Tag: Centre for Welfare Reform

Centre for Welfare Reform calls for citizen convention to develop rights-driven constitutional reform

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Last month, the Centre for Welfare Reform (CWR) launched a new campaign, calling for constitutional reform to combat a political system that serves only the interests of the few.

The CWR, working with a broad alliance of different organisations, is calling for a citizens’ convention in order to develop a better constitution for the UK. The Centre have published an open letter calling for change:

Open Letter on Constitutional Reform: A new settlement between people and government is needed. We need a written constitution.

We, the undersigned, work to bring about a better, fairer society. However we have come to see that our efforts are compromised by an economic and political system that serves only the interests of the few. Every day we see grotesque inequality, poverty wages and rising consumer debt, over-powerful banks and energy companies, a housing crisis, and disregard for environmental standards. Worst of all we see a retreating welfare state that inflicts punitive sanctions on some of our most vulnerable people and communities.

Multiple injustices at home are mirrored by a deeply unethical foreign policy. Rather than promote peace, uphold human rights and democratic norms, our foreign policy is dominated by commercial imperatives which include lucrative arms sales to countries with repressive regimes and abysmal human rights records.

None of these crises can be resolved without reference to basic principles of economic, social and environmental justice and these in turn should not be separate from the legislative principles that guide the work of Parliament.

To make this happen, we need a new settlement between people and government in the form of a written constitution that embeds a comprehensive bill of human rights, including economic, social and environmental rights. It must delimit the power of Parliament by devolving real power to the regions and nations that make up the UK and place local government on an independent legal footing. Only then can ordinary people gain real control over their lives and shape their own future. The people, not Parliament, must be the new sovereign and a written constitution is the means to achieve that.

We therefore call for a Citizens’ Convention on a written constitution as the first step towards this goal.

Anyone wishing to add their support to this campaign can do so by contacting Gavin Barker from the Centre for Welfare Reform.

You can also read Gavin’s excellent article here: Why the UK Needs a Written Constitution

Neoliberalism works to support a politically powerful and influential minority to accumulate wealth by steadily dispossessing the majority of citizens. This has implications for social justice, human rights and democracy. The idea that the market is somehow a neutral mechanism through which the sum of individual choices will lead to progress has been seriously challenged by empirical evidence that demonstrates clearly how neoliberalism has led to social, political and economic regression, as our post- war settlement has been systematically dismantled.

As a researcher and campaigner against austerity, inequality, social injustice and political authoritarianism, and as also, as someone who recognises that neoliberalism is utterly incompatible with democracy and a human rights framework, Politics and Insights welcomes and supports this campaign.  

The current government believes that some people are ‘better than others’, and deserve more wealth. The neoliberal view of a meritocratic society has simply reconstructed the traditional Conservative defence of order, authority and discipline (but only for the poorest citizens) and has simply reimposed their view of a hierarchical ‘natural order.’

The political justification presented for this is the mistaken belief that socioeconomic inequality is desirable, as it somehow ‘incentivises’ people to achieve more. However, historic empirical research indicates that achievement and human potential are stifled when people have to struggle to meet their basic need for food, fuel and shelter. 

We are told that we are free to choose the course of our lives, but the freedom to make decisions outside the narrow narrative of ‘success’ is limited. Furthermore, those who fail are deemed to be ‘losers’ or ‘scroungers’, and defined as a burden on the state.

Neoliberals would have us believe that success depends on individual effort and talents, meaning responsibility lies entirely with the individual and authorities should give people as much freedom as possible to achieve this goal. For those who believe in the myth of unrestricted choice, self-government, self-responsibility, self-discipline and self-management are the mantra. For those who don’t, well there is a team of behavioural economists employed by the Government who are running social experiments without your consent, looking for ways of aligning your behaviour with neolberal outcomes. Choices become choice, our ‘best interests’ are ultimately being defined by the state and a handful of self appointed technocrats and “choice architects”.

Along with the idea that wealthy people are cognitively competent, but the rest of us are not, the freedom of choice we are told we have in the UK is the greatest untruth of our age. Competitive individualism invariably means a few win and many more lose. That is the nature of competition, after all. Inequality is built into the meritocratic script. It’s also built into our laws. Along with growing material inequality, the distribution of power in our society has also never been more unequal in our lifetime. Imposing an economic system that benefits so few requires an authoritarian Government, which, despite its ‘small state’ narrative, has become increasingly intrusive on a personal and psychological level over the last few years. 

The steady retreat of the welfare state that now embodies coercion and punishment, rather than support, inflicting discipline and draconian sanctions on some of our most vulnerable citizens and communities, no longer provides adequate support for citizens who lack the means to meet their basic survival needs. 

Our post-war settlement is being dismantled with stealth and dispatch – the welfare state, the NHS, legal aid and social housing – each of these historic social gains formed the basis of inclusive, civilising and civil institutions that have democratised and civilised our society. Yet public services came about to ensure each and every citizen’s life has equal dignity and worth; that no-one dies prematurely because of absolute poverty or because they have no access to justice, medical care and housing. 

Small state libertarian principles apply only to public services and meeting public need, when it comes to the private interests of the wealthy, the Government shows a remarkable generosity. Apparently wealthy people aren’t ‘incentivised’ by cuts to their income, draconian discipline, and brutal ‘behavioural change’ policies like poor people are claimed to be. Public policy has become an instrument of stigmatisation, social exclusion, outgrouping and increasing marginalisation.    

Othering and outgrouping are politically weaponised and strategic inhumanities designed to misdirect and convince populations suffering the consequences of intentionally targeted austerity, deteriorating standards of living and economic instability – all of which arose because of the actions of a ruling financial class – that the ‘real enemy’ is ‘out there’, that there is an ‘us’ that must be protected from ‘them.’  

It needs to be challenged and we need to change this, because social prejudice undermines the safety, fair treatment, dignity and worth of fellow human beings, on the basis of their characteristics. 

This extremely divisive and dangerous approach to imposing a totalising neoliberal ideology has been amplified by a predominantly right-wing media, who have constructed negative stereotypes – folk devils – from already marginalised groups to generate moral outrage and to desensitise and de-empathise the public to the terrible consequences of harsh neoliberal policies on previously socially protected groups. Stereotyping goes hand in hand with prejudice. 

Given our diverse and multicultural world, it is of great importance to understand ways to reduce social prejudice. In the 1950’s, Gordon Allport – who studied the role of social prejudice in Nazi Germany, leading to the Holocaust –  introduced the intergroup-contact hypothesis. In this view, intergroup contact under positive conditions can reduce social prejudice. The necessary conditions include cooperation towards shared goals, equal status between groups, and the support of Government, local authorities and cultural norms. 

I’m also a strong advocate of prefigurative, participatory democracy. I don’t believe that democracy is just about voting once every five years. It’s also about distributive social justice (concerning the socially just allocation of resources and goods).  

Government policies are expressed political intentions regarding how our society is organised and governed. They have calculated social and economic aims and consequences. In democratic societies, citizens’ accounts of the impacts of policies ought to matter. However, the Government persistently dismiss qualitative accounts from citizens as ‘anecdotal’, refusing to engage in a democratic dialogue.

In the UK, the way that policies are justified is being increasingly detached from their aims and consequences, partly because democratic processes and basic human rights are being disassembled or side-stepped, and partly because the government employs the widespread use of linguistic strategies and techniques of persuasion to intentionally divert us from their aims and the consequences of their ideologically (rather than rationally) driven policies. Furthermore, policies have become increasingly detached from public interests and needs.

I absolutely agree that none of these issues can be resolved without reference to basic principles of economic, social and environmental justice and these in turn should not be separate from the legislative principles that guide the work of Parliament. 

And: “To make this happen, we need a new settlement between people and government in the form of a written constitution that embeds a comprehensive bill of human rights, including economic, social and environmental rights. It must delimit the power of Parliament by devolving real power to the regions and nations that make up the UK and place local government on an independent legal footing.” 

Positive change is long overdue.

Kitty.

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Related

The still face paradigm, the just world fallacy, inequality and the decline of empathy

The importance of citizens’ qualitative accounts in democratic inclusion and political participation

Neoliberalism and corruption: hidden in plain sight

 


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Prime minister dismisses UN inquiry into government’s discriminatory treatment of disabled people

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Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has asked David Cameron at Prime Minister’s Questions today to publish the details of the Government’s response to the United Nations inquiry into the allegations that Conservative policies are breaching the rights of disabled people in the UK. He also asked if the government intended to co-operate with the inquiry.

Such UN investigations are conducted confidentially by the UN and officials will not confirm or deny whether the UK is currently being put under scrutiny.

However, the ongoing inquiry been widely reported by disability rights groups and campaigners. The Department for Work and Pensions has previously declined to comment on the possibility of an investigation.

Mr Corbyn used his final question to ask about the United Nations inquiry into alleged “grave or systemic violations” of the rights of disabled people in the UK. The PM gave a dismissive response, saying the inquiry may not be “all it’s cracked up to be” and said that disabled people in other countries do not have the rights and support that “they” [disabled people] in the UK are offered. Cameron also implied that Labour’s “strong” equality legislation was a Conservative policy. However, the Equality Act was drafted under the guidance of Harriet Harman.

Jeremy Corbyn asks about David Cameron about his response to the UN inquiry at Prime Minister’s Questions

The United Nations team of investigators are expecting to meet with the Equality and Human Rights Commission, members of parliament, individual campaigners and disabled people’s organisations, representatives from local authorities and academics.

The team will be gathering direct evidence from individuals about the impact of government austerity measures, with a focus on benefit cuts and sanctions; cuts to social care; cuts to legal aid; the closure of the Independent Living Fund (ILF); the adverse impact of the Work Capability Assessment (WCA); the shortage of accessible and affordable housing; the impact of the bedroom tax on disabled people, and also the rise in disability hate crime.

Mr Corbyn said:

“This is deeply embarrassing to all of us in this house and indeed to the country as a whole. It’s very sad news.”

The Government’s approach to people with disabilities had been extremely controversial and been met with criticism from campaign groups. Disabled people have borne the brunt of austerity cuts, losing more income and support than any other social group, and this is despite the fact that Cameron promised in 2010 to protect the poorest, sick and disabled people and the most vulnerable.

In 2013, Dr Simon Duffy at the Centre for Welfare Reform published a briefing outlining how the austerity cuts are targeted. The report says:

The cuts are not fair.

They target the very groups that a decent society would protect:

  • People in poverty (1 in 5 of us) bear 39% of all the cuts
  • Disabled people (1 in 13 of us) bear 29% of all the cuts
  • People with severe disabilities (1 in 50 of us) bear 15% of all the cuts

The report outlines further discrimination in how the austerity cuts have been targeted. The report says:

The unfairness of this policy is seen even more clearly when we look at the difference between the burden of cuts that falls on most citizens and the burdens that fall on minority groups. By 2015 the annual average loss in income or services will be:

  • People who are not in poverty or have no disability will lose £467 per year
  • People who are in poverty will lose £2,195 per year
  • Disabled people will lose £4,410 per year
  • Disabled people needing social care will lose £8,832 per year

Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith said at the  Conservative party conference speech in Manchester that disabled people “should work their way out of poverty.”

The Work and Pensions Secretary has been widely criticised for removing support for disabled people who want to work: by closing Remploy factories, scrapping the Independent Living Fund, cuts to payments for a disability Access To Work scheme and cuts to Employment and Support Allowance.

The reformed Work Capability Assessment has been very controversial, with critics labeling them unfair, arbitrary, and heavily bureaucratic, weighted towards unfairly removing people’s sickness and disability benefit and forcing them to look for work.

The bedroom tax also hits disabled people disproportionately, with around two thirds of those affected by the under-occupancy penalty being disabled.

The United Nations have already deemed that the bedroom tax constitutes a violation of the human right to adequate housing in several ways. If, for example, the extra payments force tenants to cut down on their spending on food or heating their home. There are already a number of legal challenges to the bedroom tax under way in British courts. In principle the judiciary here takes into account the international human rights legislation because the UK has signed and ratified the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.

The right to adequate housing is recognised in a number of international human rights instruments that the UK has signed up to.

UN rapporteur Raquel Rolnik called for the UK government last year to scrap its controversial bedroom tax policy. Rolnik’s report was dismissed as a “misleading Marxist diatribe” by Tory ministers, and she had been subject to a “blizzard of misinformation” and xenophobic tabloid reports.

The DWP’s sanctions regime has also been widely discredited, and there has been controvery over death statistics, eventually released by the Department after a long-running refusal to release the information under freedom of information law.

The Daily Mail has already preempted the visit from the special rapporteur, Catalina Devandas Aguilar, who is spearheading the ongoing inquiry into many claims that Britain is guilty of grave or systematic violations of the rights of sick and disabled people, by using racist stereotypes, and claiming that the UN are “meddling”. The Mail blatantly attempted to discredit this important UN intervention and the UN rapporteur before the visit.

Meanwhile, Cameron seems very keen to play the investigation down, and dismiss the impact of his government’s “reforms” on the lives of sick and disabled people.

We are a very wealthy, so-called first-world liberal democracy, the fact that such an inquiry has been deemed necessary at all ought to be a source of great shame for this government.

 

UN officials to visit UK over coming months to investigate whether Iain Duncan Smith’s “reforms” to disability benefits are compatible with Human Rights

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I reported last year that the UK has become the first country to face a United Nations inquiry into disability rights violations. A formal investigation was launched by the United Nation’s Committee regarding the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

Officials from the United Nation’s Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities are to visit Britain after the Tories announced a wave of new austerity measures, including slashing disability benefits by a further £30 a week.

Thousands of sick and disabled people claiming Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) are to have their weekly payment cut from £102.15 to £73.10, which is the same amount as jobseekers’ allowance, if they are assessed as being able to undertake “work-related activity”. Bearing in mind that in order to claim ESA in the first place, prior to assessment, a doctor has already deemed this group of people unfit for work, the move to cut lifeline benefits further is especially cruel and inhumane.

We signed up to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities under the last Labour government. On 8 June 2009, the UK government ratified the Convention, signaling its commitment to take concrete action to comply with the legal rights and obligations contained in the Convention. The Government also ratified the Convention’s Optional Protocol.

The Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities is a side-agreement to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. It was adopted on 13 December 2006, and entered into force at the same time as its parent Convention on 3 May 2008. As of July 2015, it has 92 signatories and 87 state parties.

The Optional Protocol establishes an individual complaints mechanism for the Convention similar to that of other Conventions. But this Protocol also accepts individual rights on economic, social and cultural rights. Parties agree to recognise the competence of the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities to consider complaints from individuals or groups who claim their rights under the Convention have been violated. The Committee can request information from and make recommendations to a party.

In addition, parties may also permit the Committee to investigate, report on and make recommendations on “grave or systematic violations” of the Convention.

In December 2014, the UN Human Rights Council created the role of UN Special Rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities. Part of the Special Rapporteur’s broad mandate is to report annually to the Human Rights Council and General Assembly with recommendations on how to better promote and protect the rights of persons with disabilities.

The Special Rapporteur chose to focus her first report on a thematic inquiry into the right to social security, globally. The report will be published in October 2015.

The Commission’s response focuses on three areas from the UK that are highly relevant to the Special Rapporteur’s inquiry:

  • The impact of reforms to the UK’s social security system on disabled people’s rights to independence and to an adequate standard of living;
  • Whether the design and delivery of health and social care services in England is consistent with the rights to physical and mental health, independent living and freedom from cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment; and
  • The impact of reforms affecting access to civil law justice in England and Wales on disabled people’s right to effective access to justice.

The Commission’s response to the UN Special Rapporteur’s inquiry into persons with disabilities right to social security can be found here.

The Disability Convention requires governments to designate one or more independent mechanisms to “promote, protect and monitor implementation” of the Convention.

The Commission, which is Britain’s National Human Rights Institution, has been designated alongside the Scottish Human Rights Commission, the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission and the Northern Ireland Equality Commission to fulfill this role in UK.

The Sunday Herald has more recently reported that UN officials will visit the UK in the next few months to investigate whether Iain Duncan Smith’s welfare “reforms” have led to “grave or systematic violations” of disabled people’s human rights.  According to the Scottish Herald, a leading Scottish disability charity has been advised that a visit by the Special Rapporteur and members of the Committee on the rights of persons with disabilities is expected in the “near future”.

United Nations (UN) investigations are conducted confidentially, I’ve already submitted reports and evidence regarding the impact of the welfare “reforms” on sick and disabled people. I’ve mostly focussed on the withdrawal of the Independent Living Fund (ILF), the adverse consequences of the Work Capability Assessment, workfare and sanctions.

Anyone wishing to make a submission may contact the UN here:

Catalina Devandas Aguilar
Special rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities
Address: OHCHR-UNOG; CH-1211 Geneva 10, Switzerland
Email: sr.disability@ohchr.org

The Department of Work and Pensions have refused to comment regarding the inquiry.

Shocking statistics published by the Department of Work and Pensions last week showed thousands of people have died after being declared “fit for work”. The figures, which did not detail the cause of the deaths, revealed that at least 2,380 people died between December 2011 and February 2014 within six weeks of a work capability assessment (WCA), which found them found them fit for work.

Bill Scott, director of policy at Inclusion Scotland, a consortium of disability organisations, said: “The UN have notified us they will be visiting Britain to investigate … and want to meet with us when they come, sometime in the next few months.”

Inclusion Scotland has also made a submission to the study being prepared by the Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, Catalina Devandas-Aguilar, which is examining the right of disabled people to social protection.

In the submission, Inclusion Scotland warned that the UK Government’s welfare reforms are “jeopardising disabled people’s right to life” by increasing the risk of suicide after loss of benefits. Last week, the Sunday Herald revealed that DWP staff had been given official guidance on how to deal with suicidal claimants left penniless after suffering benefit sanctions.

The Inclusion Scotland submission also highlights a series of shocking findings, including that disabled people in some areas of Scotland are waiting for up to ten months to access Personal Independent Payment (PIP) disability benefits, due to delays in assessments taking place.

Dr Simon Duffy, director of think tank The Centre for Welfare Reform, said independent research carried out since 2010 had shown the UK Government has targeted cuts mostly at people in poverty and people with disabilities. Disabled people have been targeted by cuts nine times more than other citizens. It also found that people with disabilities, who make up one in 13 of the population, bore almost a third (29%) of the cuts.

He added:

In fact the people with the most severe disabilities have faced cuts several times greater than those faced by cuts to the average citizen. This policy has been made even worse by processes of assessment and sanctions that are experienced as stigmatising and bullying.

The government has utterly failed to find jobs for the people they target – people who are often very sick, who have disabilities or who have mental health problems.

Instead we are seeing worrying signs that they are increasing rates of illness, suicide and poverty.

Many disabled people’s rights campaigners, such as Samuel Miller, Robert LivingstoneMike Sivier and myself, amongst others, welcome this development. Many  campaigners and organisations have made submissions to the UN, using the Optional Protocol mechanism. As I’ve said elsewhere, our political freedoms and human rights must not be subservient to Tory notions of economic success. Democracy is not about the private accumulation of wealth. It is about the wise use of the collective wealth for the common good of the public – that must extend to include ALL of our citizens. And a decent, civilised, democratic society supports its vulnerable members and upholds universal human rights.

Disabled people have been stigmatised, scapegoated and subjected to cuts in their lifeline support because of the financial mistakes and poor decision-making of government.

We need to ask why our Government has so far refused to instigate or agree an inquiry into the substantial rise in deaths amongst sick and disabled people, as these deaths are so clearly correlated with policy changes.  Or why a cumulative impact assessment has not been carried out regarding the consequences of these extremely draconian policies.

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Pictures courtesy of Robert Livingstone, used with thanks