Tag: Hostile environment

Authoritarians don’t do democracy

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“A great democracy does not make it harder to vote than to buy an assault weapon.” former President Bill Clinton.

In the US, civil rights groups opposed voter ID laws because, they say, they discriminate against low-income and minority voters — groups that tend to vote Democratic. About 25 percent of eligible black voters and 16 percent of Hispanic voters did not have photo ID, compared with 9 percent of whites, according to the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University.

The center says many poor voters can’t afford cars or vacations abroad, and thus don’t have driver’s licenses or passports, and will be unfairly burdened by the cost of obtaining birth certificates and travelling to a government agency to secure a photo ID. In a recent opinion condemning Wisconsin’s voter ID law, US Circuit Judge Richard Posner — a President Reagan appointee — compared the laws to the poll tax implemented to stop blacks from voting in the Jim Crow–era South.

“The only reason to impose voter ID laws”, said Posner, “is to discourage voting by persons likely to vote against the party responsible for imposing the burdens.” The available evidence indicates that voting fraud in the US was not a problem. In states such as Texas, citizens could apply for a “free election ID card”, but then have to pay for the official documents that are needed to apply for the cards. 

Voter suppression is an attempt to reduce the number of voters who might vote against a government. The tactics of voter suppression range from seemingly minor changes to make voting difficult or less convenient for some demographic groups, to psychologically and physically intimidating and attacking prospective voters, which is illegal.

Voter suppression works if a significant number of voters are intimidated or disenfranchised.  According to the Brennan Center for Justice, the US states most likely to enact voting restrictions were states with the highest African-American turnout in the 2008 election.

Gerrymandering isn’t confined to recognisably despotic regimes. The US – “the land of the free” has shown a proclivity towards making democracy conditional. So has the UK.

Any law that presents reduced choice and bureaucratic barriers to voting in elections for the poorest citizens – in this case, it may mean going without food or fuel in order to fulfil the conditions to vote – is not indicative of a functioning democracy.

Yet the wealthiest citizens tend to vote more frequently. Nonvoters are more likely to be poor, young, or from an ethnic background. Some research also indicates they’re more likely to align with the Democratic Party in the states, and the Labour party in the UK.

Currently in the UK, in order to vote, it is compulsory for members of a household to register before every election. The ‘head of the household’ (a Tory anachronism) is obliged to provide their National Insurance number, name other family members of voting age in the household and provide dates of birth for family members. Individual family members then also have to register to vote individually.

Voters must be on the electoral roll in order to vote in national, local or European elections. A fixed address is also required in order for an individual to vote in an election. To provide for persons who are considered ‘transient’, if an individual lacking a fixed address wants to vote, they may register by filling in a ‘Declaration of local connection’ form. This establishes a connection to the area based on the last fixed address someone had, or the place where they spend a substantial amount of their time (e.g. a homeless shelter).

Those eligible to vote are sent a confirmatory polling card with a voter ID number on it. When that is presented at the polling station, citizens’ details are already on a list there, and each person is ticked off once they turn up to vote, after providing their identifying details.

That is effectively a voter ID system, which is already in place. The card is an ID card, which the council issues when they know that you are authentic and eligible to vote.

The UK government has recently announced controversial plans to prevent people from voting unless they can provide photographic identification, prompting accusations it is attempting to “rig the next election”. These are reasonable allegations, on the premise that any barrier placed in front of the democratic right to vote of some groups in a population is discriminatory.

Current proposals by the Conservative Party to require one of several forms of expensive photo ID in order to vote are likely to reduce the turnout of young and poor voters, who are more likely to vote for the Labour party.

The government was previously told to ditch its controversial voter ID policy after new analysis found that it had stopped “thousands” of people voting in local elections in the limited trials in 2017 and 2018. Bearing in mind that this was a limited trial, that number proportionally replicated at a national level would fundamentally damage our democracy.

Charities including Age UK and Liberty have joined forces with groups such as the Electoral Reform Society to demand that the government stop the “dangerous and undemocratic” policy. The LGC analysis suggests that the number of people turned away could have influenced the election result in some areas. In Mid Sussex, 78 people were denied a vote and there were three cases in which a candidate won by less than 25 votes. 

Demanding a rethink of the policy in March last year, a group of 40 charities and academics said Electoral Commission figures showed there were only 28 allegations of impersonation out of almost 45 million votes in 2017, and one conviction.

“Decades of international studies show that restrictive identification requirements are particularly disadvantageous to certain voter groups who are less likely to possess approved ID for a variety of socio-economic and accessibility reasons,” said their letter, sent to the government.

“Voter ID reforms could therefore affect young people, older people, disabled people, transgender and gender non-conforming people, BAME communities and the homeless.”

Darren Hughes, chief executive of the Electoral Reform Society (ERS), said last year: “There is anecdotal evidence emerging from the pilot areas that people have been denied their democratic right to vote because of the voter ID requirements.

“Thousands of people were told they could not vote because of “draconian” ID requirements in five local election areas on 3 May 2018, according to analysis by the Electoral Reform Society (ERS). 

Based on figures released by electoral observers at ID trial area polling stations, the ERS estimate 3,981 people were denied a ballot paper across the five pilot areas (1.67 per cent of those who tried to vote).

Voter ID trials took place in Bromley, Woking, Gosport, Watford and Swindon in what the campaigners have branded a “dark day for politics.”

Hughes, Chief Executive of the Electoral Reform Society, said: “Britain prides itself on being a leading democracy – but it is a dark day for politics when thousands of blameless people turn out to vote only to be refused.

“Our estimates, based on evidence gathered by electoral observers, reveal the shocking scale of the problem. These trials have been shown up to be the chaotic, undemocratic mess many predicted.

“This is exactly what we feared: that this draconian measure would result in blameless individuals being disenfranchised.”

The Labour party said the figures proved that the voter ID trial should be “abandoned immediately” and accused the government of frank voter suppression.

In a country without universal, free or cheap access to ID, such a move is dangerous, misguided and profoundly undemocratic. The policy will make it harder for millions of ordinary citizens to vote. A 2015 Electoral Commission report, for example, pointed out that 3.5 million citizens in the UK do not have access to photo ID, while 11 million citizens do not have a passport or driving licence.

The government claims that the introduction of voter ID will tackle fraud and corruption, in particular “personation”. But this is a completely disproportionate response to the extremely rare incidence of personation at the polling station.

Official figures show that of the 266 cases of electoral fraud investigated by police in 2018, personation fraud at the polling station accounted for just eight of the allegations made. No further action was taken for seven of these allegations, and one was locally resolved.

At the last election, several Tory MPs claimed that many young people had voted more than once. However, following over a thousand formal complaints to the Electoral Commission, upon investigation there was no evidence found to substantiate these claims.

Some Conservatives claim very loudly that the Labour party have “double standards” since ID is required to attend Labour party meetings. However, this is a typical Tory diversion strategy. The proof of ID requirement is true of all parties, and a party membership card is issued free of charge to party members.

The request to present membership cards at Labour party meetings is reasonable, in any case, since the Conservatives have a track record of attempting to deceitfully infiltrate Labour party meetings to use illegal entrapment methods to fuel their own smear tactics and propaganda campaigns. 

The Tories have created a hostile environment for disadvantaged voters

We may debate whether election results would be different if the entire population voted, but voting determines more than which candidate or party wins or loses. It ultimately influences which policies elected officials enact and whose interests candidates ignore and acknowledge.

Research in the US  found that nonvoters are more likely, for example, to support a redistribution of wealth, affordable housing and expanded social safety net programmes, according to a Pew Research Center analysis of Census Bureau data. Many would-be voters face a range of barriers, including: voter ID laws, registration difficulty, being disabled or having criminal records. Hundreds of thousands of nonvoters want to vote, but can’t.

If you think the government’s new emphasis on further ID documentation for voting is a good idea, well, universal credit and the welfare ‘reforms’ were presented as good ideas. But the Tories are never honest about their real aims, and those aims are invariably much less than as honourable as they try to claim. 

After all, the last group of people who were asked to provide documentation of their ID – which had been placed in the care of the Home Office, under Theresa May – were the Windrush generation citizens. That didn’t end well.

This move for further costly ID evidence is simply another hostile environment designed to ensure that as few people as possible who would most likely vote for the  Labour party will be permitted to do so. Many people with low income can’t afford to drive or pay for/renew their passport.

There will be other as yet unforeseen problems too. The limited trial run at the last election saw thousands of people being turned away without being allowed to vote. At a national level, this would have massive implications for our democracy.

The authoritarianism of the Conservative has become increasingly apparent over the last nine years. From “dark ads”,  the development of hostile environments, grubby organisations that spend all their time smearing the opposition to the misuse of psychological behaviourism to alter and micromanage the perceptions of citizens concerning the government’s draconian austerity policies, to the increased use of secondary legislation, in the form of statutory instruments to sidestep democracy and hammer through very controversial legislation without adequate parliamentary scrutiny.

And of course, authoritarians don’t do rights or democracy. 


 

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Former DWP boss tells how Tory policies pushed her to quit her job

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Mhairi Doyle with her grandson Isaac supporting junior doctors at Southport Hospital. Picture courtesy of the Liverpool Echo.

A Merseyside councillor has spoken out about why she retired from the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) after 25 years. She says it’s because she “refused to be complicit in how the Tories treat vulnerable people.”

Mhairi Doyle, Labour councillor for Norwood ward in Southport, was also the social inclusion manager for Merseyside in the Department of Work and Pensions until 2012. She moved to Southport in 1988, having been born and raised in Edinburgh.

Doyle received an MBE for her work with disadvantaged people, especially her work with Street Sex Workers in Liverpool, and has worked at local, regional and national levels developing policy to help change lives.

She said: “I was working with heroin users, sufferers of domestic violence, people who were in and out of prison, homeless people… with some funding we managed to create networks to support people and help them out of horrendous situations.

“We were getting about 80% of people back into work.

“It took time and energy but we had a really good thing going. And then the coalition government came in and everything was cut, gone in an instant.

“Everyone was shocked when I said I was retiring; they used to joke that I’d have to be carried out, I loved my job so much. But I could not be complicit in the way the Tories think it’s acceptable to treat vulnerable people.”

Doyle said that there have been abrupt changes in the ethos of job centres since 2012. She said: “We used to be there to help and advise, but it’s gone from being a service about people to a service about numbers.

“The benefit regime is so harsh. They say people don’t have targets on benefit sanctions but it’s all semantics – there is an expectation on staff to cut benefits.

“I’m not having a go at anybody who works at job centres. It’s a difficult job and it’s not well-paid, it’s the system. Workers are expected to get people out the door quickly and get them to do it online, but not everyone is computer literate or has internet access.”

She added: “The bulk of my caseload is people struggling to get the benefits they need to live on, and a lot of these people work.”

She continued: “When I moved here I was told, as many of us were, that a vote for Labour was a wasted vote. So, to keep the Tories out I voted Lib Dem until 2010, when I voted Lib Dem and still got the Tories.

“Even worse, they took part in and enabled all the devastating cuts still affecting us today.

“I don’t think it is fair that our NHS is being sold off piece by piece or that my grandson when he gets out of university, will leave with over £50,000 of debt.

“And I don’t think it is fair that the Tories and Lib Dems have starved our local council of money, forcing them into such difficult decisions over services and amenities and then stand back and blithely criticise when they are the very reason it is happening.”

In a completely meaningless response, a DWP spokesman reading from the DWP crib sheet, said: “Finding work is the best route towards prosperity and Universal Credit is a force for good, providing tailored support for over 1.6 million people as they find jobs faster and stay working longer.

“Extra digital help and budgeting support are also available.”

The comment doesn’t address the issues raised by Doyle at all, nor do the political platitudes mitigate the hostile environment that has been engineered by successive Conservative-led governments, which is having dire consequences for many people, both in and out of work.

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Mhairi Doyle, pictured here alongside Bootle MP Peter Dowd and Southport Labour members, won her seat in 2018.  Picture courtesy of the Liverpool Echo.

 


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Tory racism is embedded in policy and clearly evident in Tory social media groups

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A Conservative councillor has been suspended by the Conservative Party after a Facebook group he moderates was found to contain several Islamophobic and racist comments.

Martyn York, a Conservative councillor in Wellingborough, was a moderator for “Boris Johnson: Supporters’ Group”, which included  members whose comments called for the bombing of mosques around the UK. Dorinda Bailey, a former Conservative council candidate, has also been accused of supporting Islamophobia with her comments following a post in the group calling for mosques to be bombed.

Furthermore, the group, which has 4,800 members, can only be joined after receiving approval from moderators, and its guidelines explicitly call on members not to post hate speech. 

Comments in the group, however, seriously violate these rules, with several referring to Muslims as “ragheads” and calling immigrants “cockroaches”.

In one comment, the mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, is called a “conniving little muzrat”, and Muslim Labour MP Naz Shah is also targeted with abuse and told to “p*** off to [her] own country”.

Someone posted in the group that any mosques “found to preach hate” should be shut down, another group member responded: “Bomb the f****** lot.” 

Bailey responded, without a trace of irony: “I agree, but any chance you could edit your comment please. No swearing policy.”

There were also comments in the group telling an African solider to “p*** off back to Africa” and for Labour MP Fiona Onasanya to be “put on a banana boat back home”.

After the offensive posts were brought to his attention, Conservative Party chairman Brandon Lewis confirmed York’s suspension and said Bailey was no longer a member of the party.

The Muslim Council of Britain (MCB), which has repeatedly called for an inquiry into Islamophobia in the Conservative Party, said this was further evidence of a “significant problem”.

“A Facebook group led by Conservative politicians containing unashamed bigotry has made it completely apparent that there is a significant problem with racism and Islamophobia within the party of government,” a spokesperson for the MCB said.

“Polls revealing that half of all Conservative voters in 2017 believe Islam to be a threat to the British way of life have shown how widespread this sentiment is. We reiterate our call for the government to launch an inquiry into Islamophobia and lead by example by committing to tackle bigotry everywhere, not just where it’s politically convenient.”

There government were happy enough to ensure an inquiry into the allegations of antisemitism in the Labour party, and ‘inappropriate’ posts on social media took place. However, the conclusions of the Home Office Committee contradicted the claims being made on the right and among the neoliberal centrists, about the Labour party.

Nonetheless, the claims have continued, indicating a degree of underpinning political expedience and media misdirection.commons-select-committee-antisemitism

That is not to say there is no antisemitism at all among Labour party members, and where allegations arise, those MUST be addressed. However, it does indicate that political and media claims that the party is ‘institutionally antisemitic’ are completely unfounded. 

It is also absolutely reasonable to point this out. 

Unlawful and discriminatory Conservative policy

Meanwhile the Conservatives have continued to embed their prejudices and racism in  discriminatory policies. For example, in 2014 Theresa May was the Home Secretary who introduced the disgraceful Hostile Environment legislation that ultimately led to the Windrush scandal.  On March 1st 2019 a central mechanism of that legislation was ruled unlawful by the High Court because of the way it has unleashed a wave of racism, and because it was found to violate the European Convention on Human Rights. 

Judge Martin Spencer found the policy caused landlords to discriminate against both black and ethnic minority British people and foreign UK residents.

He also ruled that rolling out the scheme in Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland without further evaluation would be “irrational” and breach equality laws.

“The evidence, when taken together, strongly showed not only that landlords are discriminating against potential tenants on grounds of nationality and ethnicity but also that they are doing so because of the scheme,” Mr Justice Spencer told the court on Friday.

He added “It is my view that the scheme introduced by the government does not merely provide the occasion or opportunity for private landlords to discriminate, but causes them to do so where otherwise they would not.”

The changes that came into force in 2016 required private landlords to check the immigration status of potential tenants, or face unlimited fines or even prison for renting to undocumented migrants, coercing landlords into becoming agents of the state, effectively.

Judge Martin Spencer said: “The government cannot wash its hands of responsibility for the discrimination which is taking place by asserting that such discrimination is carried out by landlords acting contrary to the intention of the scheme.”

He also said he had found that Right to Rent had “little or no effect” on controlling immigration and that the Home Office had “not come close” to justifying it.

The legal challenge was launched by the Residential Landlords Association (RLA) and Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants (JCWI), which called Right to Rent a “key plank of Theresa May’s hostile environment” policy.

Chai Patel, JCWI legal policy director, said: “Now that the High Court has confirmed that Ms May’s policy actively causes discrimination, parliament must act immediately to scrap it.

“But we all know that this sort of discrimination, caused by making private individuals into border guards, affects almost every aspect of public life – it has crept into our banks, hospitals, and schools. Today’s judgment only reveals the tip of the iceberg and demonstrates why the Hostile Environment must be dismantled.” 

John Stewart, policy manager for the RLA, called the ruling a “damning critique of a flagship government policy”. 

He added : “We have warned all along that turning landlords into untrained and unwilling border police would lead to the exact form of discrimination the court has found.” 

Rather than accept the High Court’s findings, a Home Office spokesperson has said that an independent mystery shopping exercise found “no evidence of systemic discrimination”.

“We are disappointed with the judgement and we have been granted permission to appeal, which reflects the important points of law that were considered in the case. In the meantime, we are giving careful consideration to the judge’s comments,” he added.

I have written at length about the prejudiced, discriminatory and unlawful policies that the Conservatives have directed at ill and disabled people over the last few years. I also submitted evidence to the United Nations on this matter. However, the UN’s findings of “grave and systematic violations” of disabled peoples’ human rights, and the examples of structural violence inflicted on our politically marginalised community currently fails to get the media attention that mere allegations of antisemitism within the Labour party attracts.

People are suffering harm and psychological distress, and increasingly, some are dying, as a direct consequence of oppressive, cruel, illegal and dangerously authoritarian Conservative policies, while shamefully, much of the media prefers to look the other way.

That is, where the state directs them to ‘look’. 

If you’ve ever wondered how some societies have permitted conscious cruelty to flourish, to the point where entire groups are targeted with oppressive and discriminatory policies resulting in distress, harm and death, I have to tell you that it’s pretty much like this.

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Disabled people face a hostile environment of calculated, strategic ordeals to deny support

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Disabled people face a hostile environment comprised of strategically placed and thoroughly demoralising ordeals, which are being passed off as arising because of bad administrative practices and simple errors. However, such ordeals are happening far too frequently to have arisen through random error. Furthermore, there is an identifiable pattern of government sponsored behaviours that has emerged within privately contracted companies hired to deliver disability assessments, and within the Department for Work and Pensions, which is aimed at simply denying people support.

Many people who have challenged a Department for Work and Pensions’ (DWP) decision not to award them Personal Independent Payment (PIP) in court successfully are finding that soon after they have won their appeal, they face a reassessment, and their award is taken from them again.

Even when people appeal, the system is rigged against them applying for legal support, and cuts to charities mean any support at all is shrinking away. Official figures last year showed that legal aid cuts mean ill and disabled people appealing their lifeline support through what have been consistently shown to be fatally flawed assessments and irrational, poorly evidenced DWP decision-making, are denied legal support in a staggering 99% of cases.

This means that someone with severe depression, or battling serious illnesses such as multiple sclerosis, cystic fibrosis or connective tissue illnesses for example, are left to take on a long, exhausting and complex legal case against the government, alone. 

The assessment process is set up to remove people’s disability benefits entirely because the evidence provided in medical notes by GPs and consultants, and the account of ill and disabled people, are not deemed by the state to be as credible as a snapshot report by a private company assessor, based on a half hour interview.

Private companies are motivated purely by making profit. This perverse incentive leaves no room for improving the dire situation that people, often at their most vulnerable, are facing. Improving performance as a service provider, or of prioritising human needs in a system that was originally designed to do so offers no reward for companies such as Maximus and Atos, because the government has been willing to pay them – from public funds – for atrocious failings that have harmed people and caused much distress. 

Since PIP was launched in 2013 to reduce the costs of disability support, the increasingly reduced access to financial assistance to help with the additional costs of being disabled has forced more than 75,000 people to give up their specially-adapted Motability vehicles. 

The UN have found that government policies have brought about “grave and systematic violations of disabled people’s rights” in the UK.

As someone who has gone through both PIP and Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) assessments and subsequent appeal, and as someone who co-runs a support group online for others going through this system, I know that both the assessment processes are beset by profound administrative failures and ordeals which seem to be wholly designed to work to the disadvantage of  ill and disabled people.

A report last year called Access Denied: Barriers to Justice in the Disability Benefits System, shows some of the immense suffering that the adversarial social security system causes disabled people and the long, exhausting and difficult process people who are ill have to go through to finally get the support they deserve and have paid into.

After being wrongly turned down at assessment, people must first go through mandatory review which can take anything from a few weeks to several months. The DWP argues that claims are fully reviewed at this stage, but the fact that 69 per cent of claimants win their appeal after having gone through MR proves that the MR itself is failing to correct the assessment’s flaws.

Case study: ‘Rose’

I spoke to someone this week who has faced two tribunals regarding her PIP award.  After successfully appealing the first, Rose (not her real name) had a face to face assessment when her review was due in July 2017.  The DWP decided to end her award, so she requested a mandatory review.  The DWP ‘lost’ Rose’s request twice after she had sent it, and then failed to log it and upload it onto their system.

Many other people have reported that they are not being notified of mandatory review outcomes, too, finding out after months of phone calls that the original decision was upheld. People cannot appeal until they have gone through a mandatory review, and several people told me they think the delaying tactics are deliberate, to discourage them from appealing DWP decisions. 

The mandatory review request in Rose’s case was sent in September 2017. The DWP acknowledged it had been received but had not been ‘logged’. As she was kept in the dark, Rose rang to find out what was happening over a month later in November, and was told once again hat the DWP had  ‘forgot’ to put it on the system.

She told me “They just said that there were always delays and to be patient and didn’t tell me why it had been delayed in the first place, then didn’t log it yet again”.

She added: “The DWP finally did the MR in a rush (and did not change anything from the original decision obviously) when I phoned again a month after that in Dec 2017 (as I still hadn’t heard anything) and they finally admitted what had happened both times. They sort of apologised on the phone but that was it. The MR document didn’t even change one letter of their original decision.”

Rose then waited almost a year for a tribunal date, which was arranged for 19 December 2018.

She told me: “The tribunal was very hard. It was not my first or even my second, as I fought and won before a couple of years ago after having two hearings adjourned because I was too upset to continue. But I won.

“It was an interrogation in a proper court room, with very quick fire questions and a very bizarre one, to presumably try to catch me out right at the end as I was standing up.

“The judge asked where I went to get my nails done!? I have never had my nails done in my life. I actually laughed and showed them my very short, bitten, discoloured nails. When I told my parents about that bit, they were furious and quite rightly said ‘would he have asked a man something like that?'”

The court didn’t reach a decision that day.

Rose said: “They did not decide on the day as it was 3.45pm (the hearing started at 3) and they were finished for the day – it was almost Christmas. The staff there definitely seemed to be winding down to say the least.

“Whilst I was crying in the waiting area, the receptionists were all screeching and laughing about their party plans, which I felt was pretty jarring and unprofessional. 

“I finally got my letter on Christmas eve telling me that they had awarded me standard rates on both daily living and mobility components, which I was relatively happy with.

“Although relieved, I do think it should have been enhanced rate on daily living but they never consider finances / therapy in most cases I’ve heard. I wasn’t so happy with the amount of time awarded (see below) but I was relieved to have an award.”

Rose waited for around five weeks to hear from the DWP, anxious that they may be considering appealing the tribunal’s decision. After being prompted to ring them by  someone online offering her advice, she was told it was usual for the DWP to contact people to check details before they can sort out an award and backpay.

Rose told me: “I don’t have my own phone so used my parents’. The DWP said that their self imposed deadline to ‘sort it out’ was within six weeks and it would be paid then.

“I  phoned up again to check something and they said the same… then phoned yet again when the six weeks was up, a few days later, and I still hadn’t heard anything.

“The guy on the phone said he didn’t know why I hadn’t heard anything (he was lying as they did know by then) but said that there was nothing he could do and to just to be patient.

“I was distressed, pretty hysterical and in tears at this point on the phone to him and felt a bit sorry for him, as I don’t think he could understand much of what I was saying.”

Rose became more and more anxious and worried, so emailed her MP  in the hope that she could find out what was going on. She told me she was petrified that the tribunal outcome was being appealed.

Her MP phoned a special DWP ‘hotline’ and immediately found out that there was a problem, as the tribunal decision letter that Rose and the DWP had received on Christmas eve had one tiny date error on it: the court had written that Rose’s  PIP award should be backdated from the 07/07/2017 rather than 02/07/2017 .

Rose said: “The error apparently meant that they couldn’t pay me until it had gone back to the courts service to be changed (and then back to the DWP and right back to the back of the queue) which could take months, depending on how busy they were. 

“I would NOT have known this if the MP’s office had not have got involved ….the DWP outright lied to me on the phone more than once when they knew what was happening and further to that should really have picked up on this earlier i.e. when it was received by them before Christmas, according to the MP’s assistant.

“The MP’s assistant emailed the courts email address (apparently the only way he could contact them as they don’t have a hotline to HMCTS like they do to other government departments) and told me that they had two weeks to respond to him with further details.

“The day before that deadline this week (now 9 weeks since the tribunal) they contacted him and said that apparently the courts are STILL waiting for my file to be sent from an ‘offsite storage facility’ and it has not even got to the judge yet to sign. They have known about this since the 25th January (which is when the DWP finally contacted them, they took over a month to realise the mistake)! You’d think sending a simple file would not take that long…..

“They refuse to give timescales (the MP’s assistant has emailed them back to ask for some but obviously they then have 2 weeks to respond to that request again!) ….and obviously after the judge deigns to have time to change it, it then has to go back to the DWP to sort out (and go to the back of their queue again).

Rose told me “I can’t believe this, I need this money to live on. I SHOULD have had it every month since July 2017 (20 months back dated almost)! I’m at the end of my tether and don’t think I can cope with much more.

“It has almost been 20 months that I have been living on the breadline, just on my ESA as I don’t claim anything else. This whole process has made me so very ill. I mean I’m ill anyway, very ill but the added of all of this and the constant mistakes and errors and not knowing what’s going on and waiting has out me on the verge of sending me into crisis again. I have started self harming more regularly, my psychiatrist has put my medication up yet again and I don’t think I can cope with this anymore.”

Rose added “There will be no respite either, even when /if this gets sorted out, as I have just had my ESA renewal forms (ESA50) through last week …which is what sent me into a [mental health] crisis a couple of years ago.

“I will also have to apply for PIP again at the end of this year presumably as most of the backdated PIP will then be gone, as they only gave me 3 years. They felt I ‘could get better’, which is utterly laughable.”

Rose has Ehlers Danlos Syndrome (EDS), which is a degenerative genetic connective tissue disorder which causes constant chronic pain, chronic fatigue and frequent joint dislocations, with it’s concurrent POTS [postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome], MCAS [a mast cell autoimmune disorder]and IBS. Rose also has spinal scoliosis, kyphosis, three ruptured spinal discs and trigeminal neuralgia. She is undergoing investigations for dyspraxia as well. 

She also has bipolar with severe depression and chronic anxiety.

She told me: “I’m a relatively intelligent person who used to have a very good job before I became too ill to cope (something the DWP have repeatedly used against me, that and my degrees). 

“Obviously mental health can improve in some cases, which is probably what they were getting at (very unlikely though with this strain constantly happening. I can’t see anyone going through this terrible system having time to gather their thoughts and improve in any way, shape or form when they constantly make you fight and justify why you are ill).

“But EDS is a degenerative genetic illness and the symptoms severely impact on my mental health as it is. Trigeminal neuralgia also only gets worse with age. The latter is also known as the ‘suicide disease’ because of the amount of people who have killed themselves rather than live with the pain. It’s said to be one of the most painful things you can get.

“It’s ridiculous, these are things that aren’t just going to go away. I have already been ‘not well’ for 20 years now, but was forced to finally give up work in 2009 after years of struggling and disciplinary meetings for being off sick so much. Yet the judge only gave me an award for three years, as it is, because they thought I could ‘improve’, which is impossible. 

“I’m so scared, this can’t be right, living in constant fear like this. Why do they hate us so much? I still can’t get hold of my welfare advisor at the local council to help me with my ESA50 either. I emailed him on the 12th and have left phone messages on his mobile and with his colleagues.

“I’m just so petrified that they will find some excuse not to give this [PIP award] to me now altogether. At the same time I am terrified that my ESA will be taken away and I’ll be left with nothing. The timing of the ESA reassessment is atrocious (but not surprising). I’ve been on ESA, in the support group since 2013 and have never had an assessment for that. Not until now, anyway.”

The tribunal granted Rose’s appeal. Because of the date error on the court letter, it may be justifiable that the error needs to be rectified by the court before the DWP issue the money she is owed in PIP backpay – from the date of her claim. However, Rose is entitled to ongoing PIP payments too. The DWP know this, yet haven’t given her a single payment. There is no credible reason for not paying her ongoing award in the meantime.

Recently, I have seen a large number of cases where people are being re-assessed earlier than the DWP had stated and they are losing their awards. For those on PIP and ESA, it’s become commonplace for people to be going through appeals for both awards at the same time, or successively, which means there is no respite from the extreme strain that they are being put through. The thing that strikes me is that in every case, the decision to end someone’s award is irrational and cruel, most often with absolutely no reasonable justification provided in the assessment reports, which are invariably completely inaccurate.   

The endless ordeal of re-assessments and withdrawals of support for disabled people; the introduction of heavily bureaucratic mandatory reviews, designed to deter appeals; the withdrawal of support and the long periods people are being left without any means of meeting even basic needs; the fact that mandatory review very rarely changes the decision to end an award and then the awful experience of having to appeal again is certainly convincing evidence of an intentionally created hostile environment for ill and disabled people – those very people the government claims it protects. 

There are also the unofficial, undeclared and non-legislative means that the Department for Work and Pensions frequently use to try at every opportunity to end claims. For example, it’s fairly common for the DWP to try to end ESA claims because a disabled person has been awarded PIP – a non means-tested income to support day-to-day independence and meet the costs of the additional needs arising because of disabilities. The DWP often try to claim that this is “standard” process when someone has “another award.” But PIP does not affect people’s  eligibility for ESA at all.

The endless tactics deployed by the DWP are designed to force disabled people to go through the thoroughly demoralisng, anxiety-provoking and punitive claim process all over again – which means a huge reduction in income because during the mandatory review, people cannot claim any ESA, and following MR, they will then only be eligible for the basic rate ESA. This also means there will be another long wait for another harrowing assessment, which presents a further opportunity for the withdrawal of lifeline disability support, and so on.

This kind of ruthless tactic was probably also designed to ensure that people never feel secure while needing lifeline support – a kind of informal Poor Law-styled “deterrence”.

Earlier this year, through a parliamentary question from Labour MP Madeleine Moon, it was revealed that more than 17,000 people died waiting for a DWP decision on their PIP claim between April 2013 and April 2018.

Disclosed official DWP data also reveals that 7,990 people died within six months of having a claim for PIP rejected by callous DWP ‘decision makers’. This indicates that contrary to Conservative minister’s claims, those most in need of support are being catastrophically failed by the assessment and decision making regime. 

Of these, 3,680 died within just three months of having their PIP applications rejected by the DWP.

I’m wondering what it will take for the government to admit that the system is unacceptably cruel and to acknowledge the mounting empirical evidence that, rather than supporting those most in need, the system is intentionally set up to deny support to as many people as possible, regardless of their needs and regardless of the ethical red line that has been shamefully crossed by the Conservatives under the guise of ‘welfare reform’.

 


I don’t make any money from my work. I am struggling to get by, like many other ill and disabled people. But if you like, you can contribute by making a donation and help me continue to research and write informative, insightful and independent articles, and to provide support to others going through the disability assessment process, mandatory review and appeals. The smallest amount is much appreciated – thank you.

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The NHS business services authority is creating a hostile environment for vulnerable patients

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Patients claiming universal credit who are exempted from prescription charges are receiving penalty notices because prescription forms have not been amended to include the benefit – six years after it was introduced. Some people have reported receiving multiple charge notices. Many people are being penalised for a pharmacy error or because of a misunderstanding. A third of the 2017 penalties imposed were overturned on appeal so far.

Patients who are suspected of wrongly claiming free prescriptions face a penalty of five times the prescription charge plus the charge itself. The maximum is £100; £50 is added if the bill is not settled within 28 days. 

The NHS Business Services Authority (NHSBSA), an arm’s length body of the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC), says a universal credit tick box should be added “later this year”. Until then, claimants entitled to free prescriptions must tick the “income-based jobseeker’s allowance” box. However, some who did so report they have still been penalised. Furthermore, no one is informing people which box to tick.

Many of the patients who receive penalty notices simply failed to realise that they no longer qualified for free prescriptions and dental treatment. Exemption certificates are automatically issued to those who earn less than £15,276 a year and receive working tax credit, child tax credit, or income support, as well as income related Employment and Support Allowance.

However, apparently, the certificates are only valid for up to seven months and recipients are not notified if they do not qualify for a renewal. The new fraud prevention system seems to be set up to penalise people because of the fact they are not kept informed of changes to their entitlement to free prescriptions, which is categorically unfair.

Moreover, it is creating severe distress and harm.

The devastating impact on vulnerable patients

Last year, Labour called for an overhaul of the system when a woman killed herself after receiving nearly £200 in penalty charges. Penny Oliver, a part-time chef, had not realised her exemption had lapsed after an ESA assessment deemed her fit for full-time work. Because her benefits had been cut she could not afford the penalties. In June 2018, she took an overdose of antidepressants – the medication that had created the debt.

Oliver owed sums of just £8.60 and £20.60. But with penalty fees and surcharges these rocketed – the second one alone soaring to £120.60. That’s ten times the amount for that prescription. After having lost hundreds of pounds a month when her benefits were cut, she simply couldn’t pay. Her housing benefit and council tax reduction were also cut, leaving her facing recovery action for an overpayment. 

She had just a few pounds in her account and was surrounded by payment demands when her family tragically found her dead last in June. Letters from the council, the NHS and Department for Work and Pensions included threats to take her to court and inform her employer if she did not pay.

At the time, shadow Health and Social Care Secretary Jonathan Ashworth said: “This is shocking. Questions have to be asked about the humanity of a system that does this to vulnerable people.

Penalty charges should be scrapped – it’s a disgrace to exploit vulnerable, ill people in this way. Ministers urgently need to step in and review this system.

“Our NHS is there to help patients get better not make their condition worse by putting ­unacceptable burdens on people like this.”

Single mother Sue Carpenter was ordered to pay £100 after mistakenly claiming a free dental check-up. “I have had an NHS exemption since my daughter was three, but I received no reminder that it would run out when she was 18,” she explains.

“I knew my child tax credit would change, but I’m still eligible for working tax credit and I assumed the exemption was linked to the entire tax credit award, not just to the child component. The dentist didn’t ask to see my certificate, which I now realise expired two weeks before.”

Carpenter says that the expiry date should be made clear. “The NHS exemption seems a unique instance of a status that runs out with no clear warning, allows you to continue using it when it has expired and then incurs a steep penalty without prior notice of the consequences.”

The NHSBSA says it is a patient’s responsibility to check the expiry date on their exemption certificate.

However, recovering costs someone incurred in error is one thing, but fining people because they didn’t read the very small print, especially given that the citizens affected are likely to be ill and also on a low income, is a step too far. While it raises revenue for a cash-starved NHS, it is at the expense of those with the least, as usual. Fining people for a genuine mistake because they are not provided with sufficient information in the first place is outrageously mercenary.

The high cost of countering pre-estimated fraud

It is unsurprising to learn that the NHS counter fraud authority was created by legislation, launched in 2017-18, and is subject to direction by the Secretary of State. It’s also worth noting that the majority of health funding goes to the Department’s
arm’s-length bodies. 

In 2016-17 the Health Department had an overall revenue and capital budget of £122.2 billion. Less than 4% (£4.7 billion) of its funding was allocated to the core Department, according to the National Audit Office (NAO). The remainder  (£117.5 billion) was allocated to its arm’s-length bodies. That’s a huge sum of public money that is spent on managing the NHS and not on delivering frontline services. 

Furthermore, amendment was made via statutory instrument to the Regulation of Investigatory Powers (Directed Surveillance and Covert Human Intelligence Sources) to ensure that the senior officers of the NHSCFA will have the power to authorise the conduct of covert directed surveillance. The health authority is directed to carry out the Secretary of State’s functions in relation to counter fraud against or affecting the health service in England.

Usually when Conservatives claim to “counter fraud”, it entails the creation of a hostile environment. Social security, for example, has been transformed from a redistributive system for the public protection from the ravages of poverty to one that administers the discipline, coercion and sanctions, using absolute poverty as a punishment for “non compliance”.

Professional and patients’ bodies have also expressed their concern that the system designed to detect fraud is undermining the whole ethos of the NHS.

Rachel Power, chief executive of the Patients Association said: “Serving penalty notices on patients cannot be a caring way to manage this system.” 

“Some of the people who received these notices will be in vulnerable situations, and the impact of letters threatening court action, particularly for those who are receiving treatment for mental illnesses, should not be underestimated.

“While it’s important that fraudulent and incorrect claims are identified, nearly one in three penalty notices had to be withdrawn because they were issued in error. This shows a system that is highly dysfunctional.”

It also indicates the introduction of an increasingly hostile environment within health services, especially for those ill people on low incomes. 

The health secretary, Matt Hancock, has previously said: “The message is clear. The NHS is no longer an easy target, and if you try to steal from it you will face the consequences.”  

I’m wondering how it is possible to steal healthcare, bearing in mind that the same minister insists that the healthcare in the UK is still “free at the point of access”. I think this systematic restriction of access to public services more generally is precisely what David Cameron meant when he said that he wanted to tackle the “culture of entitlement”.

The public pay taxes and national insurance – “social insurance” – for increasingly little return while millionaires get tax cuts and carrots while everyone else gets the austerity stick, and told to live within our increasingly diminishing means. We are being dispossessed, so the very wealthy can accumulate even more wealth.

This year the NHS is piloting a digitised system that it claims will enable pharmacists to check eligibility instantly. However, surely the same system could be used to inform patients of their eligibility status also. That would reduce error considerably, too. 

The NHSBSA say they are digital by default, and: “We use complex algorithms and data mining tools as a means to identify both normal behaviour and outliers in NHS data, within which fraudulent behaviour may be found.

The resulting “analyses” are used to support ongoing investigations as well as inform the intelligence picture and guide fraud prevention steps.”

The “complex algorithms” are very clearly being used as a blunt instrument, resulting in least one death, to date. Yet one of the highest costs of “highly probable” fraud, according to the NHS BSA is from procurement and commissioning fraud, at an estimated cost of £266m £266m between 2016-17. (See page 8 here). 

The key stakeholders of the counter fraud authority include NHS England, NHS Improvement and the Cabinet Office.

The Royal Pharmaceutical Society and the British Medical Association fear the new system will withhold vital treatment from people on low incomes who remain eligible for free prescriptions but have failed to renew their paperwork.

“Pharmacists don’t want to be the prescription police, spending their time checking exemptions rather than advising on patient care,” says Sandra Gidley, chair of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society’s English pharmacy board.

“It’s very easy for mistakes to happen. Sometimes it’s that the computer says ‘no’, on other occasions people have simply forgotten to renew. Some don’t know if they’re exempt or not, or wrongly assume they are.”

She says that the prescription system should be overhauled to prevent confusion and reflect medical advances. “Medical exemption criteria have not changed since 1968. This means they are completely unjust. For example, those with long-term asthma have to pay for prescriptions, whereas people with diabetes don’t. Many new long-term conditions have been discovered in the past 50 years and they aren’t covered at all.

“It would be much simpler to have free prescriptions for everyone, as is the case in Scotland and Wales, because then no one would have to worry about remembering to fill out the right form.”

Data released under the Freedom of Information Act last year shows that 1,052,430 penalty notices were issued to patients in England in 2017 – about double the level in the previous year. But the data confirms that 342,882 penalty notices were subsequently withdrawn because the patient was entitled to free prescriptions after all, upon further investigation. 

The NHSBSA, the agency in charge of issuing the fines, said it was “continually reviewing its data-matching process and making improvements to ensure eligible patients were not wrongly pursued.”

The agency said it was also trying to educate patients on the importance of keeping the details on both their GP records and their exemption or prescription prepayment certificates up to date. 

It’s yet another public service system that’s been designed to assume people are guilty of fraud, with the onus on patients to provide proof that they are innocent.

“The NHS loses millions each year through fraudulent and incorrect claims for free prescriptions,” said Alison O’Brien, head of loss recovery services at the authority. “On behalf of NHS England, and in discussion with the Department of Health and Social Care, the NHS Business Services Authority checks claims randomly and retrospectively to appropriately recover funds and return them to NHS services.”

However, as the data strongly suggests, in far too many cases, it isn’t appropriate to recover funds and impose fines. Errors are happening all too frequently, creating anxiety, distress and hardship. When accusations of fraud are made which are not true, it causes humiliation and creates scapegoats.

Given that the neoliberal state treats citizens as if they have done something wrong as a starting point – which is the key message embedded in hostile environments; creating stigma and criminalising already marginalised groups –  it’s become a standardised form of political abuse which is entrenched within our public services. It’s designed as a punitive form of resource gatekeeping, resulting in withholding service and support from the very people who those services were designed to support.

Unfortunately, there is a pathological political narrative that tends justify cost cutting measures and punitive policies which portray the state and the mythically discrete class, “the taxpayer”,  as victims, when the state is actually perpetrator, and we all pay taxes for the services that are being dismantled by stealth.

Many of us have raised concerns related to the impact of the government’s various “hostile environment” policies in the health, housing, welfare, finances and banking, education, social services and other sectors, on vulnerable groups and those who share protected characteristics. The Equality Act was originally designed to address this kind of discrimination. But as we have learned over the last eight years, the government regards human rights and equality frameworks as a mere inconvenience. 

Peter Burt, a patient who was wrongly issued with one of the NHS penalty notices, said he worried about how certain patients would react to receiving one. “Some of the people who received these notices will certainly be in vulnerable situations and some will be receiving prescription medication for anxiety and mental health issues,” Burt said.

“They should not be receiving letters threatening court action just because the NHS can’t be bothered to check the records to see whether they have a prepayment card – especially if there is no intention of carrying out the threat. It’s hugely disappointing that, at a time when clinical services are clearly facing financial strains, the NHS bureaucracy is wasting money by sending out hundreds of thousands of inaccurate demands every year.”

Watson said more problems lay ahead if further planned changes to the way medicines were prescribed were introduced.

“The bureaucracy around prescriptions is unfit for purpose, and will only get worse if NHS England introduces its planned restrictions on prescribing over the counter medicines,” she said. “Serving notice of penalties for free prescriptions on patients who may be vulnerable and unwell and are then required to demonstrate their right to a free prescription cannot be a compassionate and caring way to manage this system.”

It certainly seems to be the government’s modus operandi to withdraw compassion and care when it comes to public policy design, which have been templated to implement austerity rather than ensure delivery of public services that are fit for purpose.

You can check your eligibility for free prescriptions and other health services here: National campaign launches urging patients to ‘Check Before You Tick’ for free prescriptions.

 


 

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My response to Brandon Lewis when he invited me to support the Conservatives

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I was surprised to get the following email from Brandon Lewis, the Conservative party chairman, yesterday. 

I’ve published my response below the email.

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My response:

I want to share some news with you, Brandon,

I won’t ever be supporting the Conservatives. 

The government claims that austerity will ensure our children don’t inherit debt. That’s utter rubbish. I have seen my 2 youngest sons struggle making ends meet to get through university. Their tuition fees cost a lot more than our young people are permitted to borrow through the student loans company to meet their living costs each year. Despite the poorest students struggling to get by, they will still come away from university with a debt that is the same size as my mortgage was in 2003. My sons also lost their Education Maintenance Allowance because of your government.  To be frank, your party have caused my family and loved ones nothing but increasing hardship.

That’s how much this government values young people. Not very much. Certainly not enough to invest in their future, or in in opportunities that are meaningful and secure. My generation had access to free higher education. This generation is the first in a long time to be worse of than their parents were, in multiple ways, and not just because of the heavy costs of an education.

Jobs have become increasingly precarious. Worker’s rights and conditions are deteriorating and exploitation is flourishing because you have viciously attacked trade unionism and undermined the principle of collective bargaining. You have also deregulated the labour market because you are, after all, the ‘business friendly’ party.

Conservative corporatocratic principles have tilted the balance of power away from workers, leading to blatantly exploitative employment practices and grim, insecure working conditions. Your ‘business friendly’ agenda is the reason for bank bailouts, excessive pay for CEOs, increasing socioeconomic inequality, as well as the exploitation of national treasuries, people, and natural resources. Such an approach constitutes proto-fascism. 

Historically, fascists have operated from a social Darwinist perspective of human relations. Like the Conservatives, they create and value inequality. In terms of economic practices, this has generally meant promoting the interests of successful and monopolistic big business while destroying trade unions and other organisations of the working class. Fascists also promoted nationalism. I’m sure you don’t need me to point out the numerous uncomfortable parallels here, including your party’s stranglehold on the media. 

“Fascism should more appropriately be called Corporatism because it is a merger of state and corporate power” – attributed to Benito Mussolini, but probably came from Giovanni Gentile, the philosopher of fascism, in the first edition of the Italian Encyclopedia (Enciclopedia Treccani).

In 2013, JP Morgan wrote a document, which I read at the time – The Euro Area Adjustment—About Half-Way There. Firstly,  they say that financial measures are necessary to ensure that major investment houses such as JP Morgan can continue to reap huge profits from their speculative activities in Europe. Secondly, the authors maintain, it is necessary to impose ‘political reforms’ aimed at suppressing opposition to the massively unpopular austerity measures being imposed at the behest of the banks. 

The authors write: “The political systems in the periphery were established in the aftermath of dictatorship, and were defined by that experience. Constitutions tend to show a strong socialist influence, reflecting the political strength that left-wing parties gained after the defeat of fascism.

“Political systems around the periphery typically display several of the following features: weak executives; weak central states relative to regions; constitutional protection of labour rights; consensus-building systems which foster political clientalism; and the right to protest if unwelcome changes are made to the political status quo. The shortcomings of this political legacy have been revealed by the crisis.

Whatever the historical inaccuracies in their analysis, there can not be the slightest doubt that the authors of the JP Morgan report are arguing for governments to adopt authoritarianism to complete the process of social counterrevolution that is already well underway across Europe.

What JP Morgan is making clear is that anything resembling ‘socialism’ or left inclinations must be removed from political structures; localism must be replaced with strong, central authority; labour rights must be removed, consensus (democracy) and the right to protest must be curtailed. In short, JP Morgan called for authoritarian measures to suppress the working class and wipe out its social gains since the post-war settlement. This is the unadulterated anti-philanthropic voice of neoliberalism, which your party has embraced. 

Last year 16,333 people in the London borough of Kensington and Chelsea voted in the general election for Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour party, a constituency that has always been Conservative. Curiously, as the Financial Times pointed out, Kensington is where the senior European bankers live.  Andrea Orcel, chief executive of UBS’s investment bank, is among its denizens. BNP Paribas employs 7,500 people in London, and above VP level, most of them live in the vicinity of South Kensington station. – 25% of inhabitants of the South Kensington neighbourhood in particular work in finance. It is inferred that the swing happened in part because of the complete hash that your party is making of Brexit.

Your ‘high employment’ narrative does not benefit citizens, who face zero hour contracts, little employment security and more than half of those people needing to claim welfare support are in work. Your definition of ‘employment’ includes people who work as little as one hour a week. It includes carers. It also includes people who have been sanctioned.

Now there is a perverse incentive to furnish a hostile environment of DWP administrative practices in action.

When your party took office in 2010, on average citizens earned £467 a week. The latest figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) show that we now take home £460 a week. In other words, average wages have gone down in real terms during the eight years of Conservative-Lib Dem and Conservative governments, while the cost of living has risen substantially. It’s a misleading to make these claims at all when weekly earnings are actually 1.3 per cent lower now in real terms than they were when the Conservatives took office in 2010.

Furthermore, the ONS also produced household data suggesting that the true rate of unemployment is 4 times greater than the government’s preferred statistic.

The Conservative’s official definition of unemployment disguises the true rate, of course. In reality, about 21.5% of all working-age people (defined as ages 16 to 64) are without jobs, or 8.83 million peopleaccording to the Office for National Statistics. I know whose statistics I believe, given your party’s track record of abusing figures and telling lies.

Here is more data here on the effect of chronic underemployment of the unemployment rate, and the depressing new reality of the gig economy.

Conservatives being conservative with the truth as ever.

As ever we are witnessing the same old cheap labour Conservatism, where profits grow and wages are a stagnated pittance. Private companies gatekeep resources and services that were originally intended to meet the most basic needs of citizens, costing the tax payer billions while offering nothing in return but misery and cruel ideologically driven behaviourist practices. 

The clue is in the name: the word “Tory” I guess. It derives from the Middle Irish word tóraidhe, which means outlaw, robber or brigand, from the Irish word tóir, meaning “pursuit”, since outlaws were “pursued men”. It was originally used to refer to an Irish outlaw and later applied to Confederates or Royalists in arms. The term was originally one of abuse. As far as I am concerned, it remains so.

The Tories live by plundering. They steal people’s wages, public services, human rights and liberties, public provision and labour, in order to raise more money for the rich.

People know that wages are low, because of their daily experiences. The cost of living has risen, while wages have remained depressed throughout the last 8 years. People in work have had to queue at food banks, and in-work poverty is growing. Meanwhile you have pared publicly funded welfare support down to the bone. We pay for public services that your government seems to think we shouldn’t need. Your government is a sanctimonious, arrogant Victorian relic, with scant regard for citizens rights and democracy.

A personal account of why I won’t ever support the Conservatives

I’m a disabled person and from where I am trying to stand, I can see very clearly and first hand how your government have taken money from the poorest citizens and handed it out to your very wealthy and powerful friends. At the same time that you were imposing austerity on the poorest citizens and savage cuts on welfare and public services – placing a disproportionate burden on disabled people in particular – you were handing out tax cuts to millionaires to the tune of £107,000 each per year. Your austerity programme was very class contingent. Your generosity is pure elitism in action. Your ‘accumulation by wealthy through dispossession of the poorest’ approach to economics creates a hole in our economy which you attempt to plug every time by squeezing the poorest citizens. It’s a vicious cycle of vicious class discrimination and despotic behaviour, Brandon. 

And you richly reward private companies to gatekeep publicly funded services, causing those who have funded and continue to fund those safety net provisions distress and harm when they need to access the support they have paid for.

I have experienced this first hand. After working for many years, I became too ill to work in 2010, just as the Conservative-led coalition took office. I was forced to give up a social work job I loved because I was very ill. The last 8 years have been the bleakest I have ever known. Not just because I am seriously ill, but because your government have treated my human rights and those of other disabled people as somehow optional and increasingly conditional. Yet the whole point of human rights is that they are universal.

Disabled people like me have been forced to carry the heaviest burden of austerity because of traditional Conservative prejudices. In the last 8 years I have undergone 4 assessments, mandatory review, appeal and years of unwarranted distress and hardship, exacerbating my illness. I lost my home.

At my last ESA assessment, I was so ill that I collapsed. It was just 3 months after I had won my appeal. The nurse who conducted my first assessment said I was fit for work and I scored zero points. Her report must have been about someone else, because it bore no resemblance to my disability, my illness, my life or the assessment. At my last ESA assessment, I ensured that the interview was recorded. The doctor I saw could not understand why the Department for Work and Pensions had sent me for a reassessment when I was so clearly very unwell and having to take chemotherapy. Remarkably, following my collapse, he kindly sent me home in a taxi and Atos paid for it. It was either that or an ambulance.

Because my experiences claiming ESA were so distressing, I couldn’t face claiming PIP for SEVEN years. My local council had helped me, despite the miserly cuts you have imposed on them, (especially in view of the current surplus) because I needed aids and appliances in my home to maintain my mobility, and they offered support with my PIP claim. The assessment experience was once again appalling, leaving me in a lot more pain than when I arrived for the examination. Furthermore, I was told I could not have a point awarded for cognitive difficulties, despite the fact it was noted in the report that I needed prompting during the interview several times, and that my short-term memory is poor – I need aids to remember to take my medication, for example.

The assessor, having acknowledged my cognitive difficulties, went on to conclude somewhat incoherently that it wasn’t a problem. The point was the difference between a basic award and an enhanced award.  The reasoning for deducting that point went as follows: I used to have a driving licence in 2003. I worked as a social worker until 2010 – when I became too ill to work. She also said that I have a degree (gained in 1996, long before I became ill). Therefore there is ‘no evidence’ that [in 2017] my illness has caused cognitive problems, despite it being known to do so. I haven’t been able to drive since 2005 because I developed a sensitivity to flicker, which causes partial seizures. Just driving past lamp posts, telegraph posts and trees triggers vertigo, blindness, severe coordination difficulties, speech difficulties, altered states of consciousness, and muscle rigidity and twitching. I haven’t worked for 8 years, since becoming seriously ill. 

The DWP didn’t even bother to respond to my request for a mandatory review.

My experiences are not isolated events. They have become commonplace. Your government continues to refuse to listen to people like me. You have dismissed us, deplorably, as ‘scaremongers’. Such political gaslighting is shameful.

You have refused to listen to the concerns raised by the United Nations regarding the systematic and grave violations of disabled people’s human rights because of your excruciatingly punitive policies that create hostile environments for those social groups your government clearly despises.

So I’m sure you will understand why I cannot ever support an authoritarian government that refuses to listen to so many citizens’ accounts of their experiences of extremely punitive government policies, or one that refuses to democratically include them in policy design and support them in participating in the economy and society.

What is the point of a government of a wealthy country that not only fails to ensure that all citizens can meet their basic survival needs, but also remains completely indifferent to those needs?

So my answer is no, Brandon.

Ask yourself: what has your party ever done for people like me, my loved ones and my friends? 

With utmost sincerity,

Sue Jones

 

Related

Conservatism in a nutshell

JP Morgan wants Europe to be rid of social rights, democracy, employee rights and the right to protest (2013)



I don’t make any money from my work and have a very limited income. But you can help  if you like 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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Disabled people facing government hostility in the UK – Mo Stewart

A protest outside Atos in London in July 2017

 

Last year I wrote an article about how the social security system in the UK has been re-structured around “ordeals”, which were introduced by the Conservative government in order to discipline and “disincentivise” citizens from claiming welfare support, by undermining any sense of security people may have of fulfiling their most basic needs.  Welfare support is extremely conditional and precarious. Ordeals are intrinsic to a system of punishment that the draconian Conservatives claim will “change the behaviours” of underpaid, unemployed and disabled people. By creating a hostile environment, the government are somehow claiming that it’s possible to simply punish people out of poverty. 

My friend, Mo Stewart writes, today in the Guardian (Letters 

“The British public have reacted to “a sense of betrayal of that so-called British value of fairness” (The hostile environment? Britain’s disabled people live there too, the guardian.com, 26 April). This “sense of betrayal” was only possible because the national press reported the plight of the Windrush scandal, but this is not always the case. Some of the press were happy to promote the exaggerated claims of the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) which, during five years of coalition government, knowingly misled the public regarding “fake” claimants of disability benefit. Coincidentally, disability hate crimes increased by 213% during the coalition’s term in office.

Influenced by a US healthcare insurance “consultant”, who funded DWP-commissioned research used to justify welfare reforms, the work capability assessment (WCA) adopted the bio-psychosocial model of assessment which has failed all academic scrutiny. The WCA is used by the DWP to resist access to the employment and support allowance (ESA) sickness and disability benefit, which is the financial equivalent of jobseeker’s allowance, so there is no financial incentive when claiming ESA.”

This DWP assessment totally disregards diagnosis, prognosis, past medical history and all medical opinion. Deaths of genuine claimants were always inevitable. There is a reason why the DWP has refused to publish updated ESA mortality totals since February 2014, as suicides linked to the ESA assessment climb. It’s time for this ideological DWP tyranny to end, and for the national press to stop disregarding another national atrocity impacting on disabled people.”

The letter was signed by:

Mo Stewart Independent disability studies researcher 
Professor Woody Caan Editor, Journal of Public Mental Health 
Dr Tanya Titchkosky Professor of disability studies, University of Toronto 
Professor Peter Beresford Professor of citizen participation, Essex University
Dr Marion Hersh Senior lecturer, biomedical engineering, Glasgow University
Dr Dominic Griffiths Senior lecturer in Inclusive Education and SEN, Manchester Metropolitan University
Dr Anne Daguerre Assistant professor in work, employment and welfare, Middlesex University
Dr Simon Duffy Director, Centre for Welfare Reform
Vin West Chair, Arfon Access Group,
and others.

Related image

 

Related

Rogue company Unum’s profiteering hand in the government’s work, health and disability green paper

The connection between Universal Credit, ordeals and experiments in electrocuting laboratory rats 

Conservative MPs accuse citizens of ‘scaremongering stories’ about experiences of Universal Credit

 


 

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