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Here’s hard evidence that sickness benefits are causing severe hardship rather than helping

Kevin and Amanda Stannard [Image: Daily Gazette].

Long-term disability campaigner Samuel Miller sent me the article quoted below, with the following words:

“The news story that I just brought to your attention is solid evidence that seriously ill and disabled people in the ESA WRAG are suffering immense hardship—and validates my tireless campaigning against these life-threatening cuts.”

He is absolutely right, of course.

And he quoted the following, from the Huffington Post:

“Nor are we dealing here with people with minor illness. Charities report that 45 per cent of people who put in a claim for ESA, and had Parkinson’s, Cystic Fibrosis, multiple sclerosis, or Rheumatoid Arthritis, were placed in the Work Related Activity Group (WRAG).

“Around 700,000 apply each year for ESA, of which number around 60 per cent proceed to full assessment (the others generally return to work before the process is complete). Currently around 14 per cent of these go into the WRAG. That’s around 60,000 people affected every year.”

A survey of people claiming ESA shows 60 per cent of 1,755 respondents say the amount they receive is not enough to live on.

When asked about the consequences of this, 62 per cent said they struggled to stay healthy, while 49 per cent said they could no longer pay their bills.

For most people, the news that you have Parkinson’s Disease is earth-shattering enough.

But for sufferer Kevin Stannard, 62, the worst was yet to come.

In 2010, he was made redundant from the blind-fitting firm [where] he had worked for … 40 years due to his worsening symptoms.

He was forced to begin claiming disability benefits or Employment and Support Allowance.

For the next few years, he and his wife, Amanda, struggled financially as part of the ESA Wrag group – which was set up especially for people who may be fit for work in the future.

Unfortunately for Kevin and Amanda, 60, from Colchester, the allowance was not enough to cover the cost of living.

The stress of working while dealing with the “confusing” process of claiming ESA for her husband led to Amanda suffering a minor stroke, which meant she also had to give up her part-time work as a director with a housing association.

The struggle experienced by Kevin and Amanda is not uncommon, according to the latest findings of the Disability Benefits Consortium, a national coalition of more than 80 different charities and organisations.

Source: ‘Sickness benefits just aren’t enough to live on’ says family of Parkinson’s sufferer


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New minister for the disabled LIES to Parliament about genocidal cuts to benefits

Sarah Newton: The Conservative government’s new Liar of State for Disability-based Genocide.

Sarah Newton must have a very short memory – or perhaps she lacks intelligence.

The new minister of state for disabled people, who was installed on November 9, had the following exchange with SNP fair work and employment spokesperson Deirdre Brock just four days later (November 13):

Ms Brock said “Changes to benefits are actually resulting in huge cuts to the money that people with disabilities have to live on… Does the Minister agree that starvation does not encourage anyone into work and that cutting off funding to people in need does not help to end that need? Will she commit to reversing these invidious cuts?”

To this, Ms Newton replied: “There are no cuts for people on those benefits.”

What? Does she not remember voting to remove the “work-related activity component” totalling £29.05 per week, from payments of Employment and Support Allowance to people in the Work-Related Activity Group receiving that benefit?

In fact, Judy Hamilton is mistaken – Ms Newton a teller at the vote in 2015.

She did vote at a division in 2016, though – and fully supported the cut. Read about it here.

Her voting record as a whole shows that she has wholeheartedly supported cuts in social security benefits wherevery possible. Read about that, here.

So we have yet another filthy liar, shovelling falsehoods at us from the government benches of the House of Commons.

How much longer must we put up with this contempt from our so-called elected “representatives”?

Sarah Newton doesn’t represent sick people – she doesn’t represent the disabled.

She represents the interests of rich people who don’t want to pay their taxes.

And that’s strange, because many people who are claiming benefits have been forced onto social security because of illnesses or disabilities sustained while working for the same rich people who don’t want to pay their taxes.

So perhaps we should call for Ms Newton’s job title to be amended. She clearly is not a minister of state for disabled people.

Considering Ms Brock’s comment about starvation – a comment that is easily proved accurate with reference to the multitude of deaths since the Conservatives started cutting benefits, one title presents itself.

Ms Newton should be known as the Liar of State responsible for Disability-based Genocide.


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RTU’s breakfast – a ‘Soundbite Britain’ supplement

IDSbreakfast

Here’s the first ‘political blipvert’ created by Vox Political‘s fellow blogger at Another Angry Voice, on the subject of Iain ‘Returned To Unit’ Smith and the hugely expensive breakfasts he has claimed from taxpayers’ money.

It’s ironic that this should come on the day I find that Mrs Mike’s ESA has been terminated without notification.

Readers may recall she appealed against the decision to put her into the work-related activity group back in January this year, after being advised by a work programme provider that it was not possible to help her, in her current condition. The DWP says it is in receipt of that appeal. Clearly its officers have done nothing about it.

Now we’ve been told to claim Income-Related ESA and I’m printing out the forms as I write this article. It will be accompanied by a sternly-written letter of complaint which I will also forward to my MP, in the hopes that it might do some good.

Follow me on Twitter: @MidWalesMike

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Will the DWP do ANYTHING to avoid revealing the true extent of the Atos deaths?

Getting a little worried, George? According to a commenter on this blog, IDS is "not listening to anyone and will be carrying on until the bitter end". So much for democracy, then.

Getting a little worried, George? According to a commenter on this blog, IDS is “not listening to anyone and will be carrying on until the bitter end”. So much for democracy, then.

The Department for Work and Pensions has turned down my Freedom of Information request on the number of people who have died while going through the Atos benefit assessment process, or shortly afterwards – claiming that I am harassing officials with a co-ordinated, web-based campaign to disrupt the organisation.

I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking, “They’re having a laugh, aren’t they?”

Alas, no.

My request was for the department to provide the number of Incapacity Benefit and Employment and Support Allowance claimants who have died in 2012. Please break that figure down into the following categories:

  • Those who are in the assessment phase
  • Those who were found fit for work
  • Those who were placed in the work-related activity group
  • Those who were placed in the support group
  • Those who have an appeal pending

I stated that I was aware that the DWP came under criticism last year because it did not follow up on the conditions of people who had been found fit for work and signed off the benefit, and said I hoped this had been rectified and follow-up checks carried out, so details of

  • Former ESA/IB claimants who have died after being put onto Jobseekers’ Allowance, and
  • Former ISA/IB claimants who were taken off benefit but put onto no other means of support, and the number of these who have died

could be provided.

Here’s the response. Read it and weep:

“Upon considering your request I consider it to be vexatious in nature and therefore under section 14(1) of the Freedom of Information Act the Department is under no duty to answer your request.

“To be a vexatious request the Information Commissioner’s guidance notes that we should consider, amongst other things:

  • whether compliance would create a significant burden in terms of expense and distraction
  • whether the request has the effect of harassing DWP or causing distress to staff.

“On your website where you share information about the request you have raised with other people, you have stated “I have therefore, today, sent a Freedom of Information request to the DWP … I strongly urge you to do the same. There is strength in numbers”. With this as the stated aim of the exercise I believe your request is designed to harass DWP in the belief that encouraging others to repeat a request which they know has already been raised will affect the outcome of that request.

“Compliance with multiple repetitions of a known request also causes a burden, both in terms of costs and diverting staff away from other work, due to the significant time required to administer these requests.

“The ICO also advises that if a public authority has reason to believe that several different requesters are acting in concert as part of a campaign to disrupt the organisation by virtue of the sheer weight of FOIA requests being submitted, then it may take this into account when determining whether any of those requests are vexatious.

“As your request is part of a website based campaign I consider that it meets the above criteria and therefore is vexatious in nature.”

Readers may remember I sent my request after a previous attempt by Samuel Miller had failed. His request did not succeed because he was a single individual the officials thought they could push around – now mine has failed because they say I’m acting mob-handed and they think I’m trying to push them around!

In other words, they’re trying to have it both ways.

If I recall correctly, they refused Mr Miller’s request on the spurious argument that the previous FOI request – for which he was requesting an update – was a one-off. This was clearly nonsense.

We all know that it is in the public interest to know how many people are dying as a result of government policy. The DWP certainly knows it because of the reaction the information received when it last became public knowledge – press coverage and public outrage. Therefore there is no justification for any argument that it has not monitored these figures. Any claim that it has not had reason to monitor deaths after people were thrown off the benefit may also be rejected because of the strong public reaction against the Department for failing to provide this information last year.

Now they are rejecting my request on the specious argument that I am harassing them by the strength of my numbers… My number being exactly one. I have not organised anybody else into doing anything; I merely suggested that if the DWP refuses to answer a lone voice, it may pay more attention if others make the same request.

I find it extremely interesting to note that DWP officials are monitoring my blog. I made no mention of it in my email to them. Some might find that sinister.

I take issue with the claim that “harassment” of the DWP is “the stated aim of the exercise”. The stated aim was for the DWP to release its figures on the number of people who have died, either while going through the assessment process for IB or ESA, or afterwards – as stated in the FOI request. The suggestion that others might wish to do likewise was clearly an afterthought.

I dispute the claim that compliance with multiple repetitions of a known request causes a burden in terms of costs and staff time. In the Internet age, only one response to a request needs to be written; it can then be sent to multiple recipients at no cost in money or time, as readers of my blog are aware after receiving identical messages in response to correspondence they have sent on other matters. In any case, this is beside the point as the comment about compliance with multiple requests is irrelevant. I had no reason to expect that anyone would follow my lead when I put in my own request – it was a single request for information and any suggestion that it was part of an orchestrated campaign of harassment is paranoid hysteria.

Furthermore, it distracts from the fact that there was no reason to refuse the original request by Mr Miller. If the DWP had simply answered his questions, there would have been no reason for my request or any of the many others the department seems to be claiming it has received (for which I have no proof other than the vague implication that this is the case).

Bear in mind that this is the same government department that accused a disabled woman of harassment, alarm or distress under Section 5 of the Public Order Act, against everybody working for it – and sent the police around to her Cardiff flat, just before midnight on a Friday night last year, to put the frighteners on her. They are well-acquainted with the practice of turning the facts upside down. Just who was being harassed, again?

This leaves us with the impression that the Department for Work and Pensions will do anything to withhold the figures on the number of deaths caused by its policies.

It seems unlikely that a government department would go to such lengths unless those figures reveal a serious problem with the policy; therefore we may reasonably suspect that the number of deaths has increased, perhaps dramatically.

In turn, considering that we know ministers, the Secretary of State (Vox‘s Monster of the Year 2012 – Iain Duncan Smith), and the Prime Minister have all been warned that the assessment system they have brought in (admittedly inherited from Labour but altered under the Coalition) – and all have refused to instigate changes to make it more humane – it seems possible that a legal case for corporate manslaughter of the many thousands who have died could be made – IF the current figures were made available.

This means that its own actions have put the DWP, its officials and ministers, precisely where I want them.

We all knew they were unlikely to give up the information without a struggle, and the shape of our campaign would be dictated – to a certain extent – by their response to our reasonable requests. Now we have that response, we may proceed.

… But we’ll leave our departmental interlopers guessing about exactly what we’ll be doing, I think!

Disabled people’s rights are hanging on upcoming judicial review

Welcome to hell: The work capability assessment is the start of a long path involving challenges, continual reassessments, misdirection or demands from the DWP, Job Centre Plus or work programme providers, leading eventually to despair, destitution and, in many cases, death. Could YOU mount a judicial review against this regime?

Welcome to hell: The work capability assessment is the start of a long path involving challenges, continual reassessments, misdirection or demands from the DWP, Job Centre Plus or work programme providers, leading eventually to despair, destitution and, in many cases, death. Could YOU mount a judicial review against this regime?

An appeal to the United Nations, using its Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities to show how the sick and disabled in the UK are being mistreated by the government, will depend on the result of a judicial review later this month.

I have previously documented the work of Samuel Miller, to make the UN aware of the life-threatening activities undertaken by the Department for Work and Pensions under Iain Duncan Smith’s regime of cuts and changes to entitlement, so he should need no introduction.

Mr Miller has been hoping to induce the UN to consider whether the current Smith/DWP regime contravenes international agreements on human rights and the rights of the disabled. Many Vox Political readers have submitted evidence to him, to be used in support of this.

But he wrote to me yesterday, saying this work must be deferred until the result of the judicial review is known.

“Submission criteria require that domestic remedies be exhausted,” he wrote. “Any complaint submitted to the [UN] committee must first have been submitted to the national courts and authorities for consideration.

“As you are probably aware, there’s an upcoming judicial review of the Work Capability Assessment for people living with mental health problems. The dates are January 15-16 & 18, in the Upper Tribunal Courts in London.

“If I can demonstrate to the UN that remedies invoked by the State are neither effective nor available, then UNCRPD complaints would carry more weight.”

He quoted a letter from Jorge Araya, secretary of the UN committee on the rights of persons with disabilities, who stated: “Complainants have initially the duty to demonstrate that they have exhausted domestic remedies, then the burden shifts to the State party to demonstrate that there are remedies still available; if that happens, complainants should demonstrate  that remedies invoked by the State are neither effective nor available.”

So that’s the situation at the moment. Before Christmas, Mr Miller said the amount of time required to mount a judicial review would put the lives of sick and disabled people in jeopardy; that is not the case while one is about to be heard.

Also, consultation with a barrister, Steve Broach (@SteveBroach) has suggested that sick and/or disabled people should explore potential judicial review with solicitors – especially after the DWP announced that people on sickness benefits were “to be offered work experience to help them back into a job”.

The DWP’s announcement last month stated: “People on Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) who have been assessed as being able to go back to work at some point are placed in the Work-Related Activity Group for the benefit and are expected to take part in activity which helps them prepare for a return to employment. One of the options available to them will now include voluntary work experience.

“Having taken into account an individual’s circumstances, a Jobcentre Plus adviser or Work Programme provider may feel that an appropriate mandatory work placement – which must be of benefit to the community – would be helpful.

People who fail to carry out any agreed work-related activity without good reason may face having their benefits sanctioned. The sanction will be made up of an open-ended period which is lifted when the claimant meets the requirements, followed by a short fixed period of 1, 2 or 4 weeks.”

The sticking-point would be the cost of bringing a judicial review – in the region of £10,000 to £20,000 for a straightforward case; higher for a more complex matter. If the claimant is unsuccessful, they are likely to be liable for the defendant’s costs as well as their own. “They are therefore looking at a legal bill of upwards of £30,000 if they lose, and they must be prepared for this eventuality, bearing in mind the unpredictability of judicial review proceedings and costs orders,” Mr Miller told me.

Also, of course, we know that David Cameron has vowed to crack down on appeals that delay new laws, planning decisions and policies, and this could potentially be extended to human rights judicial reviews, since his has government already made substantial cuts to legal aid.

What do you think? I’m really interested in hearing what readers think about this.

Could you mount a judicial review, if a decision was made to force you into a work placement and you thought it would harm your health?

What about those of you in the legal profession? You should understand the current situation – regarding the cost of legal action – better than anyone else – is it realistic to expect people on sickness and disability benefits to finance expensive court cases?

If not, what other possibilities are available?

Prepare to lose all credibility if you like Michael Gove

Spot the boob in this picture.

Spot the boob in this picture.

Among a cabinet of fools, the Education Secretary – Michael Gove – seems to be leading a charmed life.

His department has won praise for its “radical” policies, which have led to the creation of ‘free’ schools, plans to impose performance-related pay on teachers, the development of the EBacc exam, and the introduction of £9,000 university tuition fees.

Hang on a second!

‘Free’ schools are nothing of the kind! They cost a fortune, and suck desperately-needed money away from state-maintained schools!

Performance-related pay for teachers? How do you measure that? It isn’t a manufacturing job, you know! School pupils’ abilities vary, their temperaments vary, their concentration levels vary. They may have any number of other issues interfering with their learning experience and you can’t pin any of the above on teachers’ performance! How perverse!

The EBacc exam has been widely criticised ever since it was first suggested! Just do a quick web search for it – four out of the first five results are about reforming it! Many of the others are complaints: “EBacc has forced arts off curriculum”, “PE should be part of Ebacc exam system, experts warn”, “EBacc threatens creativity”.

And as for the introduction of university tuition fees… life is too short to discuss the dire threat to higher education in the UK that this represents.

Now we have confirmation of our worst fears about the Schools’ Dunce and his department – from teachers themselves, in a new YouGov poll.

You know there has to be something wrong when 77 per cent of teachers in the NUT – that’s the National Union of Teachers, the largest organisation representing the profession – say the current government is having a negative impact on education.

Morale has plummeted, with 55 per cent – more than half, saying their confidence in the future of their profession was either low or very low. Only 15 per cent said their morale was very high.

Taking this further, 69 per cent said their morale had declined since the 2010 general election and 71 per cent said they rarely or never felt trusted by the government.

Academy and ‘free’ school programmes were taking education in the wrong direction, according to 77 per cent of respondents.

Cuts and austerity measures were harming some or most children and their families, according to 76 per cent of those asked – and that’s before 2013’s toxic cocktail of cuts has even arrived!

And the performance-related pay argument suffered another hit when 74 per cent said children’s educational achievements were affected by their family’s income.

The EBacc was being rushed through without enough consultation, according to a staggering four-fifths of secondary school teachers (81 per cent).

Only five per cent – one-twentieth of those asked – thought the Coalition government was having a positive effect on schools.

The general opinion is that Mr Gove is rushing through changes according to an outdated philosophy, rather than taking the time to gather evidence on what might, in fact, work.

According to The Guardian, it’s called “new public management” and is a Neo-Liberal idea calling for public services to mimic the market in order to ensure high standards and accountability. The only problem is, it doesn’t work. Managers are brought in, to keep the ‘producer interests’ – teachers and academics – from controlling the system, but they then distort the system with league tables and performance targets; instead of providing a varied and engaging education, teachers are coerced into following government-imposed incentives. Education suffers as a result. And that is what we’re seeing here.

The Education Department’s response? Teaching is an “attractive” profession with vacancy rates “at their lowest since 2005”.

The changes will raise standards by giving more power to head teachers, attracting the best graduates and professionals, and helping those teaching now to do their jobs even better. How? They didn’t say. I don’t think they’ve got the evidence to back themselves up.

So teachers are the latest professionals to go on the state-starved sick list – along with the police, doctors and nurses, and anyone working in the public sector.

And Mr Gove? All things considered, if we were to tell him to modify his own surname into a word describing what he should do, he’d probably spell it “goe”.