Tag Archives: workshy

Why Labour SHOULD be ‘the party of welfare’

[Image: Redpepper]

[Image: Redpepper]

What follows is intelligent, adroit and not mine. It was written by Bernadette Meaden on the Ekklesia website and passed on to me by a mutual friend.

It constitutes what I think may be a complete answer and refutation of ‘accusations’ that the Labour Party is the so-called ‘party of welfare’. Tories love to bandy this about as though it is an insult. What they don’t tell you is that their alternative is abject poverty for all but an elite few.

I’m jumping ahead of myself. Here’s what Bernadette had to say:

“Conservative MPs frequently say that the Conservatives are the party of ‘hardworking people’, and the Labour Party is ‘the party of welfare’. It’s said as an accusation, an insult, and many Labour MPs take it as such, attempting to deny the charge as if it’s something to be ashamed of.

I would like to see Labour MPs acting as an Opposition, and to meet this ‘accusation’ head on, with conviction and pride. Here is what I’d like to hear a Labour MP say.

“Yes, we are the party of welfare, and we’re proud to be so. Let me tell you why.

“We’re the party of welfare because we don’t believe that, if you have a stroke tonight, you should have poverty added to your misfortune.

“We’re the party of welfare because, if you are diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease tomorrow, we don’t believe that you should worry about eviction as you wait six months for an assessment, only to be denied the support you so obviously need.

“We’re the party of welfare because we don’t believe that when 1,700 people apply for eight jobs at Costa, or when 1,500 people queue for hours to apply for 40 jobs at Aldi, there is a big problem with people being ‘workshy’. We don’t believe unemployed people are to blame for unemployment.

“We’re the party of welfare because we don’t believe ordinary workers need to be motivated by the threat of hunger, whilst bankers need huge bonuses to motivate them.

“We’re the party of welfare because we don’t believe that if a person loses their job, they need to have their distress exacerbated with the threat of benefit sanctions if they are late for a Jobcentre appointment.

“We’re the party of welfare because we don’t believe that ‘hardworking people’ and people in receipt of benefits are somehow two different species. We know that in an unfair economy, many hardworking people rely on benefits to keep a roof over their head and their children fed. And until such time as the economy is fair, and those people’s wages are sufficient, we will not begrudge them the support they need.

“So yes, we are the party of welfare, because we’re the party of humanity, compassion, and fairness, and we do not view people who are poor or in difficulty with thinly disguised suspicion and contempt.”

That is what I would like to hear a Labour MP say, the next time they are ‘accused’ of being the party of welfare.”

Hear, hear.

Follow me on Twitter: @MidWalesMike

Join the Vox Political Facebook page.

Vox Political is the blog of hardworking people AND those on benefits
… but we do not have a wage and we can’t rely on the state.
This independent blog’s only funding comes from readers’ contributions.
Without YOUR help, we cannot keep going.
You can make a one-off donation here:

Donate Button with Credit Cards

Alternatively, you can buy the first Vox Political book,
Strong Words and Hard Times
in either print or eBook format here:

SWAHTprint SWAHTeBook

The European courts have their priorities wrong. Why aren’t they stopping the disability deaths?

The villain of the piece: Iain Duncan Smith drives all of the government's policies that discriminate against the sick or disabled. Others have memorably noted that his idea of helping them is to kick away their walking-sticks to see how far they can crawl.

The villain of the piece: Iain Duncan Smith drives all of the government’s policies that discriminate against the sick or disabled. Others have memorably noted that his idea of helping them is to kick away their walking-sticks to see how far they can crawl.

The UK Coalition government is to face trial by the European Court of Justice over an alleged failure to correctly assess the benefits EU migrants are entitled to claim. This is very laudable, but begs the question: When are the European courts going to address the Coalition’s transgressions against its own citizens?

I refer, of course, to the continuing scandal of Employment and Support Allowance, the disability benefit that isn’t (according to the government’s plans for another so-called benefit, Universal Credit).

Vox readers are, by now, well aware that the so-called “work capability assessment” that allegedly determines whether a person is entitled to the benefit or is fit for work is in fact a sham, run by a French Information Technology company (Atos), using a computerised, tick-box assessment system that is based on a scheme that earned the American insurance company that devised it (Unum) a criminal record, because its sole intention was to prevent as many people as possible from fitting the criteria necessary to win a claim.

The application of this assessment system has led to an average of 73 deaths every week. This means that, between the moment I woke up this morning and the time I’m writing this (around midday), at least two more people are likely to have died – either because their condition has worsened due to the strain of the assessment procedure, or through suicide; their mental health was not strong enough and they decided to give up, rather than fight for what should be theirs by right as UK citizens.

A BBC documentary (Week In, Week Out, May 28, 2013) recently quoted a statistic that claimed people with chronic pain – who are therefore entitled to claim ESA – are twice as likely to die prematurely than those without, so why is the Coalition forcing them through these fake “medical” examinations and then telling them they are fit to work – effectively trying to induce such premature deaths?

That question has been taken to the European courts – and the United Nations’ International Criminal Court. The response, so far, has been breathtakingly disappointing. It seems that they need proof that the UK’s own justice system will not rectify the problem before they will agree to take action.

How much proof do they need?

Within the last couple of weeks, Linda Wootton, a lady who had endured multiple organ transplants due to illness, died – within days of receiving notice that a work capability assessment had found her fit for work and her ESA had been cancelled.

In the same period, a High Court tribunal ruled that the Coalition has broken the law by discriminating against people who are mentally ill. This is exactly the kind of discrimination that causes the suicides. It is something about which the government has been warned – not rarely, but continually and with passion. And what is the government’s response?

It intends to appeal against the decision. It says it has made enough concessions to the mentally ill already.

We know what happens when the government appeals against court decisions. It loses.

And then it changes the law, in order to make its actions legal again.

That is the act of a criminal regime.

But the international courts are still sitting on their thumbs.

By the time I finish posting this article, according to the averages, another ESA claimant will be dead – making three, or thereabouts, since I woke up this morning. If the international courts finally get their act together, examine the mountain of evidence that has built up against the Coalition over the last three years, and find it guilty of corporate manslaughter – or procuring suicide under the Suicide Act 1961 – it will be a tremendous day for the most vulnerable people in the UK.

And make no mistake – the chronically sick and disabled are far more vulnerable than most European migrants.

But one fact will remain: Thousands upon thousands of these vulnerable people will have died, and no court decision will ever bring them back.

ESA isn’t the only benefit system that is failing the British people. Look at Stephanie Bottrill, who committed suicide because she was facing eviction. She couldn’t afford to pay the Coalition’s hated Bedroom Tax.

You see, these aren’t just numbers. They’re people. Thousands and thousands of real people. With real families who are left to mourn the loss.

In the UK, the Coalition and the press have worked hard to create a lack of empathy for these people – calling them scroungers, or skivers, or work-shy. In reality they are nothing of the sort. They are seriously, seriously ill. They are victims of a libellous hate campaign. And they are too sick, and too poor, to mount a challenge against what is happening to them.

Now, I don’t want the Comment column after this article to fill up with hate-speak for Johnny Foreigner. The fact is, the Coalition probably is denying benefits to migrants.

My rationale for suggesting this is the fact that it is denying benefits to the UK’s own citizens, and is perfectly comfortable with letting them die as a result.

So, while I applaud the European Court of Justice for taking this step against the UK government, I must also add this:

Get your priorities right.

Postscript: You know, it isn’t my job to point out these things. There are people in this country who are employed – in fact, there are people in this country who are elected – to do so. Why aren’t these people spending every waking hour campaigning for justice, for their constituents and for the nation as a whole? Why aren’t they fighting the media lies? Where is the opposition to this government criminality?

Post-postscript: Have a look at this article, reporting that the Joint Parliamentary Committee on Human Rights has found the Coalition government in breach of the United Nations’ Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities. Now we have proof that the Coalition is actively discriminating against the disabled, and breaking UN conventions to do it, will the UN, finally, step in?

Oh! I just looked at the time. That’ll be another person dead, then.

MPs: Terminate the deadly Atos assessment regime before anyone else dies

Sick and disabled people in the UK can justifiably feel they are lining up for a death sentence as they prepare to take the dreaded Work Capability Assessment – the test devised by the Department of Work and Pensions and run (badly) by the French company Atos.

It leads – directly or indirectly – to an average of 32 deaths every week.

But there may be a ray of hope for them in the fact that the Labour Party has secured a Parliamentary debate on Atos and the WCA, to take place on September 4 – next Tuesday.

It is to be hoped that this will be the debate when Labour leader Ed Miliband finally gets off the fence and puts his weight – and that of his party – fully against the murderous system imposed by Chris Grayling and his master Iain Duncan Smith, both of whom are on record as stating that their version of the system is preferable, and less harsh, than that carried out under the previous Labour government.

The Daily Mail columnist Sonia Poulton has written two open letters to Mr Miliband, calling on him to break cover and declare his opposition to the scheme, and it seems bizarre that he has left people wondering for so long whether he actually supports a scheme that kills society’s most vulnerable.

The signs are hopeful that Mr Miliband will support change. In a letter to Sonia Poulton, he wrote: “Disabled people need support and compassion, and the Labour Party believes in a welfare state that fulfils this principle… I share some of the concerns that have been expressed about the test by you, along with many charities, disability groups and healthcare professionals. These concerns… have shown that the test must be improved. The Government needs to listen. We have also forced a vote in Parliament on the need to reduce the human cost of the wrong decisions that result from the WCA in its current form.”

Let’s remind ourselves why it’s important. There’s a petition online at the moment, calling for the restoration of benefits to an Afghanistan war hero who lost his leg in the line of duty. Sapper Karl Boon lost his left leg in a Taliban rocket-propelled grenade attack in Afghanistan in 2010 and has been stripped of his benefits by the Department for Work and Pensions and ATOS.

In signing the petition, I wrote: “More penny-pinching from the poor by the government that doesn’t have the guts to tax the rich. Here’s a man who has risked his life and lost a limb in the service of his country, and all his country’s leaders can think of doing in return is taking away his financial support – aided by a foreign company. We have witnessed many stories like that of Sapper Karl Boon over the last two years and it seems to me that there is no depth to which the current government will not sink. To those in government, I say: Prove me wrong. Give this man the respect he deserves and pay him what you owe him.” Too harsh? Think on this: At least Karl Boon is currently still alive.

Let’s also remember that we’re experiencing an enormous rise in hate crime against the sick and disabled, fuelled by government propoganda and a right-wing media that’s primed to support it. ITV’s Tonight programme reported last Thursday (August 23) that more than 65,000 hate crimes against the disabled were reported in the last year. You can read my article on this blog site to find some of the stories.

So why has Miliband sat on the fence for so long?

There are two issues to separate out here.

Firstly, there is nothing wrong with the idea of having regular assessments to judge whether a person on one or both of the disability benefits is able to work, or will be likely to be able to do so in the near future. The only people who can be against that are people who want the easy life, living on benefits and off the hard work of the taxpayers.

But the way the Coalition regime has gone about these assessments, through its private contractor Atos, is totally inappropriate and unfit for purpose. We can see that in the many horror stories that have come out over the last few weeks and months.

Why should those who are permanently disabled be forced to go through reassessment every few months? They’re never going to get better! But we have Atos reports saying an amputee will be fit for work as soon as his arm grows back (for crying out loud)!

Why are doctors’ reports ignored? I know there is an argument that doctors may be persuaded to sign people off work when they aren’t actually unfit but, if the assessments were carried out by properly qualified medical professionals, working in accordance with the standards their qualifications have set for them, those would be found out. Instead, we get unqualified assessors working to a tick-box questionnaire, that isn’t remotely adequate to the job and has been acknowledged (as we saw on both Dispatches and Panorama) to be designed to get people off benefit.

There is no realism to the questions in the assessment, no anticipation of the kind of work that a person will be asked to do. There is no acknowledgement of the ways an employer would have to stretch to accommodate people with particular disabilities. Signing somebody as fit for work because they have one finger able to push a button does not make them attractive to an employer and merely sets them up to fail, possibly on a life-threatening scale because, as we know and I make no apologies for repeating, 32 people are dying every week because of the assessment system.

So what’s the alternative?

A better assessment would refer to the notes made by a patient’s GP, but would also include tests by a medical professional to ascertain the current condition of the disability – that it has been correctly reported.

It would then go on to cover the patients’ ability to carry out the sort of work that they might reasonably be likely to see on offer. Would they be able to manage it with a minimum of bother to an employer? That is the only way we will see sensible assessments coming in.

Atos is not fit to carry out these assessments in any case. The company had a bad reputation in France before it ever got a British contract and does not deserve to be making money from the taxpayer by condemning British people to the death that many of them have suffered.

These are the arguments I would wish to hear aired during the Parliamentary debate on the subject.

What would you like to hear?

Workfare ruling leaves too many questions unanswered

Cait Reilly, the graduate who was forced to leave her voluntary work in a museum to stack shelves at Poundland on the government’s Workfare scheme, has lost her case against the government.
Mr Justice Foskitt, at the High Court in London, said, “characterising such a scheme as involving or being analogous to ‘slavery’ or ‘forced labour’ seems to me to be a long way from contemporary thinking”.
What an interesting choice of words!
Back at the turn of the century, contemporary thinking stated that a woman’s place was in the home, and that she must never contradict her husband, take a job, or be allowed the right to vote. A few decades ago, contemporary thinking about homosexuality forced Alan Turing, the Bletchworth Park genius who cracked the Enigma code, thereby hugely boosting the Allies’ chances of winning World War II, to commit suicide.
Contemporary thinking has been responsible for terrible injustices and this is one of them.
I wonder if he really meant “contemporary thinking”, anyway. Did he, in fact, mean it’s a long way from what the government of the day thinks?
The judge ruled that Workfare does not contravene article 4 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which prohibits forced labour and slavery.
A friend of mine looked up “slave” in the dictionary and found among its definitions the following: “A person who is forced to work for another against his will” and “A person who works in harsh conditions for low pay”.
I think we can agree that Cait Reilly was made to work at Poundland against her will (we’ll get to the failings of the DWP’s correspondence in a moment) and, while I can’t comment on the conditions, it is certain that her benefit payment was below minimum wage and therefore, by definition, was low pay.
So by dictionary definitions, she was a slave. Perhaps the judge was commenting on the fact that the legal definition needs to be rewritten?
It wasn’t all good news for the government, though. Although this scheme will remain unpaid, it seems it must be totally voluntary, and communications between the DWP and claimants must reflect this. In other words, the DWP must clean up its correspondence to make it clear that claimants can say no.
Those who have already had their benefits removed for refusing Workfare might now be entitled to compensation. Law firm Public Interest Lawyers, who acted for Ms Reilly, said more than 22,000 people had been stripped of their benefits for refusing Workfare by January 2012. By now (August) this figure may have doubled.
The DWP has announced that it will appeal against the decision. A spokesman has been quoted by the Guardian, saying: “We do not believe there is anything wrong with the original letters and we will appeal this aspect of the judgment, but in the meantime we have revised our standard letters.”
This begs the obvious question: If there was nothing wrong with the original letters, why change them?
The saddest fact about the case is that none of the above touches the real problems with Workfare.
It is not the taxpayers’ responsibility to pay the wages of people employed by a private company. If Poundland wants people to stack its shelves, it should hire them at a living wage, rather than ask the government to provide workers and pay them only in state benefits.
Poundland’s annual profit in 2010 was £21,500,000. Split among its 390-odd stores, that’s more than £54,000 – or enough to pay three extra employees, per store, on minimum wage, with cash to spare. Make it a decent, living wage, and that’s still two extra employees (with a lot more cash to spare).
It could be argued that Poundland has been providing a public service for the government by taking on Workfare jobseekers when it didn’t need any more employees. If this is the case, we must ask why Cait Reilly was promised a job interview at the end of it. The fact that the promised interview never happened, I think, also provides our answer: Poundland has been taking advantage of the scheme to get cheap labour.
If that is true, then the company has gained financial benefit from having Ms Reilly – and others on Workfare – stacking its shelves. Poundland has made money from it, so Poundland should pay all those working for the company a decent wage – including those on Workfare who have helped create that profit.
If this does not happen, then no employer in his or her right mind would think of paying the full amount for an employee when they can get them on Workfare instead, and have the taxpayer foot the bill. Workfare is therefore a way of ensuring that the current lack of full-time jobs continues into the future.
At a time when the government is complaining that the benefits bill is too high – and trying to blame that on so-called workshy scroungers fraudulently claiming they are disabled (fraud rate on those is less than 0.4 per cent) – it is insane for ministers to send those on benefits to work for profitable firms at no cost to the employer.

Let’s get Ed on-side

The Daily Mail columnist Sonia Poulton has written a letter to Ed Miliband, in order to secure his opposition to the DWP/Atos work capability assessment regime that is killing 32 disabled people every week. She has invited readers to ‘sign’ her letter by filling in their names and postcodes in the Comments column of her blog. It will be closed to new signatures from midday on Saturday (August 4) so get yours on quick! Here’s the link:

http://ramblingsofafibrofoggedmind.wordpress.com/2012/08/01/open-letter-to-ed-miliband-please-add-name-and-postcode-if-you-agree-with-contents/#comment-1723

New Atos contract to increase misery for the disabled

Not content with killing 32 Incapacity/Employment Support Allowance claimants every week, the Department for Work and Pensions has awarded the contract to test whether disabled people should continue receiving benefits to Atos.

The firm won contracts worth more than £400 million, although in Wales and parts of central England the job will go to outsourcing company Capita.

Since the assessment regime for those on IB/ESA is continuous, this means that, less than a year from now, disabled people may have to undergo two deeply flawed assessments – within the same month – to get the essential financial support they need to live their lives.

Since ESA pays less than IB, it is not even certain that their living costs will be covered, even if they are among the lucky 12-13 per cent of claimants who are likely to be successful.

The aim of the change from Disability Living Allowance to the Personal Independence Payment (PIP) is to cut spending by 20 per cent over the next three years. The fraud rate, according to the DWP’s own figures, is less than 0.5 per cent. It is easy to deduce, therefore, that even if all the fraudulent claimants are taken out of the system (they won’t be), another 39 times as many honest claimants will unfairly lose their benefit.

The assessment system is likely to be based on that already in place for IB/ESA. This means about 500,000 people would be cut from the benefit roll due to arbitrary judgements based on a scheme that has already been proven to be flawed, target-driven, and – in many cases – fatal.

As if that isn’t bad enough, David Cameron has announced he wants to desecrate the NHS constitution, in order to allow the sale of millions of UK residents’ medical records to pharmaceutical companies without consent. This will allow those companies to develop new drugs – which is a good thing – which they are likely to sell back to the health service at sky-high prices – which is bad.

The information will be anonymous – he says – but it won’t be long until ways are found to trace it back to individual patients, who will then, for example, face exorbitant insurance premiums or be refused a mortgage. It is believed that consent for the sale of your records will be assumed unless you tell your GP otherwise.

Disability benefits – who’s really faking it?

Earlier this week, both Channel 4 and the BBC gave us new documentaries about the way disabled people’s claims for state benefits are assessed. On Channel 4, Dispatches offered “Britain on the sick“, while the BBC’s Panorama was entitled “Disabled, or faking it?”. Both are available to watch on the web at the following addresses:

http://www.channel4.com/programmes/dispatches/4od#3388055

http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b01lldrc/Panorama_Disabled_or_Faking_It/

Both programmes were made to address the government’s focus on benefit cheats, and the narrative it has created that people claiming disability benefits are workshy scroungers who are perfectly capable of getting a job. This fiction has gained traction amongst the public and has led to verbal abuse and in some cases physical attacks on disabled people – including some on Disability Living Allowance who do have jobs (DLA is an in-work benefit, intended to defray the extra costs incurred when a person has to live with disability).

Let’s look at the official figures. The Department for Work and Pensions, which runs the disability benefit system, published a report called Fraud and Error in the Benefit System in February this year. It provided the following statistics:

For the financial year 2010-11, 0.8 per cent of benefit spending was overpaid due to fraud, amounting to £1.2 billion. This proportion was the same as in 2009-10.

For different benefits, this breaks down as follows: Retirement Pension 0.0 per cent; Incapacity Benefit 0.3 per cent (this is being changed to Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) the subject of the documentaries); Disability Living Allowance 0.5 per cent; Council Tax Benefit 1.3 per cent; Housing Benefit 1.4 per cent; Pension Credit 1.6 per cent; Income Support 2.8 per cent; Jobseeker’s Allowance 3.4 per cent; Carer’s Allowance 3.9 per cent.

From these figures, we can see that the number of fraudulent claims for Jobseeker’s Allowance – able-bodied people claiming benefit while they look for work – is eight and a half times larger than for fraudulent disability benefit claims.

The £1.2 billion cost of fraud to the taxpayer is not a small amount, I’ll grant you – but the DWP is hoping to claw back £10 billion with its new assessment regime, run by the French company Atos. That’s almost 10 times as much money as is being paid out to fraudulent claimants.

Yet the department claims that people with a legitimate claim have nothing to fear.

Dispatches reporter Jackie Long stated: “[We have] uncovered evidence that a tough regime of tests is secretly trying to push almost 90 per cent of these claimants off the sick, to look for work.”

The programme took advantage of undercover filming to show the training process for an ESA assessor who would carry out Work Capability Assessments and then determine which group a claimant would join: the support group (for those whose disability meant they were likely to need permanent help from the state), the work-related activity group (for those whose disability should not prevent them from getting a job, with the right help), and those who are fit for work.

Early in the programme, the trainer states categorically: “This new benefit, Employment Support Allowance was meant to take people off the benefit.” And later: “This was specifically designed to take people off Incapacity Benefit.” She goes on to admit that any assessor who puts more than 12-13 per cent of their cases (about 1/8) into the support group will be “audited” – their work will be queried and they will be asked to put some of these people into the other groups.

The documentary featured interviews with people that demonstrated – graphically – how inadequate the test was; a man deemed able to work at a supermarket checkout who would have fallen asleep because of the high dosage of painkillers he’s taking; a woman who could lose a leg if she uses a wheelchair habitually – and has been working hard to avoid that – who was then told she could work if she used one and would not, therefore, receive benefit.

The test asks whether claimants are able to move an empty cardboard box or push a button. Richard Hawkes, chief executive of disability charity Scope, described it as “deeply flawed” and “outrageous”.

Even though Atos assessors’ decisions are final in 94 per cent of cases (DWP decision makers accept their advice), they are told they never need to worry about appeals against those decisions (which occur in more than 40 per cent of cases) and the tribunal hearings that take place (which cost £45 million per year) – they never go to the tribunals and won’t be blamed.

On both programmes, Atos and the DWP were adamant that the DWP has not set targets for assessors to follow. The evidence we have seen shows that they were lying.

The target is the percentage of people being put on the top rate of disability benefit – the support group. The trainer: “You are being watched carefully for the rate of support group. If it’s more than 12 or 13 per cent you will be fed back – your rate is too high. I do not set the criteria; that is what we are being told.” She said assessors would be constantly audited to see what they do. Another trainer said that figure came from the DWP.

When the doctor who carried out the training, and the undercover filming, was put to work, he carried out eight assessments – four of them were bounced back and he was told to take points off. The documentary’s producers contacted Atos, who expressed doubt about the doctor due to his political background.

Panorama followed case-histories also – the most noteworthy being that of the gentleman who was, for all intents, harassed by the system. Found fit for work despite being told to see a doctor by the assessor – the doctor discovered he had a critical heart condition – he won an appeal only to be contacted again, weeks later, with notification of a further assessment. At the time, he was waiting for a heart operation. Again found fit for work, he was waiting on a second appeal when he suffered a fatal heart attack. It could be argued that this man is dead because of DWP harassment.

Both documentaries featured claimants who had been wrongly placed into the work-related activity group – including one man who was sitting catatonic in a mental hospital at the time.

A doctor said the tests are adding to the cost of NHS work, rather than saving money, because people were booking GP appointments for the sake of their benefits, rather than their health.

Atos refused to be interviewed in either documentary, and details of its contract were hidden because they claimed it contained sensitive commercial information. But on Panorama, Employment Minister Chris Grayling, defending his regime, said: “We do not have a financial target for the reassessment of people on Incapacity Benefit, or for the level of new applications for ESa which are successful. There are no targets anywhere in the system, for numbers of people to move onto or off benefits.” As we have seen evidence proving the opposite, we know that this minister was lying.

And the most damning statistic of all: According to Panorama, every week, 32 people die after being declared “fit for work” by WCA assessors.

That means, at the time of writing, 960 people have died since January 1 this year, after being declared “fit for work”. The DWP, Atos, Mr Grayling and his DWP boss Iain Duncan Smith don’t just have blood on their hands – they’re swimming in it.