Wednesday 27 March 2013

Government doesn't want to know what Welfare Reform will do to people

WOW Petition - that's a petition to stop the War On Welfare - calls for the DWP to carry out a cumulative  impact assessment on all the welfare reforms together. It is obvious to most people that the impact of cutting many benefits all at once is more damaging than cutting just one. But the government claim that it is just too difficult to do a cumulative impact assessment, that the changes are too complicated. In reply to the petition (a reply that was long overdue, the petition having doubled the necessary 10,000 signatures to merit one) the government said:
"Cumulative impact analysis is not being withheld – it is very difficult to do accurately and external organisations have not produced this either.

The Government is limited in what cumulative analysis is possible because of the complexity of the modelling required and the amount of detailed information on individuals and families that is required to estimate the interactions of a number of different policy changes."
It is not that difficult though, and certainly within the means of a government department when millions of people will be negatively affected. To prove the point think tank Demos have had a go at it themselves. They estimate that the total loss over  five years will be £28.3bn. Let me spell that out: Twenty-eight billion pounds. That is not - as my MP told me - the vulnerable being protected. That is the vulnerable being mugged.

Writing in The Guardian, report author Claudia Wood said:
At one end of the cumulative impact scale, 88,000 disabled people currently claiming employment support allowance (ESA) will feel a double whammy of a 1% cap on uprating and a 12-month eligibility limit. At the other end of the scale, at least 1,000 disabled people (possibly up to 5,000) will face six separate cuts to their benefits income. By the time the next round of cuts are due in four years, they will be £23,300 worse off per person.

In between these two groups are about 120,000 disabled people facing a triple cut, and 99,000 a quadruple cut. These combinations represent at the very least a loss of £6,309 per person by 2017. The worst loss of £23,461 per person by 2017 will be experienced by those unfortunate enough to lose their eligibility for disability living allowance and ESA, and who are reliant on other benefits that will only increase by 1% because of the rating cap or by the consumer prices index (CPI) instead of inflation.
Wood points out that these figures are an underestimate,  cuts to child benefit, the independent living fund, social fund or council tax credit being just a few other factors. Underestimate this may be, but it seems that the DWP are refusing to calculate even the minimum impact because they can't work out what the maximum impact is. We don't need to work out the worst case to be able to see that even the best case is not good.

It doesn't really matter though, because the government are just making excuses. The fact is that they don't want to know what the impact will be because if they knew then they would have no excuse for continuing with these savage cuts. It's actually worse than that, because they must know, but they don't want to be seen to know. As we saw last week, government ministers don't actually want to talk to the people affected, making bizarre excuses to get out of talking to Spartacus. They don't want to hear anything that would contradict their rhetoric.

These cuts don't make economic sense either, even when you view them for what they are rather than "reform" aimed at helping anyone. Cutting DLA will leave people stranded at home where their health will deteriorate and lead to higher costs to the NHS. Cutting the Independent Living Fund will institutionalise people, sending them back to expensive care homes and preventing them from living and working alongside the rest of society. Cutting money that is spent by disabled people on care and travel will damage the car industry and cut jobs for carers. Welfare isn't money that disappears, it is money that is ploughed straight back into the economy and its loss will be noticed. Although possibly not by George Osborne.

The government are sticking their fingers in their ears and shouting "La la la I can't hear you" when it comes to welfare reform. Sign WOWpetition to tell them that we know they can hear us and we're on to them and we won't stand for it.

Demos - Destination Unknown: April 2013
The Guardian - Claudia Wood: The government has a duty to assess the impact of its benefit cuts
The Guardian - Welfare cuts will cost disabled people £28bn over five years

Thursday 21 March 2013

Is It Coz We Is Disabled?

This afternoon Labour MP Michael Meacher obtained an adjournment debate (limited to 30 minutes) to raise the fact that DWP Minister Mark Hoban had refused to meet with himself, fellow Labour MP Tom Greatrex and Sue Marsh (@suey2y) and Kaliya Franklin (@bendygirl) of the disabled people’s group Spartacus to discuss the Work Capability Assessment, the reasons for which he details in his blog here

The debate descended into farce when it became apparent that of the seven or so MPs in the chamber, Mark Hoban wasn’t one of them, having apparently been delayed at the airport, with DWP Minister Esther McVey, the Minister for Disabled People, deputised in his place.

Michael Meacher opened the debate by explaining the background to his request for a meeting was the ongoing issue of Atos and the Work Capability Assessment, and that in his 40 years of parliamentary experience it was unprecedented for a minister to refuse point blank to meet with a delegation of people directly affected by parliamentary measures. He said that the recent debate on Atos and the WCA was one of the best he had ever experienced with no cross-party rancour, just cross-party condemnation of Atos, and no defence of DWP.

This was the reason he had sought a meeting with the Minister. He had waited five weeks for a reply, and ultimately had to submit a Parliamentary Question in order to force a response, a response which he described as parliamentary language for a flat ‘no’. He then approached Hoban in the lobby, only to be told 'I'm not seeing you', a statement repeated another three times, and then was told 'I'm not seeing Spartacus', again repeated three times.

Meacher then went on to explain how Spartacus is a loose collective of thousands of disabled people whose initial, evidence-based report showed how DWP had systematically misled the public on the degree of support for disability benefit cuts. As he pointed out, the Spartacus Report had trended spectacularly on Twitter on the day of its release and had since gone on to be referenced in the House, and by several other governmental committees. He noted that Spartacus have gone on to produce other evidence-based reports and that DWP ministers have repeatedly met with Spartacus members Sue Marsh and Kaliya Franklin, at the Conservative Party Conference, at other events, and have regularly debated with them on the BBC.

He conclude by noting that he could not understand why Mark Hoban was refusing to engage, noting that Spartacus planned to move for the immediate implementation of all reforms from the DWP-sponsored Harrington reviews to the WCA, noting that trials have shown that while full implementation of Harrington will reduce the number of assessments an Atos ‘Health Care Professional’ can carry out daily, from around 11 down to 4 to 5, the result is near 100% accuracy. (Current WCA rates show around 1 assessment in 6 overturned at appeal).

Meacher concluded that he could leave out Spartacus from the delegation but he refused to do so because he does not believe ministers can pick and choose. He said that the minister was free to persist with his intransigence, but he would not back down because hundreds of thousands of sick and disabled people have been subjected to real hardship and fear.

Esther McVey opened the Coalition’s response by explaining that Mark Hoban’s plane from Scotland had suffered engine failure and been forced to turn back. She then tried to blame Michael Meacher for Hoban’s failure to appear, saying the government would have been willing to reschedule, glossing over the fact that Michael Meacher would have been unlikely to obtain another position in the parliamentary schedule for the debate.

McVey then listed a score of charities, and companies operating in the welfare industry, who Mark Hoban had met with. It was immediately obvious that none of these are Disabled People’s User Led Organisations, but unfortunately this is not the first time that Mcvey has appeared not to understand the difference between a disability charity and a DPULO, nor to be aware of ‘Nothing for us, without us.’

McVey then emphasized that ‘We are keen to maintain a constructive dialogue to improve the work capability assessment.’ This was a very specific choice of words for which the reason would later become clear.

Michael Meacher then secured an intervention to repeat his question, as McVey apparently had no intention of getting to an answer any time soon. In fact it was becoming rapidly apparent that McVey’s primary intent was to run down the clock on the debate, and with only 30 minutes allocated there wasn’t a great deal of clock she needed to run down.

McVey then launched into a prolonged explanation of how Labour were to blame for the WCA (which both disabled people and MPs are well aware of), and how the Coalition have improved the WCA (which disabled people would dispute). She was again challenged to get to the answer, and after a further batch of playground politics – “They did it, Miss” – which she categorized as ‘essential context’ finally touched on something almost related to the issue.

This wasn’t to actually answer the question, of course, now she denied that the DWP ministerial office had failed to answer Michael Meacher within the required 20 working days. Michael Meacher responded by holding up the letter in question and reading out the dates, which were indeed more than 20 working days apart. McVey tried to claim that this was not the case, but then appeared to realise the futility of trying to shout down a man actually holding the evidence to prove her false.

With around 25 minutes of the debate gone, McVey then finally got to the point of her answer. That Mark Hoban would not meet with Spartacus, because Spartacus were unwilling to be reasonable. And DWP’s evidence for this was the language used in part of the foreword to the Spartacus produced 'People's Review of the WCA' (i.e. one paragraph in a one hundred page report). She seemed to be a little confused over what Spartacus had actually said, so for accuracy here is the original paragraph from the foreword:

"The WCA is a statement of political desperation. The process is reminiscent of the medical tribunals that returned shell shocked and badly wounded soldiers to duty in the first world war or the ‘KV-machine’, the medical commission the Nazis used in the second world war to play down wounds so that soldiers could be reclassified ‘fit for the Eastern front"

That quote was not by either Sue Marsh or Kaliya Franklin, the two Spartacus representatives who Mark Hoban had been asked to meet with, nor by any of the principal authors of the Spartacus reports, but was in fact by the author of the foreword to the People's Review, Professor Peter Beresford OBE, BA Hons, PhD, AcSS, FRSA Dip WP Professor of Social Policy Brunel University.

McVey then tried to mousetrap Michael Meacher by insisting that surely he would join her in condemning Spartacus for such outrageous language, making it clear that this would be a prerequisite for any meeting. With her careful eye on the clock McVey then sat, leaving Michael Meacher with little chance to say more than the parliamentary equivalent of “What?!” before the debate reached its deadline and the House rose, but it would be fair to say that the disabled twittersphere (which had either been watching the live web feed or following the people like me who were live tweeting it) exploded in outrage.

What makes McVey’s claims about Spartacus being unreasonable so utterly ludicrous was that the debate was chaired by the Deputy Speaker, Nigel Evans MP, and Kaliya Franklin, one of the two Spartacus representatives in question, had spent the previous week working in the Deputy Speaker’s office as a form of political work-experience, an internship arranged by none other than Minister of Work and Pensions Ian Duncan Smith (Hoban and McVey’s boss) and in part by Esther McVey herself.  

As Kaliya noted on Twitter: “Oo yes, I do believe I've also found the email's to Mark Hoban's secretary where I politely request a constructive meeting on #wca” and Hmm. I've just found an email I sent to Esther McVey in October 2012 where I made several constructive suggestions re #wca”

Clearly utterly unreasonable….

Tuesday 12 March 2013

#BedroomTax: When 'Exempt' Means Nothing of the Sort

It was widely publicised today that, being the caring, sharing, thoroughly Christian minister he is, IDS had made a bunch of concessions on the Bedroom Tax - or 'the Spare Room Subsidy' as IDS prefers it be called in an attempt to convince Daily Mail readers that even our bedrooms are scroungers.

There was a concession on severely disabled children yesterday, followed by another  three concessions today: that bedrooms used for foster care would not be taxed, that bedrooms used by service personnel still living with their families would not be taxed, and that households with disability issues should be considered for exemption (note the lesser treatment of disability). But then you dig past the headlines and into the details and the exemptions turn out to be nothing of the sort. Taking them in turn:

For foster carers, the exemption only applies to a single room, so forget fostering a brother and sister, and only if the foster parents have fostered a child, or been approved to foster, within the last year. There is no guarantee this will be applied to people who become fosterers in future, and a vile comment a couple of weeks ago by Jacob ‘Where’s Nanny?’ Rees-Mogg shows the real Tory attitudes towards people who rely on Social Housing: “If fostering had a general exemption, everybody in receipt of social housing benefit would suddenly go off to the council and say that they wanted to be on the fostering lists, so that they would not have to give up their extra bedroom, but would then refuse any child who was sent to them.” So basically all plebs are lying scroungers, then, Jake?

Meanwhile for serving armed forces personnel still living with their parents (and remember that many front-line troops are still teenagers), the devil is again in the details; their bedrooms will be exempt as long as they are on operations and intend to return home. It’s the‘on operations’ that matters here, you’re only ‘on operations’ if you’re on the front-line in Afghanistan, Mali or the like. If you’re posted to Catterick for training, and live in Cornwall, or garrisoned in Colchester but live in Newcastle, tough, that doesn’t count as ‘on operations’.

It was so obvious that these two provisions would be extremely unpopular that you have to wonder if they weren’t a calculated and pre-planned sacrifice to grease the passage of the other provisions of the Bedroom Tax, which is a pattern of behaviour we’ve seen from IDS before, such as with the threat in the Welfare Reform Bill to remove DLA Mobility Component from people in residential care that was withdrawn at the last moment as a concession by the caring, sharing Tories.

But getting back to the disability-specific changes, this is where we see the true calculation. The exemption announced by IDS yesterday was that:

“where a local authority agrees that a family needs an extra bedroom because their child’s disability means they are unable to share, the family can be entitled to the spare room subsidy in respect of that extra bedroom.

“As with the housing benefit claim, the determination as to whether their disability requires them to have an extra bedroom is a matter for the local authority to decide with the help of Department for Work and Pension guidance and medical evidence.

“We will be issuing final guidance to local authorities on a number of areas this one also this week” 

In other words we’re now going to have disabled children (but not disabled adults, because clearly all the problems of disability disappear the moment you turn 18) facing an ATOS-like process to determine if their disability is severe enough for an exemption, and we all know how well the Work Capability Assessment has worked…. More subtly, the whole responsibility for deciding whether to exempt a disabled child has been pushed down onto local authorities, so that DWP will now be able to say “We don’t make the decisions,” words which have become ATOS’s standard excuse for the failings of the WCA. And all of this in an atmosphere of catastrophic cuts, where councils are looking to save every penny they can, not to be proactive in making sure disabled people don’t face being driven from their homes by the Bedroom Tax.

Today IDS added to that ‘exemption’ with a written statement claiming:
“I am also issuing guidance to local authorities emphasising that Discretionary

Housing Payments remain available for other priority groups including the needs of people whose homes have had significant disability adaptations and those with longterm medical conditions that create difficulties in sharing a bedroom.”

That sounds good, on the surface, but the Discretionary Housing Payments are even worse than a maybe-chance of an exemption. DHP is a solely temporary measure with limited funding, only £25m across the entire country, that has to be shared between every household facing problems with the transition to the Bedroom Tax, whether the issues relate to disability, finances, or whatever. And DHP is very specifically a payment to help with the transition costs of Bedroom Tax only, but not the ongoing year-on-year costs. The average impact of the Bedroom Tax is estimated at £14/week per household, the National Housing Federation has calculated that if the entire DHP fund was spread solely over affected DLA recipients it would amount to only £2.51/week per household. Worse, all DHP payments are at the discretion of the council, and (as was pointed out to me by @theyoungjane) discretionary decisions aren’t subject to appeal, no matter how daft they are. And there are some very daft Tory councils out there.

And all of these changes, some of them requiring very carefully written guidance and that people be trained to apply them with intelligence, compassion, and a deep understanding of disability, are being made three weeks before the Bedroom Tax goes live (which is incidentally the same day 13,000 millionaires get their £100,000 tax cut).

I'll close with a quote from @BendyGirl today that eloquently sums the entire situation up: "Bedroom tax? Stupidest idea evah!"

Update: It turns out that DWP have also dropped an appeal to the Supreme Court today, where they had been trying to overturn a decision by the Court of Appeal in the Gorry case that they must recognise the additional housing needs of a family with one child with Spina Bifida and another with Downs Syndrome. It is good that the action has been withdrawn, but the fact that they ever brought it, in effect seeking legal approval to insist that two very significantly disabled children must share a bedroom, is symptomatic of the true attitudes to disability within DWP. Details here.

Wednesday 6 March 2013

ESA SOS - The Starting Gun #ESAendgame

Though I'm posting it here, this post was actually written by Sue and originally appeared on her own blog. Please post any comments there.

In a few weeks, I'm going to arrange for some very significant stories to break in the very mainstream press about ESA.

I've been collecting them for about 6 months and if there's any justice left at all, they will kill ESA once and for all.

They will totally change your perception of ESA and WCAs

We need a Spartacus 2 and as you all know, I've been sick as a dog.

Today is stage one. If you're in, please leave your Name and user name on twitter or Facebook (Feel free to only provide the latter if you like to keep your anonymity a little) and Constituency

There will be a task most days, so please keep watching my blog.

Today, I would like something very specific. What is the worst thing, for you about ESA/WCAs? I need you to simply leave a one line answer if possible, ie "1 Year Time Limit - It totally undermines any contributory principle"

The most popular of these "subjects" will make up every short section of the new report.

Share this post everywhere you can. This will be the start of our biggest fightback. EVERYONE will have to give this everything if it is to work. We need hundreds of responses to every request to make this a truly representative report from disabled people, by disabled people. The more join, the more powerful our voice and the more impact any final work will have.

What's more, by crowdsourcing our information and skills, believe me, we have 100 times the resources and ability of the DWP.

I have an awesome team in place - they produced #esaSOS in just 4 days. Hard though it will be, PLEASE, I'm still very weak and CAN'T read endless comments or pages and pages of Hansard or reports. Make this easy for me by keeping as close to the brief each day as you possibly can. I WILL cover everything, nothing will get missed. I'll ask the question you're itching to comment on, honest, but if we do it this way, I can delegate very much and empower you all to know exactly what we need.

Even a shadow of division will see us fail. This will need every group, every campaigner, every supporter, no matter how radical or moderate, how powerful or unknown, every journalist that has supported us, every politician who is fully signed up to our arguments.

If you have a prominent welfare/disability/political voice, website or other outlet, please cross post this from me.

So today, in the comment thread below please leave :

Name and social media name/s (or just the latter if more comfortable)
The WORST thing for you about ESA/WCAs in one line.

****ESA is the most terrible failure of any developed nation for a very long time. The reasons are numerous and utterly undeniable. The government has failed to implement Harrington with any commitment and is actively increasing the rate at which vulnerable people face a failing and unfair test. We have engaged with a democratic process that has failed us at every stage. We have no choice left but to stop this ourselves. Over 100,000 people now face some kind of ESA assessment every MONTH. We can't afford to wait. ****

Enough is Enough.

From today, please use the hashtag #ESAendgame in all your tweets. We must build awareness and create an army or support and dissemination.

"Alone we Whisper, Together we Shout"