Sunday, 17 April 2011

Report from March 26 Demo

The TUC Disability Committee agreed that the TUC ‘March for the Alternative...’ should be an event that highlighted the severity of cuts experienced and to be experienced by disabled people in the UK. Without claiming a hierarchy of cuts, disabled people can look forward to the following:

1. A reduction of 20% of claimants when Disability Living Allowance changes to a Personal Independence Payment

2. Possibility of 80,000 living in residential homes losing Disability Living Allowance Mobility Component;

3. Migration from Incapacity Benefit to JobSeekers Allowance will find scores of thousands of disabled people financially worse off;

4. Contributory ESA, paid only to those with sufficient NI contributions, is to be time limited to 12 months;

5. A Work Capacity Assessment that is viewed by all except the nasty right as draconian;

6. If migrated to JSA people losing disability status; thus, unable to access extra resources given to disabled jobseekers;

7. The Independent Living Fund being scrapped – this will cause thousands of disabled people to be trapped in their homes;

8. Housing benefit cuts;

9. The removal of security of tenure from social housing tenants, this disproportionately impact on disabled people;

10. Eligibility criteria dropped for all but critical care support. This will mean people with substantial care needs not being able to bathe themselves; being unable to clean themselves after voiding their bowels; not being able to shop or cook...

11. Care packages cut; whereby disabled people will receive the most rudimentary of care and support; maybe just enough to fend of hunger and illness. No provision for poverty of the soul; or social starvation;

12. Access to Work is cutting back on items it will fund. Thus employers becoming more loathe than they already are to employ disabled people;

13. Supported employment schemes, including Remploy, threatened with closure, by fair means and foul;

14. Cuts to community transport systems;

15. Removal of eligibility for Freedom Passes to people with mental health disabilities – experts in this field of disability are predicting a rise in suicides as a direct result of isolating people with mental health disabilities from families, friends and support networks;

16. Reductions in the TaxiCard’s subsidy; the contribution made by the user doubling; and, the two-swipe system being abolished. So, limiting the resource to around about a one-mile journey.

17. Cuts in police budgets will see setbacks in their response to disability hate crimes.

As can be seen, disabled people are really under the cosh. But then, we’re an easy target. The wheel that can’t turn won’t squeak; so, no grease for us. Except, our small voice and near-invisibility was noted by the TUC; and accordingly we were told we could have a presence at the front of the march. This wasn’t an act of charity; no, it was a political decision made in order that people watching this march would see that the movement has disability at its heart; not some bolt-on remembered after the event.

As the Chair of the TUC Disability Committee, and due to my profile within the wider disability movement, I was chosen to speak on behalf of disabled people. When chosen it was agreed that my speech should reach out to disabled people in and out of work; people with visible and invisible disabilities; those with physical and sensory as well as those with learning and mental health disabilities.

This was no easy task. On the one hand I was presented with a lengthy list of cuts and a plethora of different organisations and impairment specific groups all hoping to get a mention. In the end I decided to be impairment non-specific. Disability is disability and can be a distraction, divisive even, when people try to force their particular area of disability, or more usually impairment, up the agenda.

The one concession to disability organisations I did make within the speech was to mention ‘Remploy’ by name – my 16-years of, first working for Remploy; then organising and representing members holds a special place in my heart. Other than that, it was disability-organisation-free.

It’s probably no boast to state that the 26th March protest attracted more disabled demonstrators than any single event, probably ever. We turned up in our thousands in chairs, on crutches, with sticks. We came with friends, with carers/PAs, trade union branches, disability organisations and alone. We marched, hobbled and wobbled, were pushed and pushed ourselves along. With or without vision we wended our way along the route drinking in the sights, sounds, smells as well as feeling the frisson of electricity, of hope, generated by hundreds of thousands of people with a common cause.

The feedback I’ve had from both disabled marchers and rally-goers is positive, mainly.

Demo Outside Daily 'Heil' HQ in Kensington on 14 April

Held up a bit in traffic around Chelsea I arrived outside the Daily Heil bunker at around 3.50 pm. At the time, an hour+ after its start time, there were about forty people clustered quite tightly around the front of the building, which was dressed in scaffold.

A line of around 15-18 Old Bill, resplendent in Met yellow day-glo jackets, stood guarding the portal of the Daily Heil. Guarding what exactly? Are they fearful for the freedom of the press; scared that we might confiscate it from them on the grounds of misuse. Or, are the police deployed to ensure that truth doesn’t somehow manage to break into the Heil and inveigle its way into print.

Somehow, today’s anti-hated Heil protest lacked some conviction. Since disability comes in all shapes and sizes, visible and invisible, the protest today wasn’t obviously about disabled people.

There were some wheelchair users, three or four. A smattering of vision impaired people, or so the long white sticks suggested. And, a banner from an autistic group.

The slogan’s shouted, especially the sing-along ones, could have related to any cuts demo. In fact, possibly due to the lateness, some of the slogans used against the Heil, ATOS and the police were quite crude, totally out of context to the demo.

Making puerile and offensive comments, totally unrelated to the issue, doesn’t, in my view, progress our argument. No, it serves to reinforce stereotypes; protestors held up as caricatures, ‘renta leftie’ types.

If we’re to progress our cause we need to control what goes on. I didn’t feel in control of today’s event, a feeling shared by a couple of other disabled demonstrators to whom I gave a lift home.

Let’s see if we can raise the profile of disabled people for the demo on 11 May. While I’m happy to work with anyone to make the day a success, I do hope it is we, disabled people, who will be running the show. The others are welcome; but please, let us lead.

The Start of the Demo

Shan’t attempt to give a broad canvas of Saturday’s march, as the day didn’t pan out that way for me. No, the event was a veritable whirligig of wonderful snapshots; a kaleidoscope of different activities fused together to create one of the most successful labour movement demos ever!

After several incidents on the way to the event we were led out by the march stewards and invited to take up positions behind the lead banner – you know, the one held at about chest height. The TUC had allocated me a steward for the march, Wayne a Unite organiser and good Comrade; and, Wayne spotting the last remaining place along the banner’s length pushed me towards it.

There had been an agreement that, due to the disproportionate punishment we were receiving by these cuts, disabled people should visible at the front of the march.

So far so good; however, as I put my arm forward to hold the banner, as if from nowhere an elderly woman rushed past me and hopping over my legs and footplate gripped onto the remaining section of banner.

Not very comradely; and, of course now there was no visible representation of disabled people at the very front of the march; something we’d been promised. The banner snatcher being taller blocked me from view.

For the sake of solidarity, I won’t name the sprightly 76-year old General Secretary, and London Region secretary, of the National Pensioners Convention; but may I ask next time, please pick on someone your own size!

Cameron's Big Society

Cameron states ‘We’re all in this together’,

As if, pleading poverty is somehow clever;

Because, as he knows and now so do we,

The poor pay while the rich get off scot-free.

How many bankers will really feel the pain,

Of working longer without financial gain;

Will they see their terms and conditions erode,

Their wages shrink while their pensions implode.

No, this is the plight of common waged slaves,

Who’ll soon have to work right up to their graves,

Since pensions schemes were raided for gold,

They can’t retire until they’re knackered and old.

How about the brokers who sit on their wealth,

Riches accrued both underhand and by stealth;

Filthy lucre amassed and then secreted away,

To tax-free havens where they’ve no duties to pay.

A warning to tax cheats both here and abroad,

We’ll hunt you down and charge you with fraud,

Then allow twelve citizens honest and upright,

To deliberate together to determine your plight.

Once you’re found guilty we’ll expect the judge,

To make bloody sure his findings are not a fudge,

And, as your greed will be taken into consideration,

You’ll be sure of a stretch of quite lengthy duration.

What's This 'We'?

If we’re ‘all in this together’, for real,

How comes there is so little appeal,

Amongst those of us at the sharp end,

You know, the ones with least to spend.

If we’re ‘all in this together’, was true,

Why do the many pay while the few

Silver-spooned insulated millionaires,

Strut through life without any cares.

If we’re ‘all in this together’, made sense,

Why do the rich then go on the defence,

When we show them a way out of this hole,

One that doesn’t throw millions on the dole.

If we’re ‘all in this together’ why are the poor

Still standing in queues at the rich man’s door

Men made rich from the sweat of others,

By the toil of us workers; sisters and brothers.

We’re ‘all in this together’ us, working folk,

And, we can see the country ain’t broke;

If all tax cheats just paid what they owe,

We'd flourish and the economy'd grow.

Thursday, 14 April 2011

The Doubting Solipsist

A solipsist took himself to task

The day he deigned to ask

All those living within his midst

Just who he was; did he exist.

His life had been, until today

Preordained in such a way

That there could be no doubt

‘He’ was what life was all about.

With seeds of doubt now sown

Our solipsist began to bemoan

That his thinking wasn’t exclusive

Others thoughts might be intrusive.

Since knowledge is not confined

To within the limits of one mind

How do you ascertain what’s truth

Who holds the burden of proof.

The ‘self alone’ does have a place

But, not for all the human race;

Yet, there are people out there

Who need solipsism’s rarefied air.

Our War Against the Media

Forever we’ve fought for inclusion. Once-upon-a-time we were largely invisible to the general public. Indeed, plaster representations of us stood outside shops with begging boxes. That was about as close as many people felt comfortable to us.

The pace of change, though slow, was beginning to gather speed; and in the last 20+ years we’ve seen legislation such as the NHS and Community Care Act; the introduction of DLA; the DDA in 1995; and Direct Payments.

Though there were still mountains to climb in the form of societal and economic barriers; our lives were beginning to improve; and we were gaining more freedom. With this freedom came greater visibility; which for the most part was a positive. No longer where we confined to the shadows; society’s mistakes hidden behind walls.

Visibility came with a price.

Stories about Incapacity Benefit began appearing towards the end of the Tories 18-year reign of despair. And, as a last act spite the Tory’s established the Benefits’ Integrity Project. The BIP was, ostensibly, put in place to clean up fraud amongst disabled claimants. Of 55,000 cases investigated the BIP unearthed only 50 potential cases of fraud – 0.09%!

You’ll note ’50 potential cases’. As I recall the overwhelming majority of these were not prosecuted, because it’s hardly fraud if you fail to report an improvement in your condition, especially when you don’t actually feel any improvement, or benefit of improvement.

The newshounds of the Heil and other such rags soon got onto the scent, deliberately, laid by the Tories and refreshed by New Labour. The scummy sensationalist-end of TV joined in the hue and cry; and before long disabled people were seen as cheats and parasites.

It’s probably no co-incidence that disability hate crime began to feature more frequently on the radar at this time. With media overexposure we became easy targets for those who allow newspapers to do their thinking. The kind of people who need to refer to the Sun or Heil in order to find out who today’s scapegoats are.

In some ways ATOS is the final manifestation of the process of our demonization. First, governments use us to massage their criminally high unemployment figures. Then, we outgrow our usefulness as ideology is re-twisted to shape the next desperate election manifesto. The media is then given licence to invent, or more properly re-invent, disabled people as lead-swinging cheats who have brought the country to its knees economically with their profligate ways.

The government knows the true extent of fraud amongst disabled claimants; but, in keeping silent it is in tacit agreement with scummy lazy journalists who regard us as legitimate targets to smear across the column inches of their rags.

Incensed by what they read people feel it is their public duty to abuse disabled people. So much so that recently a disabled woman collapsed outside a neighbour’s house. As she lay dying her neighbour felt it his civic duty to piss upon her while his friends laughed and recorded the incident on a mobile phone. Nobody deserves to spend their dying moments subjected to such inhumanity – what have we become!

Thus demonised it is easy for companies like ATOS to carry out the government’s bidding. Doubtlessly many of these ATOS assessors allow scummy newspapers to form their opinions for them. Why wouldn’t they, seeing as they’ve sold their professional integrity to the DWP for a pittance.

Friday, 1 April 2011

A Response to a Critical Review of my Hyde Park Speech

AC, thanks for your critical review of the speech I made on Saturday. When elected to act as spokesperson from the TUC Disability Committee I knew the biggest challenge would be the speech. As we know disabled people are at the brunt of both the cuts and are indeed, in some quarters, blamed for the deficit. Off the top of my head I can’t recall how many different areas we are facing cuts, somewhere between 14 and 16 I believe.

So, I was presented with this challenge. To make a speech on the effects of the cuts on disabled people coming from all directions over a two or three-year period. Cuts that will impact on people with visible and invisible disabilities; cuts that will hurt people with sensory and physical disabilities; cuts that will attack the benefits and resources of people with mental health and learning disabilities – and, all this in three minutes!

From time to time I’m invited, as Chair of Unite’s national disabled members committee to speak at Branch meetings on various areas of disability, mostly employment related, but as is so often the case on disability benefits and resources which are inextricably linked to the daily lives of our disabled members.

At these meetings I have the luxury of time. So, I’m able to translate the DLAs, the ILFs, the WCAs, the AtoWs into commonly held language. Here I can, in words of one syllable (though that’s hard with disability) explain how for instance Access to Work can be accessed; or, how Disability Living Allowance can act as a gateway to other resources.

The weeks running up to last Saturday were filled with emails and phone calls from people making suggestions as to the content of the speech. Someone wanted me to distinguish between visible and invisible disabilities; others asked that mental health issues be highlighted; a couple wanted me to say how disgraceful it was that ILF was being scrapped; and, someone even wanted me to make a special plea for people with neurodiverse conditions – this was fast becoming more of a Gettysburg Address than a three minute speech!

Finally, I was advised to try to keep it general, avoid specific impairment groups or organisations which, with one exception, I managed to do. Rather than attempt to tackle the main benefits’ changes and cuts, DLA to PIP, IB to ESA or JSA, cutting-back of Access to Work, etc I could have, for instance, focused on one area. The scrapping of DLA for a PIP would quite easily have occupied a three-minute slot.

Implying that most of the audience wouldn’t understand technical benefit words or jargon is perhaps to suggest that they have somehow or other totally ignored the media bombardment that disabled people have endured for the past 15 or more years – as evinced on these boards. It’s to imply they’ve not been reading or listening to the more serious end of the media who give coverage of benefits’ issues, most recently reports from the Budget.

Yes I could have delivered a three-minute speech that explained in lay terms what we, disabled people, are going through. For instance, I could have explained the purpose of Disability Living Allowance (around 30 seconds) going on to give an outline of its replacement, the Personalised Independence Payment (another 30 seconds). Then, the migration from IB to the two levels of ESA; explaining the losses in benefits if you draw the JSA short straw (60 seconds). And, finally giving a mere flavour of the viciousness that Work Capability Assessments produce would have, to do it justice, deserved a minute or two.

Life has taught me that the gift of retrospect is the most coveted above all others. While I take on AC’s criticisms in the constructive way they were offered; I’m not convinced three minutes is adequate time to convey a message of such enormity and complexity unless it generalises, which sadly means explanations on greater detail suffer.

Tonight I’m attending my local SOS’s meeting. This is the kind of venue where I’ll be able to explain more fully exactly what DLA is and how damaging it can be to an individual if they lose the benefit. Similarly, I can talk in greater depth about eligibility criteria for care support. Personally, I believe that local fora are better to get this kind of message across than a crowd of 300,000+ who, often, attend such events to add their weight and solidarity; who, on Saturday, attended to demonstrate their disquiet at the dissolution of the welfare state.

A Disabled Person in Denial

If there is any part of this that your body cannot cope with, it is something you cannot do. just like some of us cannot play netball. Why cant we just accept we cant do it and leave the people able to to follow the queue and ride etiquette to have fun amongst themselves

Sarah Helen, if you propose ‘missing the point’ as an Olympic event for the games after next, I’ll second you. Needless to say we’d be entering you for the event and doubtlessly you’d bring back gold medals, especially one in the freestyle category.

Sure, if your impairment is such that you can’t run, don’t be too upset that you can’t get a place on the wing for Chelsea. If you have osteogenesis imperfecta looking for a career as a boxer might not be advisable. However, these are things that limit you due to the nature of the impairment, not disability.

Because you cannot physically run means you cannot play professional football. No amount of reasonable adjustments will rectify this. Similarly, if you are prone to easily broken or fractured bones there are no reasonable adjustments possible to counter the likelihood of serious injury – even when your opponents only a punch bag!

For most theme park rides the user does not have to have special skills or abilities. Therefore, provided the ride itself does not present a threat to the user, why shouldn’t disabled people be able to enjoy these thrills?

Stretching such logic to its most preposterous limits would mean because a train is too high to board we should just accept we can’t board the train and leave the people able to board to do so and enjoy the ability to use trains.

Why stop there? If you have vision impairment and need adapted equipment to enable you to work, just accept that there is somebody who can do the job unaided and so let them have the benefit of employment. For, to do otherwise would be rank selfishness on the part of the blind woman.

Reasonable adjustments can be made for queuing, with little or no cost to either he service provider or its other customers. However, if people regard disabled people receiving reasonable adjustments as some sort of benefit, then there is little hope for us ever-achieving equality. What kind of society are we on the outermost fringes of that would begrudge another human being the most insignificant of concessions.

Some Cuts Coming Your Way

A rough list of benefits and resources cuts hitting, or about to hit, disabled people.

1. DLA to PIP

2. Possibility of 80,000 living in residential homes losing DLAMC

3. IB to ESA or JSA

4. Contributory ESA, paid only to those with sufficient NI contributions, is to be time limited to 12 months,

5. WCA

6. If migrated to JSA people losing disability status; thus, unable to access extra resources given to disabled jobseekers

7. ILF being scrapped

8. Housing benefit

9. The removal of security of tenure from social housing tenants disproportionately impact on disabled people

10. Eligibility criteria dropped for all but critical care support

11. Care packages cut

12. Access to Work is cutting back on items it will fund

13. Cuts to community transport systems

14. Removal of eligibility for Freedom Passes to people with mental health disabilities

15. TaxiCard’s subsidy is dropping; the contribution made by the user doubling; and, the two-swipe system being abolished. So, limiting the resource to around about a one mile journey.

16. Cuts in police budgets will see setbacks in their response to disability hate crimes

Broken of Britain

Broken of Britain

The following piece was found on the 'Broken of Britain' website (see below for link) and gives a detailed breakdown of some of the cuts faced by disabled people under this butcher's crew of a coalition.

Cuts List

1. Housing: There is a major shortage of accessible housing in the social sector meaning many disabled people are already forced to rent in the more costly private sector where it is incredibly difficult to find an accessible property. Estate agents do not have to keep details of adaptations or access features, so in addition to the significant rent shortfalls most Local Housing Allowance recipients face, disabled people are additionally disadvantaged by barriers to searching for a home. Mind The Step estimates that 78, 000 households which include a wheelchair user live in homes which are not fully accessible. The allocation of accessible social housing is already woefully inadequate; in 2008-9 only 22% of local authority and housing association ‘wheelchair standard’ properties allocated to households including a wheelchair user. Plans to remove security of tenure from social housing tenants disproportionately impact on disabled people, as costly adaptations are a barrier to moving regardless of size of property.

2. Housing Benefits: Provision for an additional bedroom for a non-resident carer where a disabled person has an established need for overnight care is a welcome step but will not be awarded automatically. It also fails to address the need for extra space to use a wheelchair, store equipment, receive dialysis or other medical treatment experienced by many disabled people. Anyone under 35 who is disabled but not in receipt of middle or high rate care component of Disability Living Allowance will receive the shared room rate despite shared housing being impossible to access for many disabled people for a myriad of reasons. The recent announcement that DLA is to be scrapped means it is currently impossible to assess the full impact of these two changes. From October 2011 the LHA will be reduced from the 50th percentile of Broad Market Rent to the 30th forcing disabled people to rent the very cheapest properties which are more likely to be inaccessible. Linking LHA to the Consumer Price Index which does not take into account housing costs will further limit disabled people’s access to suitable housing. Housing benefits are to be time limited to 12 months for people in receipt of Jobseekers Allowance, after which benefit will be reduced by 10% for those still out of work. This must be understood in the context of the controversial Work Capability Assessment designed to strictly limit the numbers of disabled people entitled to Employment & Support Allowance. Discretionary housing benefits have been increased in recognition of the expected hardships the reduction in LHA will cause, but these can only be claimed for a maximum 13 weeks meaning they are completely unsuitable to protect disabled people’s homes in the longer term. Changes to the amount of mortgage interest payments have been estimated to potentially lead to additional 64, 000 disabled people becoming homeless.

3. DLA/PIP Sweeping changes were announced to DLA in the CSR which intend to reduce overall eligibility by 20-25%. The higher rate mobility component of Disability Living Allowance used by disabled people to pay for transport outside their homes via motability vehicles, powered wheelchairs and accessible taxis will no longer be paid to state funded care home residents as the government deem the local authorities should provide transport services. However, people self funding their care home places will continue to receive the HRM, making the argument that LA’s provide appropriate transport dubious at best. This will see 9/10 Livability care home residents as ‘prisoners’ in their own homes, left with just £22 p/wk to pay for toiletries, glasses, clothing, entertainment and potentially also for suitable wheelchairs costing tens of thousands of pounds, currently often funded via HRM.

4. In ADDITION to this reduction the government have now announced their intention to scrap DLA altogether and replace it with Personal Independence Payment (PIP). The intent is to reassess all DLA recipients from 2013 at vast cost and further reduction to entitlement. The consultation implies that anyone who receives support from a source such as social services will no longer be entitled to PIP. It also implies that if there a mobility aid such as a wheelchair could be used that will preclude entitlement to PIP even if the only way to fund purchase of that mobility aid had previously been through DLA. Disabled People’s Organisations are asking the question, ‘just which disabled people will actually be able to qualify for this benefit’?

5. IB/ESA Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) is the controversial replacement to Incapacity Benefit described in June 2010 as ‘unfit for purpose’ and the ‘responsibility’ of ministers by Danny Alexander MP. ESA will be replaced by the Universal Credit but reassessment by the flawed WCA, criticised as not working properly by its own creator will continue at huge financial and personal cost.

6. Contributory ESA, paid only to those with sufficient NI contributions, is to be time limited to 12 months, raising very serious questions about the ‘insurance’ part of NI. This will cause significant hardship to families reliant upon ESA and may well lead to further unemployment and higher overall benefit claims as families find the only way they can provide care to the disabled member is for the carer to drop out of employment altogether.

7. There are many changes to the provision, entitlement to and charges paid for receiving social care. The Independent Living Fund which provided for the highest level support needs in combination with the local authorities is now to be scrapped without consultation. Despite the government insisting the local authorities should not need to reduce the provision of social care, areas such as Birmingham are restricting it to those with ‘extra critical’ needs only, a higher threshold than the four bands set out in the government’s fair access to care services guidance whilst most local authorities intend to increase charges. The practical impact of this can be seen in the recent decision byKensington & Chelsea council to remove night care from a former ballerina, who will now be left to lie on soiled incontinence pads at night as it is cheaper than providing a carer to assist her to a commode.

8. Access to Work provide funding for disability-related equipment for working disabled people. It supported some 37,000 disabled workers last year. Touted as "improvements" the reform redefines what it is "reasonable" to expect an employer to provide for disabled staff. Some things which will no longer be funded are voice activated software and specialist chairs. It might seem reasonable to say that an employer hiring for an office position should provide the new employee with a chair but a specialist chair costs significantly more than standard, sometimes many thousands. Multiply that across all the equipment on the list and suddenly it becomes significantly more expensive for an employer to hire a disabled employee.

9. Transport. In addition to the removal of the high rate mobility component of DLA from care home residents (starting 2012) there are also cuts to various council funded communityThe impact of the cuts varies in each borough but the general picture is of disabled people facing cost increases of over 65% for a vastly restricted service. transport schemes. Taxicard is a vital scheme which provides door to door transport for older and disabled people in London.

Please add any cuts you are aware of in the comments section and we will update this list accordingly, thank you