Thursday, 29 September 2011
Yesterday, at the Labour Party Conference, Ed Miliband held a Q&A session and was challenged by disability activist Kaliya Franklin (aka @BendyGirl, author of Benefit Scrounging Scum ) over his attitudes to disability. Charged by Kaliya that he was "reinforcing the destructive rhetoric" of the ConDems towards disabled benefit recipients, particularly through the disabled man he lambasted earlier this year as just as irresponsible as any banker because he hadn't been able to find work, attitudes repeated in his keynote speech on Tuesday, Miliband responded: "The problem is I met his next-door neighbours … and they didn't actually refer to him, but they said: 'Our problem is we are working incredibly hard and we are worried we are paying for people who can't work.'" And as far as Ed is concerned, that justifies condemning that man, and all disabled benefit recipients by extension. No thought that much of the impact of disability is invisible, no thought that the neighbours might just possibly be disablist, just he's disabled, they're angry, and they have more votes.
As Orwell had it as things went wrong for the lesser animals, 'Four Legs Good, But Two Legs Better'.
Now the interesting part of this from my personal perspective is that earlier this year I was interviewed by BBC South East about my experience of disability hate crime. One of the points that I made, and one that was backed on air by the disability charity Scope and other experts, was that the rise in hate crime results at least in part from government propaganda intended to confirm non-disabled people in their impression that disabled benefit recipients are all frauds and slackers. The Conservatives trotted out Mark Reckless, MP for Rochester and Chatham, to defend themselves. How did he do that? By saying that if people thought those around them were receiving disability benefits without deserving them, then they were fully entitled to be angry. No thought that much disability is invisible, no thought that the neighbours might just possibly be disablist, just he's disabled, they're angry, and they have more votes.
Two politicians, one a hardline Conservative, one the leader of the Labour Party, both making exactly the same argument to justify their attitude that criticism of disabled benefit recipients by those who know nothing about them is perfectly justified.
The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which.
Towns and cities around the UK will see protests tomorrow (30th September) against Atos, the IT Company responsible for carrying out the con-dem government's Work Capability Assessment. As part of a National Day of Action Against Atos, organised by disability, claimant and anti-cuts activists, people will be gathering outside Atos' offices in Edinburgh, Leeds, Manchester, Nottingham, Brighton, Chatham, Cheshire, Birmingham, Glasgow, Hasting, Norwich, Oxford, Bristol, Chester, Plymouth, Sheffield and York.
In London a demonstration is being held outside the BMJ Careers Fair where Atos will be exhibiting in an attempt to recruit doctors to work on their Disability Assessment teams. Thousands of people have been denied or stripped of vital benefit because of decisions made based on Atos' assessment procedure which involves a short interview and a computer based test. Many people have had conditions worsened, either by being forced into the workplace, having much needed money withdrawn or the stress of the assessment process, which has been described as relentless. Sadly some have taken their own lives after hearing of Atos and the DWP's decisions to remove their benefits. Even people with cancer and other terminal illnesses have been deemed 'fit for work'. The government has pledged that this form of testing will be extended to all disability and health related benefits.
This week over one hundred groups and individuals signed a letter to the BMJ and the RCN urging them to stop allowing Atos to recruit at their events and in their publications: http://benefitclaimantsfightback.wordpress.com/open-letter-on-atos-healthcare-to-the-bmj-and-rcn/
An online protest will see companies and organisations which do business with Atos contacted and informed of this company's 'callous and cruel' treatment of disabled and sick people.
Supporters of Disabled People Against Cuts have said that "As long as ATOS continues to treat disabled claimants little better than animals they will continue to protest against them and seek means to discredit them."
Tuesday, 27 September 2011
Wednesday, 21 September 2011
Terminally ill people claiming Employment and Support Allowance have received letters telling them that as of April 2012, ESA will only be paid for a year to those in the Work-Related Activity group. However, this change is retrospective so people currently receiving ESA could lose it when the new rule comes in.
Understandably this news has been met with shock by disability groups. Neil Coyle of Disability Alliance told the Guardian: "The impact of cutting support will be devastating for people already told they only have a limited time left to live. Many will have worked for years and will feel they deserve a little support in return until they pass away.”
It is reported that the cost of sending these notification letters is £2.7m.
A DWP spokesman said “The process of working may be helpful in giving [terminally ill people] a sense of being useful and prolonging their lives.” But in a economic climate where it’s hard enough for an able-bodied person to find work, the challenge of finding work for someone with a life-limiting condition may be a step too far.
'never fall ill, never grow old, never become disabled', for if you do, not even Labour will speak up for you.'
Tuesday, 20 September 2011
Liberal Democrat conference voted on Saturday for a motion criticising employment support allowance and Atos work capability assessments. In addition they passed an amendment to the motion which contained much more interesting statements. Page 20 of Conference Extra [PDF] gives details of amendment one for motion F6.
This amendment means that LibDems oppose limiting ESA to one year for those that have made national insurance contributions, demand that people with "serious and uncontrollable life-threatening conditions" are given unconditional support instead of having to attend work-focussed interviews, and are in favour of giving legal help to those appealing against being declared fit to work. They also want Atos to be forced to improve their performance, and in future, for the role of assessing people as fit for work or not to be carried out by government or non-profit groups.
While this has come late in the day, the Welfare Reform Bill has not yet been passed by the House of Lords and so now that the LibDems have adopted this motion and amendment I am hopeful that LibDem peers might oppose aspects of the bill that conflict with it and either amend the bill or send it back to the house of commons to start again. I don't know how binding this motion is on the LibDem peers but their previous stance does not have the backing of the party. In fact, when this motion was voted on there were very few people that voted against it at all.
There were some excellent speeches in favour of this motion and amendment and I have uploaded some of the best to Youtube - see further down. The motion was originally written by George Potter who contacted a few different people for help. In his speech he used Sue Marsh of Diary of a Benefit Scrounger as his main example.
Videos from the Liberal Democrat Conference 2011
This article first appeared in a longer form on the author's own blog.
Wednesday, 14 September 2011
After all the fuss of the Welfare Reform Bill in the house of lords yesterday I wasn't expecting much for a couple of weeks when it will reach committee stage. However, I woke up today to find that the government had tabled a motion in the lords to send the bill to the grand committee, held in a side room.
This is in fact the normal procedure for legislation moving through parliament. The committee stage is where the bill is examined line-by-line and objections from the debate at the second reading turn into amendments to the bill before it goes back to the house for the report stage and the third reading. Parliament's own web page states:
Any Bill can be referred to a Committee of the whole House but the procedure is normally reserved for finance Bills and other important, controversial legislation.
So you can see, controversial bills are supposed to be debated by a "committee of the whole house" rather than a "grand committee." As one lord stated in the debate today, no one can argue that this legislation is not controversial. The peers have stated over and over again during debate that they have been inundated with letters, emails, and phone calls from people concerned about this bill. They show surprise at the scale of concern shown to them. Unfortunately, despite a heated debate this afternoon in the end the lords voted 263 to 211 to pass the motion and move the bill to the Grand Committee. The Conservatives and Liberal Democrats voted for the motion, and Labour voted against it. Some of the reasons given were that it would block up the chamber and delay the passage of other bills, and that too many people would want to speak in the debate and it would take too long. (Yes, really! Democracy apparently takes too long.) One lady stated that several of the bills going through parliament are really three bills in one, and that of course it would take longer. (As an aside, I would urge you to look up Shock Doctrine for reasons as to why changes are being made so quickly.)
The difference between the two options for committee stage are quite important, I think. Here's the official description of the committee stage:
Line by line examination of the Bill
Detailed line by line examination of the separate parts (clauses and schedules) of the Bill takes place during committee stage. Any Member of the Lords can take part.
Committee stage can last for one or two days to eight or more. It usually starts no fewer than two weeks after the second reading.
Before committee stage takes place
The day before committee stage starts, amendments are published in a Marshalled List – in which all the amendments are placed in order.
Amendments on related subjects are grouped together and a list (“groupings of amendments”) is published on the day.
What happens at committee stage?
Every clause of the Bill has to be agreed to and votes on the amendments can take place.
All proposed amendments (proposals for change) can be discussed and there is no time limit – or guillotine - on discussion of amendments.
What happens after committee stage?
If the Bill has been amended it is reprinted with all the agreed amendments.
At the end of committee stage, the Bill moves to report stage for further examination.
Here is the critical part though:
The proceedings are identical to those in a Committee of the Whole House except that no votes may take place.
As compared to:
Committee of the whole House
In the House of Lords the committee stage of a Bill usually takes place in the Lords Chamber and any Member can take part. The Committee may choose to vote on any amendment and all Members present can vote.
So you can see, apart from being in a less-accessible room, with space for far fewer peers to discuss the bill and no public gallery, sending a bill to the Grand Committee also means that the amendments cannot be voted on individually. I think, on the whole, this can be viewed as a bad thing. The worst part, though, is that because there is no voting on amendments, the committee must instead agree unanimously on an amendment which means that just one person siding with the government can block any attempt to fix this bill.
However, please keep sending your messages to peers. They have noticed our objections, and we can't let up now.Details are in my previous blog post.
As you may know from previous posts, the Welfare Reform Bill has been going through the House of Lords in the past two days. Yesterday's debate felt a lot more thorough, and our side was represented more strongly, than in the House of Commons, but today the discussion disappeared 'upstairs' and was not televised.
This was a widely criticised decision, as we can not see how the discussion is going, and the room is said to be inaccessible.
For people who want to catch up on some of the details of what we saw in the Lords yesterday, and the discussion around moving rooms today, a lot was posted in twitter on detail, via various accounts including Where's the Benefit?, Latent Existence, incurable hippie, disabled medic, The Broken of Britain, Creative Crip, and many more. I have created a document which summarises the discussions and main points made, which you can access here. You may notice that I wrongly named the document the 'Welfare Rights Bill'. If only! But it is reform, not rights, so apologies for that error.
The tweet summary document is available to be viewed here. You can use the tools at the bottom of the page to zoom in and out as necessary.
[The image is a photograph of the interior of the House of Lords. It was taken by UK Parliament and is used under a Creative Commons Licence]