Mar 152015
 

Many thanks to the brilliant Kate Belgrave – @hangbitch  Website: http://www.katebelgrave.com/

Interviews with Yvette Cooper (sort of), Andy Burnham and Liam Byrne 

To the Labour Spring conference in Birmingham yesterday! – where a group of Independent Living Fund recipients, Disabled People Against Cuts and me did our best to get answers from Labour worthies about the party’s plans for disabled people’s benefits and funds. The aim was to hear from various horses’ mouths what will happen if Labour forms part of whatever monster administration we end up with in a couple of months, etc.

So.

It wasn’t a bad day out if you fancied a mid-morning cake. There were croissants, piles of those great little pastries with jam and icing, and awesomely big chocolate squares laid out on oddly morgue-y concrete slabs. Answers to the funding questions were a little harder to come by. The people I tried to speak to either ran away, stamped off when compared with Tories, or said they had families to get home to. Not to worry. Plenty of time left before the election (54 days they kept saying yesterday). I think I might get along to a few more of these junkets and hustings. Even the most committed MPs and parliamentary hopefuls can’t spend 54 days legging it from the rabble.

But let’s not carp about that. Let’s go to some of yesterday’s responses. The electorate requires a few decent responses on these issues. Disabled people have taken the brunt of austerity cuts. I personally feel that Labour needs now to be offering something a bit more substantial than “That’s Sad,” or “How Awful” (heard both yesterday) on the topic of this government’s disability funding slaughter. A rigorous commitment to social security from a party that ought to see the point of it would be nice.

We had two questions for MPs:

1) Would Labour scrap the hated and dangerous Work Capability Assessment for Employment and Support Allowance?

2) Would Labour change its mind and keep the Independent Living Fund (ILF) open – the ILF being an all-important fund that profoundly disabled people use to pay for the extra care hours that they need to live independent lives? The current government plans to close the fund by the end of June this year.

You’d expect a reasonably straightforward set of responses, given that the answer to both questions ought to be a resounding Yes. Unfortunately, things weren’t quite as simple as that, as you’ll see.

Out of the blocks (literally) in the video below was Yvette Cooper. I asked her for her views on the WCA and whether Labour would scrap it. She said to talk to Rachel Reeves, because she, Yvette, was in hurry for her next meeting. To be fair, this may have been true, although I noted that she went from walking to her next meeting to sprinting for it very fast when I tried to talk to her. I was asking “Will Labour get rid of it [the WCA]?” as she went. Not a lot of joy there as you’ll see:

Transcript for video (pdf)

No luck finding Rachel Reeves back at base, either. But not to worry, as I say. Am already on the search for a next time.

Onto Andy Burnham next. The great man was in the NHS corner in the top assembly room. In the video below, he speaks with DPAC’s Linda Burnip about the fast-approachingclosure of the Independent Living Fund.

Burnham agreed that the profoundly disabled people who rely on the ILF needed protection when/if the funds closes. Which they do, to say the very least. Without the ILF to pay for the extra care hours they require, those disabled people will either be pushed into care facilities, or left at home to try and get by with dangerously low levels of care. It is no exaggeration to say that many won’t get by. The big problem now, of course, is that the ILF is due to close in a matter of months. It’s very late in the day for politicians to be wafting on in a non-specific way about protections for people whose lives will depend on those protections. As DPAC says in the video, Burnham’s integrated health and social care plan is still a long way off. There are also those of us who feel that in a general sense, Labour council attempts to protect social care budgets and facilities in the past five years have been beyond woeful, so putting further hope in widespread protection for disabled people could be a bit – hopeless. Burnham did commit to a meeting with DPAC and Inclusion London about the ILF/these “protections”, so I very much look forward to that:

Transcript for video (pdf)

Next up – I spoke with Liam Byrne about the Work Capability Assessment. God only knows why I decided to do this to myself. I’m starting to think that I may need to re-nose this aspect of my approach. Quite a lot of my life has already been wasted on conversations with fading worthies. You can actually hear my will to live leaving me via my voice in this one. Needless to say, Byrne thought that outsourcing assessments for disability benefits was still a good idea, despite the Atos experiment ending up as a pile of turds. One thing I will say for modern politicians – once they’ve chosen a disastrous ideology, they stick with it. They don’t flail through life looking for new ways to fail like the rest of us. I raised the ILF with Byrne, but didn’t get anything there, because he had to go and talk to some (possibly more important) blokes and also remembered he had to get home to the family:

What next. Oh yes. There was a “conversation” with Angela Eagle near the start where one of our number made a comment about Labour’s approach to WCA not being far removed from the Tories’. She apparently got all upset about that and left because she was a) genuinely angry or b) quietly delighted because she felt that the Tory comparison gave her an excuse (it didn’t) to leave, and on her high horse. Her Spad person told us to “send an email” as Angela marched off. I think I’ve got an audio from that one, but might go for a drink before subjecting us all to it. Definitely let me know if you’ve got hustings coming up in your area, though. Am right up for more of these face-to-face chats.

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 Posted by at 17:29

  5 Responses to “Videos from Labour conference! – see these attempts to get answers on disability funding cuts…”

  1. Thank you Kate for your determination in getting an answer from these guys. It’s so depressing that Labour constantly evade discussion on WCA, ILF,PIP etc. I managed to get the prospective Labour candidate for my ward to visit me at home to discuss these issues after months of trying, and this was after the A.M (Welsh Assembly Member) for my area put me in touch with him!

    I was assured by him that he would ask questions at the Labour Party Conference (autumn 2014) and to be fair, he did this but only managed to get “headlines” from the relevant Shadow Ministers.

    It’s so frustrating and a disgrace that only a ‘get back to work’ message is there….it makes me dread what will happen to those of us who are too ill or disabled to work, after the election. The lack of respect is stunning.

    • well Andy Burnham also breaks his owrd it seems and is too busy to bother with disabled people and ILF recipients.

      Dear Ms Burnip

      Thank you for your email to Mr Burnham regarding the ILF. As you will appreciate, with only two weeks now before Parliament is dissolved and then the pressures of the short campaign, Mr Burnham’s diary is very over-subscribed and I’m afraid I am unable to offer you a slot for a meeting at the present time. Mr Burnham sends his apologies.

      Thank you once again for your correspondence and I am sorry that Mr Burnham is unable to meet at present.

      Kind regards

      Pippa

      Pippa Menzies | Parliamentary Assistant to Rt Hon Andy Burnham MP for Leigh and Shadow Secretary of State for Health |pippa.menzies@parliament.uk| 020 7219 8250

  2. I am the Green Party candidate for the Jarrow constituency, the letter from a fellow green candidate sums up our attitudes to previous and present government treatment of disabled citizens.
    18 January 2015

    Newly-selected Green Party General Election Candidate for East Surrey, Nicola Dodgson, has sent an open letter to East Surrey MP Sam Gyimah, challenging him on the government’s record on disability rights and health and social care:

    Dear Mr Gyimah,

    Some weeks ago, I noticed that you were featured in the Surrey Mirror, opening new flats at the Orpheus Centre in Godstone. This gave rise to the many thoughts which compelled me to write this letter.

    The Orpheus Centre does fantastic work, creating an enabling environment for people with disabilities to live independently, take advantage of a wide range of learning opportunities, and enjoy life in a supported environment, where adapted accommodation provides safety and helps make potentially challenging daily tasks more manageable.

    We are lucky to have such an organisation in the local area. My first question to you therefore must be: Do you think that the provision of a decent standard of living for disabled people should be left to luck? Or do you believe, as I do, that this is absolutely the least anyone should expect in a ‘developed’ country, from a fair society? If the latter is the case, then the most obvious way of ensuring this happens is to use public money to offer the same quality of life offered by the Orpheus Centre to all disabled people living in the UK. Indeed, ensuring that everyone can have a decent quality of life, to the extent that we as a society can influence this (and we do influence it, in every aspect of life,) is essentially what I pay tax and National Insurance contributions for.

    I must confess that your support for the Orpheus Centre surprised me, as your government’s policies are in such stark contrast to the Orpheus Centre’s aims of giving young disabled people ‘the skills and opportunities they need so that they can live fulfilling and independent lives’, and supporting ‘people’s rights to participate fully in society regardless of background or disability’ (http://www.orpheus.org.uk/about-us/vision-mission-values). It has recently been reported, for example, that disabled tenants who have been affected by your government’s ‘Bedroom Tax’- despite having conditions which mean that perceived ‘extra’ space in their homes is in fact not ‘spare’ at all, instead in some cases housing vital equipment- will be taking their case to the supreme court (http://www.theguardian.com/society/2015/jan/10/disabled-tenants-bedroom-tax-challenge-supreme-court?CMP=share_btn_tw); I would be interested to hear your opinion on this matter.

    I should also like to hear your views on the continual assessment, reassessment, and effective harassment of sick and disabled people which has been performed by ATOS on behalf of the Department of Work and Pensions for a number of years, and which has been required for claimants to even have a chance of receiving vital benefit payments. Even in cases where someone is suffering a chronic condition which doctors have stated has little to no likelihood of improvement, or even a terminal illness, people have been placed in a ‘work related activity’ group and told to find employment, or given ‘zero points’ in their assessment and refused lifeline benefits (http://www.theguardian.com/society/2013/jul/22/work-capability-assessments-criticism). Whilst the WCA is now due to be administered by a new provider, US firm Maximus, who will need to clear ATOS’s huge backlog of unresolved claims, many have argued- and I would agree- that this punitive system is fundamentally flawed and a new provider (in receipt of public money, it should be emphasized,) offers little hope of a change for the better for those in need of Employment and Support Allowance (http://www.spartacusnetwork.org.uk/index.php/11-esa/12-maximusesa). I am keen to hear your views on this Mr Gyimah, along with your views on the lack of investigation which has thus far been carried out into the deaths of numerous poor, sick and disabled people who have died within a short time of being denied or threatened with denial of benefits by the DWP (http://www.welfareweekly.com/iain-duncan-smiths-directory-death/ http://www.theguardian.com/society/2014/dec/14/dwp-inquiries-benefit-claimant-suicides).

    You will undoubtedly be aware of recent protests by disabled campaigners and supporters, demanding the reinstatement of the Independent Living Fund (http://www.channel4.com/news/disability-campaigners-protest-over-funding-cuts-video). I am sure you will also be aware that the fund has allowed severely disabled people across the UK the means to maintain their independence, live in their own home, and work in their communities, with money to pay for support they need (http://www.newstatesman.com/politics/2013/06/secret-cuts-part-two-independent-living-fund). In direct opposition to the Orpheus Centre’s aims for which you have pledged support, your government’s decision to close this fund will deny people these basic rights. Whilst funds may be reallocated to local authorities, the lack of ring-fencing and existing cuts to Council funding mean that this reallocation is incredibly unlikely to result in the same level of care and support being received by previous recipients of ILF payments. (Since the fund is already closed to new recipients, this is one example of the level of care currently experienced without ILF: http://falseeconomy.org.uk/blog/fight-for-care ) It is disappointing, to say the least, to note the absence of your signature on either of the Early Day Motions on this issue. (http://www.parliament.uk/edm/2014-15/113 and http://www.parliament.uk/edm/2014-15/655)

    It has recently been reported that, according to government figures, 29% fewer adults in the UK are now receiving state-provided care than had received it 5 years ago. (http://www.independent.co.uk/incoming/number-of-vulnerable-adults-receiving-stateprovided-care-has-plummeted-official-figures-show-9592907.html) This somewhat refutes the arguments surrounding ILF replacement with local authority care, and the arguments locally of Surrey County Council regarding the threatened closure of their last 6 ‘in-house’ residential care homes. This is a very important local issue regarding which I am keen to hear your views. We have been told by the Council that more people are now staying in their homes, and so there is a decreased need for residential care, whilst it would seem that nationally the availability of home care provision is in decline, and the need for both home and residential care is increasing. Indeed, I am sure you have heard, as I have, from the families of residents in Surrey’s care homes- including Dormers in Caterham, within East Surrey constituency- that the care provided there is of an incredibly high standard, which residents’ families found they could not match when initially looking for places for their relatives. You will also undoubtedly have heard from residents themselves who are very happy with their lives in the care homes, and are shocked and fearful at the thought of what is not just a care home, but their own home, being taken away. Whilst some people in need of care and support do not want to be forced into care homes, others want and need high quality residential care provision- at the moment Surrey County Council is providing that, as well as, at Dormers, day care services for cancer patients, respite care for people who otherwise do live in their own homes, and rehabilitation after hospital stays (which helps to prevent bed-blocking at hospitals- I am sure you will also be aware of the current A&E crisis, and are able to make this connection yourself). Your counterpart in Reigate, Mr Crispin Blunt, has pledged support for the Council’s ‘preferred option’ of closing these care homes. I look forward to hearing your own position on this matter.

    In order to ensure that everyone in our society receives the care and support, the standard of living, and the basic degree of respect that they deserve, we have a lot to do in terms of public provision of services like those offered by the Orpheus Centre. Your government’s policies are failing our society, Mr Gyimah. It’s time to up our standards.

    Nicola Dodgson

    (Nicola has now received a reply to this letter, which can be found here.)

    ‘Nicola recently helped to draft Reigate & Banstead Green Party’s response to Surrey County Council’s care homes consultation, which is mentioned in the letter. The response can be found here: rbgp.org.uk/2014/12/care-homes-our-response/ along with details of other upcoming actions and a link to the consultation itself, which is open until January 31st. We encourage all Surrey residents to respond.

    Nicola can be contacted on Facebook: Via Twitter: @Nicky4East_Sy & via e-mail: nicola.dodgson@greenparty.org.uk

  3. Having joined Disability Labour received email from Ed asking for a question for him to answer. I asked about the WCA . Still waiting for an answer.

    Maybe I should ask my local MP

    • Viv, I had the same email yesterday and asked a question about reinstating DLA. I wonder if anyone asking about disability benefits will get a response?

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