Dear Daily Telegraph,
Yesterday, you published an article by Allison Pearson, (“Mick Philpot, a good reason to cut benefits” 3rd April) based on a press release issued over the Easter weekend by Conservative Central Office. (NB :NOT the DWP who are barred from issuing overtly political and partisan press releases)
Your original story (900,000 choose to come off sickness benefit ahead of tests, 30th March) claimed “828,300 sick or disabled ppl had chosen to drop their claims rather than face new tougher assessments (my italics).
That claim simply isn’t true.
What’s more, it wasn’t true back in April 2011, when the government first made the same false claim.
A little while later, The DWP’s themselves issued figures showing a huge proportion (94%) of claims were dropped because the person got better or went back to work. They dropped their claims because they were honest, not because they were dishonest!!
There is a three month qualifying period for out of work sickness benefits. (ESA/IB)
As you can imagine, most people need a little help to get through a nasty illness or accident at some point in their lives.
Maybe a weekend rugby player who snaps his collar bone resulting in 2 months off work, or the Mum who needs a sudden hysterectomy and time afterwards to heal? This will happen to every last one of us at some point.
But you can’t get help when you really need it any more, in those first terrible weeks of pain and recovery. Now you have to wait 3 months before you can apply. In that time, for all but the most unfortunate, bones and scars will have healed and the person will be back on their feet again.
With no point in continuing the claim, people do the honest thing and let the DWP know they no longer need support.
This information is all in the public domain and all proven by evidence. Yet the government send out a politicised press release over the Easter weekend aimed at mis-leading the public and encouraging an entire nation to mis-trust one of the most vulnerable groups in society.
Worse still, you run the story unquestioningly, repeating claims that had already been proven to be completely untrue.
A longer version of this letter is here.
On 28 January 2013 the UK government is due to make a set of changes to the Work Capability Assessment (WCA).
The WCA is the flawed ‘fitness to work’ test which assesses whether sick and disabled people can get Employment and Support Allowance (ESA): a benefit designed to help and support very unwell or profoundly disabled people into work.
Although these changes have been advertised as small ‘amendments’, they will in fact have a huge impact on the way people’s illnesses and disabilities are assessed. Many vulnerable people’s needs will suddenly be able to be overlooked or ignored, meaning they could end up losing the support they desperately need to manage their conditions.
As Karon Monaghan QC at Matrix Chambers says:
If the Government are proposing to introduce measures which will penalise claimants who decline to receive medical treatment, then this may in some cases violate article 8 (private life) and conceivably in some cases Art 3 (inhuman and degrading treatment).
Hundreds of thousands of sick and disabled people across Britain need your help to fight these changes!
PROBLEM 1: FALSE ASSUMPTIONS
In the fitness to work test, your needs are assessed by a ‘healthcare professional’ employed by the French private company ATOS. This assessor doesn’t just need to look at your current difficulties. For example, they can also imagine how using an aid (e.g. a wheelchair) might improve your ability to work and make a judgement based on that – without even asking your opinion!
However, soon this “imaginary test” will be able to be used for many more aids (including guide dogs and false limbs!). This means that soon thousands more people could be judged as fit to work, without being consulted, on the basis of an “imaginary” aid they don’t own or may not be able to use!
It gets worse. Even if returning to work may clearly put you at risk, these changes will mean you can still lose your disability benefit – as long as the assessor believes that trying a new therapy or treatment might reduce that risk. There’s no need for evidence that the treatment will help: you will lose support either way, making it much harder to manage if the treatment doesn’t work as hoped – let alone if it ends up making things worse.
If the government’s rule changes go through, people who are desperate to work will find it nearly impossible to get an accurate assessment, affecting the quality of their support and actively preventing their efforts to get back into work.
PROBLEM 2: SEPARATING PHYSICAL AND MENTAL HEALTH
The government is also trying to change the way people’s conditions are assessed by dividing health problems into two separate boxes: ‘physical’ and ‘mental’. When looking at what tasks people can do, only the ‘physical half’ of the test will apply to those with physical disabilities. The same goes for the effects of treatment: for e.g., if you’re taking mental health medication, only mental health side-effects will be looked at.
This completely fails to understand the way that many disabilities and illnesses can lead to both physical and mental effects. This is also the case for many common treatments: such as those for schizophrenia, Parkinson’s disease and multiple sclerosis.
Pretending the effects of illnesses and disabilities can be separated in this way goes against all medical practice. Going even further, and using this method to ignore sick and disabled people’s needs, is at best hopeless policy, and at worst deliberate cruelty.
HOW YOU CAN HELP
The main way you can help is by spreading the message about these changes to ESA. The government have tried to sneak them under the radar – the last thing they will want is people talking about them!
Here are some great ways you can raise awareness:
1) Email your MP (you can search by name or constituency);
2) Share this blog post on twitter (using the hashtag #esaSOS), Facebook and other social media;
3) Email your friends and family a link to this post – or simply talk to them about it!
Again, the main way we can get the government to reconsider is by getting people to talk about the injustice of these changes.
If you want to do more, please sign #WOWpetition and call on the government to think again.
Every single email and phone conversation I’ve had with Labour over the last two years have started with the line “If you don’t accept your part in ESA and that it is NOT working as you hoped, you can never move on. Sick and disabled people will always blame you and will never believe you really want things to change.”
So far, it has been the last major sticking point. Unwilling to say the actual words, we had reached a kind of impasse.
Yesterday morning, in a last ditch attempt to move things along, I emailed Liam Byrne and Anne McGuire. The time for “tinkering around the edges” had passed. Oh how I would like to tell you more, but I was clearer than I’d ever been.
Finally, after nearly two years of lobbying, pleading cajoling and VERY hard Paddington bear stares, with just a few days to go before conference, here are the words I’ve been waiting to hear. Enjoy.
Labour will call on Thursday for a “fast and fundamental” review of the test that determines who is eligible for sickness benefits, acknowledging that the policy the party introduced while in government is not working. Launching a consultation with disability campaigners in Glasgow, the shadow work and pensions secretary, Liam Byrne, will defend his party’s decision to bring in the Work Capability Assessment, which was designed to reduce the benefits bill, but will argue that the system needs to be reformed.
“That experience is telling us now that the test puts a bureaucracy against disabled people. It doesn’t put a team behind them, to help disabled people into work.”
Byrne said he would also be highlighting the combined impact of cuts to disability benefits and services, and argue that they are higher than the new levies imposed on banks.
A discussion paper which will be released by the shadow work and pensions team on Thursday states: “We believe that this government is forcing disabled people to pay for its economic mistakes.” The party has calculated that cuts to social care and disability benefits will total £8.6bn over the course of this parliament.
As if we didn’t feel the above article was enough of a breakthrough for one night, the lead story on Channel 4 News was that of Colin Naylor.
Finally, the country gets to hear of a story where the WCA has failed utterly. Colin lost his life and the inquest concluded that the assessment had been a factor in his death. at last, the country is listening.
An Early Day Motion is a chance for MPs to raise awareness of serious issues. Although there is very little prospect of EDMs being debated, many attract a great deal of public interest and frequently receive media coverage.
John McDonnell, backbencher Labour MP has been the most loyal supporter of the sick and disabled in our campaign to scrap the DWPs Work Capability Assessments (WCAs) that are used to determine “fitness for work.”
Here’s an opportunity for you to help make a Minister wish he hadn’t interfered.
Back in March we wrote about the Ministry of Justice’s (MoJ) employment and support allowance appeals video on Youtube.
The video was pulled after less than a week, on the orders of senior officials.
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I know it’s rare and I know how hard it is to believe good news when it finally comes. I know how hurt we all are, how abandoned we’ve been, how self sufficient we had to become.
But the battle was always about changing all of that. Sometimes I think we as campaigners forget that the point is to win. To change things. Not to fight the fight for the sake of it or become so entrenched we can never solve any of our problems.
A few weeks ago, Ed Miliband replaced Liam Byrne as the head of Labour’s policy review with Jon Cruddas.
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As many of you know, I spent yesterday making sure that as many people as possible heard about the death of Karen Sherlock and the fear and exhaustion of her final months.
I did what a writer does. I wrote. Then I wrote again. I tweeted the great and the good, charities and politicians and I made them hear her story. It’s only when the messages slow down and the journalists stop calling that I face what the fury of writing tried so hard to soothe. Karen had died and I couldn’t save her.
In the epic fight against the Welfare Reform Bill, we campaigners chose our weapons.
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It was reported this week that Liam Byrne would be stepping down from the shadow cabinet to run for Mayor of Birmingham.
Welfare is a dodgy area for Labour – probably the dodgiest of all. Traditionally, it’s a department for hawks, for hardliners and for attack dogs. I don’t think anyone would argue that it has gone well for Labour under Mr Byrne. Or Mr Alexander for that matter. Or James Purnell.
Well, I want the job. I won’t get it, but here’s why I should :
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Lots of people have already asked me: “But what did yesterday mean and I’m afraid it will be a while before anyone can properly answer that.
The House of Lords scrutinises a bill “line-by-line”. They are there to go through every last detail of policy and amend it where they find fault. There are no big-bangs, no fireworks, just lots and lots and lots of technical details. They get harder and harder to report and harder still to explain.
What I can tell you is what it meant politically.
continue reading… »
Today, at 12.30pm the welfare reform bill will return to the House of Commons.
Let’s be very clear – it is a dangerous, incomplete bill based on flawed evidence and unpleasant ideals.
It is vast and impenetrable – most of the ministers arguing for it have very little understanding of the detail within it. Yes, that’s right, they don’t understand the details or effects of their own policies.
continue reading… »
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