Category: Discrimination

This Government Is No World Leader On Disability – Its Record Is Shameful

This article was written by Marsha de Cordova, who is the Labour MP for Battersea, on 24 July. It was originally published in the HuffPost.

At today’s Global Disability Summit, the government will present itself as a leader on disability rights – disabled people know that it is anything but.

Today the government will host the Global Disability Summit in London but the Tories are no world leaders on disability rights – their record is abysmal.

The government’s hypocrisy is no more clearly demonstrated than in the fact that the Secretary of State hosting the summit – which is aimed at guaranteeing “the rights, freedoms, dignity and inclusion” of disabled people – is Penny Mordaunt, who was herself minister for disabled people when a UN report found that the government had violated disabled people’s rights. 

The UN published this report two years ago, after the UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities had taken the unprecedented step of investigating one of its signatories – the UK government – for breaching its obligations under the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

The committee’s findings were unambiguous: The government had caused “grave and systematic” violations of disabled people’s rights. The committee chair described austerity as having led to a “human catastrophe” for disabled people.

These judgements were hardly news to the millions of disabled people who had been struggling under government policies.

The hypocrisy of the government is staggering. The Minister for Disabled People recently had the audacity to claim that she was “utterly committed” to the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities”, yet the government is still yet to even provide a detailed response to the UN Committee’s more than 80 recommendations, and it rejected the UN’s damning judgement out of hand.

This hypocrisy is starkly evident in the summit’s “Charter for Change”, which takes as its cornerstone the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Since the Secretary of State overseeing the summit was a former Minister for Disabled People in a government that was condemned by the UN for breaking that convention, how can she talk with a straight face to world leaders and disabled people’s organisations about this?

The charter includes 10 commitments for participants to agree to, 8 of which the government has itself clearly violated (and one of which is empty posturing).

For example, it calls on countries to commit to “gather and use better data and evidence to understand and address the scale, and nature, of challenges faced by persons with disabilities”.

Yet one of the major recommendations from the committee is for the government to carry out a cumulative impact assessment of its tax and social security changes since 2010, something the government has stubbornly refused to do.

We know this can be done – the Equality and Human Rights Commission has done it, finding that those changes had a particularly damaging impact on disabled people.

Another call of the charter is for countries to “eliminate stigma and discrimination through legislation”. This will sound like a bad joke to the estimated 220,000 disabled people wrongly denied social security support due to what the High Court called “blatantly discriminatory” changes to Personal Independence Payments.

The charter concludes with a commitment to “hold ourselves and others to account for the promises we have made here today.” For this commitment to be made by Mordaunt’s department – under whose watch the government excused itself from promises it was committed to as part of the UN Convention – beggars belief. 

This government treats disabled people with disdain and contempt. From the Bedroom Tax to swingeing cuts to Personal Independence Payments, government cuts have been felt most acutely by those already struggling.

The Department for Work and Pensions charge sheet of failures is long, including an “error” that led to more than 70,000 ill and disabled people being underpaid thousands in Employment and Support Allowance, with what a public accounts committee recently described as a “culture of indifference” leading to it taking six years for this error to begin to be corrected.

The government’s Work Capability Assessments, carried out by profit-driven private companies, have been linked to a dramatic increase in the number of disabled people attempting suicide.

At the Global Disability Summit, the government will try to present itself as a world leader on disability rights. But disabled people know that it is anything but.

Let us remind them of the verdict of the United Nations: “Grave and systematic” rights violations, a “human catastrophe” for disabled people.

On behalf of all those disabled people whose voices have been ignored, we cannot and will not let the government escape the truth. Their record on disability rights shames this country.

Related

A few thoughts on the implications of the United Nations report

 


 

I write voluntarily, and do the best I can to raise awareness of political and social issues. In particular I research and write about how policy impacts on citizen wellbeing and human rights. I also co-run a group on Facebook to support other disabled people going through ESA and PIP assessments, mandatory reviews and appeals.

I don’t make any money from my work. I am disabled and don’t have any paid employment. But you can contribute by making a donation and help me continue to research and write informative, insightful and independent articles, and to provide support to others. The smallest amount is much appreciated – thank you.

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EHRC report highlights unacceptable political discrimination against disabled people

 

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Discrimination on the grounds of disability was made illegal 20 years ago when Parliament passed the Disability Discrimination Act 1995. Further legislative progress was made with the Human Rights Act (2008) and the Equality Act (2010). So discrimination can’t happen now. Right?

Wrong.

Disabled people are not being treated as being equal with other citizens and continue to be denied the respect, dignity, opportunities, an acceptable standard of living and other acceptable outcomes that non-disabled people take for granted.

The government claim that the economy has recovered from the effects of the global recession, but that recovery is not one that is shared equally to include everyone. If the economy is doing as well as the government claims, why are disabled people still facing austerity cuts to their lifeline support, while wealthy citizens are handed out substantial tax cuts? 

In one of the wealthiest countries in the world, targeting disabled people, who are much more likely to be living in poverty than other citizens, is absolutely inexcusable. However, the neoliberal right justify their rigid small state, pro-privatisation, deregulation, mythological meritocracy, low tax, high VAT and antiwelfare ideology with folklore economics. “Paying down the debt” has become an almost farcical bare-faced and parroted Conservative lie. 

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The neoliberal small state “big society”.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission report is the most comprehensive analysis on how (or if) the rights of disabled people are observed and protected in Great Britain. The most recent report says that changes to benefit rules have had a particularly disproportionate, cumulative impact on disabled people’s right to live independently.

According to the report, titled Disability report: Being disabled in Britainwhich was published on Monday, the proportion of disabled people with no qualifications was nearly three times that of non-disabled people. (See also: Disabled students fear for their future as independence payments cut).

Fewer than half of disabled adults are in employment (47.6%), compared with almost 80% of non-disabled adults – and the gap between these groups has widened since 2010-11.

Food poverty has affected 18.4% of disabled people aged 16-64, compared with 7.5% of non-disabled people.

David Isaac, Chair of the Commission, commenting on the damning new state of the nation report into life for disabled people, said: “Whilst at face value we have travelled far, in reality disabled people are being left behind in society, their life chances remain very poor, and public attitudes have changed very little.

“This evidence can no longer be ignored. Now is the time for a new national focus on the rights of the thirteen million disabled people who live in Britain. They must have the same rights, opportunities and respect as other citizens.

“We must put the rights of disabled people at the heart of our society. We cannot, and must not, allow the next twenty years to be a repeat of the past.”

The research, which covers six key areas of life, finds that disabled people in Britain are experiencing disadvantages in all of them, and sets out vital areas for urgent improvement.

This includes: a lack of equal opportunities in education and employment; barriers to access to transport, health services and housing; the persistent and widening disability pay gap; deteriorating access to justice; and welfare “reforms” (cuts) significantly affecting the already low living standards of disabled people.

The Commission has also highlighted these issues to the United Nations, for their forthcoming examination of how the UK measures up to the international standards on the rights of disabled people (the Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities – CRPD).

The United Nations (UN) has already determined that the UK government has systematically violated the rights of disabled people. The highly critical report, which was published in Geneva last December also concluded that the rights of disabled people to live independently, to work, and achieve an adequate standard of living have been detrimentally affected by the Conservative’s austerity programme.

The range of measures aimed at reducing public spending since 2010, including extremely controversial changes such as the bedroom tax, and cuts to disability benefits and social care budgets have disproportionately and adversely affected disabled people.

The UN’s 22-page report condemned the radical and largely unmonitored welfare cuts and benefit caps, and social care cuts introduced as a major part of the Conservative’s austerity programme – the government claimed these cuts would make the welfare system “fairer and reduce benefit fraud.” The UN found no evidence of benefit fraud or fairness.

However, the government have simply dismissed the UN’s fully evidenced report, which included the first-hand accounts of many of those disabled people affected by Conservative austerity, disability campaigners, researchers and advocacy organisations.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission report reveals:

  • In England, the proportion of children with Special Educational Needs achieving at least  5 A*-C GCSEs is three times lower than for non-disabled children (20.0% and 64.2% respectively). Disabled children are also significantly more likely to be permanently or temporarily excluded.
  • The qualification gap between disabled and non-disabled people has narrowed, but the proportion of disabled people with no qualifications was nearly three times that of non-disabled people, and the proportion of disabled people with a degree remained lower. 
  • More disabled people than non-disabled are living in poverty or are materially deprived. 
  • Social security “reforms” have had a particularly disproportionate, cumulative impact on the rights to independent living and an adequate standard of living for disabled people. Families in the UK with a disabled member are more likely to live in relative poverty than non-disabled families.
  • Across the UK, 18.4% of disabled people aged 16-64 were considered to be in food poverty compared with 7.5% of non-disabled people. Disabled people over the age of 65 were twice as likely as non-disabled people in the same age group to be in food poverty.
  • Disabled people continue to face problems in finding adequate housing, due to a shortage in accessible housing across Britain, and in Scotland the amount of wheelchair-adapted local authority housing for physically disabled people has decreased. Disabled people in Britain were also less likely to own their own home. 
  • Accessing healthcare services is problematic for disabled people, and they’re less likely to report positive experiences. Considerable shortcomings remain in all three countries in the provision of mental health services, where disabled adults are more likely to report poor mental health and wellbeing than non-disabled adults.
  • There is an urgent need for prisons to monitor and report on prisoner mental health. Prisoners are more likely to have mental health conditions compared with the general population, and 70% of prisoners who died from self-inflicted means between 2012 and 2014 had an identified mental health condition. 
  • Detentions in health and social care settings under the Mental Health Act 1983 are continuing to increase in England and Wales. The number of detentions in hospitals increased from 46,600 in 2009 to 2010 to 63,622 in 2016. 
  • Changes to legal aid in England and Wales have negatively affected disabled people’s access to justice. Across GB, there has been a 54% drop in employment tribunal claims on grounds of disability discrimination following the introduction of fees in July 2013. 
  • More disabled and non-disabled people overall are in work in Britain in 2015/16 compared to 2010/11. Despite this, less than half of disabled adults are in employment (47.6%), compared with almost 80% of non-disabled adults, and the gap between these groups has widened since 2010/11. However this is not the case across all impairment types, and for those with mental health conditions and those with physical disabilities the gap between them and non-disabled people has narrowed. 
  • The disability pay gap in Britain also continues to widen. Disabled young people (aged 16-24) and disabled women had the lowest median hourly earnings of all.

David Isaac continued: “This report should be used as a call to arms. We cannot ignore that disabled people are being left behind and that some people – in particular those with mental health conditions and learning disabilities – experience even greater barriers.

“We must have a concerted effort to deliver the changes that are desperately needed. Vital improvements are necessary to the law and policies, and services must meet the needs of disabled people.

“Britain must be a fair and inclusive society in which everyone has equal opportunities to thrive and succeed.”

The report calls on the UK, Scottish and Welsh governments to place a new national focus on disability equality, so that the rights of disabled people are fully realised and to deliver improvements in their experience and outcomes.

These include reducing the education and employment gaps for disabled people; ensuring that essential services such as housing, health and transport meet the needs of disabled people; and improve existing laws and policies to better protect and promote the rights of disabled people.

The Commission’s recent submission to the UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, produced jointly with the other equality and human rights commissions across the UK, also highlights the need to do more to protect the human rights of disabled people.

It contains 75 recommendations to the UK and devolved governments on how they can improve the rights disabled people enjoy across areas such as housing, transport, social care and employment. The main public examination of the UK by the UN Committee will take place in August 2017, and the Commission will work with the other UK equality and human rights commissions and disabled people and their organisations to help make the recommendations a reality.

Further to this activity, the Equality and Human Rights Commission is engaged in a range of ongoing work aimed improving the lives of disabled people, including legally enforcing the Equality Act, improving access to public services, housing and transport, analysing the impact of welfare reforms, and influencing new legislation.

In light of the cuts to Employment and Support Allowance (work-related activity group) and the recent re-writing of PIP regulations to save money for the Treasury from disabled people’s support, while at the same time the government chose to hand out tax cuts to millionaires, it is inevitable that the situation for disabled people will only get worse.

These additional cuts have happened since the UN published the report about the systematic violations of disabled people’s human rights, to which the government have responded with utter contempt.

Human rights, inclusion and equality are the bedrock of a democratic society. We know from experience over the last six years that we can not depend on this government to observe any of these prerequisite obligations. 

Andrew McDonald, Chair of disability charity, Scope, said: “It is shameful that in 2017 disabled people continue to face such high levels of inequality: at home, at school and at work. And Scope research shows too many continue to face prejudice day-in-day out. 

“But government action has been incoherent. While there have been some positive commitments, the impact of recent reductions and restrictions to benefits and inaction on social care threaten to make life harder for many disabled people. 

“We hope this report serves as a wake-up call. Urgent action is needed. If the government is serious about shaping a society that works for everyone, the Prime Minister should act now to set out a cross-departmental strategy to tackle the injustices disabled people face.”

Liz Sayce, Chief Executive of Disability Rights UK, said: “This new report makes sombre and disappointing reading, and highlights the unfairness disabled people continue to face, day in and day out.

“As a society, we say we want progress towards disabled people taking a full part in society; but instead we appear to be going backwards.  We need concrete plans from government, with outcomes measured regularly, to ensure we get back on track. We welcome the Equality and Human Rights Commission report and are keen to work with them and others to tackle discrimination.” 

Robert Meadowcroft, Chief Executive of Muscular Dystrophy UK, said: “Much of today’s report puts hard numbers on what we hear every day from people with muscle-wasting conditions about the extreme difficulties in finding a job, a safe place to live and accessing the opportunities many of us take for granted. 

“The government has to respond positively and urgently to the severity of today’s findings, not least in calling a halt to the damaging aspects of benefits reforms, but they are not the only people responsible for making society accessible to all. 

“Employers can be more proactive about making their workplaces and their recruitment policies more open to disabled people. Local councillors can increase their accessible housing targets. And we can collectively check our own attitudes to make sure that the Equality and Human Rights Commission has better news to report in 20 years’ time. This alarming report is a wake-up call that needs to be heard.” 

Let’s not pussyfoot around the deliberate socioeconomic exclusion of disabled people. It’s absolutely unacceptable that in a very wealthy so-called democratic state, disabled people still face so many disadvantages as a direct consequence of discriminatory government policies, across so many different areas of their lives compared to non-disabled people.  

The Conservative’s policies since 2012 that have doggedly aimed at cutting disabled people’s support have been preempted by an outgrouping rhetoric and an all-pervasive political scapegoating media campaign designed, to stir up resentment and desensitise the public to the consequences of policies which discriminate against disabled people. Such actions are a damning indictment of the political intention behind those policies. 

We now have a social security system that is the stuff of dystopian novels about totalitarian bureaucracy. Rather than providing support, welfare has been redesigned by the Conservatives to focus on compliance with unreasonable “behavioural” conditionality (which assumes that poverty is a “lifestyle choice, as opposed to the inevitable consequence of neoliberalism and policies which serve to engineer growing social inequality) and extremely punitive sanctions, rather than supporting people back into appropriate work. 

Stopping or threatening to stop someone’s lifeline support when they are too unwell to work is unforgivably cruel, inappropriate and completely ineffective at helping anyone into employment.

In fact, we know that sanctions will make it almost impossible for someone to find employment. Withdrawing lifefline support as a punishment is likely to create desperation and absolute poverty. The impact of poverty is greater, and often devastating on those people who are ill and disabled. If people cannot meet their basic living needs, they cannot possibly meet higher level psychosocial ones. 

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Sanctions cause unacceptable harm to people who are disabled and ill, and sometimes, sanctions kill people

It is not acceptable that a government in the UK continues to formulate regressive and punitive policies aimed at cutting support for disabled people, which create vulnerability, loss of independence and dignity, distress, psychological and physical damage, and is putting people’s lives at risk.

It is shameful and it needs to be halted.

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I don’t make any money from my work and I am not funded. I am disabled because of illness and struggle to get by. But you can help me continue to research and write informative, insightful and independent articles, and to provide support to others, by making a donation. The smallest amount is much appreciated – thank you.

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The biggest barrier that disabled people face is a prejudiced government

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The very act of renaming incapacity benefit support for sick and disabled people “employment and support allowance” signaled the political intent to make that support precarious, with an aim of pushing people previously exempted from work on medical grounds from lifeline social security protection into work on political grounds, regardless of the consequences. The word “allowance” means the amount of something that is permitted, especially within a set of regulations or for a specified purpose. This language shift signaled the increasing contingency of support for disabled people.

It also reduced and transformed the sick role, making it increasingly transitory, redefining chronic, incurable conditions as somehow transient, and marking a shift from medical definitions of sickness and disability to psychopolitical redefinitions, which are ultimately aimed at pushing forward a small state neoliberalist agenda. Welfare provision is being steadily dismantled. 

However, changing the name and making the eligibility criteria for support much more stringent has not helped sick and disabled people into work. It has simply created circumstances of further disadvantage, hardship and distress for many people.

It hasn’t worked because many of those people affected by the nudge-styled rebranding of their lifeline support and draconian cuts to “incentivise” people to take up and cherish the Puritan work ethic, as the paternalistic Conservatives think we ought to, are simply too ill to work.

Of those that may be able to work, over time, their would-be employers have not engaged with legal requirements and provided adjustments in the workplace to support those disabled people seeking employment. The government have removed the Independent Living Fund, and reduced Access to Work support, Personal Independence Payment (PIP) is very difficult to access because of the stringent eligibility criteria, whilst the disability benefit Employment and Support Allowance was also redesigned to be increasingly difficult to qualify for.

But political word games, and intentions to attempt to shrink the categories of what is deemed “illness and disability” along with the ever-shrinking state, don’t cure illness and disability, and it’s offensive to witness a very wealthy first world so-called democratic government viciously hounding and shamefully coercing a group of people, negatively labeling them as a “burden on the taxpayer”, and forcing them to take any low paid, insecure work, without any support whatsoever, despite the fact their doctor and the state, via the work capability assessment, have deemed them already to be unfit for work, whilst at the same time leaving this group on an isolated, ever-shrinking island with ever-decreasing lifeline support.

Perhaps PIP ought to include invisible bootstraps in the aids and appliances categories.

This is juxtaposed with the recent gifted tax cuts for the wealthiest, indicating clearly that Conservatives perceive and construct social hierarchies with policies that extend inequality and discrimination. The axiom of our international human rights is that we each have equal worth. Conservative ideology is fundamentally  incompatable with the UK government’s Human Rights obligations and with Equality law. The chancellor clearly regards public funds for providing essential lifeline support for disabled people as expendable and better appropriated for adding to the disposable income for the wealthy.

Most people (over three-quarters ) who are disabled became so during their working life. There is an implicit political prejudice regarding disability, evident in policy-making, which is that it is an undesirable state and somehow preventable. There is another more explicitly stated prejudice, which relates to the oversimplistic false dichotomy of society. Citizens have been redefined as taxpayers or economic free-riders. However, not only have most disabled people worked and contributed tax and national insurance, people claiming social security also contribute significantly to the Treasury, because we pay VAT, council tax, bedroom tax and a variety of other stealth taxes.

The state confines its focus and responsibility mainly at re-connecting disabled people with the labor market, without any consideration of potential health and safety risks in the workplace, as a strategy of “support,” and justifies the draconian cuts to support as providing “incentives” for people to work, by constructing a narrative that rests on the bogus and socially divisive taxpayer/free-rider dichotomy:

 “You answer if a disabled person can’t work there is NO cut but if they can but won’t, why should taxpayers subsidise them & trolls go mad!”

 By “trolls” Michael Fabricant actually means disabled people and campaigners responding to his tweet.

What happens to those people that can’t work or cannot find an understanding employer, prepared to make reasonable adjustments in the workplace?

On becoming ill – it can happen to anyone

I am medically ill and my illness (lupus) affects my mobility, focus and general wellbeing. I am restricted in what I can do, and the symptoms and exacerbations are very unpredicable. However, it is economic, political and cultural forces which have created and continue to create my ongoing disability and social marginalisation, not my illness. Many of my problems are compounded because of an unadapted physical environment, a lack of resources and the attitudes of others, particularly the current government’s.

I don’t accept that health problems ought to be seen as the cause of the socioeconomic deprivation and exclusion that many of us are experiencing, because the real cause is entirely political. Policies, which exclude disabled people from their design and rationale, have extended and perpetuated institutional and cultural discrimination against disabled people.

My own illness arose partly because of a genetic predisposition, partly because of my gender and hormonal events which often trigger the illness, and probably a variety of other complex reasons, none of which specialists fully understand yet. Prior to becoming very ill, I led a very active and healthy life. I worked hard in a job I loved. My diet is and always has been balanced and healthy, I enjoyed outdoor activities such as climbing, abseiling, archery and walking. I was never inactive or overweight, and I am not stupid when it comes to health issues. Lupus isn’t a “lifestyle choice” and it didn’t arise because of something I did wrong.

All the same, I frequently get well-meaning but bad advice to try different diets, “natural” herbal remedies (people forget that they contain chemicals) – usually the immune- enhancing ones like echinacea, which my rheumatologist has already advised could be very dangerous – and the best one of all: “You should stop taking the heavy duty medication and ‘cleanse your system’.” That would be medication that I take to keep me alive because I tried and ran out of all the other options. I usually recommend a simple course of water melons for such “experts”, to be taken at four hourly intervals, rectally.

Like many other ill and disabled people, I have worked for most of my life. My work was rewarding, and the professional roles I took up have entailed developing inspirational ways to support and enable others, from voluntary work with Women’s Aid and Victim Support, to salaried youth and community work, social work, mental health work and delivering training. I worked whilst being ill for a number of years.

By 2010, I simply couldn’t work any more. My previous and mostly background joint, nerve and muscle pain suddenly became all consuming. My ankles, knees, wrists and fingers swelled. I caught a cold at work which turned to pneumonia on two occasions in 2009. I had apparently random finger abcesses, inexplicable kidney infections, and bruised every time I was touched. I had severe nerve pain in my face and optic nerves, which affects my vision. My hips and lower spine became stiff and painful, my shoulders became frozen. I had a painful rash across my face that looked like eczema, only it wasn’t. I was profoundly tired all of the time, and weighed less than eight stones. My GP ran some tests and everything came back lupus, with complications such as a severe autoimmune bleeding disorder, very low immunity to infection and neurological involvement.

Working put my safety, health and wellbeing at substantial risk. It also potentially exposed other people to risk, too, because of the impact of my illness on my judgments, reliability and consistency, eyesight, ability to supervise, mobility and so on. A tribunal agreed with this assessment in 2012.

It was a very painful recognition that I could no longer work, my decision to leave was very difficult, compounded by a sense of loss of self worth and meaning. I felt that my experience, developed skills, not to mention time and effort invested in studying for a highly vocational Master’s degree, were meaningless and unavailing. However, I was completely unprepared for the damaging impact of the political othering and socioeconomic outgrouping that followed from 2010.

And the poverty. I came to feel that I had been politically redefined as somehow “deviant” by 2012. A much needed transformation to add to the grieving process for the person I was before my body became a traitor. Cheers, Mr Cameron, for the milk of human blindness. The Sex Pistols got it a bit wrong back in the last days of counter-culture and agitprop: it’s not just anarchy that we need for the UK, it’s a modicum of empathy, too.

Doctors and rehabilitation professionals continually recommend medical treatments and practices even though they know that these will not necessarily improve my quality of life. Most of the treatments for autoimmune illnesses such as lupus are largely experimental: comprised of chemotherapies and immune suppressants that carry their own life-threatening risks, and being ill with lupus and other autoimmune illnesses presents a constant and difficult process of weighing up of such risks – life threats from the illness versus life threats and serious life-changing risks from the treatments. 

The dangers that arise when everyone thinks they are an expert on illness and disability

That didn’t stop a job advisor, during my time in the employment support allowance work-related activity, group telling me I should take the chemotherapy methotrexate because her friend with rheumatoid arthritis had some benefit from it. Methotrextate helps around 25% of people taking it, to various degrees, but it cannot cure the illness. Side-effects include sudden death, blindness, liver, kidney and heart failure, lung fibrosis, thrombocytopenia – a serious bleeding disorder which I already have – and death from an overwhelming infection, which I am already susceptible to, since my immune system is easily compromised and broken, amongst many other problems.

As it happens, I had already tried methotrexate for many months, administered by injection into my stomach. It didn’t work and the side-effects were truly diabolical, adding to my existing misery and multiplying symptoms. Another treatment, considered far less risky, called hydroxychloroquine, damaged my retina because I was prescribed too high a dosage, I’m now partially sighted.

However, the unqualified advice from a job coach overlooked that I have a different illness than her friend, and that methotrexate is a black box drug with life-threatening side-effects. Everyone seems to think they are a medical expert nowadays, and that’s the government’s doing, since they have been redefining illness and disability, making it a moral and public matter rather than a private, medical issue. Such political negative role-modelling has permitted a rise in expressions of social prejudice towards disabled people, which is why hate crime has risen significantly since 2010 and is now at the highest level since records began.  

We are either deserving or non-deserving, abled or disabled, never just ill or physically disadvantaged. Our lives have somehow become public property, with all manner of unqualified people feeling entitled to intrude at an intimate level to tell us how to “manage” our illness better. Or to transform media tropes and political folk devils into forms of justification for abuse.

Job centre staff it seems will recommend anything, including unqualified advice about medical treatments, regardless of the risks that may be involved, to coerce people from what was once a social safety net and into any job, regardless of its appropriateness, quality, pay, security, and importantly, it’s potential impact on people’s health and safety.

Last October, I flagged up the extremely worrying government plans to place job coaches in GP practices, with provision made for job centre staff to “update” people’s medical files. The government hadn’t announced this  “intervention” in the lives of disabled people, nor had we been consulted or involved in its design. I found out about it quite by chance because I read Matthew Hancock’s recent conference speech: The Future of Public Services.

I researched a little further and found an article in Pulse which confirmed Hancock’s comments: GP practices to provide advice on job seeking in new pilot scheme.

The government plans to merge health and employment services, and are now attempting to redefine work as a clinical outcome. Unemployment has been stigmatised and politically redefined as a psychological disorder, and the government claims somewhat incoherently that the “cure” for unemployment due to illness and disability, and sickness absence from work, is work.

This is why I visit my doctor and not David Cameron or George Osborne when I need advice, support and treatment related to my medical (and not political) condition.

It’s a prejudiced government that has edited the script regarding sick roles – we no longer have medical sick notes, they have been replaced by political fit notes. The subtext is that we must participate in the world of mainstream work without any choices, without reasonable adaptations and without support. Without any acknowledgement of illness and disability, in fact. Or, we have to accept being redefined, our identity rewritten as “dependent”, “impaired” “unfit for work” as a trade-off for a degree of meagre support.

All of our previous achievements and contributions are forgotten. We once celebrated the achievements of disabled people, but now, we cannot, because disabled people are systematically repressed. We are politically defined as either fit for work (and thus not seen as “disabled”) or not. There are no other options for us, unless we happen to be very wealthy as well as ill.

Singing the body politic in our own voices

We don’t fit with neoliberal dogma and the Tory ideals of “individual responsibility”, competition, a “small state” and compulsory (low) paid employment to enhance profits for the elite’s old boys network. Any positive association with impairment, such as reasonable allowances made or degrees of freedom from the Tory notion of “social obligations” and “responsibilities,” is prohibited. We are faced with an overly simplistic, terribly reductive and dehumanising either/or choice.

We are deemed either fit for work, or too disabled to work, with no accommodation made for what we may be able to contribute in myriad ways to society, nor is our past accumulative experience and skill regarded as a valuable. The moment there is a hint we may have some kind of tenuous work-related capability, all support is withdrawn. However, once we are deemed unfit for work, we are denied full citizen’s status and economic inclusion.

This narrow political approach does nothing to enable and support people, nor does it reflect human diversity. It simply disables us further and denies us autonomy and the right to define ourselves. It’s an approach that actually punishes people for the abilities, experience and skills that they have, stifling human potential. The moment those abilities and skills are revealed at a work capability assessment, all support is withdrawn and those qualities remain unfulfilled. Instead of investing in personal development and extending opportunities, the government is simply cutting social security and public service costs at our expense. It’s not actually their money to cut.

We are expected to participate in an unaccommodating and increasingly competitive job market or suffer the dehumanising consequences and impoverishment of claiming social security long-term. And the people profiting from this are the competing, vulture capitalist private “service” providers.

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There is no support for creating circumstances where our skills may be transfered. There is no support to help anyone adapt their skills and experience to fit future employment. Access to higher education has been restricted because of the steep rise in cost, especially for mature and disabled students. There is nothing in place to ensure that employers recognise disabled people’s skills and experiences and make adaptations to accommodate people wanting to work, and no safety net at all to encourage personal development for disabled people, since all support is tied to rigid definitions of disability. You can either work or not.

Under the guise of lifting burdens on business, this government has imposed burdens on those with disabilities by removing the “reasonable adjustments” that make living our lives possible and allow us some dignity. The labor market is hostile and unaccommodating, providing business opportunities for making profit, but increasingly, the needs and rights of the workforce are being politically sidelined. This will invariably reduce opportunities for people to participate in the labor market because of its increasingly limiting terms and conditions.

This highlights the paramount importance of shifting the political focus to the pressing need to change a disabling culture and to actually listen to our lived experiences, including us in policy design from that of merely coercing us into fitting reductive Conservative definitions to accommodate and fit in with a neoliberal model of society.

We have smug, wealthy and healthy Conservatives redefining disablity, our identity is ascribed by others who have handed us a socially devalued status: we are being told who we are and how we must be.

Citizen’s “needs” are being aligned with politically defined neoliberal outcomes. Those most acutely aware of this are those politically assigned a lower status in the increasingly steep socioeconomic hierarchy. Stigma and othering is used politically to justify the hierarchy and the consequent crass inequalities, which are designed and mediated through policies, not citizens.

Stigma arises because of the perceptions of the oppressor, not those being oppressed. But perhaps it’s time that people who are “working hard” to contribute to the increasingly enclosed economy paused and observed what is going down, because disabled people are not the only ones being stigmatised and radically reduced by a particularly toxic combination of social conservatism and neoliberalism. Punitive and coercive welfare conditionality, including sanctioning, has recently been extended to those in low paid employment and part-time work, as tax credits and additional support vanish under the guise of “universal credit”. The bedroom tax is likely to be extended to the elderly. How does this in any way ensure that “work pays”?  All this will do is increase the precariousness of people’s situations and substantially increase their vulnerability.

The recognition and celebration of human potential, diversity and equal worth has been superceded by an all-pervasive Puritan “hard work” ethic. Our worth is being defined purely in terms of our economic contribution. We are measured out in pounds and pennies whilst making billions for a handful of other people. That is a value that comes exclusively from the dominant paradigm-shaping elite – the ones who actually profit from your hard work.

You don’t.

The government’s new “health and work” programme is actually workfare for sick and disabled people. Apparently, slave labor for big business is good for our “health” and has the added bonus of adding substantially to profits for friends of the Conservatives. It’s amazing how quickly the public have accepted the political semantic shifts, such as “work programme” – compulsory labor for no wage, which was originally about “exploitation” and has now been redefined as “work experience”. Apparently that is also “fair”, “inclusive”, “good” for our health and “makes work pay”.

Makes work pay for whom?

Disability can no longer be considered solely as a medical problem, affecting only a minority of the population. It must be seen for what it is: as a civil rights issue as central to mainstream political discourse. This government uses draconian policies to act UPON disabled people, it does not value our lived experiences nor does it listen and RESPOND to us. It’s a government that simply tells us how we must BE. That is profoundly undemocratic, it discriminates against us and excludes a social group on the basis of a protected characteristic.

There are and have been a lot of ways to define disability, it has variously has been defined through the eugenic model, a medical model, charity model, rights-based model, social model and a radical model. Now it’s time for a disabled people’s model, founded on our lived experiences and varied needs.

Understanding that oppressive situations have not arisen through any fault of our own, and that the oppression is real and has a basis in sociopolitical prejudice and discrimination provides us with the courage needed, and a more solid ground on which to fight for liberation. It always seems to be the case that fighting social injustice is left to the very people who have been excluded and systematically deprived of a political voice and power, it’s always down to us to make others listen. Yet it is invariably the case that when one social group is targeted for political prejudice and discriminatory policies, it affects everyone. Historically we have learned it quickly follows that other groups are singled out, too.

The universal character of human rights is founded on the inherent dignity of all human beings. It is therefore axiomatic that people with medical conditions that lead to disabilities, both mental and physical, have the same human rights as the rest of the human race.

The United Nations is currently investigating this government’s gross and systematic violations of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), and a recent report from the House of Lords Select Committee on the Equality Act 2010 and Disability, investigating the Act’s impact on disabled people, has concluded that the Government is failing in its duty of care to disabled people, because it does not enforce the act.

Furthermore, the Select Committee concludes that the government’s red tape challenge is being used as a pretext for removing protections for disabled people. It’s a government that regards the rights and protections of disabled people as a mere bureaucratic inconvenience.

There’s a certain irony regarding the Conservative preoccupation with preserving social order: their rigid ideologically-driven policies create the very things they fear – dissent, insecurity, disorder and the raising of public awareness and recognition of a pressing need for social change and reform. It’s seems to be the case that Conservative governments prompt a growth of social challenges that encourage the flourishing of the very radicalism and revolutionary ideas that they fear and loathe.

That is what happens when people are oppressed.

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Picture courtesy of Robert Livingstone

 

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Osborne’s housing benefit cap could mean tens of thousands of the most vulnerable citizens losing their homes

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Grave concerns regarding the impact of proposed housing benefit cuts on the most vulnerable social groups have also arisen. Last month a specialist housing association warned that people under the age of 35 in mental health accommodation face rent shortfalls of almost £200 a week under  government plans to cap housing benefit for social housing tenants at Local Housing Allowance rates.

John Healey MP, Labour’s Shadow Cabinet Minister for Housing and Planning, warned at the time that housing providers could be forced to close accommodation for the most vulnerable because of housing benefit cuts.

Brighton Housing Trust (BHT) said that its fincancial modelling of the impact of capping housing benefit for social tenants, including supported housing tenants, at Local Housing Allowance rates revealed that 70% of all its homes would be unaffordable to under 35s under the plan, as they would only qualify for the “shared room rate” – the cost of renting a single room within a house.

The Trust said in its specialist supported housing, under-35s would face a shortfall of between £52.60 and £193.49 in 71 of 101 mental health units. There would also be shortfalls of up to £75 per week in specialist drug and alcohol units, homelessness hostels and young people’s accommodation.

Tenants older than 35 would also be unable to afford many of the homes, although the benefit gaps would be smaller.

BHT is a specialist housing association which provides for tenants with support needs, even in much of its general needs accommodation.

The association warned that the government’s offer of additional Discretionary Housing Payments to plug the rent shortfalls would also be insufficient.

The housing benefit cuts which were announced last Autumn in  George Osborne’s budget Statement are claimed to be aimed at bringing housing benefit rates for social housing in line with the sums paid to landlords in the private sector. However, the National Housing Federation has raised further concerns in a press release statement today. The Federation’s Chief Executive, David Orr, said:

“New homes for people with support needs – vulnerable people – that would be being built have been cancelled.

The impacts of the LHA cap are real and immediate. The threat alone has caused the building of thousands of specialist homes for the nation’s most vulnerable to grind to a halt. And if the cap comes into force, our research suggests that 156,000 specialist homes could be lost.

The PM has said that this would be a government that supports the vulnerable. But if this cap applies, society’s most vulnerable – dementia patients, women fleeing domestic violence, army veterans suffering mental health problems, older and disabled people – will be asked to find an extra £68 a week.

“We have repeatedly tried to engage the Government on the urgency and severe impacts of this cap on supported housing – we need clarity that this won’t apply to those in specialist homes today.”

Mr Osborne said the move, which will affect England, Scotland and Wales, would deliver savings of £225m by 2020-21, and is part of a £12bn package of cuts from the welfare bill. Conservative ministers claim they are reviewing the sheltered housing sector “to ensure it works in the best way possible”.

But hundreds of planned new sheltered accommodation units have been delayed or scrapped owing to proposed cuts to housing benefit. And several housing associations have said they are no longer financially viable. The National Housing Federation (NHF) has calculated that nearly 2,500 units have so far been scrapped or delayed as sheltered housing providers face losing an average of £68 a week per tenant.

Flats for elderly people and people with learning disabilities are more expensive to build and run because they provide crucial additional support. Concerns raised about the cap on housing benefit will affect society’s poorest and most vulnerable people, such as  women fleeing domestic violence, dementia patients,  army veterans suffering mental health problems, older and disabled people, because these peoeple  will need to find an extra £68 a week.

BBC News reports that a further four housing associations confirmed their plans had needed to change:

  • Southdown Housing in East Sussex has ben forced to scrap plans for 18 units for people with learning disabilities
  • Knightstone Housing in Somerset has delayed a complex of 65 homes for the elderly and 13 properties for learning-disabled people
  • In Manchester, Contour Homes has had to put on hold a scheme to build 36 units for the elderly
  • In North Yorkshire, Harrogate Neighbours has delayed construction of 55 extra care flats

John Healey MP Labour’s Shadow Cabinet Minister for Housing and Planning, has commented further today on the new reports of the effect that the Chancellor’s planned cuts to housing benefit are having on specialist accommodation for elderly and vulnerable people. He said:

“George Osborne’s crude cuts to housing benefit could mean tens of thousands of people losing their homes, including elderly people with dementia, veterans and women fleeing domestic violence.

“The consequences of these cuts are being felt right now, with the building of thousands of new homes stopped or scrapped because of Ministers’ failure to act.

“Labour will continue to lead the opposition to these crude cuts. George Osborne must halt these dangerous plans and consult fully with housing providers to safeguard this essential specialist housing.”

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Pictures courtesy of Robert Livingstone

Iain Duncan Smith is complaining about valid criticisms of his draconian policies by journalists and social media commentators

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The Work and Pensions Select Committee has just published some letters between Frank Field, the chair, and Iain Duncan Smith, who responded to questions about the correlation between benefit assessments and suicide.

Mr Field had asked what data the Department for Work and Pensions collects on the deaths of benefit claimants.

The issue had been raised in a research report by Oxford University and Liverpool University entitled First Do No Harm, which I also reported on last year.

The letter addressed to Frank Field MP, features a barely legible hand-written footnote warning against listening to those “in the media and on social media” who “accuse the Government of outrageous actions.”

Duncan Smith writes in the footnote:

“There are some out there in the media and social media who have used [raw?] [ons ?- Office for National Statistics?] figures to accuse the govt of outrageous actions.

I would hope that the committee would not seek to follow suit. I [illegible] [note?] that having introduced ESA and the WLA, the Labour Party now seeks to attack it as though they had nothing to do with it.

Surely the committee should seek to recognise the good intent of those engaged in this difficult area.”

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I would say that this blatant political discrimination constitutes an “outrageous action.” It’s difficult to recognise any “good intent” here, Mr Duncan Smith.

The correlation between the work capability assessment and suicide was established by academic researchers, not by journalists or social media commentators. We simply reported the findings.

Iain Duncan Smith will be accusing the United Nations (UN) of failing to see the government’s “good intent” when the inquiry into “grave and systematic violations” of the rights of disabled people in the UK concludes, next. Despite the fact that we are the first country to face such an inquiry, and given that the UN investigate only when there is evidence of grave and systematic violations of human rights, the prime minister has already dismissed the significance of the inquiry, ludicrously claiming “it may not be all it’s cracked up to be.”

It’s particularly noteworthy that when it comes to government claims, the same methodological rigour that they advocate for others isn’t applied. Indeed, many policies have clearly been directed by ideology and traditional Tory prejudices, rather than valid research and empirical evidence. The fact that no cumulative impact assessment has been carried out with regard to the welfare “reforms” indicates a government that is not interested in accountability, and examining the potential negative outcomes of policy-making. Policies are supposed to be about meeting public needs and not about inflicting Conservative dogma and old prejudices in the form of financial punishment on protected social groups.

As someone with a background in the social sciences, I have written extensive criticism of Iain Duncan Smith’s peculiar brand of epistemological and methodological fascism. He’s not exactly well known for his skill in statistical analysis, having been rebuked more than once for being notoriously conservative with the truth and numbers. Yet he feels compelled to dismiss the accounts of academics, campaigners, empirical evidence and the many qualitative accounts of those adversely impacted by his policies, in his vain attempt to exercise a stranglehold on his own peculiar brand of “truth.”

The goverment often claim that any research revealing negative social consequences arising from their draconian policies, which they don’t like to be made public “doesn’t establish a causal link.”  Recently there has been a persistent, aggressive and flat denial that there is any “causal link” between the increased use of food banks and increasing poverty, between benefit sanctions and extreme hardship and harm, between the work capability assessment and an increase in numbers of deaths and suicides, for example.

The government are referring to a scientific maxim: “Correlation doesn’t imply causality.” 

The tobacco industry made exactly the same claim about the established link between lung cancer and smoking.

It’s true that correlation is not the same as causation.

It’s certainly true that no conclusion may be drawn regarding the existence or the direction of a cause and effect relationship only from the fact that event A and event B are correlated.

Determining whether there is an actual cause and effect relationship requires further investigation.

This is something the government has persistently refused to do. (Here’s a full critique of Conservative methods of “social research”. I sent Mr Duncan Smith a copy, along with some information about proper definitions and measurement of poverty, but he clearly hasn’t read either. Unless he has included those in his arrogant and dismissive horror of “accusations”  criticisms on social media of course)

It is completely inaccurate to say that correlation doesn’t imply causation. It quite often does.

Here’s a final comment from a social media-based campaigner, analytical writer and a qualified social scientist who knows about statistical inference, causality and correlation and suchlike:

Iain Duncan Smith, you’re a blatant numpty.

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You can read the full letter here.