In reaction to Rhys having this image on Facebook, he was directly harassed by people at his school and threatened with violence.
Let me make this clear. Not everyone is a Christian. Not everyone is a Muslim. People who aren’t part of a religion do not have to live by the rules of that religion. I can have a picture of Mohamed if I want (actually I can’t because no one knows what he looks like) because I am not a muslim.
More than that, people who are free to practice their religion and to say the things that they want to are only able to exercise this freedom because everyone else is. I can’t begin to express how stupid those people are that exercise their own freedom of speech to demand that someone else doesn’t have it. If you don’t like free speech, don’t use it.
One thing on which we pinned our hopes,
And yet people I trust tell me that we are not finished yet
And so I steel myself to fight on
Tomorrow the fight resumes
But now, now I am despair.
Kaliya Franklin spoke to Radio Merseyside at 7:40 this morning. Listen on iPlayer. (Jump to 1:40 in.)
Home Affair editor Mark Easton outlines the history of the allowance. And Minister for Disabled People Maria Miller and Lord Colin Low, president of the Disability Alliance, debate opposition to proposed changes.
The Victoria Derbyshire show on Radio 5 discussing the Welfare Reform Bill on the 17th January 2012. With Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson, Kaliya Frankilin, Louise Bolotin, Jane Young and Minster for disabled people, Maria Miller.
I’ve been sick for more than a decade. I have struggled to keep working for as much of that as I can, even starting my own computer maintenance business, but I have spent a lot of time unable to work. A few years ago I claimed Disability Living Allowance as I had mobility problems and needed care. I was initially turned down and although I eventually won on appeal the process took more than a year.
That was awarded for two years from the date that I first applied and so it soon ran out and required a fresh application. Unfortunately I was too ill to face completing the fifty page form, collecting medical evidence and going through the medical check again and since I was working, I let it go despite being entitled to it.
In August 2010 I became seriously ill once again and eventually in October 2011 I accepted that I wasn’t going to improve any time soon and so I applied for DLA again. This time I received help from the Worcester branch of the DIAL network who asked me questions and filled in my forms for me. The process was still long and exhausting but at least it got done. A few days ago I heard that I had been awarded DLA with a high rate mobility allowance and middle rate care allowance for a period of five years. I was taken by surprise about this as other people with M.E. often have to take their application to appeal.
DLA will make a huge difference to my life. The first thing I did was use the 17 weeks of backdated DLA to pay off my credit card, which had been racking up debt because of the extra costs of living with my illness. Last week I ordered a car from the Motability scheme, which I will pay for by handing over all of my DLA mobility allowance – about £50 per week – for the duration of the three year lease. Having a car will mean that I can leave the house – which I rarely leave at all apart from to go to medical appointments – and I will be able to go shopping with my wife, collect my own medicines from the pharmacy, visit the doctor and the hospital without having to take my father out of work to drive me there, and visit friends who I can only talk to over the telephone or internet at the moment. This car will open up a whole new life for me.
In addition to the car my DLA will pay for things like pre-prepared food that I can access when my wife is unable to be at home to care for me, and to cover the costs of the more expensive specific foods that I need if I am to keep my meals down. It will also pay for extra energy costs for the hot baths that I need to get some pain relief in my aching burning muscles, and air conditioning when the summer heat makes me so ill that I collapse.
In short, my DLA will be life-changing. The government’s plans to replace it under the welfare reform bill and cut 20% of the cost by withholding it from people that desperately need it are a dangerous and heartless thing. Please, sign the petition to pause the welfare reform bill.
The Minister of State, Department for Work and Pensions (Chris Grayling): The Department for Work and Pensions has obtained approval for an advance, prior to Royal Assent, from the Contingency Fund of £1,000,000. The funding will allow for the development of the IT changes required to introduce new benefit fraud and claimant error sanctions.
A tougher fraud and error regime was set out in the “Tackling fraud and error in the benefit and tax credit systems” strategy published in October 2010 and changes to sanctions and penalties are included in the Welfare Reform Bill. They provide for the introduction of a Civil Penalty for claimant error and strengthen sanctions for benefit fraudsters. To enable their introduction changes to the Departments’ IT systems will be required. The contingency advance will enable the IT provider to begin work in January 2012 giving them sufficient lead in time to commence changes in 2012.
Did you see what I saw? The DWP are getting their IT provider to start re-writing their computer systems so that they can fine people who make mistakes on their benefit claim forms. In order to do that, Chris Grayling has asked for and received one million pounds to pay for it.
Apart from my immediate revulsion at them penalising people for making mistakes on a very complex form at a time when they are vulnerable, and actually spending that quantity of money to enable them to do so, what makes me the most outraged is that they are spending this money when this bill hasn’t even become law! The welfare reform bill is controversial enough that it has every chance of being sent back to be re-written from scratch and it certainly hasn’t received royal assent. This is actually a trivial example of this behaviour compared to what else they have done though. The DWP has already spent eighteen million pounds out of two billion pounds on starting work on the computer system to run Universal Credit.
The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (Mr Iain Duncan Smith): The Department for Work and Pensions has obtained approval for an advance from the Contingencies Fund of £18 million to allow for the development of IT for universal credit before Royal Assent. This amount is part of the proposed investment in universal credit of £2 billion agreed at the time of the spending review.
Apparently the DWP has already awarded contracts to Accenture and IBM worth £500m and £525m respectively. It seems that Atos is the sub-contractor of choice for Accenture so a significant part of that half a billion pounds goes to them.
Spending such massive sums of money before the welfare reform bill has even become law is a huge assumption by the department of work and pensions that the bill will pass into law. It seems that it is common practice for them to start implementing other legislation before the end of the process, and I am unsure what I think of that, but I am sure that this case is too much too soon.
There is something that the DWP has started implementing around the DWP that has me more furious than even the money. The DWP recently sent a letter to every person who claims Contribution-based ESA and is in the Work Related Activity Group. In that letter they warned that the government wants to place a time limit on their benefit and that this could happen in the spring of 2012.
This letter no doubt cause a huge amount of fear and worry for nearly fifty thousand people, warning them of something that might not happen. In this case it might be unfair to blame the DWP for sending warning letters, since we would complain if they did not give any warning. The real fault lies with the government ministers who wrote the legislation in such a way that this benefit would be removed from some people as soon as the bill became law instead of after an appropriate period. I do not think that a bill with such an impact as this should start to be implemented before it has passed the vote. As it is, the house of Lords has amended the bill so that the time limit will be no less than two years and so thousands of people have been put under huge stress about losing their income without reason.
This all comes on top of the finding that the welfare reform bill was written and presented to parliament before the consultation on DLA reform had even finished. Government has got the whole process wrong. The correct order is consult, write legislation, debate, vote, implement law. Not the way that our backwards government does it.
On Monday a report on the welfare reform bill was released, put together under the leadership of Sue Marsh and Kaliya Franklin of The Broken of Britain, and with support from countless sick and disabled people. It has already received support from such names as John Prescott, Caroline Lucas, John McDonnell, Stephen Fry and Tim Minchin. The report, titled Responsible Reform and referred to on the internet as the Spartacus Report, used a freedom of information request to obtain some five hundred responses made to the government consultation on the reform of Disability Living Allowance.
The report is unique in that it was entirely researched, written and funded by disabled people. Funds to enable this report to be produced and to be printed and delivered to MPs and peers were raised through donations from sick and disabled people contacted through social media. They raised more than three thousand pounds. Volunteers were found to contact their MPs to discuss the report, and thousands more helped to promote the report on social media and in the physical world. Press releases were sent out and the authors of the report talked to journalists. Before I tell you what the report found I would like to first tell you what this cost some of the people involved.
First Dr Campbell, who wrote a large part of the report. This is what she said:
I read and recorded the data for the Spartacus report on my daybed.
I wrote the first half of my section of the Spartacus report on my daybed.
I became more and more sick as I wrote it and by that stage became virtually unable to leave my bedroom. My painkillers were now at maximum dose.
I wrote the third quarter of my section of the Spartacus report from my bed.
By this stage I was only able to work for a quarter of an hour at a time and then had to sleep for the rest of the hour.
I wrote the rest of my section of the Spartacus report in bed as and when I could, working through the night as the pain now meant I couldn’t sleep anyway. I no longer left my bedroom.
After sending the report to Sue I spent 5 whole days in bed, only leaving it to drag myself to the loo. I only started to sleep again on day 3 when the pain started to abate.
When the spartacus campaign was launched I tweeted, emailed and facebooked from my daybed. By early evening (6pm) I had to retire to my bedroom.
On day 2 I was bedbound and unable to leave my bedroom. I tweeted etc from my bed. Painkillers once again to max.
Today, still confined to bed.
Sue Marsh described her effort like this:
I pushed myself to the absolute limits and each time I did, I had to go to bed or be threatened with hospital.
I did the first two weeks of #spartacusreport from bed, barely able to get myself a drink.
Then, when I realised what I’d taken on, I gave my life to it. I worked from 6am til midnight, I didn’t wash any clothes or play with my children for 6 weeks, I didn’t cook, I didn’t appeal my DLA decision, I didn’t sort my housing benefit out, I didn’t go out, I didn’t do anything but work on #sartacusreport.
Immense thank yous to my Mum, Husband and children for making it even vaguely possible.
I had three chest infection, a crohn’s flare a fractured rib, two atrial fibrillations and I didn’t even tell anyone about the last thing cos I knew they’d make me stop.
By the end of the second day of pushing this report several of the people involved were so ill that they were hospitalised. Kaliya Franklin recorded a video in which she told us about these events but she was unable to speak above a whisper and was very close to hospitalisation herself.
So now you know just what went into this report, but what did the report actually find?
The report found that the vast majority of responses to the consultation were against the introduction of Personal Independence Payments to replace DLA. While most people accept that some reform of Disability Living Allowance is necessary, there is widespread agreement in the responses that Personal Independence Payments are not it. Of the five hundred responses to the consultation, 74% were against the proposals for PIP, and 19% had serious reservations. A mere 7% supported the proposals.
One very unexpected find is that the Conservative mayor of London, Boris Johnson submitted a response to the consultation in which he slammed the proposed reforms and even questioned the motivation of the government. He concluded with:
“While some reform may be necessary and some proposals are positive in terms of simplifying the benefit and reducing bureaucracy, the Mayor is concerned that if the focus of this reform is solely efficiency driven government, may fail to ensure that the needs of disabled people are adequately met and many will suffer additional hardship and isolation.”
This story was unexpected enough that it made it into the Guardian, the Telegraph, the Mirror, and even the Daily Mail.
So the first find is that despite government claims to the contrary, the consultation was overwhelmingly against the proposed reforms. This hasn’t stopped the government continuing to claim support.
The second important find is that the consultation, which was two weeks shorter than required by the governments own code of practice and took place over the Christmas break for good measure, ended two days AFTER the welfare reform bill was written and presented to parliament. The bill clearly could not have been written based on evidence submitted during the consultation even if it were written by hummingbirds on speed.
This is not the only problem with the behaviour of the government. They have consistently claimed that there has been a 30% rise in claims for DLA, but it is actually 13%. The government has even admitted that this figure is “distorted” but continues to claim 30% which is the figure that MPs and peers have been told and have used in Parliamentary debates. The government has failed to note that much of the 13% rise in claims for DLA is due to an increase in diagnosis of mental health problems and learning disabilities. This is likely to reflect improved health care rather than nefarious claims for DLA.
The report notes that DLA is not an out of work benefit but is a cost-saving benefit. DLA is paid to cover some of the extra costs incurred when living with an illness or disability, and is paid regardless of income. By covering those costs DLA allows independence and freedom to people which they would not otherwise have, and if taken from them would cause them to fall back on other health care and welfare services instead. Many people are able to work only because DLA provides them with the ability to travel or make expensive adaptions, and without DLA will be forced to claim other benefits instead. As such DLA actually saves money by preventing the need for much greater expenditure elsewhere.
One expectation of the welfare reform bill is a 20% cut in the budget for welfare costs. One of the ways in which they intend to accomplish this is that the new personal independence payments would introduce frequent testing much like the work capability assessment used for Employment and Support Allowance. The report notes that this testing is pointless in a great many cases where disability is permanent and may be degenerative, which given how hard it is to get DLA, is a lot of cases. It seems to me that the purpose of introducing such tests is to pander to tabloids and their readers rather than common sense. The policy defies logic enough that in April last year Ollie Flitcroft, a Conservative councillor for Barrow Borough Council and himself a wheelchair user, resigned in protest. Even the Daily Mail has featured an article favourable to the spartacus report.
There were several other important point in the report but I will leave these for you to read for yourself. The link to the report is at the end of this article.
The spartacus report found that the government has comprehensively mislead parliament and the public about the facts behind these reforms. The report says “We argue that reform must be measured, responsible and transparent, based on available evidence and designed with disabled people at the very heart of decision-making. Currently, we do not believe this to be the case.”
Since the release of the spartacus report and all of the campaigning that has gone with it, the debate of the welfare reform bill has resumed in the house of lords. Having already been through detailed examination at the committee stage but having most amendments blocked by conservative peers, the bill is now the subject of a flurry of amendments at the report stage through January. On Wednesday heated debate in the Lords surrounded amendments to the government’s key policies on Employment and Support Allowance. Lord Patel and Lady Meacher argued the case for their amendments from a very strong position which Lord Freud was unable to counter. In an embarassing turn for the government, three amendments were passed by substantial majorities which overturned plans to time-limit contribution based ESA to one year, exempted cancer patients from time limits all together, and restored access to ESA for children with severe disabilities so that they would be ensured the support that they need in the future.
Despite this defeat, which is perhaps the largest defeat for the government since the election, this fight is by no means over. The report stage continues in the house of Lords through January, and after the third reading it must return to the house of commons for approval of the amendments. I still believe that the whole bill is flawed, and I and countless other disabled people call for the welfare reform bill to be put on hold and reconsidered in light of proper evidence.
Disability campaigners went to bed smiling last night after an apparent victory when the government suffered a huge defeat over key policies of the Welfare Reform Bill. Three amendments were passed that would change the new time limit on contribution-based ESA from one year to a minimum of two years, remove the limit altogether for cancer patients, and would ensure that disabled children with no chance to make national insurance contributions would still be able to receive ESA in their adult life.
But Lord Freud did not accept his crushing defeat so easily. Although the debate on the welfare reform bill finished earlier that day, it resumed again around 8.30pm and Freud introduced a vote on amendment 45a that would render the earlier amendments irrelevant.
Earlier in the day Lord Patel’s amendment 45 had removed clause 52 from the bill, which related to children with no national insurance contributions. Amendment 45A rendered amendment 45 useless by re-inserting the content of clause 52 and thus removing future ESA from disabled children. Since amendment 45 had been voted on and passed by the full house, it is against normal procedure to vote on an amendment that contradicts it. Lord McKenzie furiously tried to oppose the amendment but many of those in opposition to the bill had gone home already and so the amendment was passed by 132 votes to 49. It is just speculation but I wonder if Conservative peers were briefed to stay behind. Of the amendment McKenzie said:
“This amendment was in the same group as the amendment on which the Government were defeated but runs contrary to the decision that the House made previously. The assumption is that this matter will not be pressed. Otherwise, the Government give us no alternative but to force a vote on it.”
After his first sneaky win Freud attempted to overturn his other two previous defeats however at this point peers were getting very angry with him. Baroness Hollis said:
“I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Freud, does not wish to appear to be subverting the view of the entire House, which was expressed in the full knowledge that the amendment which we voted on was devised—I devised it—as a paving amendment to a substantive one, so that we could debate it in good time. Most of the population of the House has gone home, believing in good faith that the previous vote has established the principle—as it has. However, the noble Lord is trying to renege on that by forcing a vote despite the late-night keeping of the roster. That would be quite improper and quite unprecedented, and I strongly suggest that he think again.”
Lord Bassam said
“My Lords, this is somewhat unprecedented”
At this point it appears that Lord Freud backed down and did not attempt any further amendments.
This behaviour by Lord Freud and the government is astonishing. It cannot be interpreted in any way other than that the government tried to subvert the will of parliament. The language of Hollis and Bassam is important here. Their phrases “quite improper and quite unprecedented” and “somewhat unprecedented” are strong language when it comes to parliament and translate to something more like “what the hell are you doing”.
This morning Chris Grayling said to Radio 4 that the government will reverse the amendments to the bill when the welfare reform bill returns to the House of Commons. Grayling does not live in the real world on these matters. He talks about children inheriting money and still receiving benefits. This is confusing, since I think very few people outside of the circles that Chris Grayling moves in will inherit that much money, and in any case, this bill doesn’t take benefits away from children who inherit money, it takes it away from ALL of them. Current income related benefits already ask the question about savings and these benefits are not given to people with a few thousand in the bank. Baroness Meacher said on the same programme “The British public do not accept that banks screw up and very severely disabled people pay the bill.”
If anyone had previously thought that the government were simply misguided as to what their policy would do they should revise their opinion. This government is corrupt.
Thank you to Karen Sumpter for helping me get my insomnia-addled brain around all of this before noon.
Clearly we haven’t explained the Responsible Reform report simply enough for busy journalists to take it in. Freedom of information requests were used to gain access to responses to the consultation on replacing disability living allowance with personal independence payments. The response showed that:
The government said that the responses support the reforms. They lied. The consultation showed that only 7% do.
The consultation did not meet the government’s code of practice. It was too short and it ended two days AFTER they wrote and presented the bill to parliament.
The government has consistently claimed a 30% rise in DLA claims. It is 13% and they admit they know this but still claim 30%
In short, this report says that the government broke the rules, LIED, are still lying, and we can prove it. They are lying to force through legislation that will affect millions of people, and could one day affect you. Anyone can become sick or disabled. We simply ask that the legislation is paused and given proper scrutiny.
Surely that has got to be worth a mention in the news?
The vast majority of responses were against nearly all of the changes. While most people accept that some reform of Disability Living Allowance is necessary, there is widespread agreement that Personal Independence Payments are not it. Of the five hundred responses to the consultation, 74% were against the proposals for PIP, and 19% had reservations. Of particular note is that Boris Johnson submitted a response to the consultation, in which he slammed the proposed reforms and even questioned the motivation of the government.
“While some reform may be necessary and some proposals are positive in terms of simplifying the benefit and reducing bureaucracy, the Mayor is concerned that if the focus of this reform is solely efficiency driven government, may fail to ensure that the needs of disabled people are adequately met and many will suffer additional hardship and isolation.”- Boris Johnson
None of this matters though, because not only was the consultation two weeks shorter than is usual, but it also took place over the Christmas break, eating into the time even more. And the bill was written and presented to parliament two days before this shorter consultation ended. Assessing the results of a consultation ought to take some time, and writing a bill based on the results would take even longer, so it is clear that this bill was written to fit Conservative party policy regardless of any evidence that the consultation presented.
This is not the only problem with the behaviour of the government. They have consistently claimed that there has been a 30% rise in claims for DLA, but it is actually 13%. The government has even admitted that this figure is “distorted” but continues to claim 30% which is the figure that MPs and peers have been told and have used in Parliamentary debates. The government has failed to note that much of the 13% rise in claims for DLA is due to an increase in diagnosis of mental health problems and learning disabilities. This reflects improved health care rather than nefarious claims for DLA.
It is important to note that DLA is not an out of work benefit. DLA is paid to cover some of the extra costs incurred when living with an illness or disability, and is paid regardless of income. By covering those costs DLA allows independence and freedom to people which they would not otherwise have, and if taken from them would cause them to fall back on other health care and welfare services instead. Many people are able to work only because DLA provides them with the ability to travel or make expensive adaptions, and without DLA will be forced to claim other benefits instead. As such DLA actually saves money by preventing the need for much greater expenditure elsewhere.
It is clear that the proposed 20% cut to the budget for PIP over that of DLA is an idealogical one which is not supported by evidence but has been pushed by the government regardless of the facts. PIP would also introduce frequent testing, much like the work capability assessment used for Employment and Support Allowance. This testing is pointless in a great many cases where disability is permanent and may be degenerative, which given how hard it is to get DLA, is a lot of them. It seems that the purpose of introducing such tests is to pander to ignorant tabloid media and general public rather than common sense. In April last year Tory councillor Ollie Flitcroft, a wheelchair user, resigned in protest at these changes.
So please, help us put a stop to the welfare reform bill in its current form. Spread this report wherever you can. Post it to Facebook and Google Plus. Tweet it with the hashtag #spartacusreport. Send a copy to any politician that you can find, and to your local newspaper and TV station. Contact a peer in the House of Lords and tell them why they must oppose the Welfare Reform Bill, and tell your MP too. If there is enough of an uproar then maybe there is a chance that this bill can be halted.