Tuesday 29 November 2011

Europe Calls on Governments to Protect Disabled Citizens

I reproduce this letter on behalf of the European Disability Forum. On first reading, I'm not sure our UK government can claim to meet any of these demands. Except No.3 of course, which appears to be a particular obsession.... 
Despite the rhetoric, cuts to Access to Work even call No.3 into question.


To the Heads of State and Government of the European Union,


persons with disabilities wants to keep their rights
The European Disability Forum (EDF), the voice of 80 million persons with disabilities and their families in Europe, calls on all the Governments of the European Union to ensure that the needs of people with disabilities and their families are taken into account all the way through economic, political and social policies.

Austerity measures undertaken by governments in the European Union could undermine progress towards the realisation of the rights of persons with disabilities enshrined in the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities as well as the social targets of the Europe 2020 strategy and the European Disability Strategy 2010 – 2020. Poverty, social exclusion, discrimination, marginalisation, illiteracy and negative stereotypes of people with disabilities can be the sad legacy of the economic, social and political reforms if implemented without duly consideration of the rights of people with disabilities.
The EDF calls on the European Council and all the Governments of Europe to ensure that people with disabilities are not socially, economically or politically excluded. In order to make sure  that the rights of persons with disabilities are not undermined by current responses to the economic crisis, we must consider that: 
1. People with disabilities might freely move in European societies, live independently and included in society: no action restricting these capacities should be envisaged in any social protection reform. Personal assistance and other community support services should not be undermined by austerity measures.

2. Education of persons with disabilities will be respected and reforms in the education systems will not mean reduction in education support policies in mainstream education and should not lead to segregation to special schools.

3. The right to work and employment is fully respected: Measures for full inclusion in employment including reasonable accommodation and supported employment should not disappear from the national employment policies.

4. Access to health services for people with disabilities is not put into question and health services for people with disabilities do not consider their health as secondary in respect to non-disabled people.

5. That Social habilitation and rehabilitation is considered an investment for European societies ensuring that all capacities are collected and fully participate in the construction of Europe after the crisis. The quality of social services should remain a pre-condition for respecting the human rights of people with disabilities.

6. Adequate living standards and social protection are ensured. This will mean that no measures are taken that will have the effect of leading people with disabilities into poverty, social exclusion or reduction of his/her living income.

7. Freedom of expression and opinion and access to information is not restricted by reforms of public and private services.

8. Respect for family life is ensured by guaranteeing to all people with disabilities and their families adequate family policies. These policies should remain a priority.

9. Organisations representing people with disabilities should be consulted in regard to any action that could have an impact on the rights of people with disabilities.

10. Raising the awareness of the needs of persons with disabilities should take place in order to ensure that the portrayal of persons with disabilities in the media and other relevant stakeholders is done correctly and does not lead to social stigmatisation.
Yannis Vardakastanis
President of the European Disability Forum

Monday 28 November 2011

Harrington 2 - The Sequel is Never as Good

Professor Harrington is the man charged with sorting out the incomprehensible mess that is ESA (Employment and Support Allowance)

Given a system that gets the decision wrong so often that up to 70% of appeals are successful, his work is fairly urgent. The government claim that 11,000 people a week are being assessed for ESA, yet those assessments have been scathingly criticised by the Citizens Advice Bureaux, a Work and Pensions Select Committee report, the government's own Statutory Social Security Advisory committee, almost every leading charity, campaigners and even the professor who helped to design ESA.

People are taking their own lives. So terrified are they that they will be left homeless and hungry, so exhausted by the constant harassment of repeated assessments and tribunals, the Job Centre have been issued with suicide guidelines.

Last year, Harrington made many suggestions to improve the assessments being used (WCAs or Work Capability Assessments) and some of them did address issues that needed urgent change. The clearest was ensuring that evidence from a person's GP or Consultant was considered in the decision making process. I know, I know, sane people would assume that was already happening, but it wasn't. Just 2% of claims considered the opinion of...erm....a patient's own doctor or healthcare professional. In 98% of cases, the computer, she simply say "yes" or "no"

Again, this reader with just a little curiosity and common sense, might ask why they are extending ESA amongst such chaos? Why are they rolling it out to a further 2 million Incapacity Benefit claimants AND designing a near identical system with which to assess the 3 million or so people on DLA? (Disability Living Allowance) One might ask why on earth something so draconian and cruel has not been paused until assessments can be made fairer?

One word : Harrington.

All the time they can say that he is sorting the whole mess out, we are to be re-assured.

ESA most fails those with mental health conditions, fluctuating conditions and learning difficulties. The impersonal, tick box computers just cannot accurately be made to fit variation or nuance. In his 1st year report, Harrington did not even deal with these problems, so we were all waiting fairly impatiently to see the conclusions of his year 2 report. Today, it is more urgent than ever to make sure that these problems are solved - preferably about 3 years ago, but today would do.

Well, I read Harrington Year 2 yesterday and I'm not sure quite what he's been doing all year. No conclusions can be drawn! No changes are yet to be taken forward! No descriptors can be agreed on (yet). The opinions of Mencap, Mind, The National Autistic Society, National Association for Crohn's and Colitis, the MS society, Arthritis Care and many others were simply not "evidence based." Harrington did pat them all on the head, send them away and say they could have another go, but unless their decades of experience could translate into "evidence" that the DWP would like, it just wouldn't do.

As for suggestions that the assessment should be a "real life test" - looking at work someone could actually do, rather than asking if they can pick up a penny or do up a button - well this is clearly nonsense! How on earth can this be empirical? impersonal? quantifiable? Silly little CABs! Off you go now, try again, but as Chris Grayling says, he is "absolutely, unreservedly and implacably opposed" to something as logical as a real life test, I imagine it won't matter what the CABs come back with.

So that's it then. Nothing to see here. Move along.

A cynic might conclude that as ESA was never designed to support those with long term variable conditions anyway, any changes to ESA that ensures that it does would not be what IDS is looking for at all. If ESA was designed to simply make sure people couldn't claim unless their head fell off, then Harrington must be very careful to make sure that people with heads don't get above themselves.

As though lives are not at stake, Harrington tells us :

"I have seen these improvements [from yr 1] in the day-to-day running of both DWP
Operations and Atos. This has taken time and some observers have told
me that they have seen no change. I advise patience. The process of
improvement is happening, but is not yet in evidence everywhere. It will take
time to have the desired impact and the year three Review will closely monitor
the impact of the changes and ensure there is continuing progress in
improving the assessment."

Patience???? Patience???? How much more patient are we to be man? This is our LIVES you ask us to put to one side. Some of us don't even have until "year 3". 

The only silver lining is the clear irritation he shows with the independent tier of the tribunal service, who repeatedly tell him (well, they tell him to go away basically) that their service is "outside of his remit". When Harrington even dared to suggest - wait for it - that the judiciary run training courses to explain the "beneficial nature of work" they not only told him that was "outside of his remit" but reminded him rather sternly that their job was to uphold the law. He didn't like that one bit. 

So, we are no further forward. But it's OK, because we just need to be "patient". the government however, need show no such patience and are free to crack on at the rate of 11,000 people a week. Charities, Citizen's Advice Bureaux and campaigners must go away and work on new "evidence" yet the DWP can produce Impact Assessments like this one  http://www.dwp.gov.uk/docs/esa-time-limit-wr2011-ia-revised-apr2011.pdf so totally devoid of any evidence at all that those who read it for the first time are usually shocked.

It's shameful. 

So Professor Harrington, as you trundle on into year three, perhaps, every morning, as you wake up, you will do a little sum for me. 11,000 people per week. That's very roughly 1,500 people per day. 600 of them will go to tribunal, believing their decision to be wrong. Up to 420 of them will win. That's 420 lives lived in "patience". Every day. 420 people, who must find the strength and resilience to wait up to a year to go to tribunal because the system you are "reviewing" is so appallingly unfit for purpose. 

I don't think patience is the issue Professor. You have simply let us down in the most disappointing way. 

Thursday 24 November 2011

A Triumph? Of Sorts....

It would seem that the government are finally willing to step down over plans to remove mobility payments for adults in residential care.

Expect fanfares and trumpets in the next few days. Expect to hear that this is a government who “listens,” who does the right thing. A government who cares for the most vulnerable.

A cynic, however, might point out that a government who even considers taking this most basic freedom away from some of the most profoundly disabled is badly out of touch with the needs of disabled people. Suggesting that disabled people should be kept housebound and unable to access society is so very disgusting that one would hope they would see that it was impossible. After all, I don’t reward my children for not kicking puppies.

If one were even more cynical, one might conclude that this measure, which was only ever set to save a paltry 160 million per year, was only included in the bill in the first place to be dropped in a warm glow of benevolence.

One might conclude that it was a measure so outrageous, so cruel, that it was always designed to draw attention away from  other element of the Welfare Reform Bill that were even more cruel, but much, much harder to explain to a wider public.

Such cynicism might lead us to conclude that Time Limiting Contributory ESA, which affects 700 thousand people and saves the government up to 5 billion over the term of the parliament is a much greater prize and that by giving ground over a miniscule 160 million, critics will be silenced.

The benefit cap, which is predicted to make up to 200,000 people homeless, the plans to cut housing benefit for some of the most vulnerable, cuts to childcare and child benefit – all of these measures save the government much, much more money.

So, when the Daily Mail and the DWP start gushing with paternalistic largesse, when they jubilantly proclaim their disabled-friendly credentials, let’s be glad. But let’s not, for one moment allow them to claim that they listened. 

Crisis? You bet it is.

Crisis / Aviva

Now that I live in a flat, my mail appears magically in a pigeon hole. Sometimes, it is me who works this magic, making sure that generic letters etc get distributed to the correct resident.

Unsolicited mail is up for debate. Some seems to go into the pigeon holes, others seem to go into a big basket-of-disdain by the door.

Yesterday, I found myself Bastion of the Mail. I tucked various bills and goodies into slots and was left with 6 appeals from Crisis, the homeless charity and 6 from Aviva no less, asking residents if they might consider taking out salary insurance now that sickness benefits have been cut to the bone!!

I made the executive decision to distribute the Crisis appeal and bin Aviva. The irony of it being me who found these angel/devil mailshots did not, however, escape me....

Tuesday 22 November 2011

Adults in Need

This year's Children in Need was the most successful ever. Raising £26 Million it showed the very best of the UK. Even in these times of austerity - perhaps especially so - people emphatically and unstintingly showed that they will always protect the most vulnerable.

I felt the same sense of pride when the UK was by far the biggest donor to the Pakistan flood appeal and the famine in Somalia. I feel the same sense of pride when I remember that the UK is still the biggest donor of foreign aid, despite our own difficulties.

But at what point do all those brave, terribly sick and damaged children become scroungers? Is there a cut off point where our sympathy runs dry? Where a cute, worthy child becomes a lazy, feckless adult? There must be. When does the abused child become an adult statistic of alcohol or drug dependency? - The lowest of the low in the benefit system according to Maria Miller. When does a disabled child become a drain on the welfare system? When does a terribly unwell little boy become a man facing persecution and abuse by his neighbour? When do we decide that a little girl with learning difficulties becomes worth nothing more than a 12 mile round trip to a soup kitchen every week just to stay alive?

If politicians are now united on anything, it is that the "scrounger" rhetoric, so beloved by the Daily Mail, Express, BBC and other outlets must stop. It harms the case for welfare reform, disability hate crime is rising and society is becoming more and more polarised over the issue of sickness and disability support and care.

Chris Grayling says that he is "bemused" by the stories that appear in the paper, yet time and again, the DWP have been warned not to use their press releases in a way that leads to inflammatory, "scrounger" articles. They have been warned repeatedly not to use misleading statistics. Lord Freud says that it concerns him, the Work and Pensions Select Committee has repeatedly called for it to stop and even Iain Duncan-Smith has renounced attempts to paint the sick and disabled as workshy.

This week a report by Dame Carol Black suggested ways that people on long term sick leave might be encouraged and supported to stay in work. The report was heavily leaked to the newspapers days before it was released with accompanying quotes from welfare ministers and peers.

Dame Black said that said that she "travelled round the country" speaking to sick and disabled people and found that they wished they had "A sense of self worth" and that they had a job.

Well, I have a sense of "self worth" Dame Black. Self worth does not come from a paycheck. It comes from family and love and achievement, It comes from within, it is not dependent on the zeros on my salary.

Lord Freud went further. He seemed to imply that those signed off work sick for more than 4 weeks drifted into some kind of no man's land of despair, he claimed that politicians were therefore creating "An incubator for idleness" by not addressing the problem.

An incubator for idleness!! So now if you should become unable to go to work for a few weeks, for almost any reason you are "idle". Not unfortunate, not unwell, not disabled, but "idle"

In perhaps his most offensive faux-pas yet,**  recently, during a committee debate, Lord Freud referred to sick and disabled people as "stock". Not claimants, not customers, not even the highly impersonal "flow rates", but "stock"

Can one hear that description and fail to think of cattle, herded against their will? What else does it make you think of?

So really, how mystified can our politicians be? Is it really so hard to see that language like this reinforces a general perception of worthlessness, failure and anonymity? How dare they, with their paternalistic, patronising, assumptions pass judgement on 1 in 5 of the population so flippantly?

In my experience, if nothing else, politicians choose their words incredibly carefully. Words win elections. One brilliant sound-bite can bring down a government. One killer slogan can topple heads of state.

It is inconceivable that our politicians do not know exactly what they are doing when they refer to idleness and worthlessness and "stock"

When Children in Need become Adults in Need it seems politicians will stop at nothing to ensure that your sympathy runs dry.

** Though telling Jane Campbell, a peer in a wheelchair, that his department was "leaning over backwards" to make committee stage accessible came pretty close

If you want to help, please sign Pat's Petition here :


Sunday 20 November 2011

Me on the Radio

Here's the link to last night's show on Radio 5 Live.


I really rather enjoy making people like Mark Littlewood sound a bit silly ;)

Saturday 19 November 2011

Radio 5 Live Tonight

Just to let you all know, I will be on Radio 5 Live tonight at 10pm, discussing the government leaks on a new "sicknote" report that aims to keep people in work. The report is due to be published on Monday.

I hope this link will take you to the show http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b017gwq5

You can read more about the plans here http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/workers-on-longterm-sick-leave-face-tougher-assessment-tests-6264610.html   and here http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/workers-on-longterm-sick-leave-face-tougher-assessment-tests-6264610.html

Do think about calling in to give me some moral support ;)

Tuesday 15 November 2011

Latest Disability News Roundup

  • A disabled woman and her husband who have been found dead in their house had spoken publicly of their struggle to obtain the benefits they needed to survive.
  • MPs have accused the government of “pandering to the Daily Mail” over the issue of incapacity benefit reform, after it published a misleading press release about the results of its “fitness for work” tests.
  • A disabled peer has accused her own government of behaving like a dishonest insurance company over its treatment of hundreds of thousands of people currently claiming out-of-work disability benefits.
  • An investigation by young disabled campaigners has raised new fears of a shortage of accessible hotel rooms when thousands of disabled visitors descend on London for the 2012 Paralympics.
  • A disabled film-maker’s award-winning video installation about the killing of hundreds of thousands of disabled people in Nazi Germany has had to end its run in Gloucester Cathedral, after a vital piece of equipment was stolen.
  • Reform of incapacity benefits is set to “impoverish vast numbers of households” and “cause untold distress in countless more”, a new research report has warned.
  • Police, prosecutors and magistrates have won praise for using hate crime legislation to increase the sentence imposed on a hairdresser who shaved an offensive word into the hair of a man with learning difficulties.

For links to the full stories, please visit Disability News Service

Sunday 13 November 2011

A Welfare Limerick

The Department for Working and Pensions.
Have policies too cruel to mention.
They publish their lies
In "compassionate" guise
Yet keep all of us living in tension.

Friday 11 November 2011

Know Your Enemy

Have you ever wondered how it is that the Daily Mail & Express (other brands of toilet paper available) seem so intent on victimising sick and disabled people?

Ever wondered how it is, that monthly benefit fraud rates, released by the DWP are always written up in such an inflammatory way? Why national media only ever print the government lines. Chris Grayling, minister for employment, says he is "bemused" by it.

Maybe Iain Duncan-Smith can clear up this mystery?

Meet his special advisers : Susie Squire former Taxpayers Alliance until May 2010. For those who don't know already, The Taxpayers Allowance are huge Tory donors, regularly accused of simply being a Conservative front. They're not exactly on the Liberal, one-nation side of the Tory fence either. More your rabid frothing side. A quick scroll through their website will tell you everything you need to know, but they regularly attack disability benefits and those who receive them.

And SpAd No.2 :  Phillipa Stroud : Remember the name? Yep she was the politician who thought she could pray-away-the-gay!

She sees homosexuality as a "demon" that needs to be driven out of a person. Accordingly, she set up her own "church" to carry out this important work. Do click on these links, they're fascinating. As I read through, I wondered if she should be allowed anywhere near Westminster at all.

One can only begin to imagine what someone like Stroud might think of the disabled. No doubt we have demons of our own. It's not so long ago since people thought disabilities were the outward sign of some inner corruption or evil.

Now, surely the profiles of these two women might go some way to explaining just why, yet again today, we see misleading press releases leading to misleading stories?

**Clearly when I say "misleading" I mean out and out poppycock, but you know, legal blah......

Thursday 10 November 2011

Fit For Work. Anecdotally.

Another assessment story. Working well eh politicians?

"I was talking to a young acquaintance from Huddersfield yesterday whose mum was summoned to one of the Government's Work Capability Assessments to make sure she is not being a nasty dole scum scrounger. They also stopped her benefits while this was being carried out. My chum is her full-time carer.

My chum took her down to the assessment having to push her in her wheelchair (about 1 mile) as they didn't have the cash for a taxi.

When they got there the bod from the vile ATOS decided that she probably wasn't suitable to be considered for for work. This might be because she was blind, had had an epileptic fit in the waiting room and is severely impaired through a stroke. They agreed to reinstate her benefits but it will take nine weeks for that to happen.  His carers allowance seems to have been stopped as well.

She is under consideration for going into residential care in the New Year her condition has deteriorated and if so, it also means that he could be homeless and without income as he’d lose his carer benefits.  He’s no qualifications either as he’s looked after mum since he was 14 (he’s late twenties now). 

They are having to receive food parcels now every few days because they have no income.

Tuesday 8 November 2011

New Report Slams ESA

I don't have much interenet, so can only post this link, but if you read nothing else today, read this report from Sheffield Hallam university slamming ESA and vindicating everything campaigners have been saying.

These guys used to be welfare hawks, they supported ESA when Labour set it up

This is a BIG deal http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/8874589/1-million-to-lose-incapacity-benefits-under-Coalition-reforms.html

And in the Telegraph too!

Monday 7 November 2011

Show them we Exist!!

As most of you will know, I am moving and have no broadband. This however, is vitally important. After months of work, Carer Watch have built an alliance of charities, campaigners and supporters AND managed to get the following petition agreed for the government website. 

You probably know that there are lots of petitions trying to be heard, many just get a few hundred signatures. Ours however MUST get the 100,000 required for a debate in parliament. We are invisible and unheard, but there are millions of us. Once you have signed it, send it to your families, friends, carers and colleagues. Ask that when they sign it, they send it on too. 

At the bottom of this post, you will see Twitter and Facebook buttons, please, please use them. 

The media ignore us, politicians ignore us, but this is a real chance to be heard. 

SIGN HERE : http://epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/20968

Pat Onions has submitted an e-petition to the government website. Pat is blind and Pat is also a carer. When we asked her why she submitted this petition she said -
We were determined to attend theHardest Hit rally in Edinburgh. Determined, in spite of disability, to stand with the others who had made the long and difficult journey. Determined to show we were united as one voice against the vicious cuts we are all enduring. We knew there were many thousands who couldn’t make it. Disability, ill health, providing care, or cost would prevent them coming. We made it.
To the many there and those who came in spirit……….this petition is for us all.

Pat’s petition reads –

Stop and review the cuts to benefits and services which are falling disproportionately on disabled people, their carers and families.
You can see the full petition on the Government website here
CarerWatch are supporting Pat’s petition.  If Pat gets 100,000 signatures it could generate a debate in Parliament.

There is massive concern over the huge extent of both the welfare reforms and the cuts. Too often when people speak up, their voice is fragmented and discounted. This is an opportunity to get everyone together to speak with one voice, and to register in one place, how many people are asking the government to listen.

Firstly – obviously – we ask you to sign this petition and persuade all your family and friends to do the same. The name of the game is numbers ; so please ask friends, family and any organisations you belong to to sign and get others to sign.

When you sign the petition you will see buttons for twitter and facebook; so please share it with others on Twitter and Facebook.  Let Pat know she has your support by leaving a comment here too.
The first signatures will be the hardest to get, while we get this juggernaut rolling, so please help now and make sure that this petition really takes off.

This petition will only succeed if everyone joins together to support it and CW are delighted that  organisations are joining our ranks and offering support.
Organisations on board so far that have agreed to help raise awareness of Pat’s Petition are :

Disability Alliance
The Broken of Britain
Benefits and Work
Pain Concern
Diary of a Benefit Scrounger

SIGN HERE : http://epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/20968

Saturday 5 November 2011

White Noise

I'm moving today!!

I didn't dare get too excited or "diarise" my housing situation beyond generic, political comment, but yesterday, after jumping through more hoops than a prize poodle at Crufts, I became the proud owner of the biggest bunch of keys you ever saw.

When we were initially told we had to move, we found a little house a few roads away. It was "meh". Somewhere to live, but a depressing squeeze on our already hopelessly crammed living space. We took it because we had to have a home, but there was no va-va-voom (hat tip to some French car company.....)

Just three weeks before we were due to move, it all fell through. In a bit of  haze, Dave and I sprang into action, and within an hour had 5 viewings booked.

The first was tiny, like an Alice in Wonderland version of home. The second was demoralising. Like an actress with new Double-Ds, the stunning sea views fronted a hell hole of damp and splinters. The third had grills at the window!!

Despairing and sniffing the scent of failure, (or possibly mould) we trudged on to No.4.

I'm not quite sure what happened or how, but I can only assume the universe let off some kind of magic spark.

We pulled up outside an elegant mansion with an ornate York stone doorway, set in perfectly manicured gardens. I know the area well, it's full of these old, turn-of-the-century mansions, most split into rabbit warrens of 12 or 14 bedsits. The area is beautiful, quiet and waiting-for-God-genteel.

With the cynicism of the day shifting uncomfortably, we peeked nervously through the front door.

The entrance hall was rather grand if I remember, but to be honest, I was too busy picking my jaw up from the floor as the agent opened the door to the flat. We walked into a vast lounge with carved stucco ceilings that reached to the stars. The corner of the room was a light-drenched, elegant bay with 8 ft high windows. Acres of wooden flooring met an open fireplace with a marble surround.

I think we just stood there saying Oh My God quite a lot. I DO remember that it is the only time in 17 years that my husband hasn't fiddled with sash windows, tutting darkly, or tapped walls with an air of one who suspects damp.

The boys just shrieked a lot and developed knee-slide techniques that will no doubt see them through many a happy rainy afternoon.

I was almost too scared to see any other rooms. With the seafront flat still fresh in our minds, I was convinced there must be an abattoir in the kitchen or squatters in the bathroom.

Next, was an enormous bedroom with the same beautiful ceilings and more 8 ft bay windows, then another huge bedroom, then a huge bathroom, then a new kitchen, then - I'm sure I didn't dream it - a beautiful, ancient conservatory. We took it there and then.

There is even a "camp" hidden away in the bushes at the bottom of the garden, that my kids are convinced was left by the fairies just for them, so perfect and mossy and hidden away is it.

So I'll be off for a bit. We're not nearly packed, but an army of helpers are marching towards Worthing as we speak. A chilli that could feed Wembley is on the stove, ready for hungry workers.

Dave and I seem to have appalling luck, always in crisis, yet somehow, just at the 11th hour, we fall on our feet. I have no idea how this flat was within our budget, no idea why there weren't the customary Worthing to London queues to see anything that you could actually live in. I'm just glad it was and there weren't

I won't have broadband for a bit, so don't let me down welfare warriors! Tweet, blog, write to your MPs, email - Don't you let them get away with any fibs while I'm de-webbed will you? You know how I'll fret. Watch those #wrb committees and try somehow to give Lord Fraud a conscience......OK, that's too much to ask, but do what you can ;)

See you soon!

Friday 4 November 2011

Lord Freud - Can You Clarify?

Yesterday, during the Grand Committee stage of the Welfare Reform Bill, Lord Freud, the peer in charge of seeing through the government's welfare reforms did not tell the truth in his responses to Clause 38 : Capability for work or work-related activity, Amendment 55C

Perhaps he was simply so "misguided" that he has no idea about the details of his government's own policy. Either possibility is unacceptable.

-Firstly he claimed that "The assessment was designed to take account of chronic and fluctuating conditions. It is not intended to be a snapshot but looks at what someone can do reliably, repeatedly and safely."

It was not, it does not and Professor Harrington is yet to even report on fluctuating conditions. A recent Work and Pensions Committee criticised how fluctuating conditions are currently assessed. I urge the Lord to check with ATOS exactly what definition of "reliably, repeatedly and safely" are at the present time.

-Secondly, he claimed "It takes account of the effects of pain and fatigue."

Nowhere, on either the ESA50 form or on the descriptors set to decide an award is a claimant asked about pain or fatigue. You can check here http://www.tameside.gov.uk/esa/wca It is one of the biggest complaints that claimants have. Most symptoms are discounted from the assessment and Lord Freud was simply not telling the truth.

-Thirdly he claimed "all available evidence, including that from GPs or specialists, is fully considered by the department's decision-makers."

Yet according to Professor Harrington, this has only been the case in 2% of cases. (http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201012/cmselect/cmworpen/1015/101508.htm Section 5, No.124) ( Whilst ministers assure us this will be changed, to say that is currently the case is untrue.

Finally, Dame Tanni Grey-Thompson had bought to his attention an assessment centre in Croydon that was inaccessible to the disabled. His response was

"My Lords, I will follow up the Croydon situation. I was not aware of it, even though I was brought up in south Croydon."

In fact, according to ATOS themselves and Freedom of Information requests, there are 29 inaccessible disability assessment centres. http://blacktrianglecampaign.org/2011/10/19/wheelchair-users-have-to-climb-a-flight-of-stairs-to-prove-they-are-disabled-enough-to-get-benefits-at-a-centre-in-croydon/

I would argue that Lord Freud SHOULD have been aware of this situation. It is farcical and entirely representative of the system sick and disabled people find themselves drowning in. Campaigners such as Black Triangle have been raising this issue for years. Perhaps if he ever bothered to listen to us, rather than dismissing us as irrelevant he might find he did learn something after all.

Lord Freud - You may have noticed that we are watching you. We report on every committee, read every report. You will have to do much, much better than this in your responses on sickness and disability. 

Thursday 3 November 2011

Complaint to BBC

So at a time of the worst recession for a generation, the BBC make another programme about benefit cheats?

With Sickness benefit fraud at just 0.5%, the BBC make another programme about benefit cheats?

With Disability benefit fraud at just 0.3% the BBC make another programme about benefit cheats?

With government overpayments actually costing the country more than sickness/disability benefit fraud, the BBC make another programme about benefit cheats?

At a time of rising disability hate crime, stigmatisation and abuse, the BBC make another programme about benefit cheats?

At a time of the biggest erosion of welfare provision in our lifetimes, the BBC make another programme about benefit cheats?

At a time of corruption of MPs, corruption of our media, corruption of our police force, the BBC make another programme about benefit cheats?

Do you make any attempt to point these things out in your programme?  Indeed, do you point out that the cases you use are extreme and very, very rare? Do you mention that before the recession Britain had one of the highest work participation rates in the OECD? Do you explain that until the credit crunch UK benefit levels were amongst the lowest in Western Europe? Do you balance your programme by mentioning that our number of claims are on a par with other countries, not higher? Do you explain to your viewers that benefits in the UK are some of the toughest to get in the world? That we have the toughest sanctions in place? Do you point out that benefit claims have not been rising for a long time and that in fact between 1997 to 2007 they fell consistently?

No. I'm sure you don't

This is a very dangerous game the BBC are playing. I'm sure the coalition are delighted, but perhaps you have some duty to the 5 million sick and disabled people who watch your programmes and pay your licence fee? Or those who have lost their jobs through no fault of their own? Or those single parents with very young children.

Shame on you.

Sent to panorama.reply@bbc.co.uk
Re : Britain on the Fiddle, 8pm, BBC1 tonight.