Brick wall: Wheelchair-user Abbi Brown may have felt that using public transport was like running up against a similarly-impenetrable barrier.
This is a pleasant surprise.
I had expected an article in The Express about the way people with disabilities are kept out of jobs to be an attempt to pressgang them into inappropriate positions; it isn’t.
Instead, it highlights the problems faced by people who want to work but are hampered by attitudes to their disabilities.
So we read the story of the woman behind the Maltesers “disability” advertising campaign, whose journeys to work took twice as long as anybody else’s because rail operators have failed to make their journeys accessible for people with disabilities.
We learn about the man who struggled to get job interviews until he stopped mentioning that he is almost totally blind.
He works in information technology using adapted software and magnifiers that mean the quality of his work is not affected.
He was even put off attending an interview by one firm’s illegal attitude to his guide dog! While he did take part, after reminding the company representative of their legal obligation, the experience convinced him that he would not want to work there.
Finally, we were told about the man who tried to use the Tory government’s ‘Access to Work’ scheme – only to struggle with asphyxiating bureaucracy and the short deadlines it demands.
These are real problems for people with disabilities who want to get into work, that the Tory government has done its best to ignore.
For example, nine railway operators have had the deadline for making their trains accessible extended after failing to do anything about it. What happens when they break the new deadline? Will it be extended again?
A fat lot of good that will be for people with disabilities.
And what happens to those who are blocked from work through no fault of their own?
They have to claim state benefits – and readers of This Site should know very well how badly the assessment systems are rigged against them.
We end up with a situation in which some of our brightest and best people may be thrown onto the street to curl up and die, simply because they are slightly different from the rest of us.
This is a timely article from the Express.
It reminds us that, while the UK is becoming demonstrably racist amid the controversy over Brexit, there is a terrifying undercurrent of disablism going generally unreported.
Have YOU donated to my crowdfunding appeal, raising funds to fight false libel claims by TV celebrities who should know better? These court cases cost a lot of money so every penny will help ensure that wealth doesn’t beat justice.
Campaigners at disability charity Scope said Ms Quinn’s case highlighted the difficulties disabled people face in trying to attend assessments [Image: Maria Quinn/Facebook].
Isn’t this contrary to the Equality Act 2010?
That Act of Parliament requires ministers of the Crown to, among other things, “have regard to the desirability of reducing socio-economic inequalities… to prohibit victimisation in certain circumstances; [and] to require the exercise of certain functions to be with regard to the need to eliminate discrimination and other prohibited conduct”.
It is the direct successor of the Disability Discrimination Act and, like that Act, requires service providers to make ‘reasonable adjustments’ for disabled people, such as providing extra help or making changes to the way they provide their services, and in relation to the physical features of their premises to overcome physical barriers to access.
I would say that anything requiring a disabled person to crawl into a government building is a “physical barrier to access”, wouldn’t you?
If the Conservative government is requiring people claiming benefits due to disability to carry out tasks which are impossible to them, because of that disability, then it is breaking the law and should be prosecuted accordingly.
Are any lawyers reading? How about it?
Disability campaigners have called on the Government to end “humiliating” benefit assessments after a disabled woman was forced to “crawl” up stairs to attend an appointment.
Maria Quinn, who is partially sighted and walks with the aid of a wheeled frame, described how she was left feeling “mortified and panicked” after finding there was no step-free access for her consultation at a disability benefits centre.
With her solicitor carrying her mobility aid and her sister holding her breathing equipment, Ms Quinn, 32, managed to enter the building on Glasgow’s Cadogan Street by “crawling up the two split-level stairs”.
She said she was refused the portable ramp which can be used to cover the entrance stairs as it was intended for wheelchairs only, and if she had returned to her flat to collect her chair she would have been late and missed the appointment.
“There is no ramp or flat entrance to the disability assessment building…that’s right folks! You read it correctly,” Ms Quinn wrote on Facebook.
One of Vox Political‘s many astute commenters made an extremely good point about government schemes to get people (a) off the dole and (b) into work. They said the fundamental question we should be asking the DWP is: “How many people have you turned into productive taxpaying workers who do not claim any benefits at all?”
Employment minister Esther McVey’s time – like that of her boss Iain Duncan Smith – has been and gone. Do not expect her to do anything about this.
Job Centre staff are currently given incentives to get benefit claimants off the dole, and this has led to wholesale abuse of the system of sanctions which can mean people are banned from claiming benefits for three whole years after a third ‘offence’.
People have been sanctioned because the dates on which they applied for jobs did not tally with the number of jobs they were supposed to seek every week – as the Job Centre week starts on Tuesday.
They have been sanctioned for arriving late at their signing-on appointment – because a job interview overran.
They’ve been sanctioned because they didn’t apply online for a job, as advised, because the job had ‘expired’.
They have been sanctioned while on Workfare because signing on – as advised by the Job Centre – made them late for the placement.
They have even been sanctioned for failing to apply for jobs, after they had succeeded in getting a job.
The Work and Pensions committee has diplomatically described this as a “haphazard” approach to assessing claimants, saying many were referred for sanctions inappropriately, or “in circumstances in which common sense would dictate that discretion should have been applied”.
Common sense has no place in a Job Centre overseen by a Conservative-run DWP. The people who work there are under the cosh, just as much as the claimants. They have a target to meet – five per cent of jobseekers off the books every month, unless I am mistaken (perhaps readers could provide the correct figure if I am).
Sanctioning rates in the year to October 2012 stood at 4.2 per cent, so staff were failing to hit this target – but after a sterner regime was introduced in that month, sanctioning increased to five per cent.
The system has been particularly cruel on younger claimants. In the year to October 2012, the sanction rate for those aged 18-24 was eight per cent, per month.
The number of sanctions in the year to 30 June 2013 was around 860,000 – the highest number in any 12-month period since statistics began to be published in their present form in April 2000.
The committee also said the DWP needed to monitor financial hardship suffered by claimants who lose their benefits. This could include publishing information on the number of claimants “signposted” to food banks by Job Centres and the reasons given for this action.
It is as if Dame Anne Begg (who chairs the committee) has been reading this blog. Readers will know that part of Vox Political‘s Freedom of Information request about incapacity/ESA claimant mortality referred to the well-being of those who had been thrown off-benefit altogether.
I can tell you now that the DWP does not monitor what happens to these people, nor does it have any plan to do so in the future. They are thrown to the wolves.
Dame Anne was quoted in The Guardian, saying: “JCP must be very clearly incentivised to get people into work, not just off benefits.
“The processes by which JCP currently establishes claimants’ needs are haphazard and prone to missing crucial information about a person’s barriers to working, including homelessness and drug dependency. A more thorough and systematic approach to assessing claimants’ needs is required.”
She added: “Whilst conditionality is a necessary part of the benefit system, jobseekers need to have confidence that the sanctioning regime is being applied appropriately, fairly and proportionately and the government needs to assure itself that sanctioning is achieving its intended objective of incentivising people to seek work.”
This is exactly what Vox Political has been saying since Rachel Reeves described Labour’s compulsory job guarantee policy on finding work for claimants, last week. Reeves’ words were derided by visitors to certain blogs who said she was as bad as the Conservatives. Now that some flesh is appearing on the bones of her strategy, we can see that this was undeserved.
According to the BBC, ministers cited the recent fall in unemployment to say the system was working, but they failed to mention what their intention was.
Was it working in getting people into jobs?
Or was it only working in getting people off-benefit, as claimed by the committee?
What about the rise and rise of Workfare schemes, in which claimants are knocked off the unemployment statistics but continue receiving an equivalent amount to JSA – from the DWP – for a full week’s work, effectively subsidising commercial firms?
It seems likely that ministers will be reluctant to answer those questions.
Their doctors will say you’re not sick: The DWP’s new policy is another sign of disrespect to PROPER health professionals across the UK; their diagnoses aren’t good enough for the Department. It’s bringing its own people in, to pretend more sick people are actually healthy, no doubt.
“People on sickness benefits will be required to have regular meetings with doctors, occupational health nurses and therapists to help them address their barriers to work – or face losing their benefits,” the Department for Work and Pensions announced yesterday.
The initiative was revealed under the euphemistic headline ‘Help for people on sickness benefits to address barriers to work’ and shows yet again that ministers in the DWP do not understand the meaning of the word “sick”.
“Around 3,000 people on Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) who have been assessed as being able to work in the future will have regular appointments with healthcare professionals as a condition of receiving their benefit. The meetings will focus on helping claimants to move closer to being able to get a job,” the DWP press release states.
“The proposed pilot scheme will compare the help given by doctors, occupational health nurses and therapists to two other pilot schemes which will offer enhanced support from Jobcentre Plus and Work Programme providers to see which is best at helping people off sickness benefits and into work.”
This is all very well, but has it not occurred to DWP officials that perhaps a person who is off work because of illness may already be involved in meetings with healthcare professionals?
This is anecdotal evidence, I know, but Mrs Mike has attended many, many appointments with her GP, physiotherapists, osteopaths, other back specialists, nerve specialists, surgeons, she’s had MRI and CT scans, spent a week at the pain clinic in Bronllys Hospital (recently featured on a BBC documentary which notably focused on its successes and not its failures – it does have them) and is currently due to attend an appointment at the orthopaedic hospital in Gobowen.
What do DWP officials think its people can do, that these specialists – who are experts in their field – cannot?
Employment minister Mark Hoban trotted out the usual line that “we need to ensure that people who are able to work get the encouragement they need to get a job, while those who are too sick to work get real support”. What, by threatening them with losing their sole source of income? That’s not encouragement – it’s bullying; it’s threats; it’s intimidation.
“Many people on sickness benefits want to work, so it’s vitally important that we give them the right help to move into a job if they are able. The help we give people at the moment tends to focus on work-related skills, but doesn’t necessarily address health problems. But by giving people regular support from doctors, occupational health nurses and therapists we can do more to help people manage or improve their conditions.”
The thought of the DWP – an organisation that absolutely refuses, under any circumstances, to publish the number of people its policies are killing every week (or have killed already) – claiming it is trying to help people into work is laughable. The fact that it will do this by threatening to remove their benefits is serious to the point of being deadly.
The release goes on to remind us all that people in the work-related activity group of ESA recipients already have ‘work-focussed interviews’ with Job Centre Plus staff as a condition of receiving their benefit. This is true – Mrs Mike attended and, due to her interest in finding work, was passed on to a work programme provider who immediately – within one telephone conversation – told her she was not fit for any kind of work, the Atos assessment had put her in the wrong group and she must seek re-assessment with a view to going into the support group immediately.
That was in January; the DWP has been dragging its heels somewhat. I would say this demonstrates the department’s real concern for people with long-term health problems (almost as much as those nebulous death figures).
In the pilot area, the press release states, the work interview would be replaced by meetings with healthcare professionals – provided by the DWP. The length and frequency of the meetings would be flexible, depending on the individuals’ needs.
“The regular discussions will focus claimants on how they can improve their view of their readiness for work by taking steps to manage their health issues,” the release claims. “They will not replace a person’s GP, but can promote health support and help a claimant to re-engage with their GP if they are struggling to adapt to their condition.” Plausible language, but let’s remember this is DWP doublespeak, so we must not expect anything of the sort.
There will be three separate pilot schemes:
Healthcare professional-led – mandatory engagement with health care professionals. Interestingly, this will use funding from the European Social Fund. How they managed to persuade the EU that this was a good idea defies rational explanation.
Jobcentre Plus – enhanced Jobcentre Plus support
Work Programme – enhanced support designed by Work Programme provider
The pilots will begin in November and will run until August 2016 – so, if there’s any justice, they will be terminated in May 2015 when a sensible government takes over. This depends on whether Labour can devise any reasonable ideas for Work and Pensions in the next 18 months or so, of course.
While we’re discussing ways of getting sick people off-benefit (which is what this is about – never mind putting them back into work), I wonder whether DWP officials partaking in this scheme will also employ the “Pester Power” strategy?
I learned about this from Vox Political commenter Maria Nelson this morning. She wrote: “They partake in something called ‘Pester Power’ to bully and harass claimants… knowing it may push people over the edge.”
Apparently it is employed by staff “who bully claimants by hanging up on them and aggravating stressed, angry claimants, losing paperwork etc to create misery – sanctioning etc… Their horrid phone service is privately operated and numbers changed regular[ly] – wrong numbers given out – and it generates nice profits for that private company, and there’s supposed to be a free number for mobile callers but no-one gets told… I was so shocked [by] what I was told, I forgot to ask [for] it”.
Come to that, why not come out of the undergrowth and give us the facts about the number of people who are dying because of the fatal policies practised by your department? You do realise, don’t you, that your continued participation involves you in mass murder, don’t you? After the response to the FOI request, I see no reason to give any of you the benefit of the doubt; not only are you participating in a scheme that leads to death – it is revealed as a scheme that is intended to cause death. You don’t cover up mass deaths, with an intention to continue the policies that cause them, without intending to induce those deaths.
That’s murder. If you are an employee of the DWP involved in this process, then you are implicated. There will be trials; the dead will have justice. And, just as in Nuremberg in the 1940s, saying you were “only following orders” will not help you.
Skewed view: This image (not mine) provides a startlingly accurate representation of the way British Conservatives see Europe. Do you honestly think they can be trusted to honour the human rights that European laws have granted us?
You do realise what David Cameron means when he says he wants to re-negotiate our membership of the European Union, don’t you?
For a start, he means he wants to abolish laws that protect the human rights your ancestors fought tooth and nail to win for you.
He won’t make any deals in your interest. That’s not in his nature.
If he gets his way, you could lose the right to:
Written terms and conditions of work, and a job description – and the right to the same terms and conditions if transferred to a different employer.
Four weeks’ paid leave from work per year.
Not be sacked for being pregnant, or for taking time off for ante-natal appointments.
Come back to work after maternity leave, on the same pay, terms and conditions as before the leave started.
Health and safety protection for pregnant women, new and breastfeeding mothers.
Equal treatment for workers employed through an agency.
Tea and lunch breaks during the working day for anyone working six hours or more
One day off per week.
Time off for urgent family reasons.
In addition, Cameron could relieve employeers of the legal obligation to ensure the health and safety of their workers, including undertaking risk assessments, acting to minimise risks, informing workers of risks, and consulting on health and safety with employees and their representatives. In his cost-cutting brave new Britain you’d just have to take your chances.
Health and safety representatives from trade unions could lose the right to ask employers to make changes in order to protect workers’ health and safety, and they would lose their protection against unfair treatment by their employer for carrying out their duties in relation to this.
The ban on forcing children less than 13 years of age into work could be lost, along with the limit on the hours children aged 13 or more and young people can work.
Children who could then be forced into work, regardless of the effect on their education, would have no rules protecting their health and safety, and the rules that say they can only be employed doing “light work” could also be abolished.
Protection from discrimination or harassment at work on grounds of gender, religion or belief, disability, age or sexual orientation – direct or indirect – could be dropped.
And the right of disabled people to expect their employers to make reasonable adjustments for them at work could also be abolished.
These are just your rights at work!
Cameron himself has said, as leader of the Opposition: “I do not believe it is appropriate for social and employment legislation to be dealt with at the European level. It will be a top priority for the next Conservative government to restore social and employment legislation to national control.”
And as Prime Minister: “Complex rules restricting our labour markets are not some naturally occurring phenomenon. Just as excessive regulation is not some external plague that’s been visited on our businesses.”
To find out what he meant by those words, we must turn to the former leader of the British Conservative MEPs, Martin Callanan, who said: “One of the best ways for the EU to speed up growth is to … scrap the Working Time Directive, the Agency Workers Directive, the Pregnant Workers Directive and all of the other barriers to actually employing people if we really want to create jobs in Europe.”
Of course, they distort the facts. These rules aren’t barriers to employing people at all; they are structures within which people may be employed responsibly.
The Tories want to ban responsibility in the workplace. They want a return to dangerous employment conditions, abuse of workers and the removal of any legal protection from such abuse that they may have.
They will tear apart your rights at work.
So, if you are living in the UK and you’ve got a job, please take a moment to consider what this means for you. You might agree with the Coalition on its benefits policy that has led to thousands of deaths of sick and disabled people; you might agree with its bedroom tax and too-low benefit cap that has led to a rapid rise in debt and homelessness among the unemployed and those on low wages.
But now you know they’re coming for you, too.
What are you going to do about it?
Are you going to sit on your thumbs and do nothing – just meekly wait for them to rock up and tell you they’ve abolished all your rights at work and you can now go and slave for them in appalling conditions with absolutely no legal protection at all?
In other words, when it’s you that’s threatened, are you going to let it happen, just like you let it happen to the sick, disabled, unemployed and low-waged?
Or are you going to take action and make a difference?
It doesn’t take much. You could write to David Cameron and to your MP at the House of Commons. You could email them – just look up the addresses on They Work For You, or you could add your name to the letter being created by Unions Together. Yes, I know Mr Cameron says the unions are a bad thing, but in this case the enemy of your enemy is your friend.
As the leader of the European Parliamentary Labour Party, Glenis Willmott MEP, says: “Our rights at work are not ‘red tape’ to be slashed away. Don’t let Cameron and the Tories get away with this great European scam.”
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