Saturday, 1 October 2016

Government backs down on some retesting for sickness benefits

Government backdown won’t apply to all but is an opening

The Work Capability Assessment (WCA) is highly damaging to those of us who have to go through it. Despite this, both main parties have consistently denied that there is any problem, and claimed that the WCA is necessary to weed out scroungers. That might be about to change.

Firstly, Labour announced at their conference that they would scrap the WCA altogether. This doesn't mean much right now since they are not in power, but it is a major turnaround for a party that introduced the WCA in the first place and has refused to even oppose most benefit cuts in the last few years. Jeremy Corbyn called the WCA degrading. Debbie Abrahams acknowledged that it makes people feel worthless and dehumanised.

It's not all good, since they still refuse to oppose benefit sanctions, and used the same old language about work being the goal for everyone, but it is a start.

Secondly, Damian Green, Tory Secretary of Work and Pensions, has told the media that the government will stop repeatedly retesting people who aren't going to improve.
“If someone has a disease which can only get worse then it doesn’t make sense to ask them to turn up for repeated appointments. If their condition is not going to improve, it is not right to ask them to be tested time after time. So we will stop it.”
This is a huge reversal of policy. Continuous retesting was always the point of Employment Support Allowance (ESA) although there have never been enough resources to apply that to everyone.

Many people are celebrating this. However, there are big questions as the government haven't specified any details. I'm not sure they even know yet. Reports imply that the exemption from retesting will apply to people with specific illnesses that are known to only deteriorate. If that is the case, then many people who have illnesses that are just as bad as those on the list but are not recognised as such, will miss out. So will people who have not yet been diagnosed, and that can mean people who are sick for years - or decades - before they find out the cause.

The more logical policy would be to apply this exemption to everyone who is in the Support Group, since this category is meant to contain people who have no prospect of improvement. In practice the Support Group doesn't work like that, and people who will never improve are frequently placed in the Work Related Activity Group instead, thanks to DWP efforts to deny them support in order to keep costs down. If the exemption were to apply to the Support Group only then it would still be unfair to all those improperly placed in the WRAG.

Whether the Government decides who qualifies based on diagnosis, or based on support group, it will still be unfair. However, I do see this announcement as a big win. A Tory government minister said "constant reassessment is pointless" and "does increase their stress and anxiety levels" "causes financial insecurity" to describe repeated work capability assessments. That is a huge admission for the Tories, or even for Labour.

We can use this. We can attack the inconsistencies in the government's argument. We can point out that the Work Capability Assessment is damaging to everyone. We can show that their descriptions apply to Personal Independence Payments too, even though they've spent six years attacking PIP's predecessor, DLA as "abandoning" people so as to justify welfare reform and repeated reassessments. This isn't an unqualified victory and won't necessarily improve things for that many people (perhaps including myself) but this is a major event in the struggle against welfare cuts of the last few years.

Friday, 6 May 2016

Inquiry into Disability Employment Gap and Disability Confident Closes Monday

The Parliamentary Work and Pensions Committee is holding an inquiry into the 'Disability Employment Gap', and the deadline for submissions is Monday. (Apologies for the short notice, they keep launching these things when I'm away from home and/or running around after medical stuff).

According to their webpage:

Scope of the inquiry

The Committee invites written submissions addressing the following points:
  • To what extent are the current range of proposed measures likely to achieve the Government’s ambition of closing the disability employment gap?
  • How effective is the Disability Confident campaign in reducing barriers to employment and educating employers?
  • What should support for people with health conditions and disabilities in the proposed Work and Health programme look like?
  • What are the likely impacts on disability employment of the abolition of the Employment and Support Allowance Work Related Activity component? 
I'll be putting in a response, which is likely to run along the lines of "Fat chance. Worse than useless. Nothing like DWP wants. And catastrophic", though at rather greater length. But this is your chance to comment on:
  • Whether the government really wants to halve the disability employment gap, or just get enough temporarily sick people back into work it looks like they did. 
  • How Disability Confident is actually working to reinforce discriminatory views of disabled people by its focus on inspiration porn, its denial that workplace disability discrimination exists, its encouragement to employers not to pay attention to disablity (and therefore to the adjustments we need), and its apparent belief that the only appropriate jobs for disabled people are entry level and minimum wage. Oh, and we're 'inspiring'.
  • How proposals for the Work and Health programme are likely to be a disaster. Details are all but impossible to find, but the various DWP pilot schemes, such as putting JCP staff into doctors' surgeries. and the Tory manifesto proposal for the enforced treatment of certain conditions suggest that DWP wants to develop a system in which it can directly influence the medical treatment disabled people receive and make their benefits conditional on doing as DWP demands.
  • And how the £30 cut in ESA, so that those in the Work Related Activity Group will be treated identically to non-disabled jobseekers on JSA, will further erode the recognition that this group includes many severely and long term disabled people, who need specialised support from JCP staff, which is already being decimated via the widespread axing of Disability Employment Advisers within JCP.
The aim of closing the disability employment gap is one we should all be able to get behind, but DWP's appalling history around disabled jobseekers, which largely consists of looking for ways to deny we are disabled, or prove us frauds, leaves me with little confidence that this is their real intention, while the farcical Disability Confident confirms they are far more interested in pandering to cliched values of disability we hoped we had left behind 30 years ago.

Responses are due by Monday 9th May. Whether that is close of business, or Midnight, appears not to be stated. In fact there is more information on responding in the Easy Read version than on the main website.

Chances to have our say don't come along often, so let's take advantage of this one.

Tuesday, 26 January 2016

Imminently Closing Government Consultations

Apologies for the short notice, but both of these seem to have been deliberately hidden over the  New Year break in the hope people would either not see them, or see them and forget about them. I missed one and forgot about the other - fortunately other people remembered and prodded me (Thanks to Dr Frances Ryan, DPAC and Hossylass for timely reminders).

The first one is the DWP "Consultation on aids and appliances and the daily living component of Personal Independence Payment" (which Lisa mentioned before Christmas). Dr Frances Ryan has a really good piece on it in today's Guardian: "Disabled people are accused of using aids they don’t need – to cut benefits again" The clear aim here is to justify removing household disability aids such as adapted cutlery, perching stools and the like from being counted as evidence towards being qualified for PIP. In helping people write PIP and ESA applications I've found it can be the simplest, most basic aids that really illustrate the depth of people's disabilities, and clearly DWP have too because they now want to stop them from counting.

What is particularly worrying is the openly skewed language being used by DWP to try and exclude aids from counting. Aids are presented in the most trivial of terms, as purely incidental, such as someone perching on the edge of the bath while washing. The fact that means their disability is so severe they can't stand up for even a couple of minutes is carefully not mentioned. As disabled people we've grown used to DWP slanting the evidence, but this time they aren't even trying to hide what they're doing. They openly claim PIP wasn't meant to cover basic disability aids - even though other people remember the stated aims of PIP rather differently.

The language is so skewed that at least one complaint has already been lodged with Parliament's Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee (Secondary Legislation is the stuff that Ministers can change pretty much at will, without needing to bring a bill before the House to be voted on) and you can also complain at PIP.consultationfeedback@DWP.GSI.GOV.UK The standards that are supposed to apply can be read here, note particularly item c) "Give enough information to ensure that those consulted understand the issues and can give informed responses".

My personal worry with this one is that I think it i's a calculated first step, aimed at establishing the principle that some disability aids don't count towards disability benefits. The obvious second step then becomes to exclude wheelchairs and other mobility aids from counting for disability benefits, because as Ministers and MPs have claimed in the past, once you have a wheelchair, you aren't really mobility impaired (yeah, right). And if thinking that seems paranoid to you, consider the use of the imaginary wheelchair in ESA assessments, where, if you don't have a wheelchair (or prosthesis, or guide-dog), even if Wheelchair Services have expressly refused you one, the assessor is already allowed to hypothesize that if you did have a wheelchair you wouldn't be mobility impaired.

 The second consultation is a call for evidence from the Commons Public affairs Committee on contracted out health and disability assessments, which covers ESA and PIP and DLA, as performed by Atos,  Maximus, and Capita. DPAC have the contact details listed out here. If you, like me, had a horrific assessment, then this is your chance to have your experience heard. And you don't have to have been rejected to have a valid opinion, I passed my WCA assessment, but the whole experience was nightmarish, and deeply damaging, to the point that several years later I'm finding the effects of the assessment even more disabling that the disability I was being assessed for! And it isn't just the assessment itself that's up for comment, I know people who have faced horrifically disablist bullying just over arranging the appointment.

The DWP consultation on PIP and Disability Aids closes on 29th January. This Friday.

The PAC call for evidence on assessments closes at 10AM on 28th January. 10AM this Thursday.

Tuesday, 22 December 2015

Good news in theory, but will it translate into practice?

You may remember, three years ago when the Coalition were devising PIP, they kept banging on and on about how they had to do it because under DLA it was possible for people with incurable conditions to get DLA for an indefinite period. The concept of "incurable" might sound simple to normal people, but politicians believe in miracles and they couldn't accept that things like cerebral palsy, Down's Syndrome, osteogenesis imperfecta, spinal cord injuries, autism, and amputations are conditions for life.

So their plan for PIP was to waste taxpayers' money on continually reassessing us incurables every three years (and the related appeals when they wrongly refused us the support) just to make sure we hadn't had a successful trip to Lourdes.

But it seems like, somehow, some common sense has been snuck into the delivery of PIP. Very, very, quietly. There's been no big press releases declaring that, in this austere time, they've decided to bung a few less pounds to Atos/Capita for pointless continual assessments of people who'll never get any better. I read about it quite by chance.

The Freedom of Information website WhatDoTheyKnow has got a copy of the Decision Maker’s Reasoning Template User Guide. That guide is what the case managers/decision makers at the DWP use to, well, help them make decisions on a case.

If you scroll down to page 9 of the document you'll see the decision makers now have the option of offering an indefinite PIP award by typing "indef" into their box:

Image of some text saying 'You can enter 'Indef' or a number of years/ months, as appropriate. The 'Review
period' generates the 'Award end date' which will be indefinite or one year beyond the 'Review date'.'

And at the start of page 10:

Text with a blue header saying 'Review Period' and then the body of the text says 'The reasons for the review period selected will be generated automatically. For an indefinite award or an award of at least 11 years this will be: 'All awards must be reviewed, as your condition is unlikely to change I have selected the maximum possible review period.'

I double and triple checked the source of this a dozen times. It'd be so easy for hoaxers to knock up a falsified decision maker's guide and put it out there. But WhatDoTheyKnow is a reputable source. And I've Googled and Googled looking for any other info about indefinite PIP awards presuming there had to be a DWP press release out there somewhere. But if you Google "indefinite PIP awards" you'll just find pages and pages about the move of indefinite DLA claimants over to PIP.

Talking about this new piece of info with my Facebook friends: One of them pointed out that just because decision makers have the option of issuing an indefinite award, doesn't mean they actually will. And he's right; PIP was not designed with common sense in mind.

And just because our conditions will be lifelong and incurable, it doesn't mean that being eligible for PIP now means you'll still be eligible for PIP in a few years time given the government keep moving the goalposts. Right now they're running a consultation looking at removing PIP from people who use the money to pay for "aids and appliances" rather than human assistance. Because apparently in the tiny minds at the DWP; aids and appliances are totally free to buy, free to maintain, and free to replace when they wear out. (I would urge you all to complete the consultation by the deadline of 29 January 2016.)

The introduction of indefinite awards could be great news for disabled people with incurable conditions and great news for the taxpayer who'd otherwise be paying for pointless reassessments and appeals. But if the government at going to redraw the PIP qualifying criteria every 3 years in order to cut a bit more; they'll probably not bother issuing awards for longer than 3 years anyway.

Monday, 30 November 2015

The ridiculous idea that being able to afford food is bad for you

Reading anything written by Brendan O'Neill is a bit like getting a private part of your anatomy caught in industrial machinery: Fun if you're a masochist; excruciating if you're not.

On Friday he wanked out this piece, because he was sad that George Osborne didn't do enough to take food from the mouths of the working poor in the autumn statement. Someone posted the link in a disabled people's group over the weekend with the added comment "know your enemy". So I foolishly clicked.

I do agree with him that it's "weird and wrong that the state effectively tops up people’s pay packets." When I was young and healthy and working 2 jobs, it seemed a little odd that I needed Working Tax Credits to make ends meet. I got £112 every 4 weeks, which may not sound like much to some people. But when you're broke, it's vital. It would be great if WTCs weren't needed; but you don't cut them and hope that employers will boost wages when their employees start collapsing from malnutrition-related illnesses. Employers need to be compelled by law to pay a living wage; and then WTCs will just fizzle out when no-one is eligible for them because the minimum wage is sufficient.

But Working Tax Credits aren't the only benefit O'Neill wants to abolish. After a whine about how over 50% of households receive more in benefits than they pay in tax (because employers pay so little that people are both eligible for in work benefits and not reaching the income tax threshold? Too obvious?); he turned his ire on people who are too ill to work.

The fact that vast numbers of people, first through Incapacity Benefit and then through Employment Support Allowance, have been redefined by the state as ‘incapable’ — of work, of independence, of dignity, in effect — and have been put out to pasture.

For starters; it's just unoriginal. Jeremy Hunt already accused people needing state help of being undignified at the Tory party conference.

Secondly: Why is 'incapable' in quote marks like it's not a real thing? Incapable of working does exactly what it says on the tin.

But as for independence and dignity: IB/ESA allow for those things; they don't strip them away. Without an income; people too ill to work would be entirely dependent on the charity of others. Having an income allows you the independence of buying the food you like, not being dependent on what a charity received in donations that week. Having an income means you can be independent in placing your own online supermarket order if you can't shop for yourself; not being dependent on someone shopping for you. Having an income means you can buy clothes that you can fasten yourself with only the use of one arm while you're recovering from a stroke; not being dependent on someone else to dress you.

On the contrary; having that independence stripped away and being forced into begging for every little thing: That's undignified in a developed country where we can, actually, allow for people recovering from serious accidents to have a bit of independence.

Also Mr Research-Challenged doesn't know that ESA awards are time limited, despite the fact that the "support group" is for people unlikely to ever be well enough to work again. Everyone - even with the most severe and incurable conditions - gets reassessed every few years; no matter how much iller it makes them. No beautiful green pastures of fairness left in this country; just wasting taxpayers' money on continuous reassessment of people with incurable conditions.

There are parts of Britain where a state-sanctioned culture of incapacity has deadened community spirit, destroyed its soul.

I shouldn't laugh at this level of ignorance; but it's actually pretty damn funny. "Culture of incapacity" like progressive neurological conditions are the latest must-have fashion statements.

Yes; sure I don't participate in community events as much as healthy people might. Although that's partly because in real life I'm actually quite shy and I don't want to get involved in neighbourhood politics because I don't want to be getting into arguments with the people who live all around me. You don't shit where you eat. Or get into arguments with people you have to pass in the street every day.

But also I don't get involved with "community spirit" because I'm ill a fuckload of the time. If the tenants and residents association is organising a day trip to Brighton and seats on the coach are limited: I don't want to book a place because I'll probably be ill on the day and I'll have robbed someone that could have gone of the chance.

Am I being a soul-destroyer? As someone who's simply never bothered going to the local street festival I've probably destroyed less souls than someone who regularly writes transphobic screeds for financial gain.

He then just goes into the realm of surreal with his next paragraph. I can only imagine he was tripping his balls off when he wrote it and I'm slightly picturing him looking like my cat when she's off her tits on nip. Yes, I am picturing him complete with toy mouse.

First he claims that welfare "dents individual ambition".

You know what dented my ambition? Illness. It broke my heart when I had to give up doing what I loved and claim benefits because I was just too ill to do it any longer. I still regularly cry about what I've lost. But you know what I haven't lost yet? My life. Because I still have a very low income that's just enough to survive on.

In the second half of the paragraph he reckons that people claiming things from the state are "less likely to rely on their own volition and on the support and kindness of neighbours and friends." This is really the balls-tripping bit.

I would challenge you to find many people more capable of relying on their own volition than me. When I broke my shoulder last Christmas it took me all of about 2 minutes to work out how to put my hair into a ponytail despite not being able to lift my arm at all. I'd wager most non-disabled people couldn't figure it out at all.

As for the support and kindness of neighbours and friends: I have called on them several times in the last year during brief periods of injury or illness. But it's not a sustainable solution. Take a look at some of the people in desperate need of social care. Read about some of the people who have to sit in soiled incontinence pads for hours. Sure; break your shoulder and someone will drive your car home. But if you're in need of help with continence all day every day: No friend or neighbour is going to do that. Is O'Neill volunteering to provide intimate social care for someone, 24/7, without any recompense?

I didn't think so.

If O'Neill broke his neck tomorrow; would he be comfortable with all his assistance for the rest of his life being provided by friends and neighbours?

I didn't think so either.

Yet a few miles from the leafy suburbs in which they churn out their defences of welfarism there will be communities branded incapable and made divided by that welfarism.

All us incapables live in segregated communities!

Which is news to me. I thought some of my neighbours were doing quite well for themselves.

Although, the sad reality is that there are poorer areas with a higher number of disabled people than the national average. But that's because disabled people are more likely to live in poverty, so we're not going to be buying mansions in Hampstead. Instead we're going to be renting in affordable areas.

And poverty is more likely to make you disabled. From the psychological toll of living hand to mouth, to getting osteoporosis from not being able to afford foods high enough in vitamin D, to being more likely to sustain an industrial accident in your low-paid job leaving you unable to work.

Although Trippy McBalls has just, inadvertently, made an impassioned defence for income equality and fighting against housing benefit cuts that are causing social cleansing from affluent areas: Social integration is good for communities.

In the second-to-last paragraph, Mr Haven't-Thought-This-Through says we need to cut welfare to "repair the self-belief and independence of working-class and poorer sections of society."

He suddenly gives a fuck about my self-belief? Throughout the article he has called me:

* Undignified
* A Deadener of community spirit
* A destroyer of souls
* Lacking in ambition
* Unable to rely on my own volition
* Lacking in "individual pluck"
* Lacking in "community zest"

Basically, just about every pejorative he could think of. That's not how self-belief works. You can't insult someone for several hundred words and not expect their confidence to take a hit.

But, Mr O'Neill truly saved his most bizarre brain ejaculation for last. He implores for more benefit cuts because our system is "Dickensian". That's right; at a time when people are so broke because of the cuts already that Victorian diseases are soaring, he wants to cut more claiming it'll make things less Dickensian.

If I wasn't familiar with his other writings; I'd think this was a brilliant piece of comedy. But sadly I know that he wasn't trying to be funny.

Wednesday, 25 November 2015

The DWP at your GP

This article about a pilot scheme to place JobCentre advisers in GP surgeries is actually 2 months old, but somehow I hadn't read it until last week.

It is fucking terrifying.

Your GP surgery is supposed to be a place of safety.

I recently had some issues with panic attacks. Basically I spent an entire weekend in a state of absolute terror - I called The Samaritans at one point because I was just so panicked, alone, and afraid - and then on Monday morning when my doctors' surgery opened I phoned and wept at the receptionist. I got given an appointment for 3 hours later; when I wept at a doctor.

I was scared and upset and in absolutely no state for a JobCentre staffer to start harassing me with "have you ever thought about being less ill and getting a job?"

But it's not just about mental illness. When talking about alopecia am I going to have someone from the work program suggesting I buy a loom and start making and selling jumpers using the obscene amount of hair I shed? While having invasive gynaecological examinations, am I going to have to maintain eye contact with someone telling me that if I put my mind to it I could get a job as a stripper seeing as strangers have seen me naked from the waist-down anyway?

The recent academic research that attributed 590 suicides to the work capability assessment also found that the assessment process caused 279,000 additional cases of mental health problems, and required doctors to prescribe to assessment victims an additional 725,000 antidepressant items. Can you just imagine: You've been made so ill by the WCA process that you need to go and beg for antidepressants. And when you get to the doctor you find yourself face-to-face with someone saying "hey! We might have just given you an extra mental illness on top of whatever condition you already had. But how about we send you on a workfare placement? That'll perk you up. Or kill you. But either way, you won't be a useless scrounger any longer."

Here's a quote from that article justifying the scheme:

Dr Josephine Sauvage from the NHS Islington CCG explained that the employment drive aims to redress isolation and confidence issues, which are often associated with long-term health problems.

She said: ‘When we become ill we often stop doing those things that get us out and about and bring fulfilment to our lives. As a local GP I see and hear this every day and I’m very keen to do more to support my patients’ well-being.

‘Prescribing free and confidential employment coaching, delivered in a caring and familiar environment, could be really beneficial to a patient’s confidence and self-esteem, as well as their long-term recovery.”

Yes, being ill has meant I am no longer able to do things that get me out and about. Last Thursday I was supposed to go to some swanky party; but instead I was home alone - ill - and sitting around the flat my pyjamas. Someone from the JobCentre telling me to get a job every time I visit my GP isn't going to prevent me from being too ill to do stuff a hell of a lot of the time.

Yes, I'm extremely isolated; I wrote about that on my own blog just a few weeks ago. But DWP harassment every time I need a GP to diagnose a weird rash isn't going to make people want to spend any time with me.

But you know what's going to make my confidence and self-esteem even lower? Reminding me that I'm a useless benefit scrounger every time I enter the building to submit a repeat prescription request form. Don't you think I feel enough shame about my status in a society that's obsessed with one's occupation? Without just rubbing it in every time I turn up to a building that's supposed to be safe.

What's worrying is that a GP - an actual practising doctor - seems to be in denial about the fact that some of her patients are actually too ill to fucking work. Perhaps, if she's really concerned about the social and emotional well-being of people like me who are ill and excluded from society, she might like to promote social cohesion schemes that allow us to participate in the local community as and when we're able. Because bringing the JobCentre into the surgery and telling sick people to "take up thy bed, and walk... Into McDonald's for a minimum wage job you're far too ill to hold down," isn't going to help anyone.

Thursday, 15 October 2015

Appeal of PIP Consultation Judicial Review Not Successful

This morning we received the final judgment in our appeal of the judicial review of the consultation for PIP. The appeal was not successful.

The full text of the judgment is linked below but I will quote here the key paragraphs that my solicitor pointed out.
  1. Once it was accepted, as it had to be on the evidence, that the Respondent approached the 2013 consultation with an open mind, it seems to me that the challenge to the process as a whole must fail. It is explained in the evidence that all options were open as to the “Moving around criteria”, even if that meant changing the criteria for “Planning and following journeys” or looking for funding elsewhere. The reality was that consultees such as Mr Sumpter had every opportunity to present to the Respondent the difficulties that the move from a 50 metre benchmark to a 20 metre one would cause to them. It is clear that such opportunity was taken. In reality, it would have gone nowhere to contend in the consultation that the physically disabled should continue to be favoured at the expense of those who suffered other disabilities. No doubt none would have wished to present such an unattractive argument. Given the Respondent’s overall policy to make PIP available to a wider category of the disabled, new beneficiaries obviously had to come into the equation and there would have been no point in contending that they should be excluded.
  1. …As I understand the law, consultation has to be fair; it does not have to be perfect. With the benefit of hindsight, it will no doubt often be possible to show that a consultation could have been carried out rather better, but that will not necessarily mean that it was unfair. That is what the judge said at paragraph 123 of his judgment and I agree with him.
I note that the judge did draw attention to the choice that the government made to frame continuing to help physically disabled people as unfairly withholding help from people with mental and cognitive difficulties. He did not, however, find it relevant that the consultation failed to admit the government decision to give new help at the expense of help previously available. The judge implied that people responding to the consultation only needed to talk about the difficulties we would face, not about the decision to take money away for use elsewhere.

It should be noted that the government had previously said while defending this case that they know they are removing DLA from “individuals with genuine health conditions and disabilities and genuine need” and “removing or reducing that benefit may affect their daily lives.” (This is a direct quote of words used by the government and quoted in the judgment in 2014 at paragraph 80.)

[PDF] Final judgment PIP judicial review appeal

For further information please contact solicitors for this case, Irwin Mitchell.

Previously on this subject:

PIP 20 metre rule consultation back in court

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

Two weeks until PIP Judicial Review – 20 metre limit in the dock

Replacement of disability living allowance headline news for hours

Why I am suing the government

“Lots of folk can’t afford a car”

Monday, 12 October 2015

Tory Party Conference: Is Any Disability Benefit Safe?

The “We Hate Anyone Who Needs a Bit Of Help” party had their annual gathering in Manchester last week. And terrifyingly they’ve got a majority government for the first time since the 90s so they can really pull out all the stops.

Lisa, Naomi, the Goldfish, Philippa and David thought we’d take a look at some of the dreadful things they’ve been saying.

Lisa: Does anyone even know how the disability component of WTC will be affected? It’s got to be, surely, even if disabled people only see the basic rate of the credit cut but the disability premium on top stays the same.

David: It’s entirely possible they haven’t even thought of that yet. I was in touch with the Cabinet Office (responsible for all e-gov activities) a month before Universal Credit was due to go live (back when it was just a potential fiasco rather than an utter fiasco), with the original concept of all access being online still firmly government policy, and was told they were just about to start looking into the minor issue that most disabled people aren’t actually online. Competence and government policy don’t necessarily go together.

Though the cut goes so far that even Boris Johnson and David Davis are opposed to the cut.

Lisa: I guess this is Osborne and Johnson laying out their claim for party leadership. Johnson’s trying to portray himself as being the fairer man who might steal some votes from the left; while Osborne is trying to show himself to be the most ruthless to appeal to the most Daily Mail readers.

Before Iain Duncan Smith’s speech he gave an interview to The Guardian in which he vomited out a sentiment he’s been saying a lot lately: That ESA is too binary in either deeming you fit for work or unfit for work.

Lisa: He’s in charge of the whole benefits system and he’s never heard of the Permitted Work scheme? And, I mean, it’s not like he’s one man expected to know everything. He’s got a whole team of advisors and the whole DWP at his beck and call, and still no-one’s pointed out Permitted Work to him? More realistically I think he’s pretending Permitted Work doesn’t exist to the public to try and justify more cuts.

David: Agreed. He’s clearly attempting to mislead the public, there has been a long pattern of this from both IDS and Osborne, starting from the moment they took power. And the problem is the press doesn’t know the details of the schemes, so takes him at his word - or in the case of the right wing tabloids actively shares his intention to mislead. And then the people trust the press to tell them the truth.

Take the line in the article: “his office points out that appeals against ESA decisions fell by 81% in 2014-15 compared with 2013-14.” What his office didn’t point out, and what the non-specialist journalist didn’t know to challenge, is that they suspended a huge number of reassessments due to Atos walking away from the contract because it was destroying their company reputation, so there were fewer assessments happening to need appeals, and that they had introduced an additional hoop for people to jump through, ‘mandatory reassessment’, which can potentially last indefinitely, before they can get to the appeal stage. So we would actually expect the number of appeals to have dropped even if there was no change in how bad the process is.

The Goldfish: ESA is anything but binary and that's actually part of the problem. As someone in the Support Group, I'm not expected to work. But people in the Work Related Group exist in this weird hinterland where they have been found unfit for work, and yet are placed under pressure to move towards and into work - within a year, in the case of those with savings or a working partner - regardless of whether their health has improved.

And yes, there's Permitted Work, which is one thing ESA gets right. Even people in the Support Group are allowed to do small amounts of paid work, if something appropriate comes up.

David: Picking up on WRAG, I’m one of the people in Goldfish’s ‘weird hinterland’, and would have been time-limited from the moment it was introduced in April 2012 if I hadn’t given ESA up as a sick joke at that point. Bizarrely the Equality Impact Assessment for time-limiting insists that this is to make it ‘fairer’. Three and a half years later I’m still just as disabled, with no prospect of that changing.

And in that same interview he also proposes the terrifying prospect of merging DLA and ESA. Or at least merging the assessments.

Lisa: I don’t even know where to start with this. They’re different benefits to meet different needs. ESA is for people who are too ill to work. An ESA claimant may or may not be eligible for DLA. (Also someone should probably remind him that he abolished DLA in the last Parliament and replaced it with PIP.) DLA is available to people in work who obviously aren’t eligible for ESA. Is this merger basically designed to remove DLA from people in work? Which will, obviously, result in people needing to give up work: About 50,000 of them according to the Disability Benefits Consortium.

David: ESA is basically unemployment pay for disabled people who aren’t fit for work. It pays a slightly higher rate than JSA as disabled people have higher costs of living and are likely to be unemployed for longer. As discussed above, many of us will never be fit for work, even those of us in the WRAG (exposes have revealed the DWP targets that force WCA assessors to put people with long-term disabilities into WRAG, leading to the ludicrous situation of people with Cerebral Palsy or MS being told they’ll probably be better in six months). Yet they’re already cutting ESA WRAG back to the JSA rate as they believe we’re all lazy crips who prefer living on the pittance ESA pays while being harassed by DWP. DLA (or PIP), meanwhile, is supposed to cover the extra costs faced by disabled people in their normal life. These needs aren’t going to go away.

The cultural problems within the assessment companies such as Atos, with assessors openly referring to disabled people as scroungers and worse, have been documented in a series of whistleblowing exposes, yet IDS now wants those same disablist bigots to be assessing whether five year olds with spina bifida, CP, autism and all the rest have mobility and care needs. Does anyone see a problem here….

The Goldfish: As I understand it, assessors already take into account what other benefits you've qualified for as part of your assessment and that's seems reasonable.

I think others have covered the ridiculous idea of merging DLA/PIP and ESA. These benefits play completely different roles. It's like merging JSA and Child Benefit.

Naomi: I think the government has been trying to find a way to scrap DLA for working disabled people for a long, long time -- and that PIP is only the first step. Consultant rheumatologist Rodney Grahame, who was chair of the DLA Advisory Board from 1993 until (I believe) 2003, argued for changes in the ‘philosophy’ of DLA for many years. In 2002 he called for mobility aids and wheelchairs to be discounted in DLA applications -- for people who use them not to be seen as disabled, but as operating on the same level as people who carry out activities/mobilise without them. (The man has no concept of the Social Model, nor has he apparently ever watched someone who uses a wheelchair try to board public transport or get into a high street shop.) He has been talking for a long time about how DLA is a disincentive to work - that getting money from the government is a “secondary gain” that encourages people to stop working. (He clearly never grasped the concept of what DLA/PIP is for - which is more than a little worrying, given the position he held.) I’m only aware of his views because of the research I did into rehabilitation. There may be many, many other advisors to the government out there, providing them with similarly terrible ‘expert’ advice.

The government may have a perfect opportunity here to start saying that if disabled people are in work, they don’t need the ‘disincentive’ of DLA/PIP that could encourage them to stop work. This is an extremely nasty ideological attack, both on the universality of DLA/PIP, and on the extra costs that working disabled people have which are not faced by working non-disabled people. Cynical.

David: The ideological attack Naomi suggests here is simply an extension of one that has already begun. In the July budget Osborne justified axing the ESA WRAG component by calling it a ‘perverse incentive’, essentially suggesting that every disabled person in receipt of WRAG would rather stay on the benefit than find work. Meanwhile Dame Carol Black and her mantra that all work is good for disabled people, or Professor Mansel Aylward, architect of ESA and the WCA, are other examples of the advisors feeding profoundly damaging views of disability into government policy.

Philippa: As someone who works and receives DLA, this change concerns me. DLA exists to cover the extra costs incurred by being disabled, and those do not disappear when you start work! Merging it with ESA is a dangerous idea that could really affect working disabled people.

Those people who can only work because DLA / PIP pays their taxis, or pays for someone to help them in the shower in the morning? They’ll end up back on full benefits.

In his speech he described ESA as being “Labour’s something for nothing culture”…

Lisa: Someone needs to explain to him how National Insurance contributions and contributory benefits work. Not to mention that someone needs to give the robot a mode where it can pretend to acknowledge that people who are too ill to work are still human beings.

David: I paid NI for 22 years while I was working, yet my personal situation means ESA time-limited me after a year. There’s definitely someone getting something for nothing here, it’s just not me. Looking at  you, Mr Duncan Smith…

The Goldfish: Quite apart from NI, the state pays for all kinds of things regardless of people’s previous contributions - education is a maybe a disingenuous example, but everyone gets a state pension and so they should. We’re not, thankfully, asked about what taxes we’ve paid before we get medical treatment or police assistance.

ESA is a benefit which sustains people who are not currently able to work because of their ill health. This is hardly a tremendous privilege that ought to be earned.

Lisa: He’s just found another way of wording the sentiment “arbeit macht frei,” hasn’t he? After all these years he still really believes that there are no actually disabled people out there, and we’re all just lazy. If I wasn’t so tired I’d be furious. Of course; he’s not alone. Before him the Labour government thought we were all just lazy which was why they brought in ESA in 2008 to weed out the fakers. Before that the Tories in 1995 brought in Incapacity Benefit because they thought everyone on Invalidity Benefit was a lazy faker. It’s a decades old thing that spans all political parties.

David: IDS basically stood up in front of the entire Tory Party conference, called disabled people lazy scroungers, and was applauded for it. We can pretty much guarantee that the next thing that will happen will be a series of articles in the Tory press about people faking disability and how we’re all idle frauds. The demonisation from the ConDem’s scrounger rhetoric during the last parliament left many disabled people scared to leave their house after being attacked in the street as fakes and scroungers, and IDS seems intent on kicking off a new round.

Picking up on Lisa’s point about ESA and Incapacity Benefit, each of these reforms was brought in with the aim of ‘proving’ there are a huge number of people faking disability, and in each case that has proved not to be the case. No matter how harshly you treat them in the assessment, not matter how much pressure Atos and the like put on doctors and nurses to screw their results, people still turn out to really be disabled. And the only way they can cut the numbers claiming are by changing the rules. I use a wheelchair outside the house, yet I’m not considered to have a severe mobility impairment under the new system because I can walk more than 20m with crutches if I have to.

The Goldfish: It's heartbreaking that ending poverty in our own wealthy country is no longer a national aspiration. Nobody should be in poverty, regardless - unemployed non-disabled people shouldn't be in poverty just because they're not in work right now, let alone those who have no prospect of finding or performing work.

Meanwhile, poverty is incredibly expensive, both for individuals and state. Living in poverty makes it harder for healthy people to seek and stay in work, when they're strugglng to pay for transport, appropriate clothing, childcare and so on. For sick people, poverty is a killer. And all that costs the state, in the cost of folks' deteriorating health and all the myriad social problems that follow on from people living in desperate situations.

Naomi: This is just incredible to read. We know about the glass floor that helpfully stops over-privileged people like the Tories from falling into poverty. We know that social mobility is getting slower and slower. Social evidence suggests that it is now near-impossible to work your way out of poverty, even if you’re not disabled. And disabled people are already up to twice as likely to be living in poverty as non-disabled people. Only the Tories could make that horrendous social inequality personal -- only they could suggest that higher rates of poverty are our own fault. In a society so unequal that we can’t find work because there’s no workable legislation to prevent employers from discriminating against us, and where we can’t find accessible housing so have to live in terrible conditions and pay extra for the privilege, and where we can’t board public transport or find decent NHS care for our conditions, of course we’re living in higher rates of poverty. Yes, the statistics on disability poverty are shameful -- but it’s not disabled people who should be ashamed. This should be a source of shame to our incredibly rich society that can’t find ways to reduce these horrendous inequalities.

Lisa: Great. Now I don’t just have to worry about myself not being able to put food on the table; I have to worry about my dad too. It’s bad enough that I can’t sleep at night worrying about how much his local council are going to cut his care package now the Independent Living Fund has closed. Although; if they did cut pensioner benefits the Tories would be out at the next election because they’d lose the grey vote.

David: And here we see the Taxpayers Alliance working in their true role as the Militant Wing of the Tory Party, and their utter contempt for actual taxpayers, with their Research Director saying they could get away with the cuts because the pensioners affected (who are taxpayers, remember) would either be dead by the next election, or too senile to remember. The cynicism, and disablism, is breathtaking.

The Goldfish: I really hope they shot themselves in the foot with this one. Pensioners vote and while we don't always look over our old folk that well, people generally care about their parents and grandparents. Folks who might be dead or forgetful in five years time will have friends and families who won't forget or forgive. This makes me optimistic that it simply won't happen.

The Winter Fuel Allowance is an excellent way of tackling preventable illness and death. Yes, folk living longer means more disabled people in the world, but having to treat pneumonia, hypothermia, chilblains and other cold-related conditions is surely less cost-effective than the yearly payment to everyone over 65.

(It's a common misconception that all disabled people get a winter fuel allowance. We don't.)

Naomi: It’s interesting that the government is willing to risk this one. About ten years ago I had a long debate (via letter and surgery visits) with my MP, a nice left-wing Labour chap, who argued that it would be too expensive to extend Winter Fuel Allowance to disabled people. What about means-testing it for older people and using the saving to give it to disabled people? I asked. “Oooh,” he replied, “we can’t do that. It would cost more than it would save, and it would be a terribly unpopular move.” Of course, it saves a lot more money if you just cut it, for everyone. Still, you’re left with an uncomfortable situation. This will indeed be a terribly unpopular move, and the older people’s lobby will remember. As they should.

Lisa: Most people think of independence as meaning “being able to do things for yourself like wipe your own arse.” But being raised by 2 disabled parents I learned that independence is really about being in control of your life and making choices, like choosing who you employ to wipe your arse for you. So I can get DLA which allows me the choice of getting an Ocado delivery at a time that suits me. Or I could have social services inflict an agency carer upon me to help me go shopping at a time that suits them and I get absolutely no say in the matter. The DLA option allows me independence, and is better value for the state too.

As for dignity and self-respect: I used to have some of those things, until the Tories and the right-wing press told me and the rest of the world that I’m just a useless eater.

David: Absolutely. At its core, independence is about making the decisions in your life, not about who implements those decisions for you. The closure of the Independent Living Fund has seen a horrendous definition of independence being increasingly used by those forced to justify the Tory cuts, with disabled people who are not incontinent, but who need care assistance to get to the toilet, being told they should use nappies instead, as that would ‘increase their independence’. This is the kind of doublespeak disabled people have to deal with from IDS and everyone who implements his policies, where being forced to crap yourself is touted as an improved quality of life.

The Goldfish: When I think about times my independence, self-respect or dignity has been under threat, that's all about finding myself with inadequate resources - having to rely on the generosity of friends and family for essential needs - or being spoken about as if I am nothing. Anyone who thinks I necessarily lack independence, self-respect and dignity because of the condition of my health is carrying an awful burden of prejudice.

An ineffective welfare system - an effective state - maximises the opportunities for all its people to attain and maintain independence, self-respect and dignity, regardless of the hand they are dealt. If folks lack these things because of their life circumstances as opposed to their own bad choices, then something has gone seriously wrong. And, alas, I’m afraid it has.

Naomi: Like the Goldfish, I feel that my dignity, independence and self-respect are very much under threat at the moment. I lost my PA support a year ago, thanks to care charges that I could no longer afford to pay. I used to have a fair bit of dignity and a lot of independence. I don’t anymore. I rely on my partner to a ridiculous effect, something that could easily have negatively affected my marriage -- that’s undignified. I have very little flexibility to do what I want anymore -- that’s a lack of independence. And I live on a conveyor belt of disdain and abuse, moving from one microaggression to the next, constantly dealing with a society that believes Tory rhetoric about how much of a waste of space and resources I am -- that leads to a lack of self-respect. I’m starting to think you’re right, Mr Hunt. I just wish you understood what that meant.

Philippa: The benefit system does its best to remove dignity and self-respect from people who are claiming benefits. This is getting worse by the day, it seems. There should be no indignity in claiming what people are entitled to, but along with certain portions of the press, it’s becoming something to be ashamed of rather than a right.

The five years of the ConDem government saw disability benefits and care cut to the bone. We know that those cuts resulted in at least 49 deaths where even DWP acknowledged it was likely at fault, with an additional 90 people a month dying after being declared fit for work, a figure whose release DWP spent years fighting against. Rather than share any normal person’s horror at what they have wrought, the Tories, unshackled now from the deadweight of their LibDem enablers, seem determined to take those cuts to the next level. The question is no longer whether we will have an adequate level of disability benefits at the end of this Parliament, it’s whether we will have any disability benefits left at all.