Government invoke Godwin’s law to refuse to meet disabled people

Esther McVey - Talk to the hand
Esther McVey: Talk to the hand

The government has cited one line in the guest  foreward of a review of the work capability assessment as the reason why it refuses to meet with representatives of sick and disabled people. The line they objected to referred to wounded soldiers being sent back to the front by the Nazis.

As Michael Meacher MP said in Parliament “This work is evidence based, uses the DWP’s figures wherever possible, has never been challenged on accuracy.” He pointed out that it has been used by the Work and Pensions select committee, the joint committee on human rights, and in many parliamentary debates.

Mark Hoban, Minister of State for Work and Pensions, refused to meet Meacher to talk about the Work Capability Assessment and he flatly refused to meet representatives of We Are Spartacus. In Michael Meacher’s own words:

He simply replied blankly “I’m not seeing you”, and repeated it 3 0r 4 times.   I kept on insisting ‘Why not?’ and finally he said “I’m not seeing Spartacus”.   Again I was taken aback and asserted that in my view Spartacus had analysed hundreds of cases, prepared a very detailed and thoughtful analysis of the implications arising from these cases, and even if he disagreed strongly for whatever reasons it was his responsibility to meet them.   To this he simply kept repeating “I’m not meeting Spartacus”.

Michael Meacher took it to the speaker of the house and arranged a debate to face Hoban in Parliament. Hoban didn’t turn up. Instead he send Esther McVey, Minister for Disabled People. Who publicly refused to meet disabled people. The reason given, eventually, was that it “wouldn’t be constructive”. The evidence presented was one sentence from the guest foreward of The People’s Review of the Work Capability Assessment.

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

– Guest Foreward to The People’s Review of the Work Capability Assessment by Professor Peter Beresford OBE, BA Hons, PhD, AcSS, FRSA, Dip WP, Professor of Social Policy, Brunel University

The government have essentially invoked Godwin’s Law to get out of meeting the most effective campaign against their welfare policy. They are afraid, desperate, and grabbing at any way out they can find.

Please sign the WOW petition to call for a cumulative impact assessment of the government’s welfare reforms.

Michael Meacher MP: DWP Ministers run frit of seeing delegation on Atos Healthcare

Benefit Scrounging Scum: Polite? Constructive? Request to meet with Minister Mark Hoban 10/2012

We Are Spartacus: The People’s Review of the Work Capability Assessment

Where’s The Benefit: Is It Coz We Is Disabled?

A Latent Existence: Godwin’s Law Must Die

We Are Spartacus

Iain Duncan Smith: “Disabled staff sit around drinking coffee all day”

Sunday Express cover 6/5/12

The Sunday Express has reported that Iain Duncan Smith claimed disabled staff “sit around drinking coffee all day” and said that former Remploy staff should “get a proper job”. The Express continues:

In a tirade campaigners later branded “unbelievable arrogance”, he stormed: “Is it a kindness to stick people in some factory where they are not doing any work at all? Just making cups of coffee?

“I promise you this is better. Taking this decision was a balance between how much do I want to spend keeping a number of people in Remploy factories not producing stuff versus getting people into proper jobs.”

To be honest, IDS’s hateful words don’t surprise me much. He seems to think that disabled people are lazy, or that their jobs at Remploy are somehow fake because they are subsidised. How he can think this when Remploy produce all sorts of things including DWP computer systems, I don’t know.

If IDS represents the mythical “Compassionate Conservative” then I don’t think he has a very good idea of what compassion actually is. His concepts of how poor, sick or disabled people live and what their motivations are is rooted in the security of a privileged wealthy background and is entirely detached from reality. Most people who receive benefits don’t want to be dependant on them. They would much rather have a job, with their own earned income, free from the stigma and the interference by the state and able to make their own choices. The staff at Remploy are not somehow faking their jobs and lazing around making coffee, they have real jobs producing real products and services.

It’s not as though there are jobs for the taking anyway, even those who are not disabled cannot find work. There are millions of unemployed people who don’t have prejudice against their disability keeping them out of most of the jobs that are available anyway.

Iain Duncan Smith has no excuse for his words. His background may have led to his disablist prejudist views but he has lived long enough and been told often enough to know that his views are wrong. When even the Express can see that what he has said is wrong and offensive, Iain Duncan Smith should resign and apologise.

 

Conservatives: Protecting the vulnerable?

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

I still can’t see that.

Conservatives,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And then a step to the right

If there’s one thing riots are good for, it is allowing politicians to introduce more authoritarian and right-wing measures as a knee-jerk response.  After a disaster of any kind it seems that a large section of the general public call for extreme measures in response. Calls to lock people up without trial, shoot them, deport them, and now to take away any state benefits and evict them from social housing. Today the government e-petition site announced “The e-petition entitled “Convicted London rioters should loose all benefits” has now passed the threshold of 100,000 signatures and has been passed to the Backbench Business Committee to consider for debate. It will continue to be available for signature once the site is re-opened.

Many politicians seem no different in their response. In fact any shocking emergency situation provides them with an opportunity to pass harsher laws. Examples include the USA PATRIOT act, brought in in the aftermath of 9/11, which gave US authorities extensive powers of search and surveillance as well as allowing easy detention and deportation of immigrants. Here in the UK we had the crackdown on gun ownership after the Dunblane massacre, and the extension of pre-charge detention to 28 days following the London 7/7 bombings. Then there are ID cards and the national identity register, and control orders which keep people under house arrest for years when there is not enough evidence to prosecute them in court.

In the last ten years the Labour government was responsible for introducing many authoritarian laws and eroding our civil liberties by quite a large amount. The Conservatives have largely been against many of these laws and for the protection of civil liberties. In June David Cameron said “The right hon. and learned Lady should understand that this is all about proportionality and making sure that we have a system that helps protect people while respecting civil liberties.” The Conservatives have professed to be against detention without trial, ID cards, and the over-use of CCTV. In practice, once in government they have not rushed to repeal any laws and there has been little improvement.

Social media

Since the outbreak of widespread rioting and looting in the UK the Blackberry Messaging Service (BBM) and social networks, especially Twitter, have come under fire in the last few days as the primary means of communication for those that are involved. TechCrunch has a good explanation of how these people use BBM which I recommend that you read, and I won’t repeat here. Unfortunately the news media and politicians seem to have seized on this use of modern communications methods and papers like the Daily Mail and The Sun have even blamed Twitter for much of the looting. I was particularly annoyed to see journalists asserting that passing on images and reports from the scenes of the crime amounted to encouraging the crimes. Many of the photographs and tweets to do with the riots where actually from journalists who were there, and while twitter allowed these to be spread a long way in a short time, the same photographs and tweets later formed the backbone of newspaper and television reports! It is almost as though traditional print and television news media are just jealous of the speed of social networks.

Nonetheless, there have been widespread calls among the news media, general public and politicians for BBM and/or twitter to be turned off during riots to deprive the criminals of a means of communicating. Today in parliament several MPs continued these calls and one MP even called for mobile phone masts in the area to be switched off. David Cameron stated that switching off twitter and BBM was the direction that we should be taking.

It should be obvious why this is a bad idea. These networks are not there for organising criminal activity. They are there for communicating. Just like landline telephones and the postal service, they can be used to talk about any activity, good or bad. If they were removed, it would impact on all sorts of things. The riot cleanup movement on twitter would not have got started. It would have an impact on all sorts of business. People rely on those communications networks to stay in contact with family for support and with the emergency services. Frightened people hiding in their homes over shops as they are attacked could be cut off from their only support if social networks were switched off, and from any means of getting help at all should the mobile networks be shut down. Sick and disabled people rely on these communications methods not just for support but for their very sanity.

Politicians should also note the example that they would be following if they did shut down communications. Dictators in Egypt and Libya shut down internet and phone networks to hide the attrocities that they were committing. It didn’t have the desired results, either. The whole world condemned those countries for their actions and the people found other ways to communicate, with all the more drive to remove their governments. China places severe restrictions and censorship on its internet connections. Twitter is frequently used to spread evidence of wrongdoing and brutality by the police, and videos taken and uploaded during protests have been used in investigations into killing by the police. This is not something that we want obstructed, although, of course, it might be something that the police would like stopped.

We already have censorship of internet connections here in the UK. ISPs already block any website on the list provided by the Internet Watch Foundation, sites which they deem to contain child pornography. A recent court case has seen internet providers ordered to block websites that index files available for download, and it is quite likely that the system in place for the IWF list will be used for this too. Our internet connections are already censored, the courts have ordered more sites to be blocked, and now the government are talking about turning off social networks on the whim of the police.  Add the comments made in parliament today and you can see why this tweet seems so believable.

[blackbirdpie id=”101625203901202432″]

This tweet was taken as genuine by many people today. The problem is, it isn’t so far from reality. Don’t be fooled though; the “@skynewsticker” account is actually a spoof account set up to provide humorous insights. The genuine account is @skynewsbreak. And Cameron wouldn’t talk to China about it, because Chinese web censorship is mostly done using American technology.

I have a strong preference for our communications networks not to be shut down, even to help stop criminal behaviour. If the government has to resort to cutting off communications to retain order, that is indicative of deeper problems.  Amnesty International has concerns about this too.

Kate Allen, Director of Amnesty International UK, said:

“Human rights are not an inflexible, blunt instrument designed to prevent the police from protecting people and thwarting crime. However, any decision to block or limit access to social communications must be legal, proportionate and have a legitimate aim.

“It is legitimate, in specific circumstances, to stop people using social media to plan violence and crime. Freedom of expression is not an unlimited right and can be subject to regulation where risks are legitimately perceived.

“But David Cameron must ensure that the fear engendered by the recent riots and the determination to ensure that there is no repeat or escalation of the events of the last week, does not result in a knee-jerk reaction which curtails freedom of expression in a disproportionate way.

“Governments in other countries such as China, Iran, Syria or the United Arab Emirates notoriously inhibit access to communications networks and resources within their countries. Embarking down a road of curtailing free access to the internet and other networks is not a decision the UK authorities should take lightly and it is vital that any censorship does not inhibit legitimate forms of non-violent protest.

“We will await the outcome of the discussions with interest.”

We must keep in mind that once freedoms are given up, it is rare for them to return. At least, not without a revolution. Once it is standard practice to turn off communications for riots it will become accepted practice during legitimate protests too, especially since the public and the government will frequently disagree about what is legitimate protest. We must not let this become acceptable.