Tag Archives: pat’s petition

Do government e-petitions allow our voice to be heard – or stifle it?

141008epetitions

“e-petitions are an easy, personal way for you to influence government and Parliament in the UK. You can create an e-petition about anything that the government is responsible for and if it gets at least 100,000 signatures, it will be considered for debate in the House of Commons. You can find more information about how the House of Commons deals with e-petitions on the Backbench Business Committee website

That was a lie, wasn’t it?

How many e-petitions have been created since the site went up on August 4, 2011? How many of those have actually resulted in a House of Commons debate, let alone a change of government policy? Barring the WOW Petition debate, it’s hard to think of any. The debate on WOW’s forerunner, Pat’s Petition, only took place because Labour used one of its Opposition Day debates to get the issue aired.

According to this Guardian report, there were more than 1,000 visits a minute on the day the site went up – equivalent to more than 1.5 million visits a day. The site overloaded and went down in a matter of hours.

Would you like to know how many visits it gets now? At the time of writing, the top 12 petitions had received 189 signatures in the previous hour. The lowest-performing of those had just eight.

If those were the only petitions receiving signatures, then the average has dropped from 1,000 per minute to just three. Let’s be charitable and assume some other petitions have been signed. Let’s put it at five.

Why the tail-off?

Well, it’s hard to believe the spiel about influencing government and Parliament when a petition gathers enough signatures, wins a debate in the House of Commons, the vote goes the way the petitioners wanted… and then nothing happens. Nothing at all.

That’s what happened at the WOW debate. Vox Political ran a live blog on the day so you can read what happened for yourself. The motion was for a cumulative impact assessment into the effects on claimants of the Coalition government’s benefit ‘reforms’, and it was carried. Experts have explained to the government that such an assessment is well within their capabilities, but the government has denied these claims, despite producing no evidence itself.

Is it any wonder that people have lost faith in this system?

E-petitions were supposed to be a way for the public to influence Parliament.

Instead, it seems, they are a way for the government to sideline anyone who has a legitimate complaint about political decisions.

Alternatively, you might think this view is mistaken – so guess what? We’ll have another poll.

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

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

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

Here we are again.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

These considerations lead us to some uncomfortable conclusions.

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

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

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

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

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

Got that? Good.

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

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

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

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

Think about it.

Take a hard look at yourself.

And get that petition up to 100,000.

A wake-up call for people on Canterbury’s council estates

The callousness of this Coalition government and its Conservative figurehead never ceases to disappoint me.

It seems that some commentators, in focusing on the issue of food banks raised by Ed Miliband in Prime Minister’s Questions yesterday, completely missed the discussion of an even worse scandal – one that the Coalition has encouraged and that legislation coming into effect next year will escalate.

“I have in my hand a genuine suicide note,” said Ian Lavery, Labour MP for Wansbeck, “from a constituent of mine who, sadly, took his own life after he was informed that he was no longer entitled to Employment and Support Allowance and disability benefits. Across the UK, more than 1,000 people have died only months after being told to find work.

“This is 2012 — we are supposed to be a civilised society. We should be looking after disabled citizens in the UK. Will the Prime Minister listen to the 62,000 people who have signed Pat’s Petition and please finally order an assessment of all changes hitting disabled people in this country?”

David Cameron began his response with an anodyne expression of sympathy to the family of the deceased, before going on to support the government’s actions: “Some people have been stuck on these benefits and not been reviewed for year after year after year.” Like Iain Duncan Smith, who responded in a similar manner to a teenage boy who had lost his father because of the government’s choice to cut his benefits unnecessarily, he refused to address the fact that it was his choices – and those of his government – that had led to the death. If I was a family member of Mr Lavery’s constituent, I would be nauseated.

In itself, you might think that was offensive enough, but worse was to follow when Canterbury’s Conservative MP, Julian Brazier, stood up and opened his mouth: “May I reassure my Right Honourable friend that those of my constituents who are most strongly in favour of reforming benefits — focusing them more on those who need them and taking them away from those who do not — are people who live on council estates and are fed up with working long hours to subsidise the lifestyles of those who do not want to work?”

Did this creature not realise how offensive that remark would be, coming after the exchange with Mr Lavery? The whole point of Pat’s Petition – and its successor, the WOW Petition – is that people on council estates are not working to subsidise the lifestyles of those who don’t want to work. Their tax pounds are subsidising the luxury lifestyles of government ministers, whose actions are killing people who, already, don’t have enough to live on. I’m referring to people who may have worked their entire lives before illness or infirmity stripped them of that ability, and of their dignity.

I have a few examples of the people affected by the Coalition’s benefit cuts. Perhaps readers can work out for themselves whether these cuts really are “focusing… more on those who need them and taking them away from those who do not”. I am grateful to my Facebook friend Jim Moore for supplying the list.

Paul Reekie, 48, left no suicide note – but a letter informing him that his welfare benefits were to be stopped were found next to his body. Was that the action of someone who had been taking advantage of hard-working council estate residents?

Paul Willcoxson, 33, Who had mental health problems, was found hanging in Pignals Enclosure, near Hollands Wood campsite. A suicide letter and next of kin note were found in which he expressed concerns about the cuts to his benefits.

Leanne Chambers, 30, was found in the River Weir five months after she walked out of her home. She had battled depression for a number of years and had taken a turn for the worse after receiving a letter telling her she had to be assessed by a doctor she did not know, to see if she was fit to return to work.

Christelle Pardo, 32, and Kayjah Pardo, 6 months: After having all her income cut off and her housing benefit withdrawn, and with a baby to care for, she had been left destitute. When she begged for help, the only response from the Department for Work and Pensions was that she didn’t qualify under the rules. So she killed herself and her young child. Destitute. Is there anybody reading this who is shameless enough to say this woman was cynically exploiting her working neighbours?

Elaine Christian, 57, was found in a drain after walking out of her home. A post mortem revealed she had died from drowning, despite having more than 10 self-inflicted cuts on her wrists.The inquest in Hull was told Mrs Christian had been deeply worried about a meeting she was due to have to discuss her entitlement to disability benefits.

David Groves, 56, died of a massive heart attack the night before his medical assessment as he sat at his computer and scoured the internet for ways to raise cash in case he lost his entitlement. He was a striver. He knew the odds were against him keeping his benefit, even though he clearly deserved it, and was trying to find other ways of earning money. That is not the action of a scrounger.

Mark and Helen Mullins were found lying side by side in their home after committing suicide together. They had been left destitute after Helen had her claim for benefit turned down. They had no food, no heating and no electricity. If that’s the kind of lifestyle subsidised by working people, under this government, ask yourself: Would YOU want it?

Stephen Hill, 53, died of a heart attack a month after his benefits were stopped. He had been told his heart problem were not serious enough to stop him working.

Craig Monk, 43, was found hanging in his home. He’d had one leg partially amputated and was described by his family as “vulnerable”. He became depressed because his benefits had been cut.

Martin Rust, 36, a schizophrenic, had his benefits cut and was ordered back to work. He left a note saying: “To those I love, I’m sorry. Goodbye.” Coroner William Armstrong said the Department of Work and Pensions’ decision to cut his benefits “caused distress and may well have had an adverse effect”. He recorded that Mr Rust had committed suicide while suffering from a treatment-resistant mental illness.

Paul Turner, 52, died from ischaemic heart disease – caused, his family claim, by the stress of losing his benefits. He was told his heart problems were not serious enough for him not to work, and died four weeks after receiving the notification.

Mark Scott, 46, who suffered from anxiety and epilepsy, was left penniless when he was declared fit for work and his benefits were stopped. He died six weeks later in the Southport flat where he lived alone.

Colin Traynor, who was a lifelong epileptic, was assessed as fit for work. He appealed, but according to his parents he became depressed and lost weight. He died less than four months later. The day after his death, his parents found out he had won his appeal.

If you are getting depressed by the details on this list, let me remind you that these people are a drop in the ocean. According to the last set of official figures I’ve seen, 73 people die every week after being involved in a government reappraisal of their benefits in some way. As you can see from the evidence, those reassessments were wrong more often than they were right.

It is thanks to the support of people like Julian Brazier and the council-estate constituents he quotes (if his remark was accurate) that the Coalition is getting away with these deaths. I hope he reads this article and reconsiders. I hope his constituents do the same. It’s too late to save people like David Groves or Mark Scott, but there are hundreds of thousands more who face hardship that will be just as bad, if the repression of the sick and disabled is allowed to continue. As far as they are concerned, it’s not too late for you to change your minds.

The WOW Petition (it stands for the resistance to the War On Welfare) is now open and can be found here. If you have found any of the above to be persuasive, please sign it.

And for those of you who remain homicidally determined to continue with the policy, no matter how much harm it does – that means you, Mr Brazier, you, Iain Duncan Smith, you Mr Cameron…

Merry Christmas. You’ll get what’s coming to you, soon enough.

Success for one disability campaign – but another needs your help

You may remember an irate column on this blog a few weeks ago, berating the British public for failing to provide the required 100,000 signatures for Pat’s Petition.

The petition, calling on the government to “stop and review the cuts to benefits and services which are falling disproportionately on disabled people, their carers and families”, totalled more than 62,600 signatures when it closed, fair short of the required amount of support.

I am delighted, therefore, to report that there will be an Opposition Day debate in the House of Commons, bsed around the petition.

The Labour Party agreed to the debate after campaigners sent an open letter to Liam Byrne, the shadow Work and Pensions Secretary.

The petition’s creator, Pat Onions, wrote: “The debate will probably take place some time in January and we will only have a week’s notice, so the important thing now is to get ready for the debate and make sure all the issues we have been campaigning on get attention.

“The theme of the motion for the debate will be the Pat’s Petition demand that the government stop and review the cuts to benefits and services which are falling disproportionately on disabled people, their carers and families, and a demand for a cumulative impact assessment. It’s a very wide brief so if you want to focus on a particular issue that’s fine.

“We will need lots of help from you all to make sure that, after all your effort, this debate gets real results. We will also need help to ask MPs from all parties to speak in this debate.”

Contact your MP via this link.

This is all very encouraging.

But securing a debate does not mean any battles are won, and another aspect of the fight against those disproportionate cuts to benefits and services is the appeal to the United Nations by Samuel Miller – another matter which has been well-reported on this site.

Mr Miller is calling for people who are sick or disabled, and in the work-related activity group for Employment and Support Allowance, to send him scans of letters from their GP that state, explicitly, that they are not fit for work.

“This information is needed for the filing of United Nations complaints against the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland,” he wrote.   “It is my opinion that the British government’s mandatory Work Programme for sick and/or disabled persons is in violation of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, which it signed on September 16, 1968 and ratified on May 20, 1976. (See http://www2.ohchr.org/english/law/pdf/cescr.pdf and http://www2.ohchr.org/english/law/cescr-ratify.htm)   “Further, it is my opinion the British government is violating the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and Optional Protocol.” (See http://www.un.org/disabilities/documents/convention/convoptprot-e.pdf and http://www.un.org/disabilities/countries.asp?navid=12&pid=166)

I strongly urge anyone who is able to help Mr Miller to send him copies of these documents. The more information he is able to collect, the easier it will be to persuade the United Nations that the British Government is knowingly and deliberately causing serious harm to sick and disabled people across the UK.

The email address, as ever, is [email protected]

New e-petition gives you another chance to challenge murderous disability benefit cuts

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b6-iTZR8CoI&feature=player_embedded]Campaigners for an end to the unfair cuts that have led to the deaths of 73 disabled people every week have launched a new petition, calling for the government to pause and review this deadly regime.

It comes days after an earlier attempt, known as “Pat’s Petition” failed due to a lack of support by the mainstream media. Even though it was starved of publicity, the petition gained more than 62,000 signatures – but it needed 100,000 to secure a Parliamentary debate.

The petition calls for the government to “Stop and review the cuts to benefits and services which are falling disproportionately on disabled people, their carers and families.” It says the Welfare Reform Act (brainchild of Iain Duncan Smith and his Department for Work and Pensions) should be be reviewed and the government should “amend its contents in a fairer and more socially-acceptable format.”

I can already hear cries of disbelief from some of you, as you read this. Don’t tell me – you don’t know anything about this; you thought that the government was cracking down on benefit scroungers, not people who deserved help; you thought the mainstream press had been telling you the facts.

You thought wrong, I’m afraid!

But you’re not alone. I refer you to this comment from Cyril Zeldane, on my previous article about the petition: “I was very upset by this, and by what ATOS, JC+, DWP and the state more broadly has been doing for a while… I was equally angry to hear about it for the first time today, now that it’s too late.”

The simple fact is that the mainstream media have been tranquillising the population by burying the facts. I’m talking about the BBC, ITV, national and local radio, the Daily Mail, the Express, the Telegraph, the Sun… the list goes on and on. Some papers like the Independent and the Guardian carry sporadic accounts, and columnists like Sonia Poulton have been slugging it out like gladiators to get the message across.

But most people are as “Jay” describes in his comment to the petition piece: “People still don’t care enough because they still don’t understand what is happening.”

What’s happening is this: People on welfare – the sick, the disabled, the unemployed and the elderly – have been collectively labelled as scroungers. Stories in the right-wing press and on television have reinforced this view, by showing benefit cheats being brought to justice. Of course, benefit fraudsters do exist – but they total 0.4 per cent of the total number of claimants.

Meanwhile, the government’s policy, enacted by Atos assessors through the work capability assessment for Employment and Support Allowance, is to allow just 13 per cent of claimants a secure future, knowing that they will continue to receive benefit for an indefinite period of time – although even then, ESA payments are lower than the Incapacity Benefit that it has replaced.

Of the remaining 87 per cent, most are branded “fit for work” and lose their benefits. Some go on to the ‘work-related activity’ group of ESA recipients, continuing to receive benefit for 365 days (one year), during which time they are expected to take steps to ensure they are fit for work by the time their benefit runs out. This group includes people with progressive conditions who will never get better, but who have been put their because Atos have a quota to meet.

The effect on the health of disabled people who have been through this process is catastrophic. Current figures, which have been made available by the government after a Freedom of Information request, show that on average, 73 people are dying every week due to the strain of losing their benefit.

One such person is Brian McArdle, whose son Kieran told the Daily Record (“The what?” I hear you cry. News blackout in the mainstream press, remember? You’ll only read about it in more independently-minded papers like the Record) that “constant worry about how he would survive without the cash he needed robbed Brian of the will to live”.

It seems the 57-year-old had a stroke on Boxing Day last year which left him paralysed down his left side, unable to speak properly, blind in one eye and barely able to eat or dress, but after a work capability assessment he was found fit for work and his benefits were stopped. He had another stroke days before his appointment, and the heart attack that killed him came the day after his benefits were stopped.

That’s the truth of the Coalition’s disability benefit assessment regime.

Now that you know, please go to the government’s e-petitions site, sign the petition (it’s only a click away via the link in this article) and get your friends to do the same.

And spread the word, because you can’t rely on the mass media to do it for you.

Pat’s petition may fail because good people did nothing

If you’re thinking, “She doesn’t LOOK disabled,” you’re a fool. Many disabled people don’t LOOK disabled. They hide the pain and try to live lives that are as normal as possible. If you’ve looked at someone with a disabled badge, or who you know claims benefit for a disability, and decided they didn’t deserve it because they don’t LOOK disabled, you need to tell yourself, it’s time to grow up. (In fact, I chose the picture because it represents despair. I have no idea whether the person in it has disabilities or not. But the point deserved to be made).

As I type this, the petition calling on the government to “stop and review the cuts to benefits and services which are falling disproportionately on disabled people, their carers and families”, informally known as “Pat’s Petition”, which requires 100,000 signatures to secure a debate in Parliament, has gained just a few more than 60,000.

With less than half a day left (deadline is 10.12am on November 1) it seems likely that it’s not going to make it.

I think those who have signed deserve a vote of thanks. If you are one of those people, then you stood up for what you believed in, and can count yourself one of an extremely select group comprising 0.1 per cent of the UK’s population. Well done. I sincerely wish there were more of you.

The trouble is, I sincerely think there are more of you. The message just didn’t get across – partly because it was choked off by a mass media that has been howling for the blood of the sick and disabled since the government first started suggesting it was going to cut their money.

We’ve all seen the articles about “those filthy benefit scroungers” in the tabloid press, and seen some of them get caught on certain television programmes, and yes – there are a few people like that. But they are a tiny minority and it is monstrous that the actions of 0.4 per cent of claimants – that’s right, less than one per cent – are being used to justify the victimisation of 87 per cent of disabled people – seven-eighths of the total number of claimants. Doesn’t that seem disproportionate to you?

This is the percentage of those who, after going through a so-called ‘work capability assessment’ that we know through – again – TV documentaries is rigged, either lose their benefits completely or are told they will lose them after a period of one year, in which they must find a way to recover from (in some cases) progressively degenerative conditions.

So, if you decided you wouldn’t sign the petition because you think everyone claiming disability benefit is a fraud, then you’re a fool. You’ve let yourself be spoonfed tripe because you were told it’s caviar. I bet you’ve got a bad taste in your mouth right now. You deserve to.

If you want to what is really happening, to people with serious conditions that simply will not get better – no matter how much an ESA assessor or Job Centre Plus desk-jockey says they should – read this.

After that, if you can bear it, you might like to find out what has happened to at least one disabled person who had the audacity to protest against the way she, and fellow people with disabilities, have been treated – by reading this.

But there you go. Protestors cannot rely on the mass media because television stations, newspapers and radio channels are almost exclusively owned by people with a vested interest in keeping the plight of these victims of prejudice well and truly out of the public gaze. Go to sleep, they say. Do what we tell you. You are free… as long as you do what we tell you.

And you suck it on down and swallow it whole, don’t you?

The people behind the petition had to find other ways to promote it – virally, by word of mouth (or by passage from one internet user to their friends) – but clearly the act of lifting a few fingers to put a name to the petition was too much effort for many. That’s all you had to do. Lift your fingers. Hit a keyboard a few times. You didn’t even have to get up out of your chair.

There was an effort to get celebrities to endorse the petition. I’ve tried a few – only those with more than a million followers because I knew the kind of numbers that count and the simple fact is that most people were never likely to sign the petition. But if only one in 10 did, then a person with a million followers would have delivered up enough to get the petition to the next stage. You can probably work out who some of these people are.

That didn’t happen. Maybe they never saw the messages asking for their support – it’s entirely likely, as a person with that many people sending messages to them and only a limited amount of time to respond can’t possibly see everything that they receive. Maybe they were advised against it, for the sake of their careers. Maybe they were as gullible as everyone else who was taken in by the mass media manipulation of the truth. They’re not necessarily bad people just because they did nothing.

But that’s the problem. Einstein put it best: “The world is not dangerous because of those who do harm but because of those who look at it without doing anything.”

Look at this: Thanks to a Freedom of Information request – to the government – we know that an average of 73 people a week are dying because their disability benefits have been removed by the government. In your name.

Think about that. Another 73 – on average – will die next week. In your name. Because you did nothing.

Alternatively – prove me wrong. There are still 12 hours left, as I type this. Get your name on the petition. Get your friends to sign it – stand over them until they do, because there really isn’t any time for “I’ll do it later” nonsense. Broadcast to as many people as you can that it needs help and use whatever arguments you need – including the one I just employed about the next death being your fault – to twist their arm and bring them to sign it.

There’s still time to do some good.

… Unless YOU make a conscious decision not to.