Tuesday, 22 July 2014

PIP judicial review: Court rules against us but vindicates our case

We lost. The judge ruled that in the end the consultation process for PIP was not unfair.

However that is not the whole story. You see, the judge found that it was the second consultation that made things right. The first consultation, he had some harsher words for. Words such as:
"Unfortunately mind-bogglingly opaque." (Paragraph 105 part ii)
"At best ambivalent" (Paragraph 105 part vii)
"Convoluted, inherently unclear, ambiguous and confusing.  No construction allows for full coherence." (Paragraph 106)
Not exactly a ringing endorsement of the way the government chose to do things, I think you'll agree.  The government's legal team also agreed, and in fact they have accepted that they must share a portion of the costs of this judicial review in the face of evidence that it was indeed justified.

Not only that, but the government made it perfectly clear that they know exactly how much their policies will hurt people but want to do it anyway.
“… [T]his was recognised from the outset.  In developing the PIP assessment we were aware that the vast majority of recipients of DLA were individuals with genuine health conditions and disabilities and genuine need, and that removing or reducing that benefit may affect their daily lives.  However, we believe that these impacts can be justified as being a logical result of distributing limited resources in a different and more sustainable way…”.
(Paragraph 80)
Let's see that again:
"we were aware that the vast majority of recipients of DLA were individuals with genuine health conditions and disabilities and genuine need, and that removing or reducing that benefit may affect their daily lives."
And again:
"genuine need"
So we have the government's lawyers arguing that the DWP and the government ministers know full well that they are removing vital support from hundreds of thousands of people who have few other options and who will suffer as a result. And they are doing it to save money.

The judge agreed with the DWP that taking money from physically disabled people to allocate to other PIP claimants achieves "substantive equality between physically and non-physically disabled." I argue that this has reduced the equality of physically disabled people compared to not-yet-disabled people, purely because of budget.

This is Lowest common denominator equality.

This is your government. This is what the society that we live in is prepared to accept.

The court's findings and what's next

The judge was persuaded by Dr Bolton's evidence that the government could have changed their decision had they decided to listen to the overwhelming opposition to the 20m rule in the second consultation, and so it was not unfair. My legal team and I disagree. We still argue that the decision had long since been made and that the secretary of state had a closed mind by this point, and so the second consultation was not at a formative stage.

Although the judgment went against us I feel that the judge's analysis of the first consultation is vindication for our bringing this case to court. Don't forget that the second consultation only came about after this case was given permission to proceed and the DWP realised that they could not get away with such a shambles.

I hope that the admission by the government that they know exactly what they are doing will make people wake up to what is happening. Meanwhile, this is not the end. The legal team and I are considering our options to appeal this result.

Press Release from Public Law Solicitors

PIP Consultation Judicial Review Press Release

This article is crossposted from latentexistence.me.uk

Thursday, 17 July 2014

#DisabilityConfident - a Wasted Year

It's coming up on a year since DWP launched Disability Confident, their campaign to try and get more disabled people into work by not challenging workplace disablism (yes, you read that right), and DWP are trying to drum up attention for the anniversary by organising a Twitter Thunderclap, which shows every sign of being more a drizzle in a teacup than a thunderclap as a day before it executes it only has 245 supporters, about half of whom are individual DWP Job Centres or government ministries. Which if you think about it means they can't even get a significant fraction of the people who have been through Disability Confident events in this last year to voice their support for it.

I've talked about my problems with Disability Confident in earlier blogs, about its deeply offensive focus on inspiration-porn and how the 'It's about Ability, not Disability' tagline sends entirely the wrong message in 'So What's Wrong With Disability Confident?' and about its failure to address workplace disablism, the root of the problem, in 'Disability Confident and the Elephant in the Corner', so with a year gone, how has Disability Confident performed?

The answer isn't a good one. Make no mistake, I agree with the stated aims of Disability Confident, because the difference in the rates of non-disabled and disabled employment is a national disgrace, but I think they've picked a godawful way of approaching the problem, and that that is a deliberate decision, as demonstrated by then Minister for Disabled People Esther McVey's statement at the launch that she wasn't comfortable with telling people what to do - unfortunately when she said 'telling people what to do' she actually meant enforcing our employment rights under the Equality Act, 2010. Rather than take on the actual problem of workplace disablism, Disability Confident tries to pretend that the problem is just that employers might be a bit 'embarrassed and uncomfortable' with disabled people, and tries to challenge that by painting us as 'inspiring'. The 'embarrassed and uncomfortable' message was handled far better by Scope's #EndTheAwkward campaign, which achieved greater penetration in a week with its three ads than Disability Confident has achieved in an entire year of events; meanwhile people, including keynote speakers, are still coming out of Disability Confident events and tweeting about how inspiring we all are - so that's another generation of managers and recruiters taught to objectify disabled people rather than treat us as normal, which actually pushes the workplace equality cause backwards rather than forwards.

Nor have the online Disability Confident materials been much better, not only do they try to avoid emphasising our legal rights as job applicants and employees under the Equality Act, 2010, but one so-called 'resource' for employers trumpeted by the #DisabilityConfident tweet stream of @DWPGovUK managed to classify Autism, which is a Pervasive Developmental Disorder (i.e. a developmental disability with general effects), in with the Specific Learning Difficulties such as Dyspraxia and Dyslexia (i.e. developmental disabilities with localised effects), this is about as correct as classifying a potato as a flower.... That entire 'Hidden Disabilities Toolkit' website has currently been taken down for rework, and the notice for that claims that the SpLDs are part of the Autism Spectrum, completely reversing their prior statement, and still getting it utterly wrong!

I'm trying to think of something Disability Confident actually gets right, I really am, but I'm coming up blank. We are faced with a chronically discriminatory jobs market, which has been resisting legislation to fix it since at least the Disabled Persons (Employment) Act 1944 (which created the old Registered Disabled system and employment quotas), together with rampant workplace disablism, and DWP are trying to fix it by saying the problem is that people are a little embarrassed by disability. I've been through the workplace disablism wringer, and my manager's problem wasn't that he was 'embarrassed' by me, it was that he openly stated all disabled people should be forcibly retired, and set out to make sure precisely that happened to me.

The first year of Disability Confident hasn't been the success DWP are trying to paint it, if anything the inspiration-porn focus of the campaign has worked to entrench the problem of disabled workers being perceived as the other, and until we are seen as no different to any other worker we will not make progress on disability employment. Of course the fact that every other mention of disability by DWP is aimed at portraying us as lazy, frauds and scroungers doesn't exactly enshrine us as ideal workers in the eyes of recruiters and managers.

Disability Confident is meant to run for another year, the only way that it will make progress, and counter the damage it has already done, is to actually get out there and challenge workplace disablism. The message disabled people need Disability Confident pushing isn't 'We took on X as a token and they're sooo inspiring', it's 'Company Y refuses to employ disabled people and we are therefore taking them to court for breaching the Equality Act 2010', because when you have been trying softly-softly for 70 years without progress, its probably a sign that it's long past time to start kicking butt and naming names, pour encourager les autres.

Wednesday, 16 July 2014

New Disability Minister, Same as the Old Disability Minister

In an utter farce during yesterday's Cabinet reshuffle, disabled people were left for several hours under the impression the post of Minister for Disabled People had been axed. Existing minister Mike Penning, no loss, had been moved off to become Minister for State for both Policing and Justice, the sort of authoritarian roles which will clearly suit him better, and the odious Esther 'they get better' McVey, his predecessor in the role before being promoted to Minister of State for Employment had had her government web page amended to say that, 'from July 2014' she was taking over the responsibilities for the Minister for Disabled People role. Then, much later, came the announcement, and via 'rumours from within DWP' to quote the Guardian's Politics Blog, rather than being announced via Cameron's twitter feed as with other appointments, that Mark Harper would be taking over as Minister for Disabled People. Clearly disabled people are beneath Cameron's dignity to address as he does for other ministerial posts.

So who is Mark Harper? Well, for a start he's the former Minister for Immigration who signed off on the 'Go Home' racist vans, and I say 'former Minister' because it then emerged he was employing an illegal immigrant as his cleaner and had to resign. But after a bare six months on the back benches his record has been washed clean and he's back in government. The question is whether he'll be any different to his three Tory predecessors: Miller, Miller, the Cripple Killer, the odious 'they get better' McVey, and Penning, all of whom have functioned more as Ministers against Disabled People than Ministers for Disabled People. Well the good news is he actually has some background with disability, having been Shadow Minister for Disabled People before he was elected, the bad news is that he has form for openly accusing disabled benefit claimants of being frauds and scroungers, and he did this while Minister for Political and Constitutional Reform in the Cabinet Office. Appearing on Any Questions on 10 September 2010, Harper stated: "There are definitely some people in our country, and everyone in every community knows who they are, who are able to work, and don't, and those people mustn't be given the option of staying on benefits when other people are going out and working incredibly hard to try and support their families" and then, when told by the original questioner that he should be condemned for his language: "I gave a very balanced answer, when I said there are some people, and it was very clear during the General Election campaign, because everybody sees them, able-bodied people who have no barriers to work who choose not to. And there's nothing that upsets people who work hard to take care of their families, who see other people living at least as good a life as they do, who don't work for a living. They find it outrageous and particularly when money is very tight, they want the government to do something about it." This is absolutely classic IDS-style demonization of disabled people with all the requisite buzz-words of 'hard-working people' and 'everybody sees them' to imply that the overwhelming majority of disabled people in receipt of disability benefits are frauds and scroungers, and that if you don't agree then you aren't one of the right-thinking people. Thrown into the middle of that there's also the gem of "the Work Programme... will be very personalized ... trying to fit the help that they get to the particular needs that they've got" - if anyone has come across the Work Programme doing that, let us know! You can listen to him saying all of this here, from 32:45.

So there we have it, the new Minister Against Disabled People, wielding the demonization brush with the best of them and clearly no more a friend and supporter of Disabled People than any of his predecessors.

Wednesday, 9 July 2014

PIP consultation judicial review starts today

Today a judge will consider whether the Department of Work and Pensions carried out a fair consultation when it decided that only people who could walk less than 20 metres would get the full amount of help for mobility.

Where with Disability Living Allowance claimants had to be able to walk less than 50 metres to qualify for the higher rate, under Personal Independence Payments the cut-off will be just 20 metres. People who fall between those two distances will receive the lower rate of £21.55 a week instead of the higher rate of £56.75. As a result they will no longer qualify to lease a car from the Motability scheme and if they currently have one it will be taken away. Other things that may be affected can include automatic entitlement to bus passes and local taxi or dial-a-ride schemes. The lower rate of £21.55 won't stretch much beyond one taxi trip to see a doctor or hospital in many areas.

Although three people initially pursued a judicial review, two cases were put on hold and my case was continued as representative of the others. The judicial review will examine the consultation about PIP that took place in early 2012 and the second consultation that focused on just the mobility component which took place in late 2013.

The main case is that the first consultation did not address the change to 20 metres while, by the time it got to the second consultation it was too late because there was no realistic possibility of change. The rest of the scheme had already been put in place and so money had already been allocated elsewhere.

In response to the second consultation the DWP unexpectedly claimed that the budget that in the past helped people with physical disabilities to get out and mobile had been reallocated to help people with learning disabilities and mental health problems. This pitting of one impairment against another is fundamentally unfair.. Rather than address inequality by bringing everyone up to the same mobility level, they have chosen to help one group by seriously disadvantaging another. It would seem that the government has seen the word equality but has not understood what it really means. If they had told us what was in their minds when they were consulting we might have had a chance to put them right.

The judicial review will be heard at the Adminstrative Court in Bull Street, Birmingham starting at 13:00 today and all day tomorrow. We don't yet know when we will hear the results. There will be a vigil outside the courts in Bull Street, Birmingham today at 13:00 which supporters may wish to attend. Please spread the word and tell your friends to look out for this story in the news.

Related blog posts

PIP 20 metre rule consultation response: “We’re not listening.”
Victory! DWP to launch PIP mobility consultation
PIP Judicial Review given the go ahead
Announcement: legal action against the DWP over the #PIP consultation
Why I am suing the government
If you can only walk twenty metres you’ll get no help
Replacement of disability living allowance headline news for hours
Two weeks until PIP Judicial Review – 20 metre limit in the dock

Tuesday, 10 June 2014

Atos Put the Boot Into Disabled People Yet Again


The appearance of Atos's senior vice president Lisa Coleman before the Commons Work and Pensions Select Committee seems to have been the key for the reviled (and redundant) multinational to try and salvage some of its destroyed reputation, and yet again it has chosen to do this by attacking disabled people.

The full story can be read in this BBC report: "Atos was 'lightning rod' for anger over benefit changes" and here in the Guardian "Disability claims system needs to change, Atos tells MPs"

Sue Marsh has a slightly more positive interpretation on her blog, but I'm not so certain anything has changed at the heart of Atos (as bizarre as Atos having a heart may seem).

In parallel with Coleman's appearance before the Select Committee, which included the usual attempt to blame DWP decision makers for the failures, no matter that the decision makers have been shown repeatedly to go with the Atos report 9 times out of 10; the Atos propaganda machine, in the person of Helen Hall, the firm's 'head of communications and customer relations', was busy insisting to the media that fully 1 in 4 of their assessors had quit due to 'abuse' - by which I presume they mean having the reality of the impact on disabled people of the policies they were implementing pointed out to them by the disability movement as a whole. If pointing out the sheer, unbelievable stupidity of some of the Atos decisions ranks as 'abuse', then count me an abuser and proud of it!

Hall also declared "They are professional trained people," she said. "They care about the job they do. ... The level of intimidation, the level of negative coverage about professional people..." As it happens I'm a professional person too, the law of the land holds me to a higher level of competence and behaviour in the exercise of my professional abilities than it does the proverbial 'man on the Clapham Omnibus' (yes, case law really says that). In terms of professional behaviour the Atos staff I dealt with weren't even on the omnibus - they were the Keystone Kops chasing along in its wake! If I had behaved in a similar - openly abusive - manner towards a customer, or demonstrated similar incompetence, then I could reasonably have expected to be summarily dismissed for gross misconduct by my employer, and not dealing with me would have landed my employers in huge problems with the government agencies that license them to undertake safety-critical work. Yet, as we've seen for five years now, Atos has been in continuous denial that there was any problem whatsoever, because they knew that, no matter how many disabled people suffered under ludicrous decisions, they were doing what their regulator, the Department of Work and Pensions, really wanted.

Let's recall for a moment what these 'professional people' have accomplished. There was the Atos doctor who engaged in homophobic tirades, there was the Atos nurse-assessor caught vilely denigrating those she was supposed to be assessing on Facebook, there were the Atos doctors who fell ever so slightly short of having sufficient English skills to do the work, the Atos doctors who proclaimed life-long illnesses such as Cerebral Palsy would be cured in six months, and there were the Atos doctors by the score who reported facts that were dismissed at Tribunal as having not even tangential relationship to the assessments actually undertaken or the medical facts of the case in hand. Ultimately, every Atos doctor, nurse and physio who agreed to work in an Atos centre without sufficient attention paid to access needs (pretty much all of them), while carrying out a Work Capability Test that by design misleads and misdirects the patient, denying them the opportunity for informed consent required as part of their oath, was telling medical ethics to take a hike, because there was money in this. When the governing body of doctors found it necessary to issue a reminder to doctors conducting the WCA that basic honesty is a professional requirement, then maybe, just maybe the standards of professionalism at Atos needed a serious looking at. But again, that lack of professionalism was generating exactly the results that DWP wanted, and what DWP wanted, Atos management was on a crusade to deliver, even if it meant their staff lived in fear of assigning one person too many to WRAG or Support Group (and god forbid deciding someone had a long-term problem, because that would deny Atos the fees for the repeat assessments every six months).

Hall also stated that publicising the issues around Atos mean that people "might come into that assessment feeling that the assessor they are going to see is someone who will treat them with contempt, who can't be trusted, who isn't trained". Now given the number of people I've seen reporting that they had to explain to their assessor just what their disability actually involved, because the assessor had never heard of it, not to mention Professor Harrington's conclusions that there were major problems with Atos's assumption that physiotherapists were capable of assessing complex mental health issues, I think the inadequate training point was rather clearly proven. With regard to the being 'treated with contempt' and whether or not they can be trusted, I can testify to that one personally, with my assessment opening with a statement from the Atos quack that I shouldn't believe everything I had heard on the Net, rapidly followed by him showing that everything I'd heard on the Net was not only absolutely true, but possibly understated, and then reaching a high point of trust, or the lack of it, with him actively resisting recording a fact that qualified me for WRAG in its own right, never mind in conjunction with other factors.

She also complained "What we have seen quite often now is people coming in for an assessment and they are actually saying at the end of it 'you've just been recorded on my iPhone and I am going to expose you on the internet'." Possibly they wouldn't have faced that problem if the system put in place to allow recording of interviews had had slightly more than 20 recorders for the whole country, only a fraction of which ever worked, and if Atos assessments hadn't been found to be wildly variant from reality in quite so many Tribunal cases. I passed my WCA (probably because the doctor panicked on eventually realising just how much physical distress I was in - I think it was the moment I told him I had to either stand-up, or throw-up), yet I was so traumatized by it I dropped my claim rather than go through it again. But if I ever do go through WCA again, then damn straight I would insist on recording it, because having to browbeat the assessor into recording the most fundamental facts of my disability tells me that the process cannot be trusted.

Yet again Atos have found themselves faced by a moral choice - admit that the implementation of the WCA is impossibly flawed and align themselves with its victims, or attack those victims - and have chosen to try and portray themselves as the victims and the victims as the abusers. It's classic bullying behaviour, straight out of the Bullying for Dummies playbook, and tells us that everything we believe of Atos is absolutely true.


Monday, 2 June 2014

He Who Must Not Be Named and National Insurance

Concerned that they hadn't put him on our screens for more than 30 minutes; the BBC decided it was vital that they put He Who Must Not Be Named on The Andrew Marr Show yesterday.

I'm calling him that because clearly the constant attention he's getting is giving his party a huge boost in the polls, despite most of the press about it being negative. You can point out that they're homophobic, racist, misogynist, Islamophobic, and all the other -isms and -phobics. Not to mention elephant-haters. But He manages to brush it all aside with a photo call in a pub. They say there's no such thing as bad publicity, and it's clearly true. The more racism and homophobia allegations arose; the higher their poll ratings went.

He's previously distanced himself from the party's 2010 manifesto. A manifesto which said they wanted to drop the rate of Incapacity Benefit/ESA to the same rate as JobSeekers Allowance, and claimed that Disability Living Allowance was an out-of-work benefit for people too ill to work.

But yesterday He defended one point in the manifesto (though admitted it was badly explained 4 years ago): He said that they still want to abolish the National Insurance scheme.

I think all disabled people have had incidents in recent years where we've been on the receiving end of hate crime - or at least harassment - for being "scroungers". Like Pippa's experience of being targeted in the street for walking with a crutch.

National Insurance is the one reason I can look harassers in the eye and confidently say "when I could work I paid my National Insurance premiums. I paid into an insurance scheme so I would be protected if I ever became too ill to work."

National Insurance was a bloody brilliant idea. And it's such a simple plan. You pay into the scheme straight out of your wages so you're looked after both in your old age, and during your working life if you ever become unemployed or too ill to work.

National Insurance gives me a bit of dignity. When other people call me "a burden on the taxpayer," or my inner monologue tells me that I'm "a waste of taxpayers' money" (though it's not just my inner monologue that's called me that); I can tell them (or myself) "I paid into an insurance scheme and now I'm claiming back. It's how insurance works." When Radio 5Live put me up against that rentagob Hopkins who was banging on about how people should use private insurance schemes rather than scrounging taxpayers' money, I could screech over her "I paid for insurance! It's called 'National Insurance' for a reason!"

Now The Party Which Must Not Be Named wants to take that last shred of dignity from me. The party which got the most votes in the election a week and a half ago.

And it really is my last shred of dignity. I'm constantly ashamed of not being able to work. I can't even go to the emergency dentist to get a broken filling fixed without the humiliation of having to say "nothing" in response to the question "what do you do for a living?"

It's not just a matter of pride or shame. There's the practicalities too. What's going to happen to contributory ESA and JSA? Will they only offer means tested benefits for the ill and out-of-work? What about those who've worked and saved for thirty years when they get diagnosed with cancer? Will they no longer be eligible for ESA because they've got too much money for the means test?

Given that they've gotten more promotion than all the other parties combined for the pending Newark by-election; I wouldn't be at all surprised if they've got their first seat in the House of Commons in a couple of weeks. And given how popular they were on May 22nd; I wouldn't be at all surprised if they've got enough seats this time next year to forge a coalition with the Tories. (Because, let's face it, the Lib Dems will be lucky if they've got 10 MPs left. They won't be the Kingmakers next time if it's a hung Parliament.)

I really didn't think it would be possible to be any crueller than the Tories and be popular enough to win elections. Looks like I was wrong.

Monday, 19 May 2014

Labour Attack UKIP - For Not Being Tough Enough on Benefit Claimants


Labour just don't seem to be able to drag themselves away from taking a pop at benefit claimants every time the subject comes up. Every time they try to say something about the economy they have to prefix it with 'hard working taxpayer' or 'hard working families' or 'hard day's work', as though those of us unable to work don't deserve a mention (mind you they have yet to go as far as UKIP MEP Godfrey Bloom, who proposed removing the franchise from benefit recipients). The feeling of being kicked in the teeth by the party that's supposed to represent us is getting annoyingly repetitive.

First of all today we had Ed himself:
As a basic principle we should aspire to a situation where if you do a hard day’s work you shouldn’t find yourself in poverty. - Ed

After the general *headdesk* moment, our own Latent Existence replied:
.@Ed_Miliband You shouldn't find yourself in poverty even if you can't do or find a hard day's work!


You wouldn't think you needed to tell the Labour Party Leader this, but there you go...

Then later on someone pointed out this gem of a party election leaflet from South West Labour:

Labour election leaflet, picture of a young woman on a mobile. Text on roaming charges and various attacks on UKIP policy - see below for further details

Notice first off that the obligatory 'hard working families' reference is there in the left-hand column, though in a particular unusual form as it relates it to mobile roaming charges (*headdesk*, *headdesk*, just what were you thinking, Labour? That mobile roaming charges are a major source of anxiety in the homes of the South West?) But the main focus of the page is attacking UKIP, and there's some perfectly fair criticism of UKIP in there, my major quibble being that it weasels out of actually calling them Racist, but then there's that last criticism:

'Ending the requirement for people on benefits to look for work'.

Now this is problematical on multiple levels. Most benefits (Old Age Pension, Child Allowance, DLA/PIP, Tax Credits and so on), aren't Out-of-Work benefits. Even ESA can't compel you to look for work, it can only force disabled people into 'Work Focused Activity', which isn't quite the same thing; only Job Seekers Allowance that I'm aware of actually includes the 'required to look for work' element. Attempts to conflate non-Out-of-Work benefits with Out-of-Work benefits are something we have seen repeatedly from the Tories as a prelude to cuts, so seeing Labour doing it isn't guaranteed to make anyone feel comfortable with where their policy is likely to turn.

And then there's the morality of the statement. I don't know what particular aspect of UKIP policy that line is targetting as UKIP are even better than Labour at hiding what they actually stand for. We're talking about UKIP of course, so it probably isn't pleasant - at one point it was UKIP policy to replace all Out-of-Work benefits with a flat rate equivalent to that paid to under-25s, about £56 a week - even for people in the ESA Support Group. But here is Labour, challenging UKIP on benefits policy, and they are doing that by saying UKIP aren't being hard enough.

Let me repeat that. Labour, challenging the ultra-right UKIP, say that their benefits policy isn't harsh enough. The party that's supposed to stand up for our rights think UKIP are too soft on us.

*headdesk*, *headdesk*, *headdesk* Are you people serious?

There's a reason UKIP are doing so well in the polls. Labour has deliberately created a four year policy gap where they avoided stating the principles they stood for or detailing their policies. Because that way no one, in particular no Mail reader, could take against them. It's the political equivalent of Saddam Hussein's air force deciding the best way to 'win' Operation Desert Storm was to huddle in their bunkers rather than any of that nasty getting out and challenging people stuff (and it worked so well for Saddam). When Labour have been forced into policy declarations, they are so terrified of the Mail vote the only option they can see is to try and be as harsh as the other parties. But of course when faced with a choice between Tory, and faux-Tory Labour, people just pick the real Tories, or worse, UKIP.

Time to wake up and remember what you stand for, Labour.

Please.

Before it's too late.

Sunday, 20 April 2014

Pontius Pilate Found Alive and Well and Editing the Mail on Sunday

I keep thinking the Mail must have reached the absolute limit on hateful bile, only for it to plunge effortlessly to new depths of hate, but today's report in the Mail on Sunday on the foodbank charity The Trussell Trust is going to take some beating. For those who haven't read it, a MoS 'investigative reporter' went to CAB claiming to be unemployed and in need of food, and was referred to a foodbank, which fed him, and apparently this is evidence that there really isn't a foodbank crisis.

That's right, the Mail condemned a charity, for feeding a hungry man, on Easter Sunday.

Beyond the horror that they did this to a charity, we need to be very aware of exactly what was done here, and it is a far murkier story than many will realise. The Trussell Trust has been flagging up the massive growth in people seeking their help for the last year or more, and this is not a narrative that the government is happy with, in particular it seems to be driving Iain Duncan Smith towards apoplexy, and this week saw the launch of a coordinated attack on the Trussell Trust in the pages of, surprise, surprise, The Daily Mail with the claim that "Food bank charity 'is misleading the public': Claim that 1m need food parcels 'just self promotion'" and 'DWP sources' (presumably code for IDS's Special Advisors) alleging the charity was engaged in "misleading and emotionally manipulative publicity-seeking". There is something deeply ironic that IDS, who brandishes his Catholicism at every opportunity, should choose Easter Week to launch a coordinated attack on a charity dedicated to feeding those in need.

This MoS story is actually a very carefully calculated piece of political propaganda designed to allow IDS and the Tory party to deny the reality of the foodbank crisis. Tory DWP minister and IDS-mouthpiece Lord Freud has repeatedly tried to claim that people go to foodbanks not because they are in need, but because it is free food; that strategy hasn't been working because no one believes him. The MoS story clearly sets out with the intent of proving that Freud's position is true, by inventing a story that makes it true. It then further twists the narrative by alleging that many of the people receiving food parcels were asylum-seekers, linking the foodbank issue to the xenophobic fears of the Mail's Little Englander readership, and seeks to undermine the Trussell Trust figures by implying that there is massive fraud across the entire foodbank system. The next time that foodbanks are in the news, watch out for IDS and Freud and the Tory hordes to come out waving the MoS story and claiming they knew all along that the figures were lies.

When Ministers and Fleet Street editors set out to make their spin true by creating a story from whole cloth, how can we trust either ever to tell us the truth?

(Updated title to use the religous allusion I actually meant to use, though Herod worked in its own way. Guess I'm even more lapsed than I thought)

Friday, 18 April 2014

Labour's New WCA Policy, Damned with Faint Praise


Labour's team of Rachel Reeves (shadow Secretary of State for Work and Pensions) and Kate Green (shadow Minister for Disabled People) had an article in the Independent on Wednesday How Labour would reform the Work Capability Assessment and the reaction from disabled people has been underwhelming.

Labour propose:
  • That the WCA will be changed to be more relevant to work, with the disabled person to get a copy of the assessor's report, detailing how their disability is expected to affect their ability to work, together with information on locally available support.
  • That they would introduce an independent group of disabled people to work with the independent reviewer in producing ongoing annual reviews of the WCA.
  • That the firm(s) contracted to conduct the assessments would be held to tighter standards.

Now any improvement in WCA is clearly better than none, but these proposals aren't exactly earth-shattering. Holding the Atos replacement to tighter standards is already ConDem policy, involving disabled people in the annual review is clearly better on the Nothing For Us, Without Us front, but the ConDems have shown how easy it is to work around the review while making the WCA worse, and promises to change the test to make it more relevant to work don't necessarily mean making it any more honest in the way it proceeds.

Disabled bloggers and campaign groups have already responded, and the response has been lukewarm at best. Sue Marsh in the Guardian is perhaps least negative and even she declares herself 'tremendously disappointed', noting that, as ever, Labour seem scared of providing any detail to a policy in case it might scare off the middle ground (I think that's Labour code for Mail readers), I'm not as convinced as Sue is that all the points made are necessarily positive, more of that below, but as she notes, it's a step on from the shirkers they've called us in the past. Mason Dixon is less positive in his assessment, noting that we have no guarantee that Labour are on our side given those same very negative attitudes towards disabled people and benefits expressed in the not-so-distant past by very senior Labour figures (Miliband, Byrne, and Reeves herself). Disabled People Against The Cuts meanwhile have no problem presenting a detailed assessment of where the proposals fall short in their response and in detailing how getting disabled people into work needs a system-wide approach stretching far beyond the bounds of WCA and including reversing cuts to DSA, ILF and PIP, while extending AtW, the accessibility of public transport,  reversing changes to the law on unfair dismissal and enforcing laws against disability discrimination in employment, while also recognising that many disabled people simply cannot be expected to work. These are all issues that do indeed need addressing if disabled people are to be able to compete in the labour market as anything closer to true equals - unfortunately I think they also represent a far wider debate than Labour is prepared to address at the moment, which is another point where Labour is falling short of our needs.

Beyond the issues raised by Sue Marsh, Mason Dixon and DPAC, I spotted some fairly major problems of my own. Nowhere in the Reeves/Green article is DWP itself addressed, and there are few disabled people left with any doubts that DWP is a major part of the problem, not the solution. We have seen openly disablist attitudes from the bottom of DWP to the top: from front line clerks who continually try to undermine disability related provisions in Job Seekers Agreements; through Disability Equality Advisors who believe disabled people should only expect to compete for jobs at the minimum wage; through people sanctioned at the drop of a hat; even when the issue is something like a learning disabled person unable to respond to a written letter, or a blind person DWP consistently fail to write to in braille; through the issues with the Work Programme and its utter failure towards disabled people; and that its DWP overseers allow rampant 'parking' of disabled people; through WCA decision makers who rarely question even the most absurd Atos assessments; on up to the highest levels of the department with their reports saying '75% are faking' and the under-the-counter briefing of the tabloids of the frothing right. Even if much of the higher level issues have originated with IDS, his coterie of junior ministers, and their Special Advisors; the senior civil servants of DWP have a professional responsibility to enforce both the Civil Service and Ministerial Codes in order to stop these abuses, and it is clear that they have not been prepared to do that. It is unfortunately clear that disabled people will not be able to trust DWP until there is a root and branch clear-out of staff with disablist attitudes, and a thorough retraining of every single member of the department in the principles of disability equality, with any who are unable to reform their attitudes transferred out of the department. Issues of staff attitudes also carry through into training providers - anyone willing to 'park' a disabled person is clearly not fit for their role, and to the staff of whichever companies end up conducting the revised WCA. Atos clearly had no shortage of staff who fell far short of the standard of behaviour that would be expected of medical personnel conducting a medical assessment and there was plentiful evidence of worse problems in the highest levels of the organisation.

Equally the subject of the BioPsychoSocial Model of Disability never arises. It is this model, avidly adopted by Labour and the highest levels of DWP from US insurer Unum (they of the 'disability denial mills') which shaped the evolution of WCA into a punitive system which envisages disabled people as being inherently involved in a conspiracy to defraud the government by petulantly refusing to get better (I wish I was joking, but you really couldn't make this stuff up). The BioPsychoSocial Model is used by DWP as an excuse to say 'Why yes, we are listening to the poor cripples and their Social Model', but the truth is that it is a model shaped to avoid any possible aspect of the Social Model infiltrating its way into WCA or any other part of DWP policy, and to maintain WCA as a punitive system to drive down ESA eligibility, rather than an enabling system which ensures all disabled people receive all of the support they need. Until and unless Labour say that the BioPsychoSocial Model is gone, and that it was a fundamental mistake ever to adopt it, then we simply can have no trust that they, DWP, and the WCA are acting in our interests, rather than against them.

Nor, returning to the WCA itself, do we see any promise to address the problems with the various disabilities whose needs and issues WCA has systematically failed to address, and remember, issues with WCA failing to address variable disabilities and mental health were identified all the way back in the first Harrington report. Nor is there a promise to do away with the 'imaginary wheelchair' method of assessment, in fact the proposal to have the assessor detail how they envisage the disabled person's disability affecting their ability to work potentially enshrines the 'imaginary wheelchair' in Labour's proposals. Nor is there any promise to do away with the ruling that no symptom can possibly have both physical and psychological effects, no matter that it flies in the face of medical science. Labour will probably argue that these are concerns about the details, but for disabled people, these details are vital in knowing whether we can support the policy, or whether we must oppose it.


Overall: C-, must try harder to address the entire problem.

Wednesday, 9 April 2014

Spartacus take ESA Beyond the Barriers


Work for those who can

Security for those who can't

Support for all

The Spartacus network of disabled people has launched a new report that not only dissects the many flaws in ESA, and the Work Capability Assessment, but which sets out to present a proposed replacement that will serve disabled people and government both.

The report, Beyond the Barriers, opens with a sobering analysis of the ESA process by the disabled people who have gone through it, with fully 50% saying that ESA causes stress, often to the point of fear.

The Work Capability Assessment is analysed, and beyond all the faults of structure, failure to seek medical evidence, and inadequately trained assessors, it notes that the assessment is irrelevant to work, as no attempt is made to discover what work an individual is supposed to be capable of doing - something most people will agree is a fairly fundamental failing.

While other reports have identified the same failings, where this report goes beyond those that have gone before is that it proposes a complete replacement for the ESA process, an utterly new process that carries out all of the assessment of disability that ESA and WCA were supposed to provide and never did, but which does it in a way that never loses focus on the need to protect the disabled person from being harmed by the process, the need to capture actual medical information, not the WCA’s Daily Mail parody of medical information, and which remains focused throughout on just what form of work the disabled person will, or will not, be able to do. There’s even the radical assertion that someone assessing a disability should actually know something about it.

Recognising that this will take time to implement, the report also proposes an interim solution to protect disabled people undergoing assessment before the replacement system becomes operational.

Perhaps the most radical proposal, but one completely in accord with other initiatives in the disability and care system, is that disabled people themselves should assume control of their own back-to-work support budget.

A report that doesn’t just expose all the flaws of ESA, but which actually sets out to make real progress on getting disabled people back to work, what’s not to like?