In Geneva today (2nd April), Dr Pauline Nolan, Policy Officer for Inclusion Scotland, will submit evidence to a preliminary hearing ahead of a planned review of the human rights record of 14 states, including the UK.
On behalf of the Campaign for A Fair Society – a coalition of more than 70 Scottish charities – Dr Nolan will warn the cumulative impact of welfare reform and cuts to benefits affecting disabled people will mean their ability to live a full life is impaired. In particular, she will argue that welfare changes undermine their right to be included in the community.
The campaign also claims disabled people are being denied access to justice when they try to appeal against these cuts to their benefits.
Dr Nolan said she aimed to equip the UN with a series of recommendations and questions to put to the UK Government when its representatives appear in front of the Human Rights Council in May.
She added: “Disability organisations, disabled people and the Parliament’s own Joint Committee on Human Rights concluded that these cuts will have a devastating cumulative impact on the livelihoods of disabled people.
“Further cuts are taking place to local authority services they receive. Taken together, all these cuts are severely undermining the human rights of disabled people.”
She claims half of the £18 billion of cuts to be made under welfare reform will fall on households containing disabled people, adding: “These cuts will push hundreds of thousands of disabled people and their families into poverty and thousands will be made homeless.”
Jim Elder-Woodward, of the Independent Living in Scotland project, said: “I am really pleased that Dr Nolan is going to Geneva to tell the UN just how this Coalition Government is systematically undermining the rights of disabled people by cutting their benefits and services.
“The combined voices of disabled people have either been silenced or misrepresented by the UK Government in their resolution to make disabled people suffer over 50% of the total £18bn in benefit cuts.”
Norma Curran, of Values Into Action Scotland, added: “These welfare reforms are devastating people’s lives. It’s not acceptable to challenge the human rights of people on the grounds of race, sex, language, or religion, so why does the UK Government think that it is acceptable to breach the human rights of disabled people?”
Many thanks to Dario Kenner for allowing us to repost his blog here. We salute disabled protestors in Bolivia!Solidarity!
24 February 2012
After 100 days and nearly 1,600 km around 100 disabled people arrived in La Paz yesterday demanding social benefits from the Bolivian state. They endured tropical heat, heavy rains and hailstorms on their march from the Amazonian city of Trinidad, via Santa Cruz and Cochabamba, to La Paz in the western highlands (map).
The Plurinational Assembly (Congress and Senate) is in the process of approving a Preferential Treatment Law that will give disabled people a social benefit of 1,000 Bolivianos a year (about US$146 / £93). The marchers have repeatedly said this is not enough and should be 3,000 Bolivianos a year (about US$437 / £278). However, not all disabled people agree with the demands of the march and in the city of Oruro they have accepted the figure of 1,000 Bolivianos which the government says will benefit 13,000 disabled people this year.
Yesterday afternoon the marchers tried to force their way into the main square in La Paz, location of the government palace. A government spokesperson condemned the violence and claimed there were groups present who provoked the clashes leaving 20 police injured. Bolivian media reports the police used tear gas and pepper spray. At least 10 people with disabilities were injured. The Ombudsman office said the marcher´s rights were abused and there was evidence they had been injured.
Last night the marchers had setup a vigil outside the main square (Plaza Murillo) and say they will go on hunger strike until their proposal for a law is approved.
Background information in English: The Guardian 11 January 2012.
[Below is an interview I did with one of the leaders of the march. Whilst this interview gives the point of view of the marchers it hopefully gives an insight into why there was a march and what it is like to be a disabled person in Bolivia - Dario Kenner]
Interview: José Luis Lupa, Coordinator Disabled People of Cochabamba
Why did you march?
Police block disabled people from entering Plaza Murillo (credit: Dario Kenner)
The march began on 15 November 2011. I have been marching since 10 January from Villa Tunari. Before that I was at the vigil in Cochabamba. The march began with 17 people and 128 have arrived in La Paz.
Originally we were demanding 3,000 Bolivianos a year. But now we have lost patience we are demanding for those in a really bad condition 5,000 Bolivianos, then in a bad condition 4,000 Bolivianos and for those in moderate condition 3,000 Bolivianos. But this is still to be discussed with the government.
For this year President Morales has said there will be 1,000 Bolivianos for those in a really bad or bad condition. You know that in your country disabled people have many social benefits. What we are demanding here is nothing if you think about costs like a wheelchair, transport, medicine, therapy. This does not factor in food, housing etc.
In our proposal for a lawwe are demanding that we receive our pension early because many people with disabilities do not live long enough to receive it. We should get it at 40 years for a women and 45 for a man instead of at 60.
We want social security for all disabled people, to not give it to all would be discriminatory. We want the government to guarantee we will all receive it from 2013 but President Morales has not done this so we carried on marching. The government started paying 1,000 Bolivianos on Wednesday to try and get people to leave our march.
What were the conditions like? How did you and your fellow marchers make it all the way to La Paz?
The 17 who started thought the government would not let them march more than three days. But after three, four, five days, two weeks there was still nothing from the government. We depended on the people. Sometimes when we passed through place the people had nothing but they shared their only glass of water with tears in their eyes. Or people gave us things as they passed us in their cars. Sometimes there was not enough food, we just had water and biscuits. But some people didn´t give us anything, they said this march is political, but it has never been like that. Where did we get the strength from? We have waited for four years for this government to act.
Representatives from the United Nations, the Ombudsmen and human rights organisations came to visit us. We sent them back. Why? Because instead of visiting us with their donations we told them they should be lobbying the Bolivian government to resolve our situation. The Ombudsmen promised us Plaza Murillo (main square in La Paz) would not be closed for when we arrived.
When we got closer to La Paz and started getting to the highlands some communities shouted at us, people who are more allied with the MAS (ruling Movement Towards Socialism party). We were furious when we got to one community after going through heavy rains, hailstorms and frosts and they rejected us. We got to El Alto at 2am in the morning, it was freezing. On our way down into La Paz many people welcomed us.
March by disabled people gets to La Paz (credit: Dario Kenner)
What happened today when you arrived? What did you see?
When we were half a kilometre from the Plaza Murillo our main leaders said to everyone “hold on, we are going to be peaceful and not violent, we are just people who want to go around the square and say we do not want the law because it will not help disabled people, we want our law that guarantees the social security for 2013, that´s it.” Then we were going to go somewhere else and rest. That was our mission, for our law, not the governments law, to be approved.
Yesterday the Vice President and the Ombudsmen said the square would be open. We were four blocks away. We wanted to enter. Then the clash started. Us against them. Them against us. We got through the first police cordon but could not get through the second because there were a lot more police. For me the main question is: Why are they scared? Why do they block the square? Is Morales spending the money on himself that is meant to be for us? (video of clashes: http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=T44cpuS2spM)
Articles 70,71 and 72 of the Bolivian Constitution set out that the state must give direct benefits to disabled people. Also there is the International Convention of Disabled People, Law 1678, and Supreme Decree 2487. There are many norms that benefit disabled people but none have been applied, they are just bits of paper.
The government says we are unproductive and are no use to the country. But why do they do not give us the opportunity to show if we have a value or not? In Europe, as you know, disabled people are great engineers and have great potential. Why can´t we do that here? We just want the chance to study and do training. But we don´t have that opportunity in Bolivia.
“Atos Origin, the french owned company who undertake the ‘work capability assessment’ for the UK government have spread their tentacles still further into the world of disabled people.
Already a ‘worldwide partner’ of the International Paralympic Committee (IPC), Atos founder and former chair Bernard Bourigeaud, has now been invited to join the IPC as a member of the Governing Board.
Bourigeaud, a non-disabled person who now runs his own consulting company, will take his place alongside the 14 other members of the Governing Board with immediate effect and therefore be part of the body primarily responsible for the implementation of policies and direction of the Paralympic Movement.
Bob Williams Findlay, a spokesperson for Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC) commented:
“The chief agent of people’s oppression currently in the UK is Atos, and whilst I fully understand the outrage over the appointment of Bernard Bourigeaud as a co-opted member of the Governing Board of the International Paralympic Committee (IPC), I can’t say I’m surprised … whilst western capitalist states may be slashing their welfare budgets, global corporations such as Atos, continue to exploit the potential markets surrounding medicine, ill health and disability.”
Black Triangle, another anti-cuts organisation of disabled people based in Scotland have called for a boycott of the Paralympics. John McArdle, Black Triangle’s facilitator told me:
“In a recent survey by Scope, 64% of all respondents said that they see the Paralympics as an opportunity for disabled people. We agree; it is an opportunity for grassroots disabled people and disabled people’s organisations to UNITE TOGETHER and BOYCOTT this event!”
You can read more what John has to say about this on the Black Triangle web site.
Iain Duncan Smith was reported today at The Broken of Britain blog as having used the accessible loo at a Covent Garden studio causing a disabled person to have to wait in some pain. While that was undoubtedly an embarrassing moment for him it looks that he was not overly welcomed when he was down under either.
Iain Duncan Smith photo supplied
Simon Collins from NZ Herald called him “UK hatchet man:
Iain Duncan Smith, a former Tory leader and now a Cabinet minister, is speaking at the Maxim Institute’s annual Sir John Graham Lecture at the Heritage Hotel.
Ms Bradford, a former Green MP, said Mr Duncan Smith’s “horrendously damaging” welfare reforms in Britain, which include cutting housing benefits for thousands of low-income families, inspired many of the proposals by economist Paula Rebstock’s Welfare Working Group in NZ. Government decisions on the Rebstock report are expected before this year’s election.
Hilary Stace asked :
Why is he visiting and why should New Zealanders to be vigilant about his message? The answer is that the New Zealand government is about to drive through similar welfare ‘reforms’, otherwise known as cuts, following the work of its Welfare Working Group which was appointed in 2010. The WWG reported on 22 February 2011, an hour before the destructive Christchurch earthquake. The signs weren’t good.
Many of us have been watching with horror as the welfare ‘reforms’ have been rolled out in Britain. The justification is that there is something evil called ‘welfare dependency’ that many poor and disabled people and single parents suffer from, and which can only be cured by paid work, preferably fulltime.
Mr Duncan Smith expressed his underlying assumption for this policy – that welfare dependency leads to ‘worklessness’ (not the other way around). But I suggest there are two basic things missing in this equation: the role of the government to create jobs; and the role of the state in ensuring the dignity of all its citizens. He did not apologise for, or even acknowledge, the role of neoliberal policies under Conservative leader Margaret Thatcher which destroyed industries and millions of jobs. Yet he claimed that one million people will be lifted out of poverty by these reforms.
These assumptions are underpinned by an absolute belief in the moral good of paid work and the lack of value of any other kind of work including voluntary work or child rearing. The Tory minister said that it is very important for the child of a single mother to see his/her mother go off to paid work every day as that would normalise ‘work’ for the child. The only unresolved question, he suggested, is what age that should happen. In New Zealand proposals the child could be as young as 14 months. In Britain it is five years old.
When a member of the audience asked about creating work he replied with a sigh that he thought we had moved beyond that question. He said it is the private sector’s job to make jobs and the state’s only role is to make things easy for the private sector to do that. He claimed that the private sector had created half a million jobs in the last year but – wait for it – British people didn’t want them so they had gone to ‘immigrants’. So if the hundreds of thousands of unemployed British people are ungrateful and lazy, what does that say about disabled people?
For disabled people in Britain currently on welfare the first step out of ‘dependency’ is an assessment for ‘workfitness’ (a term that harks back to eugenics). To assess the ‘workfitness’ of disabled people, a private multinational company, Atos, has been contracted to do a tick box computerised assessment without any contextual information such as mental health or disability history. Depending on what an individual scores they can be placed in three categories: work fit and ineligible for even basic employment support, work fit with employment support, and not work fit (ie unfit). It is easy to imagine how aspects of a condition such as autism are overlooked by medical questionnaires which ask questions such as can you walk, or dress yourself. There are incentives such as rewards of additional contracts for the company to push people off the welfare system, and its profits are currently at record levels. But it seems there have been so many challenges to the insensitive and inaccurate assessments that the system can’t cope.
As well as workfit tests, there are also cuts to other aspects of the welfare system such as allowances for housing, programmes, and disability support including such things as continence supplies. There have been reported suicides, and regular reports of disabled people suffering because, for example, they can’t afford adequate housing and families unable to get supplies for their disabled children.
Mr Duncan Smith has also distorted the concept of social justice, with its implications of equity, inclusion and bottom up social policy, by using it for the name for his own right wing think tank, the Centre for Social Justice, whose purpose appears to be championing policies to inflict social injustice on the poor and powerless.
It is rare for us here to have the chance to get up so close with someone so powerful, so I listened carefully. After all, there is the equivalent of the population of NZ on welfare in Britain, out of a population of 62 million. He is a very smooth and persuasive talker, obviously clever, and had the look of someone who has been well nurtured with a comfortable life; I suppose you don’t get to be head of the Conservative Party without these attributes. So how can he justify the misery and pain his policies are so clearly causing? He is not evil and is clearly genuine concerned. One of my interests is ethical public policy*; I think that the only way powerful people can inflict such policies on other people is by seeing them as ‘other’ not fully human, or objects of scorn or laziness. Interestingly, in Britain the opponents of these policies have adopted the black triangle – the Nazi symbol used to classify the ’workshy’, one of their ‘othering’ labels – as their campaign symbol.
So at question time I asked Mr Duncan Smith whether it worried him that his policies might be hurting real people. He initially didn’t agree, blaming misinformation campaigns and claiming disability groups had asked for these changes, but it clearly needled him. I think this is the way to challenge those whose policies risk hurting and harming other people – as human to human. And we need to keep doing it otherwise inequality and suffering will only increase.
Alternatively, we can always hope that politicians will actually ask real people for input into policy, and listen to the wisdom that comes from their lived experience. But not much sign of that happening.
We send this to New Zealand campaigners in support of their protest:
Disabled People Against Cuts stands in solidarity with New Zealand campaigners against poverty. As British Government Secretary for Work and Pensions Iain Duncan Smith prepares to speak, disabled people in Britain want you to know the dangers of following a British approach to welfare reform and the threat that it represents to your equality, human and civil rights.
The Coalition government which came into power in Britain in May 2010 made rapid and sweeping changes under a welfare to work programme that targets the poorest and the most oppressed in British society. This programme is underpinned by a deliberate ideological policy of removing support from those in the greatest need. Meanwhile so-called austerity measures are disproportionately affecting disabled people. At the same time that local governments are removing support from disabled people, central government is re-assessing the benefits disabled people rely on to survive while imposing arbitrary targets set to reduce the numbers of claimants.
The Condem’s Welfare to Work vision has already costs lives. In June 2010 Paul Reekie, the Scottish author, took his own life. Laid out on the table next to him were 2 letters, one telling him his housing benefit had been stopped and the other telling him his incapacity benefit had been stopped. This is just one example of what is becoming an all too common issue. Senior government officials have acknowledged that the welfare reform programme will cost lives but they see it as an unavoidable consequence of a direction they are determined to pursue. In 2005 the previous government set a target of 2025 by which time disabled people should have equality. Without income, without housing, without support to leave the house or even to use the toilet, this target is completely unreachable. Moreover, government propaganda that paints all benefit claimants as scroungers contributes to existing discrimination against disabled people at a time when hate crime against disabled people is an extremely serious issue and the names and numbers of those killed through prejudice mount up.
Duncan Smith’s Welfare to Work programme does not represent value for money and cannot be excused as a necessary austerity measure. At the same time as a recent report commissioned by the government, found that the Access to Work programme makes a profit for the government of 48p for every £1 spent, the Department for Work and Pensions which runs the programme continued its policy of cutting resources to Access to Work, with the effect of denying support to disabled people trying to get in and stay in mainstream employment. The proposals for removing Disability Living Allowance and replacing it with a system which requires continual review for people with lifelong impairments will require investment at a level which can only be sustained by removing benefits from genuine claimants.
ATOS, a profit-making healthcare company, has been given a 300 million pound contract by the government to carry out work capability assessments on disabled people to review their eligibility for employment and support allowance (previously called incapacity benefit). ATOS works to a target of finding disabled people fit for work and ineligible for the benefit. In order to meet their targets they disregard information from medical professionals, GP’s, consultants and psychiatrists. The advisors look for any reason to remove support. In one example a man with a mobility impairment lived in a flat which was too small for his wheelchair. When at home he uses furniture to get himself around. His ATOS assessment used this as proof that he could manage without a wheelchair. ATOS assessments are notoriously inaccurate. 40% are overturned on appeal and, with representation, that level raises to 70%. In other examples soldiers returning from Afghanistan with post-traumatic stress disorder and people with terminal cancer have been declared fit for work.
Money is being spent paying private companies to find ways to declare people fit for work when they are not and to take away benefits from the poorest and most powerless members of society. Rather than being an effective use of money, this is ideological, it is about pushing those people already on the margins of society even further into poverty and obscurity.
In Britain disabled people have not stood by and let this happen. We have mobilised and protested to defend our rights to the support we need to live an equal life. We urge campaigners in New Zealand to resist any attempt by their government to erode fairness and social justice the way ours has.
Disabled People against Cuts (DPAC) were shocked to learn of the events of 28th July in Sofia, Bulgaria in which members of the Sofia Centre for Independent Living (CIL) were abused by another group of disabled people while protesting against reductions in the PA scheme for disabled people.Disabled people in Sofia were told by the government that it was ‘not fair’ to allow the same disabled people use the limited funds for employing personal assistants to live independently.
Provision for Personal Assistance Reduced
Unfortunately the systemof Personal Assistance (P.A.) Provision in Sofia is not promoting independent living and a better quality of life. An inquiry among PA users proved that most of them ‘improved their social contacts’, ‘INCREASED THE FAMILY INCOME’ and only 3. 7% found a job. In Sofia the PA salaries are most likely to go to family members while the situation of disabled people remains unchanged. The PA scheme budget has doubled over the last 4 years whereas the number of users has grown by a factor of four. As a result people are receiving fewer and fewer hours to allow for more users.
Disabled people get their PAs for one year and have to be assessed on yearly basis regardless of their situation. The new assessment system involves two stages: a) points based on the individual situation, which determine access to funds; and b) transfer of points into hours (by a panel of experts who will not see the applicant at all), which determine the size of individual funding.
Reductions in PA lead to Confrontation
The issue of reduced support for disabled people to live independently is, sadly, no longer news: it is something that is happening all over Europe. It is no surprise that there have been protests all over Europe by disabled people. What is a surprise is when those protesting for their rights are confronted and mistreated by another disabled peoples’ group.
In this case CIL – Sofia, an organisation highly respected throughout the European Independent Living Movement were confronted by other disabled people from the National Disability Council: an umbrella organisation of well subsidised Disabled Peoples’ Groups.
On one of the hottest days of the year supporters of CIL – Sofia were left reeling from the opposition demonstrated by the National Disability Council (NDC) members against them.
In addition, Sofia CIL were left waiting outside the government building from 9:00am to 5:00pm in intense heat while the NCD were invited inside by the local government officials to see the results of the Metropolitan Council voting.
Kapka Panayotova, the founder and CEO of CIL – Sofia, said
“Police officers who were providing the security measures for our protest were shocked… They couldn’t believe it was happening!”
NCD supported the key notion of the local politicians in Sofia: each year different disabled people should enjoy PA support; access to the scheme with the number of hours awarded dependent on the employment/schooling status of the applicant for PA not on the daily needs alone. In fact, the PA scheme in Sofia will become a tool for employment, not for better quality of life or independent living.
A couple of weeks before the action a monitoring report on the performance of the National Council on the Integration of Disabled People (NCIDP) dominated by national Groups was made public. It was conducted by a consortium of advocacy NGOs – Institute for Modern Politics (IMP), Bulgarian Helsinki Committee (BHC) and Bulgarian Centre for Non-Profit Law (BCNL), it showed that:
(1) The NCIDP does not operate in line with the ‘good governance’ principles;
(2) Six out of its nine functions are not performed at all; the remaining 3 are partially performed;
(3) The NCIDP and its member groups are being subsidised in a non-transparent and unaccountable way, which takes them away from the status of ‘independent’ organisations;
(4) Despite the consultative process between the government and NCIDP, Bulgarian policies are not inclusive and far behind European human rights standards.
NDC the umbrella of the impairment based Groups and the European Disability Forum
This is not the kind of group most would want representing their interests. It seems that they may not be representing the interests of disabled people at all, but those of the government in agreeing with cuts in return for continued subsidies.
What is even more shocking is that NDC are the spokespeople for Bulgaria at the European Disability Forum (EDF): a large organisation set up to be ‘The Representative Organisation of Persons with Disabilities in Europe’ and ‘the frontrunners for Disability Rights’. We are not sure if EDF are aware of the behaviour of their member organisation or their activities, but would like to draw it to their attention and ask them if they agree with it.
DPAC condemns all cuts to funds to help disabled people live independently according to the framework of the European Convention of Human Rights and the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
DPAC also condemns disabled peoples’ groups that abuse other disabled people fighting for independent living and disabled peoples’ rights.
We welcome comments from both NDC and the EDF on this issue. We urge all to help them and Sofia Metropolitan Council understand that independent living rights extend beyond education and employment to day to day living as recognised by article 19 in the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities
Call for Action
Contact the Sofia Metropolitan Council on why the PA scheme should be used as a tool for independent living rather than exclusively supporting employment and study and on their behaviour towards Sofia CIL