The estimable Peter Stefanovic has suggested that “when Benefit cuts force an incontinent cancer survivor to ‘re-use nappies’ you know the system is failing on an industrial scale”.
This Writer begs to differ.
The system is doing exactly what the Conservatives want.
The lady Mr Field mentions has been targeted very specifically by the Tory-run Department for Work and Pensions.
The idea was to deprive her of her benefits in order to put this lady under increased levels of stress; the hope was that this would push her towards suicide – or simply kill her off by boosting the level of her illness.
It’s ‘nudge’ theory in action, as the Conservatives practise it.
Obviously, with Frank Field raising the issue in Parliament, the Tories have had to say that something has gone wrong with this lady’s benefit claim.
This is only true if you accept that what went wrong, as far as the Tories are concerned, was the case being publicised by a Labour MP.
Now they can’t get away with it and must actually lift a finger to help this woman instead. They won’t have liked that at all.
This is just the latest in a long series of cases in which the Tories have cut off benefits to individuals. Some of the people they targeted have died as a result.
If these incidents really did represent the system going wrong, then the Tories would have fixed it by now. They haven’t.
The system hasn’t gone wrong.
It is doing exactly what the Tories want.
And it will continue doing so until the Tories are forcibly removed from office.
Spread the word.
A Wirral woman left incontinent by cancer was forced to re-use babies’ nappies after benefit cuts left her penniless, an MP claimed.
The Birkenhead woman, in her 50s, could not even afford adult nappies – and was too ashamed to ask for new ones from a local charity, according to Labour MP Frank Field.
She was reportedly stripped of disability benefit a few weeks ago after assessors said she was not sick enough to receive it in a controversial welfare test.
A government minister admitted “clearly something went wrong” in her assessment after the harrowing story was raised in Parliament, and she has appealed the decision.
We all knew this would happen – central government cuts funding to councils, then devolves funding for welfare grants and crisis loans to the same authorities. What did ministers think was going to happen?
They know local authorities don’t have an unlimited pot of cash – in fact, they should know exactly how much money is available to each council.
Now Newcastle City Council says government budget cuts are forcing it to use welfare funding on other services.
Exactly according to the Conservative Government’s plan.
Victim of government persecution: A coroner has agreed that government pressure drove Stephanie Bottrill to suicide.
It’s official – stress and pressure caused by the Bedroom Tax pushed grandmother Stephanie Bottrill into taking her own life.
Zafar Siddique, coroner for Birmingham and Solihull, said he was “satisfied she intended to take her own life” after hearing evidence that Mrs Bottrill had blamed the government’s Bedroom Tax policy for pushing her to suicide in a note she left at her Meriden Drive, Kingshurst, home before walking across the M6 motorway into a collision with a lorry early on May 4, 2013.
The coroner also heard evidence from Dr Bindu Nair, who saw the former postal worker the day before her death after Mrs Bottrill’s daughter-in-law, concerned for her safety, made an appointment.
Dr Nair said Mrs Bottrill had “expressed unhappiness at being pushed by the housing department to make a decision, in half an hour, in reference to being made to move into a smaller property”.
He added that Ms Bottrill was “happy to move but it was the way in which she was forced to make a decision” which had caused her “considerable anxiety and stress”.
Unmentioned in the report is the fact that Mrs Bottrill was found to be exempt from the Bedroom Tax (also called the State Under-Occupation Charge) under the Housing Benefit and Council Tax Benefit (Consequential Provisions) Regulations 2006, because she had been living at her address since before January 1996.
The implications for the government are enormous.
A British court has accepted that a government policy pushed a UK citizen into ending her life.
Organisations including government departments are guilty of corporate manslaughter if the way in which their activities are managed or organised causes a person’s death, and amounts to a gross breach of a relevant duty of care owed by the organisation to the deceased.
An organisation is guilty of an offence if the way in which its activities are managed or organised by its senior management is a substantial element in the breach.
The pressure placed on Mrs Bottrill, according to the evidence of her own doctor, caused “considerable anxiety and stress” that contributed to her decision to commit suicide.
It seems clear that the Department for Work and Pensions – as the organisation responsible for both the Bedroom Tax and the pressure placed on Mrs Bottrill by housing officers – must now face criminal charges under the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act 2007.
As far as this blog is concerned, responsibility for this woman’s death lies firmly with Iain Duncan Smith.
Today’s the day: The WoW Petition is being debated in Parliament today, having won the support from MPs necessary to trigger a debate.
That concludes today’s live blog. Thanks to everybody who visited and pressed ‘F5’ to keep up with events.
2.38pm The motion for the government to commission a cumulative impact assessment has been passed – resoundingly – after the debate. Admittedly very few people attended but the result was what the 104,000 people who signed the ‘WoW’ petition wanted.
However, there now arises the question of what the government will do. As was noted in the debate, the Conservative-Liberal Democrat Coalition has been defeated three times in succession over social security benefits – and has done absolutely nothing about the motions that have been passed.
Those who believed Labour would abstain have been proved wrong by today’s result; we must now judge the government by its actions in response.
The public wants action on this matter, and it has been supported by a House of Commons vote.
This is not just a test of Parliamentary democracy but also one of the e-petition system by which the debate was secured in the first place. Does David Cameron intend to ignore the will of the people that has been revealed by this new method which he is said to support?
2.30pm Speaker John Bercow has turned up to take the vote – and the ‘Ayes’ have it.
2.30pm Mr McDonnell says if the government thinks a cumulative assessment is too complicated, why not bring in the independent organisations who say they can do it, and fund them to do it?
2.28pm John McDonnell is winding up after an inadequate response from Mr Penning. “I’ve heard nothing here today that will alleviate that suffering [of disabled people because of the cuts]. If an impact assessment was published, people would be up in arms.”
2.23pm Rather than discuss the policies behind the WCA, Penning agrees that assessments are taking too long.
2.22pm Penning is departing from the usual Tory stance by admitting that problems have arisen since the Coalition took over in government. He says taxpayers’ money should not be paid to Atos to exit its contract.
2.21pm Fears of a Labour abstention are causing a great deal of distress among the general public watching the debate. Ghost Whistler comments: “If Labour are going to abstain, what’s the point of all this?”
2.19pm Already Penning is saying a cumulative impact assessment cannot be carried out accurately. Other organisations have managed it – why not HM Government?
2.17pm Mike Penning is on his feet. Prepare for a rehash of the government stance (at length).
1.14pm WoWCampaign on Twitter is unhappy: “Kate Green departs from motion over scrapping of #WCA This is an integral part of WOW petition.”
2.13pm Jaypot2012 has read my correction and writes: “My apologies – but I do stand by my comment that if they abstain from this vote then they deserve to lose the next election.”
2.11pm Jason Sheffield on Twitter, apparently responding to Grahame Morris, states: “It is obvious from the empty benches in HoC that UK political parties no longer protect the interests of the poor & vulnerable.”
2.08pm Kate Green tells us Labour wholeheartedly supports the call for a cumulative impact assessment outlined by the petition and in the motion. So Caroline Lucas was wrong whether her abstention rumour, then?
2.07pm Jaypot2012 is on a roll: “These MP’s, MEP’s, etc. forget their places – they are civil servants who are paid by US, the taxpayer. It’s about time someone reminded them of this, and it’s also time that the people of this country were reminded as well.”
2.05pm Commenter Jaypot2012 again: “If Labour abstain from this vote then they deserve to lose the next election. They have been far too pally with the Tories, they are in talks with the Lib Dems, and throughout this coalition “stint in office”, they have backed them, instead of being an opposition party!
“I know that I will NOT vote for labour if they abstain, I will vote for the greens instead!”
In fairness, Labour has not backed the Coalition. This is a falsehood that has been put about often but is not supported by voting records.
2pm On Twitter, #WOWFeb27 is trending above #Merkel. An indication that the majority of MPs got their priorities wrong?
1.58pm Commenter Jaypot2012 writes: “How about all the money that has been wasted and thrown away on IDS schemes? How much has been lost with the IT schemes? He says he’ll just write it off. Does he realise that money belongs to us and could have been used to pay people their ESA whilst they appealed against their decisions? Now we have people who are starving, who are ill and have no money because IDS thinks the money is monopoly money and he can waste it and throw it away!”
1.57pm WoWCampaign tweets: “Is it not time the whole House faces the horror of what is being done? History will judge, if not before.”
1.55pm “It is not a lack of interest; it is not a lack of understanding that means so few people are here today – it’s a lack of time,” says Madeleine Moon in defence of the low attendance at the debate.
1.53pm “We weren’t elected to this house to fight for the interests of the powerful and privileged,” says Mr Morris.
1.50pm Cuts are being targeted on just two areas, with 50 per cent aimed at benefits and local government, and the sick and disabled being affected disproportionately, says Mr Morris.
1.48pm Grahame Morris: “The sick, vulnerable and disabled weren’t responsible for the economic crash, but they are bearing the burden.” He says, “If these cuts had been made fairly, they would have fallen on the better-off.”
1.46pm The problem with WCA assessments is not with Atos but with the policy it is pursuing, as Capita is experiencing the same issues, says Sheila Gilmore.
1.44pm The claim that DLA was going to too many people and hardly anyone was ever reassessed was a “straw man”, leading to flawed proposals for reform, says Sheila Gilmore.
1.40pm Sheila Gilmore to the hardly-represented government: “I didn’t know why it is so difficult – why it is so hard to work out the impact of your policies!”
1.35pm Commenter Barry Davies: “Kudos to Dennis Skinner, well stated argument, and the sort of passion we need to get our case over.”
1.34pm Caroline Lucas reckons Labour will abstain when this debate comes to the vote. What do readers think about that?
1.33pm Upbraided by Labour on her claim that Rachel Reeves said Labour would be tougher on welfare (“Labour will be tougher on welfare spending”), Caroline Lucas said spending should be based on need, not targets.
1.32pm Caroline Lucas has also updated us on the number of people on the government benches. They now number three.
1.31pm Caroline Lucas pays tribute to Francesca Martinez, who “did so much” to publicise the WoW Petition.
1.30pm The worst is yet to come, according to Mark Lazarowicz, as the consequences of the government’s cuts mount up. “We’ve had chaos, misery, the bureaucratic nightmare, the waste of money that is the bedroom tax.”
1.29pm The Benefit Claimant on Twitter: “@David_Cameron Most important debate in politics is going on in the house. You’re at home. We’ll need to sanction you.”
1.28pm Caroline Lucas MP on Twitter: “Grand total on Govt benches: 2 #shameful”
1.27pm Mark Lazarowicz is quoting organisations in his constituency who say the main problems they are facing include long delays in processing. This echoes the findings of the National Audit Office, released today.
1.25pm “This government cannot be trusted to reform welfare in a fair way,” says Mr Danczuk. “While people… will be able to get rid of this government next May, the damage it is doing will last for decades.”
1.24pm ‘Kathrine’ on Twitter makes a very pertinent point about the attendance at this debate: “Thanks to all those MPs who turned up to #WOWFeb27, the rest of them are callous, cowardly, and f***ing WORK-SHY.”
1.23pm Simon Danczuk is telling us about a constituent who received a glowing letter from the DWP stating how much closer she was to getting work as a result of government efforts. This constituent was in a coma at the time.
1.21pm “It’s an absolute nonsense and the way that we are treating these people is an absolute disgrace,” says Ian Lavery. “It’s an absolute outrage. People are dying as a result of the Welfare Reform Act 2012… Is this really the sort of country we want to leave to the next generation. This is IDS’ UK.” A passionate speech to match that of Dennis Skinner.
1.19pm Universal Credit is “an absolute car crash” but “it’s not the DWP who are suffering,” says Ian Lavery.
1.18pm “I’ve got someone who was sanctioned by the DWP because he was in hospital with a severe heart condition,” says Ian Lavery. “Is this a way to treat human beings?”
1.16pm Mr Lavery says people taking the Atos assessments are facing a “Little Britain” scenario where “the computer says no” and the assessor is not medically qualified.
1.16pm “We shouldn’t be making decisions to hammer the disabled and the vulnerable because we could be next,” says Ian Lavery.
1.14pm Ian Lavery says many disabled people have given up. One asked him if he understands what it’s like to feel “trapped like an animal”.
1.13pm Katy Clark says one in five people who have been sanctioned while on JSA were disabled.
1.08pm If this motion is passed, it will be the third time this year that the government has been defeated on a motion relating to benefits. On both previous occasions the result was ignored. Maybe it will be third time lucky, says Eilidh Whiteford.
1.06pm Disabled people have been “vilified” and “stigmatised” in a way that is “shameful”, says Eilidh Whiteford.
1.05pm Eilidh Whiteford says the challenge is finding employers who are willing to take on disabled people.
1.02pm Eilidh Whiteford: “To get it so very wrong, so many thousands of times, just beggars belief. The government needs to get its head out of the sand.”
1.01pm Sheridan says if only a fraction of the resources used chasing down benefit claimants were used to tackle tax evasion, it would make a big difference #WOWFeb27
12.58pm James Thurston on Twitter: “It hasnt been mentioned in the #WOWFeb27 yet but negative rhetoric generated by DWP Ministers results hinders not helps disabled get work.”
12.57pm Jim Sheridan tells us people claiming benefits are “demonised” and no consideration is given to the circumstances in which they are claiming. It is a tactic to divert attention “from the gross abuse of power” in this country.
12.55pm Jim Sheridan tells us this should be about treating people with dignity. He says he was out of work for three years, blacklisted due to trade union activity, but “I was not a shirker as some of those opposite might treat me”.
12.53pm Comment from Jaypot2012: “I am hopping mad here – I so wish I was there, and that I could speak for the disabled and long term sick. As for the conservatives and lib/dems – they have no idea! They sit there with their smug faces when really they are thinking that the disabled should be culled!!!!!!!!”
12.50pm Steve Turner on Twitter: “It’s not a question of ‘accuracy’ in WCA’s for #atos. They are doing what they have been told to do by #dwp. Get ppl off benefits #WOWFeb27”
12.42pm Action for M.E. on Twitter: “Dennis Skinner slams Atos as a “lousy, rotten firm” and says “it’s high time we got rid of this mess”. #WOWFeb27”
12.40pm “The reason they’re on demonstrations like they never did before is because they are desperate, desperate people waiting for us to do something to help them.” Powerful speech by Dennis Skinner.
12.39pm “We’re having hundreds and thousands of people being turned down.” He refers to a constituent who waited month for an appeal while he had cancer, and died before it was heard.
12.38pm “I wish [David Cameron] would say money is no object for disabled people – it really is a scandal.”
12.38pm “There were people telling me they had been for the WCA and turned down, and they couldn’t rise from their wheelchair.”
12.37pm “There were blind people telling me what was about to happen and I didn’t believe them.”
12.36pm Dennis Skinner refers to a historical debate with Sir Keith Joseph. “Even in the Keith Joseph era, the welfare state was a status quo, by and large. Even in the Thatcher years, this chaos did not happen! We never had capability assessments. We never had a march by 3,000 blind and disabled people which heralded the beginning of this coalition.”
12.34pm Steve Turner on Twitter: “I’m not ‘trapped’ on benefits, I am ILL.
I just want to be left alone to get well, not made to jump thru hoops every other week. #WOWFeb27”
12.33pm Chris Bracken on Twitter: “If you are a sick or disabled constituent of Guto Bebb, you have my sympathy. #wowfeb27#wowdebate”
12.32pm Bebb says we should have WCAs, and they should take on advice from medical experts – failing to accept that the expertise of these people is in question and the rationale behind the tests has been discredited.
12.31pm Bebb is harking back to the Harrington reviews, which we know have not been implemented, even though he says they have been accepted.
12.30pm “We had a failing welfare system,” claims Guto Bebb. He says it trapped people in a way which was unproductive and unfair.
12.29pm Guto Bebb (Con) defends government policy saying the NAO report is about implementation, not policy.
12.28pm CAB Sleaford on Twitter: “#WOWFeb27 Mark Durkan: “Fixing a number and squeezing more people off benefit to reach it” .. is what we can expect in the future.”
12.27pm “Those who are terminally ill, those who have a total life expectancy of six months, are having to wait 28 days [for a PIP decision] – one-sixth of their total lifespan in the bureaucratic morass.”
12.26pm PIP – “They started with a number and framed their policy around it,” says Anne McGuire.
12.25pm Anne McGuire says disabled people are not against welfare reform – just the changes of the last three years which disproportionately affect disabled people.
12.24pm Anne McGuire reminds us that David Cameron promised in 2010 that his government would look after the sick, disabled and old.
12.23pm Anne McGuire MP says a cumulative impact assessment is something the government should have brought in when it introduced its benefit changes. She berates Graham Evans for conflating fraud and error, which are two different things.
12.21pm James Thurston on Twitter: “Its a great shame that Graham Evans MP (Con) Weaver Vale is reading his speech verbatim. Does he know what he’s talking about? #WOWFeb27”
12.19pm Commenter LeonC: @GHollingbery those results are in the minority a test that just helps the few is not good enough one death too many #WOWdebate #WOWFeb27
12.18pm He’s quoting financial statistics. That won’t get him very far. We spend less than our OECD partners on disability benefits.
12.17pm Graham Evans (Con) says the government’s reforms offer protection for those who need it the most, and support to help people back into work.
12.15pm Was that Grahame Morris commenting on the fact that the WCA is based on a discredited model pushed by a criminal US insurance company?
12.14pm I just caught a reference to calls for information being described as “vexatious” but I was trying to update this page and it was glitching. If it was a reference to my request for an update on mortality statistics, he’s absolutely right.
12.11pm He says those with the most severe disabilities – two per cent of society – are suffering 15 per cent of the cuts.
12.10pm Ian Mearns: The fact that this is being considered by Parliament is an indictment of our political system. “We don’t need an independent assessment to know what is going wrong. [It is] causing immeasurable suffering. We know what the effects are. We support this motion merely as a way of exposing the truth… [measures] attacking the poorest and most vulnerable in society.”
12.08pm “The system is fine in theory and the government has made improvements, but Atos has failed completely.” Blame-shifting from Alan Reid. A Labour member asks: “Does the hon member take any responsibility for the government in which he sits?”
12.06pm Michelle Maher on Twitter has this chap pegged: “Alan Reid LibDem saying more improvements must be made but shifting balme to ATOS and Labour #wowdebate#wowfeb27”
12.04pm Mr Reid is also referring to the Harrington reviews of the WCA system. He says the Coalition has improved the WCA.
12.03pm Mr Reid wants to know the official Labour line on this, as Labour does not intend to spend any more on benefits than the Coalition. It’s a fair point!
12.02pm Liberal Democrat Alan Reid supports the government, saying disabled people are moving into jobs at the rate of 100 per day. Is this the bogus figure for people who are being urged to claim they are self-employed?
12.00 Dame Anne Begg: Changes to housing benefit, local housing allowance, the bedroom tax, council tax relief have hit disabled people the hardest. The benefit cap might not have hit the disabled but it has hit carers. Social care cuts, meaning local authorities cannot provide care, again hits disabled people. Universal Credit will affect the disabled. “It’s because all of these are affecting their lives that there is an absolute need for a cumulative impact assessment. No-one knows the full force of everything that is falling on households. Unless we do that, we will never know.”
11.57am Caroline Lucas: In Brighton and Hove, of 60 clients only three – five per cent – have been assessed for PIP.
11.57am Dame Anne Begg: “The government says it isn’t picking on disabled people… Every single one of (the main) benefits is undergoing enormous reforms… and we know that they are not going well at all. Atos wants out of its contract. Face-to-Face WCAs in the home are taking up to six months to arrange. Those in the work-related activity group only get their benefit for a year. They have paid into the benefits schemes all their lives. People who thought they had done the right thing (are suffering under this government).”
11.54am “The evidence I see… is that many people have been given a new lease of life by the government’s approach to welfare,” according to Mr Hollingbery.
11.53am Hollingbery is quoting positive results for a few people in his constituency. Anecdotal. The motion here is for an independent assessment of the cumulative impact – across the board.
11.50am A Labour interjection requests Mr Hollingbery looks at John McArdle’s site to see some of the human stories of people affected by the WCA. Hollingbery is trying to brush it off.
11.49am Hollingberry is saying the WCA isn’t perfect but it is subject to continual improvement.
11.47am George Hollingberry (Conservative) is trotting out the claim that recommendations following reviews of the WCA have been implemented. Independent studies have revealed that they have not.
11.44am The WoW petitioners want the truth revealed, because they believe no civilised society would allow people to be treated in this way, Mr McDonnell concludes.
11.43am The result: Poverty for many. Inability to heat homes. Difficulty feeding the household. Humiliation. Suicide. Disabled people feel hounded by the media, politicians and the government, just for being disabled.
11.43am Demos/Scope study concludes that disabled people will lose more than £28 billion and will bear 13 per cent of the cuts.
11.42am “Disabled people are disproportionately hit by the bedroom tax with 72 per cent of affected households containing a disabled person. Local authorities have rejected applications from disabled people in adapted houses who are unable to downsize.” On a personal level, I know this to be true because I know a person in my home town who is affected in this way.
11.40am Backlogs have developed at each stage of the claimant process for the new Personal Independence Payment. The assessment provider? Atos, along with Capita. See today’s NAO report on the rollout of PIP.
11.38am Disabled people are put on the work programme with only a 5.3 per cent success rate. Forced closure of Remploy factories has removed the opportunity of sheltered work for them.
11.37am The government is reneging on a promise to conduct an independent review on the abuse of sanctions.
11.36am There has been a huge increase in the number of sanctions against people on ESA and JSA. One in five of those sanctioned were disabled.
11.35am The British Medical Association has called for the end of the WCA with immediate effect, to be replaced by a safe system – McDonnell.
11.34am Mr McDonnell acknowledges that the work capability assessment is based on the biopsychosocial model promoted by the Unum insurance company – and condemns the fact.
11.33am In theory, the introduction of the work capability assessment administered by Atos (by the last Labour government) was a good idea; in practice it has caused suffering, humiliation, stress, and at times absolute despair – McDonnell.
11.31am Looking at the number of people present on both sides of the house, does anyone else get the impression Angela Merkel’s visit was timed to sabotage this debate?
11.30am Jenny Gulliford on Twitter: 30,000 reduction in no. of people with mental health conditions recieving social support according to McDonnel #WOWFeb27
11.29am Many local authorities have changed eligibility criteria to those with only the most substantial needs. This is a false economy as the cost to society becomes greater (according to another backbencher).
11.27am 2.7 million disabled people live in poverty, and it is this group the cuts are hitting the most, says Mr McDonnell. He says we were told the cuts were intended to be fair – “Well, the reverse is the case.” He says the burden could be affecting people with disabilities up to 20 times more than the average, because of the cumulative effect of multiple ‘reforms’.
11.25am “We feel that many of us simply won’t survive these cuts,” says Mr McDonnell, quoting campaigners.
11.24am “Maybe naively, they believe that if MPs and ministers really knew what disability was like, they would not stand by and let disabled people be treated in this way.”
11.22am The debate is on. John McDonnell is on his feet, saying “We’re making history today.” He pays tribute to all of us ‘WoW’ campaigners who worked so hard for a year to get the signatures to secure the debate, working despite their disabilities. “MPs may speak in this debate, but it is the voice of the ‘WoW’ campaigners that will be heard.”
11.21am Don’t forget you can make your own feelings known by commenting on this article; I’ll include your comments in the text as long as they don’t contain libellous comments or swearing!
11.14am Kirsty Bentham on Twitter makes an excellent point: “Spoken to many clients contemplating taking their own life solely as a result of ESA and PIP delays #WOWFeb27” The fact is that we don’t know how many people have died as a result of the assessment regime imposed by the current government (they’ll say it was Labour, but the current criteria were imposed by the Coalition). Michael Meacher tabled a Parliamentary question to have mortality statistics published as the last figures date from November 2011, and there has been no response so far. There’s also the tribunal hearing that I have demanded in order to force the Information Commission and the DWP to release the figures.
11.10am ‘Neverender’ has proposed a drinking game: “It’s the #WOWFeb27 game; every time ‘the previous government’ is mentioned. Take a shot. We’ll all be ratted a half hour in.” It’s a little swipe at the Coalition habit of blaming everything on Labour.
11.03am ‘Emsy’ on Twitter injects a note of cynicism before the debate has even begun: “Ok, when do we start taking bets on how many Tories will turn up to #WOWFeb27? Anyone going into double figures?”
10.46am The WoW Petition was sponsored by comedian Francesca Martinez. The Guardian has published a piece about her involvement here.
10.40 am The motion for the debate is slightly different from the text of the petition, and runs as follows:
“That this House calls on the Government to commission an independent cumulative assessment of the impact of changes in the welfare system on sick and disabled people, their families and carers, drawing upon the expertise of the Work and Pensions Select Committee; requests that this impact assessment examine care home admissions, access to day care centres, access to education for people with learning difficulties, provision of universal mental health treatments, closures of Remploy factories, the Government’s contract with Atos Healthcare, IT implementation of universal credit, human rights abuses against disabled people, excess deaths of welfare claimants and the disregard of medical evidence in decision-making by Atos, the Department for Work and Pensions and the Tribunals Service; urges the Secretary of State for Health and the Secretary of State for Education jointly to launch a consultation on improving support into work for sick and disabled people; and further calls on the Government to end with immediate effect the work capability assessment, as voted for by the British Medical Association, to discontinue forced work under the threat of sanctions for people on disability benefits and to bring forward legislative proposals to allow a free vote on repeal of the Welfare Reform Act 2012.”
10.36am You can follow the debate on Twitter with the hashtag #WOWFeb27
Welcome to the live blog covering the Parliamentary debate on the effects of ‘welfare reform’ on disabled people.
The debate was triggered by the Commons Backbench Business Committee, after an e-petition calling for it won support from more than 100,000 people. It was known as the ‘WoW’ petition, because the organisers said it represented their fight against the government’s ‘War on Welfare’.
The debate will be opened by Labour MP John McDonnell.
The petition calls for:
“A Cumulative Impact Assessment of all cuts and changes affecting sick & disabled people, their families and carers, and a free vote on repeal of the Welfare Reform Act.
“An immediate end to the Work Capability Assessment, as voted for by the British Medical Association.
“Consultation between the Departments of Health and Education to improve support into work for sick and disabled people, and an end to forced work under threat of sanctions for people on disability benefits.
“An Independent, Committee-Based Inquiry into Welfare Reform, covering but not limited to: (1) Care home admission rises, daycare centres, access to education for people with learning difficulties, universal mental health treatments, Remploy closures; (2) DWP media links, the ATOS contract, IT implementation of Universal Credit; (3) Human rights abuses against disabled people, excess claimant deaths & the disregard of medical evidence in decision making by ATOS, DWP & the Tribunal Service.”
This blog will follow developments in the debate as they happen, taking information from the debate itself, from comments on Twitter, and from comments made directly to this page by readers; this is your chance to get involved with events as they happen.
The article will NOT be self-refreshing. Readers will have to refresh this page themselves at regular intervals – the easiest way is by pressing the F5 button on your keyboard.
The debate starts at 11.15am today (Thursday, February 27).
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We’re on our way: The WoW Petition is on its way to Parliament, having hit the 100,000 signature mark necessary to trigger consideration for a televised debate. [Image: WoW Petition website wowpetition.blogspot.com]
What a great result for the WoW Petition – it has reached its target of 100,000 signatures with time to spare!
The petition calls for a cumulative impact assessment of welfare reform and a new deal for sick and disabled people based on their needs, abilities and ambitions – rather than the political aims of the current Westminster administration or any motive to cut welfare budgets.
WoW (it stands for resistance to the ‘War on Welfare’) demands an immediate end to the humiliating work capability assessment and a free vote on repeal of the Welfare Reform Act, along with an independent, committee-based inquiry into welfare reform. And it wants an end to forced work under threat of sanctions for people on disability benefits, along with other demands.
Passing the magic 100,000-signature mark does not mean the petition has automatically won a chance to be debated in Parliament; the Backbench Business Committee has to agree to put it forward first.
It is fortunate, then, that the petition has won the endorsement of celebrities including Stephen Fry, Russell Brand, Yoko Ono and Bianca Jagger (according to the Daily Mirror).
“This is a hugely important issue because many disabled and sick people cannot go out and protest against these devastating policies,” said comedian Francesca Martinez, who launched the petition in December last year.
“It is vital that those of us who can, join together to ensure these basic rights aren’t eroded away. With 83 per cent of disabilities acquired [rather than congenital], anyone can find themselves with an impairment, or [living] as a carer, and we must make sure that people are adequately supported when in challenging times.
“This is what a civilised society does. Instead of demonising those on welfare, we should be proud to create a society that provides for everyone regardless of health or ability. We will never forget the many tragic deaths already caused by this government and we will continue to fight in the hope that we can protect those in need from despair, poverty and death.”
One death that we can commemorate is that of WoW Petition co-founder John Dyer, who sadly passed away in November. Fellow co-originator Rick B said: “We are resolute to take this democratic mandate and pursue the cause of making justice for sick and disabled people, and carers, a reality.”
Rick said that he himself almost died in July 2012 because of government ill-treatment.
Let’s all agree that we’re a far cry from where we were in October, when the petition had just 62,792 signatures, didn’t look like it was going to make it, and I wrote: “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… 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?”
We’re not – and what a great feeling it is to be able to say that!
But my gut instinct tells me that we should not sit back and expect others to finish the job – not yet. It’s great that the petition will be considered in Parliament, but let’s make sure that our MPs know how strongly we feel about this.
What I’d like to suggest – and this is just a thought that has come to me as I was writing this – is that those of you who have taken part in the Twitter campaign might like to post another tweet saying something like “I want a Parliamentary debate for the WoW Petition bit.ly/XFS5Ur“.
If you’re emailing someone, you could add that line after your signature – and this could be especially effective if you are sending a letter to the press – newspaper, magazine or online media.
And you could also add it to any messages you put on Facebook or similar social media.
We’ve got public attention now – let’s make it all worthwhile.
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Restoring the balance: We know what’s on the Home Office’s so-called ‘racist’ vans; here’s the response from human rights organisation Liberty.
Those of us who are lucky enough not to live in London have yet to see the amazing advertising vans that have been conveying instructions to Conservative-leaning voters, to treat with hatred, suspicion and contempt anybody who is not a white, Anglo-Saxon protestant.
It seems clear that these vehicles are intended to promote racism and heighten racial tension, setting British citizens against each other – because the aim is to encourage the suspicion that another person may be an illegal immigrant – in the same way Coalition policy on social security set citizens against each other by pretending it was commonplace for individuals to receive more in benefits than in paid work.
According to the Public Order Act 1986, it is an offence for a person to publish threatening, abusive or insulting material if this is intended to stir up hatred against any group in the UK, defined by reference to colour, race, nationality, citizenship or ethnic or national origins, or if it is likely to stir up hatred with regard to all the circumstances.
The Criminal Justice and Public Order Act of 1994 added an offence of intentional harassment – that it is an offence to use threatening, abusive or insulting behaviour, intending to cause a person harassment, alarm or distress. There is a defence that the conduct of the accused was reasonable. This Act was introduced by Michael Howard, who spoke in favour of the advertising vans on the BBC’s Any Questions on Friday.
The Unite union has been seeking legal advice about whether the Home Office-sponsored vans – running a week-long ‘pilot’ scheme that could be expanded to the entire country – incited racial hatred, which implies that their message was intended for domestic consumption, rather than for the benefit (sorry) of illegal aliens.
The message on the vans reads as follows: “In the UK illegally? GO HOME OR FACE ARREST. Text HOME to [a number] for free advice and help with travel documents.”
A stamp in the top-right corner reads: “106 arrests last week in your area.”
The Home Office Twitter account spent the week-long pilot period tweeting messages about the number of illegal immigrants it wished to claim had been detected or turned themselves in – and even transmitted photographs of suspects in a move that is certain to undermine claims that it was not trying to incite hatred.
And spot-checks have been taking place at railway stations, where people who were notably not white were stopped, apparently at random, by immigration officers wearing stab vests who demanded to see identification proving they were in the UK legally. It seems they became unreasonably aggressive when asked what right they had to behave like this without direct cause for suspicion.
Immigration minister Mark Harper has rejected claims that people were targeted because of their race, confirming that the law demands that officers need reason to believe an offence had been committed before stopping anybody.
He said the street operations “involved immigration officers talking to people in the local area and, where there was a reason to do so, asking questions in relation to immigration status”. Are we to take it, then, that his underlings were inviting local people to act as informants, ‘dobbing in’ people they suspected (or possibly, simply didn’t like and wanted to put into trouble)?
All of the above is the latest in the Coalition government’s continuing war against immigrants – let’s drop the word ‘illegal’ from the issue. The national debate is framed around people who come into this country – legally or not – and either take employment here or claim benefits.
The facts appear to show that the hysteria surrounding this has been blown completely out of proportion.
There is an argument to be made about enforcement of illegal immigration laws, but it is about ‘people smuggling’, cheap labour and forced labour – not about people coming here to take your job or claim benefits that they don’t deserve.
According to Scriptonite Daily, “the UK has a lower immigrant population than almost any ‘developed’ nation, these immigrants are mostly assessed via a Points Based System, only seven per cent are asylum seekers, and only 33 per cent of asylum claims are accepted.
“There is no open door.
“Finally, the immigrant population does not have access to a vast majority of the benefits available to UK citizens, the benefits they do receive are nowhere near the same value as those received by UK citizens and they are a third less likely to claim benefits than UK citizens.”
Owen Jones, speaking on Any Questions, voiced the belief that “the Conservatives, fearful of a threat from UKIP, are using taxpayers’ money to tap into people’s fears and prejudices… What we’re seeing is government-funded vans with ‘Go home’ emblazoned on them. That is a term long-associated with knuckle-dragging racists.
“We’re seeing spot-checks and racial profiling of people at tube stations. We have a woman on the news… she was born in Britain; she was told she was stopped because she ‘didn’t sound British’. And we have the official Home Office [Twitter] account being used to send gleeful tweets which show people being thrown into vans with a hashtag, ‘#immigrationoffenders’.
“Is this the sort of country you want to live in, where the Conservatives use taxpayers’ money to inflame people’s fears and prejudices in order to win political advantage? Because I don’t think most people do want that to happen.”
Moreover, it seems the authorities have created a perfect opportunity to start rounding up anybody deemed “undesirable” by the powers-that-be. Greece is already rounding up people of unorthodox sexuality, drug addicts, prostitutes, immigrants and the poor and transferring them to internment and labour camps.
Will the UK follow suit? Only last week we learned that the Coalition government was planning to expand its ‘residential Workfare for the disabled’, rounding up people with disabilities and putting them into modern-day workhouses where someone else would profit and they would receive benefits alone – because that’s how Workfare works. Now this.
This blog was criticised a couple of days ago, by a commenter invoking Godwin’s Law after an article comparing the new workhouses with Nazi concentration camps.
Every day it becomes easier to make comparisons between the current UK government and the Nazis, or other fascist-style institutions. How long will people watch and accept it before they realise what is happening?
Cait Reilly, the graduate who was forced to leave her voluntary work in a museum to stack shelves at Poundland on the government’s Workfare scheme, has lost her case against the government.
Mr Justice Foskitt, at the High Court in London, said, “characterising such a scheme as involving or being analogous to ‘slavery’ or ‘forced labour’ seems to me to be a long way from contemporary thinking”.
What an interesting choice of words!
Back at the turn of the century, contemporary thinking stated that a woman’s place was in the home, and that she must never contradict her husband, take a job, or be allowed the right to vote. A few decades ago, contemporary thinking about homosexuality forced Alan Turing, the Bletchworth Park genius who cracked the Enigma code, thereby hugely boosting the Allies’ chances of winning World War II, to commit suicide.
Contemporary thinking has been responsible for terrible injustices and this is one of them.
I wonder if he really meant “contemporary thinking”, anyway. Did he, in fact, mean it’s a long way from what the government of the day thinks?
The judge ruled that Workfare does not contravene article 4 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which prohibits forced labour and slavery.
A friend of mine looked up “slave” in the dictionary and found among its definitions the following: “A person who is forced to work for another against his will” and “A person who works in harsh conditions for low pay”.
I think we can agree that Cait Reilly was made to work at Poundland against her will (we’ll get to the failings of the DWP’s correspondence in a moment) and, while I can’t comment on the conditions, it is certain that her benefit payment was below minimum wage and therefore, by definition, was low pay.
So by dictionary definitions, she was a slave. Perhaps the judge was commenting on the fact that the legal definition needs to be rewritten?
It wasn’t all good news for the government, though. Although this scheme will remain unpaid, it seems it must be totally voluntary, and communications between the DWP and claimants must reflect this. In other words, the DWP must clean up its correspondence to make it clear that claimants can say no.
Those who have already had their benefits removed for refusing Workfare might now be entitled to compensation. Law firm Public Interest Lawyers, who acted for Ms Reilly, said more than 22,000 people had been stripped of their benefits for refusing Workfare by January 2012. By now (August) this figure may have doubled.
The DWP has announced that it will appeal against the decision. A spokesman has been quoted by the Guardian, saying: “We do not believe there is anything wrong with the original letters and we will appeal this aspect of the judgment, but in the meantime we have revised our standard letters.”
This begs the obvious question: If there was nothing wrong with the original letters, why change them?
The saddest fact about the case is that none of the above touches the real problems with Workfare.
It is not the taxpayers’ responsibility to pay the wages of people employed by a private company. If Poundland wants people to stack its shelves, it should hire them at a living wage, rather than ask the government to provide workers and pay them only in state benefits.
Poundland’s annual profit in 2010 was £21,500,000. Split among its 390-odd stores, that’s more than £54,000 – or enough to pay three extra employees, per store, on minimum wage, with cash to spare. Make it a decent, living wage, and that’s still two extra employees (with a lot more cash to spare).
It could be argued that Poundland has been providing a public service for the government by taking on Workfare jobseekers when it didn’t need any more employees. If this is the case, we must ask why Cait Reilly was promised a job interview at the end of it. The fact that the promised interview never happened, I think, also provides our answer: Poundland has been taking advantage of the scheme to get cheap labour.
If that is true, then the company has gained financial benefit from having Ms Reilly – and others on Workfare – stacking its shelves. Poundland has made money from it, so Poundland should pay all those working for the company a decent wage – including those on Workfare who have helped create that profit.
If this does not happen, then no employer in his or her right mind would think of paying the full amount for an employee when they can get them on Workfare instead, and have the taxpayer foot the bill. Workfare is therefore a way of ensuring that the current lack of full-time jobs continues into the future. At a time when the government is complaining that the benefits bill is too high – and trying to blame that on so-called workshy scroungers fraudulently claiming they are disabled (fraud rate on those is less than 0.4 per cent) – it is insane for ministers to send those on benefits to work for profitable firms at no cost to the employer.
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