Tag: disabled people

Disability campaigners & organisations meet with Labour ministers to discuss devastating impacts of government’s draconian disability policies

this ESA round

 

The group meeting at Portcullis House, Westminster. 

On Wednesday, many of the disabled campaigners, researchers and organisations that have played a key role in exposing the discrimination and harm caused by the government’s social security reforms travelled to Westminster to attend a meeting with five Labour shadow ministers. The meeting was chaired by Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell.

The original idea for a meeting of politicians, activists and researchers had come from Black Triangle’s John McArdle, who had put the idea to John McDonnell.

The meeting was conducted under the Chatham House rule, so although the contributions made during the meeting may be reported, the names of those who spoke and their organisations cannot, unless they spoke afterwards, specifically adding comment on record. I was permitted to report the names of the five shadow ministers who attended.

Other ministers participating were Margaret Greenwood (Shadow Secretary of State for Work and Pensions), Marsha de Cordova (Shadow Minister for Disabled People); Mike Amesbury, (Shadow Employment Minister) and Lyn Brown, (Shadow Treasury Minister, with responsibility for social mobility).

This initial meeting is to be the launch of a series of campaigning efforts and consultation between the Labour party, disabled activists, researchers and allied organisations. Labour is also hoping to secure support from members of other political parties in the longer term.

A second meeting is set to take place later this autumn.

The discussion was particularly focused on the harm, psychological distress and deaths caused by the controversial work capability assessment (WCA), but concerns were also expressed around the table about the damage caused to disabled people by the government’s roll out of universal credit. Some of us had also submitted work in advance of the meeting and contributed to shaping the agenda.

Other crucial concerns were raised about the ongoing problems with personal independence payment (PIP), the harm caused by the welfare conditionality regime and sanctions, and the cuts to social care support. There was also discussion about the cumulative impact of the government’s reforms on disabled women. 

There was discussion about the importance of putting the government’s reforms into an ideological and historical perspective, which highlighted how successive governments have been strongly influenced by the US insurance industry, which had led to disabled people seeking support  “to be treated as bogus claimants”.

Added to this are criticisms of how the biopsychosocial model of disability, notions of ‘the sick role’ and ‘behavioural medicine’ have provided an underpinning ideology and veneer of political credibility to justify the steady and incremental dismantling of lifeline welfare support for disabled people.

One key commentator on this subject added “The WCA was brought in to destroy public confidence in the welfare state.”

Linked with this was concern raised at the continuing roll-out of the Improving Access to Psychological Therapies (IAPT) programme, which has led to mental health professionals to “come out with the sort of language we are hearing from the Department for Work and Pensions”. 

One contributor told the meeting: “You can’t divorce what’s happening in DWP with what’s happening in psychiatry.” 

She also added that the approach by IAPT practitioners, who largely draw on the Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) model, is tantamount to political gaslighting, since it blames the victims of circumstances that caused at a structural level, and are therefore beyond an individual’s control. The government’s ideological claim that ‘work is a health outcome’ has also been embedded in IAPT practices and aims, despite there being very little evidence that employment is generally beneficial to people with mental health problems. Evidence has emerged that some kinds of employment are in fact further damaging to mental health.

There was also a call for nurses and GPs to be held to account for the way they had compromised their own medical ethics in dealing with requests for evidence to support disability benefit claims and in acting  in the role of assessor for private contractors.

There was a little dispute regarding precisely where the focus should lie concerning the work capability assessment, with some people feeling quite strongly that our aim should be simply to see it abolished. The Labour party are committed to scrapping the highly controversial assessment process, but it was recognised that it’s highly unlikely the current government will do the same. One activist told the meeting that there was a need both for “harm reduction”, to address the immediate problems with the assessment process, and “system change” to secure the eventual abolition of the WCA altogether.

He pointed out: “Saying ‘change the WCA right now’ is not saying ‘keep the WCA’, it is saying ‘stop it killing so many people’.”

Several contributors said that the government had made a deliberate attempt to create a “hostile environment for disabled people”. 

The meeting was broadly welcomed by disabled activists. Shadow chancellor, John McDonnell, added afterwards that he believed the meeting could herald the start of “a significant movement to expose the brutality of the system” and secure “permanent change”.

There were representatives present from many of the disabled-led grassroots organisations who have campaigned for many years against the Conservative’s punitive reforms and the disproportionate targeting of the disabled community with austerity measures. There were also researchers, union representatives and journalists gathered together to add to the discussion and to contribute in planning a response to the government’s persistent denials that there is a correlation between their policies and serious harm. 

McDonnell told journalists after the meeting: “I think this is a breakthrough meeting in terms of getting many of the relevant organisations and individuals together who have their concerns about what is happening to disabled people and their treatment in the welfare system.

I think it is the start of what could be a significant movement to expose the brutality of the system, but more importantly to secure permanent change.”

Marsha de Cordova, the shadow minister for disabled people, said that it was the first time that the various groups had been brought around the same table to talk about different issues – including crucial concerns about the imminent “migration” from benefits such as employment and support allowance onto universal credit – that all fed into the idea that the government had created a “hostile environment towards disabled people”.

She said: “It is good that we are talking about it. It’s great that we are bringing people around the table, and mainly disabled people.”

The meeting has consolidated new momentum and hopefully, a unity to our diverse and ongoing campaigns against the mounting injustices surrounding the welfare reforms, austerity, the fatally flawed Work Capability Assessment, welfare conditionality and sanctions, the targeted cuts embedded in Personal Independent Payment and universal credit. 

We will be challenging the government’s persistent denial of a ‘causal link’ between their draconian welfare policies and the distress, systematic human rights violations, serious harm and deaths of disabled people that have arisen in correlation with those policies. Unless the government permit an independent inquiry into the terrible injustices that have followed in the wake of the welfare reform acts, they cannot provide evidence to support their own claims.

Related

John McDonnell attacks Tory disability cuts and vows to address suicides linked to welfare reforms

Labour’s Disability Equality Roadshow comes to Newcastle

Nothing about you without you – the Labour party manifesto for disabled people

 

 


I don’t make any money from my work. I am disabled because of an illness called lupus. If you want to, you can help by making a donation to help me continue to research and write informative, insightful and independent articles, and to provide support to others.

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John McDonnell attacks Tory disability cuts and vows to address suicides linked to welfare reforms

Comradely? Labour leadership says nothing untoward about local parties expressing concern about sitting MPs

On Wednesday I am travelling down to Westminster. I have been invited to attend a meeting chaired by Labour’s shadow chancellor, John McDonnell. Welfare experts, researchers and campaigners are to contribute to a new drive to expose the mental health impacts and other harms linked with the government’s controversial reforms, such as the Work Capability (WCA) and Personal Independence Payment (PIP) assessments.

We will also explore and identify the wider impacts of the government’s Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) policies on the economy and society. 

The Labour party is committed to scrapping the fundamnetally flawed assessments, and have placed equalities at the centre of Labour party economic research through cross-departmental and multi-disciplinary collaboration. A Labour government will also undertake a specific stock-take of welfare policy and benefit sanctions to address the rising number of suicides, which have soared in recent years. The Labour party have said that they will place equalities at the centre of Labour’s economic research through cross-departmental and multi-disciplinary collaboration.

Speaking to the Huffington Post, the shadow chancellor says that he became furious during a Parliamentary debate when he demanded a comprehensive assessment of the cumulative impact of welfare reforms on disabled people and the government refused. He praised the website Calum’s List, which details the cases of at least 60 deaths linked to welfare cuts.

He added: We said to the Government we know now from Calum’s List, listing people from reports in the press and elsewhere of people committing suicide as a result of Government cuts.

We knew the Government were monitoring some coroners’ reports and we wanted them published, [then DWP minister Esther] McVey wouldn’t and I got really angry.”

“Next week, what we are doing is getting a group of campaigning organisations and a group of experts together to talk about the way in which Work Capability Assessments are still having an impact, to try to get to the bottom in terms of mental health and suicide.”

McDonnell added that Labour’s first Queen’s Speech include legislation “making sure we have a welfare and benefit system that lifts people out of poverty”.

He said that his Hayes and Harlington constituency casework now operates an open-door system four days a week due to demand from people hit by government cuts. 

He added: “Helen who runs my office said the casework now is on a scale and a depth of suffering that we’ve never seen before. And this in a constituency with the [Heathrow] airport, high levels of employment but wages not matching the housing costs and the pressure on people working all hours just to keep a roof over their heads.

“If anything goes wrong they fall out of the system. Last month we were dealing with two families living in cars. We also have the ‘beds in sheds’ phenomenon, families living in a shed or garage rented out to them, it’s staggering really.

“Before this last eight years, those sort of horrendous situations would be infrequent but you wouldn’t have someone so heavily sanctioned. The sanctions often impact on people with mental health conditions hardest.”

The Labour party’s track record of inclusion and democratic consultation with disabled citizens and their communities contrasts starkly with the Conservative’s exclusionary ‘we know better than you’ approach to disability policies. The government have imposed cuts on disabled people, acting upon them as if they are objects of policy rather than being citizens within a democracy.  

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, in the UK, the way that welfare 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 more generally become increasingly detached from public interests and needs.

McDonnell was involved in the setting up of Disabled People Against the Cuts (DPAC). Furthermore, after a nationwide round of consultations with disabled people about policies which enshrine the Equality and Human Rights acts, led by Debbie Abrahams, the Labour party wrote a manifesto, outlining policies for disabled people, called Nothing about you without you .

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Alex Cunningham, me, Debbie Abrahams and Gail Ward after the Disability Equality Roadshow in December, 2016.

The government have persistently refused to acknowledge that there is a ‘causal link’ between their punitive welfare policy programme – which has seen vulnerable citizens, including many disabled people, lose their lifeline support – and has been correlated with the rise in distress, suicides, harm and premature mortality among ill and disabled people in particular.

The correlation has consistently been recognised by disabled citizens, and evidenced by researchers, charities and disabled peoples’ organisations over the last few years. Although correlation is not the same thing as ‘causation’, it quite often implies a causal relationship. The problem is that the government have simply refused to investigate the established association further, choosing to simply deny the established link exists instead. That is completely unacceptable. 

Without further investigation of the many concerns raised, the government have no evidence whatsoever to verify their own claims of there being ‘no causal link’ precisely because they consistently refuse to conduct an inquiry regarding the established correlation between policies and harm, or to undertake a cumulative impact assessment of those policies. 

The UN Convention on the Rights of Disabled Persons (CRPD) says (in article four) that governments must, in implementing the convention, “closely consult with and actively involve persons with disabilities… through their representative organizations”. It also says (article 33) that “civil society, in particular persons with disabilities and their representative organizations, shall be involved and participate fully” in monitoring the implementation of the convention in each country. In July, Sarah Newton, the minister for disabled people, refused to meet a coalition of disabled people’s organisations, in an apparent breach of the UN disability convention.

At the very least, Newton shows no inclination whatsoever to listen to the accounts of the lived experiences of disabled people, nor does she value a democratic dialogue with us. That is profoundly worrying.

In July, the Shadow Disabilities Minister, Marsha De Cordova, also once again raised in parliament the fact that the United Nations (UN) had found “grave and systematic violations of disabled people’s rights” in the UK.

The Labour MP added: “This government’s policies have created a hostile environment causing grave violations on disabled people.”

Newton responded by claiming “it’s ‘not true’ that disabled people face a hostile environment.” She also asked the opposition not to say “things” that they “know are not true”. 

The United Nations (UN) and the Equalities and Human Rights Commission have already verified the truth of the statements, presented many times by Labour shadow ministers, disability charities and disabled people to an indifferent government. 

However, the Conservatives have a track record of denying empirical findings that don’t match their predetermined and ideological expectations. They simply deny and dismiss any criticism of their  discriminatory policies. Damian Green, the Work and Pensions Secretary at the time of the UN inquiry report, famously claimed that cuts to support for disabled people did “not necessarily mean worse outcomes.” That is a bit of a climb down to previous claims from the government that cuts to lifeline support for disabled people ‘help’ them into work by removing the ‘perverse incentives’ of provision. 

In July, in a rather frightening and repressive, authoritarian outburst, Newton went on to claim that the opposition’s comments were “dangerous” and “deter” people who need support from claiming it. However, it is government policies that are dangerous, and that have created a series of ordeals and barriers in the assessment process, designed to weight the assessments towards permitting the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) to refuse people support.

Much of Newton’s response to legitimate criticism entails rationalisation techniques that are designed to undermine the credibility of the accounts of others and especially that of the narrator by editing the narrative, and presenting an alternative order of events. More broadly, the right wing media took up this role on behalf of the government, in scapegoating and stigmatising disabled people and others who need social security support, in advance of the welfare reform act. By portraying disabled people as ‘fakes’, ‘scroungers’ and as an ‘economic burden’, this rhetoric was designed to create folk devils, and to justify punitive cuts to ‘undeserving’ disabled people. 

Image result for negative media portrayals of disabled people

Image result for negative media portrayals of disabled people

Many of us have been through the ordeals that claiming ESA entails and then faced further ordeals confronting mandatory reconsideration and appeal.Many of us have been deterred from claiming PIP. That was my own experience too. Despite needing PIP from 2011, I couldn’t face claiming PIP until I really had to. I put it off for seven years because my experience of the ESA assessments was so horrible and distressing, it made me seriously ill, because the stress exacerbated my symptoms. (I have lupus).  My local authority supported me with the claim when they provided aids and adaptations to help my mobility in my home.

Conservative ministers conveniently overlook the fact that many disabled people have worked and contributed to the UK’s  social security provision via tax and through the national insurance system. I worked for many years until I became too ill to do so in 2010. 

Newton went on to say: “We have very strong protections for people with disabilities in our country.”

Newton even had the cheek to cite Labour’s Equality Act as a ‘protection’ for disabled people, as if it was the Conservatives who designed this policy. This is same Act that the government has violated over and over because of their welfare ‘reforms’ and austerity programme. This protection was brought about by the last Labour government, which also included the Human Rights Act, and signing the UK up to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) – an international human rights treaty intended to protect the rights and dignity of persons with disabilities.

The UK’s established human rights and equality frameworks have been methodically ignored by this government, who decided to target disabled people with a significantly disproportionate burden of their ideological austerity programme. The UN found that the Conservatives’ treatment of disabled people gravely and systematically violates our human rights. The evidence gathered by the UN came from disabled people’s accounts (including mine) and those of disability organisations, academic researchers and charities.

This is a government that has systematically marginalised disabled people economically  socially and politically, sidestepping human rights and equality legal frameworks. Apparently the government doesn’t regard democratic accountability to disabled people as particularly important. Instead, ministers simply lie and deny other people’s experiences and accounts. 

Newton also shamefully suggested people losing their motability cars, scooters and wheelchairs should complain to the Motability charity – not the government. It’s not the charity that are creating a hostile environment for disabled people, carrying out assessments that are absolutely unfit for purpose. It is not the charity’s fault that assessments are inaccurate and designed to ensure as few people as possible are given a full PIP award.

This is a repressive, opaque, unaccountable and profoundly undemocratic government that simply refuse to accept any responsibility for the consequences of their own actions.

If the government genuinely believed that there is no causal link whatsoever between their cuts, extremely punitive policies and the distress, harm, increased suicide rate and deaths of disabled people, surely the way to provide evidence of their claim is to permit an independent investigation, and to undertake a thorough cumulative assessment of their policies.

Instead, it seems blunt denials and techniques of neutralisation are the government’s prefered response to legitimate criticism and serious concerns regarding the welfare and wellbeing of disabled people in the UK. 

Techniques of neutralisation: 

These are strategies often used to switch off the conscience when someone plans or has done something to cause harm to others. They most often entail rationalisations of denial.

The idea of techniques of neutralisation was first proposed by criminologists David Matza and Gresham Sykes during their work on Edwin Sutherland’s Differential Association in the 1950s. Matza and Sykes were working on juvenile delinquency, they theorised that the same techniques could be found throughout society and published their ideas in Delinquency and Drift, 1964.

They identified the following psychological techniques by which, they believed, delinquents justified ‘illegitimate’ or morally unacceptable actions, and Alexander Alverez further identified these methods used at a socio-political and psychological level in Nazi Germany to attempt to “justify” the Holocaust:

1. Denial of responsibility. The offender(s) will propose that they were victims of circumstance or were forced into situations beyond their control.

2. Denial of harm and injury. The offender insists that their actions did not cause any harm or damage.

3. Denial of the victim. The offender believes that the victim deserved whatever action the offender committed. Or they may claim that there isn’t a victim.

4. Condemnation of the condemners. The offenders maintain that those who condemn their offence are doing so purely out of spite, ‘scaremongering’ or they are shifting the blame from themselves unfairly. 

5. Appeal to higher loyalties. The offender suggests that his or her offence was for the ‘greater good’, with long-term consequences that would justify their actions, such as protection of a social group/nation, or benefits to the economy/ social group/nation.

6. Disengagement and Denial of Humanity is a category that Alverez added to the techniques formulated by Sykes and Matza because of its special relevance to the Holocaust. Nazi propaganda portrayed Jews and other non-Aryans as subhuman. A process of social division, scapegoating and dehumanisation was explicitly orchestrated by the government.

This also very clearly parallels Gordon Allport’s work on explaining how prejudice arises, how it escalates, often advancing by almost inscrutable degrees, pushing at normative and moral boundaries until the unthinkable becomes tenable. This stage on the scale of social prejudice may ultimately result in genocide.

Any one of these six techniques may serve to encourage violence by neutralising the norms against prejudice and aggression to the extent that when they are all implemented together, as they apparently were under the Nazi regime, a society can seemingly forget its normative rules, moral values and laws in order to engage in wholesale prejudice, discrimination, exclusion of citizens, hatred and ultimately, in genocide. 

I’m not comparing what is happening to disabled people in the UK with the Holocaust, though it is worth noting that disabled people were among the first group that were murdered by the Nazis. What I am saying is the techniques used to exclude, and to normalise the political oppression of a group, are the same. They are also used as a form of ‘norm default setting’ to desenisitise the public to the circumstances and experiences of groups being politically targeted with discriminatory and oppressive treatment. 

In accusing citizens and the opposition of ‘scaremongering’, the Conservatives are denying responsibility for the consequences of their policies, denying harm, denying  distress; denying the victims and condemning the condemners.

A spokesperson for the Department for Work and Pensions said: “Suicide is a complex issue and our sympathies are always with those left behind, but it’s misleading to link it to welfare reforms.

“We continually review and make improvements where needed, for example strengthening the Work Capability Assessment service by stopping reassessments for those with the most severe and lifelong conditions, and introducing video recording in PiP assessments.

 “We are committed to ensuring people get the support they need, and to improving lives. Decisions for PiP and ESA are made following consideration of all the evidence, including from someone’s doctor or medical specialist. Meanwhile sanctions are only applied in a small minority of cases when someone fails to meet their agreed requirements.”

Earlier this week the government stressed that it was committed to ensuring that disabled people get the support they need. 

We don’t agree.

For many of us, the government’s approach to social security has become random, controlling and an unremitting Orwellian trial. 

 


 

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Vote Labour to uphold the rights of disabled people – our letter to the Guardian

Image result for Human rights are universal

The following letter was published in the Guardian today, written and signed by a group of academics, professionals, campaigners and grassroots activists who work together cooperatively.

We collaborate to fulfil our mutual aims of achieving a progressive, civilised, just and safe society for all. We hope to do this by ensuring that the society we are a part of is democratic and fully inclusive: we want a civilised society that observes and meets its human rights obligations on behalf of all social groups. This isn’t happening currently. (See: UN’s highly critical report confirms UK government has systematically violated the human rights of disabled people).

As an independent researcher, writer, campaigner, and as a disabled person, I am very proud to be included among them. 

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Many disabled people see Labour’s policies as a lifeline, say the 30 signatories to this letter. 

For chronically ill and disabled people, recent years have been a disaster. The UN recently found “reliable evidence that the threshold of grave or systematic violations of the rights of persons with disabilities has been met” (Report, 8 November 2016).

We have been forced through a work capability assessment that the government’s own expert adviser described as “inhumane”, and which in 2015 was found to be associated with an additional 599 suicides.

Many needing help are now forced through another persecutory assessment – the personal independence payment – designed to reduce the numbers qualifying for help by half a million.

Social care has been so savagely cut that some young disabled must wear incontinence pads for lack of toileting assistance. People can’t take any more of this.

Many disabled people are not party-political, but see Labour’s policies for disabled people as a lifeline – envisioning a society where people are treated as human beings deserving of respect, equality and a decent life. Please, don’t endorse recent human-rights abuses; endorse the human rights of disabled people by registering, and by voting Labour on 8 June.

Paul Atkinson Jungian psychotherapist
Stef Benstead Spartacus Network
Peter Beresford Co-chair, Shaping Our Lives
Gary Bourlet Founder, People First Movement in England
Dr Emma Bridger Research fellow in psychology
Professor Woody Caan Journal of Public Mental Health
Dr Kelly Camilleri Registered clinical psychologist
Merry Cross
Dr David Drew Labour Parliamentary candidate for Stroud
Nick Duffell Psychohistorian
Dr Simon Duffy Centre for Welfare Reform
Dr Dina Glouberman Skyros Holistic Holidays
Catherine Hale Chronic Illness Inclusion Project
AC Howard DWPexamination.org – For The UK’s Disabled Community
Chris Johnstone General practitioner
Sue Jones Psychologists Against Austerity, researcher and writer, campaigner
Jayne Linney Disability activist
Alec McFadden TUC Salford
Helen McGauley Trainee clinical psychologist, Lancaster University
Beatrice Millar Person-centred counsellor/psychotherapist
Rev Paul Nicolson Taxpayers Against Poverty
Gavin Robinson Alliance for Counselling and Psychotherapy
Professor Andrew Samuels University of Essex
Nicola Saunders Psychotherapist
Martyn Sibley Disability blogger
Mike Sivier Vox Political
Professor Ernesto Spinelli
Mo Stewart Independent researcher, disability studies
Gail Ward
Dr Jay Watts Queen Mary, University of London
Dr Claudia GillbergSenior Research Associate in Education; Fellow at Centre for Welfare Reform and Disability Rights Activist

Dr Richard House Alliance for Counselling and Psychotherapy

 

Join the debate – email guardian.letters@theguardian.com

Read more Guardian letters – click here to visit gu.com/letters


I don’t make any money from my work. I am disabled because of illness and have a very limited income. The budget didn’t do me any favours at all.

But you can help by making a donation to 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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Government fitness for work test is making disabled people more sick

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In January, 2012, I wrote an article: The ESA ‘Revolving Door’ Process, and its Correlation with a Significant Increase in Deaths amongst the Disabled and I discussed the distress and harm that the current government work capability assessment is causing disabled people. I said:

Many claimants have described a “revolving door” process of endless assessment, ceased Employment Support Allowance (ESA) claim, (based on an outcome of almost invariably being wrongly “assessed” as fit for work), appeal, successful appeal outcome, benefit reinstated, only to find just 3 months later another assessment is required. The uncertainty and loss of even basic security that this process creates, leading to constant fear and anxiety, is having a damaging, negative impact on the health and well-being of so many.

A significant proportion of those required to have endless assessments have very obviously serious illnesses such as cancer, kidney failure, lung disease, heart disease, severe and life threatening chronic conditions such as multiple sclerosis, lupus, myalgic encephalomyelitis, rheumatoid arthritis, brain tumours, severe heart conditions, and severe mental health illness, for example. To qualify for ESA, the claimant must provide a note from a doctor stating that the person is unfit for work. There can be no justification for subjecting people who are so ill to further endless assessments, and to treating us as if we have done something wrong.

Marginalising and stigmatising sick and disabled people, amongst whom are some of our most vulnerable citizens, via propaganda in the media, using despiteful and malicious terms such as “workshy” and “feckless” is a major part of the Government’s malevolent “justification” to the public for removing the lifeline of support from the sick and disabled. We are climbing Allport’s Ladder

In addition to very justified anxieties regarding the marked increase in disability hate crime that the Tory-led propaganda campaign has resulted in, many sick and disabled people have also stated that they feel harassed and bullied by the Department of Work and Pensions and Atos. Many talk of the dread they feel when they see the brown Atos envelope containing the ESA50 form arrive through the letter box.

The strain of constantly fighting for ESA entitlement and perpetually having to prove that we are a “deserving” and “genuine” sick and disabled person is clearly taking a toll on so many people’s health and well being. Many families of those who have died have said that the constant strain, anxiety and stress of this revolving door process has contributed significantly to their loved ones’ decline in health and subsequent death. The figures from the DWP, and the marked contrast between the ESA and IB death statistics certainly substantiate these claims.

Leonard Cheshire, a charity that works with disabled people, surveyed 350 people who had been through the workplace capability assessment, which is used to establish whether benefit claimants are well enough to return to work.

More than six in 10 (65 per cent) of those who had gone through the process said they had ended up with more pain afterwards. Almost three quarters (72 per cent) said they found the assessment had a negative impact on their mental or physical health, or both. The same number described the face to face appointment as very stressful.

A teacher who was medically retired in 2011 due to progressive rheumatoid arthritis, said she left her appointment “feeling absolutely awful and suffered a lot of pain in the following days”. She went on to suffer a stroke a few weeks later, and believes the experience of undertaking a work fitness assessment was a contributing factor.

Andy Cole, campaigns director for Leonard Cheshire, said:

“This isn’t acceptable and no test should put someone through something that makes their condition worse.

We have known for a long time that this is an important issue. We had anecdotally hear this information but, [getting] it quantified in this way in quite such significant numbers, we were really surprised to see that it was this sort of figures.”

Harm may be caused by assessors because they did not have sufficient information about patients’ conditions. Less than half (42 per cent) said their assessor had evidence of their condition prior to the meeting. Only 21 per cent agreed with the statement:

“The assessor let me explain how my condition [or] disability affects me differently on different days or at different points during the day.”

Two thirds disagreed with the outcome of their assessment.

Mr Cole added:

“Some of the conditions are well documented through medical data going back decades. If that was used better there wouldn’t be a need for a test in the first place. It’s worth remembering that the test was fundamentally supposed to be about a benefit that helped people back into work. There are lots of issues around the test about whether it’s been able to achieve that.”

The research relates to the period during which the private company Atos was responsible for carrying out the assessments. Its work has ended after it pulled out of a government contract to manage disability claims early, and the American company Maximus has taken over delivery of the assessments from 1 March 2015.

The charity is calling on Maximus to take the findings of its survey into account when redesigning the fitness for work assessment process. It wants to see staff trained in specific medical conditions, (as most Atos assessors are non-specialised nurses or occupational therapists,) physical examinations restricted to cases of absolute necessity and for claimants to be aware they can say no to an examination if it will cause them pain.

However, a spokesman for the Department of Work and Pensions said:

“Healthcare professionals always take consent for any physical examination and ask claimants to tell them if any movement is uncomfortable. Examinations are not completed if they cause pain. Sufficient information is usually obtained through discussion, observation and a limited physical examination to assess the effects of disability.”

We know this to be untrue because of the high numbers of people needing to challenge wrong decisions.

One such person is Sharon Majek, 57, from Rugby, who has been unable to work since her mid-thirties after suffering a serious injury at work. She stopped an elderly patient from falling out of bed badly hurting her back. She was diagnosed with osteoarthritis, degenerative disk disease and fibromyalgia, leaving her in constant joint pain and with limited sensation in her hands.

She described her assessment as “traumatic”. She said:

“The doctor never made eye contact with me once, and that made me feel very uncomfortable. I was awaiting a knee replacement. He asked me to bend my knees. When I said I couldn’t he pushed it back. I was sweating with the pain. It swelled up later that day.”

Ms Majek was found fit for work so she asked to see a copy of her report, which she and her husband described as unrecognisable from the meeting they had attended. The decision was overturned at appeal. This is a very common and unacceptable experience amongst people claiming ESA.

 

Further reading:

What you need to know about Atos assessments.

Black Propaganda

Essential information for ESA claims, assessments and appeals

Clause 99, Catch 22 – State sadism and silencing the vulnerable

 

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Thanks to Robert Livingstone for the memes

David Freud was made to apologise for being a true Tory in public

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Lord Freud, a Conservative Welfare Reform Minister, has admitted comments he made that some disabled people are  not worth” the full national minimum wage”  were “offensive”, after they were disclosed by Ed Miliband during Prime Minister’s Questions yesterday afternoon. The Labour leader has called on the Tory peer to resign. Cameron called for a full apology from Freud.

He has since apologised after slipping up and suggesting that disabled people are “not worth” the national minimum wage and some could only be paid “£2 an hour.” Cameron says the comments made by Lord Freud at the Tory conference do not represent the views of government. However, his austerity measures and the welfare “reforms” tell us a very different story.

Cameron betrayed his anger at being challenged when he once again alluded to his severely disabled late son, Ivan, and his late father, as he told Miliband that he would take no lectures on disabled people.

This is not the first time that the prime minister has used his son in anger, as a tactic designed to cause others emotional discomfort, deflect criticism and to avoid answering difficult questions regarding this government’s harsh and punitive policies towards disabled people.

The Labour leader quoted Freud, saying: “You make a really good point about the disabled. There is a group where actually, as you say, they’re not worth the full wage.”

Amidst cries of “outrage” and “shame” from the Labour benches, Mr Miliband said: “To be clear about what the Welfare Reform Minister said, it’s very serious. He didn’t just say disabled people weren’t worth the minimum wage, he went further and he said he was looking at whether there is something we can do, if someone wants to work for £2 an hour.”

He added: “Surely someone holding those views can’t possibly stay in your Government?”

Cameron said: “Those are not the views of the government, they are not the views of anyone in the government. The minimum wage is paid to everybody, disabled people included.”

Clearly very angry, the prime minister added: “Let me tell you: I don’t need lectures from anyone about looking after disabled people. So I don’t want to hear any more of that. We pay the minimum wage, we are reforming disability benefits, we want to help disabled people in our country, we want to help more of them into work. And instead of casting aspersions why doesn’t he get back to talking about the economy.”  

Once again, note the rhetorical diversionary tactics that Cameron used.

Miliband responded: “I suggest, if he wants to protect the rights of disabled people, he reads very carefully what his welfare minister has said because they are not the words of someone who ought to be in charge of policy related to disabled people.

“In the dog days of this government the Conservative party is going back to its worst instincts – unfunded tax cuts, hitting the poorest hardest, now undermining the minimum wage. The nasty party is back.”

In the Guardian said: We are in the climate of the Work Programme  and  employment and support allowance travesties, in jobseeker’s allowance sanctions and personal independent payment delays.

Coerced, free labour and a shrinking, ever conditional benefit system. Freud has not spoken out of turn, but encapsulated Conservative attitudes to both disabled people and workers: pay them as little as possible and they will be grateful for it.

The Tories are not content with forcing disabled people into work. They want to pay them a pittance when they get there. I suppose we can thank Freud. The government has been producing enough measures that infers disabled people are slightly less than human. He’s finally said it out loud.”

I couldn’t agree more. Freud’s comments are simply a reflection of a wider implicit and fundamental Social Darwinism underpinning Tory ideology, and even Tim Montgomerie, who founded the Conservative­Home site has conceded that: “Conservative rhetoric often borders on social Darwinism…and has lost a sense of social justice.”

Of course the problem with such an ideological foundation is that it directly contradicts the basic principles that modern, western democracy was founded on, it is incompatible with our Human Rights Act, which enshrines the principle that we are each of equal worth. And our Equality Act, introduced by Labour to ensure that people are not discriminated against on the grounds of their disability, gender, age and a variety of other protected characteristics.

Sam Bowman, research director of the Adam Smith Institute, has said that Freud was “shamefully mistreated” by Labour leader Ed Miliband.

The Adam Smith Institute – a think tank that promotes Conservative “libertarian and free market ideas”, minarchism and claims it is:“known for its pioneering work on privatization, deregulation, and tax reform, and for its advocacy of internal markets in healthcare and education, working with policy-makers”  – has, perhaps unsurprisingly, defended Lord Freud’s disgraceful comments regarding striving disabled workers.

Mr Bowman said: “His (Freud’s) point was that the market value of some people’s wages is below the minimum wage. This is often true of the severely disabled and can have appalling consequences for their self-esteem and quality of life.”

He added: “To point out that someone’s market value is less than minimum wage has nothing to do with their moral value as human beings.”

I beg to differ. We have a government that claims meritocratic principles define those who are worthy and deserving of wealth.We have a government that generates socially divisive narratives founded on ideological dichotomies like strivers and skivers. We have a government that systematically disregards the human rights of disabled people. Their very policies define the moral value they attribute to the poor, disabled people and the wealthy, respectively. This defence is based on a false distinction, because the Tories conflate market value and moral value explicitly, their policies are evidence of that.

The think tank president, Madsen Pirie,  once said: “We propose things which people regard as being on the edge of lunacy. The next thing you know, they’re on the edge of policy.”  

This group of neoconservatives brought you the fundamentals of Thatcher’s poll tax, the Adam Smith Institute was also the ideological driving force behind the sales of council house stock. If you need any further convincing of their Tory credentials, then their proposals that the National Health Service should establish an internal market with hospitals buying the use of facilities from other districts and from the private sector ought to be sufficient.

The Institute has always been a fierce critic of the NHS, it thinks that the government should only regulate healthcare and that healthcare should be privately funded and privately provided by private sector companies. The Adam Smith Institute said: Congratulations to the new Health Secretary Andrew Lansley, for what could be the biggest revolution in the UK’s state-run National Health Service for 60 years. 

Also recommended by this group of privatisation vultures was an internal market system for UK schools that would have (reduced) state funds to follow students to independently run academic institutions. This approach to school funding is now Coalition policy. Following the Institute’s call for the use of private businesses by local governments, many council-run local services, such as waste collection and cleaning, were contracted out. Additionally, local governments are now required to solicit competitive bids for local services.

And it was this group of Hayek-worshipping, pro-exploitation neofeudalists, who don’t declare their funding sources, that called for a radical shake-up of welfare policy, which would make work requirements absolutely central to the benefits system. These proposals subsequently became Tory policy.

And who could forget their peddling of unfettered free markets and trade as an objection to fair trade?

In the UK and elsewhere, such Conservative neoliberal ideas have drastically changed how states operate. By heavily promoting market-based economies that highly value competition and efficiency, such neoliberalist economies have moved countries to retrogressively adopting Social Darwinist philosophies to prop up free market “logic”. 

Bourdieu (1999) contends that neoliberalism as a form of national governance has become a doxa, or an unquestioned and simply accepted world-view.(See also Manufacturing consensus: the end of history and the partisan man.)

Harvey (2005) is not surprised that the ideas of capitalism have been infused into political, social, and cultural institutions at state-level. By placing a mathematical quality on social life, the neoconservatives have encouraged a formerly autonomous state to regress into penal state that values production, competition, and profit above all else, and social issues and consequences are increasingly disregarded.

Tories view their brand of economics as a social science that is capable of explaining all human behaviours, since all social agency is thought to be directed by a rationale of individualistic and selfish goals. And the focus on the individual means that ideas related to concepts such as “the public good” and realities such as “the community” are now being discarded as unnecessary components of a welfare state.

Unsurprisingly, then, high unemployment, gross inequality, and increasingly absolute poverty are increasingly blamed on individuals rather than on structural/economic constraints.

Tory economic policy is designed to benefit only a very small class of people. Such a world-view also makes it easier to justify the thought that some people are deserving of much more than others because, after all, it is a common refrain that we are all responsible for our own destinies. (See the just-world fallacy.)

Freud’s comment was not a momentary lapse, nor was it unrepresentative of Tory views more generally. He is the contemptuous architect of the grossly punitive Tory Bedroom Tax that disproportionately affects households of disabled people. The Tories endorsed Freud’s discriminatory policy proposal, and savagely ridiculed the UN rapporteur, Raquel Rolnik, when she pointed out, very professionally and reasonably, that the policy contravened human rights.

He is the same government minister that rejected suggestions that austerity policies have led to an increase in food bank use – making the jaw-droppingly astonishing suggestion that food bank charities are somehow to blame. This former investment banker and peer told the Lords that the increase in the usage of food banks was “supply led”.

He said: “If you put more food banks in, that is the supply. Clearly, food from the food banks is a free good and by definition with a free good there’s almost infinite demand.”

Poverty reduced to individual neoliberal motivational formulae. Yet it is the government that are responsible for policies that create and sustain inequality and poverty.

In the wake of the longer wait for unemployment benefits introduced by George Osborne, a massive increase in the use of cruel benefit sanctions, the introduction of the mandatory review, during which benefits are not payable to disabled people, Freud also rejected suggestions by leading food bank operators that delays in benefit payments drove demand for emergency food aid.

Such brutal, dehumanising and inequitable treatment of our most vulnerable citizens cannot be regarded as an exceptional incident: the Tories have formulated policies that have at their very core the not so very subliminal message that we are worthless and undeserving of support, basic honesty and decency.

Social Darwinism, with its brutalising indifference to human suffering, has been resurrected from nineteenth century and it fits so well with the current political spirit of neoliberalism. As social bonds are replaced by narcissistic, unadulterated materialism, public concerns are now understood and experienced as utterly private miseries, except when offered up to us on the Jerry Springer Show or Benefit Street as spectacle.

The Tories conflate autonomy (the ability to act according to our own internalised beliefs and values) with independence (not being reliant on or influenced by others). Tories like Freud have poisoned the very idea that we are a social species, connected by mutual interdependencies that require a degree of good will, kindliness and willingness to operate beyond our own exclusive, strangle hold of self-interest.

The time has come to ask ourselves what possible benefit to society such a government actually is – what use is an authoritarian, punitive state that is more concerned with punishing, policing and reducing citizens than with nurturing, supporting and investing in them?

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Tory Values Explained In One Easy Chart

The ESA ‘Revolving Door’ Process, and its Correlation with a Significant Increase in Deaths amongst Sick and Disabled People

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A Department for Work and Pensions Freedom Of Information request (FOI) yielded a response showing that people having their claim for Employment Support Allowance (ESA) stopped, between October 2010 and November 2011, with a recorded date of death within six weeks of that claim ceasing, who were until recently claiming Incapacity Benefit (IB), totalled 310. Between January and November 2011, those having their ESA claim ended, with a recorded date of death within six weeks of that claim ending totalled 10,600. 

Bearing in mind that those who were successfully migrated to ESA from IB were assessed and deemed unfit for work, (under a different assessment process, originally) one would expect that the death rates would be similar to those who have only ever claimed ESA. This is very clearly not the case.

Furthermore, there are NO alarming increases in mortality rates amongst those who are still in receipt of Incapacity Benefit – there were approximately a million and a half claimants, compared to less than a million ESA claimants for this period. Many of those migrated so far have not yet had a Work Capability Assessment, as the Government decided to re-assess those people when their review from the Incapacity Benefit  Personal Capability Assessment is due, for practical reasons. The migration process won’t be completed, it is anticipated, until 2014.

David Green from the DWP has urged that “care should therefore be taken when interpreting these figures”. Well I have taken care interpreting this data, Mr Green. My careful interpretation is that there is a probable correlation demonstrated here, linking the reformed Work Capability Assessment process and the withdrawal of lifeline benefits with an increase in mortality amongst sick and disabled people.

Incapacity Benefit was fair, it was a genuine social security provision. The “reforms”, including the new Tory-shaped ESA benefit, by stark contrast, are all about taking support and provision away from the sick and disabled, leaving them potentially very vulnerable. It’s very evident that there are measures in place to reduce successful claims for ESA, and many lose their lifeline support for the most arbitrary or manufactured reasons.

Indeed, the Tories have been very keen to articulate the welfare “savings” that they anticipated with regard to the disability benefits, including PIP, which is replacing DLA. But of course, these anticipated “savings” reflect a dark truth: the Government are setting targets to remove benefits from people, regardless of the impact of that imposed deprivation (and frank State theft of our tax funded welfare) on their wellbeing, health and safety. How else is it possible to predict probable “savings?”

Those claiming IB were not required to have continuous assessments, whereas those on ESA are constantly required to have the Work Capability Assessment. Many claimants have described a “revolving door” process of endless assessment, ceased ESA claim, (based on an outcome of almost invariably being wrongly “assessed” as fit for work), appeal, successful appeal outcome, benefit reinstated, only to find just 3 months later another assessment is required. The uncertainty and loss of even the most basic security that this process creates, leading to constant fear and anxiety, is having a damaging, negative impact on the health and wellbeing of so many.

A significant proportion of those required to have endless assessments have very obviously serious illnesses such as cancer, kidney failure, lung disease, heart disease, severe and life threatening chronic conditions such as multiple sclerosis, lupus, myalgic encephalomyelitis, rheumatoid arthritis, brain tumours, severe heart conditions, and severe mental health illnesses, for example. To qualify for ESA, the claimant must provide a note from a doctor stating that the person is unfit for work. There can be no justification for subjecting people who are so ill to further endless assessments, and to treating us as if we have done something wrong.

Marginalising and stigmatising vulnerable social groups via political propaganda in the media, using despiteful and malicious terms such as “workshy” and “feckless” is a major part of the Government’s malevolent “justification” to the public for removing the lifeline support from sick and disabled people, amongst whom are some of our most vulnerable citizens.

We are climbing Allport’s Ladder.

I have often suspected that Iain Duncan Smith is channelling the spirit of Goebbels.

In addition to very justified anxieties regarding the marked increase in disability hate crime that the Tory-led propaganda campaign has resulted in, many sick and disabled people have also stated that they feel harassed and bullied by the Department of Work and Pensions and Atos. Many talk of the dread they feel when they see the brown Atos envelope containing the ESA50 form arrive through the letter box.

The strain of constantly fighting for ESA eligibility/entitlement and perpetually having to prove that we are a “deserving” and “genuine” sick and disabled person is clearly taking a toll on so many people’s health and wellbeing. Many families of those who have died have said that the constant strain, anxiety and stress of this revolving door process has contributed significantly to their loved ones’ decline in health and subsequent death. The figures from the DWP, and the marked contrast between the ESA and IB death statistics certainly substantiates these claims.

The horrific, unforgivable and massive increase in deaths over this period coincides with the Government’s totalitarian styled rapid fire legislation – the “Reforms” – in the face of protest, horror, disbelief, fear and mass opposition. The Tories cited “financial privilege” to trample over opposition and stifle dissent, to drown out the voices of protest. Those protesting this Bill notably included many from the House of Lords. I lobbied the Peers, and emailed every single one of them, stating very clearly that the welfare reforms must not happen. I got a high number of encouraging responses. But  David Cameron got his own way.

Cameron made a Freudian-style slip when he announced to Ed Miliband recently, during Parliamentary debate, that We are raising more money for the rich.” Not that we didn’t already know this was so. Many of us – around 73 sick and disabled people every week –  are paying for that wealth increase for the already wealthy with our very lives.

There are many who have so tragically lost their lives because of this malicious Government’s brutal and grossly unjust economic war on the poorest, on sick and disabled people and on the most vulnerable citizens, because of the Tory-led ransacking and plundering of our welfare provision and social support programs.

But just one life would be one too many.

Further reading:

The Black Triangle Campaign

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Many thanks to Robert Livingstone for his outstanding artwork.

This is an excerpt taken from a much longer piece of work – Remembering the Victims of the Welfare “Reforms.”