Work Capability Assessment fuss shows Labour must change its ways

There's a reason people created cartoons like this. They were rejecting the Work Capability Assessment and the thinking behind it; this is not how we want our government to run our country.

There’s a reason people created cartoons like this – they were rejecting the Work Capability Assessment and the thinking behind it. This is not how we want our government to run our country.

Yesterday’s article on Labour’s attitude to the Work Capability Assessment (WCA), used on people applying for incapacity or disability benefits, was probably the most controversial to be published by this site.

Look at the article‘s comment column and you will see the strength of support for this writer’s planned open letter. It calls for Labour to accept that the public opposes the continued use of a system that is responsible for as much death as the WCA undoubtedly is.

You will also see a few critical comments, and it is fair to say that there have been quite vicious attacks on the other social media, including Facebook and Twitter. Let’s try to address some of those.

Some claimed this writer was some kind of agent provocateur who had timed an attack on Labour to ruin its chances – a curious suggestion, considering the report was about someone else’s response to the ill-considered comments of a Labour shadow cabinet member, over which Yr Obdt Srvt could not have had any control.

Some claimed that Labour’s attitude to the WCA has already been addressed by Rachel Reeves’ promise to reform it – even though it cannot be reformed. It is beyond rehabilitation. The Work Capability Assessment serves a twofold purpose: It shovels taxpayers’ money into the hands of private, profit-making firms, and in return those firms do their best to disqualify claimants from receiving payments. If there was no intention to pervert the benefit system, governments would rely on the word of claimants’ GPs and the specialists working on their case. The responsible course of action is to get rid of it – before it kills anyone else.

Some said the Green Party had seized in this as an opportunity to attack Labour. That’s nice for them, but nobody really cares what the Greens do. They said Labour voted for fracking when Labour was the only party that found a way to stop it. They said Labour voted for Tory austerity when Labour was doing nothing of the sort. Let them say what they like.

Most hinged on whether Owen Smith actually said what was claimed, at a meeting a couple of days ago. Here’s Liza Van Zyl, whose Facebook post sparked this controversy: “I was the person who asked the question of the Shadow Sec of State.

“I asked why, given that the WCA has caused a great many more deaths than the Bedroom Tax, is Labour scrapping the BT but not the WCA? He answered that Labour cannot commit to scrapping the WCA because it would look bad in the right wing press and would negatively affect Labour’s election chances.

“My question was clearly about the WCA causing people’s deaths. I stand by my comments.”

Vox Political has also been contacted by another person who was at the meeting, who said: “He did fudge a bit and she left the meeting.”

Later on, according to my contact, another questioner pointed out that the WCA “was introduced to stop people getting money, and the best person to say who can go to work or not is a GP.” This is in line with the view put forward by this blog. “He [Mr Smith] seemed quite happy with that and said after the election [Labour] would look at it”.

Of course there is a connection between the Work Capability Assessment and death; how much clearer could it possibly be?

Of course there is a connection between the Work Capability Assessment and death; how much clearer could it possibly be?

Several thoughts occur. Firstly, nobody is suggesting that Mr Smith said Labour was happy about the possibility of people dying, simply because the party wouldn’t stand up to the right-wing press. Let’s make that clear. But he certainly wasn’t going to say Labour would do anything to stop it – certainly not before the election.

So it is clear that Liza was making an honest comment on what Mr Smith was saying, based on knowledge of the subject. We know that the Work Capability Assessment has been a catastrophe for people all over the UK. It is based on a system evolved by criminal US insurance firm Unum, designed to be hugely difficult and stressful. The stress of having to prepare for an assessment kills many, as does that of taking it. Some commit suicide when they are refused benefit, some die from the stress of having to appeal. Some who are granted the benefit die from its requirements – like trying to become ready for work in a year if they’re in the work-related activity group of ESA. Some who are granted benefit die from the strain of being reassessed, sometimes at short notice. Death surrounds the process. When Mr Smith said Labour would not oppose the WCA because of the right-wing press, he was tacitly saying Labour is willing to let these fatalities continue – even if he wasn’t actually saying it.

It’s something that some people have found hard to accept, but that is the message being put out to people all across the UK by Labour’s unwillingness to denounce the process and Liza just happened to be the one who stood up and said it.

As a result, it seems she has been hounded off the Internet. She wrote: “Folks, if you don’t hear from me for a while, don’t worry I’m ok. I’ve given my phone and all means of Internet access to a friend… so that I don’t have to see all the horrible messages I’m being bombarded with.”

Secondly, if Mr Smith’s answer really was a “fudge”, then he has no right to be scandalised by Liza’s response. On Twitter yesterday he claimed it was a “lie”, prompting Yours Truly to put him straight – at length. Perhaps he should apologise for creating the misunderstanding and clarify what he really was saying about Labour’s position instead.

Ah, but (thirdly) he also said that Labour would look at the matter after the election, which touches on something else mentioned in the original article – electoral dishonesty. Voters don’t want a Labour Party that says one thing before the election, in order to keep the press from kicking up a fuss about being “soft on welfare”… and then do another thing after the election. That’s just what the Tories and Liberal Democrats did in 2010. We want a political party that will be honest with its voters and make a firm promise now. Don’t we?

Fourthly, isn’t Labour supposed to be brave enough to fight the right-wing press when it is wrong? What happened to Ed Miliband’s bravado on the subject?

Vox Political has spent nearly two years trying to get the DWP to divulge up-to-date figures on the number of deaths suffered by people going through the claim process that involves the WCA. The last published data – from November 2011 – showed around four deaths every three hours, or 220 per week. That’s a monstrous figure. It seems possible that the DWP may provide new figures soon, and we can hope that the average will be lower – but the sheer weight of punitive measures that have been put in place since 2011 suggests otherwise.

Just as shocking is Labour’s apparent disinterest in changing it. The sheer number of people who have contacted this site – via the comment column, Twitter or Facebook – to say they have tried repeatedly to engage Labour luminaries on the subject, only to get the cold-shoulder, is a scandal in itself.

We’ve already got enough political parties whose leaders are only interested in what they can get for themselves – they’re called the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats. Labour needs to be better; Labour needs to stand up and do what’s right for everybody.

And that is a big reason why this is so important. Labour is the only party with a hope of kicking the Conservatives back into Opposition. People up and down the country want to support Labour – but can’t, because they don’t believe Labour will support them. That’s the ultimate reason the WCA has to go; it doesn’t help people – it kills them.

If the alternative to being “soft on welfare” is causing the deaths of thousands of people who only asked for the benefits their tax money is supposed to have funded, then ‘One Nation’ Labour cannot afford to have anything to do with it.

Surely you can see that?

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52 thoughts on “Work Capability Assessment fuss shows Labour must change its ways

  1. Steve Grant

    I am getting tired of the stance the Labour Party takes on disability.It is no wonder that the voting public have lost faith in it’s ability to appeal to those in society who through no fault of their own are now disabled, some seriously…I can’t see how the disabled can support this party that seems to be a mirror image of those vile reptiles the TORY party and its private companies who basically are the attack dogs employed to destroy the benefit system. Get in power at any cost seems to be the catch phrase….My advice to the young in this country….leave whilst you can. If you’re old or sick then God help you.

  2. stilbury

    Good article, but in what way did Labour not vote through £30 billion of Tory austerity cuts or vote against the motion for a fracking moratorium?

    1. Mike Sivier Post author

      For an answer to your first question, please follow this link.

      To answer your second question, I did not say Labour did not vote against a moratorium on fracking (although, as it happens, I don’t recall that the party did; it abstained, if I recall correctly). I stated that Labour found a way to stop fracking from going ahead. This is accurate. The moratorium vote had absolutely no chance – opponents of the government didn’t have the numbers. But Labour’s call for strict regulations won support from Tory backbenchers who were worried their constituents would turn on them if they voted fracking through, unregulated. What a shame the Lords found a way to subvert these regulations? They probably thought those restless constituents wouldn’t notice…

  3. Ian

    Do you not think Labour/Miliband should come out swinging punches on this? Once the Mail and co start on the ‘party of welfare’ tripe he could state the facts about WCA deaths (and sanctions related deaths) in bare language that is hard to misquote and state what is really happening in the party political broadcasts? He could make accusations against IBS and McVey in PMQs, again stating facts.

    I am by no means a fan of Ed Balls but I cannot imagine him being as weak and wishy-washy as Miliband if he was leader.

    It’s all a bit halfarsed, isn’t it? Miliband would like a living wage but won’t make it law, choosing to offer tax breaks to companies who pay it, which is just another way of the people subsidising business. Labour will freeze energy prices but most people want energy to be renationalised, an instance of the people being far more radical than the Laour party. Labour still promise austerity when it is entirely unnecessary, again following the Tory narrative instead of having their own.

    There is no strength of character and no bottle, this latest issue on the WCA is just the worst aspect of that. To equivocate when people are literally dying is, to my mind, unforgivable.

    Fortunately, though my constituency has been a Labour safe seat for decades, I now have an independent candidate campaigning on a very important local issue that should give the incumbent a run for his money, maybe even unseating him. I’m voting for him unless Miliband has a positive message re the WCA very soon.

    1. Mike Sivier Post author

      In my opinion, Labour’s energy price freeze is fine because it will offer the party a chance to decide whether to renationalise the energy firms – that is the stated plan. The Conservative version of austerity is 10 times harsher than the Labour version you mention, although I admit it is mystifying why Labour should continue to advocate any at all. I don’t think Ed Miliband is a weak leader by any stretch of the imagination.

      Other than that we’re seeing eye to eye.

      1. Ian

        Ah, I haven’t seen the renationalisation thing, I assume it went unreported (there’s a surprise). Another reason why debates would help and probably why Cameron is bottling it. Or one of the reasons, the main one being he’s an incompetent, degenerate slimebucket with all the personal charm of a building site portaloo. (I just realised; you know what an obnoxious, arrogant, evasive and just downright unpleasant git Cameron seems at PMQs? Imagine what he’d look at the end of a long TV debate under the lights and an unforgiving lens?)

        I would consider Miliband strong if he took the stance on the WCA and sanctions that we both want him to take so he has time yet to prove me wrong. Of course the alternative is he actually believes there’s not much wrong with how IDS is running things and MIliband is being strong by not kowtowing to the left.

        The latter is too much for me to contemplate.

  4. Moggy M

    I disagree that “nobody really cares what the Greens do”. All the Left-minded people I know are voting Green. They are the only party that have always had an unconditional income scheme as part of their party policy. The Citizens’ Income is gaining traction across Europe. It is the only sustainable and humane way to ensure everyone has an income, rather than introducing more and more Draconian cuts and kowtowing to the Corporates,

    1. Mike Sivier Post author

      Hasn’t Natalie Bennett dropped it? She reckons it’s something for a future Parliament, rather than the one that’s about to be elected.

      1. Daniel

        She has, showing more honesty than the Cons and Lib Dems did before the coalition (everyone in the Green party who’s got an ounce of common sense knows the Greens won’t be a majority party after this election, so it makes sense to show the party members that CI is unlikely to figure as a “confidence and supply” policy with Labour, assuming they get enough MPs to make a coalition with them). Since CI is so far from current Neoliberal ideology, trying to include that in any agreement is likely to be a sticking point.

        I think the hope is that the Green Party can, by working with Labour in said Confidence and Supply agreement, demonstrate that it can be a progressive force for change, and might be better placed in future elections.

      2. Moggy M

        They’ve not dropped CI as a policy, but realistically they won’t be able to just bring it in overnight. They would begin (I am assuming) to drop the conditions attached to UC so that it would be universal and not with too many strings attached as it is now or will be if IDS has his way)

  5. IRejectFPTP (@Scribbles123)

    Labour voted to support fracking, AND Labour voted to support austerity. Its a fact.
    More slight of hand to please the right wing press … possibly. But they DID support both in principle.
    The Greens seem to be the only bloody honest party out there right now

    1. Mike Sivier Post author

      Labour voted to regulate fracking – meaning effectively postponing any operations until after the election. It was a clever move that achieved more than anything proposed by those who opposed it outright. You should think very deeply about that.
      Labour did not vote to support austerity because the Charter for Budget Responsibility does not demand austerity. It demands a balanced budget by the end of a rolling three-year period and does not stipulate when that period must start.
      If you’re an example of Green thinking, then your claim about honesty is in question also.

    2. Daniel

      That’s not really true, and claiming that it is unfortunately gives more ammunition to those claiming Green’s are being dishonest.

      Labour voted for the CFBR, but the Tories had made that so vague to give themselves wriggle room, while trying to lay a trap for the Left parties, that even the SNP would have been able to justifiably support it, even though they are anti-austerity, using the right narrative!

      They also abstained on the fracking vote (rather than supporting it as claimed) in order to win major concessions on regulation, something which has kicked it down the road more – a moratorium would have been preferable, but with the Lib Dems supporting the Tories on this (in spite of arguing in the MSM against fracking), there was little chance this would have succeeded.

  6. Gary

    Leaving ‘party’ politics aside I must make a general comment. When I was young, a long time ago, the older folk who had been through the horrors of the recession in the 1930s followed by the war had a lot to say about ‘benefits’. They’d had the perspective of both time and the suffering of a World War to view what happened. They spoke about the indignities and shame heaped on them by government via the hated ‘means tests’. In short, your home was inspected for assets you could sell to avoid paying benefits. Intrusive, embarrassing and cruel. I’m not suggesting we face this today but, for the first time ever, we are seeing social security which we pay for, taking huge strides backwards. Even the Victorians were forward thinking! A radical rethink is needed and we have to set out what rights people have when they are sick or without work. We have to end the ability of future governments to blame victims and through demonization allow child poverty and destitution. Things like reversing the removal of the right to be housed, again making local authorities responsible for housing. In the midst of campaign tribalism the reality that most people agree on this is being lost. People are sick of it and sick of politicians in general. A brave leader needs to stand up for what they believe in and bring others on board. Campaign managers are ruining ‘the art of the possible’ and trying only for power for its own sake. All sides are guilty to some extent..

    1. Florence

      When I was a child in the ’60’s my family had to claim National Security (as Social Security was called) and I can still recall the stinging hatred of the man with a clip board going though every item of clothing (and the entire house) looking for things to tell us to sell before we could get money. Two pairs of knickers each. Sell the rest – yes there was a “market” locally where people sold secondhand underwear & clothes from blankets on the floor. I can still recall how violated I felt, it was like a police drugs raid, looking for sale-able items. I was even told to sell my beloved books. Books were not allowed.

      The modern version now is people on ebay or door to door selling stuff because they need to eat. The UC will make all state support into means tested benefits, even those that are universal or contributions based at present.

      I will vote Labour because I cannot bear another 5 years of this back-sliding through to the 1930’s, or 1830’s, for the poor. I will not give up the struggle to make Labour reform into the peoples party and to make them understand the dignity and compassion shown as a society to our struggling fellows is a vote winner, that they can see that the Welfare State was affordable and just and needed in 1948, even more so after the last 5 years, it is still the right thing to do. The NHS was founded on the appalling maternal and childhood death rates. Labour need to have better answers about the appalling death rate of the ill and disabled in the WCA and the punitive benefits system.

      If anyone thinks that being “ethical” is voting green, or snp, or other minority parties, then they are voting for the continuation of the death march. Hold your nose, vote Labour, plan for the future. I intend to work within the Labour party & Trade union movement as my family has for generations, to keep it ours. No-one else has to do this for me, but they might want to do it for themselves, and their families, neighbours, old friends, even complete strangers. As it was in 1945, we must resurrect in 2015.

      1. jaypot2012

        I’m not being ethical in voting SNP – I live in Scotland so I will vote for the party that is FOR Scotland and will get us the best policies that they can and will also assist in helping what is supposed to be a left wing party, go back to the left.
        Nobody should be told who to vote for, ethics or not. People who stay at home and don’t vote are more sickening to me as they waste that vote that people fought for. The same with those who will spoil their ballot papers.
        The ballot papers should have “None of the Above” as a choice as then every party or independent would see just what a joke British politics is!

      2. Mike Sivier Post author

        While I don’t agree that it’s a good idea to have a party that is exclusively for Scotland sitting in a legislature that is supposed to represent the whole of the UK, and I don’t agree that it will help push Labour back to the left, I do – strongly – agree that there should be a ‘None of the Above’ box on ballot papers, with a new vote called if NOTA votes outnumber the others.

      3. Jane Jacques

        Could not agree more with the above two postings, I have often heard of the dreaded means test and lack of health care pre war. I feel what has been built up is rapidly being dismantled and I never thought I would see large scale food banks in this country. Miliband may not be Attlee but he has got to be better than Cameron. Every vote away from Labour increases the chance of Dave and chums returning after the next election. I find that very depressing.

  7. IRejectFPTP (@Scribbles123)

    Its not a legitimate position to say ‘We wont say right now we’ll get rid of it, but once we are elected (and you cant get rid of us regardless) we ‘might’ do ‘something’.
    That’s no better than a tory promise, it amounts to zilch. SCRAP WCA.

  8. Maenad Nanna (@Nanna_Baps)

    I know you’re a lifelong and committed Labour supporter. Equally, you know that I am, with regret, disillusioned with Labour for many reasons, (not least their very dubious attitude towards those of us who cannot work through chronic sickness or disability, or who cannot find work through no fault of their own in the UK economy) and now consider myself a “floating” voter. I just wanted to say, in the light of your continued belief in Labour, thank you: thank you for presenting this unpalatable truth about the Labour Party honestly, and without undue attempts to justify it, or pass it off as something other than it is, or to obfuscate the matter. The way you have dealt with this matter has seen you rise in my esteem.
    As some of us suspected, the Labour Party now appear to consider the lives of some disabled citizens a price worth paying to avoid criticism that they are “soft on welfare” in the rightwing press that hates them anyway. We are to be martyrs for their cause whether we like it or not; pawns on their political chessboard. Not much, they feel, to be gained by defending us, not even the moral high ground. Political expediency trumps ideology and integrity in today’s Labour Party, it seems. How many more of us are to be sacrificed before May, I wonder? There are a handful of deaths due to DWP persecution or wilful negligence reported in the press every week. Are there more passing unreported?
    A further comment: I find the aspersions cast at Lisa Van Zyl by Labour activists/apologists, in particular scurrilous insinuations about her mental health, quite nauseating, mean-spirited and vile. Illness is no respecter of persons, and no reason to discount a person’s reasonably-held views, either. Even if the facts are uncomfortable, it’s not good enough to engage in cowardly name-calling in order to discredit those who report them honestly.
    For your integrity and forbearance, Mike, my respect.
    *Restore Clause IV*

    1. Mike Sivier Post author

      Thank you very much. Your kind words about Liza will hopefully be appreciated when she sees them.

    2. Michele Witchy Eve

      Maenad, please accept this comment in lieu of a ‘Like’ button. Very well stated and a particularly well presented view shared by a large number of others, I would warrant.

    3. Florence

      Like Michele, I second that, well said. However, as a lifelong supporter of Labour, from a family that has been part of the struggle from the early 20thC, I will never be a floating voter, simply because with the FPTP it would be a disaster for the Tories to get back in. Mike, like you, I feel that criticism of the Labour party has always been part of the movement, and not negative. We have to speak as we find, and the WCA issue is one that transcends tribal loyalty. It’s about basics – defending the poor to have the right to live. The right to life is such a basic part of human rights the current situation beggars belief, along with apparent Labour policy. Please keep it up, and I hope Liza can take comfort in the fact that she is absolutely right, and much respected for her continued work, and if we could put up a wall to defend her from the attacks we would in a heartbeat.

      1. Moggy M

        I did in fact write a blog on this business of ‘soft on welfare’ or actually Labour as being the ‘party of welfare’ (which they so clearly aren’t).

        Only a very short blog which I’ve copied and pasted here:

        The Tories accuse Labour of being the Party of Welfare. Well, so what if they were? What’s wrong with that? It didn’t hurt me to say it, so why should it hurt anybody who cares? Except of course, Labour are far from being that sort of party.

        Following on from my last blog, I looked at definitions of ‘welfare’. As I mentioned I understand welfare to mean looking after the health and well-being of my fellow human beings. Dictionary definitions will define welfare as ‘the health, happiness, and fortunes of a person or group’ and ‘statutory procedure or social effort designed to promote the basic physical and material well-being of people in need.’ So what on earth is wrong with being the party of welfare? Instead of shying away from it, shouldn’t Labour be embracing it? Shouldn’t they turn it back on the mean and nasty Tory rhetoric and simply say, ‘Yes, we care about people and we’re proud of that, we would be deeply ashamed to be the party who took that basic security away from people. What sort of a government would be?’ Labour have missed the opportunity, so fearful are they. That much is obvious to me and many people.

        But such is the climate of harshness and brutality that while the two main parties are so busy locking horns to see who can be the meanest (and dragging in smaller bullies like UKIP) there’s a gaping void meanwhile waiting for somebody to fill with benevolence, compassion and humanity.

  9. Samuel Miller (@Hephaestus7)

    Here’s another infuriating instance of a politician stating that a serious matter should be looked at only after the election.

    Business Minister Nick Boles has stated that inhumane and unreasonable benefit sanctions can be only be addressed in the next parliamentary term. That’s blatantly untrue! This problem can be solved in an instant by having either Employment Minister Esther McVey or Iain Duncan Smith, Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, issue a directive at all senior Jobcentre mangers, instructing them to cease levying unjust and inappropriate sanctions on benefit claimants.

    1. Mike Sivier Post author

      I’m coming around to a position where I don’t see that benefit sanctions are necessary at all. If a person is not doing what they should, in order to receive benefits, then that is benefit fraud; the DWP should assemble a case and take it to court. It seems doubtful that any judge would accept being five minutes late for a Job Centre interview as evidence that a person isn’t looking for work – or completing only 34 job applications in a week, rather than 35. These are just excuses to make a benefit saving, like the work capability assessment.

      1. Ian

        I don’t believe any person or organisation, governmental or not, has the right to starve anyone for any reason at all. I think all who live here are entitled to a basic standard of living from the taxation business pays (when they bother). They operate on our land (or what should be ours) using our infrastructure, after all. Make it a reduced rate of JSA, maybe, then add money to that basic amount for every condition in the jobseekers agreement fulfilled.

        A person’s autonomy has been eroded massively over recent decades, just for the crime of not having a job. What makes that even more nasty is the fact, largely unacknowledged by politicians, that unemployment creation is a deliberate policy and has been for at least 35 years. I don’t know how politicians have the front to create unemployment then call the unemployed lazy scroungers. Nor do I know why nobody in the mainstream media says anything about this.

      2. bookmanwales

        I’m sorry but this statement sounds like it came straight from a Tory manifesto “not doing what they should in order to receive benefits is fraud” ?? Who decides what jobseekers should do in order to receive the paltry amount ?
        The issue here is not that unemployed are not looking for work but that the conditions imposed are unacceptable on many levels, from travelling time to the number of vacancies applied for.

        As a driver In theory I am supposed to look for work in a 90 minute travel radius, that leaves me looking for work as far as Birmingham or Exeter.
        Apart from the extra 3 hrs a day travel what about the cost ? On minimum wage it would cost me over half my wages purely on travel ?
        Even travelling as far as Bristol woud cost around £30 a week in bridge tolls.
        A court of law would look at the contract signed ( jobseekers commitment) fairness does not come into a courts remit, purely whether the terms of a contract have been broken regardless of the reasons.
        Using a court of law for “Insufficient job seeking” is just another slippery road, not only stop your money but throw you in jail too.. !!!

      3. Mike Sivier Post author

        The law states what jobseekers need to do; really, it’s all in the title – jobseekers‘ allowance.
        I’m saying that the conditions are unacceptable because the DWP should not have the option to sanction people – the reasons sanctions are allowed are wide open to abuse – so we’re on the same page here, I think.
        I’d say this jobseeker’s commitment needs to go, too. In fact, I wrote an article about it.

      4. Moggy M


        Re your comment “I’m coming around to a position where I don’t see that benefit sanctions are necessary at all. If a person is not doing what they should, in order to receive benefits, then that is benefit fraud.”

        Of course they’re not necessary. There have always been people to deal with fraud. Sanctions aren’t anything to do with fraud (which is extremely low) and everything to do with being punitive and appeasing the baying mob. How can you (not you personally) justify sanctions when there aren’t enough jobs to go round?

        Let’s talk about the elephant in the room instead. What is this obsession with work anyway? Bring on the Citizens Income

      5. shirleynott

        Ian, your comment sounds so compassionate and humane and I would agree entirely – except that there’s an inherent contradiction in your first two sentences.

        The money begins to run out on around day 11 of 14 on at least every other week (some people have only this money or the reduced rate already – age-dependent – I used to also receive child benefit and some related tax-credits). So to reduce the already inadequate amount being paid – it’s inadequate by around a one and a half times again in taking into account today’s cost of living – makes as little sense (almost) as removing it completely.

        I will be honest that the first time the Lone Parent (special) Adviser informed me that money could be stopped for a period of time due to an alleged missed appointment – at what I had understood would be my first meeting with them to discuss finding a new job post-redundancy – I was fairly scared and angry, probably in equal measure – as well as shocked.

        My next thought, though, was to go straight into self-defence mode and the ‘doubt’ overturned at that point – this was because I was able to remain coherent enough to ‘argue’ a case that the error was theirs or at least that I had good-enough ‘reasons’ related to other commitments which related to job search or similar. If I hadn’t been able to do this the money would have been stopped summarily – no further need for them to prove that this was justifiable.

        Whilst fighting my corner, it had not yet occurred to me that they could possibly be talking about the whole amount of JSA – it seemed impossible to believe when it was made clear that the ‘adviser’ could not tell me what amount may, or may not, be stopped – as she said the decision would not be hers to make and I would find out only when going to the cash machine in the hope of having received money to live on.

        It would not be a proportion – as you’re suggesting it could be – it would be the whole amount for a period of weeks. The lesser amount was already going to cause untold problems though – it is food money, basically, for single people, whatever their age and living circumstances, and for people with children to support. How can we be calling for a ‘fairer’ version of this to consist only of stopping some, rather than all of this emergency money?

  10. moondancer

    Brilliant Article as always Mike, Thank you, for standing up and saying it, being brave enough to and, for fighting the corner of disabled people in this country.
    As others have said… respect, totally, and for the lady who has been shafted for being brave enough to ask the question.
    I am facing this wca tomorrow and am very scared. my oh will be with me but I am terrified.. I want to get in get out and tell them to stuff it. my oh says I have to fight for what is rightfully mine, but I cant be bothered. I am not strong enough any more. whats the point? so i will go and be a good little pleb and do what i can then bin the brown envelopes from that point onwards. theres no one to help me fight the dwp, and i cant afford legal help so rather than face more stress I have decided i won’t fight what they say.
    I have cp, degenerative disc disease, bilateral deafness, asthma and scoliosis. My last job was in my 20s and I got fired for being a useless spaz, and no one batted an eyelid back then. I was put on invalidity and then incap. and told I never had to try work again, just try to survive without pain and humiliation. (I spent all my working years going from one job to another because I wanted to work and be a normal person) theres no support for ppl like me now, even my gp tells me I have to put up with the pain now. my oh got made redundant at christmas and then had his hours changed from 16 to 8… if he cant find a proper job now, what chance do I have? 🙁 I do wish I was dead, but I am a mum and my kids keep me here, if I didnt have them, I wouldnt be here, putting up with this stress and disrespect from the govt. Its for them alone I won’t appeal a wca, I have to be mum first, no matter what. They are too important to me 🙂
    Thank you for all you do, best wishes.

    1. Mike Sivier Post author

      Your OH person is right – you do need to stand up for what’s yours. It’s an indictment against the current government that this is the case, but it’s how the system is currently stacked. Don’t give up because that’s what they want you to do.

  11. Wanda Lozinska

    Surely it’s important for Labour to do whatever they can (within reason) to get elected? So many good Labour MPs have spoken up against the WCA, with passion and compassion that they’re bound to bring it down, provided Labour wins with at least a working majority. They’ve already said they’ll review it; this could mean accepting GPs and/or specialists’ opinions on their patients’ conditions.

    If Labour don’t get elected, the Tories will continue to cause peoples’ deaths, so there’s an awful lot at stake.

    1. Florence

      I support Mike’s view, that this needs to be articulated clearly by Labour, as it is a matter of ethics, both to oppose it and not to be like the others,where the manifesto is just cheap window dressing. There are those for whom this is a litmus test – and at the moment Labour is failing. It is actively loosing votes, and like every life lost under the Tories WCA now and in future, each one counts. We need Labour to say we count.

  12. Jeffery Davies

    Untill those blair babys either go or change their ways there be no half way house for them its either the little tory party or they go back to basics it doesn’t need to think
    shall we get rid if the wca it should back to were doctors said work or sick it isnt hard but keeping it well it gives that monies whot saved laughable to the private companies its all a sham just like the litttle tory party
    unlesss ed can travel to the left that we wait and c

  13. Gazza

    OT : UKIP – True Colours revealed.

    Thin edge of the Wedge for Nazi Nasty Party Lite:

    First it was don’t let the unemployed drive… then Oh we have loads of Nazi’s we’ve had to let go because they let the Cat out of the Bag too Early…Next up will be as we want True Tory votes, UKIP Gov. will back euthenasia for the undesirables, as the list gets ever longer… Why pay for deportation when you can kill them? Which is cheaper? Its all for austerity sake as and we’re all in it together….

  14. Jan

    Hello Mike

    I absolutely agree with your analysis that Labour not speaking out on the WCA, sanctions etc is costing them votes. To be afraid of what the right wing media might say is testimony to who really runs the country. Ed should change the rhetoric. Explaining the deaths and suffering going on under the Tories is likely to wake many people up. They need to apologise for drafting the WCA but also make clear that the Tories amendments made it worse.

    I wonder if you have seen the report from Benefits and Work that claimants hold the balance of power in many constituencies and could change the result of the election?

    Your letter should include that. What we need then is a campaign to sign up all sick and disabled people to vote. It is not hard even for the housebound when postal voting is available. Many people do not realise that changes to the registration process means that each individual now has to register themselves to vote, rather than the head of the household registering everyone. I think a lot of disabled people may not be aware of that.

    I’m not on Twitter but I think starting a twitter campaign to get people to register to vote could be started – there are still many disabled people who have practice at getting twitter hashtags trending (re the Spartacus report) and pointing out that THEY hold the balance of power.

    There is no reason why disabled people should stay quiet and hidden to suit the Labour party. We need to make it clear that many are turning to the Greens and obviously the SNP in preference and that should tell them something – that appeasing the right wing won’t work but ignoring their traditional supporters will lose them the election.

    1. Florence

      Labour candidates are going on the doorsteps telling people Ed Miliband is not afraid to stand up to vested interests – look, they say, he stood up to Murdoch, he’s gone up against the power companies, he stood up against the war vote, and won, and they are correct. So why isn’t Ed & co taking the sanctions and the WCA issues on, as a “not afraid to stand up” issue, especially as the UN is now involved? Not to do so turns the solid moral ground we built the Labour party on into shifting sands. Not to do so also invites the UN to include Labour in their investigation, as it will continue after May. Is that not enough reason to stand up now?

  15. ispy

    There are more sanctions handed out by the DWP than are handed out by the criminal courts. Even the MINIMUM benefit sanction is greater than the minimum court fine and the maximum benefit sanction now exceeds the maximum fine handed out to convicted criminals.

    Also remember, a court fine is not the removal of someone’s entire income – unlike a benefit sanction! The courts also take into account a person’s ability to pay, and can even adjust the fine to match the person’s circumstances. Not so at the DWP – wham – and your entire income is severed at one stroke without trial or legal representation!

    Meanwhile, the sick continue to die prematurely in their thousands due to the stress of endless tick-box assessments.

    It cannot be emphasised enough that a country which treats the poor and the sick worse than convicted criminals has lost its sense of direction – and the (voting) public seem to be largely unaware of the magnitude of this injustice occurring daily in Jobcentres and WCA centres.

    For some years now, I have ALREADY been asking how many more ill people will need to die? But they keep on dying…

    1. Gazza

      OT: Sanctions

      Ispy, Read and weep:

      From :

      March 11, 2015 at 5:00 pm

      Absolutely right – we here have long pointed out how the ‘court’ of the DWP, coachey-coachy, is a parody of elementary justice.

      “Few people know that the number of financial penalties (‘sanctions’) imposed on benefit claimants by the Department of Work and Pensions now exceeds the number of fines imposed by the courts. In Great Britain in 2013, there were 1,046,398 sanctions on Jobseeker’s Allowance claimants, 32,128 on Employment and Support Allowance claimants, and approximately 44,000 on lone parent recipients of Income Support. By contrast, Magistrates’ and Sheriff courts imposed a total of only 849,000 fines.

      Sanctioned benefit claimants are treated much worse than those fined in the courts. The scale of penalties is more severe (£286.80 – £11,185.20 compared to £200 – £10,000). Most sanctions are applied to poor people and involve total loss of benefit income. Although there is a system of discretionary ‘hardship payments’, claimants are often reduced to hunger and destitution by the ban on application for the first two weeks and by lack of information about the payments and the complexity of the application process. The hardship payment system itself is designed to clean people out of resources; all savings or other sources of assistance must be used up before help is given.

      – See more at:

  16. A-brightfuture

    IMO Labour are “pandering” to the mob.
    The so called war on welfare is a big vote winner…A very big vote winner.
    Labour are just swinging on the coat tails on some policies. Not all of them, just the big vote winners.

  17. Henri

    It is indeed shocking. But do we have to be so naive? There are goods folk in the Labour Party, but they are not the ones in charge. What this party does is to done to look respectable to business people. They have to show that they are not the red bunch anymore, but a group of decent and responsible politicians who think business first. And later, possibly, justice for their electors. Sorry to be “blase” or cynical, but I have tasted this brew before.

  18. Sasson Hann

    I just wish that we could get a solid answer on these issues from Labour.

    From now on if we’re turned down when applying for ESA or an ESA reassessment then that’s it, no money at all until appeal, and they’re dragging their feet so much with the Mandatory Reconsideration such that you’ll wait a very long time. You also cannot reapply for ESA at a later time unless you have additional/new symptoms.

    It will be a case for ALL ESA recipients who fail the process that you either claim JSA, or starve and get evicted. But if you’re very sick and they do allow you to claim JSA you’ll still fall foul and be sanctioned. I don’t think that people really understand what is going on here, especially these new rules being implemented just prior to the election and so buried under all other news.

    New claimants for JSA will be on UC, even more draconian conditionality. Will they even accept you on JSA being that you’re not fit for work in any case? Just like they stated in ’21st Century Welfare’ (paraphrased): ‘Those who are fail the WCA but are not entitled to claim JSA will have to find their own means of support’.

  19. Bill Scott

    Mike I don’t always agree with you (it would be a boring world if we all did!) but I think that youa re 100% right about this and hounding people off the internet is just wrong and some people really need to look at whether their behaviour squares with supporting human rights.

  20. Jeffery Davies

    Moggie m you are correct in whot you say you remind me of that young man I new once stationed in germany these sanctions are not needed the fraud themselves
    they state is point seven percent hardle anything its unbelievable how they get away with this abuse of power
    yet they do most on here now that if you worked liked me
    forty one years then become disabled then you are paid for one year only isnt this a fraud has you paid into that pot but now cant get anything out we all went to work seeing the pubs full of drinkers we use to argue in the van
    going to work over them but I would point out tyey had a illness and couldnt help themselves but we paid into that
    pot for all people to have their benefits yet now the greed is rife they all caught it but asking for your daily bread has
    turned into a sham yet we ask the little tory party to listen
    perhaps ed can turn further left but voting for others then
    we are doomed to more tory lies cuts and further private companies taking over those government’s contracts taking their profits offshore with less jobs I hope never to
    see this lot in again but one wonders will they stand before the hague answering for their crimes against their own peoples jeff3

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