Tag Archives: Tom Greatrex

Why are disabled people being asked to die for Labour’s election hopes

Rachel Reeves: Does she expect disabled people to lay down their lives for Labour?

Rachel Reeves: Does she expect disabled people to lay down their lives for Labour?

… Especially when it won’t improve those hopes?

Extremely disturbing news has reached Vox Political, courtesy of Liza Van Zyl on Facebook. Extremely long-term readers may recall Liza was the lady who received a visit from police who claimed she had committed a criminal act against the Department for Work and Pensions, just before midnight on October 26, 2012 – being that she had been highlighting the deaths of sick and disabled people following reassessment by Atos and the DWP for Employment and Support Allowance.

Fortunately for those who still have to undergo these assessments, she was not discouraged and has continued to fight for those who cannot stand up for themselves. However, she is currently suffering severe disenchantment with the Labour Party, as she recounts below:

“We heard from Owen Smith MP today [Saturday, March 7] (a member of the left wing of the of the Labour Party leadership) that it is important for disabled people to continue to die, lest any commitment by Labour to scrap the Work Capability Assessment generate a negative response in the press and affect Labour’s general election chances.

“He said that while he personally doesn’t like the WCA, his Labour colleagues will not support scrapping it because of fears it will play badly with the right wing press and damage Labour’s electoral chances… I’ve since been contacted by other disabled people who’ve raised the issue with their Labour MPs, and the response has been: Yes, the WCA isn’t nice but if Labour commits to scrapping it, it would appear to be ‘soft on welfare’.

“The similarities of these responses (and given that Owen Smith is a frontbench shadow sec of state and therefore presumably is up to date on party strategy) indicates that this is an agreed line or represents an actual decision. This is profoundly disturbing, given that a great many Labour MPs know in detail exactly what suffering and deaths the WCA is responsible for among their own constituents: Tom Greatrex organised a powerful meeting of Labour MPs with Chris Grayling two years ago. Dame Anne Begg is herself a disabled person, as are other MPs.

“So: When was the decision taken by Labour MPs that the opinion of the right wing press matters more than the suffering and deaths of disabled people? How was this decision made, and why didn’t the likes of John McDonnell, Dennis Skinner, Jeremy Corbyn etc kick up a holy fuss? I have put the WCA question to parliamentary candidates Jo Stevens, Mari Williams, Chris Elmore and Elizabeth Evans and got the strong impression from them that they were committed to scrapping the WCA… What is going on?”

What, indeed.

This writer would prefer to believe that Labour does not intend to keep the Work Capability Assessment in its current form. The claim here is that an offer to scrap the hated test would “play badly with the right-wing press and damage Labour’s electoral chances” – it doesn’t say anything about what might happen afterwards.

But this raises two points:

  • Labour needs to be told that this ambiguous position is harming its chances at the election. Sick and disabled people vote; so do their families and friends, and so do the families and friends of the many thousands who have died or suffered greatly as a result of the current, demented assessment system. They don’t want to be told that Labour supports a system that kills people for being ill and will most likely vote for one of the alternative parties if this remains Labour policy. The people who read the right-wing press don’t – and won’t – vote Labour, and it is pointless trying to engage them; they are a tiny minority of the electorate. It would be far better for Labour to engage the far greater number of people who want justice in their social security system..
  • If Labour does intend to scrap or change the WCA, then we’re looking at electoral dishonesty of the kind that forced so many people to lose their faith in politics after the Conservative and Liberal Democrat betrayals that started in 2010 and have continued to this day. Those of us who support Labour want a government that is better.

This writer has tried to get answers from Rachel Reeves, her team, and Ed Miliband many times before, to be met with stony silence. Perhaps if they see a letter about this in the very right-wing papers whose support they are trying to gain, they might actually wake up and realise the stupidity in their handling of this serious issue.

I am quite happy to draft such a letter. Newspapers seem happy to publish correspondence with many signatories, so it seems logical to ask for people who are prepared to support it with their names. Please get in touch, via this blog’s comments, Twitter or Facebook with your name and (if you are part of a relevant organisation) position, and let’s get something sorted before the weekend.

Please share this article with anyone who might wish to contribute.

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Another myth debunked: Labour does NOT support the Tories on fracking

Snouts in the trough: Martin Rowson's Guardian cartoon goes straight to the heart of the matter - fracking isn't about ending the energy crisis, or even extracting shale gas in a reasonable way; it is about GREED.

Snouts in the trough: Martin Rowson’s Guardian cartoon goes straight to the heart of the matter – fracking isn’t about ending the energy crisis, or even extracting shale gas in a reasonable way; it is about GREED.

… at least, not without some cast-iron promises about how this gas is to be mined.

According to the Sunday Express (of all places), “The opposition says it will not support fracking without transparency about chemicals used in the process, monitoring of groundwater and environmental impact assessments for all drilling sites.”

“Shadow energy minister Tom Greatrex, who has admitted shale gas ‘may have a role to play’ in Britain’s future energy needs, warned Labour might yet withhold support.

“He told the Sunday Express: ‘If the Government accept our amendments, there will be much more thorough regulation, but there are other issues.

“’The real test for the Government is to move beyond their rhetoric about shale as the silver bullet that will solve all our energy problems.’”

Let nobody say that Labour supports the Coalition on unregulated mining of shale gas by fracking!

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The great debate – the incapable assessment regime

The most telling moment in today’s (September 4) Westminster Hall debate on Atos and Work Capability Assessments came when Chris Grayling was delivering his speech. A woman shouted, “You’re killing us!” and was immediately told to shut up or the public gallery would be cleared.

It was an act of insensitivity that put into a nutshell the Coalition government’s attitude to public discontent over its Work Capability Assessment regime for claimants of the new Employment and Support Allowance (and soon, the new Personal Independence Payment); it doesn’t care what we say, it will carry on doing what it wants, and it will lie to us about what that is.

I was listening to the debate and watching responses on Twitter. John McDonnell MP tweeted: “Protesters sum up exactly what this debate is all about. The Atos system is causing immense suffering & killing people.”

Mr Grayling did not address these concerns in his speech.

He said the DWP would not be changing the controversial ‘descriptors’, that are used in WCAs by the tick-box assessors, who need them to understand whether any person’s abilities mean they deserve a much-coveted place among the 13 per cent of claimants in the ‘Support Group’ – or whether they should be turfed out into the ‘Work-Related Activities Group’ or market “Fit For Work”.

But a potential new set of descriptors, more appropriate to the conditions suffered by the sick and disabled, is still being considered. Where’s the truth?

He said the assessment regime had “no financial targets”. This was a flat-out lie. We know there are targets because Atos trainers made that perfectly clear in the recent Dispatches and Panorama documentaries on the subject.

“Atos do not take decisions.” Another lie. The DWP decision-makers rubber-stamp Atos recommendations in the vast majority of cases.

He repeatedly told us the process was “not an exact science” before contradicting himself by stating that the government wants to “get it right”.

Before he got up to speak, the criticisms had been mounting up like a tidal wave against him. All to no avail, as he sailed on, oblivious.

“How many people have died between being rejected and their appeal, and how many committed suicide?” This was a question I was hoping to hear, as this blog has been criticised for using the “32 deaths per week” statistic. No response to that one, though! And what about corporate manslaughter? The issue wasn’t even raised, but the government – and Mr Grayling, together with his (now former) boss Iain Duncan Smith – might be guilty of killing thousands.

“Will claimants still get ESA while they ask for a reconsideration?” The current answer is no. Judging from the lack of response in the debate, that will remain the case.

Assessors’ lack of mental health knowledge came up time and time again.

One MP after another got up to speak, making it clear that they had all received multiple accounts of mistreatment at the hands of a company that clearly couldn’t give… well… Atos: “There cannot be an MP that hasn’t heard terrible constituent stories over WCAs.”

Labour MP Stephen Timms made some strong points. He pointed out the fluctuating nature of many claimants’ conditions, and warned that the work capability assessment does not take account of changes. “The WCA must not be a snapshot,” he said, and went on to add that the test needs “radical improvement”.

He admitted that Employment Support Allowance was a Labour initiative – but made it clear that the Coalition rolled it out before trials to ensure it was fit for purpose had been completed.

And Dame Anne Begg MP won praise for listing poor decisions by assessors and the failings at Atos, repeating, like a mantra: “When people feel this persecuted, there is something wrong with the system.”

She called for the contract to be re-written, saying it “can’t be fixed with a few tweaks here and there”.

Tom Greatrex, who opened the debate, said too many people were being found fit for work when they weren’t fit at all. He said the £60 million cost of appeals against assessment findings meant the taxpayer was effectively paying for a system that doesn’t work, then paying again to put it right. He said details of the Atos contract should be made public (a forlorn hope; confidentiality is a large part of many government contracts with private firms, although the Atos contract is particularly vague).

And he pointed out that, although Mr Grayling had said the transfer schedule for moving people off Incapacity Benefit and onto ESA was on-target, it was in fact very far behind, with waiting times up by 85 per cent.

Honourable mention was given to the disability campaigns Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC) and Black Triangle. Dishonourable mention was made of police brutality at last Friday’s protest outside the headquarters of Atos and the DWP in London.

Calls were made to reduce unnecessary assessments (of people whose condition was unlikely to change), anger was expressed that Atos is a sponsor of the Paralympics. The debate heard that applicants find the process of going through the Work Capability Assessment terrifying (I can personally attest to this, having witnessed my girlfriend’s. Terrifying and humiliating) – and that it was felt to take away their dignity as human beings.

Sadly, nobody called for a comprehensive study of the mortality rate.

Not one single Coalition backbencher indicated a desire to speak.

Amid all this, one online wit tweeted: “I do hope Osborne comes in at the end to take the now-traditional booing” – a reference to an incident the day before, which has already become infamous, when the Chancellor appeared at the Paralympics to hand out medals and was booed by the 60,000-strong stadium crowd.

Sonia Poulton, the Daily Mail columnist who became a campaigner against Atos, summed up the event: “W-C-A….SEIZE THE DAY! Yes, Labour started it, we ALL know that now…but Con-Dems butchered like never before. Time to get rid!”

If only we could.

For another perspective on the debate, please see the BBC website’s report at – oh. There isn’t one.