This is the full text of my report.
On Monday a report on the welfare reform bill was released, put together under the leadership of Sue Marsh and Kaliya Franklin of The Broken of Britain, and with support from countless sick and disabled people. It has already received support from such names as John Prescott, Caroline Lucas, John McDonnell, Stephen Fry and Tim Minchin. The report, titled Responsible Reform and referred to on the internet as the Spartacus Report, used a freedom of information request to obtain some five hundred responses made to the government consultation on the reform of Disability Living Allowance.
The report is unique in that it was entirely researched, written and funded by disabled people. Funds to enable this report to be produced and to be printed and delivered to MPs and peers were raised through donations from sick and disabled people contacted through social media. They raised more than three thousand pounds. Volunteers were found to contact their MPs to discuss the report, and thousands more helped to promote the report on social media and in the physical world. Press releases were sent out and the authors of the report talked to journalists. Before I tell you what the report found I would like to first tell you what this cost some of the people involved.
First Dr Campbell, who wrote a large part of the report. This is what she said:
I read and recorded the data for the Spartacus report on my daybed.
I wrote the first half of my section of the Spartacus report on my daybed.
I became more and more sick as I wrote it and by that stage became virtually unable to leave my bedroom. My painkillers were now at maximum dose.
I wrote the third quarter of my section of the Spartacus report from my bed.
By this stage I was only able to work for a quarter of an hour at a time and then had to sleep for the rest of the hour.
I wrote the rest of my section of the Spartacus report in bed as and when I could, working through the night as the pain now meant I couldn’t sleep anyway. I no longer left my bedroom.
After sending the report to Sue I spent 5 whole days in bed, only leaving it to drag myself to the loo. I only started to sleep again on day 3 when the pain started to abate.
When the spartacus campaign was launched I tweeted, emailed and facebooked from my daybed. By early evening (6pm) I had to retire to my bedroom.
On day 2 I was bedbound and unable to leave my bedroom. I tweeted etc from my bed. Painkillers once again to max.
Today, still confined to bed.
Sue Marsh described her effort like this:
I pushed myself to the absolute limits and each time I did, I had to go to bed or be threatened with hospital.
I did the first two weeks of #spartacusreport from bed, barely able to get myself a drink.
Then, when I realised what I’d taken on, I gave my life to it. I worked from 6am til midnight, I didn’t wash any clothes or play with my children for 6 weeks, I didn’t cook, I didn’t appeal my DLA decision, I didn’t sort my housing benefit out, I didn’t go out, I didn’t do anything but work on #sartacusreport.
Immense thank yous to my Mum, Husband and children for making it even vaguely possible.
I had three chest infection, a crohn’s flare a fractured rib, two atrial fibrillations and I didn’t even tell anyone about the last thing cos I knew they’d make me stop.
By the end of the second day of pushing this report several of the people involved were so ill that they were hospitalised. Kaliya Franklin recorded a video in which she told us about these events but she was unable to speak above a whisper and was very close to hospitalisation herself.
So now you know just what went into this report, but what did the report actually find?
The report found that the vast majority of responses to the consultation were against the introduction of Personal Independence Payments to replace DLA. While most people accept that some reform of Disability Living Allowance is necessary, there is widespread agreement in the responses that Personal Independence Payments are not it. Of the five hundred responses to the consultation, 74% were against the proposals for PIP, and 19% had serious reservations. A mere 7% supported the proposals.
One very unexpected find is that the Conservative mayor of London, Boris Johnson submitted a response to the consultation in which he slammed the proposed reforms and even questioned the motivation of the government. He concluded with:
“While some reform may be necessary and some proposals are positive in terms of simplifying the benefit and reducing bureaucracy, the Mayor is concerned that if the focus of this reform is solely efficiency driven government, may fail to ensure that the needs of disabled people are adequately met and many will suffer additional hardship and isolation.”
This story was unexpected enough that it made it into the Guardian, the Telegraph, the Mirror, and even the Daily Mail.
So the first find is that despite government claims to the contrary, the consultation was overwhelmingly against the proposed reforms. This hasn’t stopped the government continuing to claim support.
The second important find is that the consultation, which was two weeks shorter than required by the governments own code of practice and took place over the Christmas break for good measure, ended two days AFTER the welfare reform bill was written and presented to parliament. The bill clearly could not have been written based on evidence submitted during the consultation even if it were written by hummingbirds on speed.
This is not the only problem with the behaviour of the government. They have consistently claimed that there has been a 30% rise in claims for DLA, but it is actually 13%. The government has even admitted that this figure is “distorted” but continues to claim 30% which is the figure that MPs and peers have been told and have used in Parliamentary debates. The government has failed to note that much of the 13% rise in claims for DLA is due to an increase in diagnosis of mental health problems and learning disabilities. This is likely to reflect improved health care rather than nefarious claims for DLA.
The report notes that DLA is not an out of work benefit but is a cost-saving benefit. DLA is paid to cover some of the extra costs incurred when living with an illness or disability, and is paid regardless of income. By covering those costs DLA allows independence and freedom to people which they would not otherwise have, and if taken from them would cause them to fall back on other health care and welfare services instead. Many people are able to work only because DLA provides them with the ability to travel or make expensive adaptions, and without DLA will be forced to claim other benefits instead. As such DLA actually saves money by preventing the need for much greater expenditure elsewhere.
One expectation of the welfare reform bill is a 20% cut in the budget for welfare costs. One of the ways in which they intend to accomplish this is that the new personal independence payments would introduce frequent testing much like the work capability assessment used for Employment and Support Allowance. The report notes that this testing is pointless in a great many cases where disability is permanent and may be degenerative, which given how hard it is to get DLA, is a lot of cases. It seems to me that the purpose of introducing such tests is to pander to tabloids and their readers rather than common sense. The policy defies logic enough that in April last year Ollie Flitcroft, a Conservative councillor for Barrow Borough Council and himself a wheelchair user, resigned in protest. Even the Daily Mail has featured an article favourable to the spartacus report.
There were several other important point in the report but I will leave these for you to read for yourself. The link to the report is at the end of this article.
The spartacus report found that the government has comprehensively mislead parliament and the public about the facts behind these reforms. The report says “We argue that reform must be measured, responsible and transparent, based on available evidence and designed with disabled people at the very heart of decision-making. Currently, we do not believe this to be the case.”
Since the release of the spartacus report and all of the campaigning that has gone with it, the debate of the welfare reform bill has resumed in the house of lords. Having already been through detailed examination at the committee stage but having most amendments blocked by conservative peers, the bill is now the subject of a flurry of amendments at the report stage through January. On Wednesday heated debate in the Lords surrounded amendments to the government’s key policies on Employment and Support Allowance. Lord Patel and Lady Meacher argued the case for their amendments from a very strong position which Lord Freud was unable to counter. In an embarassing turn for the government, three amendments were passed by substantial majorities which overturned plans to time-limit contribution based ESA to one year, exempted cancer patients from time limits all together, and restored access to ESA for children with severe disabilities so that they would be ensured the support that they need in the future.
Despite this defeat, which is perhaps the largest defeat for the government since the election, this fight is by no means over. The report stage continues in the house of Lords through January, and after the third reading it must return to the house of commons for approval of the amendments. I still believe that the whole bill is flawed, and I and countless other disabled people call for the welfare reform bill to be put on hold and reconsidered in light of proper evidence.