If you heard that children who have to see a social worker end up two grades behind at GCSE and thought the answer was to keep them away from social workers, you’re either a Tory or an idiot – most probably both.
Labour is right and funding for social services has collapsed due to Conservative-prompted cuts.
This Writer lives in one of the most rural areas in the United Kingdom and the service here is struggling desperately.
Faced with a choice between meeting funding targets and giving a child the treatment they deserve, the budget beats the bairn every time.
That’s harmful – not only for the child but for the society he or she inhabits.
It says we don’t care about our youngsters. If they grow up thinking that about themselves – and have evidence in their GCSE results – how will that affect the way they function as part of our culture?
Tories don’t care because they’d rather save the money.
I think they are forgetting the most important law that they can’t change – it’s called the law of unforeseen consequences.
Children who have had contact with a social worker at any time since the age of nine are around two grades behind at GCSE, a government review suggests.
The average classroom has three children who have needed support from social services at some point in last six years – a total of 1.6m children across England, according to the analysis.
On average, disadvantaged pupils achieved around six grades higher and made more progress in schools in cities than those in hamlets and isolated dwellings.
Have YOU donated to my crowdfunding appeal, raising funds to fight false libel claims by TV celebrities who should know better? These court cases cost a lot of money so every penny will help ensure that wealth doesn’t beat justice.
The way Kamil Ahmad was treated by the authorities seems to be business as usual, as far as This Writer can tell.
As recently as July, we were told that victims of harassment and stalking were being routinely put at risk because of the failings of police and prosecutors.
Stalking behaviour has been identified in 94 per cent of murders – and harassment of the kind experienced by Kamil Ahmad may be considered extremely similar.
But the police are still refusing to give it enough attention.
Some might say this is because of Tory cuts that have crippled police forces but this behaviour in investigators seems to pre-date Theresa May’s vandalism.
And what about the decision by social services to evict this man – a decision that was only shown to have been reversed after his death?
For This Writer, that is uncomfortably close to the situation we see regularly with disabled benefit claimants, in which the Department for Work and Pensions refuses a claim – only to reverse its decision after the subject has died.
It is a convenience for the Department – no benefit will be paid because the claimant has passed on, but saying it has been granted avoids uncomfortable questions.
That’s why Bristol social services has used this dodge, in the opinion of This Writer.
I’m not saying either the police or social services deliberately neglected Kamil Ahmad’s case in order to cause his death – there’s no evidence here to support that and I don’t think the allegations of disablism and racism will get very far – but it does seem clear that his case did not receive the attention it deserved because of institutional routines.
Will the police start paying more attention to people reporting threatening behaviour? It seems unlikely.
Will social services (or the DWP, for that matter) improve the treatment of claimants? This also seems unlikely.
What is to be done, then?
Public bodies in Bristol are facing allegations of institutional disablism and racism, after the second case in four years in which a man has been convicted of the brutal murder of a disabled refugee.
Friends say that Kamil Ahmad had repeatedly told police officers that he was being threatened and racially abused by Jeffrey Barry, who lived in the same supported accommodation for people with mental health conditions in the Knowle area of Bristol.
Ahmad (pictured) was stabbed to death in the early hours of 7 July last year, just hours after Barry had been released from a hospital where he had been sectioned under the Mental Health Act.
Barry, 56, was convicted of murder this week, following a trial at Bristol Crown Court. He had denied murder but admitted manslaughter on the grounds of diminished responsibility. He will be sentenced on 10 November.
But Disability News Service (DNS) has been told that the Kurdish asylum-seeker made repeated calls to police officers in the months and years leading up to his death, telling them that Barry was threatening him and that he did not feel safe.
Friends of Kamil Ahmad have also told DNS that Bristol social services – which he had also told about his fears for his safety – was about to evict him and leave him homeless and destitute on the streets, and only announced that this decision had been reversed after he had been killed.
“The Bill does not require any consultation with children, care leavers or families before the removal of legal duties” [politics.co.uk]
No – they aren’t.
Here is just some of the evidence from an article on politics.co.uk – I urge you to read the full article as well.
In a recent House of Commons debate on social work reform, children’s minister Edward Timpson MP called for “a debate based on facts, not on unfounded propositions”. He was speaking about the clauses in the Children and Social Work Bill which, if passed, will permit individual councils to be excused from legal obligations to vulnerable children and care leavers.So let us focus on those facts. Here are seven for starters.
FACT 1: The government has plans to ‘academise’ children’s social care. In December 2015, the then prime minister, David Cameron MP, said six of the country’s best local authorities would be given “academy style freedoms” in children’s services. Clause 29 of the Children and Social Work Bill allows every council in England to ask to be excused from legal obligations. Clause 32 permits the secretary of state to remove duties from struggling children’s services, even when a council hasn’t asked for it.
FACT 2: Our country’s most vulnerable children and young people rely on social care duties for protection and support. Deregulation in social care involves exponentially more risk than in education.
FACT 3: There is no evidence that legal duties get in the way of innovation in children’s social care. Councils can already innovate.
FACT 4: Parliamentary scrutiny of exemptions will be weak. Parliament has very limited powers when it comes to statutory instruments (which is the form exemption orders will take).
FACT 5: There was no consultation before this Bill was introduced into Parliament. The Bill does not require any consultation with children, care leavers or families before the removal of legal duties.
FACT 6: The government is keen to create a ‘market’ for children’s services, but not to share its market-scoping report.
FACT 7: The government is ploughing ahead with ‘Takeover Trusts’ in children’s services without any evidence they work better for children. It states that the Bill will not lead to more profit-making in children’s social care services and has tabled an amendment to that effect. But there is no empirical evidence that children benefit from social care services moving away from local councils.
Jessie and Ray Lorrison have spent the last 70 years together, but have now been told they must live separately [Image: North News and Pictures].
The criteria under which Ray and Jessie Lorrison are being separated for what could be the last few months of their respective lives are in the Conservative Government’s Care Act 2014.
The Tories may wish to quibble that the implication of the Act is for local councils to interpret, but it seems likely this is another Tory attempt at penny-pinching, and never mind the human tragedy it causes.
How many more couples are being separated in this entirely unacceptable way?
There is a petition, which you can sign if you visit the Mirror‘s story (the link is below).
But will it do any good if the law is against this couple?
How did we – the British people – ever come to accept such laws as reasonable?
An elderly couple who have been by each other’s side for 70 years are being ‘forced apart’ by social services – as they ‘don’t meet the criteria’ to live together.
Jessie and Ray Lorrison, of South Shields in South Tyneside, have spent nearly every day of their lives together since they first met in 1946 – but have now been told they must live separate lives.
Ray, 95, is living at Westoe Grange Care Home in the town, while his heartbroken wife Jessie, 88, is in hospital after being told she ‘does not meet the criteria’ to join her husband.
A South Tyneside Council spokesperson said: “The Council is not able to comment on individual cases, however any decision on care and support for an individual is based on their own needs and is made in line with the Care Act.
Who said it could never happen here? Children are starving on the streets of Britain as the Tory-led Coalition’s hate policies bite ever-more-deeply into the poor [Image: Stoke Sentinel].
British children are sifting through bins left outside houses in search of scraps of food because they are starving, it has been revealed.
But Tories and their supporters in rich London won’t have to look at them – because they are in Labour-held Stoke-on-Trent.
The Stoke Sentinel reported that “Youngsters have been searching through bins in the Hollings Street and Brocksford Street area of Fenton before eating any leftovers.”
It said, “Dozens of hungry families are referred to Fenton’s food bank for help every week.”
What’s really sad about this story is that some of the people interviewed seemed to think the problem was with the mess left behind by these children – youngsters who are, remember, so hungry that they are rooting through rubbish for stale leftovers.
One said: “It’s horrible to see… Some days on the school run we have had to actually cross over the road because there’s so much rubbish on the pavement because of this. Luckily I keep my bins to one side so we haven’t been too badly affected.”
Clearly she is full of the milk of human kindness. According to the newspaper, that person was just 26 years old. Perhaps she should consider growing up.
Police in the area said the matter had been reported to them. What did people think they were going to do – arrest starving children?
Fortunately, Sgt Jason Allport demonstrated that police have the right attitude: “The issue isn’t theft; it’s children going around not having enough clothing and food.
“That issue is really something for social services to look at.”
In fact, it is something for every single citizen of the United Kingdom to look at.
This is the sixth-richest economy in the entire world. It is a land of plenty. Yet people here are happy to allow their neighbours to starve – probably to the point of death.
Their only concern is that they shouldn’t have to see it.
If I was living in Stoke, I would be ashamed to share the streets with people who think like that.
If I had voted for the political parties that have inflicted this misery on our nation, I would be ashamed of what I had done.
But you can be sure that David Cameron isn’t ashamed.
Who do you bank with? This piece of public opinion was picked up from Twitter [Author: Unknown].
Isn’t it a shame that on of our national Sunday newspapers has chosen to disrupt everybody’s enjoyment of our Easter eggs with a specious attempt to expose abuses of food banks and make operator the Trussell Trust look hypocritical?
Isn’t it also a shame that the Mail on Sunday didn’t make a few inquiries into the procedure for dealing with people who turn up at food banks without having been referred?
The paper’s reporters and editor could have, at least, opened a dictionary and looked up the meaning of the word “charity”.
Unfortunately for reporters Simon Murphy and Sanchez Manning, both situations are – in fact – allowed, because food banks must be flexible in the way they deal with individual cases. They would have known that if they had done their homework – as yr obdt srvt (who’s writing this) did at several meetings on the organisation of food banks here in Powys.
The paper’s investigation claims that there were “inadequate checks on who claims the vouchers, after a reporter obtained three days’ worth of food simply by telling staff at a Citizens Advice Bureau – without any proof – that he was unemployed”.
It turned out that this person had to fill out a form providing his name, address, date of birth, phone number and the reason for his visit before an assessor asked him why he needed food bank vouchers. In contradiction of the introduction to the story, he explained – not simply that he was unemployed, but that he had been out of work for several months and the harsh winter had left him strapped for cash and food. He said his wife had left her job and was not earning and that they had two children. These lies were sufficient to win food bank vouchers.
What the report didn’t say was how the details given by reporter Ross Slater would have been used afterwards. The CAB would have booked him in for a further interview with a debt advisor, to which he would have had to bring documentary evidence of his situation. When he didn’t turn up, he would have been identified as a fraud. The food bank would also have taken his details, to be fed back into the referral system. Job Centre Plus would have picked up on the fact that he isn’t unemployed. From this point on, he would have been identified as a fraud and refused further service.
You see, it is true that food banks run on a voucher system, but that is only a part of the scheme. The questions asked of people who need vouchers are used to ensure that they get the help they need to avoid having to come back – that’s why they’re asked. They also weed out abusers like Mr Slater.
If the paper’s editor had looked in a dictionary, he might have seen charity defined as “voluntary provision of help to people in need, or the help provided” in the first instance. However, reading further, he would have seen “sympathy or tolerance in judging” listed as well. It seems the Mail on Sunday would have no such sympathy and would have deserving cases turned away to starve.
It is telling, also, that the paper had to go to Citizens Advice to get its evidence. Far more food bank vouchers are handed out in the Job Centre Plus, where all a citizen’s circumstances are available to advisors. But not one word is said about the fact that the vast majority of food bank referrals are for people in real need and not newspaper reporters.
The paper also stated: “Staff at one centre gave food parcels to a woman who had visited nine times in just four months, despite that particular centre’s own rules stipulating that individuals should claim no more than three parcels a year.”
It continued: “Individuals experiencing severe financial hardship are able to claim food vouchers but there are no clear criteria on who should be eligible. Once received, the vouchers can be exchanged for three days’ worth of food at an allotted centre.
“The Trussell Trust has a policy that an individual can claim no more than nine handouts in a year, but undercover reporters found this limit varied in different branches.”
No – it is far more likely that it varied according to the circumstances of the person who needed the help. Rigid rules, such as one that limits people to only three visits, mean those who need the most help would be cut off while they still needed assistance. People working in food banks would be aware of who these were, and would be more likely to be tolerant towards them.
Meanwhile, the other support services – Job Centre Plus, Citizens Advice, Social Services and so on – would be working to help them. With some people, it simply takes longer. It should be easy for anyone to think of reasons why this may be the case.
This may also explain the situation in which a worker at a Trussell Trust food bank said people “bounce around” locations to receive more vouchers. The assessment system is a way of monitoring these people and determining whether they need extra help.
It is not true that the criteria are not clear – the paper is misleading with this claim. Food banks, the charities running them, and referring organisations all have to agree on the circumstances in which they permit people to receive parcels. You really can’t just walk in the door and expect to get a free handout. That’s why the questions are asked and forms filled out – they will check up on everybody.
Another claim – that “volunteers revealed that increased awareness of food banks is driving a rise in their use” is unsubstantiated, and is clearly an attempt to support the government’s claim that this is the case. But it is silly. Of course starving people will go to a food bank after they have been told it exists; that doesn’t mean they aren’t starving.
And the paper wrongly said the Trussell Trust had claimed that more than 913,000 people received three days’ emergency food from its banks in 2013-14, compared with 347,000 in the previous financial year. This is a misreading of the way the charity records its work, as the Trussell Trust records visits, not visitors. It would be hard to work out exactly how many people attended because some will have visited just once, others twice, a few for the full three times, and some would have required extra help.
The claim that many visitors were asylum-seekers is silly because food banks were originally set up for foreign people who were seeking asylum in the UK and had no money or means of support.
Of course it would be wrong to say that nobody is trying to abuse the system. There are good people and bad people all over the country, and bad people will try to cheat. Look at Maria Miller, Iain Duncan Smith (Betsygate), George Osborne (and his former paddock), Andrea Leadsom’s tax avoidance, Philip Hammond’s tax avoidance, Charlotte Leslie who took cash to ask Parliamentary questions – to name but a few.
The Trussell Trust has agreed to investigate the newspaper’s allegations – but it is important to remember that these were just a few instances of abuse, and only claimed – by a newspaper that is infamous for the poor quality of its reporting.
Nothing said in the article should be used to undermine the vital work of food banks in helping people to survive, after the Conservative-led Coalition government stole the safety net of social security away from them.
UPDATE: Already the Mail on Sunday is facing a public backlash against its ill-advised piece. A petition on the Change.org website is calling for the reporter who claimed food bank vouchers under false pretences in order to make a political point to be sacked. Vox Political has mixed feelings about this – it targets a person who was sent out to do a job by others who are more directly to blame for the piece, but then he did it of his own free will and this action brings all newspaper reporters into disrepute. Consider carefully.
Credit where it’s due: The vast majority of reasons for people being referred to food banks are attributable to the Department for Work and Pensions. Could that be why the DWP is so desperate to silence the food bank charities?
Tories – what are they like?
The answer is, of course, even they don’t know – as evidenced by their current confusion over food banks.
David Cameron has enthusiastically backed their work at a Christian faith group’s Easter reception (and so he should, having sent so much of it their way), and Treasury minister David Gauke also praised them in an interview on Channel 4 News last week.
But the DWP says leading food bank provider the Trussell Trust is guilty of “misleading and emotionally manipulative publicity seeking”, with the rise in food bank use being the result of the charity’s leaders “aggressively marketing their services” and “effectively running a business”.
At least one commenter on this blog has been completely taken in by the DWP’s prattling, claiming that demand for food banks has not risen at all since Cameron came to office. No, it’s clear to this demented individual that opening a food bank anywhere is like opening a supermarket – if there isn’t one nearby already, people will flock through your doors.
This, of course, completely misconstrues the way food banks are used and assumes that anyone can walk through their doors, claim food poverty and take away a packet of supplies whenever they want. It doesn’t work like that.
Food banks operate on a referral system. As Trussell Trust chairman Chris Mould put it in an Observer report: “You can’t get free food from the Trussell Trust by walking through the door and asking for it; you must have a voucher. More than 24,000 professionals – half of whom work in the public sector and health service, the police, and in social services – ask us to give this food to clients of theirs because they’ve made the decision that this individual or family is in dire straits and needs help. We’re not drumming up demand.”
This is absolutely correct and no amount of negative campaigning by the DWP can change it. In fact, Mr Gauke spent some time crowing about the fact the DWP rules have been altered to allow “signposting” to food banks by Job Centre advisors, in his Channel 4 News interview (although claiming credit for government employees sending people to someone else, rather than providing help themselves, is in itself a mean-spirited shot in the foot).
Once again, the Conservatives are getting stuck in the mire while trying to claim the moral high ground.
Not only have they created a poverty-driven starvation threat that organisations like the Trussell Trust have been forced to step in and fight, but the Tories have also tried to vilify those good people for laying the blame where it belongs.
It is a situation so twisted, there can be no wonder the Tories are tying themselves in knots.
The public voted him back in: Disgraced former Cornwall councillor Colin Brewer resigned over remarks he made about the disabled – it seems he has suggested disabled children should be treated in the same way as deformed lambs. These comments are beyond the pale but the electorate in his Cornish ward voted him back into office, knowing what he had said! What does that tell us about attitudes in Britain today?
This is a sequel. Last October, Vox Political published Living under the threat of welfare reform, a personal account of the hardships suffered by just one disabled benefit claimant as a result of the Coalition government’s crude and unnecessary attacks on people who are unable to work and must rely on social security. The author expressed fears about her future, after the main changes to benefits that were expected in April this year. Vox Political contacted her earlier this week to find out how she was coping, and this article is the result. Please welcome Sasson Hann:
Definition of ‘welfare’: the good fortune, health, happiness prosperity, etc., of a person, group, or organisation; well-being: to look after a child’s welfare; the physical or moral welfare of society.
When I first read ‘21st Century Welfare‘ published in the summer of 2010, 10 months after I was forced to give up my professional career, I realised that those of us reliant on benefits were facing an almost insurmountable challenge to their well-being: a challenge like nothing before in recent history.
At the time, I spoke to friends about the possible consequences of welfare reform, then subsequently became distraught and angry when hearing that people had died after having benefits reduced or removed; sadly, now a weekly occurrence. So when Vox Political asked me to write a guest blog – an update of my personal circumstances – in all honesty, I felt that my situation was nothing in comparison: it’s challenging nonetheless.
The collective mindset towards people who claim benefits has definitely changed since 2010. ‘Hate crimes’ are in the news; hateful comments under articles in online newspapers. In fact a new term coined by researchers for this change – particularly toward benefit claimants – is ‘infrahumanism‘; people viewed as ‘less’ than human. Colin Brewer, the disgraced former Cornish councillor who was forced to resign after making derogatory comments about disabled children is an extreme example of this. Only yesterday he was reported as saying that society should treat disabled babies like farmers treat deformed lambs: the police are investigating. What concerns me more is why a community recently voted him back into office: what does this indicate?
Attitudes have certainly altered towards me, though not as drastically. Strangers think that they have the right to walk up to me and demand: ”What’s wrong with your legs then?’ People think it’s fair that the government should force me from my home of 27 years. Others cast doubt on my integrity, not believing that I’m too disabled to work. Some repeatedly ask me to explain why I receive certain levels of care and benefits, even why I should need a wheelchair outside: not indicative of ‘infrahumanism’ exactly, but definitely insensitive. Of all the pressures a disabled person faces, frequently having to justify your disability is one of the hardest challenges.
As for financial matters, my income has dropped drastically since 2010. I receive DLA and I’m in the ESA support group; a half decent income. That was until 2 years ago when my local authority started charging me for my care – some £3,000 per annum – despite me having no assets or savings. Nevertheless, I adjusted, and figured that unlike some, at least I had a ‘personalised’ care package.
Then I had a care reassessment last year. The assessor informed me that most of what my carers do was ‘no longer funded’. Basically, the new packages focus on eating and keeping a person clean: we do more for pets. I fought and gained a hollow victory: whilst I retained 75 per cent of the hours, social services dictated their use; I would also have to pay extra for private care. Ironically, in 2011, the government published a document about personalisation, but implemented the exact opposite. The reassessment commences again in July – another six months of stress compounded by the additional yearly financial and disability reassessments. I tell myself this is the ‘new normal’: I must rise to these challenges; not so easy when chronic illness dominates your life.
Beginning in April, I had the extra cost of a £100 per month bedroom tax (my housing association has nowhere for me to move to); along with the extra care costs, this totals £5,900 per annum. As a result, I can rarely socialise now, and it will take much longer to save to replace things. I reasoned that at least I have a home, enough money to pay bills, buy food, and the occasional treat. It’s unnerving though not having a financial buffer if my benefits are removed: a sobering thought. I have a good network of family and friends to help me, but ultimately, like others, they can’t afford to keep me financially long term; is it any wonder that some feel they cannot carry on, that there is no way out?
Multiply what I’ve lost by thousands of households in my area and country-wide, and imagine just how much money is being taken out of the local/national economy; how damaging this will become. In Wales for instance, due to historical poverty, the cuts to benefits have affected one in three people, such that the Welsh Assembly have recently appointed the first ‘Poverty Minister‘, claiming that austerity will cause hardship not known since the 1930’s.
When the Conservatives were last in power in the 80s, they scrapped housing benefit for the low-paid, water was privatised, and the Poll Tax was introduced. It had a dire affect on my family: we couldn’t afford heating so we suffered painful chilblains and contracted continual chest infections; without heating, the flat developed inch thick black mould on the walls; we couldn’t dry our clothes properly so they smelled of mildew; we were lucky if we could afford one meal a day; after a number of years our clothes and shoes wore out; we regularly had to go without soap, washing powder, loo roll, personal hygiene products and the like. It was a dark and miserable time for us.
I cannot begin to describe what it is like to have your dignity stripped away like this; I never thought I would see such hard times again: I was sadly mistaken. The current cuts to services and benefits go much further than this, leaving people with no safety net and no access to legal services. Incredulously, it isn’t even saving the government much money.
The government say we can’t afford the welfare bill, but regular readers of Vox Political will know there is in fact plenty of money sloshing around. The moving of public money into private hands, and also into the pockets of MPs and Lords:money that should be used to stimulate growth and improve the lives of all. If the post war government had enough money to set up the NHS, the welfare state, and embark on a massive building programme – when they were in a far worse financial situation – then our government can do the same. Yet laughably, MPs were this week lambasting the BBC because of the ‘excessive’ £24,000 average payment made to staff who moved to Salford, when MPs claim far more in expenses every year. On the other end of the scale, the ‘stock’– as the government like to call us – who suffer and die for the sake of a few pounds a week are collateral damage; acceptable losses like deformed lambs. And if those who are left cannot afford a home and food, so what? A nightmarish ‘survival of the fittest’ scenario.
I can’t do much to oppose this; I’m too ill to attend protests. Occasionally I help people claim benefits and appeal, apply to charities, look up information and advise them, write and print a CV, and I’ve even negotiated with bailiffs! I tell everyone I meet about how welfare reform is affecting people, and I write as much as I’m able. This is all some of us can do; facing each challenge and fighting each battle, one by one. Notwithstanding this human catastrophe, I remain sanguine: I love life and I will not despair.
Martin Luther King Jr said: “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge.” The government’s answer to that ‘challenge’ is to make the poorest destitute, the opposite to the definition of ‘welfare’: in this we perceive their ‘measure’. Consequently, we ‘infrahumans’ are facing a challenge so great that it will be remembered in history: are you up to this challenge? For all of the people who aren’t; for the many families who have lost loved ones: those of us left have to be.
Today (February 14), the House of Lords will be debating the Welfare Reform Bill from 2.30pm. This is the Bill they sent back to the Commons with seven amendments, which MPs reversed out of hand. The government went on to state it would us ‘financial privilege’ rules to push the legislation through Parliament in its original form – an entirely undemocratic move that has led many to question the legality of the government’s tactics, and some to call for the Queen to deny Royal Assent to the Bill, on the grounds that it will not have been passed “in good faith”.
I think we all know by now that the aim of this Bill is to harm disabled people. The government has tried to create a myth about them being “benefit scroungers”, sponging off the State, but that has not succeeded with anyone other than readers of the Daily Mail. Ministers just want to take money away from those who are least able to defend themselves. Shame on them.
The question now is whether the Lords are prepared to stand up to the Coalition. Will they oppose the derisory attitude of their counterparts in the Commons, or will they just roll over and let democracy die out? How do they feel about the fact that their amendments were overturned? What do they think about the ‘financial privilege’ furore?
I suppose we’ll find out this afternoon, starting at 2.30pm.
For those of you with a deeper interest in the issues, I urge you to read Sue Marsh’s Diary of a Benefits Scrounger, but I will leave you with a quotation from today’s column: “At some point we must say “enough”. At some point, we have to accept that we have a broken system, broken procedures and that “majority rule” is not enough. If we have no checks and balances, no way to influence outcomes or mitigate harm, then the Commons is effectively a dictatorship – once elected free to wreak havoc wherever they see fit. Nothing in a manifesto, no hint of things to come, just a majority, cobbled together to deny process.”
I warned last week that we are seeing the signs of a dictatorship here. Do you really want to live under tyranny?
In April last year I wrote to my MP, Roger Williams (Liberal Democrat) regarding the Welfare Reform Bill and changes to Disability Living Allowance. He had sent me a letter from Maria Miller (a DWP minister, I believe), claiming that it should reassure me. It didn’t.
Now, as the government is ramrodding this vile Bill through Parliament using a procedure that is not valid (as far as any of us can tell), I’d like to resurrect some of the issues I raised with him then, and ask whether any of them have changed in the 10 months since.
If any readers have answers for me, or stories about their own experiences, please send them to me via the ‘Comments’ box at the bottom of the page.
‘According to the letter,’ I wrote, ‘there will be an “objective assessment of an individual’s need”, developed alongside “a group of independent specialists in disability, social care and health, which includes disabled people”. Who are these independent specialists? To which organisations do they belong? Are any of them members of groups which have previously criticised the assessment of Incapacity Benefit claimants, on which the DLA assessment will be based? This letter does not provide that information.’
Does anyone know, today, who these people might be?
‘The letter states: “I can assure you that it (the allegedly-objective assessment of an individual’s need) will not only take into account physical impairments, but also mental, intellectual, sensory and cognitive ones. We also recognise the importance of ensuring that it effectively takes account of variable and fluctuating impairments.”
‘Before continuing, I would like to point out that taking information into account is not the same as making a decision based on it, and this comment cannot, therefore, be taken as an assurance of fairness.
‘As I understand it, the assessment will be carried out with the help of a computer, as has been the case with Incapacity Benefit since the new assessment for that benefit was introduced. Is this really the best way of analysing a person’s fitness for work? I don’t think so, and neither do charities working with the disabled, who have described it as a “blunt and unsophisticated tool”.
‘Let’s stay with the Incapacity assessment for a while. I think it is useful to use it as a way of gauging how the new DLA assessment will work because the latter will be based on the former. Since its preliminary rollout in 2008, we have all heard how people with terminal cancer have been found fit to work. In addition, people with mental health problems have complained their condition has not been taken seriously, and people with complex illnesses report that the tick-box system is not able to cope with the nuances of their problems. “Ensuring that it effectively takes account of variable and fluctuating impairments”? It doesn’t seem likely, in my opinion. Certainly not “effectively”.
‘A revised, even more stringent version of the assessment means blind claimants who can get around safely with a guide dog will be forced onto jobseekers allowance, as will deaf claimants who can read and write. Taking into account sensory impairments? Do you think this claim is justified?’
Is this still true?
‘To continue receiving benefit, a person must score 15 points. However:
‘*Claimants who can’t walk but who can use a manual wheelchair will no longer score points;’
‘*References to hands have been removed from the picking up activity specifically in order to make it harder for amputees to score points;’
Is this still the case?
‘and *Some activities have simply been cut from the test altogether. For example, the activity of ‘Bending and kneeling’, for which 30 points are currently available, is to be completely removed for ‘health and safety reasons’ as people should not ‘bend forward when lifting’.’
Is this still the case? It seems strange to cut something from a test for health and safety reasons when at-work threats to a person’s health and safety are precisely the reason they are taking the test!
‘Half of all the scoring descriptors for mental health and learning difficulties have also been axed, making it much harder to get benefit for people with conditions such as depression or anxiety.’
‘At the end of each session, the computer program generates a 25-page report summarising the person’s general state of health, and fitness for work. People with severe health problems who have been given zero points say that they have told their assessors what was wrong with them, and been met with a “computer-says-no” response.’
‘Receipt of DLA means many claimants can also get free improvements to their homes from Social Services,’ I wrote. ‘How are disabled people supposed to get these improvements if they are downgraded to Jobseeker’s Allowance, which provides a lower amount that will be entirely spent on subsistence?’
I added that there is a level of vindictiveness in the assessment system, also.
‘The Guardian has reported on one man who was given only nine points in his first WCA, but went to tribunal, where the judge found him eligible for the higher level of benefit. Shortly after the tribunal he was called for another assessment, and this time was awarded zero points. At the time the article was printed, he was waiting to appeal a second time.
‘Part of the assessment has assessors extracting information sideways from claimants. People are asked: ‘Do you watch EastEnders or Coronation Street?’ If they say yes, then that’s interpreted as meaning they can sit in a chair for 30 minutes, and that they can concentrate for 30 minutes, and the assessor can then put this on their profile as indicating they are able to work. Ability to watch a TV show does not equal ability to work.
‘Assessors observe the claimants’ demeanour during the test. One report, explaining why a woman with mental health problems had been found ineligible for the benefit, states as justification that she “did not appear to be trembling . . . sweating . . . or make rocking movements”. The DWP manual states “rocking may indicate anxiety”. It may indeed, but this is not – and should not be interpreted as – the only possible indication of anxiety.
‘Let’s get back to the letter,’ I wrote. ‘It states: “Currently there are 11 possible different rates at which DLA can be paid, which makes it complex to administer. We are proposing two rates of benefit payable for each component. This will simplify the overall structure and make it easier to understand.” Hold on a moment! So what this means is the current system involves a bit of thought on the part of administrators that, reading between the lines, the current government is not prepared to support. Simplifying the structure would mean fewer different rates of payment – so there’s a saving to be made there – and also there will be a need for fewer people to administrate the system – so there’s another saving to be made.
‘This is all about money, isn’t it? Mr Grayling can carry on that there are no targets until he’s blue in the face, but the facts are telling a different story.’
I’m willing to bet that none of the above has changed, but I’d like to read comments from people who are more familiar with the system than I am.
I’d like to leave you with this thought: In 1930s Germany, the Nazis had the Jews. In today’s UK, the Coalition has the disabled. How long will it be before someone dies?
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