Saturday, 31 August 2013

All War is Inhumane

The hypocrisy of this week's events in the 'Mother of Parliaments' is quite nauseas. Both the ConDem's Motion and Labour's amendments, in my view, demonstrate how desensitised MPs, and people in general, have become to the horrors of all wars.

On 21st August a war criminal perpetrated an evil act by shelling Ghouta, a suburb of Damascus, with poisonous gas. The gas attack is reported to have killed more than 1,400 civilians of which over 400 were children.

None, I suspect except other than the most rabid of sociopaths (is there a martial equivalent?) would view the use of chemical weapons with anything less than abhorrence, an unnecessary evil; their deployment the actions of war criminals.

However, I felt the same way in the days after Bloody Sunday, when as a 15 year-old London Irish kid I watched and read about my people being gunned down in the streets of Derry.

Images from Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos of the aftermath of US carpet bombing and dropping of napalm were the first images of war I remembered from my childhood.

30 years on the footage from Sabrina and Shatila massacres remain imprinted on my memory. The UN condemned the slaughter, while the perpetrators Lebanese Christian militia (an IDF proxy) literally got away with mass murder.

Over the decades countless wars, revolutions and bloody coups across the Caribbean, Central and South America along with their attendant violence have made their way through TV, film, radio and newsprint to my conscience, helping to inform and form my views on violent conflict.

The events in Ghouta got to me; another piece of my trust in humanity gone. Though I've lived through 50-odd years of some sad episodes of mans' inhumanity to his fellow man, I refuse to become inured by such events.

Which brings me to the point I wish to make.

Making distinctions between one method of mass killing over another, to me, mocks the very idea of humaneness. My contention is, what is the difference between bombs raining down on populated areas blowing people to pieces, and gas-filled shells killing people. 

What's humane about killing people with cruise missiles. How humane was the US's attack on Fallujah in 2004 where they pounded the city with depleted uranium ammunition. What made the carpet bombing of Cambodia and Laos humane.

Of course it's nonsense to consider any of the above wars or massacres as being in any way humane. Yet, they have become an accepted way in which to carry out warfare or international 'policing' actions.

I say 'yes' to condemning the horrific taking of life in Syria ten days ago. But I'm equally against the other killings that are going on in this benighted conflict; and all conflicts that draw in and slaughter, whether by conventional, nuclear or chemical means, civilian populations.

So, while pleased this country isn't going to become embroiled in the Syrian war, I am disappointed we're crowing about democracy being exercised a few evenings ago. The fact that Labour's amendment to the government's Motion to punitively attack Syria still supported violent action tells me that Ed Miliband, and Labour, have learned nothing from Iraq and Afghanistan.

Wednesday, 7 August 2013

Working for the enemy?

Simon Stevens, a disability consultant, is willing to work with Atos Healthcare in their development of the assessment process of the Personal Independence Payment, partly because the majority of user-led charities have declined to become involved - follow link for full story.

Stevens speaks as though Atos hasn't been given a fair hearing; and he possesses powers of persuasion that will somehow cause Atos to experience an epiphany, to realise their modus operandi was flawed.

Where exactly has this disability consultant been for the past three years. Has he missed the horror stories of Atos's disgraceful treatment of disabled people. Maybe he doesn't believe the hundreds testimonies that can be found on various sites online.

However, the fact that he would find it difficult to work for an organisation like the BNP, but would consider working for them if the price was right is very telling.

User-led charities are refusing to work with Atos because they are listening to their disabled members and therefore accountable to them. Simon Stevens is accountable to Simon Stevens and therefore will work in the best interest of Simon Stevens.

Sunday, 4 August 2013

Labour needs the 'disability' vote in 2015

It was disturbing a couple of months ago to hear both Ed Miliband and Ed Balls state that they would continue with social security spending cuts should Labour form the next government in 2015.

Disabled people in the UK have felt the full force of the ConDems vicious austerity cuts over the past few years. The Work Capability Assessment has caused worry and anxiety across much of the disability population; as well as driving untold numbers to take their own lives.

A hundred years, or so, ago ill and disabled people were haunted by prospects of the workhouse; by the 1930s the social stigma associated with unemployment 'means tests' visited millions of workers. Today the word ATOS coupled with 'work capability assessment' is enough to terrify disabled people.

People are literally terrified of receiving large brown envelopes containing ESA50 forms; as these will normally presage an invitation to an ATOS centre to undergo an, all too often, flawed medical examination. Stories of ATOS failings abound, as severely disabled and ill people being found fit for work despite evidence to the contrary; and the numbers of successful appeals demonstrates the rank incompetence of ATOS and the abject contempt the DWP has for allowing people to be treated in such a manner.    

So, when Liam Byrne made a speech to the cross-party think-tank Demos on reform of social security back in July this year it was reassuring to hear he intends freeing disabled people "...from  the debilitating rounds of testing that currently bedevil the benefits regime."

The freeing-up Byrne speaks of comes in the form of a 'tell us once' assessment that takes into consideration social care, health needs, disability payments and employment and support allowance. Like a 'universal disability credit' without the punitive approach used by the ConDems with their failed 'universal credit'.

There is no standard criteria at the moment for assessing social, health, disability or employment benefits for disabled people. Thus each system has in place its own testing regime which are too frequently at odds with each other.

The Labour Party needs to win back disabled voters. Many were disillusioned by New Labour; especially in its last couple of years in government where it was seen to attack disabled people; attacks that became relentless onslaughts under the ConDems.

However, disabled people will expect more than a vague promise to introduce a 'tell us once' policy, as good as it sounds. Guarantees to put an end to the incessant re-assessment people currently undergo in order to claim ESA - with similar frequency of testing under PIP.

What Byrne and the shadow DWP team need to put into a Labour Party General Election manifesto is that the 'tell us once' assessment will be honest, open and transparent.

The assessments should not be carried out on a profit-by-results basis which ATOS applies to ESA, and will probably do so for PIP. No, the experiment that brought profiteering into medical assessments has proved lethally disastrous and as such assessing for a 'universal disability credit' should be returned to a not-for-profit environment.

Reports, letters and evidence from GPs, hospital consultants, district nurses, physiotherapists, OTs, PA/carers, etc should carry more weight; and a more human approach over the current flawed computer-based profit-led ATOS way needs to be introduced.