This is the result of the Conservative dismantling of Remploy – the organisation that provided jobs for workers with disabilities.
The Tories sold off those parts of the business that were profitable and closed most of the rest. They said there were more cost-effective ways of keeping people with disabilities in employment.
The dismantling of Remploy has put disabled people back on the unemployment registers – those who aren’t too badly affected by their physical condition.
We’re told this won’t happen to Interwork scheme members – but how can we believe the Tories?
Disabled Remploy workers who are part of a supported employment programme could be at risk of losing their jobs because the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) is set to refuse to renew a three-year funding agreement.
The funding was awarded to Remploy in 2015 for its Interwork scheme, which was set up in 1998 and currently supports about 100 disabled people in mainstream employment.
Without that funding, many of those jobs could be at risk.
It comes only four years after the hugely controversial closure of the remaining Remploy sheltered factories by the coalition, after it stopped subsidising what was then a government-owned business.
Too ill to work means too ill to live: Work capability assessors have already been asking people with serious illnesses and disabilities why they have not committed suicide – now the DWP has proposed changes to benefits that could nudge claimants into it.
A plan to cut £30 per week from the benefit of some of the UK’s most vulnerable people was being considered before the general election – and may be announced by George Osborne next week.
According to the BBC, the Department for Work and Pensions has been proposing to abolish the Work-Related Activity Group of Employment and Support Allowance, meaning a £30 cut in benefit every week for people who would have been put in that category.
This would bring payments in line with Jobseekers’ Allowance. It seems the stated reason is to give people less reason to worry that they are getting the “wrong” outcome from the infamous work capability assessments that are a mandatory part of claiming the benefit.
The paper also proposes renaming the assessment tests “employment capability assessments”, in order to focus attention on job-seeking rather than benefit-seeking.
There is so much wrong with this plan that it is hard to know where to start – and even more reasons to find fault with the BBC’s report.
For a start, the £30 extra that WRA Group members of the ESA receive is not a “top-up”, as described in the BBC report (and, one suspects, in the leaked DWP document); it is the amount that the law says sick people who are preparing to return to work should receive.
If a work capability assessment leads to a false report about a claimant’s condition, it will be wrong no matter what amount of benefit would be paid to the claimant afterwards.
This is fraud – obtaining a pecuniary advantage by deception – and would still be fraud if the amount of money paid in the WRAG was the same as that paid on JSA because the conditions of the benefits are different. JSA claimants are forced to carry out many (pointless) activities every week in order to satisfy jobseeking requirements – most, if not all, of which would be beyond the abilities of people who are sick but have wrongly been forced off the benefit they need. They would then be forced off JSA – and we would be looking at another chequebook euthanasia situation.
But don’t worry – the government has deniability! If people can’t survive because they have been pushed off-benefit, and decide to take their own lives in order to gain release from the misery… that’s their own decision, isn’t it? It’s nothing to do with the government lying about them!
At least, that’s the line that Iain Duncan Smith’s DWP will take.
Interestingly, the stated reason for re-naming work capability assessments is that they currently focus on what claimants can’t do, rather than what they can. This is not true.
Anyone who has followed the degenerate progress of Iain Duncan Smith’s reforms will be able to present a list of silly claims made by assessors to support their assertion that a sick claimant is “fit for work”. The classic is the person who, despite being severely disabled, was able to press a button. Just that – nothing else. “Fit for work”.
And that’s focusing on what the claimant can’t do?
The BBC wheels out Charlie Pickles (who?) from Tory think tank Reform, to explain why the toffs think stealing more money from the sick is a good idea.
According to the BBC, he said the current system encourages people to stay on the benefit rather than finding work.
There seems to be a word missing here. Let’s put it back in and see how it reads:
“The current system encourages sick people to stay on the benefit rather than finding work.”
Why shouldn’t it?
If a person is sick, they shouldn’t be asked to go to work.
Finally, where are the jobs?
Pickles prattles: “We have a huge gap between disabled people’s employment rate and non-disabled people’s employment rate.” Perhaps that’s to do with the fact that the Tories closed Remploy (the organisation that employed disabled people) during the Coalition Government and has not provided any incentives for other employers to take on workers with extra needs.
Clearly Pickles hadn’t thought of that. This Reform ‘think tank’ of his can’t be much cop.
Rachel Reeves: Look on the bright side – at least she isn’t Liam Byrne.
Was anyone else underwhelmed by Rachel Reeves’ speech in this years Labour conference?
Not by the promise to take the Bedroom Tax off the statute books, obviously. That has been a settled part of Labour policy since, well, since it landed on the statute books back in 2012. We should not take it for granted, though – and we must always remember that the Bedroom Tax won’t be going anywhere if the Blue Meanies manage to hang on to control after May next year.
But is anybody really convinced by her ‘Jobs Guarantee’? Is it really likely to work, or is it just another ‘make-work’ scheme? What difference will it make if private companies running the current work programme/mandatory work activity/workfare/whatever-they’re-called-today schemes are replaced by local councils and communities? Vox Political is based in Powys and the council here wouldn’t know how to help anybody get back into work off the back of any such scheme. Why should it be different elsewhere?
Do we really need a ‘Basic Skills Test’? Isn’t that an indictment of our education system – and shouldn’t that be where the skills gap ought to be tackled?
Did chills go up anybody else’s spine when Reeves mentioned a “pensions market“? Do we need a pensions market? Do you want to have to shop around for the best pension for you? Don’t you pay your National Insurance for the government to sort out that side of things and not make a mess of it?
And what did she mean by “tailored support” for disabled people who can work? By whose standards?
What did you make of her comments about the work capability assessment? “We need real reform”, she said. No! We don’t need reform! We need to scrap it altogether! It has never been fit for purpose; it never will be. The very word “assessment”, linked to a person’s sickness or disability, is tainted beyond reform. All that is necessary – all that has ever been necessary – is written confirmation of a person’s condition from – guess who? – a doctor. Work capability assessments are a waste of money and a risk to the health of sick and disabled people.
She said: “I give you this commitment: as Secretary of State I will come down hard on any contractor that gets these critical assessments wrong, or fails to treat disabled people with the decency and respect they deserve.” Do you think any such contractor was quaking in their boots at the thought of that? No.
What is she going to do about the Tories’ vindictive ‘mandatory reconsideration’ system? Will she agree to pay benefits to claimants while they await a decision, or will she forget them like the Tories forgot the ex-Remploy workers she mentioned in her speech?
She said Universal Credit was “stuck in first gear” – but made no promise to get rid of it. Its aim, under Tory control, is to ensure the government doesn’t have to spend as much money on benefit claimants. Even if Labour changes that – after it has been made to work at all, which is a hard battle in itself – there will be no way to stop the Tories changing it back into a weapon if the public ever becomes stupid enough to vote them back into office again. It would be far better to devise a scheme that the Tories could not pervert – difficult though such a task may be.
There was more good material than the Bedroom Tax, and it would be wrong to gloss over that. The plan to increase the Living Wage is good, and so is the plan to increase the minimum wage. But critics say the minimum wage provides employers with an excuse to reduce all pay to that still-paltry amount, so why isn’t she saying Labour will combat that? Labour could encourage companies to become employee-owned co-operatives; as co-owners, workers could ensure equitable rates of pay. These measures would go a long way to eliminating the “in-work benefit” element of the social security bill.
Labour should be going further, though. It should be renationalising railway firms that aren’t performing well enough, either by overcharging passengers, failing to invest in the service or simply demanding too high a subsidy from the taxpayer. These firms are supposed to be private – if we are still supporting them, we should still own them. At least, that way, we’d get the profits rather than some faceless shareholder.
Also on the nationalisation list should be power companies and water firms. The energy business seems to be a cartel, organised to screw customers out of as much money as possible – on pain of losing the power necessary to heat and light their homes, and cook their food. That must end. Whatever contract they were given when they were privatised, they have reneged on the deal and should be brought back under public control.
As for the water firms – they’re just tax avoidance schemes, aren’t they? Also, Yr Obdt Srvt seems to recall that one firm sold around 25 reservoirs to France, so they get the benefit of our water during hot summers while we have to suffer drought. That’s not why these firms were sold off. They should come back under public control, with stiff penalties for the shareholders who have abused the public trust.
Come to that, what about the construction industry? We need hundreds of thousands more homes – especially one- and two-bedroomed dwellings – to be defined as social housing, in order to stave off more Tory “captive victim” schemes like the Bedroom Tax. Why won’t the government employ the builders to carry out this work, starting on brown-field sites and avoiding green belt land, for the sake of the future?
Investment in work of this kind could revive the UK’s fortunes in a stroke – and would infinitely improve Labour’s offer to the public. The Attlee government did far more, starting from a far worse financial position so there is no reason to hesitate.
Some readers may find the above headline a bit strong, but please be assured – this is what it means.
Vox Political became aware of this story in two contrasting ways, as follows.
Firstly, from The Guardian: “From September 2015 [the government] will only pay for support for students with specific learning difficulties, such as dyslexia, if their needs are ‘complex’, although the definition of this, and who decides it, remains unclear.
“It will no longer pay for standard computers for disabled students, or for much of the higher specification IT it now subsidises.
“And it will no longer fund non-specialist help, likely to include note-takers and learning mentors. The costs of specialist accommodation will be met only in exceptional circumstances.”
Paddy Turner, of the National Association of Disability Practitioners (NADP) is quoted: “This is going to have a disastrous effect on students with specific learning difficulties because it looks very clear that [universities minister David Willetts] is trying to remove them from the DSA. It looks like a knee-jerk reaction to recent reports that specific learning difficulties and dyslexia aren’t really disabilities at all.”
Secondly, please read the following, from Vox Political reader Karlie Marvel, who has a relative with MS: “They are axing the disabled student allowance. The amount of funding for DSA is relatively tiny.”
I’ve been completely staggered by what I have discovered to be going on… Surely, the benefit to the economy of helping disabled students towards being able to contribute fully to society, rather than being left on the sidelines because of penny-pinching, is greater than the cost of a short period of support whilst they train?
“But I can’t say I’m surprised really.
“Struggle to find work…
“Coalition government 2014. I’m feeling very bleak, Mr Vox.”
Who can blame her? Yet again, our government of couldn’t-care-less millionaires is cutting support to the very people they should be working hardest to help – the vulnerable disabled who cannot make it on their own.
They have rigged benefit assessments to make claiming as stressful as possible for people who can be killed by anxiety.
They have closed most of the Remploy factories that employed disabled people.
They are closing down the Independent Living Fund (ILF), that delivers financial support to disabled people so they can choose to live in their communities rather than in residential care.
Work camp: But is this a Nazi camp of the 1930s/40s, or a prediction of a British residential workfare scheme for the disabled in the 2010s?
Residential Workfare for the disabled. If that sentence hasn’t already set off at least three separate alarms in your head, then you haven’t been paying attention. What follows is a warning: Stay alert. Ask questions. Do not allow what this article predicts.
Workfare, for all those who still need enlightening after three years of this particular Tory-led nightmare, is a government-sponsored way of keeping unemployment high while pretending to be doing something about it. The idea is to send unemployed people to work for a period of several weeks – often for a large employer that is perfectly capable of taking on staff at a reasonable wage – and remove them from the unemployment figures for that time, even though they continue to be paid only in benefits. When the time period is served, the jobseeker returns to the dole queue and another is taken on, under the same terms. The employer pays nothing but reaps profit from the work that is carried out. The jobseeker gains nothing at all.
The disabled are, of course, the most persecuted sector of modern British society – far more vilified than hardened criminals or terrorists. Since the Coalition came into office by the back door in 2010, it has been government policy to close down employers taking on disabled people (Remploy factories), to spread propaganda against them, claiming they are scroungers or skivers, and the vast majority of disability benefit claims are fraudulent (this is true of only 0.4 per cent of such claims – a tiny minority). The bedroom tax, enforced nationally in April, has proven itself to be a means of driving disabled people out of homes that have been specially adapted to accommodate their needs. The Work Programme, which was extended to disabled people last December, has proven totally unsuited to the task of getting them into work, yet the Work Capability Assessment for Employment and Support Allowance continues to sign 70 per cent of claimants off the benefit as ‘fit for work’ (whether they are or not), and a further 17 or 18 per cent into a ‘work-related activity’ group where they must try to make themselves employable within 365 days.
The word ‘residential’ – applied to any sector of society at all, never mind whether they’re disabled or not – rightly sends shivers through the hearts of anyone in this country of good conscience. The terrible regime at the Winterbourne View home in Bristol is still recent, and nobody wants to see those crimes repeated – on anyone.
However, put these three words together and that seems the most likely consequence.
So why bother?
Here’s some pure speculation for you: The government knew that the bedroom tax was going to put the squeeze on the disabled, and it knew that disabled people would complain (although there was no way of knowing whether it would win a court case on the issue, as happened this week). It had already devised a solution and called it residential training for the disabled.
The residential aspect means that participants currently get to stay in their own rooms, in relative comfort – but this could change, and very soon.
You see, this scheme is intended as a pilot study, and the plan has always been to expand this form of training, opening it up to the market, for private-sector parasites to run for profit after competing with each other to put in the lowest bid for the franchise.
Bye bye, individual rooms. Bye bye, dignity. Hello, communal dormitories. Hello… well, eventually it’ll just be hell.
And you can be sure mandation will follow, meaning anyone refusing to attend will lose benefit.
Gradually, disabled people will disappear from our communities, ending up in these residential ‘Workfarehouses’.
How long will it take before we start hearing stories about abuses taking place against people living in these places?
How long did it take before the stories came out of Winterbourne View?
Come to that, how long did it take before the world found out about places like Auschwitz or Dachau or Belsen?
I know what you’re thinking:
“It couldn’t happen here.”
(The first Vox Political book, Strong Words and Hard Times, is available now in paperback or as an eBook, including a large ‘footnotes’ section in which you can actually connect to internet links containing supporting evidence – if you’re reading on a device that supports this kind of activity.)
Fight for dignity: When the government announced in March last year that 36 Remploy factories would close, unions campaigned alongside workers in a bid to help them maintain the dignity they keep by holding a job and paying their way.
Employees at the Marine and Frontline Textile factories at Leven, Cowdenbeath, Stirling, Dundee and Clydebank will be thrown onto the dole, albeit with help from the government’s funded package to help them get into mainstream employment.
We have no idea how well this package works, despite its having been in use since March last year, when Maria Miller announced the government was closing 36 of what were then 54 Remploy factories. A BBC article in May stated that the DWP was “aware of” 351 former employees who have found new jobs – fewer than a third of the laid-off workforce. We don’t know whether any of those jobs were a result of help from the government package.
Also facing the dole are disabled workers at Packaging factories in Norwich, Portsmouth, Burnley and Sunderland, bringing the total number of job losses up to 234.
Employees were well aware of the situation – an announcement before Christmas made it clear that 875 jobs were at risk, on top of the 1,700 axed in March last year, with only an automotive business and (ironically) employment services remaining safe.
The Frontline and Packaging factories were slated for closure then, and the marine textiles business was described at the time as making “significant losses” despite an established market position. It was not considered sellable as a going concern.
It was, therefore, surprising to hear Esther McVey say, in a statement today, that there had been “considerable interest” in the Scottish factories.
She went on to say Remploy “did not receive a Best and Final Offer for these businesses as part of the commercial process”. Why not?
And she added that there were no viable bids for Packaging. This implies that there were bids, and begs the question: What was wrong with them?
That question becomes urgent when one considers the following, again from Ms McVey’s speech: “Businesses like textiles which didn’t have commercial interest and closed afterwards re-opened as social enterprises or new businesses, and in fact nine sites have been sold on that basis. This has resulted in employment opportunities for original employees.
“For example, businesses have opened under new ownership in the Bolton and Wigan factory premises, who are looking to create up to 35 job opportunities for disabled people, including former Remploy employees.
“In addition Remploy have confirmed already they have received an asset bid from a Social Enterprise organisation for the purchase of assets from within the Textiles business. This may have the potential to create employment opportunities for disabled people.”
If that is the case, they why has the government not considered restructuring the businesses along these lines, and leaving them to the employees – to manage as they will?
After all, according to the same government which is planning to close these factories without having considered this way forward for them, “Employee-owned businesses enjoy greater staff retention, innovation and motivation than non-employee owned businesses and, in turn, these deliver wider economic benefits including increased productivity, profitability and more resilience to economic shocks”.
All of the above makes it very hard to believe another statement made by Ms McVey: “We have always made it clear that this is about supporting the individuals in the factories, and disabled people across the country. £50 million was going into funding failing factories which meant £50 million not available to support disabled people across the country.”
Unfortunately for her, we know that this government has been cutting support for the disabled, partly by refusing them benefits, pretending that they are lying or deluded about their disabilities.
And her claim that, “As announced in the Spending Review, the Government further committed to continuing to support disabled people to move into, remain in, and progress in work” rings hollow when one considers the appalling result of the government’s work programme for people on Employment and Support Allowance.
It managed to hit only one-third of its target. Only 5.5 per cent of people on ESA were moved into employment via the work programme, compared with an expectation that 15 per cent of them would have, if they had been left to their own devices (the targets are based on numbers of people who would otherwise get work, plus 10 per cent. The work programme’s result – 5.5 per cent – is significantly lower than its target of 16.5 per cent).
All of this, coupled with the possibility of Scotland seceding from the Union after next year’s referendum, points to the possibility that the Conservatives are using Remploy as one last, great act of spite for our cousins north of the border.
I would just like to make it clear that this has nothing to do with me. I neither support nor condone it and I think more could have been done to find a fruitful way forward.
Scottish people always saw through the Conservatives – look at the way they reacted to the imposition of the Poll Tax, back in 1989 or thereabouts.
I fear for the rest of the UK if we should lose that perspective after the referendum.
A community of the concerned – including people who are sick and disabled, carers, friends, families, and those who are perfectly healthy – has come together to launch a new resistance to the draconian Coalition welfare cuts that are killing, on average, 73 people every week.
The launch of the WOW (it stands for resistance to the ‘War On Welfare’) Petition comes only days after the Conservative Party started a ‘voodoo’ poll on its own website, intending to fool respondents into saying that the reforms already introduced by the Department for Work and Pensions – and soon to be reinforced with even more drastic measures – are fair.
“It breaks my heart that some of the most vulnerable people in society are being demonised and used as scapegoats. It’s something everybody needs to fight against.”
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.”
That may seem a big demand, but the alternative is potentially fatal for hundreds of thousands of people. Esther McVey, the Minister for Disabled People, has announced that, when Disability Living Allowance (DLA) is replaced by Personal Independence Payments (PiPs), more than 300,000 people will have their benefits cut or removed altogether. That is not an achievement.
In addition, anybody who can walk more than 20 metres will not receive the mobility element of the new benefit.
The petition has already won a huge online response, and I strongly encourage you to help build on that. Go to the site and sign the petition. Visit wowpetition.com (the petition’s base website) and join the discussion on the forum. Above all, ask your friends, relatives, work colleagues, or anyone else you think might be interested, to sign the petition.
It’s time to turn the tide against the persecution of the vulnerable.
The implication seems clear enough: “Leave her alone or she’ll make life very difficult for you.”
Big, big mistake.
You see, this meant it wasn’t another “dodgy expenses claim” story any more. It’s now about abuse of power. That puts this minister up in the big leagues, with George Osborne and that paddock he used to own.
Gideon, as by now I have documented very thoroughly, thought he could get away with using taxpayers’ cash to make a cool million pounds in the property market without anyone being able to do a thing about it. Now there’s a criminal investigation under way, examining his activities.
Mrs Miller, who earned the nickname ‘Killer’ for her part in implementing cruel and unnecessary welfare reforms that have led either directly or indirectly to the deaths of 73 people per week (on average) – and who also ensured the closure of 36 Remploy factories, which employ disabled people (another 10 have come under threat from her successor) – seems to think she can use her position to stop the public finding out the facts about her.
Well, now we know one thing for sure: She’s a nasty piece of work.
And she can’t perform her job impartially, which is what is required. Cabinet ministers are supposed to act for the good of the nation, not their own petty personal interests. In this, both Gideon and ‘Killer’ have failed. They have abused public trust and should be dismissed. My opinion is that Osborne should be jailed.
‘Killer’ has been reported to the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards as her expenses claims appear to be similar to those of Labour MP Tony McNulty who, in 2009, was required to pay back more than £13,000 in expenses claimed on a second home occupied by his parents.
I hope she gets penalised in a big way.
But even if that doesn’t happen, she can be sure that life won’t be easy from now on. Reporters don’t take kindly to bullies, and a threat against one – in the way she engineered – is a threat against us all.
I reckon we’ll be finding out a lot more about Mrs Miller’s misdeeds from now on. Perhaps life will become difficult for her.
The government’s attack on the disabled continues unabated – with the announcement that 875 jobs at the remaining Remploy factories across the UK are likely to be made redundant.
The quiet dismantling of the company began in March with the closure of 36 factories; now it seems likely that a further 10 will follow, with only an automotive business and employment services remaining safe.
The Minister for Disabled People, Esther McVey, said the factories, and a CCTV business, should be “freed from government control” in line with the recommendations of the Sayce Review, which said funding could be better used if spent on helping disabled people into work through individual support rather than subsidising Remploy.
The government has been involved in negotiations to transfer the factories out of state ownership and into the commercial sector, where it is to be expected that the disabled employees would be treated in the same way as the able-bodied, and it seems unlikely that provision would be made for their conditions.
The result is that many more factories have been judged as commercially unviable. Rather than take steps to improve the businesses, the Department for Work and Pensions is preparing to pronounce the death sentence on them.
An automotive textiles operation at Huddersfield;
Three other Remploy businesses are not commercially viable or have any realistic prospect of being sold as going concerns – E-Cycle, at Porth and Heywood, Frontline Textiles at Dundee, Stirling and Clydebank, and Packaging at Norwich, Portsmouth, Burnley and Sunderland. These factories are now proposed for closure with all the staff working there and at the associated business offices at risk of redundancy.
Other sites are also endangered. These are:
A furniture business in Neath, Sheffield and Blackburn. This has potential to succeed but currently makes significant losses – and would probably have to be downsized. The official position is that it is doubtful that viable bids will be received and all staff are therefore at risk;
A marine textiles business at Leven and Cowdenbeath which makes significant losses despite an established market position and is not, we are told, sellable as a going concern. All staff are at risk;
Negotiations are starting, to see if the CCTV business can be sold. If not, compulsory redundancies will be made and all employees in the CCTV business are therefore at risk.
The Automotive business operating from factories in Coventry, Birmingham and Derby is considered viable as a going concern, and is being marketed as such. Employment Services is also safe. These are the only Remploy businesses that are not in the firing line.
The Department for Work and Pensions, together with the minister, Esther McVey, sneaked out this announcement in a written statement – presumably in the hope that it will go unnoticed.
The consequences will be devastating for the affected workers, their families and their communities – at a time of economic hardship, and a labour market that is extremely harsh on the disabled. They already face huge obstacles and are one of the groups at greatest disadvantage in today’s job market.
The government says it has put in place a package of support for employees, worth £8 million, if redundancies take place. This includes individual support for every employee through a personal case worker for up to 18 months; personal budgets to pay for back-to-work support; £1.5 million to support local disabled people’s organisations in communities, to support displaced workers; access to job opportunities in member companies of the Business Disability Forum; and the Jobcentre Plus Rapid Response Service will be available to deliver individual support to all those affected by redundancy, including non-disabled employees in England. This support will be delivered by PACE in Scotland and React in Wales.
Personally, I smell an infestation of rats.
Is it really coincidence that this announcement is made mere days after the government said disabled people were going to be put on the work programme?
Are these proud Remploy workers, who did not let their disabilities stop them from earning a decent wage and paying their way in the world, now to be subjected to the indignities of Workfare – stacking shelves for uncaring exploiters just to qualify for state benefits?
And what about those benefits? Will they have to claim Employment and Support Allowance, as people with disabilities – even though they had a job? Working at Remploy isn’t the same as working elsewhere. If they do claim ESA, they’ll have to go through the humiliating and dehumanising work capability assessment. Many of them may fail it (remember, only 12-13 per cent of applicants get into the support group – the others either have to make themselves healthy – presumably by magic – within a year or get signed ‘fit for work’ immediately). We have documentary proof that 73 people die every week, either while going through this process or afterwards, having been told they are ‘fit for work’.
And Disability Living Allowance is ending next year, to be replaced by the Personal Independence Payment. Claimants will, again, have to go through an assessment system run by Atos – the company responsible for the ESA system – and it is likely that the criteria will be harsh. DLA is already the hardest benefit to obtain and the government will want the new system to produce savings – meaning people on DLA now will not get PIP.
What happens then?
I think another letter to the United Nations Commissioner for Human Rights may be in order.
I doubt many people who aren’t Liberal Democrats will have read the agenda for their conference, currently taking place in Brighton. That’s probably for the best because it includes a policy motion on disability that would leave you dizzy. They really don’t know which way they’re facing on this one.
But no worries, eh? It’s only the public who’ll suffer because of it!
The motion starts by noting that the Welfare Reform Act has been passed, including changes to Employment and Support Allowance (ESA); the introduction of Personal Independence Payments (PIPs) to replace Disability Living Allowance (DLA) – and the plan to use this to cut the benefit by 20 per cent by 2015-16 (therefore stopping people from receiving it); the feeling of exclusion from the welfare reform policy development process amongst the disabled community (hang on – the Lib Dems supported the Act; isn’t it a bit late to be moaning about how it excluded the people it was supposed to be working for?); and the conclusions of the report Reversing Recovery on the impact of the Act.
It also notes the rise in disability hate crime “as reported in a survey conducted by the disability charity Scope”, but makes no mention of the fact that this has been fuelled by inflammatory reports of so-called “scroungers” in the right-wing press.
So already they don’t know which way they’re going with this.
It goes on to welcome – welcome! – the introduction of Universal Credit. This is the benefit that will cap the amount households receive, ensuring that even people in the Support Group of ESA claimants will lose benefit if the total they get is more than an arbitrary prescribed amount. They are welcoming a change that will put more people in poverty and misery.
And it welcomes the Government’s decision to allocate an extra £15 million to the Access to Work budget, on the recommendation of Liz Sayce in her review of specialist disability employment programmes. This is the woman who had all those Remploy factories closed. She is no friend to disabled people.
Now we get really confused.
The motion asks the LD conference to state its belief that “society and government have a duty of care towards sick and disabled people and that the goals of government policy must be the empowerment of sick and disabled people in order to tackle and reduce their dependency on others and, fundamentally, to enable them to enjoy full and equal citizenship.” Empowerment? Full and equal citizenship? Read it again and boggle at the hypocrisy in the words from a party that has helped reduce the disabled to a hated and ridiculed underclass.
“Current welfare policy is failing sick and disabled people and […] the Welfare Reform Act does not do enough to remedy this situation.” Because it is the Welfare Reform Act that has created the situation! “Sick and disabled people unable to work or unable to find employment should be supported by the welfare system for as long as they are unable to work or find employment and […] mechanisms such as the current method of time limiting […] contributory ESA are counterproductive and harmful.” Nearly half of all people found “fit for work” by Atos, the company running the WCA regime for the DWP, now have NOTHING to live on. That’s no money at all. And the Lib Dems voted in favour of that.
The next bit criticises the last Labour government for relying on advice from private companies with a potential financial interest in affecting policies about the sick and disabled. It reminds me of a Biblical extract in which Jesus says that, before you can remove a mote from another person’s eye, you need to take the plank out of your own. Isn’t the current government – of which the Coalition is a part – welcoming the wholesale introduction of the private sector into all manner of public services – with open arms? Look at the privatisation of NHS services, which is kicking up a gear with the arrival of Jeremy Hunt’s red and blue lists. Look at David Cameron’s declared intent to privatise everything but the security services and the judiciary. And the Lib Dems are blaming Labour for relying on private sector advice? Get the plank out of your eyes, boys and girls. Or better still, get out of government and take the Tories with you.
The next part states: “Policies which force sick and disabled people to be dependent on others may prevent them from being able to enjoy equal citizenship and leads to exclusion from society,” – which begs the question: Why do you support such policies?
“Further action by government is required to prevent victimisation of and discrimination against sick and disabled people by employers.” This will never happen under a Conservative-led government.
Let’s move on to what they want. Some of these are in fact good ideas but the hypocrisy in the Liberal Democrats calling for them is staggering. The motion asks the LD conference to seek:
“An independent review of the impact of the Welfare Reform Act.” Isn’t it a bit late for that? Wasn’t the impact checked before the Act was passed? Are they saying the Tories lied to them about what would happen? Are they admitting they were reckless as to the effect on disabled people?
“A review of WCA assessment centres to ensure they have adequate disabled access andeasy access by public transport or that mechanisms are in place to provide home visits oralternative assessment venues.” What, because access to assessments is the main problem? It’s a practical idea, and I understand access has been an issue – unnecessarily – but again, this is something the Liberal Democrats should have considered before they allowed the stupid and vindictive legislation through. Did they actually read the Welfare Reform Bill before it became an Act of Parliament?
“The establishment of a public consultation on the assessment mechanisms for DLA, ESA and PIPs, with special emphasis on eligibility for support for those with time variant conditions.” Again, this is a good idea but its time was before the Act was passed. Even if the majority of Liberal Democrats go back on their original support for the Act, the Conservatives will never allow it to be changed. They want the disabled to live in poverty and misery.
“The results of this consultation to be used by the DWP to reform its sickness and disability policies.” This will never happen with Conservatives in charge.
“Additional support and effort to be targeted at enabling sick and disabled people to remain in work and at removing barriers of access to work through expansion of schemes such as the Access to Work Fund.” Again – this will never happen with Conservatives in charge. They want to cut another £10 billion from the benefits bill, on top of the £18 billion that is already being hacked away.
“The Government to ensure that it continues to take a balanced approach to the advice it receives, and that it prioritises the advice of organisations representing sick and disabled people.” Continues? This Coalition government has never taken a balanced approach to advice, and will never prioritise the advice of representative organisations above that of private business and its own hatchet-people. This is dangerous idealism.
“The Citizen’s Advice and non-profit-making advice services to receive increased government funding during the transitional periods for any future substantial changes to the welfare system.” As a CAB trustee, I’d like to see this happen. As a realist I know it won’t.
“The Government to examine the impact of means-testing and income-related support elements of disability welfare policy and, when funds allow, to reform policy to reduce the number of cases where sick and disabled people are made dependent on partners and carers and to ensure that, where this does happen, this does not lead to exclusion from society.” The operative phrase here is “when funds allow”. A Conservative-led government will ensure that funds are never available to allow the reforms suggested here. The programme, in case the Liberal Democrats weren’t paying attention, is about shrinking the state down to almost nothing. This is being done by ensuring that the national debt stays high, providing an excuse for cut after cut.
“A public awareness campaign to tackle prejudice and other attitudes detrimental to the well-being of sick and disabled people.” This is against Conservative Party policy and will not see the light of day in this Parliament, unless done in a half-hearted and cack-handed manner that will do more harm than good.
So what do YOU make of all that?
I think it will win loud applause in the conference chamber. The Liberal Democrat leadership will enjoy that, hoping that the media will report it as an attempt to moderate the excesses of the right-wing Tories.
But they know that it won’t achieve anything in real terms.
Like so much Liberal Democrat posturing – as part of the Coalition – it’s nothing more than words on paper and hot air.
The cookie settings on this website are set to "allow cookies" to give you the best browsing experience possible. If you continue to use this website without changing your cookie settings or you click "Accept" below then you are consenting to this.