Tuesday 14 June 2011

The Labour Welfare-Rollercoaster - Ed, Liam and Frank.

Well, those politicians put us through our paces yesterday didn't they?

The tension surrounding the much trailed speech from Ed Miliband on "scroungers" had us all on tenterhooks for hours. Twitter was frothing with Labour tweeters, sick and disabled tweeters, and journos all debating the merits of even going down the scrounger route to begin with.

As the transcript was posted on Twitter, I think there was a collective gasp of horror. Not from all, but from the sick and disabled. Those of us hoping to hear a different tone on sick and disabled people were in for a shock. We were the scroungers, the "irresponsible" society Mr Miliband wants to root out. Of just two examples he gave that "summed up" how society had failed under Labour (the other was sickening abuse and torture!!) was "a man on incapacity benefit with a real injury who cared for his children" who, nonetheless, Ed somehow knew could be working. He then went on to use this example as someone "not showing responsibility" "shirking his duties" "abusing the system because he could work but didn't" "ripping off our society" he was not a "good citizen" he was "abusing the trust of his neighbours"......

He then went on to say ""We should not demonise people anywhere in society" which seemed as though it had fallen onto the page from another speech. "I'll say no more" as Ed seemed to like to say.

From the moment Ed took the leadership, this was the one policy he felt he could support the coalition on unquestioningly. http://diaryofabenefitscrounger.blogspot.com/2010/11/take-time-to-listen-and-learn-douglas.html I shouldn't be surprised that despite months of carefully and constructively trying to point out why ESA is failing, how it needed to be changed, why talking about sickness scroungers would only make it harder for those who were unwell or disabled to get work; yesterday we got our answer. Of all the scroungers, drug dealers, scallies and cheats Ed could have used as an example, he used us. From the very first paragraph. Wow.

But I didn't have time to rant and rage (which was probably just as well!) because I'd booked a place at the Progress event in London with Liam Byrne and Frank Field. I wanted to roll up in a ball and feel miserable. I wanted to lick my Labour-inflicted-wounds and give up, but I got on the train trying desperately to keep my mascara on my eyelashes, not dripping miserably down my cheeks.

I got to Victoria, bought a homeless crip a Pret sandwich in an act of defiance against Westminster council and wandered towards Parliament in the sunshine.

The meeting was in Portcullis House, that macho glass symbol of political opulence guarding the Thames. Slick suits and teeny weeny microphones and testosterone filled the small room. The panel, including Liam Byrne and Frank Field assembled and each spoke about the challenges of welfare reform. Responsibility was again the theme and to me, it felt like they were trapped in a nightmare of indecision. Must be tough but not quite sure why. Must reduce the welfare bill but not quite sure how. Must make the system fairer but little understanding of what "fair" might look like. It was depressing, safe, tinkering. I can't actually remember much of it, though the idea of re-enforcing the contributory principle was by far the most thought out and developed theme.

When the talks were over, questions were invited from the audience and I was primed with injustice and ready to go.

"Sue Marsh. I write the Diary of a Benefit Scrounger Blog and I'm Political Strategist for the Broken of Britain campaign group.

(Byrne grinned in sudden recognition and nodded)

"Employment Support Allowance is an abject failure. And it's a Labour failure. It's a failure because you took a work programme for able bodied people and tried to fit it to the sick and disabled. They are just 8-12% effective. You didn't engage business and explain why we could be an asset to them. You didn't look at flexible working schemes or business co-operatives. You simply asked how a business place might be modified for a physical disability, never how a working life might be. My question is : Will Labour admit that ESA is an abject failure and work on policies to change it?"

Byrne was genuinely listening. He asked me if I thought sick or disabled people would have liked support to set up their own businesses, and I referred to some of the suggestions that came up most when you all took part in our consultation http://diaryofabenefitscrounger.blogspot.com/2011/05/welfare-for-people-by-people.html

-Genuine Flexible Working
-Help to set up micro businesses
-Re-Training or Further Education
-Support in work - for employers and employees that really works with our independent needs and acknowledges the extra time off we might need.

He answered that "it was probably a fair critique". He said Labour came too late to realise any of that and though they started to put a fund together, it was too late and they lost power. I don't know anything about that, but I genuinely got the impression that he knew about this stuff. He passionately and personally opposed the Time Limit and he repeated the line that "We should be pushing the unemployed into work, not pushing the sick and disabled into poverty."

Frank Field answered that "if job seekers spend just 8 minutes a day looking for work they don't have the intelligence to set up their own businesses. You might say we're kicking the wrong target but they just don't have the intelligence."

Earlier I'd tweeted "Field talking now, I feel dirty" and with that answer he confirmed my disdain in a blaze of glory. I imagine he either misheard me and thought I was talking about the unemployed or he entirely links those "on the sick" with "the feckless work-shy." Either way he's a plum.

A ripple of "Huh?" went round the room and Byrne seemed to give him a "Huh?" frown too. Or it could have been an interested frown. Or indigestion. Who knows?

After the meeting Byrne said he read my blog. I'm sure he doesn't. But I think he almost left me with the impression that he might have. Or even that he might actually realise that some of us exist. Or maybe he's just got a nice twinkly veneer over a scrounger kicking soul, it's so hard to say isn't it? He did ask if I'd send him our consultation and ideas though, so I will.

We're used to being ignored by politicians so nothing ventured nothing gained eh?

View ff web.jpg in slide show

A Plum.

**Update : I met the charming Dan McCurry on the way in who looked after me, got me a glass of water, said nice things about my blog, bought my drink in the pub after and smoked with me in solidarity outside. Not only that, but he sent the pictures through of Frank "plum" Field. All of that and I forgot to thank him. 

http://www.danmccurry.co.uk  Photography & Film
http://www.danmccurry.org Political Blog
Shame on me, *blush*


  1. Will you ever hear from Byrne again, don't hold your breath. I have no idea if Gordon Brown took the points I put to him when I had my meeting down to parliament but he he did, he's not telling.

    Its all very depressing but strangely, Instead I got angry then I began to feel rather galvinised but confused at the same time. If I met Ed i'm not sure if i'd try and reason with him or if i'd just turn the air blue (not blue Labour blue)and do a fair impression of someone attempting to be expelled from Labour.

  2. WTF?! Frank Field is either deranged or congenitally stupid. What is he wittering on about? That's one of those statements of such mangled ridiculousness it's impossible to know which aspect of it to challenge first.

    Well done Sue for going.

  3. You have to wonder who writes Ed Miliband's speeches, and, if he reads them, Ed actually understands what he is saying. The example he used appears to show that he believes (yes, actually believes) that there is no such concept as being too ill to work. That a genuinely sick and/or disabled person who is receiving the benefit due to them is in some way irresponsible because they have not found some miraculous way to exceed the limitations that ailment has placed on them.

    I presume his lexicon of disability runs to a)Stephen Hawking b)Paralympian or c)scrounger.

    From this moment on I have nothing but contempt for him and his party.

  4. Frank Field IS a tool and not sure what he was doing there, but I'm glad you got to ask Liam Byrne that question and engage with him. He needs to know people are watching and tracking!

  5. Sue, I don't think Ed thinks that at all, Labour, if we ever get in power will continue to be a compassionate party, but also should be motivating and encouraging those who can to be productive, and if you see it that was it is a god speech to get the C2 vote. …think about it, if people can work, and get satisfaction from it then that will enrich their lives. For those who cannot, that is another matter … give Ed a chance,

  6. Sunny Hundal

    Completely agree that was my impression when i met the guy. God they have a long way to go before they even sound like they understand peoples lives, professional or otherwise. Big problem for our Party at the moment, the intentions are there just nothing else.

  7. Well at least we know now that they are all in this together!!. Where we go from now is anyones guess no support from any party that dont leave a lot of options.

  8. Whom writes his speeches roumour has it a total 100% socialist called Purnell with another great political asset for labour in a bloke called Campbell remember him.

    Ah the great days of socialism.

  9. 'I don't think Ed thinks that at all'

    Then why did he say it?

    I am not a party member. I don't care about the C2 class. If anyone has bought the wholesale lie of benefit scroungers they are fools, but dangerous ones - to the disabled. When half of disabled Londoners have been on the receiving end of hate speech, aggression and crime because of a political and media barrage of lies, I suspect they don't give a fig about Ed's attempt to get the C2 vote. Their last hope just joined the other side.

  10. Pam ed said

    "He hadn’t been able to work since he was injured doing his job.

    It was a real injury, and he was obviously a good man who cared for his children.

    But I was convinced that there were other jobs he could do."

    So Eds not only a qualified doctor but a practising one. Thats the only conclusion I can come to since he obviously knows this mans personal medical history and capabilities intimately. However, surely Ed has broken the rules about patient confidentiality.

  11. @Pam: Labour will continue to be a compassionate party? When did it start? This is the party that brought us ESA, with its assessment deliberately designed not to rate the pain and fatigue at the core of many disability, then handed it over to the thugs at ATOS to run. This is the party that started the deliberate demonisation of disabled people as scroungers. This is the party that brought us the imaginary wheelchair as an assessment tool.

    And now Ed is saying that did not go far enough. Try asking a disabled person if they share his views.

  12. If Ed is convinced that chap should be working, should he not report him for benefit fraud?

    Ed, I don't have the number to hand, but in case you pop-in to check up on us, I've found a link for reporting the 'shirkers'*:


    *I know how you like that word. My pleasure.

  13. Oh for goodness sake Pam, did you read the quotes - actual quotes - about this man in Ed's speech? You know all about ESA Pam. Ed supported it in his 1st interview after becoming leader. Then Douglas Alexander, then they didn't vote against the WRB, then yesterday Ed made it perfectly clear that the bit of welfare reform that they should stick with was incapacity benefit.

    You know very well that I would have preferred a million times over to hear Ed make a different speech yesterday but he chose that one. Blind support for something gave us all the things you say you hate about Blairism yet you're quite happy to support it in Ed.

    Believe me, if I'd written his yesterday, it would have been a very different article. 5 million sick and disabled people are apoplectic. I stuck with factual.

  14. What is worrying is that there are many, many people out there who think that they can look at someone with an illness or impairment and decide on the spot whether they're fit for work. So, to them, any idiot employed by Atos can also make that decision... Bonkers - they wouldn't want that done to themselves but they're happy for it to be done to other people. Added to the problem of the 'news' put out by the DWP and the tabloid press, there is an endemic lack of understanding of the hidden nature of many conditions and impairments.

  15. Let the Tories do away with all benefits. Picture this: homeless people sleeping rough, begging, theft, a savage society where only people with jobs get decent healthcare. Is this what they want? There are precious few jobs going around anyway and we all know why that is! Oh, start up a business.....not everyone is an entrepeneur and someone on benefits will not have the start up cash anyway. Housing crisis! Do away with benefits and you won't need housing, we will all be sleeping rough!

  16. Meet the new boss,
    same as the old boss.

  17. Thank you Sue for doing what you did at the meeting, and reporting on it so clearly. I'm starting to think we need a sick and disabled dignity movement, like sex workers, like indigenous people in Latin America. Many challenges with that, I know...

  18. Well done sue in even attending which i know was most difficult for you.
    Ed and Liam's Job would be much easier if they had proved they had got integrity and that's the problem the public are unsure and if doubt has been cast rightly or wrongly it's a hard battle for them in going forward in proving they have honesty and integrity

    I myself have always had it and have many distinguished references outlining that fact so these policy's would be very simple for me to have the public on my side at all times.

  19. Well done Sue for having the strength to attend the event despite the upset caused by the speech.

    I would agree entirely with your blog totally.

    It was a massive error of judgment by Miliband to highlight one case. I would go as far as to say it was disgraceful.

    The speech was reactionary and pandering. It's as if he felt the need to say something... anything, as if he felt the need to jump onto the 'undeserving poor' bandwagon.

    And Ed's solutions? A couple of 'suggestions' to jump the housing queue and volunteer! It was same old political rhetoric for what is a far more complex situation so often simplified by our politicians to 'look tough' on welfare.

    And I don't understand who he was appealing to. Tory voters wont come to Labour with tough rhetoric on benefits and those who left Labour didn't leave because of benefit bills.

  20. i like the idea of a dignity movement

  21. It just makes you sick, are they going to start handing out genuine I am sick passes? Like the person who screams at you across the street cares anyway.
    Surely he could have come up with a better example to show lack of responability apart from a person with a real health problem. Makes you wish that one of them will fall ill and have to make do with the system like the rest of us, oh no because they will have some big handy pension or sick benefit to live off and not worry about feeding themselves.

    Maybe if Labour are so keen in getting people with limits back to work they are going to start employing people who may need vasts amounts of paid time off that would be a start oh no but of course they dont mean them just everyone else with a business to run.

  22. I am disabled, I have M.E, HMS and FM. At the moment I have other problems which means I am on Morphine for my pain and waiting for a mri. However I do not work I am however on Job seekers allowance and looking for work when pain allows. I was told not to apply for ESA as I would only get it for a few weeks then would be put on jsa, so better to go straight on that, rather than have money muddled up. So I agreed, (I didnt even know what esa was) the JC allowed restrictions to my hours. I dont understand how people get these benefits anyway, I do get low rate DLA, thanks to a disabled charity who helped me with the forms and the benefit doctor who saw me.
    Im too confused with the system to understand it, even the lady who signs me on, says I shouldn't be there. Still If I can stumble to the JC I can stumble to work, even if by the time I get home Im in tears from the pain.
    Wake up you so called politicians we are genuine and we do need help, we have fought to get help for years and now you want to take it all away again.. Sighs instead of giving drug and alcohol abusers extra money why not send the to a drying out centre, would save you money in the long term and enrich their lives. I and many other disabled people are willing to work, but we do need to be able to sustain it maybe you should start emplying us doing your paperwork from home, instead of spending a fortune on your secretaries... :-)

  23. Pam: I doubt anyone here has a problem with the idea that, if one can work, and find it satisfying, then that's a positive, and can even have health benefits. It's a leap to then accept the WCA definition of 'can work', and ignore the fact that then it can be a struggle the likes of which most people will never experience, and anything but satisfying. There's a recurring anecdote of the former physical labourer (skilled or not) who was injured, but is now capable of most work that isn't physical, but stays on the sick because they can't do their old job. If there are people that actually fit that description, then maybe there's a problem, but I've never found satisfactory evidence that such a case exists at all now, never mind to a problematic extent. I'm not suggesting that Ed lied; I'm suggesting that his anecdotal assessment that man isn't evidence of anything. He's not qualified to make an assessment of that sort, and he didn't have all the information that's relevant.

    And can we get away from always talking about gross physical difficulties, particularly the sort that can be worked around pretty easily, when it comes down to it. Set aside for a moment the fact that people with those disabilities are still discriminated against in many ways, including employment (what employer wants the bother of adapting, even if the cost of building alterations gets paid?). What about chronic pain, brain fog, inability to wake up in the morning in any sort of predictable or prompt way, long-term variable conditions leading to higher absence due to illness, complex conditions requiring monitoring leading to frequent medical appointments (again leading to absence)... we can imagine more extreme alterations in ways of working, as Sue described, that will help with some of this, but there are plenty of cases that are virtually impossible to work around in any way. To make this worse, the problems I've described (and many others) are handled badly, more often not at all, by the Labour-devised WCA.

    Now many problems, both in welfare and in wider life, are getting worse for sick and disabled people, and the reason it's getting worse is that political and media discourse is pushing people into the scrounger view, telling people it's okay to have these prejudices because disabled people are all scroungers unless they're paralympians or Stephen Hawking. Ed just joined in. I'm willing to give multiple chances, but he's just lost at least one as far as I'm concerned. Not only did he fail to challenge this growing attitude, to grab the harder task of moving public opinion rather than pandering to it, but he joined in. Maybe it's good news for polls and electability in the short term, but it's bad news in the long run - for sick and disabled people, and for political pluralism.

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  25. Anonymous said :- "Let the Tories do away with all benefits. Picture this: homeless people sleeping rough, begging, theft, a savage society where only people with jobs get decent healthcare. Is this what they want? There are precious few jobs going around anyway and we all know why that is! Oh, start up a business.....not everyone is an entrepeneur and someone on benefits will not have the start up cash anyway. Housing crisis! Do away with benefits and you won't need housing, we will all be sleeping rough!"

    Only one thing missing - a returning defeated army policing the 'undeserving poor', (Russia 1918?). Who will they turn their guns on this time?