Monday 1 August 2011

What have we Achieved?

Regular readers of my blog will be familiar with both the sense of crushing defeat and delighted success we regularly share.

We have one of the hardest battles of any group. We have no unqualified political support, we have to battle a hostile media, we have less physical ability to make our protest and we are dealing with Welfare. The most right-wing, hard-line department in politics - whoever is in power.

Perhaps most dauntingly of all we must try to counteract and disprove a set of perceived wisdoms in society treated as "fact" by most. We are "scroungers" "irresponsible" "invalid". They think sick and disabled people don't work - 60% of us do. They think we live a life of ease at taxpayers expense - we are in fact more likely to live in poverty than any other group.

Given all these disadvantages and barriers, it would seem likely that we would give up. It would seem fair to assume that we would not find a voice, that we could never make ourselves "visible". Politicians might assume we would achieve no sway over political outcomes or gain much traction with a sceptical public.

Today, 250,000 articles will have been read on this blog. A quarter of a million opportunities to make our case. Since last October, tens of thousands of people have shared it with their friends, sent it to their MPs and linked it to their social networking pages. I have found myself speaking to welfare ministers and journalists, radio shows and conferences.

Thanks to all of you, my blog went into the the top 50 political blogs within 4 months (Wikio) and has stayed there ever since, climbing to No. 31 today.

You support me daily both in small ways and by taking enormous personal risk. Together we've found a voice and it has gained power and strength. We've come together to fight and as we celebrate such a significant milestone I wanted to take a look at how far we've come as a movement in just a few short months.

I think the most significant achievement is the solidarity and commitment of all those involved. Charities have come together as never before, campaign groups and unions are united on the issues that matter the most. We have managed to distil our arguments down into a few vital points and from Scope to The Broken of Britain, from The Disability Alliance (an umbrella group of over 270 charities) to DPAC, from Carer Watch to MIND we respond to challenges with a dazzling array of different voices, but they all carry the same message.

May saw the biggest protest of sick and disabled people in UK history. Over 8,000 people turned up to the Hardest Hit march, with hundreds staying to lobby their MPs in Westminster. The support of both traditional charities and social media gave the event a profile it probably wouldn't have had just a few months ago.

Other wonderful blogs achieve huge impact too - Benefit Scrounging Scum, The Tentacles of Doom, Dawn Willis, Where's the Benefit False Economy, FactCheck and many many more work despite great personal cost to reveal the mistruths and dangers of welfare reform.

Social Media is really where I feel we can be proudest. The speed and accessibility of social media has revolutionised the way sick and disabled people can engage with their own voices. This is vitally important. Unless we can speak for ourselves, we will never be able to explain how we are affected by random government policies. Never before have we been able to respond to a misleading newspaper story or government press release. Our articles are the most read and commented on and shared - not just in politics but often in the entire UK across any media. The internet has become one big forum accessible to sick and disabled people and we make the most of it every day.

Groups such as "The Armchair Army" have been set up specifically to support those who are a little more able physically to attend protests by arranging mass email events. These enable the less able to be heard and support the wider protest by raising awareness of our issues in the media. Quite apart from anything else, it's empowering. People who thought they were powerless can now make a real difference, every day.

The left wing bloggers could not have been more supportive or generous. They promoted my blog from day one and have always given me the space and encouragement to explain our cause - even when Labour came out of it like a stinky-pig. Left Foot Forward, Labour List and Liberal Conspiracy took up the call to stand "shoulder to wheel" with us and it has made a big difference.

The media have started to listen. Oh so slowly, and sometimes with frustrating inaccuracy, but that's simply because we all know the issues so well ourselves. Forget the Mail and Express - we have the Guardian who couldn't be more supportive, but lately, there have been stories on the BBC, Channel 4 News, The Mirror LBC, Dale & Co, Radio 5 live and many more. It is inevitable that such a "pressure-cooker" issue on-line will eventually spill over into the mainstream and when it does, we'll be ready. I've been working on contacts in the right wing press with considerable success, I hope you'll start to see the fruits of that very soon.

And politicians. When George Osborne announced the CSR we had no-one. No-one at all. Labour had largely got us into this mess and the Tories were happy to hoover us up and throw us out with the deficit. Prominent Lib Dems who had opposed ESA before the coalition such as Danny Alexander suddenly went silent when we needed them most.

But politically, we've come the furthest of all. The brilliant Rhydian Fon-James from Broken of Britain achieved success close to alchemy with Plaid and the Welsh parliament, resulting in Early Day motions backed by Hywel Williams. He deconstructed DLA/PiP proposals forensically, I worked on every line of the Welfare Reform Bill relating to ESA until my head hurt. Within days of knowing exactly what we were up against, we were able to start publicising and opposing the elements of the WRB that we felt were most dangerous to our supporters.

The stunningly successful Broken of Britain campaigns to raise awareness of DLA and what it's for went viral, supported by thousands online. It led to over 5,000 submissions to the DLA consultation - thousands more than they usually receive. I ran an "ESA week" a little later that brought issues such as Time Limiting ESA to just one year to the forefront.

Today, we can be proud. Labour took on almost all of the issues we're fighting and tabled them as amendments to the bill. In some cases they argued for much less than we need, but it gave us a chance to be heard in parliament and oh my goodness how we are heard!! We have been directly quoted in the committees, our speeches have been read out in the House of Commons, and the pinnacle for me was the day Ed Miliband stood up in PMQs and devoted all 6 questions to my issue. Time Limiting ESA was suddenly the most important issue of the day and I practically exploded all over the telly!!

While I'm talking about PMQs, this is where every single one of you takes a bow. Most of my campaigning and that of Broken of Britain has focused on getting you all involved actively. You have responded with dazzlingly effective enthusiasm!! MPs mailbags are groaning under the weight of our letters - WCAs, ESA and the abolishing of DLA are absolutely at the forefront of issues raised around the country and there cannot be an MP who is not aware of the things that concern us about the WRB. You only have to keep a tally of the questions they raise at PMQs - on all sides of the house - to see the impact we've had. There are regularly 3 or 4 questions to the Prime Minister expressing concern.

But where has all of this got us? I read comments every day from supporters despairing at the slow progress of our politics and asking whether anyone is actually listening at all?

Well, in just the last few months, I believe things have changed and that we now have a real chance of making significant changes to the bill.

The coalition have made such little progress themselves in finalising the details of the bill that it had to be delayed by two months when it arrived in the Lords. There is real concern in the Lords over some of the issues and much more cross party support.

The Disability Alliance have mounted an unprecedented legal challenge supported by over 270 charities and we must do everything that we can to support them. Government will ensure that they are opposed every step of the way and we must keep reminding our own charities that we need them to do this. Whilst they must work with government, they must also speak for us, the people they represent and they are doing a fine job of doing so.

We are working on several documentaries for the BBC and other TV stations that should air in the Autumn, widening out the debate still further as the bill is debated in the Lords.

Finally, and perhaps most crucially, we are now able to work with the grassroots of the LibDems who have seen the inequalities we are facing and have tabled a motion for their Autumn Conference opposing ESA assessments and the time limit. We finally have a chance to undermine the parliamentary majority that would ensure the WRB is pushed through despite enormous democratic opposition.

It's been a surreal year. Almost daily I have to pinch myself. But today, we can be enormously proud of what we've achieved, proud of our calm, evidence based responses to what are often vicious attacks. Proud of our strength and resilience, proud of our self confidence and intelligence.

If nothing else, we've proven beyond doubt that we do not in any way fit the insidious stereotypes designed to undermine us. We've found our voice and it can only grow in strength and dedication as we go on to achieve countless further successes.


What makes our campaigns work is you. Please keep doing what you do - tweet, link, email, send to  your MPs and don't let up on the pressure for a single day. 


  1. Hi Sue

    I think what you've achieved is amazing, you have brought together loads of people who have similar ideals and interests.

    Many of the groups you have spoken about are doing a tremendous job highlighting the worries we all have.

    The fight is going to be a long one but we are on the right track, some of us try and campaign in our own small way but I think many people are apathetic.

    I'm no expert in campaigning, I'm a married disabled man who thought he'd start up his own campaign, "Atos register of shame". The idea behind this campaign was for those people who have had to undergo the Atos assessment to send in their personal accounts to me, I am going to put them all together into a document and then make it available to MPs, Newspapers, Radio stations and the general public, the idea is to show the wider public what the disabled/sick have to undergo to get their rightful benefits, it's not an assessment it's an interogation process.

    I say people are apathetic because one would have thought I would get hundreds of people sending in their personal accounts, sadly this has not happened as yet, I've got quite a lot but not as many as I need, why do you think people are not willing to join in this campaign? They do not have to use their own name, an alias is perfectly acceptable.

    I believe a document such as this would make a big impact?

    Again I personally thankyou for all your doing.

  2. well done sue !

  3. well done Sue. Very proud of you.. You deserve it....

  4. Brilliant work Sue.

    Can I also cheekily use this to tell/remind people of a website that aims to remind the Coalition "they take £18 billion from benefits but, they plan to take just £2.9 billion from the banking sector, the very people who brought this country almost to its knees".

    Go and have a look I found the the comments from people inspiring. -

    Again Thanks Sue Keep going please

  5. The scale of this success is just staggering... the fight is not over yet but to have gained any ground against the monolithic structures of government and Parliament is a fantastic achievement.

  6. Keep fighting the good fight. Best wishes from Australia!

  7. Housebound, I started campaiging from my bed via my laptop. I now have a drawer dedicated to answers from the House of Commons which is overflowing into a second.

    People like you keep me going and I can't thank you enough.

    Oh, and a small victory this week: getting cited in the inquiry into the WCA. The very points I'd raised were highly criticised in the conclusions. Not only that, my mum had seen it in the news and was going to tell me about it, not knowing that I'd been a part of it.

    So feeling doubly encouraged this week. Ready to continue my ongoing fight with my next bugbear: time limiting ESA...

  8. Fantastic work by all of us sue!...
    I don't know what's going to happen but i think people are apathetic because they are so tired & afraid... i read & follow & leave comments most days but i am still afraid to be really visible & send emails etc because i'm scared of being punished...
    Nevertheless, over time as you say the complexities are being bought down to main points & we can argue them very well & the progress of the last months is giving me strength...I do not feel so alone...
    I agree with the fronts we are fighting on eg corrupt & unfit WCA, 1 yr contribution, decimating DLA, total mess of the WRAG, disgusting media... but can i ask if at 'any point' the removal of exemptions can be challenged?... i know this is harder but for people like me it is life threatening to be put in the WRAG or put in a state of constant review..
    I have chronic temporal lobe epilepsy, chronic vertigo, chronic anxiety & depression... for the first time in my life the anxiety & depression has been less over the last 10 yrs since i got DLA & was able to eat better & pay rent & bills... I've also been acknowledged for my suffering at last & respected for my fight to care for myself...
    My problem is that traumas caused these illnesses & I have relapsed this last year through constantly thinking about them again & being terrified of being forced to describe my experiences to strangers so they understand just how ill i am... i shouldn't have to do that!...
    I am on IB waiting in limbo to be called, despite having a 'recommended' 5 yr review date & indefinite DLA... I have read this means that the onus is on them to prove there has been a change but of course i don't even expect them to check... For people like me keep trying to get evidence will not be possible even though it's all there so i'm terrified...
    Hopefully if we succeed in exposing the WCA there may be changes but it will still be ATOS & i can still end up in constant review & don't feel i will survive being under constant threat as this is why i am so ill in the fist place...
    I have stopped eating, looking after myself or spending any money... my disabilities are only partly visible so i'm terrified of looking normal at the WCA unless i have a fit or panic...
    This is where you all come in... If i had a WCA today i look terrible... i am dirty, exhausted, all bent up & little self esteem... just what they wanted & i've done it to myself out of fear because i'm afraid of looking OK on the day... BUT because of all of you i am determined to stop calling fear to me... I am not a rabbit... I will look after myself better if i can & stand tall at the WCA because the truth will have to be enough!...
    Best wishes to all & keep going!!! Nita

  9. I am waiting for Limited Work Capability assessment forms to arrive in the post, having received the phone call first. I am an appointee and so will be filling them in on behalf of someone I care for. This person is not going to be able to attend a "medical" and so will lose benefit. I am so tired of battling and all of this will be too late for the person I'm caring for :(

  10. Yes, I believe much has been achieved, and thank you for that, Sue, as well as to the other Broken of Britain contributors. Thanks also to those I see fighting the fight in other forums, who do what many of us lack the strength to do.

    I think you are winning or, at least, gaining ground. The surest indication was the attempt by the DWP to 'spoil' reporting of the Work & Pensions Committee recently, with the laughable Mail/Express/Sun/BBC axis coverage. I think they are scared.

    When Iain Dale is publishing pieces sympathetic to our side, it's a sign they are cracking.

  11. No sign yet of handcuffs on Grayling or anyone else... I'll believe we're making real progress when he and others are in the dock.


  12. With the work and pensions committee having announced an inquiry into DLA reform, I'll have to nail out my submission on it sometime before the September deadline.

    Everyone claiming DLA or campaigning on it should remember to do the same.

  13. We have indeed made progress, I can't believe I am typing those words. They make me smile, for once.

    Thank you, Sue, Thank you, BendyGirl, thank you Broken of Britain, Where's the Benefit?, the Guardian and anyone else who has an abundance of humanity and are comrades in this war.

    Battles are indeed being won. Now we need to continue to fight so that victory in this war will not just be ours, but victory for everyone who relies on benefits but can't fight, and victory for everyone who will one day suddenly find themselves sick or disabled as well.

  14. I have to say that although i manage to do a few posts like this & tick 'recommend' in the Guardian i believe there are many people like me who are just not up to handling a computer well enough to do what is needed...
    I can post on here because all i have to do is copy an easily visible group of letters to submit... However i find it just too much to keep subscribing to things or having passwords etc.. I don't know how to do links or copy & paste... i just can't remember...
    I am desperately afraid but still i can't do much more than this... i am limited & that adds to my apathy sometimes... my Mom doesn't even really understand what a computer is but she phones Labour up & lets them know what she thinks lol!
    'Anonymous': Is it possible for the person you care for to have a home medical?... I know it sounds silly but I am so afraid & full of expectation that it's all down hill that i hardly have room left for hope... BUT don't forget that is what they want!!!
    If for whatever reason they don't do right by you APPEAL & know we are all working for each other because what they are doing is wrong!!
    Best wishes to you... Nita

  15. Sue is right, we have come a long way, and we are much better placed to take our message into the public arena and make the Coalition hesitate than we were a year ago, with the LibDem motion likely leading the way.

    But there is a brutally necessary caveat to that hesitation. We saw the Coalition blink over NHS reform, and then a couple of months down the track Lansley is not just still there, but trying to peddle the same snake-oil, while claiming to have listened to us and have our support. We cannot assume we are winning, not until these proposals have been voted down, and even then we need to be vigilant for their return behind a different mask. Equally we need to not just stop the onslaught, but take back the ground we have lost in ILF and Housing Benefit and elsewhere. And in particular we need to reverse the demonisation of disabled people, so that it is the journalists of the Express and the Mail who are reviled, not the disabled people who are their victims.

    To quote a Tory with a certain following "this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning"

  16. Yes sue and the team have done well and hope things for everyone turn out well

    my own personal circumstances with my local DWP are not good and have taken a very bad toll on my health and seam to be fighting a long battle of many years on my own even thow i have a full support team including the local mp i have been done very badly

    This my not change for me irrespective of the eventual outcome for the country so people like myself will continue to suffer in silence

    I hope to report at some point a more positive note but we will have to wait and see

  17. Thanks suey for all your work when you are ill yourself. People are afraid to speak out for fear of being targeted - that is what this country has come to. The ESA medical must be stopped and ATOS and the DWP taken to court for causing unbearable suffering and stress to vulnerable people. We need a judicial review as this is nothing short of persecution of the sick and disabled.This process and the constant media bashing has certainly made me seriously worse and desstroyed any progress I might have made if left in peace. No one minds a proper medical but this is shooting fish in a barrel.

  18. Well done Sue and everybody. Thank you for doing so much and for keeping us motivated too. What's been achieved is genuinely huge but a lot more is needed.

  19. I want to say thank you to all of you who are campaigning tirelessly. I am one of those who up until recently has been hit on the whole by a genetic physical condition. I claim no other benefit than dla. For which I have an indefinite award. So why since the thought of change an assessment by someone who cannot surely put my rare condition into a little box when it all becomes PIP have I become so scared and worried and depressed. Because I feel as though life has dealt me a hard enough blow as it is. I am not sure how much more of this I can take. So the end result I think is that many many people are being put through undue stress. Somedays I just wish I could block the world out, shut my ears to it all, its too much to take in. Some days I just can't be brave and click on all the links.

    I wish I could say it is different but thats the truth and that makes me feel guilty. Whilst all of you continue to battle on so very much.

    I just feel like a scared rabbit, stuck in front of the glare of a bright light. Unable to move.

    There is hope and I know all of this is reaching out to those outside the disabled community but a part of me just feels like giving up.

  20. Well done Sue! Keep up the good fight - and you're completely right in pointing out that you have achievd tons and got this issue high up the agenda. Well done to you and many others on this.


  21. I didn't think the achievements you've outlined above and how far the campaign has come were possible. I thought it was pie in the sky and wishful thinking. I genuinely believed it was game set and match to the right-wing sociopaths crusade to abolish sickness benefit

    You've got to admire and salute perseverance and a never say die fighting spirit in what seemed to me an impossible cause especially when you're chronically sick yourself.

    Bravo, and best wishes.

  22. very well done sue your blogs helps many many extremely ill severely disabled people who are also extremely frightened and concerned regarding these diabolical disability welfare reforms .
    I must mention that those disabled who have put their heads above the parapet to tell the media/press the devastating effect these welfare reforms have had on them have then been rigorously targetted by the DWP/JCP