I’m thinking of doing a ‘live blog’ on the WoW Petition/incapacity-disability benefits debate in the House of Commons tomorrow (Thursday).
Previously I had intended to go along myself, but donations to the site have been almost non-existent this month, meaning I don’t have the financial wherewithal. It occurs to me that this might be a better use of my time.
The idea would be that I would post developments into the article as they happen, along with appropriate tweets from other people who are watching the debate, and comments from readers who want to contribute to the discussion.
I would not be able to make the article self-refreshing, like they do on the newspapers’ websites, so readers would have to refresh the page themselves in order to keep up with what everyone is saying.
It would start with the debate – around 11.15am, with an introductory paragraph posted up earlier in the morning so that people have a web address to refresh in the first place.
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Ordinary people around the UK will gather outside centres where Atos administers its work capability assessments on benefit claimants next month – to demand an end to the system that is continuing to cause the deaths of thousands of innocent people across the country.
They will gather at 144 of the locations used by Atos to carry out the discredited assessments, under a contract written by the Department for Work and Pensions, on February 19.
It is known that 10,600 ESA/Incapacity Benefit claimants died within six weeks of their claim ending after Atos assessments between January and November 2011, although the DWP seems unwilling to divulge the percentage of those claims that ended because claimants were found fit for work by ATOS. Currently roughly one in four ‘fit for work’ decisions by ATOS is overturned at tribunal.
In July 2013, ATOS whistleblower Greg Wood lifted the lid on the toxic culture that existed within the organisation – carrying out assessments that were not fit for purpose, with huge pressure on assessors to fail ESA claimants. Dr Wood was shocked by the ineffectiveness of the assessment procedure.
A report from the Centre for Welfare Reform showed that informal targets were being set by ATOS which had assessors under pressure to fail around 65 per cent of claimants (Vox Political has estimated 70 per cent in the past).
A petition set up by campaign group WOW (The campaign against the ‘War on Welfare’), calling for an immediate halt to the Work Capability Assessment and an independent, committee-based inquiry into welfare reform – including the ATOS contract, excess claimant deaths and the disregarding of medical evidence in decision-making, gained more than 100,000 signatures. The WOW campaign is currently supported by 57 MPs and there is a commitment to debate the issue in the House of Commons.
Labour MP Hilary Benn said: “As the Labour opposition we have called ATOS a disgrace and said they should be sacked… The system needs to change.”
Labour Councillor Alison Lowe said simply, “I have no problem supporting this. The Government are evil and they don’t care about people who are poor.”
At the demonstrations on February 19, ordinary people will demand an apology from Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith and Thierry Breton, chairman of Atos – not just the disabled, or opposition politicians, but anybody who believes that the Atos-run, DWP-devised assessment system is leading to the deaths of innocent people.
In particular, demonstrators will demand an apology to the families of benefit claimants who took their own lives following decisions made by ATOS, including: Iain Caress, Brian McArdle, David Coupe, Edward Jacques, Tim Salter, Nick Barker, Helen and Mark Mullins, and Paul Wilcoxson.
In Mid Wales, where Vox Political is based, the event will be at the Newtown Assessment Centre, St David’s Business Centre, St David’s House, New Road, Newtown, starting at 11am. Details are on Facebook here.
Panorama tonight (BBC1, 8.30pm) looks into ‘The Great Disability Scam’ – the fortune being made by private companies, paid by the government to get disabled people off the benefit books – and failing.
The BBC appears to have woken up and realised what people on the ground have been saying for more than a year: Government welfare policy is to starve the disabled while the companies they pay to judge them get fat on undeserved profits.
Tonight’s Panorama (BBC1, 8.30pm) “reveals the private companies who are getting rich from the new reforms despite only being able to get a small fraction of disabled people back to work”. Great! About time. I hope it does a good job.
The wording of the promotional page on the BBC website worries me, though. It starts: “Only half of all people with a disability are in work.” To me, that suggests a judgement – that the rest of the disabled are somehow shirking a responsibility to get into work.
The next sentence compounds my fear: “Panorama investigates if one of the government’s most ambitious welfare reforms, costing billions of pounds, can solve the problem of disability unemployment.” Is there a problem? How many disabled people can be, usefully, employed? Not as many as the government’s assessors, Atos, seem to be saying – look at the thousands of people who have died from the strain of having been found fit for work (with the accompanying lack of funds, stress of the appeals process, and increased burden on their physical condition that these cause).
But Atos is making money hand over fist. So are the ‘work placement provider’ companies that are supposed to “help” disabled people back into work. But we know from figures released last year that their success rate is worse than if the government had done nothing. The cynic in me wants to ask, is this because their clients keep dying from the conditions they’ve been told they don’t have and that these companies are therefore ignoring?
There’s a ray of hope that the programme is on the right track, because reporter Sam Poling “speaks to the charities who feel the most vulnerable in our society are being failed”. It will be very interesting to hear what they have to say.
I suspect the message will be very similar to that of the WOW petition, currently online at the government’s e-petitions website.
WOW (it stands for the resistance to the War On Welfare) 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.
You can sign it on http://epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/43154
As you can see, WOW isn’t asking for the earth; it just wants the current situation to be reconsidered. When 73 people per week are dying because of the current system (at last count, which was sometime last year and may therefore be understating the problem), something is seriously wrong. Obviously.
I’d like to urge all my readers to watch the programme, then make your opinions known and share the link to the petition. The BBC Panorama blog is at http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/panorama and you can sign up to comment on it here: https://id.bbc.co.uk/users/register?target_resource=http://identity/policies/dna/adult&ptrt=http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/panorama/2011/05/undercover_care_the_abuse_expo.html#comments
Also you could sign up to The Guardian’s website: https://id.guardian.co.uk/register?returnUrl=http://www.guardian.co.uk/society/2013/jan/04/disability-claimants-work-assessments-atos
And the Independent site, where you sign up when you add your first comment to a piece: http://www.independent.co.uk/
The government, and the companies who are profiting from this multi-billion pound business, want people to forget about what’s happening and go back to sleep. That can only happen if you let it.
A community of the concerned – including people who are sick and disabled, carers, friends, families, and those who are perfectly healthy – has come together to launch a new resistance to the draconian Coalition welfare cuts that are killing, on average, 73 people every week.
The launch of the WOW (it stands for resistance to the ‘War On Welfare’) Petition comes only days after the Conservative Party started a ‘voodoo’ poll on its own website, intending to fool respondents into saying that the reforms already introduced by the Department for Work and Pensions – and soon to be reinforced with even more drastic measures – are fair.
“It breaks my heart that some of the most vulnerable people in society are being demonised and used as scapegoats. It’s something everybody needs to fight against.”
The petition calls for:
“A Cumulative Impact Assessment of all cuts and changes affecting sick & disabled people, their families and carers, and a free vote on repeal of the Welfare Reform Act.
“An immediate end to the Work Capability Assessment, as voted for by the British Medical Association.
“Consultation between the Departments of Health and Education to improve support into work for sick and disabled people, and an end to forced work under threat of sanctions for people on disability benefits.
“An Independent, Committee-Based Inquiry into Welfare Reform, covering but not limited to: (1) Care home admission rises, daycare centres, access to education for people with learning difficulties, universal mental health treatments, Remploy closures; (2) DWP media links, the ATOS contract, IT implementation of Universal Credit; (3) Human rights abuses against disabled people, excess claimant deaths & the disregard of medical evidence in decision making by ATOS, DWP & the Tribunal Service.”
That may seem a big demand, but the alternative is potentially fatal for hundreds of thousands of people. Esther McVey, the Minister for Disabled People, has announced that, when Disability Living Allowance (DLA) is replaced by Personal Independence Payments (PiPs), more than 300,000 people will have their benefits cut or removed altogether. That is not an achievement.
In addition, anybody who can walk more than 20 metres will not receive the mobility element of the new benefit.
The petition has already won a huge online response, and I strongly encourage you to help build on that. Go to the site and sign the petition. Visit wowpetition.com (the petition’s base website) and join the discussion on the forum. Above all, ask your friends, relatives, work colleagues, or anyone else you think might be interested, to sign the petition.
It’s time to turn the tide against the persecution of the vulnerable.
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