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Nil Points…

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Nil Points… The WCA – Like a perverted Eurovison Song Contest, only no-one’s singing and dancing… mainly they’re being driven into destitution, or suicide, or simply dying while being ‘found’ fit.

The BBC seem to be catching up a bit of late, hopefully not too late, although it certainly is for a growing number of victims of Atos. There can no longer be any doubt that many have been driven to suicide by this government’s ‘welfare reforms’ in the area of health-related benefits. A recent news item on the BBC site is yet another in a never-ending torrent of evidence that the WCA is not only ‘not fit for purpose’ but is clearly a bureaucratic instrument designed to deny people their legitimate benefits. I no longer believe its simply about saving money. I believe its an ideological assault on the vulnerable, which has much in common with that of a more notorious historical regime. The parallels are striking, couched though they might be in a discourse more acceptable to modern consciences. This time instead of smearing all sick and disabled people, and being encouraged to regard them as ‘useless eaters’, we are invited to discriminate between the ‘deserving’ and ‘undeserving’ sick and disabled. Once you establish that premise and install a bureaucratic system which finds the majority ‘underserving’, and then widely publish these distorted results in the mainstream press, you have paved the way for the wholescale demonisation of a community. Because ‘the public’ respond to messages, the same now as they did historically. And the overriding message for them has been that you can’t trust this sector of the population. The seeds of doubt have been sown in the minds of the ‘advantaged’, those who have no struggle with impairments in carrying out their daily lives. To the abject shame of our society the politics of resentment has been stirred up and aimed squarely at the vulnerable.

There is much denial that this is an offensive against the sick and disabled, with the utilisation of concepts created by disabled campaigners themselves, originally for the purpose of  overturning negative social preconceptions.  Now those concepts are being used against them in true Orwellian fashion, almost as if the government are saying “Well you claimed you could contribute to society, you claimed you could work, now get off your arses and do so, because we are not going to support you anymore”.  Or as Grayling prefers to spin it “identify people who can do more with their lives and give them the help they need to find their way back to work”, something that counter-intuitively will be facilitated by giving them less money rather than more, apparently.

More realistically, as disabled journalist Mark Sparrow put it earlier this year, these ‘reforms’ have compounded the disadvantage, as he writes: “Chris Grayling you’ve made me financially, as well as physically disabled”

To return to the most recently exposed victim of this system, Cecilia Burns received ‘Nil points’ at her WCA, despite the fact that she was still undergoing treatment for breast cancer. The government accordingly reduced her benefit by £30 per week. After fighting against the decision her ESA was reinstated shortly before her death. So this woman who had been enduring cancer, and enduring the side effects of treatment for it, was made to do so with less money, and had to spend the last months of her life in a pointless struggle to regain what she had been entitled to all along. Nil points to you Mr Grayling, and your immoral system, nil points.

 

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Osborne’s Nice Little Fat Piggy Bank

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You know those picture memes that go the rounds? The ones that say “This is what others think I do“, which end with “This is what I actually do“. Its about the reality gap, and the way that there can be many ways of ‘seeing’ a thing, dependent on diverse factors of which you may or may not be aware. Also its a play on preconceptions. I’m feeling like this is one of those ‘duh’ moments where someone overexplains a joke, thus robbing it of any humour.

Still, information has come to light which makes that meme particularly relevant to our present economic situation in the UK, and its not funny in the slightest.

Picture 1: “How people think our economic situation is“: >>> The chancellor of the exchequer standing with his trouser pockets pulled out, signifying there is no money left for vital welfare and social services, a justification for the ‘cuts’. Skip all the rest to…

Final Picture:How our economic situation really is“.>>> A very fat pink piggy bank (imagine something along the scale of Martin Rowson’s ‘fat cat’) stuffed to overflowing with banknotes. To the tune of £31 billion pounds.

“That’s £31 bn sat there doing nothing in an economy with negative GDP growth”.

It’s a well-know feature of the rich, that like mythical dragons, they compulsively hoard their wealth. Maybe the titling of TV’s ‘Dragon’s Den’ is an unconscious nod to this fact? The ‘entrepreneurs’ of that show, ironically regarded as ‘business angels’, demonstrate an outstanding capacity for miserliness and greed as a feature of the show.

But, considering the state of the economy, its impossible not to see how this particular stash of money could be put to better use in these difficult times. And considering the suffering that the so-called welfare reforms have inflicted on the innocent, with the guilty getting off scot-free, its deceitful and criminal that this money should be festering there when its quite able to work and make a contribution to society. Don’t you think?

Written by bigleyma

August 17, 2012 at 12:10 pm

DWP In Contravention of Human Rights Legislature?

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[With thanks to Kay Fabe]

Have just been directed to this blog post by ‘gwenhwyhfaer’ , from earlier this year, which contains some very important information for those who are interested in the Human Rights perspective on the changes which have been made to our benefit system over the past seven years or so. Have this government (and the one before it) been acting legally or not with respect to EHCR Protocol 1? It would seem they have not.

Stec & others v United Kingdom [2005], found that noncontributory benefits counted as possessions under Article 1 of ECHR Protocol 1 – the protocol which guarantees the right to peaceful enjoyment of one’s possessions. As this summary explains, previously the Court of Appeal had ruled (in Reynolds [2003]) that noncontributory benefits could not be held to be property, but the ECtHR’s judgement elegantly sweeps that reasoning away in a single sentence.

Ive seen quite a lot of speculation about whether these ‘reforms’ specifically contravene the rights of the disabled. But this factor seems much more straightforward and widely applicable. Worth, I should think, running it past a legal professional, if anyone has the inclination and resources to do so.

Written by bigleyma

August 3, 2012 at 3:07 pm

The Abomination That Is The WCA: Excuses, Excuses…

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The government’s whole defence of the abomination that is the WCA rests on the argument that they wish to counter a defeatist attitude among the sick and disabled. That people have ‘given up’ on finding work. Anyone who has ever worked while sick with ‘commonplace’ ailments, for example when in the early stages of flu or an acute hay fever attack, or perhaps coming back to work after a fairly bad sprain, can see what a flimsy notion this is. Sick and disabled people have far, far worse barriers to overcome than those examples. Sick and disabled people by definition are anything but defeatist, since they have to put extra effort into their daily lives to compensate for their continuing physical/mental disadvantages. The ‘defeated’ sick/disabled person would not still be here, since they would have taken measures to end their struggles.

While Mr Grayling can only whine pathetically “But they can do some work” most sick and disabled people are already doing more than the ‘able-bodied’ just to function in everyday life. This is so intuitively true that I think its why some of the uninformed general public go straight to the ‘scrounger’ stereotype as a an explanation for people being kicked off benefits. They know that sick and disabled people genuinely have greater hurdles to contend with, because we have all experienced illness and understand the limitations it brings. Its not difficult to project that knowledge into a situation where you don’t recover, you don’t feel better. Like a case of permanent flu or a sprain which doesn’t heal (I’m deliberately using understated examples here in order to tap into common experiences of how illness affects someone’s capacity to work). So they have to cognitively dismiss the notion that genuinely sick and disabled people are being denied benefits and move on to something which makes more sense to them. Its the way our brains work, we reject ideas that don’t fit into our existing understanding about the world. Thus they skip over to the much more satisfying and fair notion that claimants are not really ill in the first place.

Secondly, and this is proven by Mr Grayling’s admission that he is not interested in ‘real world’ situations when it comes to bullying people with physical/mental impairments into jobseeking, is the complete denial of how ‘impairment unfriendly’ the contemporary uk workplace is. It is this way because of the intensification of work, because employers are focused on getting ever more out of workers while simultaneously finding ways of reducing their pay or any security of tenure of a job, so they can be dismissed according to the demands of the workload.

Imagine for a minute a sick or disabled person who is already physically disadvantaged attempting to not only overcome their personal impairments in daily maintenance, but also struggling to deal with the volume/pace of work most people are faced with these days. Imagine also the impact on a person striving to overcome psychological impairments who is subjected to the impermanence of unstable serial employment in highly stressed profit-driven work. Riding the two horses of benefits and work simultaneously is a heavy burden for even the most able-bodied, involving a permanent focus on the constant readjustment of one’s ‘status’. While in employment this involves making sure tax is deducted fairly, as every new employee is subjected to ’emergency’ rate tax, the onus being on the worker to have this rectified. Back on benefits effort has to be put in to make sure that entitlements are reinstated correctly. The administering of all this can often seem like an extra job in itself.

So we have a group of people who are already having to put greater effort into basic daily self maintenance expected to draw upon even more personal resources to adapt to work conditions which challenge even the most able-bodied. Thats if they can even secure work in the most competitive job market this country has seen for decades, where university graduates compete for mcjobs, or waitering or cleaning jobs.Since barely any job can be said to be permanent these days those coming in to the job market ‘at the bottom’ are so unlikely to partake of the benefits that genuinely stable, fair employment bestows that it beggars belief that this argument is tendered by this government. But then again, they really have no convincing alternative argument than the flimsy, outdated, inaccurate notion that Work Is (inevitably) Good For You.

*I would just like to clarify that in the above I am referring to what most people would regard as the ‘mild to moderately’ sick and disabled. Those more extreme cases which are very well known to the online communities, examples of which were most recently exposed on TV’s respective Panorama and Dispatches programmes, are more accurately defined as serious state abuses which deserve the strongest repercussions for those behind this process.

Just what kind of ‘Social Justice’ does Iain Duncan Smith believe in?

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Is it the one whose meaning that we are accustomed to, or is it, in the Orwellian sense, its opposite?

Iain Duncan Smith surely professes to support the notion of ‘social justice’. He founded the Centre for Social Justice in 2004, is its Life Patron and served as its Chairman until joining the Cabinet in 2010. It would be more than reasonable, then, to expect him to be committed to the idea of social justice, particularly, considering his official post in government as Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, in the area of work.

The International Labour Office (ILO, 2004) has identified certain principles which it asserts must be abided by in the creation of social policies in this respect if they are to be regarded as socially ‘just’. Guy Standing (2010) has picked out three which he considers most important with respect to ‘poverty alleviation’, which are as follows:

  • A policy is socially just only if it improves the security and work prospects of the least secure groups in society (the security difference principle.)
  • A policy is socially just only if it does not impose controls on some groups that are not imposed on the most free groups in society (the paternalism test principle)
  • A policy is socially just if it enhances the rights of the recipient of benefits or services, and limits the discretionary power of the providers (the rights-not-charity principle).

Since the government’s current policies could not be further from fulfilling these basic principles one has to ask what form of  ‘social justice’ it is that Mr Iain Duncan Smith believes in?

Standing, G. (2011) ‘Labour Market Policies, Poverty and Insecurity’. International Journal of Social Welfare, 20: 260-269.

International Labour Office (ILO) (2004) ‘Economic Security for a Better World’. Geneva, Switzerland, Socio-Economic Security Programme, International Labour Office. (http://www.ilo.org/public/english/protection/ses/info/publ/economic_security.htm)

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January 29, 2012 at 10:11 pm

The DWP/Atos ‘bounce’

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http://www.margaretmccartney.com/blog/?p=884

Just found this entry on GP Margaret McCartney’s blog, where she discusses the difficulty she had getting information from Atos:

I  wanted to know about Atos recruitment, audit and training; they didn’t want to talk.

She compares their uncooperative stance with that of the DWP, who usually respond helpfully to FOI requests…EXCEPT when it comes to material relating to Atos where apparently they were

… not able to answer questions about Atos procedures because Atos is a private contractor.

We are starting to see a huge problem here, as I have experienced the DWP/Atos ‘bounce’ myself. Atos refer you to the DWP, the DWP refer you to Atos. It’s a tangled web, veiling a deceit at the heart of this process. I’m waiting for my FOI requests to be answered, particularly the one regarding the ‘medical research’ they say underpins the WCA. It goes against public interest for such an important justification for this test to be withheld from scrutiny. MPs and the media next if they don’t provide it.

Written by bigleyma

August 14, 2011 at 9:27 am

My Freedom Of Information requests (links):

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28th July 2011: (response expected by 26th August)

http://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/volume_of_correspondence_re_atos#incoming-197423

“Dear Department for Work and Pensions,

I have recently written letters, with requests for answers, to DWP
Ministers Iain Duncan Smith and Chris Grayling, concerning the
practices of Atos Healthcare. In response I received generic
letters from ‘The Correspondence Team’ claiming Ministers are
unable to respond due to the ‘large volume’ of mail they receive.

Could you please release to me the statistics on the amount of
mail, both written and electronic, that the DWP have received that
are connected with Atos Healthcare, ESA or the WCA?”

http://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/identification_of_medical_resear#incoming-197479

“Dear Department for Work and Pensions,

The DWP states that the structure underpinning the Work Capability
Assessment is derived from “evidence based medical research carried
out by Atos Healthcare to determine the functional consequences of
specific clinical signs”.

When I emailed Atos Healthcare to request identification of this
medical research I was directed to contact the DWP for it. I was
surprised, as since it was conducted by Atos Healthcare one would
expect them to take responsibility for it. I pressed them further,
but they repeated that “any enquiry related to an area of Atos
Healthcare’s Business is a FOI” and that contractually the DWP is
responsible for dealing with these. Very surprising.

Regardless, I must then request from the DWP, as I did from Atos,
details of what this research constitutes. I would expect an
extensive and comprehensive body of research, including all
relevant material such as: Names of researchers involved, evidence
generated, methods, conclusions, meta-analyses etc in such forms as
reports, journal articles, conference reports and so on.”

2nd August 2011: (response expected by 31st August)

http://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/statistics_request_the_distribut#incoming-198620

“Dear Department for Work and Pensions,

In March 2011 amendments to the ESA regulations resulted in the
modification of WCA descriptors and the deletion of some of these
as no longer relevant. As these descriptors are claimed to relate
to actual work environments I am requesting the following
employment-related data.

1. Does the DWP keep records of the various Occupational
Classification categories which those claiming a health-related
benefit (such as ESA or DLA) fell into prior to them giving up
work.

2. If so, can you please release figures to date for this?

3. If possible a further breakdown into the numbered sections of
those categories would be requested, so as to identify more closely
the distribution of occupations amongst claimants, demonstrating
type of work that is most/least prevalent etc.”

Note of explanation for the third request. At the 14th June meeting of the First Delegated Legislation Committe regarding the 2011 amendments to the ESA regulations, Stephen Timms MP made the following observation about the changed descriptors:

“Citizens Advice objected to the removal from the list of the requirement to be able to bend or kneel – apparently removed because we do not need to do that any more in a modern workplace (my italics).

Wow. Really? Actually I’ve just tried to write a sentence about that several times, and words fail to adequately express what I think. So, I thought perhaps a FOI request was in order. Will it reveal that all claimants had non-bending, non-kneeling occupations before becoming sick or disabled? Highly unlikely, but I await with suspense their response, and relish the chance to get my data-scouring tentacles into gear.

Perhaps the most pertinent aspect of this will be, as Mr Timms repeated, Mr Grayling’s affirmed intent to ignore all aspects of real world work while assessing people’s fitness for it:

“The one thing I am absolutely unreservedly and implacably opposed to in all of this is a real world test”

Link for the above quotes:

http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm/cmtoday/cmstand/output/deleg/dg01110614-01.htm

Written by bigleyma

August 2, 2011 at 3:23 pm