On bikes and cars

I’m a biker. I love motorbikes. I would gladly travel 200 miles on a bike in the rain rather than go in a car or a train. My wife shares my love of motorbikes and a few years ago after hearing stories about people giving up their motorbikes in favour of a car for practical reasons, she made me promise never to do that.

Unfortunately my failing body has broken that promise for me. I still have a motorbike, but I manage to ride it less than once a month and when I do I pay the price in pain and exhaustion for days afterwards. And so, when (if) I get awarded DLA, I am considering getting a car.

On the one hand, I hate the idea. I want two wheels, high acceleration, freedom to get around and through traffic, and just the pure thrill of having a bike. On the other hand, A car is much easier on my body. It doesn’t require me to expend limited energy on getting changed and all the preparations that riding a bike needs. I can stop and have a rest in a car. And, I can get a car on the Motability scheme. Having a car will enable me to get to the doctor, the hospital, get a haircut, collect my medicine. At this point I can’t really argue against the idea. I have considered the idea of a maxi-scooter instead – a big scooter with a 650cc engine which is easier than a bike and has lots of luggage space – but a car is still more appropriate for me in my current condition.

However, if I have to compromise on this, I want some concessions too. I want a lightweight car with good acceleration even if it doesn’t go that fast. I want it to feel sporty. I’m not too bothered about carrying more than one passenger. I wouldn’t mind an electric car, but they have extremely expensive batteries and most only have a range of a hundred miles or so at the moment.

So how about this? Start with a small budget car. Give it electric motors, but have them switchable between high-power and high-efficiency. That way I can be efficient most of the time but when I miss my motorbike I can do a bit of zooming around. Make it affordable by putting in only a small battery with a range of about thirty miles which would enable me to do all my local driving. Add a petrol generator to make it a true hybrid car and give it a two hundred mile range but then – and here’s the innovative bit – make the engine and petrol tank removable. When I want to visit the other side of the country, I can put the engine in and go. When I want to make small local trips, I can leave the engine and all that weight at home and gain efficiency and luggage space. And finally, make it cheap enough to put on the Motability scheme!

That’s the car that I want. Do any car manufacturers want to help out?



I think it is fair to say that people of all world views seem to mislead the public to benefit their message, but I have noticed a trend of obvious lies coming from those of the right-wing persuasion. Perhaps it isn’t all lies; sometimes a politician or a journalist will publish something that is obviously untrue when I look at it, but maybe they honestly didn’t know that. More often, though, I think that the lies are either deliberately made up to deceive the public or are made up by someone else and then repeated with no effort made to check the truth – because the lie fits the message that they want to spread.

I particularly noticed that right-wing newspapers across the board are happy to lie or mislead people. Smear campaigns, trashing of peoples lives, lies about statistics, facts, figures, and all sorts of other things are common. In the USA, right-wing television such as Fox News more blatantly misleads too, but not so much in the UK because of our tighter regulation. Conservative politicians are happy to repeat untruths in and out of parliament, on television, and in interviews. For example, David Cameron is still repeating statistics about job creation during the lifetime of this current government which are completely false. Maria Miller has repeated statistics on television about sickness and disability benefits which were just not true. There are many more examples.

Some of the lies go even further. In 2009, then Home Secretary Alan Johnson sacked Professor David Nutt, head of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs, because he criticised the re-classification of Cannabis and made other statements about drugs which did not support the government’s drug policy. Rather than listen to the facts, politicians sacked the scientists in favour of someone who would tell the lies that they wanted. More recently in Texas, governor Rick Perry has gone as far as to remove all mentions of climate change and sea level rises from a major environmental study. It wasn’t just interpretations of results that he had removed, it was things like actual measurements of sea level rises that didn’t agree with his politics. He is seemingly prepared to lie to his entire state and to himself to push his policies on everyone even at risk of massive environmental disaster in his own state.

However, it is not only Conservatives and right-wing people that give incorrect information. Those of a left-wing persuasion are not immune from spreading misleading information. For example, it seems to be a common statement among those fighting for disability rights and against welfare cuts that “up to 70% of [Atos] decisions are overturned on appeal.” However, that is highly misleading. In fact, it is only between 40% and 70% of decisions declaring the patient fit to work that are overturned, and only 66% of decisions declare the patient fit to work, and only 32% of those found fit for work actually appealed. (I don’t have figures for how many of those placed in the work related activity group appealed.) Working through the numbers, only 8.4% of those found fit for work in the England have actually won an appeal. (All numbers taken from this DWP report.) We can argue that 14.8% would have won their appeal had they received legal representation, and we can also argue that many people who could have appealed did not for various reasons including exhaustion from the process, being too ill to continue, or fear of what could happen.

Now, 8.4% – 14.8% of decisions incorrectly declaring someone fit for work is still an obscene number, but it is not 70%. I can see how the 70% figure gets used though. 70% is an attention-grabbing number that makes a great headline. Since it is an actual real statistic it can be used without understanding exactly what it represents. Most people will not work through the numbers and perhaps not even realise that it is wrong. Perhaps even the original person to use that statistic did not know that it is misleading. It only takes one person to use it for many other people to copy it and perhaps leave out the relevant information that explains the number.

One thing that is different between conservatives and most other people is that most people will correct their statements when given evidence that shows how and why they are wrong. It seems that conservatives are not so easily put right. In fact, it seems that Conservatives are more likely to believe lie when told it is not true. In 2008 political scientists Brendan Nyhan and Jason Reifler found that there is a backlash-effect when conservatives are proven wrong, leading to a stronger belief in false statements. Although this was an American study, the effect is observable in political debates here in the UK particularly when it comes to things that people get very worked up about like abortion, immigration, and the European Union. You only have to observe the arguments of people like MP Philip Davies or MEP Roger Helmer to see the effect in action. When Justice Secretary Ken Clarke exposed a claim by Home Secretary Theresa May as lies (In fact he said the claim was “laughable and child-like.“) it was not May that was called to account by the prime minister, but Clarke. It seems that when a false and ludicrous example is used to back up Tory rhetoric, not even another Tory minister is allowed to dispute it.

I think then, that many of the statements that are called out as lies might actually be believed to be true by the people saying them. While many will retract or correct their statements, that does not help when incorrect information has already been used in a headline or repeated far and wide. In fact, some people deliberately make incorrect statements knowing that they can get away with it by retracting or correcting it later. The Daily Mail has got this down to an art, and several recent articles of theirs about the Motability scheme have actually provided both truth and lie in the same article. They print the actual facts and figures but the majority of the articles talk about the subject in an entirely false way, with allegations about sources of funding, qualifications to get vehicles or mobility allowance and statistics about the people and disabilities that qualify all completely false. This blog post at Nothing Special goes through a list of obvious lies from the Mail. (If you think I am picking on the Daily Mail, it is because they have a far higher rate of lies than most papers, but the Daily Express is really bad for that too.)

Although lies happen across the political spectrum I think by far the biggest problem comes from cabinet ministers in our current government, government departments, and right-wing newspapers. Most of the liars are never called to account by any authorities, especially not the Press Complaints Commission. Some of the problems have been noticed, however. In July Dame Anne Begg MP wrote to employment minister Chris Grayling with serious concerns about the way that the Department of Work and Pensions has been releasing statistics and the way that those statistics have been represented in the newspapers. Just today the new shadow minister for disabled people, Anne McGuire MP, has accused the government of “talking up” benefit fraud.

What, then, is the solution to all of this? If you are writing something or passing on information, please, check your facts, include relevant qualifiers for your data, and don’t lie by omission. For politicians and government ministers, we obviously need some authority or watchdog to actually take responsibility for correcting them and forcing them to retract their statements. As for newspapers, clearly the Press Complaints Commission is utterly useless. We need to shut it down and replace it. And it would be really nice if everyone would always present the evidence for what they say.



FactCheck: Cameron slips up on employment figures

ESA: Work Capability Assessment: Official Statistics July 2010

Nothing Special: A worrying spate of inaccuracy at the Daily Mail

The Bad Ideas Blog: Conservatives Are More Likely to Believe Falsehoods If Told They Are False

Telegraph: Ken Clarke accuses Theresa May of ‘laughable and child-like’ claims

Full Fact: Catgate: the Mail wrong to claim cat was “key reason” in judgement

Guardian: How can you tell if a policy is working? Run a trial

Commons Select Committee: Letter to Employment Minister on release of benefit claimant statistics

Government is ‘talking up’ benefit fraud, says shadow minister


I blog therefore I am

Ten days without writing anything here. Ten days. I haven’t gone that long since I started this blog more than a year ago. You might think it’s not a big deal, but writing here is what at least gave me something meaningful to do on the days when I couldn’t do anything else. Recently I have been so ill that I haven’t even been able to to that.


Mental ME

I have depression. I get stuck in a spiral of negative thoughts until I reach the point of wanting to die. It happens often, and has been going on for about a year. A few months ago I asked my GP to refer me to a mental health team for more in-depth help as anti-depressants alone were not working.  My GP wrote to the mental health team asking for help with my suicidal thoughts, and she listed some of my circumstances too – imminent homelessness, massive housing benefit screw-up, and suffering from ME and lots of other diseases.

The three times that I have seen a psychiatrist have been rubbish. I talked about that in a previous blog post. Basically, the psychiatrist focussed on my fatigue and would talk about nothing else. I even said to him “I’ve had M.E. for eleven years and know how to manage it, but I really need to know how to stop the loops of negative thought and the suicidal thoughts.” I was ignored. He decided to treat my fatigue by giving me amitriptyline, which is the first drug used in cases of M.E. even though I have tried many similar drugs over the years to no effect. Amitriptyline caused me to lose two entire weeks because it made me sleep all day every day, so I cut it down and then stopped it.

I went back to my GP to find an alternative to this useless psychiatrist. She gave me a copy of the letter that he had sent to her. Here is what it says:

Diagnosis: Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

Current Mental State/Progress:
Unchanged, symptoms of fatigue.

Risk profile (+Crisis Plan if applicable):

There is no mention of the periods of despair, the suicidal thoughts, the risk to myself that my GP had told them about. Just a diagnosis of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. I have pointed out on this blog many times before that my illness is ME/CFS which is a physical condition. As such, my psychiatrist has no business writing CFS as my diagnosis for my mental health problems because it’s not a mental health problem.

I had a bit of a freak out this morning because I suddenly realised that this psychiatrist will be asked about my condition for my application for Disability Living Allowance. That could be disastrous if he tells them his version of what is wrong with me rather than my official diagnosis of M.E. by the neurologist that I saw years ago. However, after panicking for a few hours I have managed to call the mental health hospital and explain my problem. The manager there was extremely helpful and nice about it. My next appointment there will be with the Consultant Psychiatrist who is in charge rather than the idiot that I have previously seen, and because my DLA claim is imminent I will be called in earlier if there are any cancellations. She has also made a note that they must see me before replying to any letters about my DLA claim.

Hopefully that’s one less thing to worry about. The last thing I need is clueless doctors making my life even more stressful.

Block The Bridge Block The Bill – Liveblog

12:30pm Today I will be trying to update this blog as much as possible with information from UK Uncut’s Block The Bridge Block The Bill. Updates start from the bottom and new ones appear at the top.

UK Uncut: Block the bridge, block the bill


Latest updates

Refresh to see the latest updates!
I apologise for the twitter error messages. They will eventually turn into embedded tweets when twitter finally allows my webserver to see them.

19:23 Video shot live throughout the day can be viewed here http://bambuser.com/channel/bc_tmh


More videos from Kate Belgrave can be seen on her website. http://www.katebelgrave.com/2011/10/save-the-nhs-ukuncut-action-westminster-bridge/

18:32 Police say that everyone in containment has been released.


18:13 Here is the report from Channel 4 news.

See 15:08 for the BBC report.


17:57 Some video from about 1pm, taken by Kate Belgrave

17:55 Pictures from @bigmouthedwoman
London Bridge on Twitpic
Kettle on London Bridge on Twitpic

17:50 “Police (…) were thanked for not hitting people.”

17:45 There was some confusion because there are protests on two bridges. There are still people on one of them.

17:42 Channel 4 news is reporting in depth on the protest and the Health and Social Care Bill.

17:37 Most people appear to be free to go now.

17:31 Updates from @HeardInLondon

17:25 Updates from @Marmite_

17:18 Tim Hardy reports on the video that police will arrest remaining people under the public order act for breach of the peace, and that they will be searched. Met police announced that journalists should identify themselves to the police now. @bc_tmh telling the police arresting him that 168 people are watching them live.


17:16 Some tweets from @marmite_ about people being held back.

17:12 Message from UK Uncut: “We’ve had questions about the protest. To clarify: The protest is over and UK Uncut is leaving via the SOUTH side of Westminster bridge.”
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17:07 Met Police have kept back a group of people from leaving, and claimed that they are not associated with UK Uncut. Live stream camera man included. Some brief shouting as police told people to stop filming and some shouts that police were man-handling people with cameras. Keep watching the live stream here. http://bambuser.com/channel/bc_tmh/broadcast/2030568
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16:56 Reports via live stream that some people are being kettled by the police.

Met police claim some people “not associated with UK Uncut” are attempting to march.
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16:55 People blocked from leaving from Westminster end.
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16:54 Everyone leaving.
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16:53 There is a police helicopter over the protest now.

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16:37 Good article in the Guardian on why people are protesting to save the NHS. I remember a pre-NHS Britain. I don’t want to see a post-NHS one

16:33 @HeardinLondon reports that the bridge is being cleared now.
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16:32 “Big line of police & vans at parliament end of Westminster Bridge”
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16:30 ITV News has a video clip from the protest on their website.

16:26 Don’t forget, the point of Block The Bridge is to Block The Bill. Contact a Lord or three now and tell them you don’t want them to destroy the NHS. False Economy – NHS: 3 great ways to lobby the Lords

16:22 Protesting is a family event!
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16:18 More ugly rumours…
“Have been informed that police are only letting tourists on & off the bridge. ”
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16:15 Rumours of police movement too.
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16:11 Rumours that protesters are marching to Parliament Square.
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16:09 MP John McDonnell tweeted “Series of stand up comedians on Westminster Bridge entertaining and inspiring couple of thousand demonstrators.Inventive mobilisation.”
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15:57 “Private medicine is un-British”
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15:51 Police on the bridge (15 minutes ago.)
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15:50 Mark Thomas
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15:49 The Guardian has an article up now on the protests. Protesters against NHS reforms occupy Westminster Bridge

This Guardian article from yesterday shows that the government is worried that the NHS vote in the Lords might not go their way. It is worthwhile protesting. Ministers fear Lords will kill off NHS reforms

15:44 The Independent published this article on Block The Bridge earlier today. (Thanks to @Jon_S for the link.)

15:36 “You’re going home in a private ambulance”
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Hey it's @JosieLong with a message for Andrew Lansley #b... on Twitpic

15:34 “The real stars of the show”
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15:32 Another gathering of news and pictures about block the bridge

15:29 Here’s a UK Uncut video from 26th September.

15:26 Comedy Block!
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Comedy bloc #blockthebill on Twitpic

15:17 “Westminster bridge most definitely blocked.”
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15:13 @Jon_S has been keeping an eye on news coverage and has reported on it for us. News coverage of #blockthebill: mid-afternoon summary

15:08 This report was shown on BBC News at 14:21. It’s the only coverage by the BBC so far.

15:06 Comedy on the bridge.
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15:04 BBC News channel is once again silent on Block the Bridge. However, there’s a great banner on the bridge right now.

Banner: Save Our NHS

14:53 The view from embankment
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14:47 “People now breaking into group discussions…”
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14:29 “The Lancet says #BlockTheBill. The BMJ has been saying so for ages”
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14:22 BBC News is finally reporting on the protest. Video will appear here shortly.

14:12 Watch live at Bambuser – broadcast by Tim Hardy.

14:11 “The NHS saved me”

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14:06 Big banner ‘Save the NHS’ now flying across the bridge

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14:04 “Loads of riot vans on the front line.”

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13:50 “It’s safe to say this is successfully blocked bridge.”
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13:47 “People Before Profit”

13:45 “We love our hospitals”

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13:42 Still no sign of any mainstream news coverage.

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13:40 “The NHS will last as long as there are folk left with the faith to fight for it.” Nye Bevan

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13:34 After a rousing song protesters on the bridge are now shouting “We are the 99%!”


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Multimedia message on Twitpic

A nice tweet from @HeardInLondon

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13:15 Actual reporters have been spotted!

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13:08 Picture of the banner, from Christ Coltrane

13:04 Everyone on the bridge lying down.

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12:55 More photos

Just arrived at Westminster, fluorescent police and the house... on Twitpic

Message from UK Uncut:

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12:48 Lots of photos are appearing on twitter. Watch @HeardinLondon for the best pictures.

Wesminster Bridge 12.20pm. Midnight on the NHS #BlockTheBill ... on Twitpic 12.15pm Westminster Bridge already closed. The tourists are l... on Twitpic


Banner on the bridge for #blockthebill on Twitpic


12:43 Tim Hardy (@bc_tmh) will be broadcasting live from the bridge. If this embedded clip doesn’t work, please check his website.

12:33 Some official messages from UK Uncut:

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Invisible illness and irrational hatred


Living with an invisible illness often means being under constant suspicion of being workshy and a malingerer, and of committing benefit fraud. Ignorant people often attribute physical but invisible illness to mental health problems, and then claim that they are not real problems. This is usually wrong on two counts, since not only are many of those illnesses not mental health problems, but mental health problems can be just as real and disabling as any physical problem.

Unfortunately some of these ignorant people have a platform to spread their ignorance and hatred through. One such person is Rod Liddle, who writes in The Spectator. After being contacted by the Fibromyalgia Society he launched an attack on the disease, saying that  “it is another one of those imaginary afflictions claimed by malingering mentals.” He went on to present a list of “Things Which Definitely Are Not Illnesses or Diseases and included Fibromyalgia and M.E. in that list. I have complained to the Press Complaints Commission about this article, and this is the text of my complaint.


 The article breaches clause 1 part 1 of the code of practice.
i) The Press must take care not to publish inaccurate, misleading or distorted information, including pictures.

The article breaches the code of practice as it is inaccurate and misleading.

The article lists Fibromyalgia and M.E. under the heading “Things Which Definitely Are Not Illnesses or Diseases”

It is factually incorrect to state that these are not illnesses. Fibromyalgia is listed in the World Health Organisation’s International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems under M79 Other soft tissue disorders, not elsewhere classified, as M79.7, Fibromyalgia. Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (M.E.) is listed under G93 Other disorders of the nervous system as G93.3 Postviral fatigue syndrome – Benign myalgic encephalomyelitis.

The article states “[Fibromyalgia] is another one of those imaginary afflictions claimed by malingering mentals.”

The author has no grounds to claim that fibromyalgia is imaginary, as it recognised as a real physical illness by the WHO. He also has no grounds to use the phrase “malingering mentals.” Fibromyalgia is not a mental illness, and even if it were, a mental illness is a real illness and is not “malingering.” This phrase is incorrect and is disablist hate speech. The errors in this article contribute directly to hate crime, abuse, and verbal abuse against sick and disabled people, of which there has been a significant increase in recent months. (As reported by Scope at http://www.scope.org.uk/news/matthew-parris-and-times)


I have saved a Freezepage copy of the offending article in case it disapears.


You can make your own complaint to the PCC on their website.


I recommend this interesting blog post on the different reactions to visible and invisible illness.



Conservatives: Protecting the vulnerable?

When I contacted my Conservative MP a year ago to express my concern about government policy towards sick and disabled people, he told me that “I see something different, I see the vulnerable protected.”

I still can’t see that.


Your ministers and special advisers constantly give incorrect information to the press and in speeches. You give misleading statistics to the press, and you leak it in advance to press that are sympathetic to conservative policies. That leads to headlines that seriously harm those reliant on benefits. Your language is itself harmful. You talk of benefit cheats, and scroungers, and the benefit lifestyle, and yet you ignore your own official statistics which show how tiny the levels of fraud really are. You ignore the massive damage done to the vast majority of claimants by your portrayal of those forced to rely on benefits and your constant references to deserving and undeserving; genuine and fake. Rhetoric from conservatives and the press has led to an increase in hate crimes such as stoning of people in wheelchairs and verbal abuse against those who need to use crutches or walking sticks. That has directly led to many disabled people being terrified of leaving the house.

You legislate on the assumption that with mobility aids, disabled people are on an equal footing with everyone else when moving around. They aren’t. Shops have steps in their doorways. Pavements lack dropped kerbs, leaving those who are on wheels or cannot manage a change in level to make extended detours. Cars and vans are routinely parked blocking ramps and dropped kerbs. Bus drivers refuse to lower their bus to allow wheelchair users on, or pretend not to see them. Trains and buses allow only one wheelchair on the whole vehicle. Those who need an electric wheelchair for use outdoors are denied one because they have no need to use one at home. Others wait months or even years to be supplied with one.

You continue the broken system of assessing people that was introduced by Labour. The concept of the Work Capability Assessment is broken in itself as the impact of most health problems cannot be assessed in 45 minutes by a health care professional who has no knowledge of the problems that the patient has. Atos continue to recommend that people go in the Work Related Activity Group and attend Work Focused Interviews at the Job Centre when they will be seriously harmed even by attending the Job Centre, IF they manage to do so, and never mind the fact that there are no available jobs that are suitable for them and competition for the unsuitable jobs is more than five to one and up against healthy people.

You are time-limiting contribution-based ESA with no regard for the actual length of time that a person will be sick for. The prospect of losing that income causes stress and seriously damages the mental and physical health of many of those people, leading to even longer recovery times.

You are introducing Personal Independence Payments to replace DLA, but apart from assessing people more often which is highly damaging to the health of those who are permanently sick or disabled, you are reducing the budget by 20%. The costs of being sick or disabled have NOT gone down by 20%!

Conservative cuts to council budgets have come directly out of budgets for personal care. People who can barely get out of bed have been left to shop and cook for themselves; others have been given incontinence pads and told to soil themselves rather than receive help to get to the toilet, and this despite having full control over their bowels but simply being unable to walk. Forcing people to lie in bed for hours in their own faeces and urine is now conservative policy.

You reassured me that the vulnerable would be protected. You were wrong. You are attacking the vulnerable. You are abandoning those in need. Your policies leave people more sick, more disabled, blamed for needing your help. You should be ashamed.