Friday, 25 July 2014

DWP Admit Knowing They Would Cause Harm

I hate this fight and everything it says about my country.

But I dearly love the remarkable characters who've stepped up (or hobbled in many cases) to face it.

We are often unlikely warriors, with our limps and our oxygen tanks and our feeding tubes. But perhaps there was something the DWP didn't realise. Far from being easy victims, weak and helpless, it turned out (as we argued all along) that we were unbreakable.

Doctors hadn't broken us, endless hospital stays hadn't broken us, misdiagnoses, constant forms and judgement and unnecessary bureaucracy hadn't broken us. "Suffering" or "Hunger" or "Terror" might be abstract terms for most, but we had triumphed over them all. Some of us for decades in an endless Groundhog Day loop. How ironic that the DWP thought they had picked the most vulnerable targets of all, but found, in fact, that no elite crack squad of Royal Marines fight as hard as a group of sickies faced with destitution.

And so it is with Steve Sumpter and the "20 Metre Rule" "Latent Existence" to many through his blog and twitter accounts.

http://www.latentexistence.me.uk/why-i-am-suing-the-government/

This is a long and tortuous story that I will try to cut short. The government decided that they were going to scrap Disability Living Allowance, the main benefit (for some 3.2 million, in OR out of work) that covers the extra cost of being disabled. There wasn't a hint of it in their manifesto. The new benefit (Personal Independence Payments or PIP) aimed to cut 20% from the existing "caseload". Whether it had any aims other than cost cutting is unclear.

The first Spartacus Report exposed that the new scheme was almost unanimously opposed and that the case they were making for why it needed cutting at all was dishonest. Undeterred, they marched on, ignoring all advice and overturning every sensible amendment made to the changes in the Lords.

Just as the details of the new benefit were being finalised, with no consultation or prior warning, the government announced that the qualifying distance you were able to walk to qualify for full mobility support would be slashed by an inconceivable 60%. From 50 metres to just 20 metres. The government estimated that a whopping 600,000 disabled people would lose their support from this measure alone - to give you some idea, 20 metres won't get most people to their car or even to their own bathroom. We took the government to court, arguing that the lack of consultation was unlawful and we won. We forced them to consult properly before they could go ahead. A new Spartacus report showed that over 30,000 people would no longer be able to get to work if the changes went ahead directly contradicting claims the coalition have always made that these changes were about helping sick and disabled people INTO work.

From the new consultation, of 1142 responses just FIVE supported cutting the distance to qualify for mobility support from 50 metres to 20 metres. The government ignored the consultation and went ahead with the change anyway. That, is not illegal.

So we took them to court again. With the unfailing support of Leigh Day Solicitors and Public Law Solicitors, we challenged the 20 metre rule itself.

That sounds easy doesn't it? But I think we forget that one brave individual has to be the "test case". One person has to stand up and say "OK, I'll put myself through all of this on your behalf." Going to court is unpleasant in every way - it's stressful, intimidating, frightening and physically demanding. Your life is exposed along with every last one of your insecurities. And you, small, insignificant, you must take an entire government to Judicial Review. If ever David and Goliath fitted modern allegory it is this. To top it all, Steve has ME along with other congenital conditions that make this fight more demanding than most will ever know.

The fact that he will detest this post and chastise me for writing it says everything about the man and his tirelessly supportive partner - who incidentally has given up her own successful career to be his carer. Let's not forget that all around the country people make this decision every day and get almost no support for doing so, saving the government £119 BILLION in the process. 

As with so many of the cases, the court have ruled that the change itself was not unlawful. But as with every other case we have bought, they listed a litany of criticism and rebuke over both the way and the means they have used to push changes through.

https://www.latentexistence.me.uk/pip-judicial-review-court-rules-against-us-but-vindicates-our-case/ 

But you can't challenge policy. How about that? I had no idea before I started all of this. A government can pretty much do anything they like and you cannot challenge their right to do so except in very rare and specific cases. All you can do is challenge the way they've bought changes in.

BUT. And here is the big but. In the course of the case, this quote came from the Department for Work and Pensions, presided over with tencious if incompetent zeal by Iain Duncan-Smith.

"This was recognised from the outset. In developing the PIP assessment we were aware that the vast majority of recipients of DLA were individuals with genuine health conditions and disabilities and genuine need, and that removing or reducing that benefit may affect their daily lives. However, we believe that these impacts can be justified as being a logical result of distributing limited resources in a different and more sustainable way…”. DWP
(Paragraph 80)

As Steve says, let's say that again :

"In developing the PIP assessment we were aware that the vast majority of recipients of DLA were individuals with genuine health conditions and disabilities and genuine need, and that removing or reducing that benefit may affect their daily lives. " DWP 

So Steve has fought and some will say he lost - though it may be that there are still other avenues to follow. But from today, we can all say with utter certainty, that this government knew that PIP would cause harm to genuine people in need. But they justified it through austerity. 

They took support from sick and disabled people that needed it to get to work or to get dressed or to buy special treatments, to pay for the risk-taking excesses of out of control financiers we apparently dare not make pay. 

So people like Steve are paying, and fighting with everything they have - and very much they don't have. They're fighting for 3.2 million sick and disabled people to continue to live lives many take for granted every day in a million ways they aren't even aware of. I hope they never become aware of the kind of struggle Steve has faced through all of this. 

But if you ever do, if you ever find yourself sick and frightened, if life ever turns upside down for you when you thought you were the very last person it could happen to, maybe people like Steve will have saved the very thing you don't even know you're losing. 





Thursday, 24 July 2014

Douglas Alexander - you might read this.


I wrote this post in January 2011. Just 8 months after Labour lost the election. Having somehow stumbled across it today, I think a) I seemed to know who Ed would be rather well and b) Douglas Alexander should read it right now.


"Sure, it's tough. You get kicked out of power and 5 minutes later people are screaming "Well what would you do? You haven't even got a policy!!" At the same time, they don't actually want you to have a policy yet, it's too soon. If you start spouting policies, the public will think you're arrogant, that you haven't learned anything from your recent defeat.

You need to accept that you made mistakes, but if you're not careful, you spend so much time in humility, it's hard to point out how the "other lot" could be any worse.

Activists sit nervously, wondering "Will there be passion?" Will there be the fire and brimstone they feel? "Who are we now and who will we be?"

That "Who will we be" is the big problem, isn't it? Who will we be?? What on earth is that? A person who has to ask who they will be hasn't a clue who they actually are. Surely nothing has damaged politics more than watching those who appeal to us for trust at the ballot box morph into whichever politically-hollow-chameleon they think we want to see. We've sunk helplessly into a swamp of "Who shall we be" and seem to have almost totally forgotten how to ask who we are.

In a policy vacuum or a period of consultation, it's that "who we are" that can guide opposition. No matter what the government announce, you know in your soul if you support it or not. You can agonise over your own policy positions until the end of time, but in the meantime, principle should fill the gap. Activists know those principles in their DNA. No-one needs to learn them or make sure they are "on message". Best of all, if you oppose on principal, on instinct, the public sense it. These days, they can smell the blood of hypocrisy from 100 miles. If you oppose by focus group and fear of the Daily Mail, they've switched off before you've finished your first sentence.

So, when Lansley announces his chaotic, destructive plans for effectively privatising the NHS, the principles of a universal service, free at the point of use are all you need to defend. You can support that principle violently without yet needing to say what you'd do instead.

When nurses or fire fighters or police officers face redundancies by the tens of thousands, you know that of all the people in society you need to fight for, to speak for, it's them. If you've just spent 13 years in government building up their numbers because the pursuit of excellence in our public services underpin everything you stand for, then the principle will always retain credibility.

When benefit changes mean that hundreds of thousands of the poorest members of society will lose their homes, forced to move away from everything they know and rely on, the principle, stamped indelibly on the back of your membership card, that we "live together freely" tells you all you need to know. When those same reforms threaten to leave paraplegics without wheelchairs or cancer patients without hospice care, then surely that is a direct threat on the ability to "realise our true potential?"

When banks announce £7 billion in bonuses as reward for a system that failed so utterly we will be paying off their greed for generations, "Power, wealth and opportunity" are hardly resting "in the hands of the many not the few." That underlying principle that forged the party and shaped your vision of society gives you the legitimacy to claim "Well, whatever we decide, no party of mine would ever support that."

The problem is that legitimacy isn't it? Labour can only claim those principles if they again hold them dear. One PFI scheme too many, one war too far and those principles are shaken. Suddenly we're worrying more about the "squeezed middle" or the "worthy poor" than the worries that underpin all of our lives.

The wealthy and powerful vote Labour too. In fewer numbers, certainly, but still in their hundreds of thousands. Not in self interest, but because they don't want to live in a gilded cage, sitting on a pile of cash while the poor starve and the sick suffer. They vote for the principles on the back of that Labour membership card. As long as the policies eventually reflect those principles, leaders can speak to all of us, not just to the contrived section of society focus groups favour that week - "Alarm clock Britain" "Mondeo Man" or "Worcester Woman." Perhaps most importantly of all, they might begin to speak again for the 35% or 40% of the population who no longer even bother to get up from their sofas and vote for anyone at all. The millions who believe politicians have no principles left.

Principles don't send you careering back to 70s militancy or 80s un-electability - far from it, they adapt to any time, simply underpinning the political compass, uniting a broad church of opinion behind a few unbreakable beliefs. They keep the Blairite and the Union leader fighting together, benefiting from each other's perspectives, safe in the knowledge that whichever policy ends up on the table, they will still be campaigning together to protect those vital principles.

A party that is frightened of it's principles looks hollow and unsure.

When Blair came to power, it was horses for courses. Labour had to finally prove that they could unify, it had to prove that whilst protecting Labour principles, they could slay Tory dragons. It had to shake the long held confidence of the Tories that only they would ever claim to be able to manage crime or inflation. The public wanted a massive reward for the trust they'd shown in allowing Blair not one but two unprecedented landslides. "Govern for us all" they said. Whatever you think of him now, his government achieved some basic principles that Labour had fought for since its birth - a minimum wage, free nursery education, excellence in health care and a passionate commitment to alleviating world poverty.

Ed finds himself leader of a party who lost their way. A party who forgot that whilst we govern for all, we fight for those who cannot fight alone. His great task is to prove that we remember why we exist. All the while there is still inequality, all the time we face exploitation, all the while people suffer injustice or prejudice they need a strong, confident Labour Party to show that their principles can offer the answers.

I don't think anyone wants him to fight Cameron on his own turf, as Cameron fought Blair and Blair fought Major. They want him to claim back the principles we allowed to fall away at times when reading that little membership card would have saved disgrace. Ed is no Cameron. He's inclusive and thoughtful and he's certainly no rudderless autocrat. If he allows our principles to shape his leadership and starts to convince the electorate that he knows instinctively what they are, then focus groups and tabloids start to lose their grip on policy making. I can't think there can be anyone in the UK who wouldn't agree that was long, long overdue.£

Thursday, 17 July 2014

Clegg and the Bedroom Tax Bonanza

It's July. Any minute now politicians will go on recess and won't really be back - what with Conference season - until October.

By October, it will be election frenzy central.

Our mendacious and slippery deputy Prime Minister has u-turned on the Bedroom Tax. There ALWAYS had to be an issue over which he decided to split from the coalition. He can hardly go into an election as the junior partner in a coalition can he? He will go into it as the leader of the Liberal Democrats, whatever we might think of that.

He has chosen his first big step away from Cameron's shadow to be about the Bedroom Tax. Specifically, he has chosen to highlight sick and disabled people within this policy.

I've said this so many times, but politics isn't a love affair. It always amazes me how people judge politicians on their honesty! Surely we must have learnt that this way lies madness? Why would we judge them emotionally, or on their consciences when experience has shown us since the beginning of time that they just don't work that way?

To politicians, politics is a game of chess they must win. No more and no less. We respond to them emotionally, when there is no emotion involved at all.

So today, almost every tweet is of "turncoats" and "opportunism". Yes, of course he's a turncoat, and of course he's opportunistic, what do we expect? But if politicians give you a chink, you crowbar it open.

Is it better to be used as a pawn or left out of the game entirely? Don't pawns have power of their own? Always remember, sometimes they can bring down a King.

It is our unwillingness to engage on their terms, to beat them at their own game, that mans they always win and we always lose. Today, I woke up thinking "How can I use this". I'm not really disgusted with Clegg at all, it would be like being disgusted with a wolf for being a wolf.

I'm faintly pleased he has given me an opportunity to crow a bit at Cameron, expose the cruelty of Bedroom Tax all over again and have a nice little smug glow of righteousness. But that's emotion.

I'm delighted that I can now say "The one issue that finally split the coalition was disability". That's spin, that's powerful and most of all, that leaves Cameron isolated.

When you judge a politician, leave your emotions behind. The only question we ever need to ask is why they've just done what they've done and can it be turned to our advantage. This little gem doesn't even need turning. It haz advantage written all over it.

So I would suggest we turn our tweets and post from howls of indignant hurt feelings into maximum crowbarring. Mock Cameron, revel in the rift and prise it as wide open as we can.




Thursday, 26 June 2014

CALLING ALL SPARTACII - URGENT ADVICE

I am working on a very high profile, very daring campaign. I'm not 100% sure that I will be able to go ahead with it yet, but the planning has been positive and I think it could be the most important thing all of us could do, if we all get behind it and give it everything we've got.

It will cause enormous waves and would open me personally up to scrutiny on a level I've never experienced before. It makes Spartacus Report look like a nice friendly chat.

It's a very specific campaign and I can't share the details with you yet until I've taken legal advice and done some more groundwork. It will require fundraising on a level we haven't attempted yet. This will need trustees etc and a whole new level of organisational accountability.

The Spartacus Network is non-partisan. It has always fought scrupulously to engage with any party who is willing to listen to us. I am not, and I make no secret of the fact that I am a passionate Labour member.

This is a political campaign and will require an enormous degree of message control and strategy. There must very very clear aims that all sign up to. It will need very broad support from all progressives and anti-austerity campaigners. It will not be Spartacus led.

However I look at it, it just can't work unless we work with all parties equally. I can pretty much guarantee that this won't include the Conservatives, they are the major partner in the government inflicting the policies we oppose, but it's vital we win the support of all the other parties. It can only work if it appeals to all. It will need supporters, both physically and virtually, and it will need donors. If we limit that, it will limit the success of the campaign.

The brutal reality of "non-partisan" is that it does exactly what it says on the tin. Tribal politics should be totally irrelevant to a non-partisan campaign and it means we have to be open to working with anyone who is prepared to genuinely engage.

This campaign will need to engage with Labour, Lib Dem, Green and UKIP supporters. It must give each of them equal opportunity to benefit from the campaign. It fundamentally will NOT endorse any Party - quite the opposite, but it will be of benefit to all of these parties, if they choose to engage. How much of a benefit will be up to them. As official parties, they will NOT be able to donate financially, but we might need to share networks, contacts and information. Donations will have a maximum limit to exclude any undue influence from any powerful group.

So the question is, if in one very specific campaign, it is in all of our interests to help UKIP - as we help all other parties - do we stick to the true principle of "non-partisan" and all that entails?

This will NOT help UKIP nationally, or any other party, though the ramifications might. It will NOT endorse them in any way (or any other party) and it will NOT imply that on any issue other than the very narrow and specific issues of the campaign, we endorse policies of ANY party.

In all of my planning, the only concern has been over this. We are a broadly Progressive movement and there is deep anxiety over working with UKIP in any way. If this is to succeed, we will either need a mandate to include UKIP on this, or clear indications that there is no support for working with them in any way and a decision that this must remain a "Progressive" campaign, compromising a claim to be "non-partisan" and undoubtedly excluding a chunk of support we will need.

I should make it clear, that any political campaign will inevitably benefit some parties more than others. That's just mathematics. This campaign is entirely unconcerned with that and the outcome is not the point. I know it's hard to understand that when I can't say more, but the campaign will succeed or fail on meticulous planning and I need space and some more time to do that. I have to ask you to bear with me.

I should also point out that UKIP will play a key role in this whether we include them or not. It will be harder without them.

This is an open comment thread, please, I'm urging all progressives and campaigners of any group or none to share their opinion. Spartacii, I need you to help me make this a consultation and help me get it out to people who need to comment.

Finally, I will not be bullied by any one voice. I don't care how loud anyone might shout this is a decision we all need to make and this thread and this thread alone will decide what we do. If the majority want to stay truly non-partisan, then that is what I will do, putting all personal interests aside. If the majority believe we must never work with UKIP under any circumstances, then I will take that path. I will also not allow any one group to take over the thread or influence it in any way. It's vital all feel they can leave their opinion in an open and confident way, knowing that their opinion will NOT be derided or attacked. Bullies will be moderated immediately. Also remember, there are people who will believe passionately you don't work with Labour/Greens/Libs under any circumstances either. Our personal opinions might be strong, but it's important to remember they're ours and that not everyone shares them.

You are all entitled to leave any comment you wish and to be as robust as you wish, but leave your colleagues and allies alone!

Please help me with this, it might be very, very important.






Tuesday, 24 June 2014

Come on Dave, we're waiting!


It's not often something Nick Robinson tweets deserves a whole post all of it's own, but I think this tweet might:

@BBCNickRobinson Standby for Cameron apology: "If I have been lied to, that would be the moment for profound apology" July 2011

Over to you then Dave....

BENEFIT PROBLEMS? URGENT ADVICE

Many of you will, I'm sure, have read about the appalling case of Michael Hilton, who was evicted from his home due to the Bedroom Tax :

http://michellekent1.wordpress.com/2014/06/18/bedroomtax-and-michael-hilton/

Whist his individual case is heartbreaking, it seems to be well in hand now with lots of people trying to help him. However, reading through the comments to find out if he was OK, the following from a Brian Powell. I don't know him, so I hope he'll forgive me for sharing his comment here. PLEASE pass this on to anyone you fear might be "burying their head in the sand"

"Although this is a disturbing news article, you ask at the end, ‘where were the welfare advice groups and his local ward councillors’. Well they were there but, unfortunately none of them are mind readers. If they had of been asked by Michael himself, or a family member, or even a friend to look at the situation, I am sure things would have been sorted out easily.
I worked as a welfare rights advisor for about 15 years and, in that time, I had literally thousands of cases that could have been straightened out in two minutes but, because people left things until the last possible moment before saying something, those cases took as long as six months to get sorted, with all of the added stress that people went through needlessly.
It would help enormously if someone would run a national campaign to get people to seek help immediately they were notified of a problem with anything to do with their welfare or housing benefits."


Saturday, 21 June 2014

Open letter to the BBC

Dear BBC,

In a list of my favorite public bodies, I value you second only to the NHS. For me, you have always been a shining beacon of truth and balance in an increasingly owned and cynical world.

But you see, I've followed your fortunes long before the coalition took power.

I remember the James Murdoch speech of 2009, where he threatened your very existence as an irritating stumbling block standing in the way of his family's domination of our collective global opinions. And I remember that he was a regular dinner party guest of David Cameron, Rebecca Brooks and others at the time.

http://image.guardian.co.uk/sys-files/Media/documents/2009/08/28/JamesMurdochMacTaggartLecture.pdf

And I remember that one of the first things the coalition did was to inflict huge cuts on your budget and that David Cameron described those cuts as "delicious".

http://www.theguardian.com/media/2010/oct/20/bbc-cuts-spending-review
http://www.newstatesman.com/blogs/the-staggers/2010/10/bbc-cuts-cameron-brussels

I remember how they threatened you for providing balanced reporting of their austerity programme, even threatening to stop your funding arrangements if you didn't change your coverage.

http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/uk-news/bbc-grant-shapps-tory-mp-2647207

Since then, I've had my own experiences of the BBC, so I can add anecdote to evidence.

I campaign on government welfare reforms - ESA, DLA, PIP, Universal Credit, the Work Programme, Bedroom Tax. I'm your main cmpaigner contact for those stories, ao I also know that almost every time you've reported these issues at all, Iain Duncan-Smith has fired off furious letters and complaints to you.

http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2012/aug/19/iain-duncan-smith-bias-bbc

I know that he dictates to you how his issues are to be reported or refuses to engage with you at all. I know that he refuses to attend debates of any genuine substance and even refuses to send any of his minions  in his place.

I know that countless stories have had to be dropped because of this refusal to engage and that researchers say they have never seen anything like it.

I know that I provide accurate, fact based research to several of your top people, but also know that they ask me not to reveal my involvement or they will be "in trouble".

But most of the country don't know any of this. They see you as I used to see you, as a free voice in a complicated world. They trust you as I trusted you. They believe that you tell them facts, not news. They know that the Mail or the Mirror or Sky might have an axe to grind, might try to mislead or sway them, but they assume that what you tell them is as close to the truth beneath all of that spin as you can reasonably get.

I remember with pride how I watched your coverage on 9/11. I was waiting to see how Tony Blair would handle a roasting from the TUC, but that speech never happened. Within moments, I watched along with the rest of the world, forgetting to breathe. as hijacked airplanes exploded into the gleaming towers of the World Trade Centre, and so watched you coverage from the very 1st minute. Occasionally, I switched to CNN or other US channels for a different perspective and was horrified by their trailer-voice drama and inflammatory soundbites. I watched them fudge the whereabouts of President Bush when you had shown footage of his arrival at the White House hours before.

I learnt in those hours that when horrifying tragedy hits, I want you there with me. I want to be British, I appreciate that you will risk your lives to bring me truth more than almost anything else. I want to know that whatever pressures and temporary challenges you are faced with, you will always be the BBC of my childhood.   Never biased, never intimidated and never owned.

Like the NHS, you are owned by all of us, and something deep in your DNA has never forgotten that. Something deep in our society has always appreciated it, always agreed to go on paying for it, somehow knowing it was our best shot at free speech.

However Iain Duncan-Smith might stamp his feet today, his welfare reforms ARE in chaos, they ARE a fiasco and they ARE in meltdown. I have been trying to expose these failures for 4 years now and I need you to tell them too. Because this DWP have overseen the greatest social crisis in a generation and as far as I know, the BBC have never hidden that kind of news from the people who pay its licence fee.