Black Monday: welfare reforms take effect

Guardian front page 2013-04-01

The Guardian – Welfare reforms and coalition cuts: The day Britain changes

Today, 1st April 2013, is the day when many changes to welfare in the UK take effect. I will add various reports and interviews here as I record them.

Sue Marsh on BBC London at 9am:

[audio:http://latentexistence.me.uk/media/201304010900-Sue_Marsh-Welfare_Reforms_BBC_London_Radio.mp3]

Sue blogs at Diary of a Benefit Scrounger

Dame Tanni Grey-Thompson on Sky News Sunrise at 9:10am

Iain Duncan Smith on The Today Programme, Radio 4 at 8:30am

David Bennett explained to The Today Programme how he works 60 – 70 hour weeks but is still needs benefits to survive. He asked Iain Duncan Smith if he could survive on £53 per week.

[audio:http://latentexistence.me.uk/media/201304010830-IDS-Today_Programme.mp3]

Newspaper Front Pages

 

Government doesn’t want to know what Welfare Reform will do to people

WOW Petition – that’s a petition to stop the War On Welfare – calls for the DWP to carry out a cumulative  impact assessment on all the welfare reforms together. It is obvious to most people that the impact of cutting many benefits all at once is more damaging than cutting just one. But the government claim that it is just too difficult to do a cumulative impact assessment, that the changes are too complicated. In reply to the petition (a reply that was long overdue, the petition having doubled the necessary 10,000 signatures to merit one) the government said:

“Cumulative impact analysis is not being withheld – it is very difficult to do accurately and external organisations have not produced this either.

The Government is limited in what cumulative analysis is possible because of the complexity of the modelling required and the amount of detailed information on individuals and families that is required to estimate the interactions of a number of different policy changes.”

It is not that difficult though, and certainly within the means of a government department when millions of people will be negatively affected. To prove the point think tank Demos have had a go at it themselves. They estimate that the total loss over  five years will be £28.3bn. Let me spell that out: Twenty-eight billion pounds. That is not – as my MP told me – the vulnerable being protected. That is the vulnerable being mugged.

Writing in The Guardian, report author Claudia Wood said:

At one end of the cumulative impact scale, 88,000 disabled people currently claiming employment support allowance (ESA) will feel a double whammy of a 1% cap on uprating and a 12-month eligibility limit. At the other end of the scale, at least 1,000 disabled people (possibly up to 5,000) will face six separate cuts to their benefits income. By the time the next round of cuts are due in four years, they will be £23,300 worse off per person.

In between these two groups are about 120,000 disabled people facing a triple cut, and 99,000 a quadruple cut. These combinations represent at the very least a loss of £6,309 per person by 2017. The worst loss of £23,461 per person by 2017 will be experienced by those unfortunate enough to lose their eligibility for disability living allowance and ESA, and who are reliant on other benefits that will only increase by 1% because of the rating cap or by the consumer prices index (CPI) instead of inflation.

Wood points out that these figures are an underestimate,  cuts to child benefit, the independent living fund, social fund or council tax credit being just a few other factors. Underestimate this may be, but it seems that the DWP are refusing to calculate even the minimum impact because they can’t work out what the maximum impact is. We don’t need to work out the worst case to be able to see that even the best case is not good.

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

It doesn’t really matter though, because the government are just making excuses. The fact is that they don’t want to know what the impact will be because if they knew then they would have no excuse for continuing with these savage cuts. It’s actually worse than that, because they must know, but they don’t want to be seen to know. As we saw last week, government ministers don’t actually want to talk to the people affected, making bizarre excuses to get out of talking to Spartacus. They don’t want to hear anything that would contradict their rhetoric.

These cuts don’t make economic sense either, even when you view them for what they are rather than “reform” aimed at helping anyone. Cutting DLA will leave people stranded at home where their health will deteriorate and lead to higher costs to the NHS. Cutting the Independent Living Fund will institutionalise people, sending them back to expensive care homes and preventing them from living and working alongside the rest of society. Cutting money that is spent by disabled people on care and travel will damage the car industry and cut jobs for carers. Welfare isn’t money that disappears, it is money that is ploughed straight back into the economy and its loss will be noticed. Although possibly not by George Osborne.

The government are sticking their fingers in their ears and shouting “La la la I can’t hear you” when it comes to welfare reform. Sign WOWpetition to tell them that we know they can hear us and we’re on to them and we won’t stand for it.

Demo – Destination Unknown: April 2013

The Guardian – Claudia Wood: The government has a duty to assess the impact of its benefit cuts

The Guardian – Welfare cuts will cost disabled people £28bn over five years

Telling the full story of benefit changes

Mainstream media has shown very little interest in covering the coming changes to benefits and the impact that this will have. There is an occasional segment on TV news and a few more newspaper articles but even after two years of campaigning few people realise what is actually happening. The common reaction is disbelief and accusations of scaremongering and exaggeration.

My idea is to create an hour long documentary film using all the professional tricks to make it compelling and informative so that it conveys the full impact of the changes hitting people who live on benefits, whether unemployed, disabled or low-income. It would use personal stories, graphics, commentary, interviews and music to tell the story. The film does not have to convey a political message, only the reality of the changes. Any positive changes that can be found should be included too. I believe that even if made as unbiased as possible the film will be devastating in its message.

To get mainstream appeal the film could be narrated by and feature interviews with celebrities, with well-known paralympians potentially being the best choice but others too.

While a spot on television would be the ideal, these days a film on YouTube can get millions of views – potentially more than would see on TV. An online campaign using very short clips and hashtags could attract viewers. To raise the chances of it being seen on TV a ten minute version could be made using materials from the full version and sent to TV stations everywhere.

I’ve noted some of the steps that I think will be required. They’re not necessarily in any particular order.

  • Find a suitable name and some introductory branding
  • Create a website for the film
  • Crowdsource a list of all benefit cuts, eligibility reductions, care and service cuts and the impact of all this.
  • Start an awareness campaign on social media to get people involved.
  • Ask people to submit short clips through Vine and YouTube telling their stories and what they expect to happen. Clips can be recorded with smartphones or webcams. Gather these clips under a hashtag on twitter.
  • Raise funds through donations  for travelling to record interviews.
  • Interested parties meet to discuss content. Further meetings where appropriate in later steps.
  • Record interviews with celebs.
  • Follow up personal stories for better recordings.
  • Create graphics and animations to explain the changes.
  • Edit together a draft version of the film.
  • Record narration of the changes.
  • Create transcripts and subtitles.
  • Meet up physically and make a final version of the film.

This is all very much at the ideas stage, please comment with your views, suggestions, offers of help etc. Lets make this happen!

Johnny Needs More Than Chalk – why welfare reform needs a cumulative impact assessment

To do his schoolwork, the bare minimum Johnny needs is: paper, a pen, a teacher, a school, a chair to sit on, a desk to sit at, and a packed lunch.

If you take away just Johnny’s lunch, he will go hungry. It would be almost impossible for him to concentrate and do well in school. However, in theory, he could still do schoolwork.

If you just took away his desk, it would make it tricky to write, but Johnny could still do his schoolwork. It would just take longer and be less neat.

If you just took away his teacher, he could, in theory, go to libraries and museums to learn. In theory. Hypothetically, it’s still possible that he could teach himself something, so he could still do his schoolwork.

If you take away his paper and pen and school all at once, he can still sit on the floor and use chalk to write on the ground.

But if you take away Johnny’s paper, pen, teacher, school, chair, desk and lunch, all at once, Johnny is sitting on some ground with nothing, hungry, without a roof over his head. It’s hard to learn anything at all sitting alone, on the ground, with nothing but a piece of chalk.

Now imagine you have a disability or a long-term chronic illness. To manage it with a degree of dignity, you need a carer, a roof over your head, a bed, heating, food and transport. You rely on the carer, who comes in twice a day from social services, because she helps you to get up and get dressed and washed. Without her, you would have to spend all day, every day in bed. But at least you still have a bed.

Or maybe you rely on housing benefit to keep a roof over your head. You are forced to move to a smaller property on the 5th floor of a tower block when your housing benefit is cut. The lift doesn’t work. It means you have to move away from family and friends who help you out whenever they can. They cook meals perhaps, or help with all those jobs around the house you just can’t do.

But at least you still have somewhere to live.

Or maybe you rely on Disability Living Allowance (DLA) for transport. It means you can get a taxi to the hairdresser or social club. Without it, you would become isolated. It would be impossible to get to your GP or make hospital appointments.

But, in theory at least, you don’t actually need to go anywhere.

If, however, you cut Disability Living Allowance, housing benefits, social care, hospital budgets, the Independent Living Fund,  Employment and Support Allowance (ESA), income support and the Social Fund, then you are just lying in a bed, hungry and isolated, a prisoner in someone else’s home.

Governments must perform what is called an “impact assessment” on any new policy or law. This government has done the bare minimum to fulfil this commitment. Would it surprise you to know, for instance, that when considering the greatest cuts to disability support in living memory, they claim that they will have no impact on health, no impact on well-being, no impact on human rights, and no impact on the justice system?

The crucial flaw is that they have independently assessed each cut to the services disabled people rely on, as if it existed in a vacuum.

The government has refused to do an overall impact assessment. They have repeatedly refused to assess what thecombined impact of their cuts will be. First they said it would be too expensive, then they said it would be too difficult!

Why might it be too difficult? Because they know, as we know, that, metaphorically speaking, the result will be little Johnny sitting on the floor with nothing but a piece of chalk, hungry, without a roof over his head.

The combined impact of removing someone’s DLA so they can no longer afford care or transport, heating or food, cutting their ESA so that they must look for work with cancer or multiple sclerosis, cutting their local care support so that they cannot clean themselves or feed themselves, cutting their housing support so that they risk homelessness and, to cap it all, scrapping the Social Fund so that there is no safety net when all else fails, is a strategy so risky that it ought to be criminalised.

We call upon the government to immediately carry out an overall impact assessment of all the cuts to the support that sick and disabled people rely on to live. I’ll say it again – to live. And they must do it now, before it’s too late. Because it’s hard to survive, sitting in the dirt with nothing but a piece of chalk.

First posted by The Occupied Times.

Please sign WOW Petition calling for a cumulative impact assessment.

What’s the state of ESA?

This won’t be a short post, but it is a crucially important one.
I have never written about something on this blog that I couldn’t prove to be true. If I didn’t have evidence that I could show you online, I didn’t write about it.
I’ve had many conversations with Labour MPs or peers or journalists or managing directors or trade unions  that I couldn’t share, but each one added to my overall understanding of ESA (Employment Support Allowance)
Today though, I think it’s important that I try to lay out very clearly what I feel I “know” about ESA, WCAs, Atos, the DWP and the current political situation.
I’ve dismissed those I judged to be fools along the way, the way we all do every day as we decide to trust someone or not, to believe something or not. I’ve made my judgements from meeting people, from talking to them. I like to “see the whites of their eyes” when I can. I research people, I try to “know” them and what makes them tick.
I’ve judged evidence and analysis along the way and tried always to get as close to a truth I could prove as possible.
I’ve dug into the history of welfare reform where I could. I’ve tried to find out what was going on with Labour at the time, when were Atos brought in? What was Unum’s involvement, who designed ESA? Which DPOs and charities were involved?
At every stage, with every decision, every   speech, every article, I’ve tried to think of the people who read my blog. I’ve tried to ask what we need to change and why. How to change it. Who are the real enemies? Why? What methods of demanding change are effective?
 Of course, my judgements may not have been yours. I have absolutely no way of actually “knowing” if I was right or wrong, too naïve or too cynical, biased or balanced but the following summary is where I feel we are in my heart from everything I’ve read and everyone I’ve met.
There are so many things that so urgently need changing about ESA, forgive me if I forget any here. For every bullet point, the section in italics is my opinion on where we currently stand.
  •       Medical evidence from own GP or consultant rarely taken into account
One of the most shocking statistics disclosed about WCAs was that DWP decision makers only refer to medical evidence as well as the Atos decisions in 2% of cases. Harrington recommended that medical evidence should always be considered and there has been progress- 8% of decisions are now overturned by DWP decision makers, suggesting they are referring to medical evidence much more. This has not yet been rolled out everywhere, so we might hope to see the figures improve further. However, the ideal solution would be for decisions to be taken by an independent doctor, based on all the evidence available.
  •     Descriptors used to assess fitness to work are far too narrow and not based on real life. They discriminate against those with mental illness, long term chronic illness, learning difficulties and more.
No assessment can ever be fair or functional if the descriptors are wrong. ESA descriptors are so wrong, they need totally fundamental reform. I got the impression that something shifted in the early part of this year. Government suddenly decided to go ahead with a trial of alternative descriptors (you can see them here) that were much fairer and broader and more rooted in a real life test. Though far from perfect, I believe they would give much more realistic results and provide much more opportunity for HCPs to make informed decisions.

The timescales to test these new descriptors is very quick for government. They will be trialled alongside a panel of expert decision makers to see how accurate they are. This process will be run by civil servants and if they are a notable improvement on the current descriptors, government do say that they will be implemented. 

We can help make sure the new descriptors are fairly trialled and the results accurately reported by keeping an eye on the trial, communicating with the charities responsible for writing the new descriptors and making sure that this isn’t somehow quietly shelved while we’re not looking. However, if all went well, we might be looking at the introduction of the new descriptors by 2014.
  •          Disability assessment centres are not all accessible to disabled people, often with no parking (!?!)
This is something that Atos has pledged to change as soon as they can. Whether might choose to be sceptical, but they have said on their blog and elsewhere that they are committed to quickly making all centres fully accessible. 

We can make sure they do this by writing to them and saying how important it is, urging them not to delay and telling them your own stories of trying to access an inaccessible centre.
  •          The Support group is too narrow and far too difficult to get into.
Support group numbers have been steadily rising. Last year the government had to find an extra £1 billion due to paying more people than they had predicted going into the support group. The figures are still rising and suggest they will continue to rise as the Harrington changes are rolled out. Grayling has said that they are “intensely relaxed” about this rise in Support Group numbers if it means those in genuine need are getting help and certainly, there doesn’t seem to be any evidence of this rise being suppressed or restricted. 

Once the latest figures are adjusted to take account of appeal decisions, around 35% will end up in the Support Group, around  42% in the WRAG and 23% fit for work. This is a huge improvement on the shocking days of  new-claim only  ESA stats, where just 6% were going into the support group, 18% into the WRAG and a full 77% of claims not resulting in any award of ESA. 

There’s still a long way to go. I would argue that the support group should be bigger than the WRAG and that 23% is too many being found fit for work, but there really has been great improvement.
  •          Sanctions of any kind, but particularly time limiting bad health to one year, are inappropriate for people with serious illnesses or disabilities.
Sanctions and penalties are most beloved by this government despite no evidence at all, anywhere in the world that they work. They have totally refused to listen or compromise at all over this and I can’t see that they will. The public are currently very supportive of sanctions and mostly believe they should actually be tougher.

However, workfare, work providers and some of the reality of sanctions have taken a hit this year thanks to the work of people like Johnny Void and Boycott Workfare, with big companies experiencing a strong public backlash leading them and charities to pull out of workfare and other failing schemes. 

More to the point, the way the government has set up the “payment by results” scheme, means that small providers who tend to get good results are going to the wall while less targeted, less successful large companies are unable to hit the targets set. The reality is, most sanctions will either never be used, or will be quietly abandoned as the government realise they either cause too much embarrassment or the scheme collapses totally because none of the providers are getting paid.
  •          Decisions take far too long. Appealing a wrong decision can take well over a year.
This is only getting worse with backlogs growing, targets for re-assessment falling further behind and tribunals taking longer. Soon, as the government realise that it is, in fact, impossible to actually assess 2 million people and keep on assessing them indefinitely. They cannot achieve accurate assessment rates assessing 11,000 people a week. There simply aren’t the HCPs to do the job. 

Assessment rates need to fall by around half and government must accept that the whole process will take longer then they predicted. When assessment rates DO fall, the appeal rate also falls drastically as shown in Kettering who have implemented all of the Harrington changes enthusiastically. Getting the decision right first time, by taking the necessary time with each claimant saves the taxpayer millions and the person being assessed trauma and unnecessary waits for tribunals etc.

There is strong anecdotal evidence that Atos and the DWP are now pre-assessing many as unable to work without calling them for assessment. This is exactly what we always said they would have to do. It is how the original IB system worked and though the government are clinging on to the rhetoric, they are realising we were right all along and there really IS no point in assessing people who will never get better and who clearly will never work. This is a big win, but you’re unlikely to hear about it.·         Healthcare professionals (HCPs) used by Atos to assess disability do not have to be doctors and do not need to have any specialism or prior understanding of the condition the claimant suffers from to make a decision.

Atos have pledged “mental health champions”, up and down the country, claiming that they will make the assessments fairer for those suffering from mental illness. This is welcome, but unless the assessor has some knowledge of the conditions they are assessing they cannot possibly make an accurate decision. Atos might consider other teams of expert assessor for other conditions. Though it might mean claimants travelling further to be assessed, if specialist teams were more accurate it would be a small price to pay. All HCPs should have a working knowledge of either general medicine or the speciality of the person they are assessing.
  •         Reports written by HCPs are inaccurate; often bearing no resemblance to what the claimant reports was actually said.
This still seems to be shockingly common. The DWP have said in principle that all assessments can be recorded, but in reality are blocking the process. Until someone being assessed for ESA is afforded the same basic rights as a criminal, and assessments are recorded, claimants cannot make sure this doesn’t happen. 

As both Atos and the DWP have said that assessments can be recorded and have pledged to get working recording machines into assessment centres, we can make sure people get accurate HCP reports by keeping the pressure on the DWP to provide these machines in every centre. This is one area that I know is under great pressure legally too. Having the law on our side can only help.
  •          Questions are misleading, seemingly designed to “catch people out”
A longer assessment using the improved descriptors, should make this less likely, but there is a culture of suspicion between state and claimant that must be talked from the roots up. All the time ESA is only designed to catch the cheats, it will never serve those in genuine need.
  •         Mail containing highly personal and sensitive information on forms is opened and sorted by a third party.
Mails used to be opened by the Royal Mail, sorted and only then sent on to Atos. Once the DWP finally accepted that the practise was commonplace, they have now pledged to stop it. We can make sure they do by keeping the pressure on.
  •          Correspondence sent to the claimant is threatening and frightening.
This is one area where Atos have seemed very keen to make improvements. They have redesigned their website to make information more easily available, less frightening and more sensitive. They now have a patient charter and say that they will work hard to make the whole claimant experience more customer focussed and compassionate. 

They would like people to advise them on how to do that, what we would like to change etc. Of course, we can refuse to make things better right at the point where Atos are asking how to, but that feels a bit like a four year old having a tantrum. We’re grown ups and we can’t change things if we don’t explain what needs to change and why.
  •         Language used by politicians and press to discuss those claiming ESA is derogatory and demeaning. Scroungers, skivers, feckless, festering – we are called all these things. Journalism is often lazy and full of inaccuracies.
For some time now, we haven’t been unheard. Just two years ago, no-one was writing about ESA at all, other than to remind the public that we were all scroungers who could be working. Now, the Guardian, the Mirror, the Independent, Private eye, Political Scrapbook, Left wing blogs and even the Spectator are running regular stories about the failures of ESA and the WCA. Channel  4 have run some fantastic sections on the failures of ESA and even the Daily Mail have allowed blogs about ESA written by the indomitable Sonia Poulton. 

Slowly but surely, things are changing. Bit by bit we are [persuading those that matter to persuade the public that we are right and the government are wrong. 

It is frustratingly slow. The public have to read things many times over before they accept them and we still have a long way to go. But things are totally different now to two years ago and momentum is building in our favour.
  •          ESA had cross party support. There was almost total political consensus that it was good policy.
From my own point of view, this is what I most wanted to change and the thing I’ve worked hardest on. All the time we still have a Labour party blind to the suffering of sick and disabled people, they are not a Labour party. It has been achingly slow with disappointments and faux-pas at every stage. It pains me that I have had to drag Labour to every concession kicking and screaming, that some in the party still think ESA is right. It hurts me to remember some of the judgemental speeches and thoughtless, unfounded coalition policies they originally supported. 

But as I wrote here Labour have made real steps in the past year to put the mistakes of ESA behind them. They are now saying they are listening and travelling the country discussing sickness and disability policy with those actually affected. They have laid out a set of “rights” they believe sick and disabled people should be able to rely on and they have admitted ESA is a mess and isn’t working . Byrne’s Beveridge 2 speech was a turning point in which Labour started to dare to say the word disability again. I DO believe Labour are listening. They realise that we face very grave threats, that we are not just the usual suspects making a fuss. It’s up to us to tell them what we need. We can’t sit at our keyboards complaining then refuse to say what we want. 

The EDM raised by John McDonnell was signed by 114 MPs and became the 3rd most signed EDM Every day a new Labour MP or even a Lib Dem or Conservative join the growing chorus of MPs opposed to WCAs. Again, it’s slow and it’s frustrating, but we’re getting there. 

It is also now Lib Dem policy to oppose WCAs despite their actions. This might not help now, but could come in very handy in the event of a future Lib/Lab coalition,

Once the political consensus is broken, it gets much harder for the government to get away with leaving ESA a shambles. 

Jon Cruddas, the head of Labour’s policy review, has promised to make sure anything we send to Liam Byrne and Anne MacGuire goes to the very heart of discussions over future policy. I believe him because he’s a good guy who’s written articles about sickness and disability that sound just like mine. He is a politician who really understands our issues. 

I honestly believe we have a chance if we just make sure we tell Labour what they have to do and keep the pressure on them to do it. 

But we have to tell them.
  •          It’s pointless expensive and unnecessarily distressing to constantly re-assess those with disabilities so severe and profound that they will never work.
(Dealt with under delays and appeals above)
  •          The help & support politicians say people with serious illnesses and disabilities will get to find work is totally inappropriate and ineffective. It conflates disability benefits with JSA (Jobseekers Allowance) Most people who lose ESA have not found work.
As I’ve argued here and here it is no good sorting out all of the problems above if there is no work sick and disabled people can actually get or do. The work provision is woefully inadequate, the system is not going to make work pay for us and we need to totally re-design the help and support government provide. If you can take part, please leave your comments below the articles and let politicians know what you need to work and what that work should be
  •          The public were unaware of all these faults and generally thought ESA was a good policy.
Sadly, this is the area where we still have the most work to do. Most people still don’t know what’s happening and disability is not an issue they think about often or that interests them much. If we are sitting around waiting for people to wake up and say “Oh, this is terrible, we have to stop it!” they aren’t going to do that any time soon. Think how long it took for Tom Watson to expose phone hacking?  It took years to spill over into genuine public outrage. There isn’t going to be a revolution.
All we can do is chip away, every day, telling more and more people, getting them to tell even more people. Slowly but surely, opinion will change.
If you look at all I’ve written above, we’re well on the way to winning most of the points above. If we haven’t won, we’re at least at the place where we’ve won a seat around the table. We’ve made massive progress since 2010 and the truth is that with new descriptors, accessible centres staffed by respectful courteous experienced staff, more paper assessments taking place, higher support group and WRAG numbers a commitment from Labour to make rights a reality for disabled people and to really listen to what we need we have all the ingredients of success. With Atos claiming that they are willing to improve assessments  implement the Harrington changes and allow assessments to be recorded we’ve come a huge way in two years.
Of course we still have a long way to go, of course it isn’t enough but I think it shows for itself how successful a strategy of engagement and lobbying can be. We would have achieved none of this without sustained and often boring small changes, bit by bit, day by day, chipping away at everything that is warped and wrong with ESA. The government become more and more isolated by the day as the BMA, every main charity, Atos, the press and the opposition parties edge further and further away from supporting ESA.
This might not be the way everyone would do business but I don’t care about saving face or an ultimate glorious win that may never come.
I want to ACTUALLY win and that means compromise, boring detail, hard work and disappointments.
The proof of the pudding will be ESA in 2015. Tragically that will be too late for many, but better to win slowly but surely than to never win at all.
First published at Diary Of A Benefit Scrounger.

Help We Are Spartacus respond to the PIP consultation

We Are Spartacus: PIP Consultation

The government are carrying out a consultation about Personal Independence Payments, known as PIP, which will replace DLA from next year. The consultation is our chance to tell the government what is wrong with PIP, and it could determine who qualifies for help and who does not. We Are Spartacus have come up with a survey which will help them write a group response to the consultation. Please help them by taking a few minutes to answer their survey. The survey assumes that you have seen the draft PIP descriptors, so if you have not please head to the We Are Spartacus website and have a look through the Unofficial Guide to PIP Consultation.

Read the unofficial guide to the PIP consultation

Take the We Are Spartacus PIP Consultation Survey

 

 

 

 

 

More dirty tricks from government over welfare reform?

The welfare reform bill is back in the House of Commons after 14:30 today as part of “ping-pong” between the Commons and the Lords, but you wouldn’t know it if you relied on the usual methods of finding out.

The last event for this bill was debate in the House of Lords on the 14th and I have been checking the Parliament website and waiting for an email to inform me of the next event for the bill, to no avail. Until this morning the order of business for the House of Commons simply said “Consideration of Lords amendments if necessary” and until a few minutes ago the official Welfare Reform Bill web page still said that the next event was “To be announced”.

WRB webpage shows next event TBA
The WRB webpage at 11:15 today

 

The order of business for today and the official website have finally been updated with very short notice for the debate. This matters because MPs don’t always attend debates – they have many other things to do in their offices and their constituencies or elsewhere.

https://twitter.com/#!/markmiwordsblog/status/171915754663444482

The agenda for today now includes:

“Legislation

Welfare Reform Bill – Consideration of Lords amendments”

And the website for the bill now says:

Next event

  • Ping Pong | 21.02.2012

An email has finally arrived in my inbox to inform me of this update. It carries a timestamp of 7:56 but it only turned up in the last half hour.

We have to ask why the announcement of this has been delayed until the day itself. Is this normal behaviour for Parliament? Or perhaps this is an effort to bury the bill in an effort to prevent MPs who plan to rebel from turning up?

https://twitter.com/#!/johnleechmcr/status/171897318671523840

With the government also having taken measures to limit the debate today to one single hour in total and with Lord Freud having previously re-amended the Lord’s amendments late at night after peers had gone home, my money is on the latter.

Here are the proposed amendments for today: Consideration of Lords Message – Welfare Reform Bill

Update: I received an email at 11:56 which carries another development. In addition to limiting the debate to a maximum of one hour the government have now grouped together all of the amendments and objections today into one vote. [PDF]

21 FEBRUARY 2012
WELFARE REFORM BILL
Consideration of Lords Message
GROUPING PROPOSED BY THE MEMBER IN CHARGE OF THE BILL
Government motion to disagree with Lords Amendments 3B and 26B + Government motion not to insist on Amendment 19A and to agree with Lords Amendments 17B to 17D and 19B + Government motion to agree with Lords Amendment 73BA

[1 hour after commencement.

21 February 2012

By Order of the Speaker

Welfare Reform Bill protest news links

A wheel and a foot with a chain across them

Yesterday’s protest went amazingly well. I’m not functioning enough to write much about it yet, but here are some news links. I will add more as I find them. Please sign the petition to stop and review the welfare reform bill and read Why I protested [My own blog]

 

Mainstream media

Disabled people protest at Welfare Reform Bill [BBC video]

Protesters show anger over Welfare Reform Bill [BBC]

Campaigners protest in London over disability cuts [BBC Breakfast video]

BBC Radio news headlines [BBC London 94.9 FM] (Jump to 57 minutes)

Disability campaigners stage central London protest against welfare reforms [Guardian with video]

Disabled bring Oxford Circus to a halt in welfare cuts demonstration [Mirror]

Wheelchair users chain themselves together and blocked central London over welfare cuts [Mail on Sunday]

Disabled Protesters Block Regent Street [Sky News]

Disability campaigners occupy Oxford Circus [ITN Video]

The demonisation of the disabled is a chilling sign of the times [The Observer]

Disabled Protesters Block Regent Street [LBC]

 

Blogs and photos

Activists join together to fight ConDem attacks on the disabled [Indymedia]

stop the welfare bill – civil disobedience [Indymedia] Great report with lots of photos

Disabled People’s Protest In Oxford Circus [Personal report from Pseudodeviant]

“Because I’d rather die than go back into an institution”  [Benefit Scrounging Scum]

An ‘amazing success’ – disabled protest blocks Oxford Circus [Coalition of resistance]

I’d Rather Die Than Go Back Into An Institution [CWU Northwest]

Disabled people lead central London blockade in Welfare Benefits protest [Ekklesia]

Photo sets: Demotix1 Demotix2 DPAC [Flickr]

 

We also got some attention from a Tory Basildon Councillor.

https://twitter.com/#!/CllrMackenzie/status/163239121161175040

And a great reply from @pseudodeviant

https://twitter.com/#!/pseudodeviant/status/163266240213811200

 

“Government sources” attacking disabled people

As I wrote in my last blog post, Benefits and BMWs, the recent article in the Sunday Times State hands out BMWs to ‘disabled’ (Paywall link) was factually incorrect in the headline and in several points in the article. Since then I have found that the same story has appeared in numerous national and local newspapers. The story in most of the local papers was actually word-for-word the same – just google “Flash cars leased to disabled people” to find many examples of it or read this one at the London Evening Standard. Motability scheme ‘being abused’

I will reiterate here for those that haven’t read my last blog post – the government does not hand out cars to disabled people.  The most severely affected sick or disabled people can claim Disability Living Allowance, which includes a mobility component. Those people receive the money, which they can spend as they like, or buy a wheelchair, car etc. Many choose to sign over the mobility part of their DLA to the Motability scheme, which is not government run, in return for a car, wheelchair or scooter. They can also choose to pay an extra fee to upgrade to a more expensive car. In the case of a BMW, that would be at least an extra £1400. Vehicles hired through Motability are exempt from VAT and Vehicle Excise Duty. (“Road tax”) A car can be used by another person on behalf of the sick or disabled person without them being present, for example going shopping for them, or perhaps returning something that they had borrowed. If a Motability car is used by someone else for their own purposes, that is a breach of the rules of the Motability Scheme and raises problems with the road tax and possibly the VAT on the car, but does not involve benefit fraud since the DLA would have been paid to the sick or disabled person, car or not. Relatives or carers getting a “free car” and using it for their own purposes are doing so at the expense of the sick or disabled person, not the government or benefit fraud.

The stories about relatives getting “free cars” and about people receiving BMWs through Motability are worrying because they seem to originate from the government. The Sunday Times article does not mention it, but the Belfast Telegraph and the story duplicated in lots of local papers quotes “a Whitehall source” who would seem to be the only reason that this is a story at all. This source says “The issue this raises is ‘is Motability being abused?’ And the answer is absolutely, in some cases it is.” His statement is true, but judging from his other comments his emphasis seems heavily weighted towards smearing and attacking the Motability scheme and those that use it.

This is not the first time that anonymous government sources have provided stories to newspapers sympathetic to government policies. (And only newspapers sympathetic to government policies.) In a previous attack, government ministers released a select list of excuses for benefit fraud supplied to them by the Department of Work and Pensions. Of course the excuses were bizarre and most of these cases really were fraud, but no mention was made of the incredibly low fraud rate and how few cases excuses like this represent. The papers also took the opportunity to belittle addiction and “bad backs” as disabilities, despite them being crippling and life-destroying.

In another recent attack, newspapers quoted a “source close to the reforms.” We are not told where this information has come from, and yet it appeared in several newspapers at the same time. I have been unable to find a press release that correlates to this information, and therefore I must assume that the figures have been leaked to chosen newspapers by government.

Then we have government ministers giving innacurate or just plain wrong statistics on television or to journalists. Minister for the disabled Maria Miller announced on live television news that more people receive benefits for drug and alcohol addiction than for blindness (They don’t.) and employment minister Chris Grayling stated that 75% of people claiming ESA were fit to work. (They weren’t.) Ian Duncan-Smith stated during an interview on Newsnight that people on benefits are “putting nothing back into the community” even though in the rest of the interview he came across as genuinely wanting to help. Even the opposition seems to be getting in on the act, with Ed Miliband going after the “take what you can culture” and again branding benefit claimants as lazy shirkers or cheats. Presumably this is seen as the way to attract votes and popularity now.

We also see an attack from the sidelines by MP Philip Davies, who wants people with learning disabilities to work for less than minimum wage, as though they somehow need less to live on than other people.

All these attacks add up to something very disturbing. The government is steam-rollering through welfare reform with only an occasional speed bump when people raise specific instances such as cancer patients that won’t have enough time to recover if given time-limited Employment Support Allowance. Such a shame that while highlighting 7,000 cancer patients, Ed Miliband didn’t spare a thought for the other 700,000 seriously sick or disabled people affected by the same rules. The pace of savage cuts and reforms backed up by relentless propaganda is terrifying and it is taking us towards a society that no longer cares for those who are sick or disabled.

 

Related blog posts

Benefits and BMWs

Compare and contrast

Response to the attack on DLA in today’s papers

“Putting nothing back into the community”

Other Links

Benefit Fraud: a success story the government doesn’t want you to know about

Ed Miliband and the “Cheats” and “Shirkers”

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