Damien Lawler, who had a generous nature and a heart of gold. (Image: Karen Lawler)
Last year on 19 July, Karen Lawler found her son Damien, aged 34, dead at his flat in Newtown Court, Hull.
Damien killed himself after struggling to find work and his social security support – Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) was due to be stopped. Known as ‘Damo’ to his family, he was found dead in his flat, east Hull, flat with a suicide note in his hand.
In the note, he wrote that he felt like a “hindrance” and “couldn’t carry on anymore” after having no success for the numerous job applications he had made. He also wrote that his ESA was due to be cancelled, and he was so terrified about being put on Jobseeker’s Allowance he was experiencing “stupid” panic attacks.
He wrote: “I’m sorry for all the pain and heartache I’m leaving behind. I love you with all my heart but I can’t carry on anymore.”
Damien’s mother, Karen Lawler, spoke of her heartache and described her son as someone “with a heart of gold”. She said: “He never had much money but he would always give his last penny or his last cigarette to a homeless person on the street. He always had a care for the homeless.”
“He had a wicked sense of humour and a heart of gold. He would do anything for anybody.”
Lawler, who found her son after letting herself into his home on July 19, 2018, said her son had been suffering depression for a number of years, and said more needed to be done to support people with mental health issues. She said: “Damo was just so tired and exhausted with it all.
“There was not enough support for him.
“There’s just nothing there. He’s not the only one. The recent cases with males in Hull is going sky high because they can’t cope anymore.”
An inquest on Tuesday heardMs Lawler took her son to his GP in November 2013 after he deliberately self-harmed, using a Stanley knife to cut off his toe nails. He was prescribed with anti-depressants but his mental health difficulties took a turn for the worse in 2017.
During a visit to his GP in January 2018, Damien revealed he had thoughts of self-harm and suicide. He was advised to return to the surgery for further consultation, but he did not follow through with the appointments.
Many people who are ill and struggling find it very difficult to keep appointments, especially when they face difficulties accessing acute services for help. Many need immediate help to follow from the first appointment, because by that time, they are in crisis. But all too often, people in terrible distress, with suicide ideation, are being told they must attend yet another appointment.
This system sets up a bureaucratic wall, placing an all too often insurmountable barrier between citizens in the greatest need – those least ability to cope with navigating the wall – and the services and support they need to access.
We must also question the decision toend Damien’s ESA award, when he was so clearly ill and unfit for work. We must challenge a system that leaves people feeling as if they are some kind of ‘burden’ simply because they are ill.
“There needs to be something there if they do not turn up for any appointments,” said Ms Lawler. “They cannot just discharge someone. They need to try and find out why they have not come to the appointment. Maybe contacting a next of kin or something.
She added: “I don’t know what the answer is and I don’t suppose there is an easy answer but something needs to be changed. Something has got to change in Hull, it really has.”
I agree. Something has to change. The social security and health care systems no longer function to meet fundamental human needs. Instead they have been redesigned to provide as little support as possible at the lowest costs, while a host of private companies make profits at citizens’ expense.
The Coroner, James Hargan, returned a verdict of suicide.
If you need help
Please, please talk to someone.
Samaritans (116 123)samaritans.orgoperates a 24-hour service available every day of the year. If you prefer to write down how you’re feeling, or if you’re worried about being overheard on the phone, you can email Samaritans email@example.com, write to Freepost RSRB-KKBY-CYJK, PO Box 9090, STIRLING, FK8 2SA and visit http://www.samaritans.org find your nearest branch.
CALM (0800 58 58 58) thecalmzone.net has a helpline is for men who are down or have hit a wall for any reason, who need to talk or find information and support. They’re open 5pm to midnight, 365 days a year.
Childline (0800 1111 ) runs a helpline for children and young people in the UK. Calls are free and the number won’t show up on your phone bill.
PAPYRUS (0800 068 41 41) is a voluntary organisation supporting teenagers and young adults who are feeling suicidal.
Depression Alliance is a charity for people with depression. It doesn’t have a helpline, but offers a wide range of useful resources and links to other relevant information depressionalliance.org
Students Against Depression is a website for students who are depressed, have a low mood or are having suicidal thoughts. Bullying UK is a website for both children and adults affected by bullying studentsagainstdepression.org
You can also contact me on this site any time, too. I’m a good and experienced listener. I can also signpost people to organisations that can help.
I don’t make any money from my work. I 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 affected by the Conservative’s welfare ‘reforms’. The smallest amount is much appreciated – thank you.
The government spend a lot of time denying that their welfare policies have any harmful consequences on citizens’ lives. However, an outspoken Conservative minister has remarkably all but admitted that policy choices by the Conservatives are at least partly responsible for record levels of homelessness and rough sleeping, particularly those policies related to Housing Benefit.
The Housing Secretary, James Brokenshire (pictured above), has admitted that policies may have “played a role” in rising levels of homelessness. He made the confession in an interview published on the Politico website on Christmas Eve, in an apparent U-turn on his previous comments, in which he insisted that austerity is not to blamefor the current homelessness epidemic.
In an interview with the Guardian, Brokenshire had previously dismissed claims that government policies, including cuts to social security benefits, are fueling the rise in the numbers of households who are subjected to eviction orders and extreme poverty.
But in his latest interview, Brokenshire accepted that the UK government “need to ask ourselves some very hard questions” about policy choices and how those choices have impacted on some of the poorest members of society.
This apparent rethink follows the tragic death of rough sleeper Gyula Remes, who collapsed and died just yards from the Houses of Parliament, prompting a Labour MP to tweet: “There is something rotten in Westminster when MPs walk past dying homeless people on their way to work.”
Brokenshire had previously argued that record levels of homelessness seen in the last five years are a result of a “combination of concerning elements in terms of addiction, family breakdown issues”.
Generally, government ministers respond to legitimate concerns raised regarding the harmful consequences of their programme of social security cuts by either blaming those affected; citing some assumed personal failing or character deficit, circumstantial events or attitudinal barriers, or they accuse those voicing concerns and citing case examples of negative policy impacts as “scaremongers”.
Yet the government’s own data shows that since 2014, the loss of a private tenancy has been the biggest cause of homelessness in England. According to research by Generation Rent, 94% of this rise can be blamed on ‘no-fault evictions’, which have more than doubled since 2010. The precariousness of private sector tenancies, combined with a chronic shortage of social housing, punitive welfare reforms and successive years of cuts to homelessness prevention services, have created a ‘perfect storm.’
When asked by Politico, however, if Government policies have attributed to rising levels of homelessness, Brokenshire admitted: “We do have to look and reflect on ourselves as to the increase.
“Yes there are other factors that are relevant here, but we have to look at the policy.”
We have to ask ourselves “some very hard questions … for example in relation to the introduction of changes to welfare”, he added, and also “whether we’ve done enough [to mitigate the damages].”
Although Brokenshire has appeared to shrug off any suggestion that government policies since 2010 might be to blame, on the Today programme over the Christmas holidays, former Chancellor George Osborne went much further and insisted austerity – which included brutal cuts to welfare payments, local authority budgets, public health spending, the police, other public services and the ministry of justice – has played no part whatsoever.
In the exclusiveinterview with Politico, Brokenshire says: “The death of 43-year-old Gyula Remes came as a shock in Westminster, where workers have got used to walking past up to half a dozen homeless people every day.
“It’s a stark reminder that what we’re talking about is individual lives.”
Brokenshire added: “I share the feelings that everybody has, of shock and distress in knowing this individual had lost his life.”
He is reluctant to comment on the specific case – a Westminster Council review is underway – but insists that accommodation had previously been offered to all the people sleeping rough.
“There’d been a lot of help and support offered. Offers of accommodation had been made. Some people had taken them up … [But] it’s a fact that in a number of cases, the roof over the head may well be there but for a number of reasons the rough sleeper may not be willing to take up that help.
“It is certainly not from my perspective saying they are somehow to blame, as some have tried to portray this as — that is profoundly not what I am saying. It’s about compassion and support … It’s complicated because of some of the real challenges of mental health and addiction.”
The first ever official figures on the number of homeless people who have tragically died were recently published by the Office for National Statistics (ONS).
The figures reveal that nearly 600 homeless people died in 2017, with more than half of those deaths attributed to alcohol, drug abuse, or suicide.
Ben Humberstone, head of health analysis at the ONS, said: “What’s striking about these figures is how different they are to the general population – 55% of the deaths of homeless people are related to drugs, suicide or alcohol, also known as the diseases of despair, compared to just 3% of deaths from these causes among the general population.”
However, we must not conflate causes with effects. The statistical data does not tell us whether those 55% of deaths – related to substance misuse or suicide – would have happened had the citizens concerned not been pushed into destitution, or whether poor mental health and substance misuse contributed to people becoming homeless in the first place. Government statistics show that private sector tenancies coming to an end are the leading cause of homelessness, coupled with low wages and cuts to welfare and delays in payments, leading to insurmountable rent arrears, in both public and private sector housing.
Previously, Brokenshire is on record denying that government cuts have created the spike in homelessness statistics, saying: “I don’t see it in those terms.” He said. “I see it as a combination of concerning elements in terms of addiction, family breakdown issues. The thing that struck me over recent months in speaking to some of the LGBT charities in terms of young people, because of their sexuality, being thrown out of home.”
Labour’s Shadow Housing Minister Melanie Onn MP said: “These figures are utterly shameful and reflect a complete failure of Conservative policy on housing, which has seen rough sleeping skyrocket since 2010.
“We are one of the richest countries in the world and there is no excuse for people dying on our streets.
“Labour will provide £100m to ensure that everyone has shelter when it becomes dangerously cold.
“We will end rough sleeping within five years to ensure that everyone has a place to call home.”
The Conservatives reiterated their pledge to eradicate rough sleeping by 2027. Brokenshire said that work was under way with the Work and Pensions Secretary, Amber Rudd, to “assess where problems were”.
Brokenshire also revealed that although he personally does not give money to homeless people, he said he buys the Big Issue when he can.
I don’t make any money from my work, and often struggle to get by. If you like, you can help by making a donation to help me continue to research and write informative, insightful and independent articles, and to provide support to others affected by the welfare reforms.
Last yearI wrote an articleabout 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. The government’s aim is to ‘deter’ a ‘culture of dependency’ (a debunked myth) by undermining any sense of security people may have of fulfilling their most basic needs. Welfare support is extremely conditional, precarious and punitive, because it is founded on traditional and appalling Conservative prejudices about poor people.
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 having basic needs. If employment were genuinely ‘the route out of poverty’, as the government claim, why is it that most people who need social security support are in work?
Then there are the additional concerns about how the government treats those citizens who are too ill to work. The Conservatives simply refuse to believe them or their doctors.
The Labour MP added yesterday in parliament: “This government’s policies have created a hostile environment causing grave violations on disabled people.”
The entire assessment process has established a system marked by assuming disabled people are somehow faking their disability or illness. It’s a case of “remove people’s support first, they can appeal later”. Once they have got through mandatory review and struggling without any income, that is. (To date, two-thirds of appeals are won by claimants. This is despite the legal aid cuts, which mean disabled people appealing their rejection for support are denied any legal support in a staggering 99% of cases.)
Outrageously, Newton said it’s “not true” that disabled people face a hostile environment.” She also asked the opposition not to say “things” that they “know are not true”.
But disabled people in the UK know that it IS true.
Basically Newton was inviting the Labour party to collaborate in gaslighting disabled people, as well as attempting to stifle genuine concerns, democratic dialogue and avoid any democratic accountability whatsoever. Absolutely shameful, authoritarian behaviour.
The United Nations (UN) and the Equalities and Human Rights Commission have already verified the truth of these statements, presented by Labour shadow ministers, disability charities and disabled people.
However, the Conservatives have a track record of denying empirical findings that don’t match their ideological expectations. They simply deny and dismiss any criticism of their prejudiced and discriminatory policies. Damian Green, the Work and Pensions Secretary at the time of the UN inquiry report, famously claimed that cuts to support for disabled people did “not necessarily mean worse outcomes.”
If the Conservatives genuinely believed that were true, they wouldn’t have such a problem in ensuring very wealthy people paid a fair amount of tax more generally. Apparently, money matters only to the rich. Cuts to their income must be avoided at all costs. And it does cost some of society’s most marginalised citizens, leaving us vulnerable.
Those in the work-related Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) group have already seen their support brutally cut to fund tax cuts for the wealthy. Personal Independent Payment (PIP) was introduced to cut costs, too.
The fact that disabled people are alsodying after losing their benefits is continually ignored, often dismissed by the government as ‘anecdotal evidence’, which does not ‘demonstrate a ‘causal link’ between increased, preventable mortality and government policy”.
My own experiences of the Conservatives hostile environment
As a disabled person who has gone through three ESA assessments, and more recently, a PIP assessment, a mandatory review and tribunal, I can verify that the Conservatives’ policies have created a hostile and harmful environment for disabled people. When I went through the ESA assessment in 2011, I was already gravely ill with a severe lupus flare. I was forced to leave a job I loved in 2010.
By then I had worked with the illness as long as I possibly could. I became ill with lupus in 1998. The illness is chronic, progressive and is characterised by periods of acute illness, followed by periods of relative remission. Each flare generally imposes an increasing amount of damage to joints, nerves, tendons, organs and blood cells, as the disease progresses, causing myriad symptoms that vary over time, and from person to person.
Unbelievably, despite being so ill, I scored zero points at the assessment and the stress of having to fight for a means to live exacerbated my illness. I won an appeal nine months later. In the meantime I was placed on a work programme that I couldn’t possibly undertake. The disability advisor I saw at the job centre told me she could see I was unfit for work.
Just three months following the appeal, I was told I must attend another assessment. By this time I was so poorly that I collapsed at the interview. The Atos doctor told me I should never have been sent for another assessment. I was on chemotherapy treatment at the time, which ought to have exempted me, as should the tribunal outcome just a couple of months previously. The initial Atos report, presented to the court, was clearly about someone else’s life and conditions. The tribunal said that working would place me at unacceptable risk.
I also ensured the assessment was recorded the second time, so little was my trust of the fairness and rationality of the process. Or the honesty and integrity of Atos’s ‘health care professionals’. At the second assessment, I saw a doctor, who sent me home in a taxi, Atos actually paid for it. He also recommended that I was placed in the Support Group.
It was two years before my treatment stopped the aggressive advance of my illness, which also leaves a wake of progressive damage to bones, joints, tendons, nerves, blood cells, major organs and my immune system – causing further disability. My rheumatologist is sure the severe stress of assessment and appeal, coupled with the financial hardship I experienced, exacerbated my flare. By 2013 I was still very frail, and weighed less than seven stones, despite feeling less acutely ill.
The experience was so distressing for me that I could not face going through a PIP assessment, despite the fact that I needed the additional support. I put off claiming until last year, when I needed aids and appliances in my home just to manage day-to-day tasks like taking a shower and cooking. The occupational therapist from my local council helped me with my claim. By this time I desperately needed the additional support.
The PIP assessment was dehumanising and degrading and the ‘examination’ included movements that left me in a lot of severe pain, reducing my mobility further, substantially. Some of my joints were badly swollen by the evening, following my appointment, including both shoulders and knees. I was asked to do movements I wasn’t familiar with, and it isn’t until you try them that you find you cannot actually bend or reach that way. The movements were also done in quick succession. I was trembling with the effort and complained I was in pain. When I refused to do a squat, I was asked why. I explained that I simply couldn’t do it. I have arthritis in both hips and lower spine, both of my wrists and shoulders won’t take any weight and had I fallen backwards, I risked breaking a wrist, as I also have early onset osteoporosis because of my illness.
People should not be leaving assessments in a worse condition than when they arrived for them.
I made a formal complaint, but was fobbed off by the person carrying out the investigation, who simply concluded that as he ‘wasn’t in the room at the time’ of the assessment and so could neither verify nor negate my ‘allegations’. It took him four pages to say that.
I was just one point short of an enhanced PIP award. The reasoning on the assessment report for denying me a point for cognitive difficulties was that I had a degree (1996, Master’s in 2007), worked as a social worker (until 2010, when I became too ill to work) and a driving licence in 2003. I have been unable to drive since 2005 because of flicker induced seizures. Clearly the idea that an illness that prevents me from continuing in work, which is also well-known for causing neurological illness, has led to increasing cognitive difficulties since 2009 isn’t acceptable to PIP assessors, who wanted to keep my award as low as possible.
The DWP didn’t even bother writing to let me know the outcome of my mandatory review. Throughout the process, from the first ESA assessment to the last PIP assessment, I was treated as though I was somehow a burden, rather than being supported.
Newton claimed yesterday that the opposition’s comments are “dangerous”and “deter” people who need support from claiming it. What utter tosh. It is government policies that are dangerous, and that have created a series of ordeals in the assessment process, designed to weight the assessments towards permitting the DWP to refuse people support.
I needed PIP in 2011, but my experience of ESA assessment was so devastating that I was deterred from claiming PIP until I was absolutely desperate, last year. I simply could not face risking my health even further with another assessment, unless I absolutely had no choice. That last assessment also caused an exacerbation of my illness and injury to my already damaged joints and tendons.
How dare Newton tell such hard faced, deplorable lies.
She went on to say: “We have very strong protections for people with disabilities in our country.”
Newton even had the cheek to cite Labour’s Equality Act as a ‘protection’ for disabled people, as if it was the Conservatives who designed this policy. This is the same Act that this government has violated over and over because of their welfare ‘reforms’ and austerity programme.
Those protections were brought about by the last Labour government, which also included the Human Rights Act, as well as Labour signing the UK up to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) – an international human rights treaty intended to protect the rights and dignity of persons with disabilities.
The established human rights and equality frameworks have been methodically ignored by this government, who decided to target disabled people with a significantly disproportionate burden of their ideological austerity programme. The UN found that the Conservatives’ treatment of disabled people gravely and systematically violates our human rights. The evidence gathered by the UN came from disabled people’s accounts (including mine) and those of disability organisations and charities.
This is a government that has systematically marginalised disabled people economically socially and politically, sidestepping human rights and equality legal frameworks. Apparently the government doesn’t regard democratic accountability to disabled people as particularly important. Instead, ministers simply lie and deny other people’s experiences and accounts.
Newton also shamefully suggested people losing their motability cars should complain to the Motability charity – not the government. It’s not the charity that are creating a hostile environmen for disabled people, carrying out assessments that are absolutely unfit for purpose. This government simply refuse to accept any responsibility for the consequences of their own actions. History has taught us that such right wing authoritarian governments are very, very dangerous.
How dare this minister deny and dismiss the accounts of disabled people – those directly affected by her government’s draconian policies. How dare she call other people ‘liars’ while she stood there lying in parliament. She seems to have forgotten that disabled people have the same democratic right as other groups to hold a dialogue with the government, but instead we have patronising and vindictive ministers telling us their punitive and authoritarian policies aren’t causing us any harm or distress. We say they are and we are told by this manipulative, gaslighting liar that it is we that are ‘lying’.
Newton presented us with despicable and manipulative gaslighting tactics used by bullies, psychopaths and despots. When Newton claims that the opposition are telling ‘untruths’, she is also accusing those of us who have suffered because of her governments wretched and punitive policies. She then goes on with hard faced cheek to ‘condemn the condemners’*(see below for outline of techniques of neutralisation):
“I honestly ask all members opposite, please do not use this language of hostile environment. It is simply not the case.
“And the very people that need all of our support are put off from seeking it and coming forward.
“Really, I would ask them to stop saying things which they know are not true.”
The Conservatives talk a lot about “evidence-based policy”, but they don’t walk the talk. An overwhelming weight of evidence has highlighted the cruel, draconian effects of the Tories’ social polices to date. The government have simply chosen to deny and ignore it.
Clearly the government is committed to trying it on by paying people (from their OWN contributions) as little as they can possibly get away with from the public fund. Perish the thought that public paying taxes towards public services may actually want to use those public services at some point in their lives. Yet the government irrationally insists that the cuts are “to provide tax payers with value for money.”
There IS NO discrete group of tax payers that never use public services, who are simply paying for “other peoples'” support. Everyone pays tax, including those claiming welfare support. Most people claiming support have worked, many needing support are actually IN work. Furthermore, as employment has become increasingly precarious, many move in and out of employment, through no fault of their own.
The “value for the tax payer” spin is simply a divisive strategy – a political game of “us and them” that is used to justify punitive policies which target some groups, while the deliberate scapegoating of those groups serves to de-empathise the public to their loss of support, increasing vulnerability and distress.
Deliberately cutting money from disabled peoples’ crucial lifeline support can hardly be described as providing “value for money” nor is it “fair” and “supportive”. This consistent response and denial from a government of liars indicates quite clearly that the cuts were always intentional on the part of the government.
The gaslighting, denial and dismissal by Newton and her Conservative colleagues indicates a deliberately prejudiced, vicious attack on a significant minority of the population, which this Orwellian government clearly have absolutely no intention of stopping or putting right any time soon.
— * Techniques of neutralisation:
Used to switch off the conscience when someone plans or has done something to cause harm to others.
They identified the following psychological techniques by which, they believed, delinquents justified their illegitimate actions, and Alexander Alverez further identified these methods used at a socio-political level in Nazi Germany to“justify” the Holocaust:
1. Denial of responsibility. The offender(s) will propose that they were victims of circumstance or were forced into situations beyond their control.
2. Denial of harm and injury. The offender insists that their actions did not cause any harm or damage.
3. Denial of the victim. The offender believes that the victim deserved whatever action the offender committed. Or they may claim that there isn’t a victim.
4. Condemnation of the condemners. The offenders maintain that those who condemn their offence are doing so purely out of spite, ‘scaremongering’ or they are shifting the blame from themselves unfairly.
5. Appeal to higher loyalties. The offender suggests that his or her offence was for the ‘greater good’, with long term consequences that would justify their actions, such as protection of a social group/nation, or benefits to the economy/ social group/nation.
6. Disengagement and Denial of Humanity is a category that Alverez added to the techniques formulated by Sykes and Matza because of its special relevance to the Holocaust. Nazi propaganda portrayed Jews and other non-Aryans as subhuman. A process of social division, scapegoating and dehumanisation was explicitly orchestrated by the government. This also very clearly parallels Gordon Allport’s work on explaining how prejudice arises, how it escalates, often advancing by almost inscrutable degrees, pushing at normative and moral boundaries until the unthinkable becomes tenable. This stage on thescale of social prejudicemay ultimately result in genocide.
Any one of these six techniques may serve to encourage violence by neutralising thenorms against prejudice and aggression to the extent that when they are all implemented together, as they apparently were under the Nazi regime, a society can seemingly forget its normative rules, moral values and laws in order to engage in wholesale prejudice, discrimination, exclusion of citizens, hatred and ultimately, in genocide.
In accusing citizens and the opposition of ‘scaremongering’, the Conservatives are denying responsibility for the consequences of their policies, denying harm, denying distress; denying the victims and condemning the condemners.
Meanwhile, for many of us, the government’s approach to social security has become random, controlling and an unremitting, Orwellian trial.
Read some of the accounts of other disabled people who have also faced the Conservative’s hostile environment and social security ordeals:
I don’t make any money from my work. I am disabled because of illness and have a very limited income. But you can help by making a donation to help me continue to research and write informative, insightful and independent articles, and to provide support to others. The smallest amount is much appreciated – thank you.
A research report published on Tuesday by the homeless charity St Mungo’s shows that four out of five (80%) rough sleepers who died in the capitol in 2017 had mental health needs, a huge increase from three in 10 (29%) in 2010. The rise in deaths of rough sleepers with mental health problems have risen sharply over the last seven years, prompting concern that specialist services are not reaching those who need them.
The number of people sleeping rough has risen by 169% since 2010. Last year in England more than 4,700 people slept rough on any one night, and a far larger number experienced rough sleeping during the course of the year.
The charity is calling on the prime minister to take urgent action to prevent more people dying on the streets and ensure that the deaths are not ignored. The charity says the government need to invest more in specialist support, as NHS services are “severely overstretched”. this could sometimes be overlooked. Petra Salva, director of St Mungo’s rough sleeping services, said:
“This is a scandal and something the government needs to recognise and do more about … there should be more funds and support for these groups but instead they have been cut over the years and that correlates in these people stuck living on the streets … these deaths are preventable.”
He added: “The rise is because rough sleepers with mental health support needs end up sleeping rough and the help isn’t there and when it is there it is not quick enough … access to help and support is getting harder and so the prevalence of death … is increasing.”
The report said “Research carried out by St Mungo’s showed that only 32% of the areas where 10 or more people are sleeping rough on any one night commission mental health services actively targeting people sleeping rough.”
The report also featured a survey of dozens of street outreach workers and 63% said they were aware of someone who had died while sleeping rough in their local authority area last year. However, only 23% had experienced a review being carried out.
“With access to vital emergency accommodation and support services getting harder and harder, it is unsurprising that the number people dying on the streets is rising. Urgent action to provide rapid relief from rough sleeping is needed to turn this around,” the report stated.
Having a mental health problem can create the circumstances which can cause a person to become homeless in the first place. Yet poor housing or homelessness can also increase the chances of developing a mental health problem, or exacerbate an existing condition. In turn, this can make it even harder for that person to recover. It also makes it very challenging to develop good mental health, to secure stable housing, to find or maintain a job, to stay physically healthy and to maintain relationships.
The figures come amid concern about the growing number of homeless deaths and the lack of reviews into what has led to them. Out of the hundreds of deaths that have occurred in recent years, reports suggest only eight have resulted in a review.
The Guardian and the Bureau of Investigative Journalists revealed earlier this year that 340 homeless people died on the streets or in temporary accommodation in the last six years, surging from 32 in 2013 to 78 in 2017. A further 59 deaths have been recorded so far this year, already more than the whole of 2016.
In the capital, the only place where a local authority records homeless deaths, 158 people died between 2010 and 2017, an average of one death a fortnight.
Experts and campaigners have warned that without official records, counts and reviews, it’s impossible to determine why so many homeless people are dying and design and take effective action to prevent future deaths.
Howard Sinclair, the St Mungo’s chief executive, said: “This is nothing short of a national scandal. These deaths are premature and entirely preventable.”
Sinclair said that he welcomed the government Homeless Rduction Act set out by Sajid Javid to reduce the number of people sleeping rough.
Though he added: “The forthcoming strategy presents a vital opportunity to make sure no one else dies as a result of sleeping rough. We are calling on the prime minister to follow through on her commitment to end rough sleeping by making sure all parts of the public sector play their part, especially the health, justice and welfare systems.”
The Homelessness Reduction Act received Royal Assent in April 2017 and will commence in April 2018. The Act places a new duty on local authorities to help prevent the homelessness of all families and single people, regardless of priority need, who are eligible for assistance and threatened with homelessness.
Matt Downie, director of policy and external affairs at Crisis, said: “In 21st-century Britain, nobody should be dying on our streets, especially when there is clear evidence to show that rough sleeping – and all forms of homelessness – can be ended.
“Homelessness is a devastating experience. People sleeping on our streets – who are experiencing the most visible form of homelessness – are exposed to everything from sub-zero temperatures, to violence, to debilitating illnesses. And all of these dangers puts them at serious risk of death.”
Back in 2016, Theresa May unveiled the £40 million package designed to prevent homelessness by intervening to help individuals and families before they ‘end up on the streets.’ It was claimed that the ‘shift’ in government policy will move the focus away from dealing with the consequences of homelessness and place prevention ‘at the heart’ of the Prime Minister’s approach. I criticised the approach at the time, as it was framed with a narrative of individualism, and was based on a considerable degree of political prejudice regarding the causes of homelessness, which positioned citizen ‘decision-making’ as a key factor.
The Conservatives fail or refuse to recognise that many problems in wider society arise as a consequence of a prejudiced ideology that shapes political decision making, and that contributes significantly towards homelessness. These structural causes include a lack of affordable housing; high levels of poverty, low wages, the high cost of living, unemployment and underemployment; welfare cuts, punitive sanctions and problems with the way benefits system operates. Also, the way that social housing is rationed has a direct impact on levels of homelessness.
In 2016, Sajid Javid, then Communities Secretary, announced that the Government will support reforms to England’s anti-homelessness laws and strengthen local authority duties to prevent people becoming homeless. But local authorities are already struggling to meet their statutory obligations because of years of underfunding because of the Conservatives’ ideological austerity.
The Homelessness Reduction Bill – a private member’s bill put forward by Conservative MP Bob Blackman – will place a duty on local authorities to help eligible people at risk of homelessness to secure accommodation, 56 days before they are threatened with eviction. However, councils have already expressed their concerns regarding delayed government code of guidance and funding on the Homelessness Reduction Act.
Announcing the Government’s support of the bill, Javid said: “No one should have to sleep rough on the streets. We want to build a country that works for everyone, not just the privileged few. That’s why we are determined to do all we can to help those who lose their homes and provide them with the support they need to get their lives back on track.
“This Government is therefore, very pleased to support Bob Blackman MP’s Private Members Bill, with its ambitious measures to help reduce homelessness.”
Blackman, the Conservative MP for Harrow East, said he welcomed the Government’s decision. He added: “Throughout my 24 years in local government prior to becoming an MP, I saw the devastation that can be caused by homelessness first hand, with too many people simply slipping through the net under the current arrangements.
“By backing this bill, the Government is demonstrating its commitment to an agenda of social justice and also shows that it is willing to listen. I look forward to working with Ministers going forward in order to bring about this important change in legislation.”
The 2013 annual State of the Nation report by the charities Crisis and Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) revealed that the number sleeping rough had risen by six per cent in England that year, and by 13 per cent in London. There has been a 10 per cent increase in those housed temporarily, including a 14 per cent rise in the use of bed and breakfast accommodation.
Writing just a year after the highly controversial Welfare Reform Act was ushered through the legislative process on the back of Cameron’s claim to the “financial privilege” of the Commons , the JRF report authors explicitly blamed the Government’s welfare cuts for compounding the problems caused by the high cost and shortage of housing as demand outstripped supply. The researchers found found that the cap on housing benefit made it more difficult to rent from a private landlord, especially in London, and claimed the controversial “bedroom tax” has caused a sharp rise in arrears for people in public housing, particularly in the Midlands and North.
A separate survey by Inside Housing magazine showed that councils and housing associations are increasingly resorting to the threat of eviction, as the loss of an adequate social security safety net is causing increasing hardship for social housing tenants. The reduction of council tax benefit for people who were previously exempt from paying council tax has also contributed significantly to experiences of material hardship, too.
Ministers have emphatically denied that their reforms have contributed to the return of homelessness. However, homelessness has now risen in each of the years since the Tory-led coalition was formed – after falling sharply in the previous six years, and has continued to rise rapidly, since.
The government’s welfare policies have emerged as the biggest single trigger for homelessness now the economy has allegedly recovered, and are likely to increase pressure on households for the next few years, with the new benefit cap increasing the strain, according to the independent research findings in the HomelessnessMonitor 2015, the annual independent audit, published by Crisis and the Joseph Rowntree Foundation.
The Homelessness Monitor study 2015 found:
Housing benefit caps and shortages of social housing has led to homeless families increasingly being placed in accommodation outside their local area, particularly in London. Out-of-area placements rose by 26% in 2013-14, and account for one in five of all placements.
Welfare reforms such as the bedroom tax contributed to an 18% rise in repossession actions by social landlords in 2013-14, a trend expected to rise as arrears increase and temporary financial support shrink
Housing benefit cuts played a large part in the third of all cases of homelessness last year caused by landlords ending a private rental tenancy, and made it harder for those who lost their home to be rehoused.
The study said millions of people are experiencing precarious circumstances because of “hidden homelessness”, including families forced by financial circumstances to live with other families in the same house, and people categorised as “sofa surfers” who sleep on friends’ floors or sofas because they have nowhere to live.
At the same time, the Department for Work and Pensions also announced that it was cutting funding for homeless hostels and supported housing for disabled people by reducing supported housing benefit rent payments for three years. The homelessness reduction bill in the current policy context is yet another example of how Conservatives don’t seem to manage coherent, joined up thinking.
Howard Sinclair, the chief executive of the homelessness charity St Mungo’s, said the cut would leave the homeless charity with £3 million a year less to spend on services.
“The rent reduction will threaten the financial viability of some of our hostels and other supported housing schemes and offers no direct benefit to vulnerable tenants who mostly rely on housing benefit to cover their housing costs,” he said.
It’s just not good enough that the Government simply attempts to manipulate and colonise progressive rhetoric, claiming they ‘stand for social justice’, when they very clearly don’t walk the talk.
Conservative neoliberal “small state” anti-welfare policies are increasing homelessness. The bedroom tax, council tax benefit reductions, housing benefit reductions, welfare caps, sanctions, the deregulation of private sector, the selling off and privatising of social housing stock have all contributed to the current crisis of homelessness.
It was particularly remarkable that May claimed the government are “doing the right thing for social justice” yet the Conservative policy framework is, by its very design, inevitably adding to the precariousness of the situations those people with the least financial security are in.
Affordable, accessible and safe accommodation brings stability and security; provides a gateway to access health services like GPs; enhances social and community inclusion; and provides the basis for the right to private and family life. A home is vital for good mental and physical health, allowing people to live in safety, security, peace and dignity.
Currently there is no such ‘right to housing’ in itself, however, the right to an adequate standard of living, including housing, is recognised in the UN Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.
Of course, there are numerous factors which can cause people to become homeless, many of which are beyond individual control, such as lack of affordable housing, disability and poverty. But what really needs to be highlighted is the two-way relationship between homelessness and mental health.
Government policies haven’t worked because they overlook the obvious. Despite Theresa May’s claims, the government tends to simply address the effects and not the real causes of homelessness. Unless the government actually address the growing inequality, poverty and profound insecurity that their own policies have created, then homelessness and absolute poverty will continue to increase.
You can help a homeless person by contacting Streetlink. (Click) When a rough sleeper is reported via the Streetlink app, or by phone – telephone number 0300-500 0914.
The details you provide are sent to the local authority concerned, so they can help connect the person to local services and support. You will also receive an update on what action was taken so you’ll know if the situation was resolved. StreetLink aims to offer the public a means to act when they see someone sleeping rough, and is the first step someone can take to ensure rough sleepers are connected to the local services and support available to them.
I write voluntarily, to do the best I can to raise awareness of political and social issues. In particular I research and write about how policy impacts on citizen wellbeing and human rights.
I don’t make any money from my work. I am disabled and don’t have any paid employment. But you can contribute by making a donation and help me continue to research and write informative, insightful and independent articles, and to provide support to others. The smallest amount is much appreciated – thank you.
Committee Chair Frank Field MP calls evidence submitted to the Committee by Halton Housing Trust the “most damning” he has ever read on what he describes as Department for Work and Pensions “maladministration.”
Food bank referrals double
The Halton Trust has accumulated over £400,000 of arrears as a direct result of the rollout of Full Service Universal Credit. This means that just 18% of its tenants owe 55% of all its arrears. Over the last 12 months the number of referrals the Trust has made to local food banks has more than doubled.
The Trust reports on the frequent wrong categorisation of benefit claimants’ eligibility for Advance Payments while Universal Credit is being processed.
In a sample of 1,252 tenants the Trust found that the majority of claimants were eligible for a Benefit Transfer Advance as they were moving from a so-called legacy benefit (like Jobseeker’s Allowance) onto Universal Credit. This is paid back during the first 12months of a Universal Credit claim.
Advance payments issues
Those claimants who were offered Advance Payments were offered a New Claims Advance that had to be paid back within 6 months: the submission details the even bigger financial problems this caused for families. In addition, the evidence reports:
The Department for Work and Pensions refuses to amend the recovery period of the Advance Payment, from 6 months to 12 months, even in the instances where they acknowledge that the claimants should have had a Benefit Transfer Advance.
Recovery of the Advance Payment commences immediately with the first Universal Credit payment. This means claimants are continuously playing catch up and are instantly put in debt when the repayment is deducted.
As the Advance Payment of either kind are recovered directly from the Universal Credit award, they are being given priority over other essential/actual priority outgoings.
When Advanced Payments have been provided there is a lack of any explanation to the customer that this includes a personal allowance and housing cost element. In many cases customers are unsure as to what the money they are receiving is for or what the levels of Advance will be.
Personal budgeting advice unavailable
Despite the Department for Work and Pensions advertising the availability of personal budgeting advice:
Halton Housing Trust found that this advice was not available to the vast majority of applicants. This is despite it being an essential element for many applicants at the start of the Universal Credit application process.
Local Authorities have been awarded funding to offer Personal Budgeting Support. Despite this, the number of referrals made by the Department locally in Halton has been very low.
Lack of coordinated approach
Further examples cited by the Trust include:
Many employers choose to pay their employees early before the Christmas period. The Universal Credit regulations consider this as an increase in income and not an early payment. This triggers a review of their claim, with no payments being made until the end of the subsequent month (January).
A lack of coordinated approach between the NHS and DWP. The Trust has recently supported a tenant who received a £50 fine for ticking the “JSA” box on a prescription form, because the form has not been updated with a “Universal Credit” option for receiving free prescriptions, and there are no plans to do so
The Universal Credit application prompts a cessation of Healthy Start vouchers if the claimants were previously in receipt along with their legacy benefit. The Healthy Start system does not yet recognise Full Service Universal Credit.
‘Throwing claimants’ finances into chaos’
Committee Chair, Rt Hon Frank Field MP, said:
“It would be difficult to think, in all my period of Chair of the Select Committee, of a piece of evidence that is so damning on the DWP maladministration which is mangling poorer people’s lives. This maladministration is throwing Universal Credit claimants’ finances into chaos.”
A Conservative councillor has been suspended for her sneering racism and despicable prejudice regarding welfare claimants. Some media outlets have described the comments as a “joke”. It wasn’t.
Rosemary Carroll, a Conservative councillor, shared a post about a man asking for benefits for his pet dog, making offensive rascist comparisons.
She was Mayor of Pendle until last month but was suspended from her party after the post appeared on her account this week.
The local Conservative branch posted a statement about the “inappropriate post” on Facebook after the allegations came to light.
Councillor Joe Cooney, leader of the Conservatives on Pendle Council, said Councillor Rosemary Carroll was suspended pending an investigation.
The comments, which have now been deleted, compared an Asian person claiming social security support to a dog.
Speaking before the suspension was confirmed, Carroll said she had meant to delete the post but ended up publishing it “by mistake”.
Philip Mousdale, Pendle Council’s corporate director, said he received two formal complaints about the post at the time.
He said the complaints against the councillor, who represents Earby Ward, allege she had breached the council’s code of conduct.
“As monitoring officer for the council I’m looking into the complaints,” Mousdale added.
Cooney said: “We will not tolerate racism of any form. Rosemary Carroll has been suspended from the Conservative Group on Pendle Borough Council and the Conservative Party with immediate effect, pending a full investigation in due course.”
Carroll claims she planned to post an apology for her bigotry.
However, this is not an isolated incident, and the Conservatives continue to show utter contempt for both people of colour as well as people who need welfare support, as this extremely offensive post from one of their Councillors shows.
The obscene and extremely offensive original post
This isn’t a one-off, it’s how many Tories actually think
When it comes to displays of prejudice, the Conservatives have a long history. It’s no coincidence that the far right flourishes under every Tory government, from Thatcher in particular, to present day.
Racism isn’t the only traditional Conservative prejudice. Who could forget David Freud’s offensive comments, made when he was a Conservative Welfare Reform Minister, that some disabled people are “not worth the full national minimum wage”and that some “could only be paid £2 an hour.” Cameron claimed the disgraceful comments made by Lord Freud at the Tory conference do not represent the views of government.
Freud’s comments are simply a reflection of a wider implicit and fundamental Social Darwinism underpinning Tory ideology, and even Tim Montgomerie, who founded the ConservativeHome site has conceded that: “Conservative rhetoric often borders on social Darwinism […] and has lost a sense of social justice.”
David Freud was made to apologise for simply being a Tory in public.
Social Darwinism, with its brutal and uncivilising indifference to human suffering, has been resurrected from the nineteenth century and it fits so well with the current political spirit of neoliberalism. As social bonds are replaced by narcissistic, unadulterated materialism, public concerns are now understood and experienced as utterly private miseries, except when offered up to us on the Jerry Springer Show or Benefit Street as spectacle.
Conservative policies are entirely ideologically-driven. We have a government that uses words like workshy to describe vulnerable social groups. This is a government that is intentionally scapegoating poor, unemployed, disabled people, asylum seekers and migrants.
Let’s not forget Boris Johnson’s grossly racist comments describing black people as “piccaninnies” with “watermelon smiles” in the Telegraph in 2002. He only apologised when he first ran for London mayor in 2008.
And Cabinet minister Oliver Letwin also escaped disciplinary action after it was revealed that he had said black people have “bad moral attitudes”when he was a top adviser to Thatcher. He actually said that any government schemes to help black people would be wasted in “the disco and drugs trade.”
In August, 201, Dover Conservative councillor Bob Frost describes rioters as “jungle bunnies.” He lost his teaching job but the Tories suspended him for just two months. In 2014, he referred to the prospective Middle Eastern buyers of Dover port as “sons of camel drivers.” No action was taken.
In January 2013, Enfield Conservative councillor Chris Joannides compared Muslim children to black bin bags in a Facebook post. InApril 2014, Barnet councillor Tom Davey complained online about “benefit claiming scum”,and said that it might be easier to find a job if he were “a black female wheelchair-bound amputee who is sexually attracted to other women.” He was not disciplined by the party.
These are NOT “slips”, it’s patently clear that the Tories believe these beliefs and comments are acceptable, just as long as they aren’t made in public. We need only look at the discriminatory nature of policies such as the legal aid bill, the wider welfare “reforms”, the cuts aimed at disabled peoples support and services – which were unthinkable before 2010 – and to research the consequences of austerity for the most vulnerable citizens, those with the “least broad shoulders” and the least to lose – to understand that these comments reflect accurately how Conservatives actually think.
The fact that dog whistle politics – political messaging employing coded language that appears to mean one thing to the general population but has an additional, different or more specific resonance for a targeted and prejudiced subgroup, maintaining plausible deniability by avoiding overtly racist language – has been normalised by the likes of Lynton Crosby, and is intrinsic to Conservative campaigns, indicates clearly that the Conservatives want to appeal to racist groups.
Crosby created a campaign for the Conservatives with the slogan “Are you thinking what we’re thinking?”: a series of posters, billboards, TV commercials and direct mail pieces with messages like “It’s not racist to impose limits on immigration” and “how would you feel if a bloke on early release attacked your daughter?” which focused on “hot-button issues” like dirty and over-stretched hospitals, “landgrabs” by “gypsies” and restraints on police behaviour.
In the 2016 London Mayoral Election, Conservative candidate Zac Goldsmith ran a dog whistle campaign against Labour’s Sadiq Khan, playing on Khan’s Muslim faith by suggesting he would target Hindus and Sikhs with a “jewellery tax” and attempting to link him to extremists.
That this is considered acceptable behaviour by a government – who serve as public role models – is an indication of just how far our society has regressed in terms of human rights and our democratic ideals of equality and diversity. This is a government that has purposefully seeded and permitted social prejudice in order to gain support and power.
This is a government that is creating and manipulating public prejudice to justifymassive socio-economic inequalitiesand theirown policiesthat are creating a steeply hierarchical society based on social Darwinist survival of the wealthiest neoliberal “small state” ideology.
The dispossession of the majority to ensure the relentless acculation of wealth for an elitist and greedy minority.
The Tory creation of socioeconomic scapegoats, involving vicious stigmatisation of vulnerable and protected social groups, particularly endorsed by the mainstream media, is simply a means of de-empathising the population, manipulating public perceptions and securing public acceptance of the increasingly punitive and repressive basis of the Tories’ crass neoliberal welfare “reforms”, and the steady stripping away of essential state support and provision, for the public, which the public have paid for via taxes and national insurance.
At the same time that austerity was imposed on the poorest citizens, the millionaires were awarded a £107,000 each per year tax cut. It seems only some of us have to “live within our means”.
The political construction of social problems also marks an era of increasing state control of citizens with behaviour modification techniques, (under the guise of paternalistic libertarianism and behavioural economic theories), all of which are a part of the process of restricting access rights to welfare provision. Discriminatory political practices and rhetoric send out a message to the public, and that permits wider prejudice, hate speech, hate crime and discrimination.
The mainstream media has been complicit in the process of constructing deviant welfare stereotypes and in engaging prejudice and generating moral outrage from the public:
“If working people ever get to discover where their tax money really ends up, at a time when they find it tough enough to feed their own families, let alone those of workshy scroungers, then that’ll be the end of the line for our welfare state gravy train.”James Delingpole 2014.
Delingpole was a close friend of Cameron’s at university. Apparently, they would get stoned and listen to Supertramp regularly, whilst hatching their profoundly antisocial and anti-democratic obscenities. Their plot sickens.
Poverty cannot be explained away by reference to simple individualist narratives of the workshy scrounger as the likes of Delingpole claim, no matter how much he would like to apply such simplistic, blunt, stigmatising, dehumanizing labelsthat originated from the Nazis (seearbeitssheu.)
Poverty arises because of the consequence of political decisions, and structural conditions.
Climbing Allport’s ladder
Gordon Allport studied the psychological and social processes that create a society’s progression from prejudice and discrimination to genocide. In his research of how the Holocaust happened, he describes sociopolitical processes that foster increasing social prejudice and discrimination and he demonstrates how the unthinkable becomes tenable: it happens incrementally, because of a steady erosion of our moral and rational boundaries, and propaganda-driven changes in our attitudes towards politically defined others, that advances culturally, by almost inscrutable degrees.
The process always begins with political scapegoating of a social group and with ideologies that identify that group as the Other: a common“enemy” or a social “burden” in some way. A history of devaluation of the group that becomes the target, authoritarian culture, and the passivity of internal and external witnesses (bystanders) all contribute to the probability that violence against that group will develop, and ultimately, if the process is allowed to continue evolving, extermination of the group being targeted.
Economic recession, uncertainty and political systems on the authoritarian -> totalitarian spectrum contribute to shaping the social conditions that seem to trigger Allport’s escalating scale of prejudice.
In the UK, the media is certainly being used by the right-wing as an outlet for blatant political propaganda, and much of it is manifested as a pathological persuasion to hate others. The Conservatives clearly have strong authoritarian tendencies, as I have been pointing out since 2012, when the welfare “reform” act was pushed through parliament with unholy haste, with the excuse of “economic privilege”, despite the widespread opposition to that bill. The authoritarianism of the Tories is most evident in their anti-democratic approach to policy, human rights, equality, social inclusion and processes of government accountability.
Vulnerable groups are those which our established principles of social justice demand we intervene to help, support and protect. However, the Conservative’s rhetoric is aimed at a deliberate identification of citizens as having inferior behaviour.
The poorest citizens are presented as a problem group because of their individual faulty characteristics, and this is intentionally diverting attention from wider socioeconomic and political causes of vulnerability. Individual subjects experiencing hardships have been placed beyond state protection and are now the objects of policies that embody punitive and crude behaviourism, and pathologising, coercive elements of social control.
After seven years of Conservative governments, our most vulnerable citizens are no longer regarded as human subjects, they have become objects of the state, whichis acting upon them, not for or on behalf of them.
This has turned our democracy completely on its head.
It quite often isn’t until someone Carroll, Freud or Mellins push our boundaries of decency a little too far. Then we suddenly see it, and wonder how such prejudiced and discriminatory comments could be deemed acceptable and how anyone could possibly think they would get away with such blatantly offensive rhetoric without being challenged. It’s because they have got away with less blatantly offensive comments previously: it’s just that they pushed more gently and so it wasn’t obvious, we simply didn’t see.
During a debate in the House of Lords, Freud described the changing number of disabled people likely to receive the employment and support allowance as a“bulge of, effectively, stock”. After an outraged response, this was actually transcribed by Hansard as “stopped”, rendering the sentence meaningless. He is not the only person in the Department for Work and Pensions who uses this term. The website describes disabled peopleentering the government’s work programme for between three and six months as “3/6Mth stock”.
The linguistic downgrading of human life requires dehumanising metaphors: a dehumanising socio-political system using a dehumanising language, and it is becoming familiar and pervasive: it has seeped almost unnoticed into our lives.
As Allport’s scale of prejudice indicates, hate speech and incitement to genocide start from often subliminal expressions of prejudice and subtle dehumanisation, which escalate. Germany didn’t wake up one morning to find Hitler had arranged the murder of millions of people. It happened, as many knew it would, and was happening whilst they knew about it. And many opposed it, too. It still happened.
The dignity and equal worth of every human being is the axiom of international human rights. International law condemns statements which deny the equality of all human beings.
As a so-called civilised and wealthy society, so should we. It’s time we said goodbye to austerity, the right-wing politics of inequality and prejudice.
This is a government that thinks that PEOPLE are a disposable commodity – “collateral damage” of a failing neoliberal mode of organisation. People dying as a result of austerity cuts are passed off by Tory ministers as “anecdotal evidence.” The government claim there is no “provable causality” between their policies and premature deaths. Yet there is a well-established correlation, that requires further investigation, which the government has so far refused to undertake. But it is very clear that Conservative policies are driven by traditional Tory prejudices.
It really is time to say not one day more.
And never, ever again.
A Tory Brexiteer has described the UK leaving the EU without a deal as a “real n****r in the woodpile” at a meeting of eurosceptics in Central London.
Anne Marie Morris, MP for Newton Abbot since 2010, made the astonishing remark while discussing what financial services deal the UK could strike with Brussels after 2019.
The phrase she used is from the nineteenth Century, and refers to slavery. It is thought the phrase arose in reference to instances of the concealment of fugitive slaves in their flight north under piles of firewood.
The origin of the phrase is from the practice of transporting pulpwood on special railroad cars. In the era of slavery, the pulpwood cars were built with an outer frame with the wood being stacked inside in rows and stacks. Given the nature of the cars, it was possible to smuggle persons in the pile itself, giving rise to the phrase.
In July 2008, the leader of the British Conservative Party, David Cameron, was urged to sack Conservative peer Lord Dixon-Smith, who said in the House of Lords that concerns about government housing legislation were “the n***er in the woodpile”. Dixon-Smith said the phrase had “slipped out without my thinking”, and that “It was common parlance when I was younger”
Despite using the racist term, none of Morris’s fellow panelists, including Tory MPs Bill Cash and John Redwood, reacted at the time.
After saying just 7% of financial services in the UK would be affected by Brexit, Morris said: “Now I’m sure there will be many people who’ll challenge that, but my response and my request is look at the detail, it isn’t all doom and gloom.
“Now we get to the real n****r in the woodpile which is in two years what happens if there is no deal?”
Morris said: “The comment was totally unintentional. I apologise unreservedly for any offence caused.”
She has been suspended.
However, such supremicist, hierarchical thinking and language is entrenched in Conservative rhetoric and practices. This is far from an isolated case of an offensive, racist, prejudiced speech act.
I don’t make any money from my work and I am not funded. I am disabled because of illness and struggle to get by. But you can help me continue to research and write informative, insightful and independent articles, and to provide support to others, by making a donation. The smallest amount is much appreciated – thank you.
As an independent researcher, writer, campaigner, and as a disabled person, I am very proud to be included among them.
Many disabled people see Labour’s policies as a lifeline, say the 30 signatories to this letter.
For chronically ill and disabled people, recent years have been a disaster. The UN recently found “reliable evidence that the threshold of grave or systematic violations of the rights of persons with disabilities has been met” (Report, 8 November 2016).
We have been forced through a work capability assessment that the government’s own expert adviser described as “inhumane”, and which in 2015 was found to be associated with an additional 599 suicides.
Many needing help are now forced through another persecutory assessment – the personal independence payment – designed to reduce the numbers qualifying for help by half a million.
Social care has been so savagely cut that some young disabled must wear incontinence pads for lack of toileting assistance. People can’t take any more of this.
Many disabled people are not party-political, but see Labour’s policies for disabled people as a lifeline – envisioning a society where people are treated as human beings deserving of respect, equality and a decent life. Please, don’t endorse recent human-rights abuses; endorse the human rights of disabled people by registering, and by voting Labour on 8 June.
Paul AtkinsonJungian psychotherapist Stef Benstead Spartacus Network Peter Beresford Co-chair, Shaping Our Lives Gary BourletFounder, People First Movement in England Dr Emma Bridger Research fellow in psychology Professor Woody CaanJournal of Public Mental Health Dr Kelly CamilleriRegistered clinical psychologist Merry Cross Dr David DrewLabour Parliamentary candidate for Stroud Nick Duffell Psychohistorian Dr Simon Duffy Centre for Welfare Reform Dr Dina Glouberman Skyros Holistic Holidays Catherine Hale Chronic Illness Inclusion Project AC HowardDWPexamination.org – For The UK’s Disabled Community Chris Johnstone General practitioner Sue Jones Psychologists Against Austerity, researcher and writer, campaigner Jayne LinneyDisability activist Alec McFadden TUC Salford Helen McGauleyTrainee clinical psychologist, Lancaster University Beatrice Millar Person-centred counsellor/psychotherapist Rev Paul Nicolson Taxpayers Against Poverty Gavin Robinson Alliance for Counselling and Psychotherapy Professor Andrew Samuels University of Essex Nicola SaundersPsychotherapist Martyn SibleyDisability blogger Mike SivierVox Political Professor Ernesto Spinelli Mo StewartIndependent researcher, disability studies Gail Ward Dr Jay WattsQueen Mary, University of London Dr Claudia Gillberg Senior Research Associate in Education; Fellow at Centre for Welfare Reform and Disability Rights Activist Dr Richard HouseAlliance for Counselling and Psychotherapy
I don’t make any money from my work. I am disabled because of illness and have a very limited income. The budget didn’t do me any favours at all.
But you can help by making a donation to help me continue to research and write informative, insightful and independent articles, and to provide support to others. The smallest amount is much appreciated – thank you.
Susan Roberts was found dead because of a morphine overdose (Photo: Philip Coburn)
A disabled mum, Susan Roberts, was found dead at home following an overdose of morphine. Susan died just metres away from a heartbreaking 11-page letter she had written to the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), detailing her suffering following being told she wasn’t eligible for Personal Independence Payment (PIP).
Susan, a grandmother of eight, had survived four heart attacks. She died £4,000 in debt, after taking a fatal overdose within hours of being informed that her claim for PIP was unsuccessful. She had previously claimed Disability Living Allowance (DLA) and had been given an indefinite award, as her medical conditions were considered highly unlikely to get better.
The letter from the Department for Work and Pensions(Photo: Philip Coburn)
Susan was asked to apply for PIP by the DWP following the proposed closure of her DLA claim. Many people who have previously been eligible for DLA have found that they lose their support once they are reassessed for PIP. The government introduced PIP to replace DLA and to cut costs in 2013, as a part of their welfare “reform” programme, which inflicted cuts on the poorest citizens. The Conservatives claim that PIP “targets those most in need”. However, many people with the highest level of needshave been turned down for PIP after having indefinite or lifetime awards of DLA.
Susan’s tragic death also highlights that despite their claims, the government are not succeeding in “targeting the most vulnerable people”
Before taking a fatal dose of morphine, Susan had placed the paperwork from the DWP, which informed her that she had been turned down for PIP following mandatory review, a Do Not Resuscitate note and her unsent letter, on her dresser.
Susan was shocked when she was informed that she did not even qualify for an award of PIP at the lower rate.
She began her heartbreaking letter: “Dear sirs, first of all, I request that you read this through carefully – this is my life after all.”
She said: “I am in a considerable state of depression after receiving your decision about my claim for PIP.”
Describing her health, she said: “My gall bladder needs to be removed because of multiple stones, weight loss, vomiting, excruciating pain – but specialists won’t operate because of my heart condition.”
She then describes the impact of suffering from ME, and explains that she can only manage to do tasks for just two or three hours a day.
Susan had a stent fitted after herheart attacks and spent most of her time bedbound, largely due to also having ME.
An operation to remove part of her bowel meant she needed help to go to the toilet. She also needed help with her personal care, such as showering and with shopping, as she struggled to walk. But in late 2015, the Conservatives scrapped DLA and replaced it with PIP. Anyone 65 or older on April 8, 2013 still got DLA.
Susan’s daughter, Hayley Storrow, said: “It’s so sad. If she was born a week earlier she may have still been alive today.”
Susan’s PIP assessor had somehow erroneously decided that she could wash and bathe unaided, go to the loo and walk over 200 metres. Shockingly, this type of “error” and gross inaccuracy isvery commonplace in the reports produced when disabled people are assessed for their lifeline support. In fact, earlier this year, the Labour party, the Green party and the Liberal Democrats called for the government to act on claims of widespread dishonesty by the medical professionals paid to compile benefits assessment reports, following a two-month investigation by Disability News Service.
Susan added in her letter that she would be virtually housebound without her Motability vehicle and her concluding comment is: “Thank you for reading this, with the greatest respect.”
She lost her Motability car last April because of the DWP’s decision not to award her PIP. Susan had sent a heartbreaking text to her daughter, Hayley, saying: “I’m never going to be able to see you again because they are taking the car.”
The PIP is supposed to help with the additional costs of being disabled, and in supporting disabled people in maintaining their independence and dignity, but many people are being denied the benefit because they are not assessed properly, and because the eligibility criteria have been made increasingly restrictive.
This means people previously eligible for the mobility component of DLA lose their cars and wheelchairs once they have been reassessed for the new PIP, if they don’t qualify for the mobility component. For many disabled people, this is a massive blow which impacts on their ability to remain independent, take part in their communities or get and keep a job. PIP is not means tested, so disabled people in work may claim it to help with additional support and extra costs. Many people losing their Motability vehicle will no longer be able to work.
Susan had asked for a review of the DWP decision following her first appeal. On 18 May last year, a letter arrived at her warden-assisted flat to tell her that the PIP award had been turned down yet again.
She was found dead the following morning and despite the letter and papers left out on the dresser, remarkably, a coroner said in October that she “had not taken her own life as there was no suicide note”, ruling it was a “drugs-related death”.
However, her daughter, Hayley, said: “I believe her unsent letter was her suicide note.”
It’s highly unlikely that an accidental overdose would have somehow prompted Susan to include a Do Not Resuscitate note with her letter and the bundle of DWP paperwork, too.
Do Not Resuscitate (DNR) orders are basically notes kept in a patient’s file that they do not want to be resuscitated should their heart stop. The medical establishment views DNR orders as the patient’s choice, though they do request that those considering DNR orders to discuss it with their family members. DNR orders may be requested by patients for a variety of reasons, all of them designed to keep the patient from suffering further. However, DNR laws do not take into account the situation of mentally ill patients framing a DNR order as a preparation for suicide.
The fact that Susan left the DNR note out with her letter and bundle of DWP documents indicates that her overdose was not accidental.
The Coroner’s verdict
By the end of 2015 it had emerged that the UK had experienced the largest annual spike in mortality rates for nearly 50 years.
Much media coverage seems to avoid reporting suicide as a response to structural conditions, and instead tends to emphasise suicide as an outcome of “mental illness” – as an individual act, rather than a problem that is influenced by socioeconomic and political conditions. The government has attempted to reconfigure wider social and economic problems as psychological problems, which has pushed highly politicised individual clinical and state therapeutic interventions – embodied in a rise of the mass provision of cognitive behavioural therapy and mandatory “attitude adjustment” classes for welfare recipients in the UK. This approach reflects political ideology and prejudices, rather than tackling the bigger issues of social inequality, poverty, lack of opportunity and an extremely punitive welfare regime. All of which are largely shaped by government policies.
Earlier this year, the Samaritans pubished their report Dying from Inequality, whichclearly recognised rising socioeconomic inequality with a higher risk of suicide. The charity called on the government to direct support to those with unstable employment, insecure housing, low income or in areas of socioeconomic deprivation.
Mary Hassell, the senior coroner for inner North London, wrote directly to the DWP in 2015, stating that the suicide of Michael O’Sullivan, a disabled man who hanged himself, had been adirect result of being ruled “fit to work.
The coroner’s verdict of Michael O’Sullivan’s suicide is widely seen as ground-breaking by disability rights campaigners and groups like Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC) because the DWP, the media and charities usually frame suicide as “complex” with no single cause, which means suicide has rarely been directly linked to the austerity programme, nor have government policies more generally been seen as directly responsible for suicides.
Suicide is a significant social problem. Over 800,000 people commit suicide every year. Many of these can be quite properly understood as “economic suicides” because they take place against a backdrop of structural adjustment policies and rampant neoliberal market-led reforms. A counter discourse to the government tendency of psychologising socioeconomic conditions, making them the responsibility of individuals, rather than government and wider society, is of course crucial.
Technically, a coroner makes a finding of fact at the end of an Inquest. The coroner cannot attribute blame to any individual and cannot imply a criminal or civil liability, by law. The Coroner must use the evidence heard to decide who the deceased person was, where they died, when they died, and what the cause of their death was. Commonly, the “finding of fact” is referred to as a verdict or conclusion. A conclusion of suicide is decided where the evidence indicates a person has voluntarily acted to destroy his or her life in an intentional way. Inquest verdicts of Suicide (and Unlawful Killing) must be decided “beyond reasonable doubt”. Other causes of death may be decided on “a balance of probability”.
However, there is evidence to suggest that suicides are being under-reported because of the change in Coroner’s statutory regulations and guidelines, in 2013. Interestingly, contrary to the current trend in health and safety inquests, the Ministry of Justice guidance tells coroners that, wherever possible, short-form conclusions should be delivered, rather than the more detailed narrative conclusion.
Furthermore, open conclusions are discouraged, to be used only as a “last resort”. Concerns have been raised about the government’snew short-form conclusions and some organisations, including the Royal College of Psychiatrists, have asked the government to give due consideration to changing the standard of proof required for suicide verdicts. The 2013 reforms also enable the government to suspend an independent inquest into any death in favour of an inquiry, which under the Inquiries Act 2005 can be now be held in secret.
The House of Commons Health Committee Suicide prevention: interim report Fourth Report of Session 2016–17 says: “Our evidence suggests the need for a more rapid provisional notification of suicide at the time when a suspected death by suicide occurs. We recommend that the Government take action to improve consistency between coroners and to make routine the use of provisional notifications of suicide. Furthermore, we recommend that the standard of proof for conclusions of death by suicide should be changed to the balance of probabilities rather than beyond reasonable doubt.”
Rule 43 of the Coroners Rules (1984) states that if the Coroner is of the opinion that a death could have been prevented if different action had been taken by a particular person or organisation, he/she may make a recommendation for change. Also, the scope of the coroner’s investigation must be widened to include an investigation of the broad circumstances of the death, including events leading up to the death in question, where this wider investigation is necessary to ensure compliance with Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights (right to life). The positive duty to protect life implies a duty to investigate unnatural deaths, including but not confined to deaths in which state agents may be implicated.
Hayley has accused the government of having blood on their hands. She said: “People are living in poverty or considering suicide because of these benefits changes. My Mum won’t be the last to die.”
A DWP spokeswoman said: “Our thoughts are with Mrs Roberts’ family but there is no evidence to suggest any link between her death and her benefit claim.”
There is no evidence to suggest it isn’t, either, without further investigation, which so far, the government have refused to do. There is an established correlation between disability benefit assessments and increased mental health problems, distress and exacerbations of physical illness symptoms, too. While correlation isn’t necessarily the same thing as causation, it quite often implies a causal link, which may only be ruled out following further investigation, rather than political denial.
The DWP has quietly carried out investigations into 60 cases where benefit claimants are said to have taken their own lives. Labour MP Diana Johnson said the figures cast doubt on claims that there is no link between suicide and welfare re-assessments, with the DWP carrying out the internal reviews over the last five years.
Johnson said: “Ministers have repeatedly claimed there to be no link between suicide and welfare re-assessment whenever figures have come to light.
“This parliamentary answer to me blows this claim out of the water.
“If there was no link, there wouldn’t have been 60 reviews of suicides in the past five years.
“I am appalled that these figures have remained unpublished for so long.”
A written parliamentary question from the Hull North MP revealed that the DWP carried out 15 internal reviews into suicides or alleged suicides of so-called DWP “clients” in 2012/13 alone.
“Families who’ve been left in the dark need to know everything the DWP knows about these cases,” Johnson said.
“Most importantly, we need a welfare system that supports, rather than victimises, the poorest and most vulnerable in our society.”
Susan’s daughter, Hayley said: “When my brother went to mum’s flat after she died, he found 37p in her purse. Even with DLA she was living day to day, scraping by. She was found dead with the PIP refusal letter placed strategically on a dresser.
“She was a poorly woman and this decision tipped her over the edge – she was in a desperate situation. I feel if it wasn’t for PIP and the Tory Government, my mum would still be alive.
“They failed her like they have failed thousands.”
Susan wrote the 11-page letter criticising the decision and outlining her circumstances but as the DWP turned down her initial appeal within six days, she did not have time to send it.
Hayley said: “I just want Theresa May to know that her rules and regime are killing the most vulnerable people in society.
“With the election coming up, it is so vital that things change.
“I feel any vote for the Tories is going to lead to more deaths.”
If you are experiencing distress and feel suicidal, please don’t suffer in silence. The Samaritans have launched a free telephone national helpline number, 116 123.
People who are going through a difficult time can access the service round the clock, every single day of the year.
This number is free to call from both landlines and mobiles, including pay-as-you-go mobiles. You do not need to have any credit or call allowance on your plan to call 116 123.
I don’t make any money from my work. I am disabled because of illness and have a very limited income. The budget didn’t do me any favours at all.
But you can help by making a donation to help me continue to research and write informative, insightful and independent articles, and to provide support to others. The smallest amount is much appreciated – thank you.
A woman was left with just £24 each week of her social security to live on after suffering a miscarriage and being sanctioned. She has told the Daily Recordhow she considered suicide after being left withbarely anything to buy food and pay bills.
Lyndsey Turnbull told of her ordeal as the Scottish Government formally launched their new welfare-to-work programmes.
Lyndsey from Midlothian, said: “I wanted to get into work but the whole thing seemed geared up to punish those who wanted to get off benefits.”
She was on approximately £140 a fortnight Employment and Support Allowance when she missed an appointment after having a miscarriage around nine weeks into a pregnancy.
She said: “I was in a bad place and couldn’t talk to anyone about it.”
Lyndsey was sanctioned because was too distressed to disclose the reason for missing the appointment, which is absolutely understandable. However, the punitive sanctions framework does not accommodate people’s circumstances and situations when they may be very vulnerable.
Having to face a stern and unsupportive bureaucrat, whose role is to discipline and punish people who cannot comply with rigid welfare conditionality, to discuss deeply personal and distressing circumstances – and such a traumatic event as miscarriage – is the very last thing anyone needs.
She added: “I went down to £24. I had no food, nothing to pay bills. It was awful.
“I really thought suicide might be the only option – and I wondered how many people would be just like me.”
Fortunately, Lyndsey eventually found someone to talk to at welfare service group Working Links, who helped her to get a second sanction reduced.
She later found a job at a petrol station and she said the new system’s voluntary focus will make it easier for people to get off benefits.
Lyndsey courageously contributed to a group meeting with Scottish National Party (SNP) Employability Minister Jamie Hepburn, to explain the problems she faced with the UK Department for Work and Pension sanctions regime.
Holyrood has no control over major benefits policy. However the new Scottish programmes will be voluntary – with no financial penalties attached – in a bid to get better results.
In other words, they will be genuinely supportive, rather than punitive and mandatory.
Employment support is one of the first powers devolved through the Scotland Act 2016, made possible by the Vow of more powers before the independence vote.
Work First Scotland will help 3300 disabled people while Work Able Scotland will focus on 1500 people with long-term health conditions.
The Record revealed last year that the SNP would block any bid by Westminster to impose a sanctions system on the new programmes.
Batul Hassan, 49, who also met Hepburn yesterday, was made redundant after 11 years at a local authority and was helped into work by Remploy.
She has dyslexia, dyspraxia and hearing problems and said her previous employer struggled to understand her needs.
Batul, from Edinburgh, added: “The new system has the potential to be a good thing.
“Two contracts mean people can move at the right pace, not lumped together.”
Hepburn said: “The devolved services will have fairness, dignity and respect at their core.
“We believe people will see them as an opportunity to gain new skills through supportive training and coaching.”
The Conservatives have clearly changed the meaning of words such as “fairness”, “support” and “respect”, in order to persuade the public that their punitive policies are somehow acceptable, and to deny the negative consequences they have on people who need the most support.
They are not acceptable.
I don’t make any money from my work. I am disabled because of illness and have a very limited income. Successive Conservative chancellors have left me in increasing poverty. But you can help by making a donation to help me continue to research and write informative, insightful and independent articles, and to provide support to others. The smallest amount is much appreciated – thank you.
Discrimination on the grounds of disability was made illegal 20 years ago when Parliament passed the Disability Discrimination Act 1995. Further legislative progress was made with the Human Rights Act (2008) and the Equality Act (2010). So discrimination can’t happen now. Right?
Disabled people are not being treated as being equal with other citizens and continue to be denied the respect, dignity, opportunities, an acceptable standard of living and other acceptable outcomes that non-disabled people take for granted.
The government claim that the economy has recovered from the effects of the global recession, but that recovery is not one that is shared equally to include everyone. If the economy is doing as well as the government claims, why are disabled people still facing austerity cuts to their lifeline support, while wealthy citizens are handed out substantial tax cuts?
In one of the wealthiest countries in the world, targeting disabled people, who are much more likely to be living in poverty than other citizens, is absolutely inexcusable. However, the neoliberal right justify their rigid small state, pro-privatisation, deregulation, mythological meritocracy, low tax, high VAT and antiwelfare ideology with folklore economics. “Paying down the debt” has become an almost farcical bare-faced and parroted Conservative lie.
The neoliberal small state “big society”.
The Equality and Human Rights Commission reportis the most comprehensive analysis on how (or if) the rights of disabled people are observed and protected in Great Britain. The most recent report says that changes to benefit rules have had a particularly disproportionate, cumulative impact on disabled people’s right to live independently.
Fewer than half of disabled adults are in employment (47.6%), compared with almost 80% of non-disabled adults – and the gap between these groups has widened since 2010-11.
Food poverty has affected 18.4% of disabled people aged 16-64, compared with 7.5% of non-disabled people.
David Isaac, Chair of the Commission, commenting on the damning new state of the nation report into life for disabled people, said: “Whilst at face value we have travelled far, in reality disabled people are being left behind in society, their life chances remain very poor, and public attitudes have changed very little.
“This evidence can no longer be ignored. Now is the time for a new national focus on the rights of the thirteen million disabled people who live in Britain. They must have the same rights, opportunities and respect as other citizens.
“We must put the rights of disabled people at the heart of our society. We cannot, and must not, allow the next twenty years to be a repeat of the past.”
The research, which covers six key areas of life, finds that disabled people in Britain are experiencing disadvantages in all of them, and sets out vital areas for urgent improvement.
This includes: a lack of equal opportunities in education and employment; barriers to access to transport, health services and housing; the persistent and widening disability pay gap; deteriorating access to justice; and welfare “reforms” (cuts) significantly affecting the already low living standards of disabled people.
The Commission has also highlighted these issues to the United Nations, for their forthcoming examination of how the UK measures up to the international standards on the rights of disabled people (the Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities – CRPD).
The United Nations (UN) has already determined that the UK government has systematically violated the rights of disabled people.Thehighly critical report, which was published in Geneva last December also concluded that the rights of disabled people to live independently, to work, and achieve an adequate standard of living have been detrimentally affected by the Conservative’s austerity programme.
The range of measures aimed at reducing public spending since 2010, including extremely controversial changes such as the bedroom tax, and cuts to disability benefits and social care budgets have disproportionately and adversely affected disabled people.
The UN’s 22-page report condemned the radical and largely unmonitored welfare cuts and benefit caps, and social care cuts introduced as a major part of the Conservative’s austerity programme – the government claimed these cuts would make the welfare system “fairer and reduce benefit fraud.” The UN found no evidence of benefit fraud or fairness.
However, the government have simply dismissed the UN’s fully evidenced report, which included the first-hand accounts of many of those disabled people affected by Conservative austerity, disability campaigners, researchers and advocacy organisations.
The Equality and Human Rights Commission report reveals:
In England, the proportion of children with Special Educational Needs achieving at least 5 A*-C GCSEs is three times lower than for non-disabled children (20.0% and 64.2% respectively). Disabled children are also significantly more likely to be permanently or temporarily excluded.
The qualification gap between disabled and non-disabled people has narrowed, but the proportion of disabled people with no qualifications was nearly three times that of non-disabled people, and the proportion of disabled people with a degree remained lower.
More disabled people than non-disabled are living in poverty or are materially deprived.
Social security “reforms” have had a particularly disproportionate, cumulative impact on the rights to independent living and an adequate standard of living for disabled people. Families in the UK with a disabled member are more likely to live in relative poverty than non-disabled families.
Across the UK, 18.4% of disabled people aged 16-64 were considered to be in food poverty compared with 7.5% of non-disabled people. Disabled people over the age of 65 were twice as likely as non-disabled people in the same age group to be in food poverty.
Disabled people continue to face problems in finding adequate housing, due to a shortage in accessible housing across Britain, and in Scotland the amount of wheelchair-adapted local authority housing for physically disabled people has decreased. Disabled people in Britain were also less likely to own their own home.
Accessing healthcare services is problematic for disabled people, and they’re less likely to report positive experiences. Considerable shortcomings remain in all three countries in the provision of mental health services, where disabled adults are more likely to report poor mental health and wellbeing than non-disabled adults.
There is an urgent need for prisons to monitor and report on prisoner mental health. Prisoners are more likely to have mental health conditions compared with the general population, and 70% of prisoners who died from self-inflicted means between 2012 and 2014 had an identified mental health condition.
Detentions in health and social care settings under the Mental Health Act 1983 are continuing to increase in England and Wales. The number of detentions in hospitals increased from 46,600 in 2009 to 2010 to 63,622 in 2016.
Changes to legal aid in England and Wales have negatively affected disabled people’s access to justice. Across GB, there has been a 54% drop in employment tribunal claims on grounds of disability discrimination following the introduction of fees in July 2013.
More disabled and non-disabled people overall are in work in Britain in 2015/16 compared to 2010/11. Despite this, less than half of disabled adults are in employment (47.6%), compared with almost 80% of non-disabled adults, and the gap between these groups has widened since 2010/11. However this is not the case across all impairment types, and for those with mental health conditions and those with physical disabilities the gap between them and non-disabled people has narrowed.
The disability pay gap in Britain also continues to widen. Disabled young people (aged 16-24) and disabled women had the lowest median hourly earnings of all.
David Isaac continued: “This report should be used as a call to arms. We cannot ignore that disabled people are being left behind and that some people – in particular those with mental health conditions and learning disabilities – experience even greater barriers.
“We must have a concerted effort to deliver the changes that are desperately needed. Vital improvements are necessary to the law and policies, and services must meet the needs of disabled people.
“Britain must be a fair and inclusive society in which everyone has equal opportunities to thrive and succeed.”
The report calls on the UK, Scottish and Welsh governments to place a new national focus on disability equality, so that the rights of disabled people are fully realised and to deliver improvements in their experience and outcomes.
These include reducing the education and employment gaps for disabled people; ensuring that essential services such as housing, health and transport meet the needs of disabled people; and improve existing laws and policies to better protect and promote the rights of disabled people.
The Commission’s recent submission to the UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, produced jointly with the other equality and human rights commissions across the UK, also highlights the need to do more to protect the human rights of disabled people.
It contains 75 recommendations to the UK and devolved governments on how they can improve the rights disabled people enjoy across areas such as housing, transport, social care and employment. The main public examination of the UK by the UN Committee will take place in August 2017, and the Commission will work with theother UK equality and human rights commissions and disabled people and their organisations to help make the recommendations a reality.
Further to this activity, the Equality and Human Rights Commission is engaged in a range of ongoing work aimed improving the lives of disabled people, including legally enforcing the Equality Act, improving access to public services, housing and transport, analysing the impact of welfare reforms, and influencing new legislation.
In light of the cuts to Employment and Support Allowance (work-related activity group) and the recent re-writing of PIP regulations to save money for the Treasury from disabled people’s support, while at the same time the government chose to hand out tax cuts to millionaires, it is inevitable that the situation for disabled people will only get worse.
These additional cuts have happened since the UN published the report about the systematic violations of disabled people’s human rights, to which the government have responded with utter contempt.
Human rights, inclusion and equality are the bedrock of a democratic society. We know from experience over the last six years that we can not depend on this government to observe any of these prerequisite obligations.
Andrew McDonald, Chair of disability charity, Scope, said: “It is shameful that in 2017 disabled people continue to face such high levels of inequality: at home, at school and at work. And Scope research shows too many continue to face prejudice day-in-day out.
“But government action has been incoherent. While there have been some positive commitments, the impact of recent reductions and restrictions to benefits and inaction on social care threaten to make life harder for many disabled people.
“We hope this report serves as a wake-up call. Urgent action is needed. If the government is serious about shaping a society that works for everyone, the Prime Minister should act now to set out a cross-departmental strategy to tackle the injustices disabled people face.”
Liz Sayce, Chief Executive of Disability Rights UK, said: “This new report makes sombre and disappointing reading, and highlights the unfairness disabled people continue to face, day in and day out.
“As a society, we say we want progress towards disabled people taking a full part in society; but instead we appear to be going backwards. We need concrete plans from government, with outcomes measured regularly, to ensure we get back on track. We welcome the Equality and Human Rights Commission report and are keen to work with them and others to tackle discrimination.”
Robert Meadowcroft, Chief Executive of Muscular Dystrophy UK, said: “Much of today’s report puts hard numbers on what we hear every day from people with muscle-wasting conditions about the extreme difficulties in finding a job, a safe place to live and accessing the opportunities many of us take for granted.
“The government has to respond positively and urgently to the severity of today’s findings, not least in calling a halt to the damaging aspects of benefits reforms, but they are not the only people responsible for making society accessible to all.
“Employers can be more proactive about making their workplaces and their recruitment policies more open to disabled people. Local councillors can increase their accessible housing targets. And we can collectively check our own attitudes to make sure that the Equality and Human Rights Commission has better news to report in 20 years’ time. This alarming report is a wake-up call that needs to be heard.”
Let’s not pussyfoot around the deliberate socioeconomic exclusion of disabled people. It’s absolutely unacceptable that in a very wealthy so-called democratic state, disabled people still face so many disadvantages as a direct consequence of discriminatory government policies, across so many different areas of their lives compared to non-disabled people.
The Conservative’s policies since 2012 that have doggedly aimed at cutting disabled people’s support have been preempted by an outgrouping rhetoric and an all-pervasive political scapegoating media campaign designed, to stir up resentment and desensitise the public to the consequences of policies which discriminate against disabled people. Such actions are a damning indictment of the political intention behind those policies.
We now have a social security system that is the stuff of dystopian novels about totalitarian bureaucracy. Rather than providing support, welfare has been redesigned by the Conservatives to focus on compliance with unreasonable “behavioural” conditionality (which assumes that poverty is a “lifestyle choice, as opposed to the inevitable consequence of neoliberalism and policies which serve to engineer growing social inequality) and extremely punitive sanctions, rather than supporting people back into appropriate work.
Stopping or threatening to stop someone’s lifeline support when they are too unwell to work is unforgivably cruel, inappropriate and completely ineffective at helping anyone into employment.
In fact, we knowthat sanctions will make it almost impossiblefor someone to find employment. Withdrawing lifefline support as a punishment is likely to create desperation and absolute poverty. The impact of poverty is greater, and often devastating on those people who are ill and disabled. If people cannot meet their basic living needs, they cannot possibly meet higher level psychosocial ones.
It is not acceptable that a government in the UK continues to formulate regressive and punitive policies aimed at cutting support for disabled people, which create vulnerability, loss of independence and dignity, distress, psychological and physical damage, and is putting people’s lives at risk.
It is shameful and it needs to be halted.
I don’t make any money from my work and I am not funded. I am disabled because of illness and struggle to get by. But you can help me continue to research and write informative, insightful and independent articles, and to provide support to others, by making a donation. The smallest amount is much appreciated – thank you.