Have we forgotten how to care – or are we just fed up with a government that won’t listen?

No horses were harmed in the making of this article. But at least one ESA claimant died while it was being prepared. [Picture: Eater.com]

No horses were harmed in the making of this article. But at least one ESA claimant died while it was being prepared. [Picture: Eater.com]

Here we are again.

Almost exactly a year ago, I wrote what in Vox Political terms was a blistering indictment, in which I tore metaphorical strips off of any reader who had failed to sign the government e-petition then known as Pat’s Petition.

This document, calling on the government to “stop and review the cuts to benefits and services which are falling disproportionately on disabled people, their carers and families” had secured around 60,000 signatures but had less than a day left to run when the article was written.

It would be nice to think that the piece acted as a prompt for at least some of the 3,000 people who signed in those last few hours – but this was not enough to save the petition, which failed to reach the 100,000 signatures needed for Parliament’s backbench business committee to consider taking its demands further.

Now we are in a similar position with the successor to Pat’s Petitionthe WoW Petition. It just happens that Yr Obdt Srvt had a hand in writing this one, along with a few others, and a lot of work was done to make it media-attractive and a magnet for signatures.

It was launched by the comedian Francesca Martinez, who is disabled, and the organisers went out of their way to find ways of publicising it throughout the year it was to be available for signing – for example, with ‘mass tweets’ on Twitter to attract tweeple who had not noticed it previously.

The petition calls for “a Cumulative Impact Assessment of Welfare Reform, and a New Deal for sick & disabled people based on their needs, abilities and ambitions.”

At the time of writing it has two months (and a few hours) left to run, and has just reached approximately the same number of signatures as Pat’s Petition. Unless around 1,000 people start signing every day, this one might fail as well.

Now, I’m not going to shout at you (not this time, anyway). There have been several developments which have affected my own thinking about government e-petitions, meaning my own position towards them has cooled considerably.

For starters, ask yourself: When was the last time the government changed its policy – significantly – in response to a successful e-petition on its website? Has it ever happened? I can’t think of one instance. But that is what this petition demands.

The simple fact seems to be that the e-petition site is a sop for people who want to effect change. They think it is a tool for them to improve the country when in fact it is a tool for keeping them under control; if you are spending a year promoting an e-petition, you won’t be undermining the regime in other ways.

My problem with this – if it is true, and not just a product of my own paranoia – is that, according to government figures that are now long out-of-date, 73 people are dying every week and nothing is being done about it.

Look at the government’s own response, published after the WoW petition received more than 10,000 signatures. It’s on the petition page and concentrates on the call for a cumulative impact assessment, claiming (wrongly) that such an endeavour is practically impossible. It isn’t. There’s no interest in the other demands at all.

Next point: If the 73-a-week figure is accurate – and more so if it is now a grave underestimation (which is my belief) – then the 62,792 signatures achieved at the time of writing is a horrifying indictment of Britain and its citizens. Are we all so apathetic that we are happy to sit around, eating our horseburgers and gossiping about whether the stars of our favourite soap operas are sex fiends (two of the year’s more popular scandals) that we can’t be bothered to spare a thought for people – perhaps people we know – who are suffering for no reason other than that the government we didn’t even elect demands it?

The horsemeat in our beefburgers received far more coverage than the fact that 73 people every week have been dying, even though (as far as I am aware) nobody has suffered fatal injuries from chomping on a bit of thoroughbred. What does that tell you about your fellow Brits? What does it tell you about yourself?

Moving on: Other petitions, on other sites, have attracted more attention (and many more signatories) – especially those with a topical theme that is embarrassing for the government on a personal level. When Iain Duncan Smith said he could live on the amount people receive on Jobseekers’ Allowance, a petition – calling his bluff by demanding that he actually do so – attracted something like half a million signatures within a few days.

On a more serious level, after Smith and Grant Shapps decided it would be fun to distort the truth about the number of people moving into work to avoid the benefit cap, a petition demanding that they make apologies and reparations for their claims also attracted more than 100,000 signatures within a very short period of time – and is to be handed in to Parliament very soon.

These considerations lead us to some uncomfortable conclusions.

First, it is unlikely that a petition focusing only on the plight of those in danger of joining the 73-a-week death toll will ever reach its target – and even if it did, it is unlikely to gain traction among MPs.

Oh, you think I’m wrong? Have you signed the petition? No? Then get across and sign it now – put your name where it will do some good! Yes? Have you told all your friends about it and pestered them until they’ve signed it too? No? Then do that. If you’ve already done both and you still think I’m wrong, go out and accost strangers in the street to do it. That’s how you get it to its target!

Second, any mass media campaign needs a convenient – and probably banal – hook to hang itself on, in order to make the lackadaisical public look up from their fish and chips and take notice.

So any future campaign needs to be timed to correspond with an embarrassing slip-up by a DWP minister. This should not be a problem.

Third, any future campaign should not bother with the government e-petitions website but should take advantage of other petitioning organisations in order to make a more immediate impact.

Got that? Good.

None of these conclusions is an excuse not to sign the petition that is currently running. If you have signed it, make your friends do so. If you’ve made your friends do it, make strangers do it too.

More than 10 people are dying every day, because of this government’s policy – and more will do so, as long as that policy remains in effect. In the time it has taken me to write this, one more will have passed away. Add those numbers up and they are far, far too many.

There has been news this week that the British Army’s final tour of duty in Afghanistan has begun – a country where almost 450 British Armed Forces personnel have died since hostilities began 11 years ago. That’s about as many as are dying here at home, because of government policy, every six weeks.

And the figures we use to calculate the death toll are nearly two years out of date.

Think about it.

Take a hard look at yourself.

And get that petition up to 100,000.

36 thoughts on “Have we forgotten how to care – or are we just fed up with a government that won’t listen?

  1. Debbie Rushton

    Great piece Mike 🙂 I’ve already signed the petition, but will share this message and the petition again xxxx

  2. Mike Sivier

    The WoW campaign has tweeted me to let me know the following: “WOW has become a campaign for change as well as a petition. Reaching 100,000 signatures is just the beginning.”
    I think that’s very wise.

  3. Trollski

    The petition is to broad. This is of course just my own opinion, you need a narrow focused issue upon which the masses can be divided into opinion. You have to force them to have an opinion. Then they will act…

      1. Karen M

        I’ve just read it. I feel conditioned helplessness is coupled with an increasing tendency for the government and the media to use language to create divisions in society so that deliberate and organised unity against the government’s policy changes is unlikely (especially given the conditions under which marches now have to operate to be within the law).. .

  4. Dave Wilson

    Great article Mike and you are right the petition does deserve more than this and I am sure we will get more people to sign I have already signed but will promote it more. I am sure that there may be other forces at play here with the internet as it is. It just seems strange that the petitions most important to us are lagging behind but the frivolous ones seem to get the votes mabey some one is playing about with the petition sites.?

    1. Mike Sivier

      Or maybe people really are a little vacuous, don’t understand or care about the serious issues and only want to have frivolous fun?
      This is what we are fighting, really – not the Tory-led contrivance of a government but the indifference that has allowed it to happen.

  5. Andy King

    Mike. “Afghanistan. A country where almost 450 people have died…” I think you’ll find it’s rather more than that if you include those who aren’t British service people.

    1. Mike Sivier

      Sorry – that’s what I get for writing articles in a hurry. It is precisely the number of British service personnel who have died that I wanted to flag up. I’ll edit the article to reflect that.

  6. Trollski

    A part of what you fight is “differance”. A pefectly balanced equation preventing action. You are preaching to the choir, no one else can hear you.
    Refine your argue.mants, so they may be as a sword…

    1. Mike Sivier

      I think you’re mistaken – the responses I’ve had on Twitter (especially) suggest they’ve heard loud and clear, and have been broadcasting to people they know.
      Having said that, I think we’re on the same wavelength re: arguments.

  7. Steven Goodman

    I feel it would be wise to see this matter in terms of a global attack on the rights and liberties of the smaller man….From what I have looked at, it has the makings of a co-ordinated attack by people I feel fit the classic signs of an “Economic fascist” working for the elite rather than their nation and its people….

  8. Pat Onions

    Thanks Mike but….PP may not have reached the 100K to be considered for a debate but we did get one. Labour took the message of a Cumulative Impact Assessment and secured a debate in July. Not in the corner cupboard but in the Chamber and televised too. Rosemary an i were there.
    PP continues in its campaign work across the UK.
    Many problems we encountered with the gov site have now been sorted out. One such was the captcha whic was impossible for those with sensory loss to deal with. Another is leaving your name and address. People felt they were being watched and labelled.
    Remember too – out epetition was started before the WRB had even been passed through Parliament and many cuts hadb’t even been thought off. No one could believe it would ever be that bad. Yes it is and a thousand times worse.
    Wow will not fail as PP didn’t fail either.
    Pat x

    1. Mike Sivier

      And how far did the government change it’s policies, or do what you asked in the petition?

      I think your information goes to support the thrust of the article, which is that government e-petitions don’t seem to serve much useful purpose, except for the government, in that they manage to get people who would otherwise be agitating in louder, more public ways to sit quietly and wait a year for a possible Parliamentary debate.

      Thanks for the reminder, though – I should have remembered that the debate did take place and that it would have supported my argument.

  9. Thomas M

    I can hardly wait for this government of thieves and liars to be thrown out, hopefully before they have been able to take my benefits off me and force me to either money launder (the only job I ever seem to get offered) or depend totally on my parents.

  10. Darren

    I think one of the problems that any reasonable petition faces these days is “petition fatigue”” on the part of those being asked to sign. I receive, in my own timeline, something like six or seven petition requests every day, many of them for the most trivial matters.

    Unless or until people stop (ab)using the petitions facilities for stuff like “Fit CCTV to Our Local Bus Stop To Stop vandals Wrecking It” (I kid you not!) then many would-be signatories are going to simply gloss over them all and not visit the site for an in-depth read of the reasons for the more important ones.

    Having said that, I did manage not to ignore WoW and signed it a few months ago.

  11. Justin Thyme

    What we are witnessing here is the entrails of our Welfare State. Just as our National Health Service is in its last elements before privatisation so the old, the poor, the disabled and the unemployed are all being shifted a little closer to the Elite Tory Party Gas Chamber.

    Nobody has been asked about what is happening yet it has happened under our very noses. With no parliamentary opposition whatsoever. Here we all are, in the epitomy of margaret thatcher’s ‘No Society’ society. We are all on our own.

    Look around and admire the barreness. Everything has been removed. It’s empty. Not a chance in hell of ever getting anything back.

    No petition is going to change that landscape. What we need now is all out war.

    1. Mike Sivier

      There was Parliamentary opposition – from the Labour Party and probably some of the minority parties as well. The trouble is, with the Tories and Lib Dems having more seats, they’re never going to win a vote. Simple as that.

      All out war is costly in terms of lives lost and money spent, and leaves the country open to attack or influence from outside. You just want rid of certain people. Bide your time. Do it right. Don’t drop to their level, or the level they expect of you.

      1. Justin Thyme

        Remember it was labour through Purnell and Burnham that invited ATOS to these shores to support their version of work capability for the disabled

        I wouldn’t call Liam Byrne’s efforts support. I wouldn’t call Miliband’s efforts support. Even Anne McGuire had ATOS round for tea. In the Lords Tanni Grey Thompson conceded her ammendments with the comment that the then Welfare Bill was more reasonable. I wouldn’t call that support. The Coalition ignored nearly 95% of all that disabled people and disabled peoples’ groups and charirites argued for. There was no opposition to the changes in social security legislation

        If bide my time means let a few more disabled people die then what’s that about?

      2. Mike Sivier

        Quite. However, you are wrong on a few counts.
        Labour did not invite Atos to these shores at all; the company got in by the back door, taking over another company that had been administering the forerunner assessment system to the WCA. It’s a fine distinction but one worth making, I think.
        Since the Coalition got into officer, Labour has opposed every single change in social security legislation – as freely admitted by Conservative ministers. So for you to say there was “no opposition” is incorrect.
        The problem is the same as with any majority government – if you disagree with its policy, you’re not going to get what you want. This particular administration just happens to be far more extreme in its views, and far less likely to listen to reason.

  12. Karen M

    “If you have signed it, make your friends do so. If you’ve made your friends do it, make strangers do it too.”
    People who have read Mike’s excellent article- please post the WoW link on Facebook and Twitter.

  13. beetleypete

    I did sign it Mike, but have to agree with Darren about ‘petition fatigue’. There is also the marketing, used by some companies running and organising these petitions, who will bombard your inbox with requests to sign further, ever more obscure petitions, and also ask you for financial support at the same time.

    I still so ‘old-fashioned’ stuff, like send personal letters of complaint/disgust to my (Tory) MP. He actually replies, especially when it is on the ‘big ticket issues’, like intervention in Syria. I share some blogger’s concerns, that e petitions have become an all-too easy click of protest, and actually achieve very little. But I do sign them, when they are right to oppose something unfair.
    Regards, Pete.

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  15. Joe Ohara

    Very good well written hard hitting article Mike, seems to the politicians are ignoring these petitions and or working hard at burying the more demanding ones. Like lots of things our bent dodgy self-seeking greedy useless politicians give us something to appease divert us and keep us quiet, they then put lots of time and our money (we pay these clowns) in ensuring either we aren’t eligible or they can hide it or it doesn’t work. What a bunch of devious lazy cunning SOBs

  16. Florence

    Good piece, and I’m glad to hear some of the arguments about the “bread & circuses” aspect of Gov e-petitions given air-time. That is very much along my train of thought. (I have actually signed those petitions you mentioned here.)

    My main point here though is the actual language in the petition title. “Cumulative Impact” has no leverage for most people. It really does have to be much more of a headline to get attention. Perhaps along the line of “hitting and hurting the disabled many times with cuts to their benefits” and save the technically correct parts for the later text?

    1. Mike Sivier

      Yes. I think you’re thinking along very much the same lines I was when I said it should be hung on a topical issue, like when Iain Duncan Smith said he could survive on the equivalent of Jobseekers Allowance. A big, headline-grabbing tagline followed by the nitty-gritty.

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  18. Karen M

    There is an excellent report by RNIB ‘Facing Blindness Alone’- a bleak but realistic perspective on the future for people with sight loss. A must read for all politicians and policy makers.

  19. Nigel Simmons

    I reopened Pats E Petition same wording,had Flyers posted around Grimsby eventually it had a five second reading in Parliament,the MP that brought up the subject of “Pats Petition whereby a woman had committed suicide” Cameron dismissed it in approx 30 seconds.So you have hit the nail on the head the General Public’s opinion is of no importance to the Government.Below previous post regarding the Petition.
    Pats petition supported by the Social Welfare Union ran out on the 01/11/12 it had 64,000 signatures,10,000 in the last nine days ,well it’s now up and running again can we reach 100,000 to see The Welfare Cuts debated in Parliament please visit and sign http://epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/41122 :www.brokenbritainundertories.com
    Nigel Simmons

  20. Karen M

    I’ve made a nuisance of myself promoting WoW as much as I can at the moment-. be warned I’ll start again soon! Mike and his fellow workers have done a grand job and we need to carry on their work…

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