Tag: Labour government

Psychologists Against Austerity: mental health experts issue a rallying call against coalition policies.

PAA-550x369

I wrote an article in March about the government plans to make the receipt of social security benefits for those with mental illnesses conditional on undergoing “state therapy.” I raised concern about ethical issues – such as consent, the inappropriateness of using behaviour modification as a form of “therapy,” and I criticised the proposed Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) programme on methodological and theoretical grounds, as well as considering wider social implications.

The 2015 budget included plans to provide online CBT to 40,000 claimants and people on the Fit for Work programme, as well as putting therapists in more than 350 job centres.

Since I wrote, over 400 psychotherapists, counsellors and mental health practitioners have written an open letter, published by the Guardian, about the broader, profoundly disturbing psychological and quality-of-life implications of the coalition government’s austerity cuts and policies. However, the letter was particularly critical of the government’s benefits sanctions scheme, which has been condemned by many of us – human rights advocates across the state – as brutal, unjust, ill-conceived, ineffective and inhumane.

In particular, the letter stated that the government’s proposed policy of linking social security benefits to the receipt of “state therapy” is utterly unacceptable. The measure, casually coined “get to work therapy,” was discussed by Chancellor for the Exchequer George Osborne during his last budget.

The letter’s supporters included psychotherapist and writer Susie Orbach. She called the Conservative proposals “beyond shocking.” Echoing the concerns I raised earlier this year, she said:

“It undermines the fundamental principles of one’s right to physical and mental care – that you have to be able to consent and that the people you go to have to be highly trained and have your best interests and aren’t meeting targets.”

The letter’s signatories, all of whom are experts in the field of mental health, have said such a measure is counter-productive, “anti-therapeutic,” damaging and professionally unethical. The “intimidatory disciplinary regime” facing benefits claimants would be made even worse by further unacceptable proposals outlined in the budget.

Among the groups represented by the signatories were Psychologists Against Austerity, Britain’s Alliance for Counselling and Psychotherapy, Psychotherapists and Counsellors for Social Responsibility, the Journal of Public Mental Health, and a range of academic institutions including Goldsmiths, Birkbeck, the University of London, the University of Amsterdam, Manchester Metropolitan University, the University of Brighton, Disabled People Against the Cuts and others.

More generally, the wider reality of a society thrown completely off-balance by the emotional toxicity of social conservatism combined with economic neoliberalism (which I have argued is manifestly authoritarian) is affecting Britain in profound and complex ways, the distressing effects of which are often most visible in therapist’s consulting rooms.

This letter sounds the starting-bell for a broadly based campaign of organisations and professionals against the damage that neoliberalism is doing to the nation’s mental health.

The letter said that for now, we call on all the parties in this election to make it clear that they will urgently review such regressive, anti-therapeutic practices, and appropriately refashion their commitment to mental health if and when they enter government.

Andrew Samuels, an Essex University professor, and immediate past chair of the UK Council for Psychotherapy, said he believed there was “a bit of a public school ethos” behind the work-capability regime introduced under the conservative-liberal democrat coalition and new conservative plans.

Characterising the government attitude as “Pull yourself together man, for heaven’s sake,” Samuels added: “It is wholly inappropriate. It symbolises a society that has lost all moral compass.”

Absolutely. Public schools are notorious for a culture of bullying. However, it’s one thing to be treated as a privileged and insulated public school boy by a peer from an elite background to “character building” rhetoric, but quite another to adopt that same bullying approach towards the ill and most vulnerable citizens. All to justify an ideological drive to “shrink the state” and remove support from the poorest.

All of this said, public schools are regarded by many as institutions that inflict a particularly British form of child abuse and social control. I also think it has to be said that soul trauma and pain don’t respect social status.

Samuels insisted the open letter was not “pro-Labour” but was aimed at getting a review of measures taken and proposed over the past five years.

He said: “If Labour decides afterwards all this is in order, it will go on. But I don’t think it will.”

The Labour Party does value professional opinion and rational discourse. The Conservatives, on the other hand, are not widely recognised as a party that welcomes democratic, open debate, transparency and accountability. The Tories simply exclude critical professionals and representative organisations that may challenge and disagree from the discourse.

A spokesperson for Labour said mental health “is the biggest unaddressed health challenge of our age.”

“It’s essential that we give mental health the priority it deserves if we are to thrive as a nation and ensure the NHS remains sustainable for the future,” he said.

The Labour Party have pressured the government to “write parity of esteem between physical and mental health into law,” and in the response, Labour have stated that the party is committed to implementing this policy if elected in May.

The spokesman pledged the Labour will bring an end to the “scandal of the neglect of child mental health,” indicating a welcomed return to a comprehensive preventative approach. He said: “It is simply not right that when three-quarters of adult mental illnesses begin in childhood, children’s mental health services get just six per cent of the mental health budget.”

Richard House of the Alliance for Counselling and Psychotherapy, the letter’s main organiser, said there had been a mounting groundswell of concern: “When one hears story after story of dramatic negative health impacts, psychological and physical, after people are subjected to these back-to-work practices, the time has surely come for an ‘emotional audit’ of the impact of what, to many, appear to be heartless, un-thought-through policies that are merely penalising and punishing the already disadvantaged still further.”

Yes, the time has come for a change of government. On May 7, we must ensure that the regressive, oppressive regime of the past five years is replaced by a progressive, inclusive and democratic alternative.

Related

The power of positive thinking is really political gaslighting

The just world fallacy

Cameron’s Nudge that knocked democracy down – a summary of the implications of Nudge theory

Rising ESA sanctions: punishing the vulnerable for being vulnerable

Suicides reach a ten year high and are linked with welfare “reforms”

Mental Health Services in crisis because of Coalition cuts to funding

The Psychology of Austerity

A group of mental health professionals have come together under the banner of Psychologists Against Austerity (PAA) to highlight the psychological impact of austerity.

Now, with only a few weeks to go before the general election, PAA have started a campaign calling for a Parliamentary Inquiry into the psychological damage austerity has wreaked across the UK.

You can read more and sign our petition here: 38degrees/psychological costs of austerity inquiry.


 

I don’t make any money from my work. But you can support Politics and Insights and contribute by making a donation which will help me continue to research and write informative, insightful and independent articles, and to provide support to others. The smallest amount is much appreciated, and helps to keep my articles free and accessible to all – thank you. 

DonatenowButton

Labour’s excellent record on poverty and inequality

miliband country in decline

Originally published by the Fabian Society on Friday, 9 October 2009.

Perhaps the most audacious aspect of David Cameron’s speech to the Conservative Party conference this year was his attempt, while reconnecting with Thatcherism, also to project his party as the party of the poor.

Part of this strategy involves presenting Labour’s record on inequality and poverty as one of downright failure.

So what is the reality? What is Labour’s record on poverty and inequality?

The place to look for reliable data on this topic are the regular publications by the IFS. Reviewing them, these seem to be the key facts.

(1) Inequality increased enormously under the Conservatives. The Gini coefficient, a standard measure of inequality, rose from around 0.25 for income inequality in 1979 to around 0.34 in the early 1990s. In the IFS’s words: ‘The scale of this rise in inequality has been shown…to be unparalleled both historically and compared with changes taking place at the same time in most other developed countries’ (Brewer et al, 2008, p.27).

David Cameron joked about the way Labour refers to the ‘wicked Tories’. Well, there’s a reason for that. The last time they held power for a significant period of time they produced an ‘unparalleled’ increase in income inequality.

(2) Yes, inequality has increased under Labour. The Gini rose to 0.35 under Labour’s first term, then fell in the second term, back to where it had been in 1996/7 (about 0.33). In Labour’s third term, inequality has increased again and is estimated at about 0.36 for 2007/8, higher than at any time since the relevant records began in 1961 (Brewer et al, 2009, pp.23-24).

(3) But Labour has been consistently redistributive. IFS analyses show repeatedly, however, that Labour’s budgets have been consistently redistributive in their effects. That is to say, if you look at who has gained and lost from the changes to the tax-benefit system since 1996/7, the gains are biggest at the bottom, disappear in the middle, with losses at the top (Phillips, 2008).

(4) And Labour has (probably) reduced ‘counterfactual’ income inequality. To assess the impact of Labour’s policies since 1996/7, it is not enough to just look at where inequality is now compared to then. One has to ask: Where would inequality be now if we had just continued with the old tax-benefit system inherited from the Conservatives (with appropriate adjustments for inflation and the like)?

In Poverty and Inequality in the UK: 2007, IFS researchers calculated what the Gini for income inequality would be in 2005/6 under unchanged Conservative policies. The actual Gini in 2005/6 was 0.347. The ‘counterfactual’ Gini, reflecting unchanged Conservative policies, was 0.378 (Brewer et al, 2007, p.22). I have not managed to find a more recent calculation of this sort.

But up to 2005/6 at least, it seems that Labour’s redistributive budgets were preventing inequality rising by as much as it would otherwise have done – as much as it would have done under the policy regime inherited from the Conservatives.

(5) Poverty, on most indicators, is lower for most groups than when Labour came to office. If we turn from inequality to poverty, the basic story seems to be, first, that on most measures, and for most groups (children, pensioners, etc.), poverty rates are lower than in 1996/7 (Brewer et al, 2009, pp.34-36). Accordingly, I would judge any broad-brush claim that ‘Poverty has increased under Labour’ or that ‘Labour has been bad for the poor’ as risible.

The usual headline measures of poverty focus on those with incomes less than 60% of the median. One Conservative line of attack has been to switch the attention to those in ‘severe’ poverty, defined as those with incomes less than 40% of the median. Analysis shows that ‘severe’ poverty rates have increased since 1996/7. However, the most recent IFS report on this subject argues that the data on those with incomes at this level is hard to interpret. Many of those in this group record expenditure well above their income level, suggesting that they might be on temporary low incomes and using savings or borrowing in expectation of higher income to maintain their living standards.

There might also be some recording error. The IFS researchers are thus sceptical that we should regard those in this group in general as really in ‘severe’ poverty (see Brewer et al, 2009, p.32).

(6) Labour’s third term has been bad for poverty reduction. Labour’s progress on reducing poverty went into reverse in its third term. Looking across the various groups (children, pensioners, etc.), poverty rates are higher now than they were in 2004/5 (Brewer et al, 2009, pp.32-34), though still lower for most groups than in 1996/7.

It should be noted, however, that IFS researchers expect child poverty to fall by 500-600,000 up to 2010/11, on the basis of existing policies and allowing for likely economic changes (Brewer, Browne, Joyce and Sutherland, 2009).

Overall, then?

Labour has (1) pursued consistently redistributive policies – it has shifted resources from rich to poor – and these policies (2) have had some effect in reducing poverty and (3) have probably helped to check, without altogether preventing (let alone reversing), increased inequality.

The Conservatives say they can do better. But, as part of the rhetoric of ‘progressive Conservatism’, they also tend to downplay the role of redistribution in tackling poverty and inequality. For they want the ‘progressive end’ of reduced poverty or inequality while using ‘conservative means’ (i.e., not redistribution).

To test what you think about this claim it helps to consider the ‘counterfactual’ exercise I mentioned above: If the Conservative approach – eschewing greater redistribution – had been applied since 1997, in place of Labour’s consistently redistributive approach, do you think poverty and/or inequality would be lower today or higher?

I think the question just about answers itself.

Related:

Cameron’s Gini and the hidden hierarchy of worth

Inequality has risen: Incomes increased for the richest last year, but fell for everyone else

Ed Miliband interview: The biggest issue we face is inequality

UK Wealth Divide widens, with inequality heading for “most unequal country in the developed world”

1379986_541109785958554_2049940708_nMany thanks to Robert Livingstone for his excellent memes

Ed Miliband announces that Labour will put democratic leaders’ debates on a statutory footing. And Cameron is a coward.

chickenEd Miliband is quite right to call Cameron a chicken. Tory MP Rees-Mogg appeared on Channel 4 News and laid bare the reason for Cameron’s “predicament” regarding the pre-election debates – it’s all because of a “left-wing conspiracy.” Really.

Gosh, does that mean the BBC’s political editor, Nick Robinson, once chairman of the Young Conservatives, has undergone a radical Trotskyist transformation whilst we slept?

Since when was debate, open discussion of pressing issues that affect the electorate, democratic discussion of policies, political transparency and  accountability deemed a “left-wing conspiracy”? Given the priceless claim of “BBC bias”, despite Iain Duncan Smith’s ongoing intensive monitoring campaign to keep the beeb “right”, I had to chuckle very heartily at that. It gave me quite a sarcastic turn.

I’m sure that emminent communist Lord Patten of Barnes must be delighted that standards haven’t slipped since he resigned last May as the Chairman of the BBC Trust, which is the appointed governing body.

Mind you, the government appointment of Pattern’s successor, following backroom negotiations, certainly raised a few eyebrows. Renowned socialist, Rona Fairhead (appointed a Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 2012) is one of the government’s business ambassadors and a director at the Cabinet Office, advising Francis Maude. There may be a glimpse of a political hinterland, however, from the fact that her husband, Tom, a director of the private equity firm Campbell Lutyens, was a Tory councillor.

Andrew Neil, the presenter of the BBC’s flagship political programmes Daily Politics and This Week, is chairman of the Spectator magazine. His editor is Robbie Gibb, former chief of staff to Francis Maude. And after the BBC’s economics editor Stephanie Flanders left for a £400,000-a-year job at that communist hotbed, JP Morgan, she was replaced by its business editor Robert Peston.

Peston himself has said: “Any suggestion the BBC has a left-wing bias is bollocks and the broadcaster actually veers towards a right-wing, pro-establishment view for fear of criticism.”

Research does indeed indicate that the BBC’s output is heavily biased towards the establishment and right-wing sources. Cardiff University undertook an extensive study, revealing that whilst there is always a slight bias towards political incumbents, the ratio in favour of Conservative politicians appearing on BBC news is significantly far greater than it was in favour of Labour figures when Gordon Brown was prime minister. Business representatives appear much more than they do on commercial news, and appear 19 times more frequently than trade union spokespersons on the BBC Six O’Clock News.

The evidence from the research is very clear. The BBC tends to reproduce a pro-Establishment, Conservative, Eurosceptic, pro-business version of the world. Furthermore, the Queen appoints the regulatory body – the BBC trust –  advised by government ministers, and the BBC trust then appoints the Director General. This has led to a public service run by people with strongly right-wing political and business affiliation.

Tory insiders say that Cameron is “determined” to avoid participating in the televised debates on equal terms with Miliband before the election, as he believes the Labour leader is the only one who would benefit. Chief election strategist Lynton Crosby and the former party deputy chairman Lord Ashcroft both insist Cameron should not risk taking part in a head to head, even if he endures “short-term criticism” for not doing so.

Ed Milband has announced that a Labour government would take legal steps to make sure leaders’ debates become a permanent feature in general election campaigns following David Cameron’s flat, arrogant refusal to take part in the three showdowns proposed by broadcasters.

A Labour government will move to put “fair and impartial leaders’ debates” on a statutory footing in an effort to avoid them becoming subject to the kind of “political wrangling” that has characterised the programmes scheduled for next month in the run-up to polling day.

The new system would work on similar lines to the current rules for planning the number, length and timing of party political broadcasts, under which parties are consulted but not given the power to veto them.

This may be done by establishing the body which negotiates the terms of debates as a trust in statute with responsibility for determining the dates, format, volume and attendees.

A Labour government would set a deadline of 2017 for changes to be put in place, giving more than enough time to plan the debates for a 2020 election.

Meanwhile, the four broadcasters – the BBC, ITV, Sky and Channel 4 – have said they will stick to their previously-announced plans for three debates during the election campaign, and urged the Prime Minister to “reconsider” his refusal to take part in these shows, including a head-to-head showdown with Mr Miliband.

Miliband told the Observer: “In recent days the British public has been treated to the unedifying and tawdry spectacle of a prime minister seeking to duck out of the TV debates he once claimed to support with great enthusiasm. Yesterday the broadcasters made it clear they would not be cowed by his tactics but it is wrong for them and the British public to have governing parties use this kind of pressure in campaign periods. It is time to ensure, once and for all, that these debates belong to the people not the prime minister of the day.”

But Cameron hasn’t exactly led a democratically inclined, transparent and accountable government for the past five years. He knows that in agreeing to just one debate with seven parties, questions will get such a short time for responses that he can evade any meaningful, in-depth scrutiny regarding his appalling policy record, entailing the myriad U-turns, inflicted cruelties and crass, prolific dishonesties of his leadership. And the one debate that Cameron has agreed will take place before his party manifesto is published, which again dodges accountability to the electorate: a profoundly (and consistently) undemocratic approach.

As Vernon Bogdanor, professor of government at King’s College, London says: “Debates should not be subject to the tactical calculations of party leaders. There is certainly the case for a statute requiring debates between leaders of all parties with over 5% of the vote; and a separate debate between the PM and leader of the opposition. That statute is best administered by the Electoral Commission rather than the broadcasters who can too easily be accused of bias.”

Cameron clearly dare not debate head-to-head with Ed Miliband – which is remarkable, given that the Tories’ entire campaign is predicated on portraying the Labour leader as “weak and incompetent.” So why is Cameron too afraid to confront him in public?

Last year I wrote that people often mistake Miliband’s decency and refusal to engage in negative smear campaigning as “weak”: it isn’t. This year, Ed Miliband has acknowledged that perception – fueled by a desperate Tory party and right-wing media barons that have endeavoured to portray Miliband as “unelectable” – asked us not to make that mistake, in an interview with Simon Hattenstone  – Ed Miliband: don’t mistake my decency for weaknessIt’s worth reading the entire interview, what shines through is Miliband’s genuine warmth, honesty, decency, strength and conviction in his principles.

Miliband is no “career politician” and Cameron knows that formal debate with him would serve to juxtapose unfavourably – exposing the vast differences between his own unprincipled archetypal anti-heroic Flashman character – a manipulative scoundrel and liar, a cunning cheat, a corrupt and coarse coward  – and a steadfast, decent, true partisan, conviction politician with principles and integrity. Miliband is precisely the prime minister that this country so desperately needs. Cameron knows it. He doesn’t want the public to know it.

Cam weaknessThe right-wing media campaign, aimed at attempting to undermine Miliband’s credibility as a leader, arose precisely because Miliband is the biggest threat to the UK power base and status quo that we’ve seen for many decades. He’s challenging the neo-liberal consensus of the past 30 years – now that is a plain indication of strong leader, and someone with personal strength and courage. Qualities that Cameron so conspicuously lacks.

I wonder if the Tories consider their imminent loss on 7 May due to their own callous policies, prolific lying and unmitigated economic disaster these past five years a left-wing conspiracy, too?

Laugh out loud.

 

Further reading:

Cameron’s chief spinner on leaders’ debates: No no no! The PM should hide and throw things at Miliband

The establishment are ‘frit’ because Ed Miliband is the biggest threat to the status quo we’ve seen for decades

The moment Ed Miliband said he’ll bring socialism back to Downing Street

Miliband is an excellent leader, and here’s why

The Tories attack Miliband because they’ve got no decent policies

The BBC expose a chasm between what the Coalition plan to do and what they want to disclose

Once you hear the jackboots, it’s too late

tory liesThanks to Robert Livingstone for the excellent memes.

Legislative amendments from the Labour Party effectively constrain Tory plans to fast-track the fracking industry.

71407_222385347912521_137557564_n
In Government, the Labour Party led the way on an international level as the first nation to put climate change at the heart of the G8 and to call a United Nations Security Council meeting on climate change.

On 16 October 2008, Ed Miliband, then the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, announced that the world’s first Climate Change Act would mandate an 80% cut overall in six greenhouse gases by 2050. The Act makes it the duty of the Secretary of State to ensure that the net UK carbon account for all six Kyoto greenhouse gases for the year 2050 is at least 80% lower than the 1990 baseline, toward avoiding dangerous climate change.

The Act aimed at ensuring the United Kingdom became a low-carbon economy and gave ministers powers to introduce the measures necessary to achieve a range of greenhouse gas reduction targets. An independent Committee on Climate Change was created under the Act to provide advice to the UK Government on these targets and related policies.

The next Labour Government will prioritise efforts to tackle climate change, both at home and abroad – just as the last Labour Government did.

It is worth remembering this historical legislative context: it has considerable bearing on why Labour opposes the current government’s almost fanatical faith in shale gas. Labour’s position on fracking is that the development of shale gas cannot and must not come at the expense of meeting our legally binding obligation to avoid dangerous climate change, nor can fracking be given any nod of approval at all without scrupulous environmental safeguards in place. Any future Labour policy on fracking, either way, would be formulated with care after drawing on research and the meticulous gathering of evidence of all potential environmental risks.

Over the last three years, Labour has worked with organisations including the RSPB, Friends of the Earth and the Local Government Association, drawing on work by Royal Academy of Engineering and other bodies to produce a list of vital conditions to reform the regulatory regime for shale gas. The conditions include independent inspection of well integrity, mandatory monitoring for fugitive emissions and a presumption against development in protected areas such as National Parks. They represent a comprehensive approach, based on scientific evidence, to bring a rigour and coherence to the UK’s regulatory framework.

Labour recently successfully forced through these conditions as series of legislative amendments to constrain government plans to “fast-track” fracking. George Osborne, the chancellor, was demanding “rapid progress” from cabinet ministers, including delivering the “asks” of fracking company Cuadrilla.

As the Guardian reports: “Ministers were forced to accept Labour’s new environmental rules last week to avoid a rebellion by Conservative and LibDem backbench MPs, many of whom are facing opposition to fracking from constituents.”

Additionally: “Fracking is set to be banned on two-fifths of the land in England being offered for shale gas exploration by the government, according to a Guardian analysis.”

A moratorium, as proposed by the Green Party, would never have been successful at this stage, and Labour knew that. Had the moratorium actually scraped a successful yes vote, the Tories would most certainly not have abided by that, leaving them free without constraint to go ahead with their plans to fast-track the industry. Labour succeeded in binding them to agree on considerable restrictions, which will tie the Tories’ hands until well after the election, as well as excluding almost half of the Country’s potential shale gas sites from being potential drilling sites.

Such a wide-ranging ban is a significant blow to the UK’s fracking industry, which David Cameron and George Osborne have enthusiastically backed. The future of fracking now looks to be in the balance. Many analysts say the outlook for fracking is bleak.

The Guardian goes on to say: “An independent analysis by Greenpeace also found that 45 per cent of the 931 blocks being licensed for fracking in England were at least 50 per cent covered by protected areas, which it said was likely to make them unattractive to fracking companies.

“Just three per cent of the blocks have no protected areas at all, Greenpeace found.”

Louise Hutchins at Greenpeace UK added: “The shale industry’s seemingly irresistible advance is now looking more and more resistible every day, unless ministers can explain why fracking is too risky for the South Downs but perfectly safe in the Lancashire countryside, the next obvious step is to ban this controversial technique from the whole of the UK.”

There is always a populist option when it comes to doing politics. It’s rarely an effective approach, since it is based on superficial appeal only. Labour once again chose the rational, coherent and ultimately effective option, and with consistent foresight, they secured the best possible outcome.

945744_222576267893429_574558961_n

 

1016893_10151586093372831_133919409_nBig thanks to Robert Livingstone for the memes.

 

Some thoughts for 2015

10635953_696483917087806_7307164383030383606_n

In one respect, I think there is nothing new under the sun when it comes to socio-political ideas. Underpinning political ideologies basically tend towards either an elitist, individualist, traditional, prescriptive and regressive narrative or a democratic, collectivist, divergent, responsive and progressive one. The latter is a relatively recent part of our history, evolving as a response to the harsh and oppressive social conditions imposed by the former.

And one of the themes throughout my writing this past two years is that we need to grasp the meanings offered by the learning opportunities of history in order to progress. But here we are, with a government that has undone 100 years of civil rights achievements in just 4 years. It’s a government that will scrap our Human Rights Act and withdraw from the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) given the opportunity – another 5 years in office.

I’ve written at length on this site about how and why human rights arose and why we need them. To undo the progressive international laws that were developed in response to the atrocities of World War 2 and in response to fascism would be a terrible and historic tragedy with horrific ramifications for democracy. Human rights provide basic protection from corrupt and fascistic governments. The UN declaration of Human Rights is founded on the tenet that each and every human life has equal worth.

Human Rights are our means of protection from uncivilising forces, brutal regimes, fascism, totalitarianism, inequality, social injustices and genocide. The Coalition are currently in breach of the UN conventions of the rights of women, children and are under investigation for gross abuses of disabled people’s human rights. This is frankly terrifying. The government hasn’t simply betrayed us as a society, pushing at established moral and legal boundaries, it has betrayed each of us on an intimate level. The consequences of Coalition policies intrude on people’s lives, re-shaping experiences, causing damage and harm. Those who have, so far, escaped the consequences of this government’s draconian policies are reduced to either denial or bystander apathy and tainted by it. The harm being inflicted isn’t just on a material level because of the cuts: it’s damaging on a psychic level, too.

This is the time we live in. We have regressed so much as a society in such a short space of time. This past four years have been a political process of uncivilising, and have seen the wilful destruction of much of the gains made from our progressive post-war settlement.

One of my areas of interest is ideology and how that translates into policies. The Human Rights Act was a Labour legislation, and the last Labour government signed us up to the rights of disabled people’s convention. They also gave us the Equality Act, and the current government have been quietly editing that. But without those laws, we would not have won the handful of cases that we have against the current administration. Human rights are paramount – the very foundation of democracy and civilised society.

Ideology narrates and informs policies. It tells us something of what a government intends to do. Most of the people reading here are not surprised at what the Tories have done, though we are still shocked. I’ve lobbied Labour for the past few years, seeking clarity regarding their own intentions towards the most vulnerable citizens. They have responded steadily and positively. There are still some issues that need to be addressed, such as the legal aid bill. But I appreciate that review, evidence and costing have to happen before any policy repeal. That is how needs-led policy happens.

I have already said this many times, but will say it again because it’s crucially important. The electoral system is currently established as pretty much a two party competition. Other fringe parties have drawn some support away from the main two, but none of these have developed sufficiently  to give us a credible, clear, coherent and viable alternative to the mainstreamed narratives.

The only way to see  positive change and protect our citizens is a Labour vote as it stands. We don’t have an ideal situation, sure. But this is not the time to be protest voting or experimenting with radicalism, because our society as a whole is in peril, and many of us  won’t survive another Tory term.

We must not risk another 5 years of uncivilising, regressive, punitive and damaging right-wing policies and I can’t condone the actions of those intent on splitting the left-wing vote. Besides, I’ve yet to see a set of policy proposals, costed and evidenced, that are as clearly stated and positive as Labour’s are, to date. If you value our NHS, public services, equality, education, welfare, human rights, democracy, freedom of speech, justice, animal welfare and rights and ecology, amongst other things, then the only way to preserve and enhance those is through a Labour government.

It was Sue Marsh who said something along the lines of “let’s get out of hell first, then we can work on building our utopia.”

She’s right. We will never make any progress if the Tories remain in power. Ever.

We must be vote them out. Labour is our safest and most viable option.

That is our only starting point, without a Labour victory in 2015, we cannot make progress and evolve as a society at all.

Stepping into 2015, I’m armed with hope that this year we will see a process begin again that will shape a world that is fair, safe, civilised and a comfortable place for all and not just a few.

Wishing everyone the very, very best for 2015.

Upwards and onwards.

Related:
Ed Miliband’s message is a statement of hope for the future –  Ed Miliband’s New Year Message: “2015 is a year of possibility, the chance to change direction”.
Ed Miliband’s policy pledges at a glance
47 more good reasons to vote labour
Political parties – there are very BIG differences in their policies.

 

Labour demand big improvements to Work Capability Assessments – by Kate Green

995658_494538353949031_779653065_n

Today the government has announced the new provider for the ailing Work Capability Assessment (WCA). Maximus are replacing Atos, who quit the process after repeated concerns, raised by Labour and disabled people, about the operation of the test.

The government has spent months seeking an alternative provider.

While we’ve always said that simply changing the provider isn’t enough to deal with the underlying problems, Labour hope the new start under Maximus will lead to improved results.

Disabled people have every right to feel wary. The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) are agreeing a new contract that will last years. With a general election looming, and Labour already having outlined a series of reforms we’d make to the Work Capability Assessment, it is unclear how the new provider will be expected to deliver improvements – or what penalties they’ll face if they don’t.

That’s why I have written to the Minister for Disabled People to ensure that any change of policy direction under a future Labour government can be accommodated within the contract, and that action can be taken swiftly to address poor performance.

We have also said that the new provider should be made responsible for ensuring that the Work Capability Assessment is better connected to work support to increase the number of disabled people in work. It’s essential that the new provider gains credibility quickly by providing more accurate results about assessments.

And crucially, the new provider must ensure the huge backlog of Work Capability Assessments is tackled swiftly.

We also expect Maximus to make significant improvements in the day to day delivery of Work Capability Assessments. Labour will insist that:

  • Every assessment centre must be accessible; that information about the Work Capability Assessment process must be available in accessible formats; and that disabled people who cannot reasonably be expected to attend a face to face interview should be assessed at home or another convenient and accessible location.
  • Claimants are advised that they are able to bring a companion to the assessment, who can assist them as appropriate.
  • Information sharing must be improved, including between Department for Work and Pensions, Maximus and Work Programme contractors.
  • Recordings of assessments must be provided on request.
  • Reports from assessors must include information on how an impairment or health condition affects someone’s ability to work.

But there is a broader need for reforming the Work Capability Assessment. Assessments must be part of the support to help disabled people back to work. Currently, the Work Capability Assessment is seen as entirely separate to the Work Programme – contributing to the appalling failure rate of the government’s flagship employment scheme.

Iain Duncan Smith’s DWP set a target of a 15 per cent employment rate for people on the Work Programme after two years. But after three years only 7 per cent of Employment Support Allowance (ESA) claimants who have accessed the programme have found work.

Our new approach would provide information about the support that is available in the local area to help individuals. Improving this element of the assessment and decision-making process is a crucial step towards a more integrated system of support.

Disabled people should also have a central role in monitoring the tests. A Labour government would ensure that for the first time disabled people would get a real say in how the assessments are delivered.

The independent reviewer of the Work Capability Assessment would work alongside a scrutiny group of disabled people supported by the Office for Disability Issues. We would also require the DWP to respond to Work Capability Assessment reviews and end the practice of ‘accepting’ recommendations that are then kicked into the long grass.

Accuracy of Work Capability Assessments must be dramatically improved under Maximus. Thousands of disabled people appealing inaccurate decisions have had to wait months for decisions, wasting millions of pounds in appeals and tribunals.

The DWP must deliver a better service for disabled people and better value for money for taxpayers. The Public Accounts Committee has already reported that targets set for the quality of the assessment were not challenging enough.

Labour would ensure a new system would impose penalties for poor performance, measured both on the number of times decisions are overturned by the DWP or through appeals. Clear financial penalties will ensure assessors improve the quality of assessments.

This means collecting all the medical evidence needed to make a decision and ensuring they listen to what claimants tell them to ensure decisions are based on the full facts.

The new provider of Work Capability Assessments takes over at a difficult time. Maximus will be judged very quickly on whether its performance is an improvement on years of failure and chaos in the DWP.

Ministers and the new provider need to urgently get a grip of Work Capability Assessments.

Kate Green MP​ is shadow minister for disabled people

scroll2

The Labour Party introduced a host of measures to strengthen the rights of disabled people. They passed the Disability Discrimination Act 2005, introduced the Equality Act 2010, and formed the Equality and Human Rights Commission, and, in 2009, the Labour government signed the United Nations convention on the rights of persons with disabilities.

It’s worth noting that without the Equality Act in particular, it would have been difficult to win the cases that have been presented to court against the government, concerning the unprecedented level of discrimination embedded in their policies.

Kate Green and Anne McGuire have pointed out that the original intentions when Labour introduced the Employment Support Allowance pilot and an assessment of people’s capacity for work, have been distorted – that the original aim was to be a supportive and facilitative process, with Disability Living Allowance (DLA), and other supportive measures in place to help people with disability lead a dignified life, fulfilling their potential, but, as Anne McGuire has pointed out, the renegotiation of the Atos contract by the current Government, (along with the addition of targets to remove people’s benefits, and sanctions,) has rebalanced the system to be punitive, rather than facilitative.

Of course the Tories have been very quick to blame Labour for the current situation, however, following a review of their pilot, Labour warned the government of problems with the Work Capability Assessment, which Iain Duncan Smith duly ignored, passing the ESA system into law, making the WCA even more problematic, and as stated, re-contracting Atos “in line with the welfare reforms” in 2011, including targets to take people’s lifeline benefits away, despite the claims made by the Tories. The targets were exposed by Dr Steven Bicks, a GP that applied for job with Atos, assessing whether benefit applicants were fit for work, and secretly filmed his training, which was broadcast by channel 4 – on their Dispatches programme, on Monday 30 July, 2012.

I was very pleased to hear of Labour’s proposal to introduce a new Disability Hate Crime Prevention Law, particularly in light of what has happened this past four years regarding right wing and media portrayals of sick and disabled people, using fake statistics, vicious stigmatising and scapegoating rhetoric to justify the punitive cuts, which have been aimed disproportionately at disabled people.

Comparing policies indicates clearly the stark differences between the parties, and given the briefing from Labour from their ESA review that was blatantly disregarded, and the refusal of the Coalition to undertake a cumulative impact assessment of the “reforms”, it’s clear that the Tories do not regard the poorest and most vulnerable worthy of government diligence, accountability, support and fair treatment.

KittySJones.

Related

“By the general election in May 2010, it was becoming clear that the WCA was getting too many decisions wrong. Unfortunately, the new Conservative-led government was so unmoved by these failings that Iain Duncan Smith ordered that the number of assessments be increased. So while assessments had previously been restricted to new applications for ESA, in November 2010 Atos started to put all 2.2 million existing incapacity benefit claimants through the WCA.

Unsurprisingly things did not improve – many people who were genuinely unable to work were still being declared as fit to do so, and there is now a backlog of more than 700,000 claimants awaiting an assessment. These delays not only cause financial hardship – they also often exacerbate people’s existing physical and mental health conditions.”Sheila Gilmore.

New ‘fit for work’ contract will not be fit for purpose

14533697838_dffcc736f2_o (1)With thanks to Robert Livingstone for his brilliant art work