Wednesday 16 February 2011

Open letter to Maria Miller

Dear Maria Miller,

Before I start, I have a small request. When you talk about "The Disabled" could you please add "The Sick" in there sometimes? Only, millions of people with long term illnesses often face the greatest barriers to work but are rarely mentioned, if considered at all.

You see, I first started lobbying ministers about ESA back in 2009 and was surprised to listen to a half hour speech by the then disabilities minister Jonathan Shaw that failed to mention illness once. Obviously with political and business will it is possible to modify workplaces to facilitate the lives of the blind or deaf or immobile in employment. It's just not so easy to modify for exhaustion or pain or vomiting. A few months later I met with Mr Shaw who made it clear that he didn't really know anything at all about the issues faced by those who are suffer from long term variable or degenerative conditions.

It seemed a little that way when you, Maria "answered" questions online at Guardian Money. Of 250 questions, you replied to 6, often with answers that were strangely irrelevant; you didn't seem sure whether the over 65s would be able to continue claiming DLA? You didn't seem to know which research your own department had based its conclusions on? I read your response to our little online chat this morning;
Miller says she believes that the rising unease will settle once the full details of the proposed changes become clear and is convinced that much of the anger has been triggered by a failure to understand the government's objectives.
"I often hear concerns that are based on a lack of detailed information of what we are talking about in terms of our reforms. People need to get the facts rather than speculation," she says. "The anxiety can often be based on the fact that we are dealing with very complex benefits. The government is going to reform and simplify the whole system."
Oh dear, dear, dear. This really isn't the way to go at all. I am a fairly moderate (and I like to think reasonable) campaigner, but I can already hear the howls of outrage from every corner of the UK as people read that their brains are now being called into question as well as their disabilities.

You see we don't have much else. We can't get about much, we might live in terrible pain or despair. We may have had to give up our hobbies or our dreams, but we like to think that we can still use our brains. We have little still available to us, but we can analyse, dissect and appraise. Of the campaigners I know, one is a PHD student, two are lawyers, one is the CEO of a major charity and I myself have a degree. We've read the green papers or white papers or CSRs in detail and have an excellent grasp of what changes will mean. We're just not always sure you've done the same.

I'm sorry to shout the next bit but I'm running out of ways to make the next point in a way you might notice :


We hear very often that you listen to and consult with health and disability groups over your current proposals, but I can find little evidence of this.  These charities have written to you asking to meet, whilst other leading charities wrote to the Times  begging you to listen and engage. You've never contacted myself or other cyber-campaign groups like the Broken of Britain.

If you press ahead with changes to ESA and DLA as they stand, you will find a Poll Tax/Iraq sized albatross hanging around your necks. There are some very damaging proposals in both reforms and it is in no way dramatic to state that they will cause great hardship, poverty, distress and even death. Why not iron things out while it's still not too late? Why not change things in a way that will achieve your supposed objectives? This is an issue that gains enormous support and coverage online - my own blog has gone from nowhere to become the 23rd highest ranked political blog in the UK in just 4 months and it is only a matter of time before stories of destitution and suicide make this a national issue that won't go away.

Many campaigners can only conclude that the entire exercise is a cost cutting measure. Can you blame them when George Osborne announced how much he would save through these measures before a single reassessment had even taken place? The rhetoric used in this debate has often being accusatory and intimidating "Cheats mugging the country" "Skivers and Scroungers" This has often been fuelled by your own press releases and really needs to stop if we are ever to have a reasoned debate on the issue.

All I can do is ask, yet again, that you stop and listen. When something is truly unjust, those who fight it will win in the end. Surely it is better to do it together and with respect than through endless Daily Mail headlines and suffering?

**As ever, I need your help. Maria Miller's contact details are listed below. PLEASE take the time to 
1) Share this letter online. Click on the Twitter or Facebook buttons on this site or link to other sites. 
2) Use this letter as a template or send your own to the DWP address. 
3) Phone or email
4) Blog yourself if you prefer. 
5) Maria's constituency is Basingstoke - if you are a constituent, please consider making an appointment for her surgery - we need you most. 

Appointments can be made by telephoning 020 7219 5749.
For all constituency correspondence contact Maria at;
        Westminster                                      Basingstoke              
        House of Commons                             The Mount
        London SW1A 0AA                             Bounty Road              
For all Ministerial correspondence contact Maria at:
        Department for Work and Pensions
        Caxton House
        Tothill Street
        London SW1H 9DA



  1. Woohoo! Do I see the beginnings of a fightback against Tory attempts to force the sick and disabled into work? be under no elusion - they are not doing it to improve the lives of those concerned - it is purely a sanitising activity designed to massage the unemployment figures.

    let's go for it - the more people who respond, the more the Minister will be forced to listen.

    What about contacting Anne Begg too?

    Read my blog at

  2. I am sorry to say that I do not believe she will care or even listen to a word. In her eyes we are all expendable. If we choose to kill ourselves she will not feel the guilt she will just be happy that another one is scribbled off of her figures.

    I wish she would put as much effort in to curing people like me that she does in intimidating and blackening my name into a piece of scum.

    I HAD a life I was happy. I was training to teach fitness - I could have earned so much. I did not CHOOSE disability over fitness and a full life!

    And she makes me feel I am expendable for the big society do not want me to live.

  3. Its a very good point Sue, its often te illness that prevents us working rather than the disability, the tiredness, pain, sickness etc.

    On another issue we had to pull MP's MSP's and local councillors up about linking the elderly with disability. In Fife the council decided to start charging disabled people for their care. However when we were fighting this labour MSP, etc kept going on about charges for the elderly. It wasn't the elderly who were being affected, it was the disabled and I found it really frustrating and insulting. But of course what is more frustrating is the last Labour executive in Scotland brought in free care for the elderly but left out disabled people. I brought this up with Ian Gray the Labour leader in Scotland and got fobbed off, he doesn't see it as an issue

  4. Can I cross post this onto my blog pls Sue? BG Xx

  5. Please do Bendy!
    Tacitus - Happily, Anne begg is one of the few ministers I have contact with. She reads some of our online stuff and I know, does all she can from her end.

  6. Dear Sue,
    With respect to this bit:

    What reforms are we (as a campaigning community) for then, and which bits are we against?

    As an interested laymen I haven't done as much research as you and others. It would be good to be pushing for the same specific things. I imagine it increases our chances of being successful if we are looking for particular achieveable concessions rather than articulating general rage. And if I'm saying the same thing as you guys.


  7. Great question Stephen
    I admit I speak for myself often, but the one area of consensus there DOES seem to be is that Consultant/Expert led assessments would be a great step forward.
    Cameron talked of a "specialist squad" with mental health experts, specialists and consultants judging who needed support, but of course it never happened. Sad, because I think it would have reduced fraud AND the cases that aren't severe enough to really be claiming.
    For my part I'd love to see a GENUINE commitment to helping us achieve our potential - not just a gloomy job centre pushing us into unsuitable minimum wage jobs. With genuine support their plans could work, but with cuts to LAs and other support, we're just pushed around.
    I'd like to see a model of flexible working that was designed just for the sick and disabled - part time etc won't do (suggestions to follow in a post one day, lol)
    I think DLA should be reformed to broaden the criteria (not narrow it) but to only pay to the worst affected - ie long term sickness etc included but those most in need.
    Lots have suggested a voluntary system where those who'd like to try working can do so but crucially won't lose all their benefits the minute they attempt a job - IDS should like this as it's his raison d'etre. So many are put off trying work because the system of claiming is so complicated and they're frightened they'll never get back in. We also need to earn enough to replace our benefits AND know that it's sustainable or we could face worse poverty but with the added stress of working on top. A scheme that guaranteed our income for, say 6 months would make an enormous difference I believe.
    I could go on all day, but the comments probably isn't the place!! I'll try to expand properly soon.
    Do you have any ideas Stephen? I'd love to hear others opinions.

  8. A lot of people want to work; I have held several different businesses because quite honestly working from home is all I can do, but the support for that is non-existent. If I'm running a home business this doesn't mean I no longer need transport - if anything, I need it MORE than I did before as I often have to meet clients and get to venues. I need someone to help me do the stuff I find gets in the way of the good bits of business such as accounting (ugh, book balance, hissss), doing repetitive tasks which weren't good on my joints, or manning/womaning the table at a venue if I was just plain too exhausted from actually making stuff - oh, and hope they didn't try to rip me off would be nice; as a vulnerable person I'm sort of a walking target, and I couldn't exactly afford to hire an employee when starting out, no one can do that when starting out.

    Right now the only thing I'm capable of doing is being a writer and artist, but of course those aren't "real" jobs. The tax credits keep me going but I probably shouldn't be working at all - 30 days a week is killing me but without them, we'd slowly starve. The problem is as a disabled carer (yes, it happens!) the pressure to work on top of being a 24/7 carer for my child is just ludicrous. If Carer Allowance was actually worth it, it wouldn't be so bad, but a paltry £53 a week doesn't even pay the taxi fare to get my son to after school events or me to emergency meetings.

    I'd love to be working but what I could really do with right now is taking some time off to concentrate on getting my symptoms and various diseases under control. If I was actually given the time and support to do this - exactly what all these benefits are supposed to be doing but aren't - then I'd probably be in a much better place to be able to work in a year's time. Instead, I keep burning the few spoons I have to try and write one more piece, do one more study, get one more painting out, and try and ignore the exhaustion, fatigue, IBS, pains, rashes, hospitalisations, and all of son's needs piled on top.

  9. Hi, Sue. I've been reading your blog since it started and feel as though I'm only just beginning to understand the many difficulties faced by people with disabilities. And I've been a close follower of politics for years.

    I'm especially interested in the insights you give into the lives of people who are sick and/or in pain, as opposed to those who are more "recognisably" disabled. During a long career in primary teaching, I worked with several children with particular needs. Schools could cope with children who had reduced vision, hearing, mobility, with those with Down's syndrome, with those who had been seriously ill and were recovering. And those children usually coped remarkably with school! But for the group who are sick life is so much harder. Children's learning moves fast, so irregular patterns of attendance mean great chunks are missed, as are many special occasions. It is hard for children to maintain relationships with others, especially when they cannot participate fully in the rough and tumble of normal daily life. And how on earth can a child concentrate on learning if they are in pain, or exhausted, or scared?
    I also know that, sadly, it is very difficult for an adult with a chronic illness to cope in a school situation, and have known one or two who had to give up work when they became ill. It was also very difficult for the schools, who wanted to offer as much support as they could, but had to think about day to day organisation and the needs of pupils.

    I know that many firms have a policy of employing people with a range of disabilities. Firms support employees who are blind, deaf, in a wheelchair, with special educational needs. Have firms been asked how they support people who are chronically sick to remain in meaningful employment? Maybe some of those organisations who were so loudly praising the current government's policies before the election could take a lead in offering work to those deemed fit to work following their assessments.

    Keep up the good work!

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  11. Your letter and peoples' comments have given me a lot more confidence to argue my case.

    One area that is consistently misunderstood is mental health. Suffering from severe depression myself, it can be so hard for others to understand, let alone Atos. It's not like a broken leg, is it? People can't see it (except when I'm obviously low). I want to work, and will work, but don't know how or when.

    Having been a taxpayer for over 25 years, I always hoped and expected than when I most needed some help to see me through a bad patch, I would be able to reply on modest financial support to see me though for a little while. Mental illness does not discriminate - it strikes across classes, occupations, lifestyles. Being a manager in a professional/technical occupation before I was forced to stop work nearly a year ago by a catastrophic episode , MY brain is beginning to work again (kind of) but I now find myself in a group of people vilified by the right-wing press/politicians as a wannabe benefit scrounger. Well, some of them will be where I am one day. Not a threat - just statistically true.

    That's why I love your blog, Sue. It gives me confidence to speak up rather than hide away with shame.

    Thank you.

  12. Sue,
    Thanks for responding. I don't have many ideas, and the one's I do have are largely the same as yours.

    Proper Assessment, Tailored Support and a period of Guaranteed Income would be near the top of all my concerns.

    Having been personally unemployed and having known people on incapacity benefit, I know a lot of the stress is because the bureaucracy is so byzantine and kafka-esque that people don't want to risk losing their benefits once they've got them and be catapaulted back into admin hell.

    I know someone who was manic-depressive to the point where he couldn't work. He was too stressed to do anything until he was finally defined as too ill to work and put on incapacity benefit, only then with the guarantee of income he was able to de-stress and sort himself out enough to actually get a job.

    Having benefits guaranteed after starting work for a period of 6 or even 3 months would give people the security to try to work. A Universal Credit style taper so people were always better off working than on benefits, but for those on ESA, would also help.

    Fundamentally the ESA idea is sound I think. There should be a higher level of support between the general support looking for work available in job centres and just being left on sickness benefits. But it needs to be done properly and in a manner sympathetic to people's actual problems.

    The problem is in the application. The assessment is crap, the support is poor, there are no jobs anyway at the moment. Also they seem to be taking far too little account of how the whole process may effect people in terms of stress and exhaustion. Not to mention other issues like the idea to limit contributory-ESA to only 1 year.

    I don't really understand your comments about DLA. What do you mean?

  13. I signed the petition against the replacement of DLA by PIP, and asked others to do so, but the overt point of the petition is completely hopeless, as anyone who has followed this debate will know. The DWP has been very careful to "seed" the press, and some newspapers have been only too happy to jump on the "fake a minor disability and get loads of money for life," bandwagon.

    What we just might be able to achieve is two or three small changes in this legislation. It is my belief that we should continue the public protests against the huge injustices that ATOS is inflicting, in the hope of changing the climate of public opinion, but not expect it to help in this particular battle.

    So what changes do I suggest we try for?

    1) The right to have ANY PIP (or WCA) test recorded - using the DWP's own equipment to produce two recordings. Even the knowledge that they were being recorded could help with the current dishonest results being produced in the ESA assessments. The principal use of the recordings would be that they could be used in evidence at a Tribunal. We would have to remove the right of ATOS Health Care Professionals to object to this recording. Policemen are not given the right to object to having their interviews recorded. Claimants are not allowed to object to CCTV in the assessment centres. The only reason that ATOS is so protective of the feelings of their HCPs is so that they can be told they must veto any recording, since ATOS wants to retain the only record of the "interview" in their computer program.

    2) An assertion that the DMs must use all the evidence available, including submissions from the claimant's own GP and consultant. This should undercut the defence that the DM "can't over-rule ATOS, because they're the doctors", since there will be other doctors to whose reports they have to listen.

    3) An "encouragement" for the DWP to examine its decision review process. If they are concerned about the number of cases going to appeal, and the percentage of those appeals which succeed, then the obvious step is for them to improve the steps taken inside the DWP. If the initial DM is always going to rubber-stamp the ATOS "judgement", then a reviewing DM should not just rubber-stamp the first decision. If they took a more careful look at the original decision, they could probably spot some which the Tribunal are almost certain to over-rule, and grant them anyway. They could also spot those which would get thrown out without a second look, and so rule - possibly explaining in detail to the claimant or their representative the reasons for that decision - which might discourage "hopeless" appeals.

    This would be cheaper for the DWP, as proper review is a lot cheaper than going to Tribunal.

    I would also like to see the independence of the Tribunal service guaranteed, and backed up by a ruling that they may not allow officials from the DWP, or any private company, to inspect their records on any cases still before, or to come forward, for any level of Tribunal - i.e. only settled cases to be examined. I'd exclude them altogether if I could, but I'm guessing that that pass has been sold - see the story on Benefits and Work about the Tribunal service allowing DWP officials, together with ATOS HCPs, to inspect any records that the Tribunals service holds. This ought to have the legal eagles jumping all over it - one party in a dispute given preferential access to records and being allowed to advise the independent" judge what to do!"

    Perhaps we could also encourage more ATOS "whistle-blowers" - we badly need testimony from people who have carried out these "medical" tests, even if they can only contribute anonymously.

    I am pushing this agenda on other sites, so please excuse me if it looks like cross-posting.

  14. Some great posts here, following a great letter, of course. I think mainly we are in favour of reform *that is based on consultation with ourselves*. Reform that is undertaken with no ulterior motive and discussed in an open and respectful manner with the affected party, that is, *disabled people and carers*. As has been pointed out, people receiving DLA should have been informed that a consultation was going on. And then the consultation should actually be listened to rather than whitewashed as usual.

    The Government wants to know how to help people back to independence and employment? First step: Ask them.

  15. Excellent letter! I almost dread what her response will be, though...

    Re: being able to try out a job. There was a scheme in place which, although it meant coming off IB/IS, did allow immediate re-instatement of the previous claim if the job didn't work out within 104 weeks (2 years). It was axed as of 31st Jan this year. Good article at:

    The govt., could just have shortened the time period if they felt it was excessive...

    Had other thoughts but they've fled... brainwipe...


  16. To Rapunzel. You asked "Have firms been asked how they support people who are chronically sick to remain in meaningful employment?"
    The answer is no.

  17. ROFL They barely support my HUSBAND to stay in meaningful work for having the cheek to have a sick WIFE. I don't stand a chance!!!

  18. Have Tweeted, 'Shared' on Facebook, Copied & Pasted and emailed it to M Miller. Hope this helps

  19. I received 2 replies, one of which asked for my postcode, which I don't have as I live in Ireland, and am therefore not one of her constituents., the other referred me to a different email address as this is not a constituency matter but rather a Disability-related matter.

  20. Sick and disabled will not need benefits because the Conservative and Lib Dem government is paying for them to have aromatherapy.

  21. She does seem to have found time to write to others though (

    This time to complain about a care home that got planning permission and asking how Basingstoke & Deane Borough Council can put "controls" in place to minimise the number of good, small, personalised care homes for people with autism in her constituency..

    So, taking away DLA for people in care homes is not enough.. she wants to get rid of the care homes and put them all back in institutions too..

  22. On the way Maria Millar will tax you and deducts cESA at an alarming rate....for the most vulnerable....
    a. occupational pension net £146 per week
    b. deducted cEsa £66 per week
    c. Council tax £20 (might get reduction £2.50)Per week
    Weekly income regardless to DLA = £212 per week / = £11024 per year

    Deductions and tax =£78 per week/ per year £3796

    Now the calculation of the % of tax and deduction taken to the proportion of income per year, if you do the math it is staggering.

    Now the pension income rule has been abolished under ESA for those on highest rate care.

    Also for income related benefits SDP will be abolished.

    Next I don't drive my mobility car but am took to places and vital appointments . If this is lost under PIP because you are in hospital I'll have no visitor.

    Also I have been assessed for social care in 2010 at £56 per week, priced out of market for that one.

    And another assessed for DFG but can only access it if I need above £12000!I rightly spent my lump sum from early retirement pension on adapting bungalow as much as I can, so that amount of money is not needed. Because I have been refused DFG I can look to charity to finish small amount of work. Have not filed form yet so don t know if I'm eligible or not.

    All this knowing you have a degenerative disease and a husband with his limits is just too much.

  23. I like the way you write. Awesome, keep it up.

    Accountants in Basingstoke