Firstly, go back to 5th Januuary. We had no hope. ESA was going to be limited to just one year, DLA was to be abolished and replaced with PIP, which we felt were unfit for purpose and designed without the genuine input of disabled people and their groups. We had no media, no polticians, no voice.
On the 6th January, the Boris Johnson story broke (due to our press release) and everything changed.
Suddenly, the Mail and the Telegraph and the Mirror were reporting the first hint that all may not be well with the Government's plans for PIP. The story built over the weekend and then, in a blaze of glory and an unprecedented social media campaign, we launched Responsible Reform (The Spartacus Report)
Kaliya and Sarah and I and all the others involved in writing and producing the report could never in a million years have known how successful it would be. A welfare report? Trending on twitter? Getting millions of reads and crashing servers? Miraculous.
All the while we were preparing Responsible Reform we thought it would be ignored. We did it to go on record, to be heard. We did it to ensure there would be a lasting account of the very grave concerns disabled people have about the plans.
Did we think charities, celebrities, academics and medics would support our work so resolutely? Did we think the media would start to push ministers on their plans for reform? And most unlikely, did we think we would end up with an amendment under debate in the House of Lords, requested by us and defended by disabled peers in the House? Never in a million years. But we hoped.
We always knew that the more momentum we could build - and remember this was just momentum created by ordinary people - the more pressure the government would face. We could never, ever have known they would face this much pressure and be forced to move so far.
At the 11th hour - oh but what a shame it couldn't have been earlier - the entire disabled community came together with one voice and that, was too much for even the coalition to ignore.
It is crucial to understand the process of yesterday. Amendments are not binding and as ministers have assured us, will be overturned when the welfare reform bill returns to the House of Commons. They are embarrassing PR blows, little more. What IS binding are the speeches Lord Freud makes just before a vote. It is in that moment that peers get to judge just how far the Government are willing to compromise. If it is far enough, the vote will either be withdrawn or will fail. As I tweeted just before the vote "LISTEN VERY CAREFULLY TO FREUD'S RESPONSE"
As Freud started to speak it was clear that his language was carefully scripted and for once, contained detailed commitments to compromise. At this point, I start to realise that he is moving significantly - I wonder if it will be enough to convince peers.
Here are my tweets as Freud is laying out his compromise :
"He's promising stuff, but will Lords believe him??? #wrb#spartacusreport
"He's actually giving us almost everything to avoid a vote!!!!! #wrb#spartacusreport. Remember this bit is legally binding
So how accurate is that? What did we ask for and what did Freud promise?
Here is amendment 50E, Clause 80,
LORD LOW OF DALSTON
BARONESS CAMPBELL OF SURBITON
Page 58, line 26, at end insert—
“( ) The Secretary of State must lay before Parliament an independent review of the plans for implementation of the assessments under section 79 before the provisions are brought into effect, and such plans must in particular provide for—
(a) a trial period before any assessment process is implemented fully for new applicants and those transferring from DLA;
(b) disabled persons organisations to be involved in formulating the assessment process.”
Effectively, we got some of all of those things, without an official pause. In fact, we got more. Here are the key points Freud conceded and what they mean.
- A formal consultation on assessments to run for 15 weeks and the key point "regulations which we will lay later this year, will be subject to the full affirmative procedure of both houses."
This is crucial. It means that all the details still missing on assessments, weightings and entitlement criteria will have to be agreed by both the Commons and the Lords before they can go ahead. This is what we most needed and is a huge concession. It means the Government cannot sneak unfit plans through without the agreement of parliament. I can't stress enough what a win this was and how resistant ministers had previously been to the demand.
-Freud went to to promise to test the assessments first, emphasising that "if for any reason [testing is] insufficient we will carry out further testing
-In response to Baroness Browning, Freud promised to "personally look at the impact" PIP would have.
-The Implementation Development group allows disabled people a say in design and implementation. Freud promised not to scrap it in 2013 but to carry it forward. He pledged that "There have been, and there remain, significant opportunities for involvement from disabled people and their organisations, and significant opportunities to influence our proposals to ensure we get them right."
- He promised to test all systems in a "model office environment" before they go live. This means the systems must work before they are used on real people.
- He promised that anyone taking on the contract for assessments must do the same and confirmed that "We expect them to work with disabled people on the design of their processes to improve customer experience before during and after implementation."
Freud goes on to lay out how they will delay the implementation and in effect, trial PIP in a small way, rolling it out very gradually with checks and reviews at every stage. This is very significant and a million miles from a total rollout in April 2013.
He says "As well as getting the whole development process right, I recognise the value in moving away from a big-bang approach to implementation which would see both new claims and reassessments beginning in April 2013" The next section lays out exactly how the implementation of PIP will now work.
"We will limit the number of new claims for personal independence payment to a few thousand per month for the first few months of implementation. This will allow us fully to trial all the processes in a truly live environment.Once we are satisfied that the new processes are working as intended with this reduced number, we will allow all new claims for personal independence payment to enter into the process. We will continue monitoring and reviewing the processes to ensure they are working effectively and appropriately and to see how claimants are finding the experience. We will begin to reassess existing DLA claimants in a co-ordinated way six months after the initial implementation. Again, we will stagger this process. We expect the first stage of reassessment to start in the autumn of 2013, beginning with individuals on a DLA fixed award who will need to renew their claim and those claimants who report a change of circumstances on their existing DLA claims.
At the same time, we intend to conduct a pathfinder trial reassessing individuals who would not, in the ordinary course of events, come up for reassessment. We expect the pathfinder to run for around three months to ensure the processes for identifying and contacting people and taking them through the claim processes are working satisfactorily. Allowing a small number of existing DLA claimants to advance through the reassessment process ahead of full national implementation will enable us to be sure that our approach to engaging these customers into the claims process is working effectively ahead of widening the selection. Also very relevant here is the independent review and report on the assessment that we are legislating for in Clause 87."
-So basically, PIP will be trialled, on a small number of new claimants. Then all new claims, with a commitment to review at every stage. Only if everything is working will existing claims begin the process and that, 6 months later.
-He went on to promise two independent reviews, at 2 years and 4 years with a third promised if any concerns are expressed at year 4. He stressed that this is a "Firm commitment from me and my ministerial colleagues"
He concludes by saying "In reality, in the way that we are structuring this, we are trialling it in any real sense; we are doing it on a gradual basis. If we do it in this way, we will get the assessment and wider benefit processes right; we will involve disabled people and we will learn from the earlier delivery of the benefit."
So, what does all that mean? It means the Government had to make very considerable compromises to avoid another embarrassing defeat. Are they significant enough for us? Of course not. Would they ever have been? Of course not. Were we ever going to stop PIP 12 days before the vote? Never. Do we trust this government to listen properly this time? Why would we?
But, Freud and ministers are accountable for every promise they made. If they renege on even one, we can challenge it.
Crucially we were heard, not just by nervous ministers, but by the public. There is now real disquiet over plans to cut DLA for 500,000 disabled people. The atrocious arrogance we have seen for so long from politicians, simply must be tempered from now on. We shone a spotlight on these reforms and now they must be implemented in full view.
Does it matter that they "won" the vote or does it matter that we made PIP safer for millions? That any details or changes must be agreed by the Commons and the Lords? Did we want the PR coup or did we want concessions?
I wanted concessions, any concessions, but I never thought we would get them.
Peers got hundreds of letters and emails. The pressure you put on Government was truly extraordinary and make no mistake, this is a Government unwilling to shift on even the smallest details. I have never seen ordinary people - not politicians or think tanks - ordinary people, affect actual democratic change in the way I saw last night. Never.
And the peers - what of them? Well, just days before a vote, they heard our requests, tabled an amendment and fought. For us. It was a stronger amendment than any before it. It focused on us, on disabled people and what we needed to start to trust any process affecting us. They fought passionately for an amendment it would be very hard to win. That in itself is significant in a world of political positioning.
Perhaps one of the most significant statements came from Lord MacKenzie, Labour Lord
"I have some responsibility for having introduced the employment and support allowance so I cannot claim any such accolade. It is clear that the assessment process has not been working and has caused... distress to too many disabled people"
As an unexpected bonus, Labour finally taking ownership for the failures of ESA is a step forward.
Finally, how did the vote go?
Not Contents 229 - Tories 150, LibDems 65, crossbench 13, Other 1
Contents 213 - Labour 160, LibDems 2, crossbench 39, other 12
There is no easy way to say that those figures are brutal. We won the crossbenchers by 3 to 1. We won the argument. On evidence, politically impartial peers voted for a pause to PIP. Lib Dems did not. (With the notable exceptions of Bns Tonge and Bns Doocey ) Even the Tories did not turn out in numbers to match Labour. But the LibDems were whipped - told how to vote - so we could never have won. Did they make Freud shift so far in exchange for a win that would save the Government embarrassment? It doesn't really matter. They signed away the Disability Living Allowance. I hope they sleep well.
When I took on the Spartacus Report, I hoped that in some small way it might put pressure on the Government. That somehow, it might make people think. I never in a million years thought it would result in real changes to the plans for PIP. It did, and every last one of us should sit back in amazement and really take in what we did. We embarrassed the Government. We embarrassed them so much, they would certainly have lost yesterday if they hadn't moved significantly. We won three amendments to ESA. We changed the structure and implementation of PIP. We had just seven hours to publicise an amendment and ask peers to vote on it. With ESA we had 15 months. Nonetheless, the Government still only won by the narrowest of margins, a mere 16 votes.
Did you ever - ever - think we would do any of that?