Confusion over the Bedroom Tax

There appears to be some confusion over a possible rethink of the Bedroom Tax. It seems that Iain Duncan Smith has told BBC News home editor one thing, while his department SPADs are claiming another. It shows just how bad things are in government. It seems to be chaos, with policies announced on the fly and ministers and departments contradicting each other.

https://twitter.com/BBCMarkEaston/status/304637207417847808

https://twitter.com/BBCMarkEaston/status/304639950433943552

https://twitter.com/BBCMarkEaston/status/304642876183285760

https://twitter.com/dwppressoffice/status/304664240483090434

 

BBC News: ‘Bedroom tax’ rules re-examined

What is the bedroom tax?

Iain Duncan Smith: “There is no bedroom tax”

Letter to my MP on new ESA regulations #esaSOS

As promised, although a little late due to lack of spoons, here is the email that I sent to my MP regarding the new ESA regulations. Feel free to take any text from this for your own use.

Dear Mr Luff,

I would like to apologise for the swearing incident which led you to block me on Twitter. As I am sure you must realise by now I suffer from mood swings and anger triggered by chronic pain and the painkillers which I take for it – something which will be inadmissible at my next Work Capability Assessment.

I have been shocked to read about new ESA regulations which will come into force on the 28th of January 2013 and I am writing to express my strong opposition to them. I appreciate that not much can be done at this late stage but this is in no small part due to the regulations coming into force less than six weeks after their announcement.

The new regulations allow a decision to be made about benefits based purely on the supposed difference that a suggested change, therapy, aid or medicine would make. This is already the case some of the time but will be much expanded in the new regulations. The new regulations do not require the Atos Health Care Professional (HCP) to discuss the suggested change with the benefit claimant before a decision is made by the DWP. It is of vital importance that any medicine, mobility aid or prosthetic or other change that an Atos HCP might feel would improve the claimant’s chances of working should be signed off by the patients own specialist doctors and by the claimant themselves before any decision. The Atos HCP is not the claimant’s doctor, (indeed, they are usually not a doctor at all) is not knowledgeable of the claimant’s condition, and the Work Capability Assessment, by the DWP’s own admission, is not a medical assessment.

There are numerous reasons why the change that the Atos HCP suggests might not be appropriate. It is quite possible that the change might not be available in that area or at all or might involve a very long waiting list. In Worcestershire, for example, wheelchairs are not available at all to people who can stagger around their own home. Prosthetic limbs are expensive everywhere. In many cases a person may be advised not to use a wheelchair, prosthetic limb or other aid because to do so will hasten the progression of their disease. A claimant may well have tried or considered a particular change but ruled it out because of negative side effects.

Even if the change were considered by doctors and the patient, there is the huge issue of consent. This change could compel people to take up a particular medical treatment through pressure from removal of their benefits and several legal experts have suggested that this could well breach their human rights. To push ahead with this could be extremely costly for the DWP when legal cases are brought.

Even worse than the above change, the new regulations will strictly separate the impact of mental health conditions and physical health conditions. This is an absurd change which ignores the reality of illness. Many medications for mental health problems cause physical problems, and many pain drugs cause cognitive problems. Impairments caused by a problem in the other category must be taken into account.

I do hope that you will agree with me that these regulations are a serious problem and will express your opposition to them.

Sincerely,

Steven Sumpter.

Sneaky Work Capability Assessment rules judge you fit for work based on imaginary help

There are new regulations for Employment Support Allowance about to come into force on the 28th of January. These regulations were proposed only six weeks before they will come into force, leaving very little time for the impact to be considered.

Worse, these regulations make drastic changes to the assumptions made during the assessment that will result in even more people being refused sickness benefits or told to take part in work-related activity.

ESA SOS! Refusing help
Doc Hackenbush explains the change (Click to enlarge)

The two big changes are:

An assessor can consider what mobility aids, equipment, medical treatments or medicines might help the claimant return to work, and then, without consulting them as to whether the change is suitable, they can judge them fit for work or for work related activity based on them making that change. This completely ignores things like side-effects of medication, suitability of adaptions and mobility aids, or even if such help is available to the individual. This could already happen to some extent, such as with wheelchairs, but will now apply to a far wider range of changes. This also raises the huge problem of medical treatment without consent, since refusing to take a drug that could help a person return to work, even for very good reasons, could lead to benefits being withdrawn.

The second huge change is to how the the assessment considers the relationship between mental and physical health conditions. Where previously any disability or restriction could be applied to any activity, whether it was caused by mental problems or physical problems. These new regulations will strictly separate the two such that one set of questions considers purely physical restrictions, and another set purely mental restrictions. You may be completely unable to perform a task due to mental illness, but be considered able to physically and therefore able to full stop. This equally applies to side effects of medicines. For medicines that treat mental health conditions, only the impact of side effects ON mental health will be considered. Crippling physical side effects caused by treatment for mental health will be completely ignored when deciding that a person can work.

These changes will pull the rug from under the feet (or wheels) of hundreds of thousands more people who are struggling to live, never mind to earn a wage. Make no mistake; whatever the intention of these changes, this is a cut in support.

What you can do

The clearest analysis of these changes that I have read is from Ekklesia. Briefing on ESA Regulations [Ekklesia] I recommend that you read this.

Please write to your MP urgently to oppose these new regulations. You can find and contact your email through Write to Them. My own communication with my MP will be available on this blog later today.

Please share this and other blogs about this subject on Twitter with the hashtag #esaSOS as well as on Facebook and anywhere else you think suitable. A tweet of your own will have far more impact than a retweet.

Please also add your signature to the War On Welfare petition to call for a cumulative impact assessment of this government’s welfare reforms.

Further Reading

DWP guidance on the changes: Memo DMG 1/13 [PDF]

The Employment and Support Allowance (Amendment) Regulations 2012 [legislation.gov.uk]

Diary of a benefit scrounger: ESA SOS

Thousands of disabled and sick people will be hit by new ESA/WCA changes [Ekklesia]

 

Iain Duncan Smith is proud of getting people off benefits

IDS - "We've heard enough of you"
“We’ve heard enough from you.”

Owen Jones confronted Iain Duncan Smith with the names of two people who have died as a result of the work capability assessment. He did not react well. I urge you to watch this video of the last part of Question Time, particularly the last minute if you want to see what IDS is really like.

“Hang on a second, we’ve heard a lot from you. Let me tell you something. I didn’t hear you screaming about two and a half million people who are parked, nobody saw them for over ten years, not working, with no hope, no aspiration, we are changing their lives, I am proud of doing that, getting them off benefit is what we are going to do.”

Iain Duncan Smith is proud of getting people off benefits. Never mind that there is no work for them to go to even if they can, and that the way lives are being changed is by sending people further into poverty and homelessness. Not only that, but he thinks that being “parked on benefits” and left alone is a bad thing. Well those of us on permanent sickness and disability benefits do have hopes and aspirations. We hope to not have too much pain today and we aspire to getting the care that we need so that we can undertake something entertaining that isn’t lying in bed waiting to die. We probably don’t aspire to being a rich Tory, which is probably similar to being dead in the head of Iain Duncan Smith. As for nobody seeing sick people, now they are being reassessed so frequently that they are committing suicide. Winning an appeal at tribunal often leads to an immediate call to another assessment.

https://twitter.com/crazybladeuk/status/271197324594786305

Dead people don't get benefits
Dead people don’t get benefits – cartoon by @dochackenbush

Further Reading

Brian Mcardle: Atos benefits bullies killed my sick dad, says devastated Kieran, 13

Karen Sherlock: How many more disabled people will die frightened that their benefits will be taken away?

Karen’s Story – RIP Karen Sherlock, Disability Rights Campaigner – Died June 8th 2012

Hundreds more: The People’s Review of the Work Capability Assessment

 

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.)

https://twitter.com/DIMBLEBOT/status/256456650939039744

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.

https://twitter.com/latentexistence/status/256459859409641473

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.

https://twitter.com/latentexistence/status/256499422177943552

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!

https://twitter.com/latentexistence/status/256517949509206016

https://twitter.com/latentexistence/status/256518721680592896

And that was my Question Time experience.

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

 

No wheelchair for you!

My old broken power wheelchair
My old broken powerchair

I wrote back in March about the death of the power wheelchair that I had been given and my quest to obtain a new one.  It was old but it served its purpose in letting me go further from home and use public transport without requiring another person to push my wheelchair. Since my ability to walk is fairly limited I do need a wheelchair when I am out of the house. There are four ways that I know of to obtain a manual or powered wheelchair.

  1. The NHS
  2. Lease one from Motability using the mobility component of DLA
  3. Buy one
  4. Get a charity to buy one

It should be obvious that buying one is not really an option for most people living on sickness and disability benefits. Many people who need a high end power wheelchair do lease one from the Motability scheme however that option is not available to those who already use their DLA to lease a car through the scheme, or who do not receive DLA at all. In some circumstances a charity might be willing to foot some or all of the bill for a power wheelchair. Specialist charities for certain diseases or impairments might do this although in practice most do not have this option either. In my case there is a charity that helps people in the area that I live in who might be able to pay for part of the cost of a power wheelchair for me but since charity funds must be carefully looked after they require me to need a wheelchair but be unable to get one from the NHS before they will help. That leads me to the main option, to ask for a wheelchair from the NHS.

Soon after my power wheelchair broke an occupational therapist referred me to Worcestershire Wheelchair Services and I was told that I would get an assessment but that I would have to wait a long time. In the meantime I bought a manual wheelchair using my credit card. I have a bankruptcy in my past because of my illness so that credit is at an interest rate of 34% APR.

I knew when I was referred for a wheelchair assessment that I would not qualify for a power wheelchair because I only need a wheelchair when out of the house but that was OK because once I had an assessment I could turn to my local charity. As I understood then from other doctors and therapists I should qualify for a manual wheelchair, although probably one with small wheels that required an attendant to push it because self-propelling a wheelchair soon hurts my arms as much as walking hurts my legs. (This is why I purchased a self-propel chair, since I would like to be able to turn myself around even if I mostly have someone pushing.)

Then, today, I received this letter from Wheelchair Services. (Click to enlarge.)

Letter from wheelchair services

The letter informed me that I would not receive any wheelchair from the NHS because in Worcestershire they are

“Currently only able to supply wheelchairs to people who meet higher level needs i.e. to those clients who have a permanent mobility problem, who are unable to walk and who require a wheelchair within their own home.”

So, because I can walk or stagger around at home, I will not receive any kind of wheelchair to help outside where I cannot walk more than a few metres or stand up for more than a few seconds – not even a manual wheelchair. They won’t even visit to assess me. There are also many people who need a power wheelchair but are unable to get one from the NHS because they, like me can walk to some extent around their own home. In a lot of these cases they would use a wheelchair inside if only they could fit one in their home, but because they cannot they too are denied any help from wheelchair services. I know of several people who are currently trying to raise funds through donations to purchase their own power wheelchair because of this.

I’m not too worried about this in my own case because I have the manual wheelchair that I bought, and I have my wife to push it much of the time, and I still hope to get help from a local charity. I am far more worried about all the other people who haven’t been so fortunate and have no chance to buy a wheelchair, no charity help, no car and no one to offer lifts. I struggle to understand the justification for the NHS in Worcestershire not giving a wheelchair to people who need one but only when outside. If applied nationally, this policy would trap tens or hundreds of thousands of people in their own homes, unable to go out to medical appointments, to buy food or to visit family and friends. I don’t know how long this policy has been in place in Worcestershire but I hope that it is the only area doing this.

Worcestershire Wheelchair Service informed me that their qualifying criteria have been this way for a number of years due to low funding. Worcestershire is not looking like a good place for a chronically sick or disabled person to live right now; Worcestershire council are planning to remove funding for care at home for a large number of people and send them to live in care homes instead. This is a huge backwards step, a removal of freedom for a lot of people and reverts to the old method of locking those with disabilities away from society. This policy on wheelchairs will ensure that more people are trapped at home and so require care from the local authority, which in turn may put them into a care home.

Are we as a country really so short of money that this is the route we want to take?

Ungrateful

I am chronically sick. My illness forces me to rely on income from benefits because I am unable to work. I have just been told that to object to the monarchy and to hold political views while I live in this country where the welfare system looks after me is ungrateful. I can’t begin to address how wrong that idea is.

It stems from the same point of view that says I should lie in bed all day and think about how terrible I am to need taxpayers money to support me. The idea that I do not work so I have no right to any quality of life, to leave the house or to have any enjoyment in life.

It is the same point of view that says that I live on taxpayer’s money, so every tax payer has a right to question how I spend my income, and that I should never spend it on anything nice or entertaining.  The point of view that is jealous of my Motability car because I obviously don’t deserve it and I shouldn’t have a better car than someone who works. (Never mind that the car provides a way for me to get to my medical appointments and to do things for myself rather than require yet more help from the state, and that I lease and pay for it out of a benefit that I already receive.)

These are the views that lead to sick and disabled people being reported for benefit fraud because someone saw them walk a short distance or carry out some task that other people feel makes them fit for work, without any idea of variable health conditions, good and bad days, of doing something despite the pain or the payback later because the task must be done.

These are the kind of views that have allowed the government to actively remove much of the support given and the progress made over the last thirty years in the lives of sick and disabled people. These are the kind of views that lead to disabled people being locked away in care homes to die quietly without bothering anyone. This government has reversed things so much that councils are actually moving sick and disabled people into care homes to save money. Back to the age where they are out of sight, out of mind.

These are the views that led the Nazis to murder 240,000 disabled people between 1939 and 1945, so forgive me if I complain about the government and hold political opinions of my own. I have good reason.

Worcestershire County Council to put disabled into care

Lest We Forget: Eradicating the ‘Useless Eaters’ in the Third Reich [PDF]

Why Take The Flour Back are wrong and I’m leaving the Green Party

A group calling themselves Take The Flour Back are opposed to Genetically Modified wheat. Their plan is to visit Rothamsted Park on the 27th of May 2012 and destroy the GM crops being grown as part of the experiment described here:

“Scientists from Rothamsted Research are conducting a controlled experiment to test wheat, genetically modified to repel greenfly and blackfly, which could help reduce pesticide use and promote sustainable agriculture in the future.”

Scientists from Rothamsted Research recorded this video in an effort to open dialogue with the protesters.

You can read a written message from the scientsts here: Rothamsted Appeal Letter [PDF file]

Misinformation

The protest group make a few assertions in favour of their vandalism:

Rothamsted have planted a new GM wheat trial designed to repel aphids. It contains genes for antibiotic-resistance and an artificial gene ‘most similar to a cow’.

Rothamsted deny that they have used any genetic material from cows.  In fact, the odour is produced by a protein called (E)-β-farnesene which is also produced by hundreds of other plants including plants which we consume, such as Hops. Rothamsted state: “To suggest that we have used a ‘cow gene’ and that our wheat is somehow part-cow betrays a misunderstanding which may serve to confuse people or scare them but has no basis in scientific reality.”

There is no market for GM wheat anywhere in the world.

This isn’t true. Plenty of GM products are sold and consumed, although some of that is through abusive behaviour by large US businesses. That is a different problem to address. Perhaps they mean that people are generally opposed to GM food, but whether true or not that should not stop experiments that could have far-reaching benefits. People should be allowed to make their own choice. I fully support the idea that any product sold which contains GM ingredients should be labelled to allow people to choose.

This experiment is tax-payer funded, but Rothamsted hope to sell any patent it generates to an agro-chemical company.

Rothsted completely refute this:

Our work is publically funded, we have pledged that our results will not be patented and will not be
owned by any private company – if our wheat proves to be beneficial we want it to be available to
farmers around the world at minimum cost.

Take The Flour Back continue:

La Via Campesina, the world’s largest organisation of peasant farmers, believe GM is increasing world hunger. They have called for support resisting GM crops, and the control over agriculture that biotech gives to corporations.

I wonder how this organisation can support this statement. I do not believe that GM crops increase world hunger, but I do know that large companies are abusing patents to force the purchase of GM seeds in many cases. This is a problem with those companies and not with GM products.

‘Take the Flour Back’ will be a nice day out in the country, with picnics, music from Seize the Day and a decontamination. It’s for anyone who feels able to publically help remove this threat and those who want to show their support for them.

Wrong. That should read:

Take the Flour Back’ will be a nice day out in the country, with picnics, music from Seize the Day and vandalism and destruction of scientific experiments before the evidence can be gathered by people who fear what they do not understand.

A news story on the Green Party website also added:

The trial is happening in the open air, meaning that when it starts to flower it can cross contaminate other wheat crops and wild grasses. This is a real threat.

However this is false. The wheat used for this experiment is self-pollinating and the flower fertilises itself rather than dispersing pollen through the air to another plant. The seeds are too heavy to disperse in the wind and the plant has no adaptations to facilitate insect pollination. Even so, the researchers have taken precautions against contamination:

The GM plots will be separated from the edge of the trial by 10 meters of barley (or space) plus a 3 metre ‘pollen barrier’ of wheat that helps to contain pollen from the GM plants within the trial site. All these plants are treated as though they are GM and harvested /destroyed at the end of the trial. There will be no cereals grown for 20 metres outside the boundary of the site and no wild relatives of wheat that can cross with our cultivated variety exist in the vicinity.
Couch grass species, distant relatives of wheat will be controlled in a 20 metre wide area around the trial site to avoid any slight possibility of cross-pollination.

The right to protest

I am completely in favour of a right to free speech and the right to protest, even with people that I do not agree with. However, I am horrified at the idea of destroying scientific research. To make good policy we need knowledge, we need evidence. We obtain evidence through research. To destroy this research before we have any results is like setting fire to a library. Risk assessments have been carried out, precautions have been taken, consultations were carried out. Even if those who object did not engage at that time surely if there were a danger then they could attempt to stop things now through legal processes which will make a decision based on evidence. I think the protesters have probably not done so because the evidence is not on their side.

Why I am leaving the Green Party

I have explained why I oppose Take The Flour Back, but I am also resigning my membership of The Green Party over this issue. London Assembly Member and former candidate for London Mayor Jenny Jones tweeted on the 10th of May:

https://twitter.com/GreenJennyJones/status/200465542736396289

This was followed up with a news story on the Green Party website which repeated some of the false statements made by Take The Flour Back and announced that Jenny Jones would attend the protest.

I believe this represents support from the Green Party for vandalism and the destruction of scientific experiments. One of the reasons that I took a long time to join the Green Party after betrayal by the Liberal Democrats in 2010 was the anti-science attitude that I saw with their policies supporting homeopathy and reacting against many things out of fear and contrary to evidence. Indeed, the Green Party knew that this was a problem and recently made an effort to make their policies evidence based. I joined about three months ago when I thought that things had changed but this fiasco over GM experiments has left me feeling that I cannot trust the party. Perhaps I have given the Greens less of a chance than I did the LibDems but after one betrayal I am not waiting around for another.

I no longer feel that I can trust political parties. Manifesto pledges mean nothing. Promises seem to lead to the exact opposite behaviour. Politicians happily lie and mislead the public as to their true intentions. I’ve learnt my lesson. I sent in my resignation to the Green Party a few minutes ago and I will no longer support any political party.

There is a campaign by Sense About Science and a you can sign the petition asking people not to destroy research.

Further Reading

Take the flour back

Rothamsted Research

Rothamsted Wheat Trial: Second generation GM technology to emulate natural plant defence mechanisms

I wish to thank my wife and scientific adviser, Karen Sumpter (@missnfranchised)

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.

 

Olympic threat to freedom and liberty

Hugh Robertson MP, minister for sport, has a message for you.  Here it is:

“If you know of people, including neighbours, who are going to break the law during the Olympics you should let the authorities know.”

He said protesters targeting the Games will be “letting down” Britain.

Mr Robertson said the right to peaceful protest was enshrined in English law but added: “If people get involved in illegal activity we expect the police to crack down straight away. This is an opportunity for us all to show the world the best of Britain and the last thing I want is that ruined by Occupy London protests or anything like that.”

Does this sound a little bit… familiar? Fear of informants among family, friends and neighbours is a characteristic of most totalitarian regimes. When the state is so authoritarian that everyone is guilty of some crime or another, everyone must fear being reported by everyone else, perhaps in return for some government favour or some hope of immunity. I note that Mr Robertson implies that any dissent, any protest should be reported, not just illegal behaviour.

General clampdown on protest

Before we go any further, it’s worth looking at what happened at the last big event. Prior to the royal wedding last year the police arrested people pre-emptively, people who only wished to protest in a perfectly legitimate way. Some of them merely had signs expressing their objection to the public spectacle. I suggest you read my blog post on this, The suppression of dissent. Protesters have often been intimidated by police in the past, and it has been happening a lot recently too. A protest in November last year was heavily intimidated in the days before with talk of rubber bullets and water cannon, and with letters sent to warn people away. In the end it wasn’t as bad as that, but the police effectively silenced the protest and kept it out of sight.

Protesters have routinely been kettled, including “hyper-kettling” and beaten with batons. Alfie Meadows was injured so badly by a police baton that he needed emergency brain surgery, yet he was charged with violent disorder instead of the police officer that did that to him. The Met deny responsibility even when innocent bystanders are unlawfully killed (murdered) such as in the case of Ian Tomlinson. Kettling has recently been found legal, although hyper-kettling was not considered in that judgement. We have seen armed police at protests recently. Austerity is causing massive dissent. NHS cuts, service cuts and closures, welfare cuts have all been controversial and provoked protest. Despite all this, most protests go unreported by the press unless there is violence.

I would expect peaceful protest around the Olympic games; something of that expense and magnitude and with so much corruption will of course be a focus of unhappiness from those who see what is happening. I think that it is highly likely that we will see pre-emptive arrests before the Olympic games, and in all likelihood it will be worse than those at the royal wedding. I seriously doubt that the police will care whether or not a planned protest was going to be peaceful and obedient or was going to break the law. In fact the last government already made arrangements to make even peaceful protest, a vital right, illegal around the Olympics.

More Information: How protest is being outlawed [New Statesman] From kettles to courtrooms: The police crackdown on protest [Red Pepper]

Olympic Security

It is the security operation around the games themselves that worry me though. The Met police have been acquiring new toys recently. Water cannon are still a possibility, but these CBRN barriers will certainly be used.

CBRN barrier

CBRN barrier - rear

CBRN stands for Chemical, Biological, Radiological, and Nuclear. That’s right, the police are so scared about rebellion that they are using steel cordons designed for use around nuclear accidents and incidents of a similar level. Pretty intimidating, don’t you think? They have also acquired these nifty watchtowers:

#operationtrafalgar #totalpolicing on Twitpic No running, no heavy petting, no bombing. on Twitpic

These towers will be dotted around London so that the police can make sure that you are being watched, and that you know it. Lest you forget, though, we are being offered some Olympic merchandise to remind us about everything. Here’s Olympic mascot Wenlock in his police uniform:

Wenlock in police uniform, Photo by Dan Hancox
Olympic mascot Wenlock in police uniform - Photo by Dan Hancox

More information: Kettling 2.0: The Olympic State of Exception and TSG Action Figures [Games Monitor]

Absurd security around the Olympics

Even with all the security equipment the government are obviously scared of dissent. During the games there will be 13,500 troops deployed as security staff, in addition to an unknown number of police officers. MI5 has recalled 3,500 agents and cancelled holidays around the games. HMS Ocean will be moored on the Thames estuary with Royal Marines on board, and HMS Bulwark will be present for events around Weymouth. There will be Surface to Air Missiles around London ready to bring down any threatening aircraft. There will be an SAS unit nearby. So that these can all be deployed quickly to quash any naughtiness, 290 CCTV cameras have been moved from Birmingham to London.

More details: Olympics 2012 security: welcome to lockdown London [Guardian]

Draconian clampdown on Olympic terms and symbols

Just what is and isn’t allowed has also been tightened up. The last government introduced a law to make all the changes for the games. The no marketing right protocol says that businesses are forbidden to associate activity with the Olympic Games. No Olympic Rings can be used in any signs or displays, the phrase “London 2012” is protected and enforced, and you can’t use “2012” either because the enforcement got a bit over-zealous. First we have the case of Cafe Olympic, a fairly generic name and innocuous enough, you would have thought. The name had to be changed. A butcher in Weymouth had to remove display of Olympic rings and the number 2012 made from sausages.

Section 22 of the Olympics Act 2006 gives police power to enter private property including homes where they believe that an advert referring to the Olympics is either being displayed or created, and to seize materials. Although intended to prevent businesses from associating themselves with the Olympics, it equally applies to political posters or banners made in protest. Questions have been asked about that: The law and the Olympics [BBC] Police powers for 2012 Olympics alarm critics [Guardian]

Surveillance state

In a slightly bizarre move it seems that border control at our airports and ports have access to information on people involved in the Olympics – even torch bearers. When Bryony Gordon was stopped on entry to the UK she was questioned on what she was doing at the Olympics – who knows why – because the person checking her could see that she is going to be a torch bearer.

All of this security clampdown is really just the last straw. I have already written about how the Olympics are full of corruption, taken over by corporate involvement, hugely expensive (Possibly as much as £24 billion in reality) and has many more problems. See my previous blog post, Olympic Opulence: Bread and circuses without the bread. Even the BBC published an article with 10 reasons some people will dread the Olympics which I recommend that you read.

I wouldn’t object to an Olympic games that focussed on the sport and the athletes. These Olympic games, though, are an expensive, corrupt, authoritarian farce. Are you sure that they are worth the price?