Poor vs poorer

The Conservative party have launched this advert in 60 areas.

Tory scrounger ad

It reads

Who do you think this government should be giving more support to?

Hardworking families…

Or people who won’t work?

Compare that to the recent findings of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation.

We undertook concerted, intensive fieldwork in very deprived neighbourhoods of Glasgow and Middlesbrough but we were unable to locate any families with three generations who had never worked.

If we cannot find a ‘culture of worklessness’ here, amongst these extreme cases of very long-term unemployed families, we are unlikely to find it anywhere.

Even worse, the adverts lead to a statement at the Conservative web site which tries to present benefit rises with inflation as unfair by pointing out that wages have not risen as much. Two questions are asked:

Should benefits increase more than wages?

Do you think it’s fair that people can claim more in benefits that the average family earns through going to work?

There is a text box to enter your own comments but it is limited to 300 characters which makes it very difficult to say much at all. Here is what I wrote:

I object; your questions are loaded. Benefits must rise in line with with the cost of living but wages must rise dramatically to stop exploiting workers. Austerity is an ideological choice and is destroying our country. Stop pitting poor against poorer in the hope that we won’t notice your crimes.

In my opinion this campaign is a disgusting attack on the poorest people in our society and it is aimed at pitting poor people against poorer people by vilifying unemployed people and presenting a false dichotomy that we can only help one group. It tries to incite resentment among people who are not paid enough against people who receive even less. This campaign is furthering that favourite Tory lie of deserving and undeserving poor. It is utterly disgusting.




MP’s expenses and other inaccurate claims

People often make claims to support their protest about something. Claims about tax avoidance, deaths, benefit fraud levels, or, on the other side of the political spectrum, claims about income, NHS spending, climate change etc. It is important to get facts right when making claims to protest about something because using a false claim to support your protest can wipe out any benefit from all the correct facts that you have claimed. The problem arises not just from a desire to mislead, but often from a complete failure to understand the claim and to check the facts, or the date on the information. In our efforts to make a political argument we often seize on a “fact” that we find and repeat it in a massive game of “Chinese Whispers” until it bears no resemblance to reality and is out of date anyway.

False claim about MP's groceries allowance

One such example is the idea that MPs routinely get £160 per week for groceries.It’s just not true. I have asked some MPS and they confirm that they do NOT get £160 per week for groceries. What is true is that MPs can claim for dinner if they are away from home late on parliamentary business or debating after 7:30pm in the House of Commons.

From the Parliamentary Standards Authority:

MPs can claim:

  • £25 per night for food and non-alcoholic drinks when travelling outside of the London Area and their constituency in pursuit of parliamentary functions
  • £15 per night for food and non-alcoholic drinks when the House of Commons sits beyond 7.30pm*

The typical amount that an MP might claim, in the rare circumstance of being away for five nights, is £125 for dinner out. If they have to eat out and aren’t living on kebabs while away then this is a likely cost. In normal circumstances they wouldn’t be claiming this at all. I’m not making any claim as to whether it is fair or not, just what the actual numbers are. (Also note that food in the Houses of Parliament is subsidised, a separate issue.)

The important point I want you all to take away from this is CHECK YOUR FACTS. If your claim is wrong, or even if it is nearly right, opponents will dismiss all your claims. I am guilty of this mistake too, but we should all try not to. Whether quoting benefit fraud rates or MPs expenses, find a trusted source and make sure you have the facts.


My Question Time experience

BBCQT Panel Screenshot

Last night I was in the audience for BBC Question Time. I follow it every week on TV and join in the argument on Twitter.  I thought it would be interesting for people to know how it actually works so here is my experience.

The Application Form

Two weeks ago after watching Question Time on TV I saw that there would be a recording in Birmingham soon. Birmingham is a one hour drive from here and just about within the range that I can manage without getting too sick so I visited the website to apply to be in the audience. I have actually started to fill in the application form before but I did not complete it because it contained questions that I just could not come up with decent answers to and that nearly happened this time.

The form starts with the expected details of name, address and phone numbers. It also asks age, occupation, ethnic group and whether or not you have any disabilities – I assume that these details are required in order to ensure diversity in the audience. It asks the applicant to cite two issues in the news recently that you might want to ask questions about were you to be on the programme, which I suppose proves that you are engaged with the news and would take part in the debate, not just stay silent. The unexpected part for me is the questions about who you would vote for and any party membership, and if you support that party leader or not. More on this in a moment. The question that nearly prevented me from applying was “What is your opinion of the situation in Afghanistan?” because it is complex and I am conflicted on the issue. I turned to Twitter, however, and after a helpful conversation I managed to tweet an opinion so I copied that into the form and sent it off.

The Phone Call

I heard nothing more for a couple of weeks but then yesterday morning I recieved a phone call from the Audience Producer for the programme, Alison. She asked me if I would be able to attend the recording that evening and of course I agreed. She told me who the panel would be (Grant Shapps MP, Caroline Flint MP, Simon Hughes MP, poet Benjamin Zephaniah and columnist Cristina Odone) and then wanted to know what question I would ask if I got the chance. She wanted me to come up with two; one to be sent in by email immediately and one to be written out on a card on arrival, preferably after hearing the day’s news. I said that my first question would be something related to David Cameron’s conference speech on the previous day where he had said of his son “Today, more people would see the boy and not the wheelchair” while I believed that today most people would see a scrounger and not a person. I couldn’t phrase the question there and then but Alison was happy with the concept and asked me to email it in after our phone call.

My second question she wasn’t quite so happy with. I told her that I wanted to ask about the investigation that is being launched into a supposed left-wing bias of BBC news reporting as I believe there is a right-wing bias. She didn’t completely object to the question, but she immediately defended the BBC. She said of Question Time: “I know who goes into the audience, I know how left wing or right wing it is.” It seems that the audience is selected specifically to represent a range of views across the political spectrum, hence the questions about political affiliation and views on Afghanistan. To be fair to her, I think that she probably does ensure a quite balanced audience but my impression of BBC news and current affairs is that the balance of panellists and experts interviewed are generally biased towards the right-wing even if the audience of Question Time are not. A bigger problem to me than the bias in selection of people who appear on the BBC is their choice of what stories to cover or not to cover, and the links between people like Lord Patten and the Conservative Party such as his £400,000 donation as well as links to private healthcare firms alongside the complete absence of reporting on the outsourcing / privatisation of most of the NHS.

Moving on, Alison next wanted to speak to my wife since she would be accompanying me. My wife didn’t particularly want to be in the audience but would have to go with me as my carer and to push my wheelchair but despite me pointing this out she wanted to speak to her anyway to ask the same questions that she had asked me.

The question that she suggested was about the privatisation of The Blood Service and the fact that many blood donors will not donate to a private blood service. To both of our surprise this question was vetoed because the story has not appeared in mainstream news, only on blogs and social networks. While I can see the reasons for wanting stories that everyone in the audience and panel have heard about, this does go some way to explaining why some topics never come up on Question Time or other debate shows. Unable to think of anything else, my wife said that she would email a question in later.

After the phone call ended I realised that my wife really wanted to go to her previously planned event that evening and so I looked for someone else to accompany me instead. (I couldn’t go alone as I can’t self-propel my wheelchair.) In the end I phoned my mum who it turned out was actually quite excited about being in the audience and so I called Alison back and asked her to change the details and call my mum to ask her questions.

The Event Itself

I drove my mum and I up to Birmingham. We arrived an hour earlier than we were supposed to as we both had to plan around meals, medication and insulin injections. We were too early to go in to the Question Time waiting area so we sat in the bar for a while. (This was in the MAC, Midlands Arts Centre.) When we walked over to the waiting area just after six the queue was already out the door! We joined the back of the queue and I spent a while trying to stop my mum from pushing my wheelchair so close to the person in front that I was kicking them. (They were friendly and laughed about it.) We got to the security staff with the metal detector but were just waved through. (Note to self: hide any contraband in my wheelchair.) After a guard looked in our bags we gave our names at the desk and were given wristbands to show we were audience members and question cards to write our second question out on. The notes asked that our questions be short, twenty to thirty words, and provocative. We sat in a fairly crowded cafe area and wrote out our questions. (In my case, dictated the question.)


A few minutes later David Dimbleby appeared in the room and gave us a short talk about how the recording would work. He explained that he wanted a lively debate, and he wanted the audience to join in, argue back and debate with each other as well as the panel. He told us that the questions would be selected before the recording and the people who would ask the questions would be told and given a copy of their question to read out. After that is was about another twenty minutes before we actually went into the area where the recording would take place. Being in a wheelchair I was taken through separately and placed at the front since the rest of the seats involved steps. I was slightly taken aback on the way through the door as one of the crew darted forward waving scissors at my wrist to cut off the wristband.


Before the recording took place we had a warm-up debate. Since the panel were not there yet the floor manager invited five volunteers down from the audience to form a panel. We debated about obesity and diabetes while the crew fitted microphones, adjusted cameras and checked seating positions did not block anything. The debate was interrupted a few times as various changes were made. It was clear that the floor manager did not intend the debate to be serious, interrupting with jokes including a running gag about national service and points given out at random to the panel however the audience and some panel members had quite a serious and interesting debate anyway and I made a couple of points myself.

Towards the end of this debate the Audience Producer came in with the questions which had been selected by Dimbleby. She stood at the front and announced each name, asking them to stand so that the crew could find them. They were then taken outside for a couple of minutes to be given their question cards while we continued our debate a little longer.

The Recording

At this point Dimbleby made his appearance. He stood at the front for a couple of minutes and chatted with the audience. Then he called in and introduced us to each member of the panel in turn. Dimbleby called on the audience to applaud points they agreed with, and for “Tories to support Tories, LibDems to support…” before being cut off by a shout of “Tories!” from the woman behind me. He explained that we were a varied audience and asked any UKIP members to raise their hands just to prove they were there. (There were two.)

The first question actually took place before the recording started and we spent a few minutes on that. Then the recording started properly and the programme was, surprisingly, exactly as you see it on the TV. The whole sixty minutes is recorded in one go and apart from selection of the camera angle is unedited. We spent a long time on a discussion of housing benefit and welfare and I spent most of that segment with my hand up to ask a question but sadly Dimbleby never picked me. He did seem to be directing the crew to position microphones near the people picked to speak through winks and nods which was a little bizarre.


When the programme finished Dimbleby asked us to remain seated for a minute while the recording was checked in case it had failed and any part needed to be rerecorded however the floor manager directed me to leave ahead of everyone else so that I didn’t get trampled. We headed over to the bar to get me a coffee and stretch and then I drove us home.

I arrived back home just after eleven and I watched the rest of the show as it was broadcast while trying to answer the thirty-five twitter mentions from people who had seen me on TV!



And that was my Question Time experience.

Watch Question Time – Birmingham 11/10/2012 [iPlayer]


Blasphemy, protest and the fight for free speech

You’ve probably noticed that there have been protests all over the world about a film called The Innocence of Muslims. These protests have resulted in the death of  the US ambassador to Libya and the deaths of at least nineteen people in Pakistan as well as others around the Middle East. Yesterday there were protests about the film in Birmingham, fortunately without the deaths that have accompanied protests in other countries. The film in question is laughably bad. It is ultra-low budget with bad acting and plastic toys as props. It is however extremely offensive to Muslims, and seems to be deliberately so.

The film seems to have acted as a trigger which has been added to all the anger already there about past interference and wars by the US and other western states. The protesters attacked US embassies and burned US flags perhaps because they blame America as a whole for the existence of the film. This is wrong however. The film makers are in a country where they have freedom of speech. They have the freedom to believe what they want, talk to who they want and say what they want and the government cannot lawfully stop them. The same applies to the group that wanted to burn the Koran  last year which caused similar uproar, and to the French magazine that printed cartoons of Muhammed. It also applies to protesters here. In fact in Birmingham here in the UK the police said this:

“West Midlands Police have no power to ban a static protest – in fact the right to protest peacefully is a sign of a healthy democracy and we have a positive duty to facilitate that right.”

(I wish our police forces were so enlightened about other protests.)

Under the European Convention on Human Rights here in Europe we have a specific set of freedoms around the topic of free speech: freedom of conscience and religion, (Article 9) freedom of expression, (Article 10) and freedom of assembly and association. (Article 11.)  It is exactly these same rights that apply to both those who wish to adhere to a religion and those who do not believe; to those who wish to speak publicly about their religion and to those who wish to publicly criticise it; to those who wish to protest on the streets and those who wish to protest in opposition to them.

There is an argument that when something such as this film is likely to  inflame such a vast and violent response that the freedom of expression of the film makers should be limited to prevent the response but that cannot happen. While we could ban idiots from provoking riots, banning idiots would only lead to oppression because someone has to decide who is the idiot, and that decision is not guaranteed to be trustworthy or correct.

These protesters need to realise that banning the film means violating freedom of expression, and that in doing so they are endangering their own rights to talk about their religion or to protest. They are not thinking in those terms, however, and merely wish to enforce their own religion at the cost of all other opinions. Preventing such a scenario is the very reason why in the US and Europe we  have freedom of expression that is meant to apply to everyone.

The protests about the film The Innocence of Muslims have taken a darker turn today. A Pakistan government minister Ghulam Ahmad Bilour has offered a bounty of a hundred thousand dollars for the murder of the makers of the film.


This is not freedom of expression or freedom of conscience and religion; it is the exact opposite. It is someone wishing to force their religious view on other people by any means necessary including murder.

In the end these people are only allowed to protest because they have the same freedoms that they demand be taken away from the film makers. (Or at least the protests are being tolerated, in countries where such freedoms are not enshrined in law.) It’s all or nothing. If I want freedom of speech then people I disagree with also have to have it. Demanding that they don’t would be stupid. Something that has escaped a great many people.


Protests in Birmingham against American anti-Islam film [Birmingham Mail]

YouTube under new pressure over anti-Muslim film [BBC]

Pakistan film protests: 19 die in Karachi and Peshawar [BBC]

Anti-Islam film: Pakistan minister offers bounty [BBC]


The Co-operative group and Atos

Welfare campaigners have recently come across this July 2009 announcement on the Atos website.

The Co-operative Group and the Co-operative Financial Services choose Atos Healthcare

London, 22 July 2009
Atos Healthcare, the number one occupational health provider in the UK1 and a business division of Atos Origin, today announced that it has won a contract with the Co-operative Group (tCG) and Cooperative Financial Services (CFS).

Under the new contract, Atos Healthcare will provide occupational healthcare services for the 82,000 employees who serve around 10 million customers a week through food, pharmacy, travel, funeral care, motor dealerships, legal and financial services. Atos Healthcare will provide pre-employment referrals and absence management including physiotherapy and workstation assessments to help improve employee wellbeing and reduce absence.

Atos Healthcare are the company that carry out Work Capability Assessments for the government to determine whether people are too sick to work and will receive benefits (Employment Support Allowance) or will be told that they are fit to work and abandoned on Job Seekers Allowance at a time when we are desperately short of jobs. People claiming Job Seekers Allowance and people receiving Employment Support Allowance but considered able to return to work in the near future are sent to work placements and flagship government schemes like The Work Programme. Assessments are wrong much of the time and people are dying because of them. More recently Atos Healthcare have also been awarded the contract to assess people for the new Personal Independence Payments which will replace DLA. As a result Atos have been the subject of much protest.

Many companies who use forced work from unpaid workers who receive JSA and ESA have been subject to boycotts by people revolted by what they see. At the same time we are in the midst of a global financial meltdown caused by international banks and so banks too are despised. The Co-operative Group touts itself as ethical and has been seen as one of the best alternatives for banking and grocery shopping and other services. Like many people, I shop and bank with The Co-op for these reasons and so I am disapointed to find that some of the money I spend with Co-op goes to Atos.

When asked via Twitter about their connection with Atos The Co-op replied:





I personally will stick with the Co-op for now but as a member I will try my best to put pressure on them to dump Atos. If that doesn’t work I will boycott them too. However, another worrying thing has emerged today. This morning a former Co-op bank employee told me that:

At the bank they stressed they weren’t ethical but a bank with an ethical investment policy, an entirely different proposition.

This raises whole new problems which I will investigate urgently.

What’s the difference between 1930s Germany and modern-day Britain?

Before we start I would like to point out that I am not a historian and I am not a sociologist and as such I have done my best to present the information here as I understand it. With that out of the way, I’ll start with an overview of how disabled people were treated in Germany during WWII.

1930s Germany

Nazi Euthanasia Propaganda
A poster about how expensive disabled people are.

The Aktion T4 programme ran in Germany from 1939 to 1945. In the 1920s  Alfred Hoche and Karl Binding, part of an extreme eugenics movement, advocated killing those who were judged to have “life unworthy of life.”  In the 1930s there were huge cuts to state institutions causing overcrowding and Nazi propaganda emphasised the cost of caring for mentally ill and disabled people. In 1939 parents of disabled child Gerhard Kretschmar wrote to Hitler to ask him to permit their child to be killed. Hitler agreed and immediately set up a committee whose job was to organise more such murders – Aktion T4. When the war started parents were told that their mentally ill and physically disabled children were being sent to special treatments centres. In fact they were murdered without the knowledge of the parents. The programme was soon extended to adults, starting in Poland then in Germany. Throughout the programme Hitler knew that there would be huge opposition to such killing and so he never put his orders in writing. The one exception was a secret letter written to authorise the formation of the Aktion T4 programme, mainly because his justice minister would not cooperate without one. The programme operated in secrecy until it was too late for most people. Under the programme at least 200,000 disabled people were murdered over six years, either through lethal medication, starvation or gas chambers.

Modern Britain

Now we jump forward to Britain today. The events I describe in the paragraph above are unthinkable. No government minister, no tabloid newspaper, no man in the street would advocate such things, right?

That’s not quite true though. Most of the pieces are in place. We have propaganda pushing the idea that sick and disabled people are scroungers, workshy, lazy. This propaganda is coming from government ministers, their special advisers, and tabloids like the Daily Express, The Sun, the Daily Mail. Even broadsheets like the Times and the Telegraph have contributed. Such propaganda has even been raised by MPs in the Work and Pensions Select Committee and ministers told to stop. The propaganda is working too, with hate crimes against disabled people up in vast numbers.

We have many people fighting to legalise assisted suicide, inadvertently promoting the idea that life for some people is not worth living. Sure, we’re only asking for voluntary euthanasia, but what other factors might be in play? Pressure to stop being a burden, financial problems, cuts to care all contribute to a desire for death. If euthanasia becomes legal what is to stop people from being pushed to kill themselves? It may be overt or it may be through suggestion and through making their lives hell. (This is more my fear of how it could go wrong than any judgement on my part for or against euthanasia.)

We have cuts to local authority care budgets, starting in Worcestershire, that mean anyone whose care costs more than sending them to an institution will lose some care. The politicians argue that it’s a choice because people can choose to move to a care home or to cut some of their care provision. But what to cut? Eating? Washing? Dressing? Using a toilet? We have already seen people lose in court after fighting to not have to wear a nappy. Adults are expected to soil themselves rather than get help to use a toilet. We have also seen the loss of the independent living fund. The net result is loss of care or institutionalising people. Most care homes are run by private companies and neglect does not seem uncommon. I think more abuse and neglect is likely especially when companies are cutting costs because they have underquoted better homes.

We have sick and disabled people being  judged as fit to work and told to claim job seeker’s allowance and look for work, and we have even more seriously sick and disabled people being placed in the Work Related Activity Group. Both groups are subject to The Work Programme where they are expected to undertake unpaid work experience for large companies, and government plans are to make such work placements of unlimited duration. Work makes you free.

Under these plans anyone who is seen to not be cooperating with The Work Programme and other work related activities will see their benefit income slashed. Those on Job Seeker’s Allowance can have their entire allowance removed entirely for weeks, even six months. Those on Employment Support Allowance (e.g. too sick to work) will see three quarters of their allowance removed. Of course anyone who has been judged as fit to work or has been placed in the WRAG is expected to be capable of going on work placements even if their assessment was wrong and they are waiting a year for an appeal, and even if people are seriously harmed by trying to work. The result is that those who don’t destroy themselves trying to find jobs that don’t exist or going to endless work placements will instead not be able to afford food, clothes, fuel bills, rent and more. Many will be able to use food banks but some will not be physically able to get to them and food banks rely on charity from other people who are struggling too.

The result

Is it such a large step for disabled people to be dying? No. It’s already  happening. Reports in April claimed that 1,100 people had already died after being placed in the work related activity group. That’s more than thirty people a week. This is what Chris Grayling calls “Tough love.”

Some government ministers make policy decisions without thinking about the consequences of what will happen in practice. Others are fully aware of what will happen and just don’t care. Either way, they are often covered by claiming that their policy in itself does not harm people, even though the flaws with implementation allow people to fall through the net and come to harm. Government ignore evidence. They dismiss statistics, they blame the previous government, they claim that processes are being sorted out now, they claim that any harm is the fault of the sick or disabled or unemployed individual. The Government are hiding behind Atos and A4e who are “just carrying out orders” but they way they carry out those orders makes things even worse. Government ministers have the same attitude as many other people in power – they can say “make it happen” and the minions do the dirty work.

In 1930s Germany the government themselves ordered the rounding up and the killing of disabled people. In modern-day Britain the government can claim that it is not their fault, even that it should not happen, but private companies and the chasm of bureaucracy between various government departments are what kill people. Starvation, homelessness and neglect are what will kill people. The implementation is different and the scale is different but the attitude and the outcome are the same.


Further Reading

Godwin’s law must die [A Latent Existence]

Action T4 [Wikipedia]

Disabled benefits claimants face £71 a week fines for breaching work plan [The Guardian]

32 die a week after failing test for new incapacity benefit [Mirror]

Early day motion 295 [Parliament]

Work-or-starve plans for seriously ill welfare claimants might backfire [Eklesia]

Past Caring? [We are Spartacus]


The Paralympics tell us nothing about most sick or disabled people

I’m struggling to believe that I have to say this, I really am, but here goes:

The Paralympics tell us nothing about most sick or disabled people.

No, really, they don’t. The athletes taking part in the Paralympics, just like those in the Olympics, represent the elite. They are the people who are lucky enough to have time for training, money for equipment, the physical ability to push themselves that far. Just as you could not expect any person who is not yet disabled to run as fast as Usain Bolt or to dive with as much skill as Tom Daley, you cannot expect a disabled person to run like Oscar Pistorius or swim like Ellie Simmonds.

For sick or disabled people the struggle is not to get to Paralympic standard but to achieve the same standard as most people who are not disabled. That’s what disabled means. For whatever reason the combination of the way that society is arranged and the impairment that a person has means that they are unable to function in the same way as most. Disability makes everything harder. It makes things more exhausting. It makes things more expensive. It makes things take longer. Sickness and disability can require everything that a person has and still not allow them to function. For many when the impairment is too great no amount of adjustment or struggle can overcome that, although technology and the efforts of those around them can provide other means for a happy life.

For a lucky few that sickness or physical impairment is not a barrier to Paralympic greatness. Even then, though they may be able to run or swim or shoot they might still not be able to dress themselves or wash themselves or cook for themselves. We should celebrate their sporting abilities, but we must not think that sporting ability tells us anything else at all about Paralympic athletes or any other sick or disabled person.

Violence and mass arrest at Critical Mass

Hundreds of cyclists were arrested on Friday night after trying to take part in a Critical Mass event. Critical Mass takes place every month and has been going for eighteen years however on this occasion police clamped down heavily to prevent the cyclists from taking the intended route and the evening ended in serious violence and mass arrest.

In the first few seconds of this video British Transport Police Officer 4125 is shown grappling with a man in a Shopmobility scooter, and then aiming something at him. (Probably CS spray.) The man shouts several times “I am disabled” but is ignored. A police medic can be seen trying to wrestle him away and prevent him from using it. Further in at 1:06 he can be seen and heard striking someone with a baton.

Trying to use spray
Trying to use spray
Baton strike - the rebound
Baton strike – the rebound

The person who uploaded the video has written this account:

27th July 2012 19:30pm In the early stages of the Monthly Critical mass Bike ride a British Transport Police Officer PepperSprayed a Disabled Man in a shoprider who had been apparently hit by a car along with several others. During the melee as the officer is pulling out the pepper spray , A fellow Female police medic attempts to stop the action, but is struck back and the officer sprays the Disabled man and most of us in the crowd, not satisfied, he then whips out his telescopic truncheon and trys to apply a wrist lock / neck Lock on the Disabled man using the truncheon. Eventually a real Police officer arrives with 3 vans and about 50 Backups. The disabled man is arrested and the British Transport Cop is led away by some other officers. 27th July 2012.

From earlier in the evening:


FIT recording Critical Mass
FIT recording Critical Mass. Photo by @IzzyKoksal





View from inside @MetPoliceEvents kettle of #criticalmass. Photo by @OurOlympics
View from inside @MetPoliceEvents kettle of #criticalmass. Photo by @OurOlympics


#criticalmass arrest buses
#criticalmass arrest buses – Photo by @indyrikki





Here is the event shown in the video above from a different angle.

Bail conditions imposed on those arrested:

Bail Conditions on Critical Mass


News Coverage

Russia Today: Mass arrests as London police attack ‘Critical Mass’ cycle ride during Olympic ceremony

BBC: Arrests made at mass bike ride on Olympic Ceremony night

ITV: Protesting cyclists ‘detained’ (Lots of pictures)

Guardian: Critical Mass cyclists arrested near Olympic Stadium

More Information

Critical Mass London

Wikipedia: Critical_Mass

Guardian: Critical Mass police ban blocked by law lords – 2008  article. Critical Mass ruled lawful and attempts by the police to ban it were overturned.

“If you don’t like it, go somewhere else.”

“If you don’t like it, go somewhere else.”

This response to an argument is far too common. I’ve seen recently it when complaining about the monarchy and the Olympics, as well as on lots of other occasions. However, that phrase is loaded with assumptions, privilege and intolerance.

I object to the monarchy. I don’t want the head of state to be a hereditary position – they should be democratically elected to represent the people. The head of state is meant to act as a control to keep the government in check. The queen theoretically has the power to veto legislation, to select the prime minister, and a few other things but she cannot do so because it would be politically impossible. Therefore the queen is useless as head of state and is basically only good for ceremony. I think it is wrong to define royalty as somehow better than everyone else and to call people subjects instead of free citizens. I certainly hate the celebration of the jubilee, all deference and nationalistic flag-waving and spending millions on extravagance at a time when the cost of even food and shelter is being denied to so many because of austerity.

The reason that I have presented this argument, however, is that you don’t have to agree with the views I have just expressed. We have basic human rights which are stated within the European Convention on Human Rights as a right to freedom of expression (Article 10) and a right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion. (Article 9.) In a democracy people may vote to select a representative or a policy based on the views that they hold. Unfortunately I can’t vote to abolish the monarchy because MPs have sworn loyalty to the queen and cannot introduce such legislation. I can, however, express my dislike for this situation.

There are many injustices that I would like to fight and the monarchy is a long way down the list. The jubilee has made it rather hard to ignore recently though, and when people express their dislike of the queen a very common response is to be told to live somewhere else. The problem is, I can’t, and I shouldn’t have to anyway.

I am chronically sick. Physically and mentally I would find it extremely difficult to cope with moving house across borders although there are ways around that if I had money. If I moved I would be separated from my support network and would require even more state support. My illness forces me to rely on income from benefits because I am unable to work and as a result it’s not just a case of paying to renew my passport and buy a ticket to another country; once there I need food, shelter, clothing, medicine and all the other things necessary to live. Unfortunately we live in a world of closed borders, of xenophobic people and of language barriers. It is hard enough to move to another country to work, but next to impossible to move to another country to live on welfare. (For what it’s worth, I once left the UK for six months, but was forced to return to find work.)

Even if I could leave, though, why should I have to? This is the place of my birth, the place where people share the same language and cultural references. This is where my family and friends are. I do not forfeit the right to those connections just because I dislike the government and the monarchy, and I certainly do not forfeit the right to complain about those things just because I am too sick to work. (See: Ungrateful.)

Freedom of expression and of thought means that we have to share with people who hold views that we don’t like. We can oppose those views, we can express our opposition, and sometimes views run over into threats which the law addresses, but we must not demand that people leave just because we disagree with them.


DWP still breaking their own rules on Mandatory Work Activity

I suppose it was only a matter of time until one of the various things that I have been campaigning about hit someone closer to home.

My brother left college last year after finishing a BTEC National Diploma in Computing with a good result. Unfortunately jobs in IT are few and far between in this area and so after a few months he claimed Job Seeker’s Allowance while looking for a work. Wishing to continue his education but unwilling to rack up tens of thousands in student loans, he started an Open University course in Computing earlier this year (Which still attracts a course fee of £2,500 per year for part time study) with the intention of finding a part time job to pay his living costs.

My brother has turned up for his appointments at the Job Centre every fortnight except the one that clashed with our grandfather’s funeral. He went on the rather pointless one-day course that he was ordered to attend but that offered him only literacy and maths help far below the level of his qualifications. He has applied for jobs, although perhaps not as many as he could have, and filled in his Job Seeker’s record.

Then a couple of weeks ago during his regular signing-on he was asked if he was willing to undertake work experience. Not being unwilling if it would help his employment opportunities, and also fearful of what the repercussions would be if he refused, he said yes. Soon afterwards he received a text message from the DWP. It informed him that he was to start Mandatory Work Activity and would be contacted soon by a private company that would arrange his placement.

This was quickly followed up by a letter giving more details, reproduced here:

DWP letter MWA05 ESG


The letter reads:

To continue recieving Jobseeker’s Allowance and/or National Insurance credits, you must take part in Mandatory Work Activity.

ESG HOLDINGS LTD, or one of their partners, will support you whilst on Mandatory Work Activity. They will discuss with you the work placement and the support it will provide to improve your chances of getting and keeping a job.

You must complete any activities that ESG HOLDINGS LTD asks you to do.

You will still need to attend the Jobcentre and meet your benefit conditions, including attending Fortnightly Jobsearch Reviews and any other interviews and being available for and actively seeking employment.

ESG HOLDINGS LTD will let you know when you will start Mandatory Work Activity. You must participate until you are told otherwise.

If you fail to participate in Mandatory Work Activity without a good reason, your Jobseeker’s Allowance could stop for up to 26 weeks. You could also lose your National Insurance credits.

We have passed your details onto ESG HOLDINGS LTD who will be in contact with you shortly.

This letter was followed up by a phone call from ESG HOLDINGS and my brother was told to attend a placement at the British Heart Foundation shop for thirty hours per week over five days per week for four weeks.

However, campaign group Boycott Workfare were told in February that the British Heart Foundation would not take people who were forced to attend work with them:

The British Heart Foundation, contacted by a Boycott Workfare campaigner back in November, were insistent that they “would not actively encourage any placements, regardless of the scheme name, where the person involved is not a willing participant…

It is in the rules that after six months job seekers are sent to The Work Programme, but that is a different thing altogether to Mandatory Work Activity (MWA) and in any case he has not quite finished six months on JSA. The Work Programme involves learning skills and various activities, applying for work, and some work experience. Mandatory Work Activity is by definition forced on people and only involves work placements. In reality both involve forced work for no pay or face having no Jobseeker’s Allowance for six month, but the government did try to claim that The Work Programme was not compulsory. (They were lying though.) Even if JSA is counted as a wage for the work done it works out at far less than the legal minimum wage, and with MWA the job seeker has no choice in who they work for or what they do. Placements can be far outside of the skillset of the job seeker, or against their moral position, but are still compulsory.

A DWP guidance document released through a Freedom of Information request in January tells us a few relevant facts about the MWA scheme which I will quote in the next few paragraphs.

It has not been explained to my brother WHY he has been sent for MWA. Here’s what the DWP guidance says MWA is for:

15. A JSA claimant potentially suitable for MWA is one identified through the work targeted interview process, supported by use of the Customer Assessment Tool, as lacking ,or failing to demonstrate, the focus and discipline that is necessary to effectively:

  • seek out and pursue job opportunities
  • secure and retain employment

16. MWA may be beneficial for a claimant that has recently received a labour market related sanction/disallowance, providing an opportunity for them to develop the skills, disciplines and behaviours sought by employers.

19. If a lack of recent work experience is proving to be a barrier to finding work for an otherwise well-focused claimant, Advisory Teams must seek to address this through appropriate measures eg Work Together; MWA is not an appropriate measure in such cases

None of these conditions would seem to apply. My brother has attended all but one of his interviews and has looked for work. He hasn’t received any sanctions for failure to look for work. He doesn’t entirely lack work experience; he has helped out a lot over the last two years in a large kitchen for a charity that provides a conference centre and guest house, and has received training there. In any case, MWA is not to be used to provide work experience. Then we must address the issue that he was not given any indication that he would be placed on MWA or any way to avoid it:

22. A referral to MWA must never come as a surprise to a claimant. If a claimant’s circumstances suggest that they may be suitable for MWA, the adviser must:

  • explain to the claimant that they are being considered for referral and the reasons why i.e. to develop skills, disciplines and behaviours that are widely valued by employers and that can help them in seeking employment.
  • provide an overview of the provision to the claimant
  • explain to the claimant that the case for referring them will be discussed with the Advisory Team Manager in line with district implementation protocols to support MWA
  • explain to the claimant that if they are subsequently referred to MWA, their participation will be mandatory
  • record, as an LMS conversation, that the discussion with the claimant has taken place and the reasons cited for considering an MWA referral

NB The language and tone used when discussing MWA with claimants is crucial. MWA must never be used as a threat or portrayed as a punitive measure.

The news about the MWA was given by text message. However, the guidance states:

26. The referral must be made within an adviser interview (a flexible intervention interview should be used).

27. The adviser undertaking the referral must take the following actions:

  1.  Explain to the claimant:
    • why they are being referred
    • that the case for referring them has been discussed, and agreed, by the Advisory Team Manager
    • what the provision entails
    • how we expect them to benefit from the provision
    • that any travel and/or care costs they incur will be met by the provider

None of this actually took place. In the absence of any plausible reason for my brother’s referral to MWA and given that the correct procedure does not seem to have been followed in the slightest, I have to conclude that job seekers are being given mandatory work at random in contravention of their own rules, or that staff have some other motive such as targets to send for unpaid work. Perhaps the advisers don’t even know the difference between The Work Programme and Mandatory Work Activity.