Rachel Reeves: The coalition has distorted the benefit debate so much that 64 per cent of Labour voters think benefits should be cut – and she doesn’t have the backbone to correct them.
Here’s a question that gets asked very often in any debate on state benefits: “Isn’t it right that the taxpayer should only support people who really need it?”
The implication is that the government of the day is right to restrict benefit provision.
The answer, of course, is to point at some of the cases we have known, in which benefits have been taken away from people; cases like that of David Clapson, an ex-soldier who was sanctioned off of Jobseekers’ Allowance and died of diabetic ketoacidosis three weeks into the sanction period. When his body was found by a friend, his electricity card was out of credit, meaning the fridge where he kept the insulin he used to treat his diabetes was not working. A coroner found that when David died there was no food in his stomach. Was the government right to restrict his benefits? Or was this state-sponsored murder?
How about severely bipolar Sheila Holt, who recently died after spending months in a coma caused by a heart attack she suffered after being pushed onto the government’s slave-labour Work Programme? Even while she was comatose, the work programme provider – Seetec – was sending her letters about her suitability for employment. There is no doubt that the stress of being forced onto the Work Programme led to her death – in fact the government has apologised for its actions. It therefore seems redundant to ask the question, “Was the government right to restrict her benefits?” as we already know the answer.
How about Karen Sherlock, who was suffering from kidney failure when her Employment and Support Allowance was cut off by Iain Duncan Smith’s minions. She died, apparently of a heart attack, after an operation was cancelled. Was the government right to restrict her benefits?
How about Stephanie Bottrill, who took her own life by walking in front of a lorry on the M6, just one month after the Bedroom Tax had been introduced by Iain Duncan Smith. Her rent at the time was £320 per month, some of which was subsidised by Housing Benefit – but the imposition of an extra £80 charge, to come from her own money, was too much for her finances to take. She left a note to relatives in which she made clear that she had taken her own life – and that she blamed the government. Was the government right to restrict her benefits?
According to the last figures available to us (from 2011 – and related to ESA alone), four more people die as a result of the government’s benefit regime every three hours – more than 200 every week. These figures are, however, more than three years old; they do not encompass the rise in suicides that takes place in the run-up to Christmas every year and they pre-date the effects of Iain Duncan Smith’s homicidal Welfare Reform Act 2012.
Meanwhile, as Polly Toynbee has pointed out in her latest Guardianarticle, Labour’s shadow work and pensions secretary puts her foot in her mouth every time she talks about benefits. “She has the hardest shadow post, reconciling the party’s mission to stand with the underdog while facing a public fed by a stream of statistics-free anecdotes about welfare cheats,” writes Ms Toynbee.
That’s as may be, but she should be challenging those preconceptions, not conforming to them. “When last in power Labour failed to shift the enemy’s terms of engagement, hiding its own good actions behind tough talk,” writes Ms Toynbee.
“This mirrors too much Labour policy, foggy messages hiding agonised ambivalence – and voters smell out that inauthentic verbal triangulation.”
How true those words are. This writer was recently attacked by the shadow Welsh secretary, Owen Smith, for pointing out that he had confirmed, in his own words, that Labour would not speak out against the work capability assessment (that is responsible for three of the four deaths mentioned above) for fear of the right-wing press. This effectively means that his party is asking the sick and disabled to die for Labour’s election hopes.
Mr Smith threatened me with legal action after this blog put his words into plain English. He has since gone quiet, which is just as well. Not only has there been a national debate on the subject (of which Ms Toynbee’s article is just the latest part) but at least one reader has been able to confirm that my words were accurate, after a doorstep conversation with his own Labour candidate. Other readers are encouraged to do the same.
“On benefits, most voters are conflicted,” Ms Toynbee continues. “No one, least of all those working hard for very little, wants people cheating.” That is true. But then, 99.3 per cent of benefit claimants aren’t cheating at all. This government just treats them as if they are.
“Labour can’t win this internalised tussle by replicating it, but could earn credit by encouraging the nation’s better instincts,” writes Ms Toynbee.
The shame is that all the words coming from Labour suggest it will do the former, rather than the latter.
We’re spoilt for choice with this subject – so many people have commented on it. Here’s Jayne Linney‘s contribution, as hers was the first to reach Vox Towers:
I am totally unsurprised, albeit perturbed, that the Chancellor of the Exchequer and Second Lord of the Treasury George Osborne, has demonstrated his total lack of understanding of the Welfare Reform Act. In his Conference speech he announced ‘working-age benefits will be frozen for two years after 2015′ with an added proviso that “the elderly and the disabled will be protected”.
He then confirmed Cameron’s statement of yesterday, of a £3,000 reduction in the Benefits Cap; and this is where confusion arises. Despite his promise of protection for disabled people, individuals in receipt of the work-related activity component of ESA will be included in the cap. Clearly Osborne has failed to notice that many disabled people are in receipt of precisely this benefit; and frequently these are the same people awaiting mandatory reconsiderations and/or Tribunals.
For more of her observations on this, please read the rest of the article on Jayne’s site.
The day job: Rebecca Evans AM in the more familiar environment of the Assembly debating chamber [Image: ITV].
I wanted to share this with you because, as a constituent and a member of the Labour Party, I’m quite proud of Mid and West Wales Labour AM Rebecca Evans, who spent a week living on an amount equivalent to Jobseekers’ Allowance and discussing ‘welfare reform’ with people who deal with its effects on a day-to-day basis, to find out what it is like.
She wrote an article about her experience for Wales Onlinewhich I am taking the liberty of excerpting here. Over to you, Rebecca:
With the average household in Wales expected to lose 4.1 per cent of their income due to policy changes, support is vital for those living on the poverty line.
Although people are understandably cynical when politicians attempt to live life on the breadline, I wanted to raise awareness of the challenges facing welfare claimants and gain a better understanding of how well understood the changes are.
Living off £72.40 for one week, I did not expect to truly experience the day-to-day life of people who rely on welfare support. I was aware that when Monday came around I would step back into my normal routine. But I wanted to experience at least some of the challenges and difficult decisions facing many thousands of people every day.
The Your Benefits are Changing money advice team calculated that the average weekly expenditure for someone living off Jobseeker’s Allowance in my home area of Carmarthenshire leaves just £13.58 for food and essentials once transport costs, utilities, the TV licence, phone bills and the bedroom tax have been paid – which equates to less than £2 a day.
On this income, any trip to the supermarket becomes a stressful task as every single penny matters.
When speaking with job seekers, food bank volunteers, YBAC money advisors and housing association staff and tenants during the week, the message was the same: people are struggling and many have had their lives irrevocably damaged by welfare policies.
The Bedroom Tax has had a serious impact on thousands of people across Wales, and the shortage of suitable housing has only enhanced poverty levels. Brought in as part of the Welfare Reform Act… the policy is estimated to have affected 36,000 tenants in the social housing sector, including 3,500 disabled households. As a direct result… housing association tenants accrued £1.1 million in arrears during the first six months.
Housing associations are rightly concerned that a move to monthly payments will prove incredibly challenging for those on low incomes, leading to an increase in the number of people that turn to emergency food supplies.
A YBAC money advisor told me food poverty levels can be worse for people who live on housing estates because they may only have one shop within walking distance, and that shop may have limited discounts. Food prices have risen by 12 per cent since 2007, so it is no surprise 900,000 people across the UK have turned to food banks in the past year… but the fact that we need food banks in 21st never ceases to be shocking.
The families I met during my week on benefits rely on second hand clothes and goods, and rarely buy anything new – let alone any kind of treats. They try to put aside £20 a week, but unexpected emergencies leave them unable to save.
A YBAC money advisor told me that around a quarter of people seeking advice are actually in work, and that the majority of children in poverty live in a household where one adult works. One mum with a young baby told me that her husband is on a zero-hour contract, meaning that the family can’t plan financially with any certainty.
This smashes the myth that welfare reform is all about supporting the unemployed back to work.
Following the bogus Work Capability Assessment (WCA) conducted by Atos Healthcare, as contracted by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), the United Kingdom (UK) Government admitted that it was wrong to cut the disability benefits of Mark Wood, the vulnerable disabled man who starved to death following the removal of his benefits, in the 21st century UK, when weighing only 5st 8lbs.
Despite the fact that the WCA was introduced by the Labour Government in 2008, it was originally designed by previous Conservative Governments, in consultation with the notorious American corporate giant now known as Unum Insurance, identified in 2008 by the American Association for Justice as the second most discredited insurance company in America.
Without a welfare state, sick and disabled people in America are required to use private healthcare insurance. The tyranny now imposed on the sick and disabled people in the UK, using the WCA, was designed in consultation with Unum Insurance to oblige the general public to purchase private income protection insurance policies once it was made very clear that chronically sick and disabled people could no longer rely on the British State for adequate financial support.
Americans often suffer when attempting to claim from the income protection insurance policies of Unum Insurance, who use an identical bogus disability ‘assessment’ model as that used by Atos Healthcare.
Due to the similarities of the negative and damaging experiences of claimants, American sick and disabled people are periodically informed about the struggle in the UK by the high calibre and relentless work of Linda Nee, who tries to encourage claimants to publicly protest as witnessed in the UK, which it seems disabled Americans still don’t dare to do – such is the intimidation of Unum Insurance & the American authorities (see here, here and here).
The new report by The Mental Health Welfare Commission for Scotland, regarding a woman’s suicide after being ‘stripped of disability benefits’, was reported by John Pring at the Disability News Service (DNS) and by many others. The Coalition Government knew this carnage would happen.
Three years ago a list of distinguished academics, together with politicians and disability support groups, identified the future in a letter as published in The Guardian newspaper: ‘Welfare reform bill will punish disabled people and the poor.’ Now, three years after this letter was published, questions are being asked as to why the appointed and totally unsuitable Lord Freud, in his capacity as the Minister for Welfare Reform – who was not elected by anyone in the usual democratic way – deemed it necessary for the DWP to stop collating the numbers of deaths recorded after the long-term sickness and disability benefit, Incapacity Benefit, now changed to the Employment Support Allowance (ESA), is removed from claimants. (My emphasis.MS)
Questions are also being asked as to why this unelected former City banker was ever afforded so much authority and power in the UK Government given his reputation, where one commentator described Freud as: ‘…one of the key players in several of the most embarrassing and badly managed deals in investment banking history.’ (See here and here)(My emphasis. MS)
The recent welfare Backbench Business debate in the House of Commons (HOC) was granted due to the 104,000 signatures on the WOW petition, as gathered by disabled people and their carers, who are demanding a cumulative impact assessment of all the welfare reforms. The debate was held on February 27, 2014 where, lamentably, most Coalition Government Members of Parliament (MPs) failed to attend this very important and historic debate. Of course, Coalition MPs still played the ‘blame game’, reminding the opposition that the previous Labour Government had introduced the Work Capability Assessment (WCA).
However, the Coalition routinely overlook the fact that they knowingly changed the WCA into the government-funded nightmare that it is today, whilst MPs such as George Hollingbury (Column 430) actually claimed that the Coalition “took it forward”… (Welfare Reform Act 2012) whilst disregarding the fact that a WCA face-to-face assessment with Atos Healthcare is taking over six months to arrange. (Column 433) (My emphasis.MS)
Hollingbury waxes lyrically about all the ‘expert’ opinion (Column 431) that totally failed to expose the dangerous and limited reality of the WCA, not least due to the restricted possible answers in the tick box WCA computer questionnaire, as conducted by Atos Healthcare, that fail to offer the choice of ‘none of the above’ as an additional possible answer when the WCA questions do not refer to a particular claimant’s situation.
Hollingbury quotes Dr Litchfield’s WCA review whilst overlooking the fact that Professor Harrington, who conducted the first three annual reviews into the WCA, when no longer responsible, appeared in a BBC Panorama documentary and confirmed that ‘…people will suffer.’ No government representative can answer the subsequent obvious simple question – why should chronically sick and disabled people ‘suffer’ in the UK, apart from at the whim of a tyrannical government? (My emphasis.MS)
During the historic WOW petition debate, Alan Reid (Column 434 & 435) claims to be proud of his record in government as a Liberal Democrat (Lib Dem), still claiming that Lib Dems in government have been responsible for ‘improving’ the WCA process, whilst totally disregarding the fact that it is irrelevant how much more ‘flexibility’ is given to the DWP ‘Decision Makers’ and overlooking the fact that the ‘Decision Makers’, by their own admission, are totally unqualified for the vast responsibility they have. (My emphasis.MS)
They are basic grade administrators, not medical administrators, and they are incapable of comprehending diagnosis, prognosis or the implications of long term drug use when using a combination of prescribed drugs. (See here and here) More and more DWP bureaucracy with more and more administration means more and more delays, increasing DWP errors and utter chaos with a system clearly in meltdown as more and more victims of this UK government suffer and die. (See here and here) (My emphasis.MS)
Guto Bebb (Column 442) demonstrated that he is very poorly briefed, and doesn’t appear to want to be better informed, claiming that the damning report by the National Audit Office was ‘disappointing’ but insisted that the policy aims were OK. Bebb still seems to think that any sick or disabled person not in paid employment is ‘unproductive’. This disabled researcher begs to differ and, if the MP reads the very detailed published reports (here and here) as accessed by academics at universities throughout the UK, he’d know how incorrect he is.
Dame Angela Watkinson (Column 445) also appears to be remarkably poorly informed, as were various other speakers in this poorly attended yet important debate, who continued to repeat government rhetoric whilst disregarding the detailed evidence that has exposed the realities behind the ‘reforms’ as paving the way for private insurance to replace the once-hallowed UK Welfare State.
Since being introduced by the Conservative Government in 1992, all UK Governments have used the second worst insurance company in America as “government advisers” on welfare reforms, and the dangerous and totally discredited WCA is the result. (See here and here)
Jim Sheridan’s comments (Columns 448,449) were especially welcome during the debate when making reference to the new Personal Independence Payment (PIP) that has replaced DLA: “Reference has already been made to the obsession with people receiving welfare benefits, but for those with money – the tax avoiders and evaders – life goes on as normal. If only a fraction of the resources used and the time spent on chasing down those on welfare benefits was diverted to tackle tax avoidance and evasion, some people might understand the rationale behind it.”… “When people finally hear about their assessments, there is not much hope. Only 15.4 per cent of new claims have received a decision, and only 12,654 of the 220,300 people who have made a new claim since April 2013 have been awarded some rate of PIP. A constituent of mine got in touch because her father had been diagnosed with lung cancer. Because there is a possibility that his treatment will work, giving him a life expectancy of up to five years, he has not been classed as terminally ill. He is not well enough to attend a medical assessment and so will have to wait longer for a home visit. It appears that letters from his GP, cancer doctor and cancer hospital are not enough to prove the seriousness of his illness.”… “Inclusion Scotland has highlighted the case of the father of an applicant who was told that they would have to wait at least 10 months for any kind of decision, and perhaps even for a first assessment. A constituent of mine who is undergoing cancer treatment has been told that the eight-week time frame given by DWP is an unrealistic amount of time in which to process an application and offer an assessment slot. When my staff called the MP’s hotline, they were told that they simply cannot process the number of applicants as there is not enough staff. They also say that most people who have applied for PIP will not be entitled to it, even before individual cases have been looked at. If that is the mindset of the staff processing the applications, it is hard to see how balanced decisions will be made.” (My emphasis. MS)
Dr Eilidh Whiteford’s comments during the debate were also very welcome (Columns 450 & 451) and highlighted the vital work of the disability support groups such as the Black Triangle Campaign: “The Government are looking at this through the wrong end of the telescope. Raising the bar on eligibility will not make anyone any less sick or any less disabled; it will just make it more difficult for them to function in society and place more pressure on those on whom they rely for their care and support”…. “One of the most profoundly disheartening experiences for me as an MP since being elected in 2010 has been the relentless way in which disabled and sick people have been vilified and stigmatised in the public discourse about welfare reform. Those who had very little responsibility for the financial collapse and subsequent economic problems have nevertheless had to carry the can. The attempt to discredit disabled people in order to justify harsh and punitive cuts in their already fairly paltry incomes is quite shameful. It appals me that the most disadvantaged have been asked to pick up the tab disproportionately for the profligacy of others. As we look to the future, we see further cuts of £12 billion, at least, promised in the years ahead. For disabled people in Scotland, the choice between two very different futures is opening up before them: one with decisions on welfare made in Scotland or one where further cuts slash their incomes even more. That choice must seem very stark indeed.” (My emphasis. MS)
The very experienced Labour MP, John McDonnell, who requested this Backbench Business debate, actually confirmed the involvement of Unum Insurance with the entirely bogus WCA (Column 426): “The work capability assessment was flawed from the start. It stemmed from the work of the American insurance company Unum, and the so-called biopsychosocial model of disability assessment. That was exposed as an invention by the insurance companies simply to avoid paying out for claims.” … “The staff employed in order to achieve that often had minimal medical or professional qualifications, and their expertise or experience was often totally unrelated to the condition or disability of the people they assessed.”… “Assessments largely disregarded people’s previous diagnosis, prognosis or even life expectancy. The recent Panorama programme Disabled or Faking It? exposed the scandal of seriously ill patients—people diagnosed with life-threatening conditions such as heart failure or endstage emphysema—being found fit for work. The so-called descriptors, or criteria, on which assessments are based bear no relation to the potential employment available, take little account of fluctuating conditions and are particularly unresponsive to appreciating someone’s mental health issues.” John also identified the utter absurdity of this Government, introducing yet another bogus assessment as the Personal Independence Payment (PIP) that will ‘replace’ DLA although it is likely to remove this additional support from the vast majority of the 3.5 million people in receipt of DLA.
Shockingly, the provision of a Motability long leased vehicle, as funded by the mobility component of the DLA, will now be removed from the majority of chronically disabled people who do work; thus actually preventing them from going to their place of work since they are physically unable to use public transport, which will dramatically and knowingly increase the numbers of disabled people not in paid employment. (Column 428) (My emphasis.MS)
No matter how many unnecessary tragedies are reported, or how many people die in utter despair and destitution, Conservative MPs like George Hollingbury will dismiss them all as ‘questionable’ results….and Alan Reid, for the Lib Dems, still actually claims to have had some positive function in a Government that helped sick and disabled people, whilst disregarding the horrors, the deaths, the suicides and the overwhelming evidence; including distinguished academic papers from UK universities, together with detailed reports by both the British Medical Association and the Royal College of Nurses. Reid accepts no responsibility for the nightmare he helped to create, blaming anyone except the Government he belongs to. He needs to read the detailed, referenced research to help him learn what the disability movement already know. As he talks nonsense, people die.
Reid complains about Atos whilst ignoring the fact that the DWP is complicit. Totally unqualified DWP ‘Decision Makers’, under any UK Government, are dangerous as they aren’t qualified; they can’t comprehend diagnosis or prognosis and hence they are a liability and constantly make incorrect decisions. Their decisions to remove benefits from genuine claimants are killing the innocent victims of this UK State tyranny. Their countless wrong decisions mean that people die, encouraged by this enthusiastic and very dangerous UK Government, who sit back and watch as the majority of people blame Atos Healthcare who are simply following the DWP contract by using the bogus Lima computer assessment to conduct the WCA, as required by the DWP. (My emphasis.MS)
Atos Healthcare doesn’t remove anyone’s benefits – a constant incorrect claim by many – as they don’t have the authority. All Atos staff can do is to decide if someone is ‘fit for work’ based on the results of a bogus imported computer assessment. Any other company in the same position would result in the same conclusions as that is how the computer software in designed, which is why the Lima software should be banished and this particular WCA cancelled. (My emphasis.MS)
By definition, DWP ‘Decision Makers’ actually make the decisions about welfare benefits. These totally unqualified administrators are required to consider all additional evidence provided by the claimant; including detailed letters from Consultants and GPs who know their patients very well. It is the incompetence of the unqualified DWP Decision Makers, who fail to comprehend the details of medical information and choose to accept any decision following the WCA, as conducted by Atos Healthcare, that makes these DWP staff so very dangerous to the most vulnerable people in the UK. Mandatory reconsiderations won’t help if the Decision Makers remain unqualified for the job. What better way is there to remove as many people as possible from welfare benefits than to employ totally unqualified staff to make these vital decisions? (My emphasis.MS)
Identified claimant suffering includes dramatic increases in the onset of mental health problems. The General Practice (GP) service is close to collapse due to overwhelming numbers of patients needing support with DWP paperwork, that limits GP time spent with other patients who are ill and the British Medical Association (BMA) and the Royal College of Nurses (RCN) have both exposed the WCA as causing ‘preventable harm’ (as we have already seen). Yet this dangerous UK Government, with a Cabinet full of millionaires who fail to comprehend need, dismisses all other evidence regardless of source. They disregard the obvious fact that the ‘reforms’ are falling disproportionately onto chronically disabled people, and those who are very ill and in need of guaranteed long-term welfare benefits, as the Government sells the UK and transforms a once-great nation into UK plc. (My emphasis.MS)
In a now-infamous 2008 interview, Lord Freud claimed that he ‘couldn’t believe’ that anyone had been awarded a benefit ‘for life’, demonstrating the immense danger of permitting a former investment banker to have control of welfare spending when he fails to comprehend that many health conditions are permanent and do indeed last a lifetime. Meanwhile, the Public Accounts Committee’s report of February 2013 regarding the DWP’s contract management of medical services was unlimited in its criticisms of the DWP: ‘Poor decision-making causes claimants considerable distress, and the position appears to be getting worse, with Citizens Advice reporting an 83 per cent increase in the number of people asking for support on appeals in the last year alone. We found the Department to be unduly complacent about the number of decisions upheld by the tribunal and believe that the Department should ensure that its processes are delivering accurate decision-making and minimizing distress to claimants.‘ (My emphasis. MS)
There were many powerful speeches in the historic WOW petition debate and it isn’t possible to highlight them all. However, one name in particular should be highlighted for the courage to expose the fact that, if a link could be proven, “…there would be a case for corporate manslaughter.” (Column 460) (My emphasis.MS)
I salute Caroline Lucas MP of the Green Party for her courage and, in particular, for her condemnation of the official opposition for their total failure to offer detailed, significant support to this nation’s chronically sick and disabled people, with the new Shadow Secretary for Work and Pensions, Rachel Reeves MP, using her first interview to announce that she ‘…would be tougher on people on benefits’. (My emphasis.MS)
What a catastrophic announcement from the Shadow Secretary for Work and Pensions that, effectively, offers this nation’s most vulnerable people no hope if the Labour Party were to win the next General Election in 2015.
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Today’s the day: The WoW Petition is being debated in Parliament today, having won the support from MPs necessary to trigger a debate.
That concludes today’s live blog. Thanks to everybody who visited and pressed ‘F5’ to keep up with events.
2.38pm The motion for the government to commission a cumulative impact assessment has been passed – resoundingly – after the debate. Admittedly very few people attended but the result was what the 104,000 people who signed the ‘WoW’ petition wanted.
However, there now arises the question of what the government will do. As was noted in the debate, the Conservative-Liberal Democrat Coalition has been defeated three times in succession over social security benefits – and has done absolutely nothing about the motions that have been passed.
Those who believed Labour would abstain have been proved wrong by today’s result; we must now judge the government by its actions in response.
The public wants action on this matter, and it has been supported by a House of Commons vote.
This is not just a test of Parliamentary democracy but also one of the e-petition system by which the debate was secured in the first place. Does David Cameron intend to ignore the will of the people that has been revealed by this new method which he is said to support?
2.30pm Speaker John Bercow has turned up to take the vote – and the ‘Ayes’ have it.
2.30pm Mr McDonnell says if the government thinks a cumulative assessment is too complicated, why not bring in the independent organisations who say they can do it, and fund them to do it?
2.28pm John McDonnell is winding up after an inadequate response from Mr Penning. “I’ve heard nothing here today that will alleviate that suffering [of disabled people because of the cuts]. If an impact assessment was published, people would be up in arms.”
2.23pm Rather than discuss the policies behind the WCA, Penning agrees that assessments are taking too long.
2.22pm Penning is departing from the usual Tory stance by admitting that problems have arisen since the Coalition took over in government. He says taxpayers’ money should not be paid to Atos to exit its contract.
2.21pm Fears of a Labour abstention are causing a great deal of distress among the general public watching the debate. Ghost Whistler comments: “If Labour are going to abstain, what’s the point of all this?”
2.19pm Already Penning is saying a cumulative impact assessment cannot be carried out accurately. Other organisations have managed it – why not HM Government?
2.17pm Mike Penning is on his feet. Prepare for a rehash of the government stance (at length).
1.14pm WoWCampaign on Twitter is unhappy: “Kate Green departs from motion over scrapping of #WCA This is an integral part of WOW petition.”
2.13pm Jaypot2012 has read my correction and writes: “My apologies – but I do stand by my comment that if they abstain from this vote then they deserve to lose the next election.”
2.11pm Jason Sheffield on Twitter, apparently responding to Grahame Morris, states: “It is obvious from the empty benches in HoC that UK political parties no longer protect the interests of the poor & vulnerable.”
2.08pm Kate Green tells us Labour wholeheartedly supports the call for a cumulative impact assessment outlined by the petition and in the motion. So Caroline Lucas was wrong whether her abstention rumour, then?
2.07pm Jaypot2012 is on a roll: “These MP’s, MEP’s, etc. forget their places – they are civil servants who are paid by US, the taxpayer. It’s about time someone reminded them of this, and it’s also time that the people of this country were reminded as well.”
2.05pm Commenter Jaypot2012 again: “If Labour abstain from this vote then they deserve to lose the next election. They have been far too pally with the Tories, they are in talks with the Lib Dems, and throughout this coalition “stint in office”, they have backed them, instead of being an opposition party!
“I know that I will NOT vote for labour if they abstain, I will vote for the greens instead!”
In fairness, Labour has not backed the Coalition. This is a falsehood that has been put about often but is not supported by voting records.
2pm On Twitter, #WOWFeb27 is trending above #Merkel. An indication that the majority of MPs got their priorities wrong?
1.58pm Commenter Jaypot2012 writes: “How about all the money that has been wasted and thrown away on IDS schemes? How much has been lost with the IT schemes? He says he’ll just write it off. Does he realise that money belongs to us and could have been used to pay people their ESA whilst they appealed against their decisions? Now we have people who are starving, who are ill and have no money because IDS thinks the money is monopoly money and he can waste it and throw it away!”
1.57pm WoWCampaign tweets: “Is it not time the whole House faces the horror of what is being done? History will judge, if not before.”
1.55pm “It is not a lack of interest; it is not a lack of understanding that means so few people are here today – it’s a lack of time,” says Madeleine Moon in defence of the low attendance at the debate.
1.53pm “We weren’t elected to this house to fight for the interests of the powerful and privileged,” says Mr Morris.
1.50pm Cuts are being targeted on just two areas, with 50 per cent aimed at benefits and local government, and the sick and disabled being affected disproportionately, says Mr Morris.
1.48pm Grahame Morris: “The sick, vulnerable and disabled weren’t responsible for the economic crash, but they are bearing the burden.” He says, “If these cuts had been made fairly, they would have fallen on the better-off.”
1.46pm The problem with WCA assessments is not with Atos but with the policy it is pursuing, as Capita is experiencing the same issues, says Sheila Gilmore.
1.44pm The claim that DLA was going to too many people and hardly anyone was ever reassessed was a “straw man”, leading to flawed proposals for reform, says Sheila Gilmore.
1.40pm Sheila Gilmore to the hardly-represented government: “I didn’t know why it is so difficult – why it is so hard to work out the impact of your policies!”
1.35pm Commenter Barry Davies: “Kudos to Dennis Skinner, well stated argument, and the sort of passion we need to get our case over.”
1.34pm Caroline Lucas reckons Labour will abstain when this debate comes to the vote. What do readers think about that?
1.33pm Upbraided by Labour on her claim that Rachel Reeves said Labour would be tougher on welfare (“Labour will be tougher on welfare spending”), Caroline Lucas said spending should be based on need, not targets.
1.32pm Caroline Lucas has also updated us on the number of people on the government benches. They now number three.
1.31pm Caroline Lucas pays tribute to Francesca Martinez, who “did so much” to publicise the WoW Petition.
1.30pm The worst is yet to come, according to Mark Lazarowicz, as the consequences of the government’s cuts mount up. “We’ve had chaos, misery, the bureaucratic nightmare, the waste of money that is the bedroom tax.”
1.29pm The Benefit Claimant on Twitter: “@David_Cameron Most important debate in politics is going on in the house. You’re at home. We’ll need to sanction you.”
1.28pm Caroline Lucas MP on Twitter: “Grand total on Govt benches: 2 #shameful”
1.27pm Mark Lazarowicz is quoting organisations in his constituency who say the main problems they are facing include long delays in processing. This echoes the findings of the National Audit Office, released today.
1.25pm “This government cannot be trusted to reform welfare in a fair way,” says Mr Danczuk. “While people… will be able to get rid of this government next May, the damage it is doing will last for decades.”
1.24pm ‘Kathrine’ on Twitter makes a very pertinent point about the attendance at this debate: “Thanks to all those MPs who turned up to #WOWFeb27, the rest of them are callous, cowardly, and f***ing WORK-SHY.”
1.23pm Simon Danczuk is telling us about a constituent who received a glowing letter from the DWP stating how much closer she was to getting work as a result of government efforts. This constituent was in a coma at the time.
1.21pm “It’s an absolute nonsense and the way that we are treating these people is an absolute disgrace,” says Ian Lavery. “It’s an absolute outrage. People are dying as a result of the Welfare Reform Act 2012… Is this really the sort of country we want to leave to the next generation. This is IDS’ UK.” A passionate speech to match that of Dennis Skinner.
1.19pm Universal Credit is “an absolute car crash” but “it’s not the DWP who are suffering,” says Ian Lavery.
1.18pm “I’ve got someone who was sanctioned by the DWP because he was in hospital with a severe heart condition,” says Ian Lavery. “Is this a way to treat human beings?”
1.16pm Mr Lavery says people taking the Atos assessments are facing a “Little Britain” scenario where “the computer says no” and the assessor is not medically qualified.
1.16pm “We shouldn’t be making decisions to hammer the disabled and the vulnerable because we could be next,” says Ian Lavery.
1.14pm Ian Lavery says many disabled people have given up. One asked him if he understands what it’s like to feel “trapped like an animal”.
1.13pm Katy Clark says one in five people who have been sanctioned while on JSA were disabled.
1.08pm If this motion is passed, it will be the third time this year that the government has been defeated on a motion relating to benefits. On both previous occasions the result was ignored. Maybe it will be third time lucky, says Eilidh Whiteford.
1.06pm Disabled people have been “vilified” and “stigmatised” in a way that is “shameful”, says Eilidh Whiteford.
1.05pm Eilidh Whiteford says the challenge is finding employers who are willing to take on disabled people.
1.02pm Eilidh Whiteford: “To get it so very wrong, so many thousands of times, just beggars belief. The government needs to get its head out of the sand.”
1.01pm Sheridan says if only a fraction of the resources used chasing down benefit claimants were used to tackle tax evasion, it would make a big difference #WOWFeb27
12.58pm James Thurston on Twitter: “It hasnt been mentioned in the #WOWFeb27 yet but negative rhetoric generated by DWP Ministers results hinders not helps disabled get work.”
12.57pm Jim Sheridan tells us people claiming benefits are “demonised” and no consideration is given to the circumstances in which they are claiming. It is a tactic to divert attention “from the gross abuse of power” in this country.
12.55pm Jim Sheridan tells us this should be about treating people with dignity. He says he was out of work for three years, blacklisted due to trade union activity, but “I was not a shirker as some of those opposite might treat me”.
12.53pm Comment from Jaypot2012: “I am hopping mad here – I so wish I was there, and that I could speak for the disabled and long term sick. As for the conservatives and lib/dems – they have no idea! They sit there with their smug faces when really they are thinking that the disabled should be culled!!!!!!!!”
12.50pm Steve Turner on Twitter: “It’s not a question of ‘accuracy’ in WCA’s for #atos. They are doing what they have been told to do by #dwp. Get ppl off benefits #WOWFeb27”
12.42pm Action for M.E. on Twitter: “Dennis Skinner slams Atos as a “lousy, rotten firm” and says “it’s high time we got rid of this mess”. #WOWFeb27”
12.40pm “The reason they’re on demonstrations like they never did before is because they are desperate, desperate people waiting for us to do something to help them.” Powerful speech by Dennis Skinner.
12.39pm “We’re having hundreds and thousands of people being turned down.” He refers to a constituent who waited month for an appeal while he had cancer, and died before it was heard.
12.38pm “I wish [David Cameron] would say money is no object for disabled people – it really is a scandal.”
12.38pm “There were people telling me they had been for the WCA and turned down, and they couldn’t rise from their wheelchair.”
12.37pm “There were blind people telling me what was about to happen and I didn’t believe them.”
12.36pm Dennis Skinner refers to a historical debate with Sir Keith Joseph. “Even in the Keith Joseph era, the welfare state was a status quo, by and large. Even in the Thatcher years, this chaos did not happen! We never had capability assessments. We never had a march by 3,000 blind and disabled people which heralded the beginning of this coalition.”
12.34pm Steve Turner on Twitter: “I’m not ‘trapped’ on benefits, I am ILL.
I just want to be left alone to get well, not made to jump thru hoops every other week. #WOWFeb27”
12.33pm Chris Bracken on Twitter: “If you are a sick or disabled constituent of Guto Bebb, you have my sympathy. #wowfeb27#wowdebate”
12.32pm Bebb says we should have WCAs, and they should take on advice from medical experts – failing to accept that the expertise of these people is in question and the rationale behind the tests has been discredited.
12.31pm Bebb is harking back to the Harrington reviews, which we know have not been implemented, even though he says they have been accepted.
12.30pm “We had a failing welfare system,” claims Guto Bebb. He says it trapped people in a way which was unproductive and unfair.
12.29pm Guto Bebb (Con) defends government policy saying the NAO report is about implementation, not policy.
12.28pm CAB Sleaford on Twitter: “#WOWFeb27 Mark Durkan: “Fixing a number and squeezing more people off benefit to reach it” .. is what we can expect in the future.”
12.27pm “Those who are terminally ill, those who have a total life expectancy of six months, are having to wait 28 days [for a PIP decision] – one-sixth of their total lifespan in the bureaucratic morass.”
12.26pm PIP – “They started with a number and framed their policy around it,” says Anne McGuire.
12.25pm Anne McGuire says disabled people are not against welfare reform – just the changes of the last three years which disproportionately affect disabled people.
12.24pm Anne McGuire reminds us that David Cameron promised in 2010 that his government would look after the sick, disabled and old.
12.23pm Anne McGuire MP says a cumulative impact assessment is something the government should have brought in when it introduced its benefit changes. She berates Graham Evans for conflating fraud and error, which are two different things.
12.21pm James Thurston on Twitter: “Its a great shame that Graham Evans MP (Con) Weaver Vale is reading his speech verbatim. Does he know what he’s talking about? #WOWFeb27”
12.19pm Commenter LeonC: @GHollingbery those results are in the minority a test that just helps the few is not good enough one death too many #WOWdebate #WOWFeb27
12.18pm He’s quoting financial statistics. That won’t get him very far. We spend less than our OECD partners on disability benefits.
12.17pm Graham Evans (Con) says the government’s reforms offer protection for those who need it the most, and support to help people back into work.
12.15pm Was that Grahame Morris commenting on the fact that the WCA is based on a discredited model pushed by a criminal US insurance company?
12.14pm I just caught a reference to calls for information being described as “vexatious” but I was trying to update this page and it was glitching. If it was a reference to my request for an update on mortality statistics, he’s absolutely right.
12.11pm He says those with the most severe disabilities – two per cent of society – are suffering 15 per cent of the cuts.
12.10pm Ian Mearns: The fact that this is being considered by Parliament is an indictment of our political system. “We don’t need an independent assessment to know what is going wrong. [It is] causing immeasurable suffering. We know what the effects are. We support this motion merely as a way of exposing the truth… [measures] attacking the poorest and most vulnerable in society.”
12.08pm “The system is fine in theory and the government has made improvements, but Atos has failed completely.” Blame-shifting from Alan Reid. A Labour member asks: “Does the hon member take any responsibility for the government in which he sits?”
12.06pm Michelle Maher on Twitter has this chap pegged: “Alan Reid LibDem saying more improvements must be made but shifting balme to ATOS and Labour #wowdebate#wowfeb27”
12.04pm Mr Reid is also referring to the Harrington reviews of the WCA system. He says the Coalition has improved the WCA.
12.03pm Mr Reid wants to know the official Labour line on this, as Labour does not intend to spend any more on benefits than the Coalition. It’s a fair point!
12.02pm Liberal Democrat Alan Reid supports the government, saying disabled people are moving into jobs at the rate of 100 per day. Is this the bogus figure for people who are being urged to claim they are self-employed?
12.00 Dame Anne Begg: Changes to housing benefit, local housing allowance, the bedroom tax, council tax relief have hit disabled people the hardest. The benefit cap might not have hit the disabled but it has hit carers. Social care cuts, meaning local authorities cannot provide care, again hits disabled people. Universal Credit will affect the disabled. “It’s because all of these are affecting their lives that there is an absolute need for a cumulative impact assessment. No-one knows the full force of everything that is falling on households. Unless we do that, we will never know.”
11.57am Caroline Lucas: In Brighton and Hove, of 60 clients only three – five per cent – have been assessed for PIP.
11.57am Dame Anne Begg: “The government says it isn’t picking on disabled people… Every single one of (the main) benefits is undergoing enormous reforms… and we know that they are not going well at all. Atos wants out of its contract. Face-to-Face WCAs in the home are taking up to six months to arrange. Those in the work-related activity group only get their benefit for a year. They have paid into the benefits schemes all their lives. People who thought they had done the right thing (are suffering under this government).”
11.54am “The evidence I see… is that many people have been given a new lease of life by the government’s approach to welfare,” according to Mr Hollingbery.
11.53am Hollingbery is quoting positive results for a few people in his constituency. Anecdotal. The motion here is for an independent assessment of the cumulative impact – across the board.
11.50am A Labour interjection requests Mr Hollingbery looks at John McArdle’s site to see some of the human stories of people affected by the WCA. Hollingbery is trying to brush it off.
11.49am Hollingberry is saying the WCA isn’t perfect but it is subject to continual improvement.
11.47am George Hollingberry (Conservative) is trotting out the claim that recommendations following reviews of the WCA have been implemented. Independent studies have revealed that they have not.
11.44am The WoW petitioners want the truth revealed, because they believe no civilised society would allow people to be treated in this way, Mr McDonnell concludes.
11.43am The result: Poverty for many. Inability to heat homes. Difficulty feeding the household. Humiliation. Suicide. Disabled people feel hounded by the media, politicians and the government, just for being disabled.
11.43am Demos/Scope study concludes that disabled people will lose more than £28 billion and will bear 13 per cent of the cuts.
11.42am “Disabled people are disproportionately hit by the bedroom tax with 72 per cent of affected households containing a disabled person. Local authorities have rejected applications from disabled people in adapted houses who are unable to downsize.” On a personal level, I know this to be true because I know a person in my home town who is affected in this way.
11.40am Backlogs have developed at each stage of the claimant process for the new Personal Independence Payment. The assessment provider? Atos, along with Capita. See today’s NAO report on the rollout of PIP.
11.38am Disabled people are put on the work programme with only a 5.3 per cent success rate. Forced closure of Remploy factories has removed the opportunity of sheltered work for them.
11.37am The government is reneging on a promise to conduct an independent review on the abuse of sanctions.
11.36am There has been a huge increase in the number of sanctions against people on ESA and JSA. One in five of those sanctioned were disabled.
11.35am The British Medical Association has called for the end of the WCA with immediate effect, to be replaced by a safe system – McDonnell.
11.34am Mr McDonnell acknowledges that the work capability assessment is based on the biopsychosocial model promoted by the Unum insurance company – and condemns the fact.
11.33am In theory, the introduction of the work capability assessment administered by Atos (by the last Labour government) was a good idea; in practice it has caused suffering, humiliation, stress, and at times absolute despair – McDonnell.
11.31am Looking at the number of people present on both sides of the house, does anyone else get the impression Angela Merkel’s visit was timed to sabotage this debate?
11.30am Jenny Gulliford on Twitter: 30,000 reduction in no. of people with mental health conditions recieving social support according to McDonnel #WOWFeb27
11.29am Many local authorities have changed eligibility criteria to those with only the most substantial needs. This is a false economy as the cost to society becomes greater (according to another backbencher).
11.27am 2.7 million disabled people live in poverty, and it is this group the cuts are hitting the most, says Mr McDonnell. He says we were told the cuts were intended to be fair – “Well, the reverse is the case.” He says the burden could be affecting people with disabilities up to 20 times more than the average, because of the cumulative effect of multiple ‘reforms’.
11.25am “We feel that many of us simply won’t survive these cuts,” says Mr McDonnell, quoting campaigners.
11.24am “Maybe naively, they believe that if MPs and ministers really knew what disability was like, they would not stand by and let disabled people be treated in this way.”
11.22am The debate is on. John McDonnell is on his feet, saying “We’re making history today.” He pays tribute to all of us ‘WoW’ campaigners who worked so hard for a year to get the signatures to secure the debate, working despite their disabilities. “MPs may speak in this debate, but it is the voice of the ‘WoW’ campaigners that will be heard.”
11.21am Don’t forget you can make your own feelings known by commenting on this article; I’ll include your comments in the text as long as they don’t contain libellous comments or swearing!
11.14am Kirsty Bentham on Twitter makes an excellent point: “Spoken to many clients contemplating taking their own life solely as a result of ESA and PIP delays #WOWFeb27” The fact is that we don’t know how many people have died as a result of the assessment regime imposed by the current government (they’ll say it was Labour, but the current criteria were imposed by the Coalition). Michael Meacher tabled a Parliamentary question to have mortality statistics published as the last figures date from November 2011, and there has been no response so far. There’s also the tribunal hearing that I have demanded in order to force the Information Commission and the DWP to release the figures.
11.10am ‘Neverender’ has proposed a drinking game: “It’s the #WOWFeb27 game; every time ‘the previous government’ is mentioned. Take a shot. We’ll all be ratted a half hour in.” It’s a little swipe at the Coalition habit of blaming everything on Labour.
11.03am ‘Emsy’ on Twitter injects a note of cynicism before the debate has even begun: “Ok, when do we start taking bets on how many Tories will turn up to #WOWFeb27? Anyone going into double figures?”
10.46am The WoW Petition was sponsored by comedian Francesca Martinez. The Guardian has published a piece about her involvement here.
10.40 am The motion for the debate is slightly different from the text of the petition, and runs as follows:
“That this House calls on the Government to commission an independent cumulative assessment of the impact of changes in the welfare system on sick and disabled people, their families and carers, drawing upon the expertise of the Work and Pensions Select Committee; requests that this impact assessment examine care home admissions, access to day care centres, access to education for people with learning difficulties, provision of universal mental health treatments, closures of Remploy factories, the Government’s contract with Atos Healthcare, IT implementation of universal credit, human rights abuses against disabled people, excess deaths of welfare claimants and the disregard of medical evidence in decision-making by Atos, the Department for Work and Pensions and the Tribunals Service; urges the Secretary of State for Health and the Secretary of State for Education jointly to launch a consultation on improving support into work for sick and disabled people; and further calls on the Government to end with immediate effect the work capability assessment, as voted for by the British Medical Association, to discontinue forced work under the threat of sanctions for people on disability benefits and to bring forward legislative proposals to allow a free vote on repeal of the Welfare Reform Act 2012.”
10.36am You can follow the debate on Twitter with the hashtag #WOWFeb27
Welcome to the live blog covering the Parliamentary debate on the effects of ‘welfare reform’ on disabled people.
The debate was triggered by the Commons Backbench Business Committee, after an e-petition calling for it won support from more than 100,000 people. It was known as the ‘WoW’ petition, because the organisers said it represented their fight against the government’s ‘War on Welfare’.
The debate will be opened by Labour MP John McDonnell.
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.”
This blog will follow developments in the debate as they happen, taking information from the debate itself, from comments on Twitter, and from comments made directly to this page by readers; this is your chance to get involved with events as they happen.
The article will NOT be self-refreshing. Readers will have to refresh this page themselves at regular intervals – the easiest way is by pressing the F5 button on your keyboard.
The debate starts at 11.15am today (Thursday, February 27).
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This week I heard about two cases in my Mid Wales town. You may think that isn’t many, but this is a town with a population of less than 5,000 – and I haven’t heard about every case.
The first involves a family that has been living in the same council house for more than 30 years. Sadly the head of the household recently had a stroke and has been forced to move into a care home. In the past, the tenancy would have been handed down to the next generation of the family – two sons, one of whom has a family of his own. The other is a friend of mine, of excellent character. By day he works very hard at his job; after hours, he is a member of a popular local band (along with his brother, as it happens). They are what this government would call “strivers”.
But they are being penalised because they have been told to vacate the only home they have had. Not only that, they are being asked to stump up a small fortune in backdated rent (as their father has been paying for his care, not the house) and another small fortune to dispose of carpets they cannot take with them, which the council does not want.
When I spoke to my friend yesterday, he told me that the council simply does not want him or his brother as tenants because “it is easier to process a large family who are on benefits”. I queried this, and it seems likely that this is to do with the forthcoming Universal Credit system, and with the Council Tax Reduction Scheme (also known as the Pickles Poll Tax); it is easier to handle Universal Credit and council tax claims if the authorities have foreknowledge of a household’s income.
We both agreed that there is a serious drawback to this thinking.
Large families do not want to move into vacant social accommodation because they fear what the government – national and local – will do to them if their circumstances change. Children grow up; adults move out – and that will make them vulnerable to the Bedroom Tax. Suddenly their benefits won’t be enough to pay the rent and they, in turn, will be turfed out onto the streets. They know it is a trap; they will try to avoid it.
My friend agreed. “That house is going to stay empty for a very long time,” he said.
This is madness. Here are two people who are perfectly willing and able to pay the council’s rent, on time, for as long as they need the property but, because of the Welfare Reform Act and the Localism Act, the council is treating them abominably and the house will end up providing no income at all.
If you think that’s bad, though, just wait until you learn about my other friend!
He is an older gentleman who has been disabled for many years. He had been living in a small, two-bedroomed house that had been adapted to accommodate his needs. We know precisely how much these adaptations cost to install at current rates: £5,000.
I believe he needed the extra bedroom to accommodate carer needs but I could be mistaken.
Along came the Bedroom Tax and suddenly he did not have enough income to cover the cost of living there. The council (or social landlord, I have to admit I’m not sure) sent him an eviction notice. He appealed.
Guess what? His appeal was set to be decided after the date he was ordered to be out of his home.
So he had to go. He was lucky enough to find another place to live, and all the equipment he needs to accommodate his disability moved along with him – at a cost of £5,000.
Then he received the judgement on his appeal: He was exempt from paying the Bedroom Tax; he should never have been forced to move.
Is this British justice?
This country was once the envy of the world because we were far more enlightened than any other nation in our policies of social justice and inclusion. Not any more! Now we are regressing into a new dark age in which the squalid Shylocks infesting Westminster manipulate local authorities into performing grubby property grabs for them.
Is the ‘Bulldog Spirit’ that made us famous for standing our ground during the Blitz now being turned to hounding the poor out of their homes?
Are you willing to put up with this?
In Iceland, they marched to their Parliament and set up camp outside until the government gave up and agreed to the demands of the people. Here, an unmandated government rides roughshod over democracy while you sit at home watching The X Factor, Coronation Street and the Winter Olympics.
Nothing will change until you change it – but you know this already. The simple fact is that, if you are reading this article, you probably sympathise with the sentiments it is expressing and are already active in opposing the heinous crimes being committed against our people.
There are not enough of you. People who need to read these words are being allowed to live in ignorance, lulled into inactivity by the right-wing mass media.
It’s time to put an end to that. There can be no excuse for ignorance and inaction while people are being made homeless. Think of someone you know who needs to be shown the truth and make them read this article. Ask them what they think of it and explain the facts of what is happening around them.
Then tell them to pass it on to someone they know.
Spread the word – don’t keep it to yourself. And don’t sit on your thumbs and expect somebody else to do your bit for you. If you don’t act, why should anybody else? What’s the point of me writing these articles if you can’t be bothered to do anything about it? Are you going to wait until someone tells you they want your home?
Then it will be too late.
I’ll know if you succeed because it will be reflected in the number of times this article is viewed. I’ll report the results of this experiment next week.
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“Manifestly inadequate” are words that should ring in Iain Duncan Smith’s ears for some time to come.
They are the Council of Europe’s verdict on the UK’s social security system of payments for jobseekers, pensioners and recipients of both short- and long-term incapacity benefit.
The Council, an international organisation promoting co-operation between all countries of Europe in legal standards, human rights, democratic development, the rule of law and cultural co-operation, is home to the European Court of Human Rights.
The finding was made in an annual review of the UK’s adherence to the council’s European Social Charter. If the UK’s Conservative and Liberal Democrat Coalition government takes no action to rectify the situation, then the Council of Europe’s Committee of Ministers may address a recommendation to the UK, asking it to change the situation in law or in practice. This is clearly a weak way of handling a situation that could affect the well-being of many millions of people.
But Council officials say national courts refer to these international standards when deciding on relevant cases, meaning benefit claimants could try to use the Council’s ruling to boost their case for a higher award.
In response, our ever-more-right-wing government could decide to withdraw from its dealings with the Council altogether, meaning our citizens would no longer have recourse to the European Court of Human Rights. Many Tories – like Philip Davies – have long held this desire!
The Daily Mail, of all rags, appears to have done its homework on this, stating: “JSA, ESA (both £67 a week) and pension (about £102) all fall well below the £138 a week, or £596 a month, that the Eurocrats have set as the benchmark.
“Because all three are below a second threshold of £110 a week, they are rated ‘manifestly inadequate’.”
The UK has signed treaties in which it has promised to adhere to the provisions of the European Social Charter, so the Council’s claim that its conclusions are legally binding are accurate.
But the Coalition government has never been one to accept rules made by anybody else, and the DWP – one of the worst offenders (see previous articles on Workfare, work capability assessments for people with mental health problems, and the Bedroom Tax) is trying to claim that the findings must only be “taken into account” (meaning they would be noted, but ignored).
In his own response, Iain Duncan Smith appears to have completely misunderstood the meaning of the judgement, providing yet another example of why he is rightly considered one of the Coalition government’s leading dunderheads.
“This government has made great strides in fixing the welfare system so that spending is brought under control. It’s lunacy for the Council of Europe to suggest welfare payments need to increase when we paid out £204 billion in benefits and pensions last year alone.”
He simply does not understand that talking about the whole amount paid by the government is irrelevant when it is the amount paid on a regular basis to individuals that is at issue.
The Council of Europe states that 40 per cent of the Eurostat median equivalised income is the level at which the benefits should be paid and, as a treaty signatory, the UK has agreed to meet this requirement. RTU’s opinion is of no consequence at all. He is in breach of an international treaty.
The ruling also undermines his claim that many people have made a lifestyle choice to live in comfort on the dole, and his party’s claim that foreign nationals have been immigrating to Britain for purposes of benefit tourism – income levels are too low for anyone in their right mind to consider it.
What nobody is telling you is that this report does not even take account of the changes to the UK’s social security system that were ushered in by RTU’s (we call him that in honour of his ignominious army career – it stands for Returned To Unit, the fate of officer candidates who didn’t make the grade) hopelessly ignorant and hideously draconian Welfare Reform Act.
These are conclusions based on the system before the Bedroom Tax, before the benefit cap, before the flat-rate state pension, and before the one per cent limit on benefit uprating.
The report states: “The Committee notes that these legislative developments (the Welfare Reform Act and the State Pension Reform) are outside the reference period. Therefore, it asks the next report to indicate how these have affected the personal coverage of social security risks – ie the percentage of the covered persons out of the total active population as well as the minimum levels of income-replacement benefits (unemployment, sickness, maternity and old-age).”
In particular, it singles out Employment and Support Allowance: “The Committee of Ministers observed that there was a toughening of the qualifying conditions for the entitlement to ESA on the one hand and a drastic reduction of its duration on the other, which could result in an outright reduction of protection offered by the sickness benefit.
“The Committee of Ministers invited the Government to show in its next report … that the obligations and sanctions under the work-related activity regime are of such a nature as not to unduly limit the protection afforded … to sick persons after the 13th week of sickness.”
That’s going to be tricky for RTU – the last figures his department deigned to release showed that an average of 73 people a week were dying after going through his ideologically-motivated work capability assessment.
As stated at the start of this article, “manifestly inadequate” are words that should ring in Iain Duncan Smith’s ears for some time to come.
They describe the performance of his department in looking after the needs of British taxpayers who have fallen on hard times due to unemployment or illness – and also its treatment of pensioners.
They also describe, in the opinion of objective outsiders, his own performance as a British government minister.
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We’re on our way: The WoW Petition is on its way to Parliament, having hit the 100,000 signature mark necessary to trigger consideration for a televised debate. [Image: WoW Petition website wowpetition.blogspot.com]
What a great result for the WoW Petition – it has reached its target of 100,000 signatures with time to spare!
The petition calls for a cumulative impact assessment of welfare reform and a new deal for sick and disabled people based on their needs, abilities and ambitions – rather than the political aims of the current Westminster administration or any motive to cut welfare budgets.
WoW (it stands for resistance to the ‘War on Welfare’) demands an immediate end to the humiliating work capability assessment and a free vote on repeal of the Welfare Reform Act, along with an independent, committee-based inquiry into welfare reform. And it wants an end to forced work under threat of sanctions for people on disability benefits, along with other demands.
Passing the magic 100,000-signature mark does not mean the petition has automatically won a chance to be debated in Parliament; the Backbench Business Committee has to agree to put it forward first.
It is fortunate, then, that the petition has won the endorsement of celebrities including Stephen Fry, Russell Brand, Yoko Ono and Bianca Jagger (according to the Daily Mirror).
“This is a hugely important issue because many disabled and sick people cannot go out and protest against these devastating policies,” said comedian Francesca Martinez, who launched the petition in December last year.
“It is vital that those of us who can, join together to ensure these basic rights aren’t eroded away. With 83 per cent of disabilities acquired [rather than congenital], anyone can find themselves with an impairment, or [living] as a carer, and we must make sure that people are adequately supported when in challenging times.
“This is what a civilised society does. Instead of demonising those on welfare, we should be proud to create a society that provides for everyone regardless of health or ability. We will never forget the many tragic deaths already caused by this government and we will continue to fight in the hope that we can protect those in need from despair, poverty and death.”
One death that we can commemorate is that of WoW Petition co-founder John Dyer, who sadly passed away in November. Fellow co-originator Rick B said: “We are resolute to take this democratic mandate and pursue the cause of making justice for sick and disabled people, and carers, a reality.”
Rick said that he himself almost died in July 2012 because of government ill-treatment.
Let’s all agree that we’re a far cry from where we were in October, when the petition had just 62,792 signatures, didn’t look like it was going to make it, and I wrote: “Are we all so apathetic that we are happy to sit around, eating our horseburgers and gossiping about whether the stars of our favourite soap operas are sex fiends… that we can’t be bothered to spare a thought for people – perhaps people we know – who are suffering for no reason other than that the government we didn’t even elect demands it?”
We’re not – and what a great feeling it is to be able to say that!
But my gut instinct tells me that we should not sit back and expect others to finish the job – not yet. It’s great that the petition will be considered in Parliament, but let’s make sure that our MPs know how strongly we feel about this.
What I’d like to suggest – and this is just a thought that has come to me as I was writing this – is that those of you who have taken part in the Twitter campaign might like to post another tweet saying something like “I want a Parliamentary debate for the WoW Petition bit.ly/XFS5Ur“.
If you’re emailing someone, you could add that line after your signature – and this could be especially effective if you are sending a letter to the press – newspaper, magazine or online media.
And you could also add it to any messages you put on Facebook or similar social media.
We’ve got public attention now – let’s make it all worthwhile.
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Housing associations are finding three-bedroomed properties impossible to maintain. They cannot let them out, sell them or keep up with the costs of keeping them while they are empty.
All of this has serious implications for the Coalition government that voted the Bedroom Tax onto the statute books as part of Mr ‘Returned To Unit’ Smith’s hugely unpopular – and now proving to be unworkable – Welfare Reform Act last year.
Labour’s Rachel Reeves has overcome a shaky start in her role as shadow Work and Pensions Secretary to get right on-message with this. According to The Guardian report, she said: “This incompetent and out of touch government seems oblivious to the perverse and costly consequences of this unjust and unworkable policy.
“Not only is it hitting 660,000 vulnerable households, including 440,000 disabled people; the costs to the taxpayer are mounting as people are pushed into more expensive private rented accommodation while existing social homes are left vacant.”
Surely it makes more sense to have someone living in these properties, rather than losing them altogether? Does the government have an answer for this?
Apparently not. A government spokes-robot trotted out the same tired nonsense we’ve all come to despise: “The removal of the spare room subsidy is a necessary reform that will return fairness to housing benefit. We’ve been clear that hardworking people should not be subsidising tenants living in properties that are too large for their requirements.”
Let’s all remember that there never was a spare room subsidy for the government to remove. It never existed. Therefore its removal is not a necessary reform; it can never be vital to remove something that is fictional. Also, the removal of a fictional thing cannot restore fairness anywhere.
Hard-working people probably shouldn’t be subsidising tenants who are under-occupying, but then hard-working people were never the only ones paying for this to happen. Everybody in the UK pays taxes one way or another – even children.
And while we’re on the subject of what hard-working people subsidise, why is it bad for them to help people stay in the social housing that was originally allocated to them, but good for them to help massive corporations keep their payroll costs down by paying tax credits, housing benefit and council tax reduction costs for people earning less than the Living Wage? Why is it good for them to pay the cost of MPs’ energy bills as well as their own?
“Consent from the Homes and Communities Agency is required before any social housing provider can dispose of a site on which social housing stood and will ensure that public investment and the needs of tenants are protected,” the robot continued, but we should all know that this will be no obstacle.
Demolition of social housing means land becomes available for private developers to build new, luxury homes for the very rich.
My brother, the blogger beastrabban, told me of a recent conversation between a friend of his and a former Liberal Democrat MP, in which the ex-Hon Gentleman made his opinion of the Orange Bookers – the party’s right-wingers – perfectly clear: “They’re not Liberal”.
This certainly seems to be the feeling of the party’s rank-and-file. Julie Porksen, the Northumbrian member who tabled the Bedroom Tax motion, said: “We are Liberal Democrats and we do not kick people when they are down.”
This may have come as quite a shock to Messrs Clegg, Alexander, David Laws (editor of the Orange Book) and their nearly-Tory buddies, who have been merrily kicking people when they were down ever since they decided they weren’t going to abolish student fees after all, but would help the Tories increase them instead.
Since then, Parliamentary Liberal Democrats have helped force some of the worst injustices of modern times onto the British people, including the Health and Social Care Act, the Welfare Reform Act, the Jobseekers (Back to Work Schemes) Act, the Localism Act and, yes, the Bedroom Tax.
Nick Clegg is clearly a long, long way out of touch with his members. All he could say about it at conference was that “you would have to be made of granite” not to have feelings on the issue.
Would he commit to changing it? No.
So it seems the Liberal Democrat leader is refusing to carry out the will of his party. I wonder what they’re going to do about it?
One way Clegg could save his career might be to bring the Coalition to an early end, as suggested by Vince Cable at a fringe event arranged by the Independent.
But it seems likely Cable was just causing mischief. “It is obviously a very sensitive one. It has got to be led by the leader,” he said.
Again, this would put Clegg in a very awkward position. Splitting the Coalition means giving up the only power or influence he is ever likely to have.
At the end of the day, it’s not going to make much real difference. After the 2015 election his party will probably have fewer MPs than the DUP, if local election results are any indication. He must take responsibility for that – his leadership is bringing his party to the brink of oblivion.
But there’s another Liberal Democrat conference to come before the general election. Maybe, by then, Nick Clegg will have grasped that he needs to put his party’s best interests before his own ambitions.
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