Badge. This is due to close on 2nd October.

The PIP/Blue Badge Consultation can be found here.

Last, but potentially most devastating for those affected, is the consultation on the 'Future' of the Independent Living Fund, which might be considered a particularly disingenuous title considering what is being discussed is actually the impact of the closure of ILF - something which has already been in effect for nearly 2 years for new applicants (despite the Equality Act requirement for consultations prior to any significant changes) and which will affect current recipients in 2015. This is due to close 10th October.

The ILF Consultation can be found here.

Thanks go to the #Spartacusreport peeps for flagging most of these up, if anyone is aware of any other disability related consultations that are ongoing, please flag them up in the comments.

Atos: 'A Brand Under Terrible Pressure'

The Guardian described the Paralympics as 'Surprisingly Political' in an article on Monday. How anyone can be surprised given the ongoing demonisation of disabled people in public life I'm not certain, especially when that demonisation continued during the games as plans for savage punishment of disabled benefit claimants became clear and the Telegraph sank to Hate Mail levels as it branded us 'lazy sickness benefit claimants'. However the article ranged wider than just covering the protests that disabled people had been staging against the backdrop of the Games, touching also on C4's focus on the transport issues of No Go Britain and coverage of the rising disability hate crime rates.

But it was the anti-Atos protests that were the meat of the article, and the final paragraphs provide ample proof that they have achieved their objective in raising awareness of how Atos really views disabled people beyond the disability community as the article concludes:

(Atos) has become a lightning rod for disability rights protests, such as the demonstrations outside the Atos London HQ and elsewhere last Friday.

"Its not good for Atos, " says PR consultant Mark Borkowski. "If people were not aware of Atos, they certainly are now. It is a brand under terrible pressure."

I'd call that a result!

Monday 3 September 2012

Disabled People Told to do Workfare, or Live on £25 a Week

The headline in the Guardian is scary enough, "Disabled benefits claimants face £71 a week fines for breaching work plan", while the Daily Telegraph descends to the vile levels of the Hate Mail with "Fines for workshy sickness benefit claimants to double", but the reality for disabled people may be scarier still. The basic rate of ESA is a little over £96 a week (assuming you haven't hit time-limiting and are getting nothing whatsoever), a £71 or 70% fine for a perceived refusal to comply with a work plan would leave you trying to survive on around £25 a week.

I've claimed both JSA and ESA in the past, and I'm currently claiming neither and living on my rapidly evaporating savings because of the damage both of those, but in particular the ATOS-run WCA test for ESA, have done to my health. Having entered the process with a physical disability I now face panic attacks any time I try to deal with official, or potentially official, mail. What that means in the context of these latest headlines is that I have actually been through the process of setting up a work plan, and that is what worries me.

When I started to claim JSA I insisted that I needed to speak to one of the Job Centre Plus Disability Employment Advisors. Having explained to her that I had just been made redundant from a cutting-edge job as a specialist engineer working on the development of the flight control system for the Eurofighter, she immediately started advocating that I apply for minimum wage positions, and then admitted that she did not think there was any likelihood of being able to find work (bear in mind that this was before the financial crash and the massive worsening of employment prospects). After a couple more sessions, when she realised that whatever help she could offer I had already done at a far higher level, she washed her hands of me and threw me back into the pool with their non-specialist advisors.

As part of this process I had to agree to a Job Seeker's Contract, but the problem was that the contract bore little relation to reality. As a specialist engineer my employment prospects are overwhelmingly through specialist recruitment agencies working online, and it was only in looking for a job in my own speciality that I was likely to find an employer willing to live with the extent of my disability. Trying to insist that I went through the local paper looking for any opportunity whatsoever simply failed to grasp the reality of my disability. And where I did specify precise limitations that my disability imposed, a disturbing process took place. When I told the advisor that I struggled to manage the 15 minute commute to my previous employer, she noted "Well, in that case we won't require you to look at jobs more than 30 minutes from home." And each time that I signed on, whichever advisor I saw would try to force me to accept an extension of that commute radius to an hour, four times further than a distance I was already struggling to manage.

I was sent to see a succession of executive and disability employment advisors working on JCP contracts, the same people who will now be executing workfare contracts under the Work Programme. Each took one look at the combination of my abilities, and my disability, and panicked. The only possible match for my needs any of them could suggest was as a researcher in higher education, yet only because I had been the one who introduced that possibility, and my health hasn't been good enough to pursue the advanced degree I would need. Faced with an attempt by JCP to force me onto an utterly inappropriate programme, which even the workfare provider running admitted was utterly inappropriate, I had to lodge a complaint with the Minister for Disabled People (though fortunately not the current incumbent!), which resulted in JCP admitting that they 'had lost sight of my disability'.

And these people who 'had lost sight of my disability' are the people that IDS wants to be able to levy £71/week fines on disabled people for any perceived deviation from the work plan. A work plan that will soon include the potential for a disabled person to be forced onto unlimited duration work experience. Yet, even after my ministerial complaint, JCP was still trying to send me to training providers with completely inaccessible premises (what makes this worse is that these providers were the disability specialist providers, not general ones).

If I am to have any hope of working (and I don't believe I am currently well enough for that to be a possibility), then I will need to work from the prone position, taking breaks as required, and with a schedule to suit myself. Any position will be absolutely dependent on the employer and the Access to Work programme providing a suitable workstation to accommodate my needs, and somehow I don't see that being a priority with a workfare contractor. Placing myself in the hands of JCP or sub-contracted advisors truly scares me, my experience has shown me that my health is in danger from the depth of their ignorance, yet that ignorance is now to be backed by overwhelmingly punitive powers with no pretence of due process.

As a friend of mine noted when looking at this headline 'people will die.'