Monday 16 December 2013

Open Letter to David Cameron

I can hardly bear it any more. Day after day after day. Terrible stories of suffering, despair and suicide.

I'm know you don't believe it. I know what you're told. "It's getting better, we're taking action, we're improving the process, these people don't try hard enough, they're not really sick enough."

People say I shouldn't beg. But I'm not proud. If getting down on my knees and begging you would make a difference, I'd do it gladly. I promise you now, you'll be remembered for this. If you're sitting at home right now, thinking about your legacy, I promise you it will be this. It will be that you turned away from the pain and suffering before your very eyes. I'll make sure of it if it takes me 20 years.

It will be that you allowed your Department for Work and Pensions to lie and cheat and mislead whilst people - millions of people - suffered.

I know, I don't usually click on video links either. But you found time to watch Strictly Come Dancing,you said so at the Downing St charity reception. And we know you loved Fruit Ninja. And you have time to take countless holidays.

So even if you're convinced I'm wrong, absolutely certain I'm just a trouble making leftie, please, I'll beg you, I'm not proud, find ten minutes - just ten minutes to watch

This film. 

Work Capability Assessments have been found in law to discriminate against people with mental health conditions. Your government appealed but the appeal was overturned. Not only are you on the wrong side of the argument, you're on the wrong side of the law.

You have to stop this. You can pause the migration of Incapacity Benefit claimants until the process can be made safe. YOU can do it. Today if you chose to. You could stop this dreadful social crisis unravelling before our eyes.

And I'm begging you. For what it's worth.

Friday 13 December 2013


Yesterday, Paul Litchfield finally released his Year 4 report into Work Capability Assessments.

There are some good recommendations it it.
  • He suggests setting minimum times for reassessment after a successful appeal (6 months)
  • He concludes that the process needs to be simpler and take less time
  • He finds that both those attempting to claim and the public have little faith in the system. He suggests people should be treated with much more dignity and compassion
There are many other recommendations, many of which echo calls campaigners have been making for some time. 

However, do these recommendations actually matter? Professor Malcolm Harrington, Litchfiled's predecessor, completed 3 previous reviews, but the some of us from the Spartacus network wondered just how many of his original 25 recommendations had actually been rolled out successfully. 

In Litchfield's report he says 

"Of Professor Harrington's 49 recommendations, the Department accepted 35 in 

full and 10 more in principle. Of those accepted in full, 29 have been fully 
implemented, 3 have been partially implemented and 3 are in progress. Of those 
accepted in principle, 5 appear to have been fully implemented, 2 partially 
implemented and 3 are in progress. 

We disagree with his analysis completely. We chose to analyse the first 25 recommendations from the Year 1 Review as we felt that any effects or progress would have had time to be implemented. Of those 25 recommendations, we found that nearly 2 thirds had not been implemented successfully or completely. 

Independent reviews are supposed to be just that. It's hard to understand how our findings can be so very different to those of the Mr Litchfield. 

As ever, we need to make our own news, but I know we can. The Harrington article I posted earlier is already the 4th most read article online today because of YOUR support, YOUR RT's and shares on Facebook and because YOU let people know about it. 

We can show that we are our own media if we all pull together. 

Breaking News : Government Reviewer Opposed Rollout of ESA

In 2008, Labour introduced a new out of work sickness benefit, Employment and Support Allowance, to replace the old Incapacity Benefit.

The new system of application and assessments was much tougher, and politicians originally hoped that up to a million people could be moved from the benefit.

However, by 2010, it was clear there were significant flaws in the process. People with mental health and fluctuating conditions were not being fairly treated and successful appeals against “fit for work” decisions soared to 40%.

Professor Harrington was asked to review the new benefit and make recommendations for improving it. As the election took place in 2010, crucially, only new claimants were being assessed. ESA was yet to be rolled out to the more complicated, and often longer term, Incapacity Benefit claimants, though trials were underway in Burnley and Aberdeen.

Most people claim out of work sickness benefits for short periods – perhaps to get through a sports injury, accident or one off surgery – and stop their claims within 2 years. However, this will always leave a few people with serious, life limiting conditions who will need to claim the benefit for longer periods. Over the years, those claims build up, increasing the proportion who need long term support.

When the coalition came to power in May 2010, they immediately announced that they would go ahead and start to reassess those already claiming Incapacity Benefit.

I could never understand this decision. Why would you take a failing benefit and roll it out to almost 2 million of the most vulnerable claimants? Not only that, but at first, just 25,000 people per month were being assessed, but the government constantly increased and increased the numbers until today, nearly 130,000 assessments are carried out every month.

Why? Why would you rush this group through failing assessments, ever faster, when backlogs kept on increasing, tribunals were overturning 40% of decisions that went to appeal and even legally, courts were starting to judge that the test discriminates against certain groups?

Unless of course you don’t want the tests to be fair. If your aim is to remove a million people from the benefit, perhaps it suits you to make sure that as many of those existing claimants don’t face a fair test? Since 2010, the government have repeatedly delayed improvements to ESA. Out of 25 recommendations made by Professor Harrington in his Yr1 Review, almost two thirds have not been fully and successfully implemented. An “Evidence Based Review” using new descriptors designed by mental health charities and those charities representing people with fluctuating conditions was initially rejected, then taken on, but although results were due in June, still, tests use the old descriptors to decide who qualifies for support. *

The government repeatedly claimed that Professor Harrington had supported the national rollout of incapacity benefit claimants

“Professor Harrington went away and made his recommendations to us, which we accepted in full and have implemented. He told me, “I believe the system is in sufficient shape for you to proceed with incapacity benefit reassessment.” We set ourselves a goal to put his recommendations in place, improve the quality of the process and address many of the issues to which hon. Members have referred today by the end of last May, when the assessments in the incapacity benefit reassessment were to start alongside the existing process of assessing ESA new claimants. We did that, and we started."

1 Feb 2012 : Column 289WH Hansard Chris Grayling

However, Harrington was clearly an intelligent man who had made thoughtful and intelligent suggestions for improving the assessments. I could never understand why he agreed to put the most vulnerable claimants through a failing test.

So I decided to ask him.

It took me a while to track down his email address, but after pulling lots of strings, I was able to ask him outright.

This was Professor Harrington’s reply :

“To your question:

I NEVER---repeat--NEVER agreed to the IB migration. I would have preferred that it be delayed but by the time I said that, the political die had been cast.

I then said that i would review progress of that during my reviews.

The decision was political .

I could not influence it.



I’d say it was fairly clear, wouldn’t you?

Ian Duncan-Smith and others took the decision to push nearly 2 million people through a failing test as quickly as they could. Why? Was it so that they could remove as many people as possible from the benefit whether they needed it or not? Surely any failures to improve the test as recommended by Harrington, charities and campaigners couldn’t have been deliberate? Delaying improvements until the IB cohort had been rushed through, the cohort this government and others are convinced are simply “scroungers” and “skivers”?

Instead, as we now see, delays have increased, successful appeals have risen, lives have been lost to the sheer inaccuracy and flawed design of the assessments and the human suffering is now clear for all to see.

To have taken the decision through incompetence is bad enough, but if it was taken deliberately and cynically, I can only hope the responsible ministers will be held to account. Over 200,000 incorrect decisions have since been overturned in law and appeals are taking up to a year to be heard in some areas.

When David Cameron came to power he said :

"The test of a good society is how do you protect the poorest, the most vulnerable, the elderly, the frail.

That's important in good times, it's even more important in difficult times. People need to know that if they have me as their Prime Minister and they have a Conservative government, it will be that sort of Prime Minister

Iain Duncan-Smith said :

“I say to those watching today and who are genuinely sick, disabled or are retired. You have nothing to fear.

This government and this party don’t regard caring for the needy as a burden. It is a proud duty to provide financial security to the most vulnerable members of our society and this will not change. This is our contract with the most vulnerable.”

I look forward to them explaining what made them change their minds.

Today, we must be our own media. Please RT on twitter, share on Facebook and help me to make sure that as many people as possible see this news. 

*Coincidentally, the evidence based review was released yesterday, as I was writing this article.

Update; Patrick Butler at the Guardian speaks to Harrington - who strengthens and confirms the story above. It is now up to the DWP and Chris Grayling to explain the contradiction between Harrington's statements and what Grayling told parliament.

Monday 9 December 2013

Urgent Request from Scope

Something really important has come up.

It’s about social care, the vital support many disabled people need to get up, dressed, out of the house and live independently. Angela explains well how important it is: "I'm 28, I'm disabled but I want to enjoy life the way any other young woman can. Thanks to social care I have two volunteer jobs, I can go shopping, see my friends."

But more than 100,000 disabled people like Angela could be denied care altogether. Will you speak out right now for social care?

Here’s why it’s urgent.

MPs are about to debate the Care Bill, a once-in-a-generation law that will decide the future of social care. They are meant to represent us, so will you ask your MP to speak out about disabled people being denied care?

Now is a big chance.

All you need to do is tell us why you feel it’s important everyone who needs care can get it. As simple as that. We’ll deliver your message to your MP on a big speech bubble so they hear your voice.

If you get care, know someone who does or simply believe that everyone should have freedom and dignity – please speak out about social care.

Time is running out, so please fill out your speech bubble and submit it by this Monday 9 December. We’ll print them and make sure they get to MPs in time for the Care Bill debate on 16 December.

Thank you so much

Thursday 5 December 2013

"Ian Duncan Smith - In Deep sh....ambles" - YOU CAN HELP!

Here are the DWP headlines that came to my attention yesterday. IN ONE DAY.

"Suppressed report: welfare reform link to Homelessness and food bank use" Patrick Butler, Guardian

Doube "Cover Up" Over Work Choice Allegations John Pring

Disabled Worcester Mum says Bedroom Tax Move has left her £900 out of Pocket James Connell, Worcester News

Unemployed Gravesend man hanged himself after sickness benefits were cut Khaleeda Rahman, News Shopper

One day.

Today we hear that despite insisting to the Work and Pension Committee, the National Audit Office and everyone in between, Iain Duncan Smith had to finally admit today that it's likely his flagship benefit reform.  Universal Credit will NOT be fully rolled out by 2017. 700,000 people could still be waiting to be transferred. He tried to sneak it out just before the Autumn Statment, but it didn't work. Andrew Sparrow tweeted "IDS wins a special Jo Moore burying bad news award"

As I posted a few days ago, WOW Petition achieved the 100,000 signatures required to trigger a parliamentary debate on the issues it raises.  As you can see above, they are legion.

Every citizen with any compassion can only read the stories above and demand that parliament - on all sides of the house - are held to account to explain themselves. A genuine debate, not a partisan bun fight.

So please, even if you never have before, write to your MP and ask them to call for, and attend, a debate. You can email them here in just a few moments. It doesn't have to be long or clever. It just has to ask for a debate and say that it matters to you.

My instinct is the government don't want this debate at all. And though WOW worked tirelessly for a year to get the required signatures, the government don't HAVE to grant one.

You can make sure they must.

Please contact your MP here

The Autumn Statement in 2 Sentences

There are only two things that really need to be said about Osborne's Autumn Statement.

By 2015, the deficit will still be £79 Billion. This from the chancellor - and party - that entirely nearly won an election by promising to "eliminate the deficit".

Debt, which the chancellor promised would be falling by the election, will be £198 Billion more than Osborne planned in 2010. It will be 80% of GDP by the election. It was 52% when Osborne took over

On absolutely every measure that is an abject failure that's caused untold suffering up and down the country.

The Red Cross are distributing food in the UK, the cost of living has risen while wages have consistently fallen.

Many things surprised and dismay me about politics, but the way we've ignored the total and utter failure of Conservatives through the ages to control debt and deficits whilst claiming Labour can't run an economy when ALL the evidence says exactly the opposite over decades totally mystifies me. 

**If any Conservatives take exception to this, spend a few minutes here :

Monday 2 December 2013

Just watch this. Please

You might not have read my blog before. Or you might have read it a few times, sympathised, but found it all too sad and shocking to keep up with. You might have stopped clicking on the links on a busy Monday morning, or a perfect, crisp, cold winter's Sunday. You might think you get the general gist and don't want constant reminders of how unpleasant politics can be.

But today, just watch this short film. I promise, you won't have seen anything like it.

The Independent Living Fund (ILF) was a fund set up to help only those with the most profound disabilities, requiring almost constant care, to stay in their own homes for as long as they possibly can. It helped just 20,000 people with the most intense care needs at an average of around £300 per month, saving councils up and down the country much, much more in residential care.

But one of the first decisions taken by this government was to scrap the fund. Even if you believe passionately in Iain Duncan-Smith and David Cameron's welfare "reforms", you probably believe that the "most vulnerable" are excluded, as they've assured you all along that they would be. You almost certainly believe that "support is being targeted at those that need it most". Because that's what you've been told, in a loop, since 2010.

Well, though sick and disabled people hate the word, few are more "vulnerable" than those who had help from the ILF. It has been closed to new applicants since 2010 and will be scrapped for existing users from 2015.

To really understand what I've been trying to tell you since 2010, please, just watch the film. It's just 15 minutes long and says more than I ever could in a million words.

If it touches you, as it did me, can I ask you a favour? Send it to just 2 people you love. And ask them to send it to two people they love. Ask them to watch it for you, as an early Xmas present and to pass it on. Not the usual twitter and facebook links, preaching to the already converted, but to someone you know won't be aware of the extraordinary battle sick and disabled people are fighting, up and down the country.

I know that the British public care. I know they would not want this. Please, help me tell them?