Tories Attacking DLA to promote PIP

Daily Mail front page 11/11/2011

Today there are stories in both the Daily Mail and the Telegraph attacking Disability Living Allowance. Both claim that most disabled people (94%) need do nothing more than fill in a form to get the money that is vital to allow them to make adaptations, get care, and travel. Not surprisingly, both articles are full of misinformation.

The Daily Mail headline is plain wrong, even when compared to their own article and most patients definitely do not “just fill in a form” to get DLA. My own DLA application took two years, a medical assessment, two appeals and a tribunal. While only 6% of DLA applicants are given a medical assessment with a DWP/Atos doctor, 42% of claims relied on evidence from the patients own GP, and 36% relied on other sources of evidence such as hospital consultants and specialists. The remaining 16% were awarded DLA based on just a form, but those would all have been permanent, obvious, incurable conditions that need no other evidence to show that the person is disabled.

The papers both claim that DLA is worth £70 per week. Actually the average is £69.90 per week, but it varies from £19.55 to £125 per week depending on the care and mobility needs of the patient.

The Mail mentions that “More than 70 per cent of existing claimants are on DLA for life without facing any regular checks.” They fail to mention that many people who receive DLA are permanently disabled and will never improve. Many have progressive diseases that will only make them worse. Others might have missing limbs which are not going to suddenly grow back. To continually send these people to medical assessments is absurd, heavily damaging to the health of many of them, and cruel.

Promotion of Personal Independence Payments

The claims made in these articles are quite obviously made in support of the new Personal Independence Payments (PIP) that are planned to be introduced through the Welfare Reform Bill currently in the House of Lords. PIP is the subject of much concern by disabled people and disability rights campaigners. Personal Independence start off with the aim of a 20% reduction in budget over DLA. Given that DLA has only a 0.3% rate of fraud, this can only mean taking income away from people that need it. Then, PIP assesses mobility WITH mobility aids rather than unaided. If a person can move around with a wheelchair, PIP assumes that they need no help with their mobility. This ignores the fact that the vast majority of infrastructure is still not accessible in practice, in spite of laws on equal access. It also ignores the fact that the mobility component of DLA is often spent on a wheelchair. PIP moves assessments of disability to be more like ESA in that it will use a tick-box procedure and will involve an assessment by a third party such as Atos or Group 4. It will involve regular reassessments of people which as I have explained above is pointless in the case of those with permanent or progressive impairments and in many cases is seriously damaging to health. Finally, the sections about PIP in the welfare reform bill are very uncertain about how PIP will work in practice and to all intents and purposes are unfinished drafts that require much work even though they are in a bill that is almost law.

The promotion of PIP in the press is probably not a coincidence since amendments to the bill dealing with DLA are to be discussed in the Lords next week. There is no press release yet from the DWP concerning this (I checked at their website) but they both received the same information at the same time. In all probability it looks to me like this is a deliberate leak from Special Advisers (SPADs) to Conservative government ministers, probably using SMS text messages to avoid scrutiny. Since these stories include the same quotes from the Tax Payers Alliance it is likely that they were involved in this leak too. The Tax Payers Alliance are a right-wing group (quite a long way right) with links to the Tea Party in the USA.

Who are these special advisers?

The folllowing is an excellent summary of who the Conservative special advisers actually are, written by Sue Marsh.

Know Your Enemy

Have you ever wondered how it is that the Daily Mail & Express (other brands of toilet paper available) seem so intent on victimising sick and disabled people?

Ever wondered how it is, that monthly benefit fraud rates, released by the DWP are always written up in such an inflammatory way? Why national media only ever print the government lines. Chris Grayling, minister for employment, says he is “bemused” by it.

Maybe Iain Duncan-Smith can clear up this mystery?


Meet his special advisers : Susie Squire former Taxpayers Alliance until May 2010. For those who don’t know already, The Taxpayers Allowance are huge Tory donors, regularly accused of simply being a Conservative front. They’re not exactly on the Liberal, one-nation side of the Tory fence either. More your rabid frothing side. A quick scroll through their website will tell you everything you need to know, but they regularly attack disability benefits and those who receive them.

And SpAd No.2 :  Phillipa Stroud : Remember the name? Yep she was the politician who thought she could pray-away-the-gay!

She sees homosexuality as a “demon” that needs to be driven out of a person. Accordingly, she set up her own “church” to carry out this important work. Do click on these links, they’re fascinating. As I read through, I wondered if she should be allowed anywhere near Westminster at all.

One can only begin to imagine what someone like Stroud might think of the disabled. No doubt we have demons of our own. It’s not so long ago since people thought disabilities were the outward sign of some inner corruption or evil.

Now, surely the profiles of these two women might go some way to explaining just why, yet again today, we see misleading press releases leading to misleading stories?

**Clearly when I say “misleading” I mean out and out poppycock, but you know, legal blah……

 

References

DLA Award Values and Evidence Use for New Claims in 2010, in Great Britain [PDF] [Department of Work and Pensions]

£300 million of disability benefits paid ‘without checks’ [Telegraph]

Disabled benefit? Just fill in a form: 200,000 got handouts last year without face-to-face interview [Daily Mail]

Whitehall ‘routinely’ uses text messaging to avoid scrutiny [The Independent]

Disability Living Allowance – rates and how to claim [DirectGov]

Diary of a Benefit Scounger: Know Your Enemy

Warning signs of fascism

This list was created in 2003 by Laurence W. Britt and published in Free Inquiry Magazine. He took these characteristics from Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy, Franco’s Spain, Salazar’s Portugal, Papadopoulos’s Greece, Pinochet’s Chile, and Suharto’s Indonesia.

  1. Powerful and continuing expressions of nationalism
  2. Disdain for the importance of human rights
  3. Identification of enemies/scapegoats as a unifying cause
  4. Supremacy of the military/avid militarism
  5. Rampant sexism
  6. A controlled mass media
  7. Obsession with national security
  8. Religion and ruling elite tied together
  9. Power of corporations protected
  10. Power of labor suppressed or eliminated
  11. Disdain and suppression of intellectuals and the arts
  12. Obsession with crime and punishment
  13. Rampant cronyism and corruption
  14. Fraudulent elections

The original article contains longer explanations and references. Fascism Anyone? – Laurence W. Britt

Silencing protest

The right to protest is an important part of our democracy. Since we have a representative democracy rather than a direct democracy, (We elect MPs to make decisions for us rather than voting on every issue)  it is even more important to have the right to inform our MPs that we disagree with what they are doing and push for change to their policies. We get to vote for a representative every four or five years but we must be able to influence their policies in between elections, and sometimes writing a letter or meeting an MP is not enough. The government recognises the right to protest, and even says so on the DirectGov website:
The right to peaceful protest is a vital part of democracy, and it has a long, distinguished history in the UK.
Although protest stretches far back in to history, the right to protest is not explicitly stated in law. Instead, it is protected by the rights recognised in the human rights act. Specifically:
• Right to Peaceful Assembly – Article 11
• Right to Freedom of Expression – Article 10
• Right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion – Article 9
• Right to respect for private and family life – Article 8
(List taken from The Liberty Guide To Human Rights.)
The authorities recognise the right to protest and always claim to facilitate it, but they always include and emphasise the word “peaceful” in that phrase. Of course the laws against vandalism, violence, and other behaviour remain in place during protest so in some ways the word peaceful is redundant. The reason that word is included is to provide an excuse for curtailing the protest as soon as it is perceived to be disobedient.
March against tuition fees and education cuts, from the front
A protest march from the front - but where are the protesters?

In protests in London today (09/11/2011) the police controlled the march in a number of ways.

  • Prohibited protesters from leaving the route of the march.
  • Prohibited protesters from entering certain streets.
  • Prohibited protesters from assembling for more than two hours at the end of the march.
  • Stopped and search coaches on their way to the protest, delaying some beyond the start.
  • Overwhelming numbers of police who were intimidating to protesters.
  • Surrounded the march on all sides, making it impossible to see the protesters.
  • Forcibly removed protesters and their tents from Trafalgar Square.
  • Stopped and searched people at random.
  • Demanded that people remove face coverings. (Why? So they can build a database of protesters?)
  • Snatched certain people out of the crowd and removed them from the protest.
  • Had undercover police in the crowd.
  • Held protesters in place for some time at the end with no information on why or how to leave.
  • Frequently blocked the protester’s way and held them up.
  • Intimidation of would-be protesters with talk of baton rounds and warning letters as I wrote about in my last blog post.

The first three items on this list are courtesy of section 12 of the Public Order Act 1986. The more I find out about this legislation, the more I realise how draconian and evil it is. It does not seem to add anything worth having to existing laws, instead giving the police the ability to control and bully people. Section 12 allows police to tell people where they can and can’t go, and how long they can be there. Section 14 actually allows the police to order people to stay in one place, to restrict the numbers that can protest, and tell them to go home. Section 60 allows the police to stop and search whoever they like, without reason. Section 60AA allows them to order people to remove any clothing that might conceal their identity. This includes scarves, even if it is freezing cold. And for what purpose? The police would get a persons identity if they arrested them for a crime so the only reason to reveal it can be to gather details of who is protesting. Again, treating protest as a crime.

I will give some credit to the police; there was, as far as I know, no prolonged containment and no batons used. The march seemed (from my perspective via TV and Twitter) to be largely peaceful. This may in part be to the sheer numbers of police on the streets though. I know that some people would criticise the police if they did not have so many officers out but I believe this quantity of police to be overwhelming and intimidating. I have said before and will say again that if the police simply left people alone then that would remove the cause of most of the violence at previous protests. Yes, there might have been some vandalism, however police should target vandals if and when they do something wrong.

Medieval Jewish philosopher Maimonides said “It is better and more satisfactory to acquit a thousand guilty persons than to put a single innocent one to death.” If this is applied to protest, it is better to let a hundred vandals go free than to stamp on the right to protest of ten thousand. Police should leave protesters alone and stop trying to control them.

Further reading

Police leaflet given out to protesters (PDF)

Police notice under Section 12(3) Public Order Act 1986 (PDF)

BBC: Thousands march in student protest over university fees

Channel 4 news: Police out in force for student protests

 

Shutting down protest through intimidation

Government and police hate protest. Protests are inconvenient.  Protests tell them that they are wrong. Protests can attract attention and tell other people that the government is wrong. And so the right to protest appears to be under attack by the police and the government. The authorities recognise the right to protest and always claim to facilitate it, it even says so on the DirectGov website:
The right to peaceful protest is a vital part of democracy, and it has a long, distinguished history in the UK.

However they always include and emphasise the word “peaceful” with that phrase. Of course the laws against vandalism, violence, and other behaviour remain in place during protest so in some ways the word peaceful is redundant. It is often the idea that a protest has not been peaceful that is used to justify clamping down on the protest. The police have a number of laws at their disposal to minimise or prevent protest.

  • Section 14 of the 1986 public order act gives police the power to order protesters to confine their protest to a certain place, keep the numbers down, and tell them when to stop.
  • Section 60 and 60AA of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 allow the police to stop and search anyone in the specified area with no reason necessary, and to demand that people in the area remove all face coverings so that they can be identified.
  • Breach of the peace is a commonly quoted law. Not actually a criminal offence, it still allows a police officer to threaten someone with arrest unless they leave. I believe that the police use this at far too low a threshold since it must be “conduct severe enough to cause alarm to ordinary people and threaten serious disturbance to the community.”  and “something substantially greater than mere irritation is involved, what is required… is conduct which does present as genuinely alarming and disturbing, in its context, to any reasonable person.” (Smith v Donnelly 2001 SCCR 800)
  • Recently the police have charged people with Aggravated Trespass – a law intended to be used against raves – to place more restrictions on where a protest can take place.
  • Dispersal Orders may be put in place, creating a Dispersal Zone in which a police officer may order a person to leave the area with no reason necessary.
In addition to these laws, governments in the last fifteen years have placed more restrictions on being allowed to protest at all.  The law now requires organisers to apply for a permit six days before any protest march. Any protest at all near the houses of parliament now requires a permit from the police, again, six days in advance. Permission may be requested one day in advance if six days is not reasonably practicable. Quoting from DirectGov again:
If you are organising a march, you are legally required to notify the police six days in advance, or as soon as it is reasonably practical to do so. If you are organising a protest rally that will not involve a march, you are not obliged to notify the police, but you may still want to let them know.

Police always insist on agreeing in advance the route that a protest march will take. They talk to organisers or representatives of the protest to find out the proposed route, often imposing changes on it, and then any protesters leaving the route are used to justify clamping down on the protest. This is especially problematic in protests where there are no central organisers or where many additional groups have joined the protest but do not accept that any people represent them when talking to the police.

The normal response to protesters not doing exactly what the police want is containment. Containment, or kettling, involves enclosing the crowd with lines of police officers, vans, horses, buildings or barriers, and holding them there for hours. Often the police attempt to close in on the crowd and crush them. It is quite deliberate and police can be seen pushing in towards the crowd in a very deliberate and organised way in various videos taken from previous protests. When the people are treated like this it is almost a certainty that they will get angry with the police and people at the edge will be pushed towards the police by those being crushed in the middle. The police response is to hit people and scream at them to get back and so it should be obvious that containment will only ever cause and inflame violence, mostly starting on the police side.

The purpose of containment, apart from keeping protesters away from other people, appears to be to destroy people’s will to protest. The containment usually only ends when people are tired, hungry, cold, and prepared to submit to being photographed and giving their details to the police. It is arguable that this is a deliberate deterrent against protesting in future. People fighting in court the use of containment have argued that it is a form of collective punishment. That is, it unfairly punishes all who are at the scene instead of just those that may have been causing trouble. Many other people are also intimidated by the threat of containment and put off of attending protest by it.

The collection of photographs and identities seems to be another intimidation tactic. Forward Intelligence Teams video and photograph people at just about every protest. It seems to be routine now for police to gather names and addresses from any protesters that have been caught up in containment, threatening arrest if the person is not cooperative and even arresting and then de-arresting in order to circumvent the law and get details. I believe that this is intimidation by the police. They build up a database of people who have attended protests and this can only be for use in identifying people at future protests – the idea that attending lots of protests makes a person a trouble maker – and the implication is that attending protests is a crime when it is not.

Apart from intimidating people out of protest, people can also be prevented from protesting by the courts. People who have been arrested at Fortnum & Mason and at Dale Farm but not convicted of anything have been banned in their bail conditions from the City of London and from Essex respectively. People who were arrested ahead of the Royal Wedding were also banned from London even though they had not even done anything to justify arrest. In September three activists were arrested for suspending a banner from a bridge in Birmingham while protesting at the Liberal Democrat conference. Two of those arrested were released on bail, (and banned from Birmingham) but the third was held in custody for ten days because he had previously been arrested at the Fortnum & Mason protest. He has not been found guilty of anything at that protest, and yet because of it he spent ten days in prison while not being found guilty of anything at the latter protest. This is definitely intimidating to potential protesters.

As if that isn’t enough, many people who had previously been arrested at Fortnum & Mason and at Dale Farm received letters from the Metropolitan Police warning them not to commit criminal or anti-social behaviour, to move away from any violence, and stating that they could be arrested at the earliest opportunity should this advice be ignored. I believe this to also be intimidation designed to keep protesters away from protests – both those who received the letters and others that saw them.

Letter sent by Met warning about behaviour at protests

Now ahead of several protests on Wednesday the 9th, Commander Simon Pountain of the Met police – who is in charge of policing during the protests – has given several interviews and in each has explicitly mentioned baton rounds. (Also known as plastic bullets.) He has stated that he will have units armed with baton rounds parked nearby and on standby to be used in policing the protests, and that he wanted them on standby so that he would not have to wait an hour or two for them to be deployed. He expressed a willingness to use them in certain situations which do not seem so unlikely. This is yet more intimidation by the police. Both their announcement that baton rounds will be on standby and the mere fact that Pountain talked about them to several journalists is very worrying and will intimidate and put off yet more protesters.

Taken as a whole, I believe that all of this shows that the police have far over-stepped their boundaries and are illegally curtailing the right to protest. Governments both Conservative and Labour have introduced authoritarian laws that also overstep the mark. This intimidation cannot be allowed to stop protest. Governments and police are not supposed to like protest, it is designed to make them uncomfortable so that they change their policies. Obviously it is working.

Escalation of protest policing: Rubber Bullets on standby

Simon Pountain, who will be in charge of policing protests in London on the 9th of November, has told journalists that officers carrying baton rounds (rubber bullets) will be on standby. From his interview on Sky:

In terms of baton rounds, baton rounds is a valuable tactic for me to be able to have available, should the need arise. At the moment, I have asked for it to be available to me. Those units will be parked away from the area, and they’ll be on standby, should the need arise because the last thing that I want is if any of my staff are coming under sustained attack, as we saw in previous demonstrations, I need the ability to protect them and to make sure that they don’t sustain serious injuries, or even worse. And so I want to have those units available to me so that I can deploy them if necessary and not having to wait for an hour or two hours to get them to me.

The important thing to note here is that the firearms officers carrying baton rounds will be on standby in a van waiting somewhere near to the protest, rather than in their normal headquarters, and that Pountain says that he wants them to be available quickly. This is a significant step up from the normal situation and indicates that he is more likely to use them. Secondly, he said “if any of my staff are coming under sustained attack, as we saw in previous demonstrations, I need the ability to protect them.” That wording is very significant. “As we saw in previous demonstrations” suggests that the police will need no more reaction from the protesters than we have seen before to open fire on the crowd.

On the plus side, he says that no officers will be carrying tasers. Woo.

References

 

Thanks to  @bc_tmh for these links.

Audioboo: @annareporting speaks to Met Police Commander Simon Pountain ahead of Wednesday’s student demo

Metropolitian Police: Baton rounds and public order policing

LBC: Met Police: Baton Rounds Ready for Student Protest

Sky News: Police Will Have Baton Rounds For Protests

Stop it

Fear
Despair
Crowding through my broken brain,
pushing and shoving the good thoughts away.

“Stop it!” I shout,
but I take no notice of myself.

Thoughts gone,
pushed out by gloom.
Body frozen in place
Cowering from the onslaught of worries.

The unpaid bills
the diabetes that just gets worse
the fear of benefits being refused
All giants advancing on me
ten feet tall, now a hundred.
Run! Except I can’t.

My body gives in, moving at a glacial pace
and hides, in the only place that seems safe.
In bed, curled up under the duvet
shaking
sobbing.

I want it to stop
I want to sleep and never wake up
Desperate to leave this all behind
but sleep never comes.

And so I lay here
Mind broken
Hoping for oblivion to take me away.