Friday 13 December 2013

Breaking News : Government Reviewer Opposed Rollout of ESA

In 2008, Labour introduced a new out of work sickness benefit, Employment and Support Allowance, to replace the old Incapacity Benefit.

The new system of application and assessments was much tougher, and politicians originally hoped that up to a million people could be moved from the benefit.

However, by 2010, it was clear there were significant flaws in the process. People with mental health and fluctuating conditions were not being fairly treated and successful appeals against “fit for work” decisions soared to 40%.

Professor Harrington was asked to review the new benefit and make recommendations for improving it. As the election took place in 2010, crucially, only new claimants were being assessed. ESA was yet to be rolled out to the more complicated, and often longer term, Incapacity Benefit claimants, though trials were underway in Burnley and Aberdeen.

Most people claim out of work sickness benefits for short periods – perhaps to get through a sports injury, accident or one off surgery – and stop their claims within 2 years. However, this will always leave a few people with serious, life limiting conditions who will need to claim the benefit for longer periods. Over the years, those claims build up, increasing the proportion who need long term support.

When the coalition came to power in May 2010, they immediately announced that they would go ahead and start to reassess those already claiming Incapacity Benefit.

I could never understand this decision. Why would you take a failing benefit and roll it out to almost 2 million of the most vulnerable claimants? Not only that, but at first, just 25,000 people per month were being assessed, but the government constantly increased and increased the numbers until today, nearly 130,000 assessments are carried out every month.

Why? Why would you rush this group through failing assessments, ever faster, when backlogs kept on increasing, tribunals were overturning 40% of decisions that went to appeal and even legally, courts were starting to judge that the test discriminates against certain groups?

Unless of course you don’t want the tests to be fair. If your aim is to remove a million people from the benefit, perhaps it suits you to make sure that as many of those existing claimants don’t face a fair test? Since 2010, the government have repeatedly delayed improvements to ESA. Out of 25 recommendations made by Professor Harrington in his Yr1 Review, almost two thirds have not been fully and successfully implemented. An “Evidence Based Review” using new descriptors designed by mental health charities and those charities representing people with fluctuating conditions was initially rejected, then taken on, but although results were due in June, still, tests use the old descriptors to decide who qualifies for support. *

The government repeatedly claimed that Professor Harrington had supported the national rollout of incapacity benefit claimants

“Professor Harrington went away and made his recommendations to us, which we accepted in full and have implemented. He told me, “I believe the system is in sufficient shape for you to proceed with incapacity benefit reassessment.” We set ourselves a goal to put his recommendations in place, improve the quality of the process and address many of the issues to which hon. Members have referred today by the end of last May, when the assessments in the incapacity benefit reassessment were to start alongside the existing process of assessing ESA new claimants. We did that, and we started."

1 Feb 2012 : Column 289WH Hansard Chris Grayling
However, Harrington was clearly an intelligent man who had made thoughtful and intelligent suggestions for improving the assessments. I could never understand why he agreed to put the most vulnerable claimants through a failing test.

So I decided to ask him.

It took me a while to track down his email address, but after pulling lots of strings, I was able to ask him outright.

This was Professor Harrington’s reply :

“To your question:

I NEVER---repeat--NEVER agreed to the IB migration. I would have preferred that it be delayed but by the time I said that, the political die had been cast.

I then said that i would review progress of that during my reviews.

The decision was political .

I could not influence it.



I’d say it was fairly clear, wouldn’t you?

Ian Duncan-Smith and others took the decision to push nearly 2 million people through a failing test as quickly as they could. Why? Was it so that they could remove as many people as possible from the benefit whether they needed it or not? Surely any failures to improve the test as recommended by Harrington, charities and campaigners couldn’t have been deliberate? Delaying improvements until the IB cohort had been rushed through, the cohort this government and others are convinced are simply “scroungers” and “skivers”?

Instead, as we now see, delays have increased, successful appeals have risen, lives have been lost to the sheer inaccuracy and flawed design of the assessments and the human suffering is now clear for all to see.

To have taken the decision through incompetence is bad enough, but if it was taken deliberately and cynically, I can only hope the responsible ministers will be held to account. Over 200,000 incorrect decisions have since been overturned in law and appeals are taking up to a year to be heard in some areas.

When David Cameron came to power he said :

"The test of a good society is how do you protect the poorest, the most vulnerable, the elderly, the frail.

That's important in good times, it's even more important in difficult times. People need to know that if they have me as their Prime Minister and they have a Conservative government, it will be that sort of Prime Minister

Iain Duncan-Smith said :

“I say to those watching today and who are genuinely sick, disabled or are retired. You have nothing to fear.

This government and this party don’t regard caring for the needy as a burden. It is a proud duty to provide financial security to the most vulnerable members of our society and this will not change. This is our contract with the most vulnerable.”

I look forward to them explaining what made them change their minds.

Today, we must be our own media. Please RT on twitter, share on Facebook and help me to make sure that as many people as possible see this news.

*Coincidentally, the evidence based review was released yesterday, as I was writing this article.

Thursday 7 November 2013

Guest post: Contact Penning re ILF

An urgent update from Liz Carr:

Help save the ILF! Yesterday we won a major victory against the Government when the Court of Appeal ruled that the closure of the Independent Living Fund was unlawful. But the fight is not over - Minster for disabled people, Mike Penning has until tmrw to decide whether or not to appeal this decision. Please, anyone and everyone, email him at and tell him why giving disabled people the means to be partners, friends, daughters, sons, employers, employees, friends, cat lovers, sarcastic bastards and all that malarkey is a really rather good idea for everyone?

Monday 4 November 2013

Sick people to be forced to talk to the DWP's own "healthcare professionals"

The Department of Work and Pensions has a new scheme to make life harder for people who are too sick to work. The announcement appeared on their website today with the headline "People on sickness benefits will be required to have regular meetings with healthcare professionals to help them with their barriers to work."

This is a trial starting with 3,000 people who are in the Work Related Activity Group for Employment Support Allowance to find out whether it is effective at getting people off benefits. Oh, the claim is that it's to get people back into work, but getting them off benefits is all the government care about and quote figures for. People will be forced to meet with a "healthcare professional" from Ingeus UK by 2016 as part of this trial. Ingeus UK doesn't have the best reputation either. Telegraph: Firm owned by Kevin Rudd's wife faces tax questions in Britain.

From the DWP's announcement:
People on sickness benefits will be required to have regular meetings with healthcare professionals to help them address their barriers to work – or face losing their benefits – in a two-year pilot scheme in central England which begins in November.

Around 3,000 people in the work-related activity group for Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) living in the Black Country, Derbyshire, Leicestershire, Northamptonshire, Lincolnshire, Nottinghamshire, Rutland, Staffordshire and Shropshire will take part in the scheme.

There are many problems with this plan.

1. Most people already have a "healthcare professional" - their GP, or hospital specialist, or someone else - who is trying to ensure the best outcome for them. Of course what is best for the patient may not be getting them off benefits.

2. I'm pretty sure there's some consent issues there. If people will be "required" to meet the DWP's healthcare professional, how can there be consent? Benefits will be withdrawn if the patient refuses, so they may be coerced to have medical treatment against their will. This is definitely not ethical.

3. These healthcare professionals need not be specialists in a person's particular illness or disability, or even doctors at all. People going through the Work Capability Assessment with Atos often see staff who know nothing about their issues and who make mistakes over easily spotted issues as a result. What happens if an Ingeus UK healthcare professional recommends a treatment that the patient's own doctor has ruled out? Will the patient be sanctioned for refusing it? Will people die because they tried it anyway?

4. People are often wrongly placed in the Work Related Activity Group, which is for people who are expected to return to work within a couple of years. Many people appeal and move to the Support Group. Many more don't appeal because they can't face it, but on seeing staff at the Job Centre are told to go home because they are obviously not well enough to prepare for work. If this scheme is rolled out nationwide then thousands of people will be made to take part when they are not well enough.

5. "Regular discussions with healthcare professionals" are an unacceptable extra burden on people who are already overwhelmed with trying to juggle medical appointments and DWP requirements. Managing an illness or a disability is a full time job which people must get through despite massive barriers, and now the DWP wants to pile a whole load of extra meetings and travel time on them. Like lots of extra meetings won't make physical and mental health ten times worse.

If you're one of the people selected for this trial then it is probably worth contacting a lawyer and finding out if you can fight it.

Monday 21 October 2013

PIP 20 metre rule consultation response: "We're not listening."

Today the DWP have published their response to the recent consultation over the distance that someone must be unable to walk to qualify for help with moving around under Personal Independence Payments. That consultation itself came about after legal action was launched against the DWP by myself and others because the first consultation took place under false pretences.

The result: they're keeping the threshold for enhanced support at twenty metres.

Unfortunately, despite Mike Penning - the new Minister of State for Disabled People - assuring us in the foreward that the DWP "have listened carefully to the feedback received from disabled people and their organisations" the bulk of the response sets out why the DWP are going to ignore the feedback that has been given to them.

The most telling part is paragraphs 3.2 and 3.3 which read:
"Out of 1142 respondents, 914 indicated a clear preference for changing the Moving around criteria. [From 20m to something else.] [...] Five individual respondents were supportive of retaining the current criteria."
Just in case that isn't clear, 914 people told the DWP that the twenty metre threshold for high rate support with moving around was no good, while just 5 people told them to keep it at twenty metres.

The executive summary is three pages long and doesn't actually state the outcome directly. However, this is the DWP summary of what the public responses said to them: (Emphasis mine)
  • Respondents felt that there was no evidence to support the use of 20 metres as the distance for determining entitlement to the enhanced rate of the Mobility component. Many respondents felt that there was little evidence to show that an individual who could walk a little over 20 metres would face lower costs than an individual who could walk less than 20 metres. Respondents pointed out that other Government policies use 50 metres as a measure for mobility.
  • Respondents were concerned that the current 20 metres distance used in the criteria would have negative consequences for individuals. Many respondents were concerned about the impact on people moving from the higher rate of DLA to the standard rate of PIP who would lose access to a Motability scheme car. They felt this could increase isolation and reduce independence, have significant financial impact, and cause deterioration in their physical and mental health.
  • Respondents felt the criteria would increase individuals’ need for support from other public services and that this would have an increased cost for the Government.
  • Respondents welcomed the inclusion in Regulations of the reliability criteria, which are used to measure a person’s ability to complete an activity safely, to an acceptable standard, repeatedly and within reasonable time period. However, they wanted to ensure that these were delivered appropriately and consistently in the PIP assessment
The most common suggestion made by respondents was to extend the qualifying distance for the enhanced rate from 20 metres to a longer distance. Other people suggested revising the assessment to make it more in line with the social model of disability.
And the DWP response:
1.14 Having considered all these factors, the Government believes that the use of 20 metres is the best way of identifying those whose physical mobility is most limited. We think it is justified to focus support in this way given the policy intent to target support on those with the greatest need and create a more financially sustainable benefit.
I see a small glimmer of hope here though. One thing that disabled people said to government repeatedly that anyone deemed able to perform an action must be able to do so safely, reliably and repeatedly.
1.15 The reliability criteria are a key protection for claimants and, recognising the concerns voiced by some respondents to the consultation, we will look to introduce a requirement for Health Professionals involved in the assessment to confirm that they have referred to the criteria when formulating their advice.
It seems clear that the responses to the consultation were never going to matter; the DWP has ridden roughshod over the whole lot to push ahead with what they want. They explain that the overwhelming majority of responses were against them, they acknowledge all the objections, and then they carry on as before. It's quite telling that their document has an almost petulant tone to it, like some teenager at being told they can't have their own way. For example: "Government is entitled to use different criteria for different purposes".

I am not able to talk about my next step with regard to legal action however my solicitors and I will be going over the consultation response very carefully in the next few days.

Please sign WOW Petition against the War On Welfare.

DWP website: Consultation on the PIP assessment 'moving around' activity
Victory! DWP to launch PIP mobility consultation
Why I am suing the government

Saturday 19 October 2013

Starting as He Means to Continue?

Imagine the uproar if a new (male) Minister for Women's first press article said 'well, we all know that they are all sluts', or if a new (white) Minister for Racial Equality's first article said 'well, we all know that they're all terrorists', but the (non-disabled) Minister for Disabled People fronts an article saying 'well, we all know that disabled people are all frauds and scroungers' and no one bats an eye. 

Yes, with DLA fraud at 0.3% the lowest of any benefit, new DWP Minister of State for Disabled People Mike Penning's first public act was to star in the latest* in the Hate Mail's ongoing demonisation of all disabled people as frauds and scroungers by claiming that DLA is riddled with people put there by Labour in an attempt to defraud the unemployment figures (apparently he's a bit hazy on the fact DLA is an In Work benefit) and that 94% have never had a medical assessment. As Sue Marsh eloquently points out, that might just be because in 94% of cases a DWP decision maker has decided there's really not much point in checking that an amputated limb has grown back, cerebral palsy has vanished overnight, or whatever.

Unfortunately as disabled people we're growing used to this. You wait years for justice and then along come three Ministers Against Disabled People in a row. First we had Miller, Miller the Cripple Killer, then the odious 'they get better' McVey, and now Penning, whose only prior contact with disability from a quick scout of Hansard appears to have been questions about disabled shipping while Undersecretary of State for Transport. If you look at his c.v. in more detail it doesn't get any more promising - squaddie in the Grenadier Guards (and IDS is an ex-Guards officer), fireman, junior minister at Transport, junior minister at Northern Ireland, and now us. We can be charitable and assume that he didn't come by his disablist views independently, but nothing in his background suggests anything likely to have generated an informed or remotely empowering attitude to disability. He was Shadow Minister for Health, but that's more likely to have driven him into the 'they're broken' Medical Model camp, amply reinforced by his coming of age in the relentlessly physical Army and Fire Service. Whatever his own views, it's clear that the institutional disablism of the Department of Work and Pensions (or maybe just IDS's SpAd), have thoroughly nobbled him in his first week in the job.

So once again disability advocates and activists are faced with dragging another Minister kicking and screaming into the 20th Century, and god forbid we manage to get one to understand the Social Model before they are moved on. It is clear the DWP's Unum-trained advocates of the perverted Bio-Psycho-Social-Model (aka 'the scroungers have only got themselves blame if they're too lazy to recover from a spinal cord injury') have already gotten their claws into Penning, but note that both Miller and McVey were promoted for what they did as Minister Against Disabled People, so clearly vilifying us in the media equals a job well done in Cameron's eyes. I'm not sure that even Miller or McVey started their ministerial stint with such an open attack on disabled people as frauds and scroungers, and neither were exactly slouches at that, so keep your eye on Penning, he may be the coming man.

Disablism, the one form of hate that's growing ever more popular, now with extra Ministerial approval....

*I'm not going to link to it, that just drives up their advertising revenue and convinces them that attacking disabled people gets plenty of page hits.

Edited to add: I may have been unreasonably positive about Penning, I've just seen his interview with Disability News Service: Spending on DLA and PIP will be cut next year, says new disability minister and apparently he knows all about disability because he's friends with Simon Weston and knows some disabled ex-rugby players *headdesk*  *headdesk*  *headdesk*

Thursday 3 October 2013

Intensive programs to deal with *that*...

The Conservatives have had their annual get together where they moan about how much they hate us benefit scroungers and lay out their plans to torture us just a little bit more.

Much noise was made about George Osborne's plan to make JobSeekers' Allowance claimants either attend the JobCentre every day or participate in a workfare scheme.

But a less talked about nugget of the plan is this:

Or alternatively, if you've got long-term problems like addictions or mental health issues, you will have to go on an intensive programme that deals with that.

From ITV

As we all sadly know; a great many people who are unable to work due to mental illness have, over the last few years, failed the WCA so been refused ESA and have been forced to claim JSA, despite being in no state to be job-seeking. And now it seems that people with health problems will be forced into potentially unsuitable treatment for their £71.70 a week.

A few years ago my right jaw joint crapped out. I have a bone disease so my joints are kinda crumbly. Last year I got told that that there was nothing wrong with my jaw and it was just depression. They wanted me to go for talking therapies as a treatment for my jaw pain.

About 6 months later someone finally bothered to take an x-ray of my jaw. Low and behold: There's a bloody great chunk of bone missing from my joint.

Now, my health problems are much more complicated than one little joint and I wouldn't be out of work for just one teeny joint (no matter how painful it can be at times). But lets hypothetically say I was on JSA because my jaw had made me lose my last job. It's possible. As a comedian my job depended on me being able to talk a lot. On some days that's really excruciating. I could have been forced to go through pointless counselling because at one point an idiot doctor decided to not look for physical evidence and proclaimed that my jaw pain was a mental health problem.

Now, in that example we're looking at forced treatment that's a complete waste of time and money, but ultimately harmless enough.

But some enforced treatments could be very dangerous indeed. Could you imagine someone with severe schizophrenia being sent to a barely-qualified counsellor? What about someone with Crohn's who has been misdiagnosed as bulimic by a doctor that won't listen and is then sanctioned by the DWP for not complying with their treatment when they - unsurprisingly - continue to throw up.

Forced treatment is a very dangerous route when you consider all the misdiagnosing that goes on. In fact: Forced treatment is pretty dangerous anyway. Last time I saw a neurologist about my migraines he prescribed a drug which prolonged my heart's QT interval. This can be fatal. If the DWP decided that I needed to get my migraines under control to make myself more employable and forced me to either take the drug the neurologist recommended or I'd be sanctioned and have no money for food; I might be dead by now.

Making people sign on every day is a waste of taxpayer's money. It will create havoc in JobCentres where they've barely got the staff to manage the current workload of people signing on once a fortnight. But this aspect of Gideon's 'Help to Work' program is downright dangerous.

Thursday 15 August 2013

'Benefits Britain', a Study in Enabling Hate Speech

I didn't watch Monday night's "Benefits Britain: 1949" on Channel 4, a show which subjected three victims (difficult to think of them otherwise) to a supposed version of the 1949 benefits regime, as these benefits-based 'reality' shows have a distressing tendency to make me want to hurl things at the TV - and my laptop did in fact spontaneously hurl itself to the floor in apparent despair, but I'd resolved to follow the #BenefitsBritain hashtag on twitter throughout and see if I couldn't inject some actual reality into the proceedings (as opposed to the faux-reality that was the show's entire premise), as had a bunch of other disability and benefits activists.
So rather than watching the show directly, I ended up watching it through the audience's eyes, and what a disturbing view that turned out to be. The show focussed on three people, and actually turned out to have much more of a disability focus than I realised in advance. There was the vulnerable but cuddly pensioner Melvin - ' Melvin can come & live with me. I'll make him a nice hot meal each night & he can tell me stories' said one twitteree, apparently reducing him to the status of a Cabbage Patch Doll. There was Craig, a young wheelchair user - 'this guy seems to have the right attitude'. And there was Karen, a woman with multiple invisible disabilities that limited her in non-apparent ways, who was overweight, who wasn't her own best advocate and who was the only non-white participant - 'that fat ignorant slag'. Disabled people would have had no trouble in predicting how the audience acceptance would go even without the sample tweets. Knowing a little about telling a story, it is clear that Karen had been deliberately selected to be a figure of hate for the audience, and a perceptive tweet noted 'these shows always have a cute one, a good one, and one to hate' - a view echoed in New Statesman's review of the show
Examples shown below are all text that appeared on the #BenefitsBritain hashtag. This does mean a significant amount of swearing and hate speech is included.

And what a figure of hate Karen (and anyone else with invisible disabilities) became:
  • Here she is, fucking scrounger (Some seemingly had made their minds up in advance)
  • Luckily for these slackers, it's difficult to prove 'pain'
  • Karen youve got all those problems cos ur a fat twat
  • Ditch the doughnuts fatty..... (accompanied by a cartoon of an extremely overweight woman on a mobility scooter with the tagline 'Laziness, it's not a disability)
  • She's shattered?What about all these people that have 2 go out & work to live you benefit scrounging arsehole
  • a false disability claimant is the pits, same as as a conscription dodger in ww1 #scum
  • You go back to fucking work you lazy cunt! Ok she’s fucking winding me up.
  • Funny how it's the fat,foul mouthed bint with illness u can fake that is the one with the issues
  • This woman on #BenefitsBritain is making my blood boil... she's a fucking retard
  • Back in 1949 you'd be sectioned you horrible, lazy, fat, scrounging whopper!

Yet all the while disabled people were trying to educate the mob to the reality:
  • DWP agrees ATOS assessors are of unacceptably poor standards with over 744,000 appeals costing £66m
  • Some people need benefits. It does not make them scroungers. We need to get over it
  • 29% of people think more is spent on JSA than pensions - we actually spent 15 times more on pensions
  • ESA assessment fails to detect complex, hidden, fluctuating impairment
  • Daily Mail usage of "cheats" in regards to disability benefits up 5-fold in 5 years
  • Public believe benefit fraud at least 27%. DWP’s own statistics say 0.7%

And the response shows just how unwilling the mob were to be educated, or even to listen:
  • So many stupid fucks on the #benefitsbritain trend ignoring how much is spent on benefits, purely stating percentages. So ignorant.
  • Thousands of fraud cases go unreported. I know of many. Those statistics don't reflect hardly any of it.
  • Coming from a working class town I think it's fair for me to say a large majority of those who claim are scroungers

Just possibly some had come to the screen with minds already made up:
  • Very excited to watch the scroungers, I mean claimants
  • Fucking dirty worthless scroungers half of them. Expect free money for doing fuck all
  • Bring back the 'A code' amd stop all the scrounging scumbags!!!!

One consistent area of ignorance was that old favourite 'I know A with X and he works':
  • Fuck me, I can list everything that's wrong with my mother, too. She still works a 40 hour week
  • I've worked for 22 years and have health problems, I still work. Fucking #cunts, get a job
  • That woman on benefits britain who has a bad back, diabetes, irregular heartbeat . I know ppl who work with these problems
  • I work with people with high blood pressure, diabetes and a sore back....ffs....she is doing my head in.

Not to mention the usual ignorance and jealousy about DLA/PIP and Motability:
  • That car is paid for by the state, right?
  • Nicer car and nicer manicure than I've got
  • on the sick with a brand new van, fat cunt
  • #Motability What clown thought this idea up? Free cars for bone idle, lard-arses

And a profound ignorance that disability frequently causes weight gain:
  • All the ailments this woman just described are all associated with being obese, and what do you know? She's obese.
  • if Karen lost weight there would be a lot fewer health problems!! Fat bitch
  • Fat woman on benefits cuz she's eaten too much drives off in huge vehicle provided by taxpayers to haul her flab around in

And the inevitable 'I worked for DWP and know these things':
  • I used to work in benefits and housing, there's some very non-sick ppl claiming sick bens

One scene, with Karen challenged to work alongside a woman with one hand, appeared to be a deliberate attempt to invoke the Hierarchy of Disabilities. Faced with an audience with a limited understanding of disability it inevitably succeeded:
  • So her mate with one hand is gonna shame her into doing a days graft
  • Now she's telling a woman with one hand she can't do what this woman is doing...
  • This is going to be good, refusing to work in front of a worrying woman who has only one hand
  • It's actually funny that she is saying all this to a woman with no arm! Does she realise how ridiculous she sounds?!
  • there are people on the show with one arm and missing one hand, get a job you #Scum...

Disturbingly there were several people inciting outright violence:
  • Tbh Karen wants dowsing with freezing cold rancid milk
  • I want to punch her in the face!
  • I'd quite happily kick the shit out of that fat, lazy fucker!!
  • This fukin lazy bitch on #BenefitsBritain should be put down you could tell she couldn't be fukin arsed! Our welfare system is to soft!
  • Take the cane off that woman and beat her over the head with it
  • Utterly contemptuous cow. I hope she really does become confined by her ailments. Permanently. In a wooden box.
  • makes me think we should pump poison gas into every public building and just start the country from scratch!

While racism raised its ever-ugly head:
  • Why has this old lady got corn rolls?? #ghettoscrounger
  • The truth is Karen is a pikey but sadly that's not a disability
  • No mention of the Polish or other foreigners go down to pagehall full of em
  • Karen: it's coz your black

Perhaps the only grimly amusing element to all the hate on the #BenefitsBritain hashtag was that there appears to be a statistically significant correlation between 'Hey, look what a stud I am' profile pictures and/or twitter names, and aggressive posts.
I decided to try engaging with one of the more prolifically disablist tweeters to see where his views on disability lay (I picked him rather than anyone else as he was still making openly disablist tweets on the #BenefitsBritain hashtag sixteen hours later). His attitude was readily apparent:
  • I've got flatulence, dandruff, a creaky knee and intermittent gout - do I get an Aston martin on Motability?
  • 'Disablism' - WTF is that?? Can I claim for it??
  • the glass-backed spongers who milk the system with their mystery 'syndromes' and work-avoiding illnesses
  • Probably nothing a bit of hardwork couldn't cure (In direct reference to my own disability)
  • I have a few mates that came back from Gulf War 1 - they're proper disabled, none of this anxiety or agrophobia syndrome nonsense
  • Is it 'stress' ?? Can be awful I hear
  • Me thinks you doth protest too much....
  • you're happy enough when your hands are in my pockets
Point proven, I rather think, not just disablist in specific reaction to Benefits Britain, but openly aggressive towards disabled people in general, or at least those of us who aren't 'proper disabled'. And Benefits Britain gave him the platform he so obviously wanted to spread his hate.
The attitude towards disability from the baying hordes that Benefits Britain summoned on to Twitter is superbly summed up in a Manny Shinwell quote that a friend dug out of Hansard from 1952 'the Tories never trouble themselves about facts when prejudice can serve them better'. Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose.
Ultimately it is clear that Benefits Britain served to enable an orgy of hate speech against disabled people, and it is difficult to conclude that this was unintended, with Karen clearly selected and filmed in such a way (the amputee sewing instructor for instance) as to cause maximum outrage. C4 and the producers may argue that this is what the audience clearly wanted, but their role as a responsible public-service broadcaster is not to enable the mob in its hate of a vulnerable minority, but to inform the public as to the reality those same people face. Rather than showing how difficult it is to gain acceptance of invisible disability, the programme instead set Karen up to fail, and as a deliberate target for hate, making it even more difficult for disabled people to gain acceptance and understanding than it was before. Many of these people indulging in hate speech may have already felt this way, but Benefits Britain legitimised their hate and gave them a platform to express it publically. We have already seen disability hate crime figures spiralling upwards in direct response to scrounger rhetoric from the Mail and the Express, so how can Channel 4 consider this to be responsible journalism?
I'll leave the final word to one of my own tweets during the show:
  • I wonder how many disabled ppl will be abused as 'scroungers' in the street tomorrow as a result of #BenefitsBritain?

Sunday 4 August 2013

20m PIP Consultation: Last Chance to Respond

This post is just a brief reminder that the DWP's consultation into the 20m limit for PIP Higher Rate Mobility closes on Monday 5th August. Anyone intending to respond who has not yet done so needs to reply before the end of business on Monday.

Details on the PIP consultation and on the problems disabled people face from the 20m limit can be found in our articles 'PIP: A 20 Metre Primer', 'PIP 20m Consultation: It's All About Cost' and 'Pip Consultation Update'.

As a reminder, DWP predicts 427,000 disabled people will lose their entitlement for Higher Rate Mobility as a result of the transition from DLA to PIP if the 20m limit is implemented.

Wednesday 24 July 2013

Get Better... Or Else?

Disabled people have precious few illusions left about how the DWP views us, but a new pilot programme is going to take that relationship into even more disturbing territory. Starting in November, 3000 disabled people in the Work Related Activity Group of Employment and Support Allowance will be forced, under threat of sanction, to attend medical interviews "to address barriers to work", or as DWP minister Mark Hoban put it in the press release "to address health problems". This is at best ethically dubious, forcing someone into a medical process without their consent and which is not with their own specialists, nor even necessarily with someone competent with their specific disability. The only other example of a compelled medical relationship* is for people sectioned under the Mental Health Act, and even they are at least guaranteed that the medical staff involved are mental health professionals and/or their own doctors, while the DWP merely state the meetings will be with "doctors, occupational health nurses and therapists".

Many of us who have dealt with corporate Occupational Health professionals will have encountered the situation where the opinion of the OH professional is at odds with that of our own specialists - in my case the OH professional actively tried to undermine a report by my own consultant and I had to exhaust the company grievance procedure before my then employers would back down and accept the opinion of the consultant who was actually treating me. Yet someone facing workplace OH processes does at least have resort to grievance procedures and the threat of an Employment Tribunal, with the right to withhold consent for the referral, or to withhold consent for a report they disagree with to be forwarded to their managers. Not stated in the DWP press release is whether the medical staff used will be feeding reports back to DWP, what data protection will be in place around that, and whether the disabled person will have the same medical protection in respect of having the right to view and potentially deny consent for release of the report as is currently the case for a workplace OH assessment.

Worryingly, the DWP press release leaves unstated what will happen if the appointment results in the patient being told to undertake treatment they disagree with, or which is even at odds with the appropriate treatment for their disability, worries that are doubled by the current hair-triggered sanction regime which DWP targets at disabled people. Many disabled people have related experiences with Atos-conducted WCAs in which the Atos 'Health Care Professionals' have proven to be utterly clueless on the specifics of the disability they are meant to be assessing, assuming they have even heard of it in the first place, and similar staff are now to be charged with "address(ing) barriers to work". There are a host of disabilities in which standard treatments for apparently similar disabilities may be contra-indicated, yet actively advocated by medical staff who don't specialise in that specific disability. If a patient, many of whom are experts in their own disability, finds a DWP OH professional pushing them towards a treatment they know their own consultants would not advocate, then what potential is there for them to say 'no' without triggering sanctions? Equally worryingly, the confrontational nature of DWP's relationship with disabled people (and claimants in general) may mean that the patient is too intimidated by the potential threat of sanctions to even think of objecting, which effectively removes any potential for the medically required 'informed consent'.

Dragging this process into even murkier ethical waters, the project is one of three trials, the others being additional support from JCP and additional support from a Work Programme provider, which are being conducted in order to determine which is most effective at getting disabled people back into work. However, a trial involving a medical process is arguably, if not by definition, a clinical trial and subject to additional ethical requirements, including further levels of informed consent, shared decision making, right to privacy, and a right to withdraw, all aspects that are likely to be extremely problematical in the process DWP appear to be proposing. Potentially any medical staff conducting these trials without ensuring these rights are in place could risk facing charges of serious professional misconduct.

This process further embeds into benefits practise and regulation DWP's belief that any disability can be recovered from if the patient really wants to ('they get better', Esther McVey, Minister for Disabled People), a consequence of the ideological indoctrination of DWP with the patient-blaming version of the 'BioPsychoSocial Model of Disability' created by American insurer Unum Provident - they of the infamous 'disability denial mills'. The problem for disabled people is that this model fails utterly to reflect the reality of disability, where many people are too disabled to work, are not sufficiently disabled to qualify for the ESA Support Group, yet have stable disabilities with little likelihood of getting either better enough to move into the workplace, or deteriorating to the point they move into the Support Group. This leaves only the ESA WRAG open to them, but WRAG assumes a person will 'get better' and pressures them to do so, pressure that will now be further increased by this new experimental regime.

A further concern is where the DWP expects to find staff for this new pseudo-medical aspect of ESA. Atos have been struggling to cope with the numbers requiring Work Capability Assessments, to the point that they have had their monopoly withdrawn and been ordered to retrain all of their staff. New competitors for WCA work are going to be appointed next year and will each require their own customer-facing medical professionals, together with other medical professionals to deliver training. At the same time Atos and Capita are creating new organisations to deliver PIP assessments, all requiring their own medical staffs, and there is little reason to doubt that the PIP assessment regime will both insist on more people being assessed and on their being reassessed on a much more frequent basis, needing a large increase in the number of medical staff required to deliver PIP assessments in comparison to DLA. And now this ESA 'initiative' is going to require yet more medical staff.  Where are they going to come from? There is a fixed pool of occupational health and rehabilitation oriented medical staff such as physiotherapists and OTs and any of us who have dealt with them on an ongoing basis will probably have encountered long waiting lists and rehab programmes that really aren't as comprehensive as even the staff would like. Trying to draw more and more staff into DWP pseudo-medical programmes is either going to put the existing pool of trained staff under ever increasing pressure, or see DWP relying on staff without appropriate training, or with inappropriate attitudes.

However this plays out, disabled people have good reason to be worried.

*Even in a workplace Occupational Health referral the assessment can only be done with the consent of the employee, and they must then consent to the release of the report to their employer. Based on my own experience I would advise that consent should only ever be given after viewing the report, a legal right, as even an apparently supportive assessment may turn out to be followed by an openly critical report.

Tuesday 23 July 2013

Atos Slated by DWP...

... but is that good for us, or bad?

As the whole country, and media, descended into Royal Baby frenzy, the Department of Work and Pensions chose their moment to slip out the news that Atos had failed, catastrophically, an audit on the Work Capability Assessment, and that DWP would be removing their WCA monopoly in order to bring in competitors from next year.

The DWP press release states that in an audit of 400 WCA reports, from WCAs conducted between October 2012 and March 2013, itself sparked by failure in a smaller audit, 41% were graded at C, or unacceptable. The press release reports that reasons for an unacceptable grade could be a decision which explained in sufficient detail, and is at pains to emphasise that a failing grade doesn't mean the assessment is wrong. Well they would say that, wouldn't they.

As a consequence of the failure, Atos are required to bring in a Performance Improvement Plan, with every Atos 'Health Care Professional' required to undergo retraining,  and to pass a re-evaluation, with those failing the evaluation subjected to auditing of their reports until they do, or until they have their authority to conduct WCAs withdrawn.

Now on the face of it this is good news, the rate of successful appeals against Atos WCA decisions* has been clearly unacceptable for three years now, and clearly change was needed, but the devil may be in the details.

The Atos computer system is well known for being incapable of catching the nuance of how disability restricts our lives, and this is a point where an HCP who actually cares about doing the job in an equitable fashion could use his experience to override the straitjacket of the WCA rules in order to give an assessment that is morally and medically right, rather than strictly in accordance with procedures. In other words, they could, novel idea though it may be, base a decision on the medical evidence. But this would likely be more difficult to express in the approved fashion on the written report. So simply demanding that someone meets the WCA standards does not necessarily mean the situation will improve.

Equally, and as many of the leading campaigners on the WCA have repeatedly emphasised, Atos are only a part of the problem. Atos could have lost the entire WCA contract and the WCA would still have been fundamentally broken, because its descriptors fail to reflect the reality of either disability, or work, and these aspects are not being changed, while the changes may make it more difficult for HCPs to work around the descriptors to reflect the best interests of their patient. Bringing in a new company to challenge the Atos monopoly cannot make any difference if the procedures remain the same, and if they are drawing their own HCP staff from largely the same pool of personnel, many demonstrated time and again to be personally hostile towards disabled people.

Anything that emphasises the failure of Atos has points in its favour, but the unfortunate reality is that the audit failure, and the changes that result, are at least as likely to make things worse for us as they are to make them better.

*DWP continue to maintain that Atos do not make the ultimate decision on a WCA, but the Harrington reports demonstrated that the overwhelming majority of Atos decisions are passed on the nod, so Atos don't make the decisions in precisely the same way that they don't enforce targets for number of people failed.

Wednesday 10 July 2013

Disability, The New Axis of Evil

The House of Commons debated an Opposition Day motion today calling for disability benefit cuts to be subjected to a cumulative impact assessment – the radical idea that if you subject someone to not one cut, but two, three or even six or more (DLA, ESA, ILF, Bedroom Tax, Benefits Cap, council care budget cuts, and the list goes on, and on, and on) you should actually add up everything they’re losing.

The standout contribution has to have been from (disabled) Tory MP Paul Maynard (Blackpool North and Cleveleys).

“dragged to this Chamber by Pat’s petition, We are Spartacus and other extremist disability groups that do not speak for the overall majority.”

Pat’s Petition, extremists? Spartacus, extremists? Damn, better hope the accessibility at Guantanamo Bay’s up to scratch for when they line all us uppity crips up for Extraordinary Rendition.

“The cumulative impact assessment is a very narrow tool by which to judge the contribution of the disabled community in this country, their potential and what they can achieve. I think that it borders on the offensive”

Actually I think we wanted to judge the Tory’s contribution to the disabled community, or more accurately what they’re taking away from our potential and what we can achieve - sort of an anti-contribution, but I can understand Paul Maynard misunderstanding it in his horror that we uppity crips have been refusing to properly tug our forelocks and say ‘Thank You, Master’ to that nice Mister Duncan Smith. He is right on one thing, there is definitely something offensive to disabled people at work here.

“We as a Government are seeking to edge towards greater recognition of the social model of disability, and that means not paying attention to the labels that too many want to hang around the necks of disabled people.”

That would be labels like ‘poverty stricken’ or ‘desperate’ then? As opposed to the ones favoured by IDS and his coterie at DWP, labels like ‘fraud’ and ‘shirker’.

“we help them to do that in my constituency surgeries. I hope that Labour Members do so, too, rather than store up a treasure trove of Atos scare stories”

So my Atos WCA didn’t really include the doctor fighting desperately to avoid having to record the piece of evidence that qualified me in its own right? Glad to have that cleared up, clearly as a poor, silly, extremist crip I must have misinterpreted what was happening to me.

“Page 34 states clearly: ‘Young people’s aspirations can decline in response to their growing understanding of the world’. Listening to Opposition Members, I am sure that young people’s aspirations will decline because of the negative messages they are getting.”

It seems Mr Maynard would prefer disabled people to behave as proper mindless sheep with no knowledge of, or concern for, the way the world regards us, sort of a messier, wobblier, dribblier version of H G Well’s Eloi from The Time Machine. God forbid that some dangerously radical extremists (like the Office of Disability Issues) should want to tell them they might face having only 53% the likelihood of non-disabled people of finding a full-time job, a 58% higher chance of unfair treatment if they do find a job, or anything up to a 39% higher chance of being a victim of crime.

“We are told that an increase in the reporting of hate crime is evidence of the Government’s war on the disabled. I find that disgusting. It is personally abhorrent that people should campaign in a partisan way on the backs of those in the most vulnerable section of our society”

Clearly I must have misheard the three complete strangers who screamed at me in the street. I could have sworn they yelled: “This is the DWP, we know you’re faking, we know where you live”. Silly me for thinking that someone must have taught them to see disabled people as 'skivers' and 'scroungers'.

What motion did the House finally vote in favour of? This:

This House welcomes the Government’s leadership in furthering the rights of disabled people; recognises the UK as a world leader in disability rights; notes that approximately £50 billion a year is spent on services for disabled people, including adult social services and including an investment of £3.8 billion in health and social care services in England to deliver more joined-up services to disabled people; further notes the £350 million allocated by the Government for programmes and support for disabled people to move into and stay in work; and acknowledges the Government’s collective determination to build upon the London 2012 Paralympic Games, and create a legacy which shines a light on the abilities and achievements of disabled people.

You really couldn’t make it up.

Update 17 July:

It seems Mr Maynard has realised he may have been a little extreme himself, as shown in this exchange of emails with the people behind Pat's Petition. On the other hand, I am still struggling to understand how any reasonable person could disagree so vehemently with a petition by disabled people and carers that simply asks for a cumulative impact assessment on disabled people hit by six or more separate cuts. If and when Mr Maynard does meet with Pat's Petition I hope they press him to explain exactly how that is unreasonable. Understanding the breakdowns in communication between two groups is after all vital if they are to be brought together, and there seem to be some gaping chasms in understanding between disabled people and carers, and the professional politicians of the Conservative Party.

Friday 5 July 2013

PIP Consultation Update

The ‘Consultation on the PIP assessment Moving around activity’ (to give it its DWP title) is ongoing, with responses due by 5th August 2013. What this consultation gives disabled people is the chance to tell DWP that the restriction of PIP’s Higher Mobility Component to only disabled people able to walk less than 20 metres does not adequately reflect the mobility restrictions we face in living our lives, in working, and in interacting with the wider community. The consultation itself can be downloaded here (other formats, including large print and easy read, are available, see the consultation page).

Since the release of the detailed consultation document there have been various responses from disability groups and this piece attempts to gather in one place links to all of those that go further than simply reporting its existence. If you are aware of responses not covered here, please post a link or other indication as to where they can be found in the comments section.

We Are Spartacus have a page covering the consultation, with a detailed briefing  (.pdf) on the background to the consultation and why it is important to disabled people with mobility impairments. Spartacus also have a survey to gather data from people affected to feed into their own response, which will be available until Monday 15th July. They also request that individual responses to the consultation are copied to them at (this is important because of past misrepresentation of disability consultation responses by DWP). 

Disability Rights UK have a brief discussion of the consultation which also asks for people affected to contact them. They also have a report on a relevant exchange between Lord Alton and DWP minister Lord Freud in the House of Lords in which Lord Freud stated that the government ‘has an open mind’, but that their ‘preferred option is not make any amendment to the current criteria’. Obviously this must reflect a slightly different definition of ‘an open mind’ than most people use.

Benefits and Work report on the consultation here, noting that ‘they (DWP) are preparing for the possibility of arguing that in spite of the overwhelming rejection of the new criteria, keeping the current 50 metre limit is not ‘affordable and sustainable’.’

A story at the Disability News Service reports ‘‘Worrying’consultation document brings new PIP concerns’.

Leonard Cheshire Disability have a survey which they would like those affected to complete.

The consultation is also reported by, amongst others, Action for ME, EkklesiaContact a Family, the Papworth Trust, and Disability Wales. Several of these are looking for people to contact them to provide input to their responses. 

Monday 24 June 2013

#PIP 20m Consultation: It's All About Cost

The new DWP Consultation on the restriction of PIP Higher Rate Mobility Component to people unable to walk 20m rather than unable to walk 50m is now available here with a closing date for responses of 5th August 2013.

Background to the need for a repeat of the consultation process and why 20m is completely inappropriate is available in our PIP: 20 Metre Primer.

As pointed out by Sue Marsh, and by Steven Sumpter who was responsible for bringing the Judicial Review of the original PIP consultation and which forced DWP into this new consultation, a particularly interesting aspect of the new consultation is that, while claiming the intention is to be completely open about whether 20m meets the needs of people with mobility disabilities, it then immediately contradicts itself by making clear that the deciding factors will be how many people will receive the Higher Rate Mobility Component under any revised criteria and the cost to the welfare budget. This confirms, as disabled people have alleged from the outset, that the sole driving force behind the replacement of DLA with PIP is reducing the welfare budget, not tailoring the benefit to the needs of disabled people as the Coalition has repeatedly claimed.

In fact the Consultation document includes the DWP's own modelling of the number of people who would be entitled to the Mobility Components of DLA, of PIP under the 2nd Draft (consulted on) and of PIP under the final regulations (not consulted on). This shows entitlement to the Higher Rate Mobility Component dropping from 1,030,000 under DLA to 652,000 under the PIP 2nd Draft and to 602,000 under the final PIP regulations. That means even the Coalition and the DWP admit that under the PIP regulations as they currently stand, 428,000 disabled people will lose Higher Rate Mobility Component, together with their eligibility for leasing a car or wheelchair under the Motability scheme. That means 428,000 disabled people who may no longer be able to engage with their local community, many of whom may well lose jobs as a result.

The impact of the PIP mobility changes will be devastating for hundreds of thousands of disabled people and it is vital that as many disabled people and groups as possible respond to the consultation and explain the impact of the 20m limit under the currently imposed regulations.

Sunday 23 June 2013

We Know Where You Live!

Is there any more chilling threat? It’s one I heard for real a couple of years ago, three men in their 50s yelling it across the high street at me as I walked to the bank one afternoon. “This is the DWP! We know where you live! We know that you’re faking!” As disabled people, this is a reality we have had to grow used to as the tabloids teach the public that every disabled person is really a conniving faker, intent on cheating them out of their hard-won pay. I am into double figures with incidents of verbal abuse, and the Scope surveys of disability hate crime suggest that my experience is the new norm for disabled people.

Yet in the Mail on Sunday this weekend, Mark Littlewood, Director of the Institute for Economic Affairs, authored a column calling for the names and addresses of every benefit recipient in the country, and how much of a ‘handout’ they receive, to be published online in a database accessible to everyone. Disingenuously he claims “The British are far too reasonable to start taking up pitchforks and burning torches and assaulting imagined benefit cheats.” As a disabled person I wish he was right about the British, but the two yobs who tried to assault me for walking while disabled didn’t seem too reluctant.

Two years on, I don’t know who it was who reported me to the DWP National Benefit Fraud Hotline, claiming I was working full time when I’m lucky to get out of the house for a couple of hours a week, but, like 96% of reports to the Benefit Fraud Hotline, that report was vindictive and completely false. Fortunately the DWP investigator accepted that the instant she laid eyes on me, but there was no comeback against my anonymous accuser, and, no matter my innocence, the consequences for me were a three month flare-up in my pain levels and I really, really don’t want to go back to my pain levels being so high that I’m lucky to get an hour’s sleep at a time. 

Nor were the consequences simply physical, when the time came to renew my ESA claim I found myself having panic attacks, something which had never happened before, and the thought of going through another Work Capability Assessment – my first had been utterly abusive – was just intolerable. So for the sake of my health I let myself be driven by the hate and the abuse out of claiming a benefit I was entitled to.

Friend, neighbour, casual acquaintance, someone who saw me speaking out against disability hate crimes in the media or online, I don’t know who it was who filed that malicious report against me, but a blunter term for ‘malicious’ might be conspiracy to pervert the course of justice, and, even without any basis in truth, the consequences of those allegations were serious.

Such on-street harassment, false accusations and outright assault are far from unusual for disabled people, but if my details, or the details of those even more vulnerable, are available online, then how much easier will it be for the thugs to track me down, or the poison-pen types to spew their bile to the Benefit Fraud Hotline?

Mark Littlewood, the Institute for Economic Affairs and the Mail on Sunday can make their pious pronouncements that they are sure no harm will come of their modest proposal, but the truth for disabled people and other benefit claimants is likely to be far harsher.

Wednesday 19 June 2013

#PIP: A 20 Metre Primer

With DWP forced into a new consultation over limiting the PIP mobility component only to people unable to walk further than 20m (after carrying out a prior consultation in which every draft said 50m, as was the case with DLA), I thought I would put together a quick primer based on the PIP-related posts that have appeared on Where's the Benefit over the past few months. There is a lot wrong with PIP, but only the 20m mobility limit is up for consultation again, so the links will necessarily concentrate on that. We don't yet know when the consultation will open, DWP said 'late June', but we will bring you the details as soon as we have them. It's important that we get as many people as possible responding to it, and hopefully this list of articles will serve to get you started in your responses.

News Coverage of the New 20 Metre Consultation

Disability campaigners celebrate 'victory' after government rethink - The Independent

Here's a Chance to Fight for Disabled People's Mobility - Jane Young's (@theyoungjane) piece for Comment is Free in the Guardian.

PIP: A Step in the Right Direction - my (@WTBDavidG) piece here on Where's The Benefit on the new consultation.

Background to the Judicial Review

Legal Action Against the DWP over the PIP Consultation - Stephen Sumpter's (@LatentExistence) original WTB piece on why disabled people had to call for a Judicial Review of the 20m limit.

PIP Faces Legal Challenge - background piece by Sue Marsh (@Suey2y) on the PIP changes and why a Judicial Review of the 20m mobility limit was needed.

The Effects of PIP 20m Mobility and Why it Needs to Change

Well over 100,000 to lose Motability vehicles under draconian new rules - Jane Young on the drastic consequences of the PIP changes for disabled people.

If you can only walk 20m you'll get no help - Another piece by Stephen Sumpter for WTB on the effects of the PIP 20m limit.

20 Metres, Coming Up Short - WTB piece by me on how PIP 20m mobility limit meets the real world, and fails miserably.

Monday 17 June 2013

PIP: A Step in the Right Direction

It isn't often we can say it, but the disability lobby has today forced the DWP to take a step backwards in their never-ending erosion of the rights of disabled people, by forcing them to go back to consultation on the 20m limit imposed in the Personal Independence Payment regulations (the replacement for DLA brought in by the Coalition with the intention of slashing eligibility for disabled people by at least 20%).

As WTB readers may know, one of our contributors, Latent Existence, has been in the process of taking the DWP to a Judicial Review in the High Court over their consultation/sleight-of-hand in respect to the PIP regulations, where every draft set of regs that was put out for consultation set the eligibility for the Higher Rate of the PIP Mobility Component at being unable to walk 50m (as with DLA), but where the version laid before Parliament suddenly reduced this to a nonsensical 20m. DWP explained that 20m had always been their intention and that they were only altering the wording in order to remove confusion. The only confusion apparent to most of us was in our mistaken belief that the DWP had actually engaged in a genuine consultation exercise.

DWP stated before the Select Committee on Work and Pensions that their intention with the shorter limit was that 20m was enough to get people from disabled parking to inside a supermarket, but as (wheelchair-using) Committee Chair Dame Anne Begg pointed out in reply, there's not much point in just getting as far as the doorway. Most drastically, this change would result in many disabled people currently in receipt of the Higher Rate Mobility Compenent of DLA and who can walk between 20m and 50m, a number likely in the tens of thousands range, losing their eligibility to lease a wheelchair or car under the Motability Scheme, and thereby being excluded from participation in their local community, and in many cases losing their ability to work.

Having had DWP inflict a ridiculous limit on us in a clearly underhanded fashion, consulting on one limit and then slashing it by more than in half in the actual legislation, there were clear grounds for challenging the legality of the consultation via a Judicial Review, a process which was set in motion through Jane Young of Spartacus, with Latent Existence as one of the three test cases put forward. Today, even before that Judicial Review reached court, DWP have backed down and stated that they will be holding a new consultation process on the final PIP regulations starting in late June (i.e. imminently).

As Latent Existence says in his own blog, this is not a final victory. DWP have been consistently duplicitous in their handling of consultations with disabled people over the past several years. It was their calculated misrepresentation of responses by disabled people to the 2011 consultation into DLA that led to the original Spartacus Report and several notable defeats for the government in the House of Lords (which were sadly overturned by the Coalition majority in the Commons). The fact that DWP are holding another consultation is a sign that they did not feel their original PIP consultation would stand up when taken before a judge, but holding a consultation and taking notice of it are two separate processes. What we now need to do is ensure that the new consultation process is conducted in a fair manner, that pressure is brought to change the 20m limit through the consultation process, through MPs, disabled peoples' organisations and disability charities, and that the final report of the consultation adequately reflects the views submitted by disabled people, rather than what DWP would like the tabloid media to believe we said. We may have won this round, but that just wins us the right to start the struggle for our rights all over again.

Sunday 12 May 2013

If it's not a bedroom tax then it's not a spare room subsidy policy either

The Six O'Clock News on Radio 4 today covered a story about a woman who killed herself and left a note blaming the government cuts to her housing benefit. I suppose I should be grateful that the BBC are reporting this story at all, because most people who get their news from the BBC would hardly know that cuts to welfare are even happening. However, I am furious about this story because of the way they phrased the report. Here's how they referred to the cuts:
"her benefits were being cut as a result of the coalition's spare room subsidy policy.
...she was facing financial difficulty because of what critics have called the bedroom tax"
This is repetition of government propaganda. True, the cut is not called the bedroom tax. Nor is it the removal of a spare room subsidy, because there never was any such thing, merely people receiving enough housing benefit to cover their rent in the available social housing. The official name of this cut in the legislation is the under-occupancy penalty. Because that's what it is - a penalty for having a spare room, even if you had no choice about the number of rooms in the home you were allocated or if you need that room for medical equipment or numerous other reasons. It was never, ever a subsidy in the first place to remove. "Removal of the spare room subsidy" was a name given to the cut by a panicking government because people were calling it a bedroom tax and that was too close to the truth.

That the BBC repeated the official government line and referred to a spare room subsidy when reporting a suicide is a serious problem. Of course I don't believe the BBC is unbiased any more; if anything the BBC follow a pro-government line no matter who is in power. But if the BBC won't call it a bedroom tax then they shouldn't call it a spare room subsidy either. They should use the official name of under-occupancy penalty, but they won't because the word penalty is too revealing about this government's actions when they are still claiming that this is not about money and that they are protecting the most vulnerable.

Thursday 18 April 2013

Labour's latest ad

"Made by the many." A many that apparently doesn't include disabled people.

Not the disabled people who used to be employed in Remploy factories who made everything from wheelchair to computers.

And certainly not a peep about disabled people being employers; using their direct payments to give someone a job.

Nothing about disabled people keeping the car industry in business during tight financial times through the Motability scheme.

Nothing about the DLA that gets poured into the local economy through takeaways when people are unable to cook. Or to local cab companies.

To Labour disabled people aren't part of the many that keep this country going. We don't even exist.

Monday 8 April 2013

PIP faces Legal Challenge!

PIP faces Legal Challenge!

Thanks again to the impossibly passionate Jane Young, have today announced they will be working with @DoughtyStPublic and @LeighDay_Law tochallenge changes to the new PIP (Personal Independence Payments replacing DLA or Disability Living Allowance) mobility criteria.

Campaigners like Steve Sumpter (@latentexistence), myself, Kaliya Franklin and Jane herself have been invited to explain on radio and TV today, just what the changes will mean.

As regular readers will know, the government have constantly misled the public over the new benefit, claiming a 35% rise when Spartacus Report showed clearly that the rise is only 13% for the working age group who will be affected. Physical conditions have remained totally stable, whilst the 13% rise is almost all due to a rise in mental health conditions and learning disabilities, a trend seen worldwide, not just in the UK.

The DWP misled the public over the first consultation, claiming broad support for the changes, when in fact there was almost none.

After a passionate journey through the House of Lords, the government simply overturned all of the amendments we'd won (amendments that were reasonable and could have made PIP safer and fairer) using an archaic 16th century law known as "financial privilege"

Even at that point, once the changes had become law, the government assured campaigners that once they announced the finer details of PIP, there would be no further policy changes, However, when "regulations" were finally announced just before Christmas, the criteria for claiming the most help with mobility problems had been slashed from 50 mtrs to 20 mtrs without consultation or warning.

This means that many of the most vulnerable claimants of all will no longer qualify. A whopping 600,000 of them. The ability to walk 50 mtrs might just get you to your car and out at the other end, to, say, get to a supermarket scooter. 20 mtrs will get few people from their homes to even their car, leaving over half a million sick or disabled people effectively housebound.

As we all rush from interview to interview, it's clear those put up to oppose us don't even understand DLA or what it does. With that in mind, I thought I'd lay out the key points here for any of you to use or pass on.

All we can do is set the record straight whenever we are given the chance, so do feel free to copy and paste the following and send to whoever you can.

1) DLA is a working benefit. It does not stop a sick or disabled person from working - quite the opposite in fact. It is often used for transport to and from a job if the recipient can't manage public transport, or for care at home, to enable the claimant to get up and dressed in the mornings just to get to work.

2) DLA HASN'T risen by 35%, for working age claimants (the only one's affected by PIP) the rise is 13%. There has been almost no rise at all in claims for physical conditions, the rise is almost entirely down to an increase in mental health and learning disability claims, a trend seen in every country of the developed world.
By far the biggest increases come from demographics, children or pensioners, groups the government aren't transferring to PIP.

3) There were always face to face assessments for DLA (Atos did those too) and claimantsalways had to support their claims with evidence from their own GP or consultant

4) The government claim DLA needs reform because so many get lifetime awards. However, they announced a few months ago that they won't even be testing those with indefinite claims at all until after the next election. Indefinite awards make up nearly 70% of all DLA awards and the government claim over and over that it is this group who have been "left to languish" yet they've decided to do nothing about it at all.

5) DLA does not act as a dis-incentive to work, far from it. 60% of disabled people in the UK work.

6) Fraud is just half of one percent as consistently proven by the DWPs own figures. Yet the George Osborne announced a 20% cut back in June 2010 before a single assessment had taken place.

7) DLA saves the taxpayer many times the amount it costs. Study after study shows that sick and disabled people spend their DLA with amazing efficiency. If DLA is withdrawn, the need doesn't just go away and costs are simply transferred to an already crumbling social care service or the NHS.

8) The higher rate mobility criteria was slashed from 50 mtrs to 20 mtrs without consultation or warning, meaning that over 600,000 people will no longer qualify for the benefit. These are people who can barely walk at all - the most vulnerable the government claim to be protecting.

Please join us in countering the propaganda and mis-information our government are churning out today. Every challenge shows a few more people what is really going on in their name.

Legal action against the DWP over the #PIP consultation

I am one of three people asking for a Judicial Review over the consultation for Personal Independence Payments.

The request for a judicial review is on the basis that the Department for Work and Pensions did not conduct a proper consultation for PIP and if we are successful then they will be ordered to start the consultation again. If a judicial review is granted than it should take place sometime in July.

The initial consultation for PIP used inability to walk 50 metres to define eligibility for the enhanced rate of mobility component. That is, anyone who could not walk 50 metres without the use of a wheelchair would get highest rate of the benefit. After the consultation ended it emerged that the goalposts had been moved, and that the cut-off point for high-rate mobility would be just 20 metres. Those who can walk more than 20 metres but less than 50 metres safely, reliably and repeatedly may qualify for a lower rate of the benefit.

We will be arguing that the DWP were required to consult on such a fundamental change  and that they did not provide adequate information during the consultation that did take place. We will also argue that the DWP failed in their duty under the Equality Act 2010 to assess the impact of the new regulations on disabled people.

This change will affect me personally, albeit probably not until 2015 when those whose DLA has not already run out will be transferred to PIP. Those who receive the high-rate of mobility allowance under DLA are eligible to lease a car from the Motability scheme. If this requirement is kept with PIP then as someone who can usually walk more then 20 metres but not 50 metres without pain pain and exhaustion I will lose the high-rate mobility component and will therefore lose the car that restores much of my freedom and independence.

Public Law Solicitors are taking action on my behalf while Leigh Day are representing the two others involved in this case.

Press are welcome to contact me by email on latentexistence at gmail dot com.
More information will be at

Press release from Public Law Solicitors / Leigh Day 08/04/2013

Lawyers have announced that they are taking legal action against the Government on behalf of three disabled clients who are challenging the decision by Ian Duncan Smith, the Secretary of State for Work and pensions, to bring in more stringent measures to qualify for the higher rate mobility benefit which the Government has estimated will result in 400,000 fewer people being eligible to claim.

The three clients currently receive disability living allowance (DLA) including the higher rate of the mobility component. This non-means-tested cash benefit has been available since 1992 and provides people with assistance towards the costs of an adapted car, powered wheelchair or scooter through the Motability scheme.

Under DLA a person is entitled to the higher rate of the mobility component if they are ‘unable or virtually unable to walk’. Usually claimants are considered to be ‘virtually unable to walk’ if they cannot walk more than around 50 metres.

The new Social Security (Personal Independence Payment) Regulations 2013 (PIP) have reduced this benchmark distance to 20m.

Kim Storr has rheumatoid arthritis and other severe progressive conditions and her mobility is affected by joint swelling and pain. She relies on crutches. She currently receives DLA including the higher rate of the mobility component. Ms Storr needs an adapted vehicle to enable her to go out independently.

Steven Sumpter has ME, which has caused him increasing mobility problems. He can walk short distances with a stick, but is otherwise dependent on a wheelchair.  He was assessed as eligible for the higher rate of the mobility component of DLA last year, which he has used to lease a Motability car.

The third claimant is protected by an anonymity order to protect their identity.

Law firms Leigh Day and Public Law Solicitors argue that a consultation process set up by the Government to reassess the benefit was flawed. The Secretary of State did not consult on the proposal that the limit would be reduced to 20 metres. This suggestion was only introduced after all the consultation stages had passed.

Consultees were therefore denied the opportunity to comment on the proposal or to explain to the Secretary of State how such a restriction to the benefit will affect them and their independence.

The 50 metres distance is widely recognised in relation to other disability benefits and in guidance on the built environment, to represent a minimum functional level of mobility.

Proceedings have been issued against the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, Ian Duncan Smith, claiming that the new regulations regarding the PIP payment are flawed and unlawful. They argue the policy-making process failed to properly consider the practical impacts the withdrawal of the benefit will have on people with significant mobility impairments.

Rosa Curling, from the Human Rights team at Leigh Day who is representing two of the disabled clients said:

“We have advised our clients that the consultation undertaken by the Secretary of State was unlawful. People were not properly informed that the limit might be reduced to 20 metres and had no opportunity to provide the Secretary of State with their views on this proposal.

“Removing this vital benefit to disabled people will have a devastating effect on many people’s lives and their ability to access and be part of our communities. The Secretary of State has a legal obligation to consider such impacts before deciding whether to limit access to this benefit.”

Karen Ashton from Public Law Solicitors who represents Mr Sumpter, said:

“What is at the heart of this legal challenge is fairness.  The extra costs of getting out and about for those who have severe mobility problems can be huge. The higher rate mobility benefit can make the difference between being able to do everyday things that everyone else takes for granted  - such as doing your own shopping and visiting friends and relatives  -  and only leaving the house for absolutely essential appointments. But the Government failed to mention the reduction to the 20m threshold in their consultations with disabled people and so those who are potentially affected have not had the chance to explain how devastating the consequences will be.”


For further information please contact:

David Standard – Head of Media Relations, Leigh Day 0844 800 4981 or 07540 332717

Karen Ashton -  Public Law Solicitors 0121 256 0327 or  07812 165090

Steven blogs at and tweets as @latentexistence