With Alex Cunningham, Debbie Abrahams and my good friend Gail Ward at the Disability Equality Roadshow a couple of years ago.
I don’t often talk about myself in my posts. I write about government policies, their socioeconomic consequences, their often devastating impacts on fellow citizens and critical, evidenced exploration of the ideological narratives that underpin them. In particular I write about welfare policies.
I began campaigning and writing critically about the implications of the Coalition’s controversial Welfare Reform Bill in 2012, prior to it passing into law. It was clear that poor, unemployed and disabled citizens were being politically targeted with cuts of unprecedented intensity to their lifeline income. Social security was calculated originally to provide for essentials only. The cuts, strict conditionality, work fare and sanctions have left many citizens without enough money to cover basic survival needs such as food, fuel and shelter.
I messaged every single peer in 2012 to tell them why the welfare reform bil must not happen, and although many agreed, Cameron pushed this controversial bill through parliament, using the ‘financial privilege of the Commons to override criticism and challenge.
The punitive, regressive welfare reforms transformed social security from being a publicly funded social safety net into a ‘hostile environment’ concerned with administrating work discipline. It struck me that the policy details are very authoritarian and reflect certain traditional Conservative prejudices concerning the characteristics of the poorest citizens. These prejudices have been embodied in extremely discriminatory and oppressive policies.
These coercive policies are offensive to basic ethical principles, undermine democracy and the fundamental universality of basic human rights, by making them conditional for the poorest citizens with the greatest need for protection from political abuse. Austerity was an ideological choice among several more humane ones. Austerity is a central feature of neoliberalism.
Having gone through the controversial Work Capability Assessment in 2011, when I had to give up my social work because I was too ill to continue in my post, followed by the distressing appeal process, some of my first pieces of work were aimed at providing support for other people going through the same process. I used information that an Atos whistleblower provided to help others navigate the fundamentally unfair assessment for Employment and Support Allowance (ESA), which is based on a biased process, weighted specifically towards finding justification for ending a claim for support and finding disabled or ill people ‘fit for work’.
My own experience of the Work Capability Assessment was so terrible that I couldn’t face claiming PIP for 6 years. I finally did last year, with support from my local council, who had also provided some adaptations and aids in my home because of the growing extent of my disability. The experience of the PIP assessment was as terrible as I had anticipated.
I also co-run a group on Facebook to support other people going through ESA and PIP claims, assessments, mandatory reviews and appeals. Many of the people we support are experiencing profound psychological distress, anxiety and so many are having suicidal thoughts. Lots of people contact us for psychological and emotional support, and sometimes it feels very overwhelming to see such widescale and profound distress and harm that people are experiencing because of cruel government policies.
Many concerns have been raised regarding the reliability of the assessment in practice, the harmful effects of wrong decisions on vulnerable citizens and even its value-for-money. I submitted evidence to a United Nations’ inquiry from 2012 onwards, which concluded in 2016 that the government’s welfare policies have systematically violated the human rights of disabled people.
My main aim is to share information, evidence, analysis and insight and to raise awareness of the unjust impacts of neoliberal welfare policies as widely as possible with citizens, politicians, professionals, academics and allied organisations. This has included speaking at conferences about the consequences of neoliberalism and the welfare reforms, meeting regularly with opposition welfare ministers (Conservative ministers have consistently refused to engage); contributing to the design of opposition welfare policies where I can, in addition to writing blogs.
I’ve been asked a few times to do interviews on TV, and I try to get out to protests but often I’m simply not well enough to do so. My illness – lupus – affects all of my joints, tendons, periodically causing inflammation and pain, affecting my mobility. It also affects my nerves, blood cells, lungs, brain, my gut and my ability to fight infection. I catch a cold and end up with pneumonia.
I often have low platelet counts – autoimmune thrombocytopenia, which is a bleeding disorder. That seriously limits what I can do, sometimes. I’ve also developed a sensitivity to flickering lights, which causes partial seizures and other problems. That’s problematic because it restricts where I can go – shopping areas for example, are often a nightmare and my clubbing days are long over. I’ve always been an outgoing person, but over recent years, my increasing physical vulnerability has left me a little agoraphobic, too. But I do my best. I’m a person that seems to prefer working ‘behind the scenes’ – ideas and scripts. I once worked for the BBC many years ago as a script writer. I was given some acting roles for some of the comedy sketches I had written. I hated the acting, but loved the creative side of my work. It’s not that I couldn’t act – apparently I could and kept getting asked to do it – but I don’t like that kind of being on stage thing, it makes me very uncomfortable.
Another part of my illness is neurological, and that means I have cognitive problems and depression. Lupus can also sometimes lead to psychosis. All of this said, simply being chronicallly and seriously ill can cause depression because of the constant need to adapt to progressive and ever-expanding symptoms.
Over the last 2 weeks I’ve written several particularly nightmarish articles about nightmarish policies, policy proposals and serial acts more generally of a nightmarish and utterly indifferent, unresponsive government.
I’m currently in utter despair about the state of the UK and the fact that we have an extremely authoritarian government chiseling away at democracy and our fundamental human rights. The writing and the support work I do can sometimes feel relentless and overwhelming, and those of us supporting others don’t have a professional debrief session. We should probably address that and work together supporting each other a little more. But most of us probably seldom get time to stop and think about it.
I’m going to have to take some time out to deal with serious depression and exhaustion. In the meantime, would you please share my articles, because as depressing as they are, people in the UK need to know the way the wind is blowing.
I also want to say thank you for everyone who has supported my work over the past few difficult years, and those who have very frequently shared it. Also, thank you for all of the feedback you have given, which has kept me going.
I will be back as soon as I’m feeling more myself.
Gail Ward and me working with Debbie Abrahams and others
Here are my last few articles:
I had a spot on message from my friend Hubert, who sometimes shares his excellet posts on this site.
He says this: “This is the long term outcome of Tory Policies: the systematic destruction of people for no real reason. In the words of Jarvis Cocker, fuck the morals does it make any money. In her blog, Kitty Jones asks for Readers to share her writings. Not just this blog but all of her blogs.
As a Writer and Researcher, Kitty Jones is providing analytical, researched articles that are frequently expose stories a year before the mainstream media. These are articles that outrage and upset and depress because they are not pandering to the egos of narrow partisan interests. They are setting out the truth, the facts, the consequences of policies.
Which is depressing. Because Government Policy for almost a decade has been grinding destruction. The destruction of sharing between people who think about consequences. The destruction of sharing between people who care about others. The destruction of sharing of aspirations, utopias and ideals. The grinding destruction of the society that they do not believe in.
The core of changing that is sharing this. Sharing the ideas and research that can transform the world. Becaust the truth is, Government Policy is to create a hostile environment to everybody who is not “one of us”. Yet, some people, like Kitty Jones manage to carry on doing and researching and writing. Sharing her work is just one way to stop that hostile environment from spreading.
Please go to the blog and read. Then cut and paste the url from the address bar of your browser and share one of Kitty Jones’s articles. Please. Thank you.”
He added “Because you actually are making a difference. So it does look grim, but we still have visions like yours. ”
I don’t make any money from my work. I write because it’s something I can do. We each do what we can, when we can and in our own way.
If you like you can help by making a donation to help me continue to research and write informative, insightful and independent articles, and to continue to provide support to others. The smallest amount is much appreciated – thank you.