Disability campaigners, who said councillors refused to look them in the eye, claimed a small victory when the council opted to investigate if reserves could be used to delay some of the changes
The changes will include:
Raising the threshold for who can receive care, meaning only people who have “substantial needs” will be eligible
Increasing the financial contribution made towards care and support, including users with more than £50,000 capital paying 100%
Introducing a £5 daily fee for transport to day care and other activities
Councillor Clare Neill, cabinet member for adult social care, said: “For adult social care, my share of [the cuts] is £65m over three to four years.
“This year, I’ve got to cut £11m from my budget – clearly I can only spend the money I’ve got.”
But campaigners said it disproportionately affected people with disabilities and that the consultation was flawed, which they said potentially gave them grounds for a judicial review.
Gary Matthews, Derbyshire representative of Disabled People Against Cuts, said: “The council’s own report says people will be unsafe at home, there will be more accidents at home because of a lack of care and people’s health will deteriorate.
“This will put an extra stress on the NHS. Some people believe the council is complicit in murder.”
He added that the introduction of charges will force many disabled people in to poverty.
Campaigners have 12 weeks to apply for a judicial review.
( BBC 18th June 2015)
See also http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-derbyshire-30906966
Organised by the Focus E15 Campaign, supported by DPAC You can visit the facebook event page hereor see them on twitter @FocusE15
To mark the 2nd anniversary of Focus E15 campaign we are organising a march in Newham against evictions and for decent housing for all.
The march is being supported by other groups and campaigns including:
Boleyn Dev 100, Revolutionary Communist Group, Newham Monitoring Project, Action East End, Streets Kitchen, Reclaim Hackney, Reclaim Tower Hamlets, Eviction Resistance Network, Left Unity, People Before Profit, Lewisham Housing Action Group, Grenfell Action Group, South Essex Heckler, Basildon and Southend Housing Action, National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts, Clapton Ultras, East London Radical Assembly, Disabled People Against Cuts, Movement for Justice, Freedom Without Fear Platform
Please contact us if your group is coming to the march and can help spread the word across your networks and want to see your campaign or group added to the active supporters list.
Get Angry! Get Active! Get Involved!
Across the country, the eviction rate has never been so high with 126 families being evicted every day. The housing crisis is escalating and none of the major political parties are offering convincing solutions.
Newham Council is led by Labour Mayor Robin Wales, an unashamed advocate of gentrification, supporter of sanctioning and kicking out the poor and most vulnerable.
Under his rule, 400 homes on the Carpenters Estate remain empty while homeless people, whom the council has a statutory duty to house, are forced to move out of London.
On the second anniversary of the Focus E15 Campaign, we will be marching for these issues.
All welcome. Bring friends, colleagues and family – let’s make our voices heard!
So much has been happening lately, with the General Election, the announcement of benefit cuts, especially the alignment of the ESA WRAG on JSA, and the shameful abstention of Labour on the Welfare Reform Bill, that it has been difficult to keep track of what is happening with Maximus, and more specifically how claimants are being dealt with, within the system.
This is not about the WCA which we all know is flawed, and the newspapers, including the Daily Mail, have reported almost daily further failures of the WCA to assess correctly claimants’ability to work. Behind each of these failures, there is a human tragedy.
But we at DPAC have been receiving more and more evidence about how dysfunctional the system is.
It seems, from anecdoctal evidence, that the use of an old ESA50 form (among other things) leads to a large number of appointments being cancelled, sometimes on the day, while claimants are waiting to be seen by a Maximus assessor. The appointments take longer than anticipated, because claimants have developed other conditions since their last ESA50, as was explicitly stated by a Maximus receptionist.
Finally, what we are hearing is reminiscent of the worst excesses of the Atos period: HCPs just ticking boxes, selective information finding its way into reports, statements on activities the claimant can do which were never discussed or observed, leading to an over-optimistic and unrealistic assessment of a claimant’s capacity for work. Maybe, that was to be expected. Maximus is using former Atos staff, and the culture is unlikely to have changed.
In the first instance, phone 0800 288 8777 Mon-Fri 8am to 8pm or Sat 9 to 5 – and if you can’t afford (or don’t want) to hang on, a Customer Service Manager MUST call you back Mon-Fri 9 to 5.
Email is not much use, but it’s worth a try – email@example.com and as the website does not clarify what the complaints procedure actually is, demand a copy of it by email or letter. They must have a proper complaints procedure.
If your complaint is about Customer Experience, you should send your letters – of complaint – to Sue Marsh, Head of Customer Experience, Health Assessment Advisory Service, Room 4E04, Quarry House, Leeds LS2 7UA.It is interesting to note that neither the website nor the postal address mentions the name Maximus. It is particularly interesting that no formal complaints procedure is mentioned anywhere.Obviously, if you don’t know how to complain or who to complain to, there’s only one thing to be done.
Complain to the District Manager of DWP for your area – and here they all are…… gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/442311/jcp-district-managers-july-2015.pdf
Jeremy Corbyn is the ONLY labour leadership candidate to have consistently supported the Save The ILF Campaign throughout
Jeremy Corbyn is the ONLY Labour Leadership Candidate to have come out on the street to stand side by side with DPAC in solidarity
Jeremy Corbyn showing support for the Save ILF Postcard Campaign in 2014
Jeremy Corbyn speaking at the 10,00 Cuts and Counting ceremony to remember the casualties of welfare reform in 2013
Here is a fragment of a speech he gave in the commons during a welfare debate in 2014, just one of many such speeches:
Those who campaigned for—and secured—the principles of universal benefits and the welfare state throughout the 20th century, which culminated in the strong principles behind the National Assistance Act 1948, envisaged a society in which we would protect people from destitution, and would have particular concern for those with disabilities, work-related illnesses, or sicknesses that prevented them from working.
Sadly, we now have a system under which many are denied benefits to which they ought to be entitled, and who are living in destitution as a result. Some of them simply cannot cope with that, and suicide results. ………. It is incumbent on the Government to ensure that the cumulative assessment takes place, so that we can be shown the real impact of what we have done to our society over the past three years.
Jeremy Corbyn is a long time supporter of disabled people rights, not just with words but with deeds, here is just a couple of examples from 2012 and 2013right up to this year when he was one of the MPs who were there at the Save ILF Lobby of Parliament in January
He was a co sponsor of this Early Day Motion in Parliamentto save the ILF last year, and has consistently signed EDMs in favour of disabled peoples rights
Another EDM was started by Jeremy Corbyn way back in 2011 EDM 1836 “Employment Of Disabled People”, this is someone who doesn’t just say the right things at election time, he says the right things because he believes in them.
At the end of this post, is a list of all of the EDMs Jeremy Corbyn has signed, sponsored and been the primary sponsor of – its a very long list, and stands as a testament to the consistent level of support he has given to disabled people over the last five years.
If you are not a Labour member already, you can sign up to vote for a Labour Leader who has a proven track record of support for disabled people here
There is another MP that needs a mention here as well, someone who has shown his unfailing and unwavering support for DPAC over the years, and has earned the love, gratitude and respect of DPAC. Yes, Mr John McDonnell MP, this is you we are talking about, thank you.
EDMs that Jeremy Corbyn has signed, sponsored and been the primary sponsor of.
An EDM (Early Day Motion) is a way that backbench MPs can register their support for a particular issue.
DPAC has a policy of staying out of party politics. We have no party allegiance because that leaves us free to criticise all parties where they don’t work in the interests of disabled people, and give praise on the rare occasions that they do.
It’s a long standing policy, and one that we have adhered to strictly, even when, for instance, we were much criticised for not taking sides in the General Election and Scottish Independence Referendum, we stuck to our position of neutrality, as we believe it is the best way to serve all of our members.
We’re going to break that self-imposed rule today. We’re going to break that rule because of what happened in Parliament last night.
Last night there was a vote on the governments Welfare Reform Bill, the one that will strip away Tax Credits from people in in-work poverty, the one that will introduce a benefit cap so severe that it must lead to mass homelessness, the one that will remove child benefit for any more than 2 children leaving mothers unable to provide for their children, and the one that will take £30 a week away from claimants in the ESA WRAG pushing them into desperate poverty, even though they do not have the option of working.
This bill will cause great harm and misery to hundreds of thousands of people. Make no mistake, this bill is evil.
This bill is evil. And when faced with evil, those who don’t fight it, those who sit passively on the sidelines enable that evil to thrive.
And that’s what most of the Labour Party did last night, they abstained, they sat on the sidelines and waved evil past.
Abstainer-in-chief, temporary Labour Leader Harriet Harman, instructed her MPs to abstain, and most of them meekly did, including leadership contenders, Andy Burnham, Yvette Cooper, and Liz Kendall.
These are not leaders, these are jobsworths, “its more than my job is worth to stick my neck out, even when it really matters, I am more interested in polishing my career then taking risks, no matter how important it is to others”
We are less surprised at Burnham as has shown this sort of cowardice before, when we approached him to support the Save the Ilf Campaign – he couldn’t get away from us quick enough. We captured it on video – you can see it here
Cooper and Burnham had previously made political capital in the leadership race by saying they would oppose this bill, which makes their cowardice even more complete.
Kendall at least had the honesty to admit she would support the bill, although where there is any merit to be had in being open about supporting evil is arguable.
48 Labour MPs had the courage to stand firm and vote against this bill, at least we know there are 48 Mps in the Labour Party who still have principles and who are prepared to fight for them.
One among that honourable number, Jeremy Corbyn, stands out as the ONLY Labour Leadership contender who had the guts to fight this evil bill.
Just as we have seen previous indicators of compliance in the behaviour of the other three leadership contenders, there is plenty in the previous behaviour of Jeremy Corbyn to indicate that he would stand and fight last night.
Jeremy has a proud and long established track record of standing up for what he believes, of going against the flow when it matters, and opposing, not just with fine words, but with deeds the evil that comes his way.
Jeremy Corbyn has also been a long standing supporter of DPAC and disabled people’s rights. He has been there for us when it mattered, now its time for DPAC to return some of that support.
That is why DPAC are stepping out of our political neutrality for the Labour Leadership Elections, this is why we are backing Jeremy Corbyn for leader.
Labour needs a leader, not a jobsworth, the country needs Labour to have a leader, and disabled people need Labour to have a Leader that will fight the evil that this Tory government will do.
DPAC call on all disabled people, all of our members and supporters, to register to vote in the Labour Leadership elections, by becoming a registered supporter (it costs just £3) and voting for Jeremy Corbyn for Leader.
You have till August 12th to become a registered supporter – and you can sign up here
It might be the best £3 you have ever spent.
2 more important things remain to be said:
1) We are aware that even a Labour Party led by Jeremy Corbyn won’t be enough to bring the change we desire. Activists and communities must continue to organise autonomously and build the movement. We call on those who are willing to resist this government in anyway they can and fight for change.
2) On the conclusion of the Leadership elections, we will revert to our former position of holding no party allegiance. That means, should Jeremy Corbyn become Labour Leader, the party will not escape criticism from DPAC, should we feel it necessary, neither will it be neglected for praise, where it is merited.
Jeremy Corbyn MP’s response to the Tories 2015 Budget
Jeremy Corbyn – End Austerity Now – June 20th 2015
#milifandom founder Abby Tomlinson interviews Labour Leader candidate Jeremy Corbyn MP in the midst of his involvement in the Anti-Austerity protests on Parliament Square on the day of the 2015 Budget.
This is a response to Mario Dunn, Maximus Marketing Director, the only person from Maximus or the DWP to respond to our Open letter (https://dpac.uk.net/2015/06/10484/). His response is at the bottom of the letter
Thank you Mr Dunn for your response. Although the information forwarded is very useful, it does not address the issues raised by DPAC.
To restate our complaint, so that you may have another chance to respond:
We have received many letters from claimants, asked to attend a Work Capability Assessment without having filled first an ESA50 form, or asked to attend a WCA having filled an ESA50 form 2 or even 3 years before, for their previous assessment. This is something that these claimants have found unacceptable, as have the courts which have to rule on these cases.
As you should be well aware, a Work Capability Assessment is a snapshot in time of a claimant’s medical or functional condition, and it is the responsibility of your company – HDAS to send an ESA50 to an ESA claimant as stated in the ‘Health and Disability Assessment Services Service Requirement’ (HDAS – Schedule 2.1 (Service Requirements).pdf)
19.6. There are two parts to the evidence gathering process for ESA. The ESA claim form gathers personal details and basic information on the Claimant’s health conditions and disabilities. A separate questionnaire (currently the ESA50 / ESA50A) gathers further information from the Claimants on their health conditions and disabilities, and the extent to which the Claimant considers that these affect their daily lives.
19.7. In most cases, on receipt of a referral, the Supplier must issue the relevant questionnaire to the Claimant. This is currently a clerical form completed by the Claimant.
19.8. The Claimant has 28 calendar days to complete the questionnaire and return it to the Supplier, unless an extension is agreed by the Authority.
19.9. As a minimum, if the form has not been returned within 21 calendar days of issue, the Supplier must issue a reminder to the Claimant.
19.10. Once the questionnaire has been returned, the Supplier must undertake an initial paper-based review of the case to decide the next appropriate steps. This can include completing the assessment on the information available, gathering FE or scheduling a Face-to-face consultation. This review must be undertaken by a HCP as defined in Part F. Further information on the current policy is outlined in paragraphs 19.19 and 19.20
Medical services is responsible for gathering any information required to support the WCA process. This includes
sending the questionnaire (form UC50)
sending a reminder if the claimant does not reply within three weeks
deciding if further medical evidence is required from the claimant’s GP or health care professional.
It is very clear from the above that evidence gathering is a 2 step process and that the decision to hold a face to face Work Capability Assessment is only made after consideration of the evidence contained in the recently supplied, current ESA50 form, and after asking for Further Medical Evidence if necessary.
It is implicit that the evidence should be as recent as possible, otherwise the DWP would not reassess claimants endlessly to check whether their condition has changed.
One case highlighted in our Open letter showed that the ESA50 used for a recent WCA was 3 years old, and led at the time to an overturned decision by a judge after ESA was refused.
ESA was again refused this time and the claimant is once again having to go through the long process appealing essentially the same wrong decision.
You will admit that it is a waste of money, time and energy, and stress placed upon the claimant, which could have been avoided if the claimant was sent a new ESA50 before being asked to attend a WCA.
One recording of a claimant’s telephone conversation with Maximus staff shows that Maximus’ responsibility to send the ESA50 is flatly denied by your employee.
The second point is that claimants have to negotiate with Maximus the rearrangement of their WCA appointment in order to have the time to fill the ESA50 form.
Again we are aware of claimants asked by Maximus to bring their ESA50 with them for their WCA or to fill it as quickly as possible in order for Maximus to make a decision on whether a face to face assessment is needed.
The time limit imposed by DWP for the return of the questionnaire is only DWP internal policies. The law is very clear: ‘As in G1096, the law imposes time limits on the Secretary of State in relation to the sending of the questionnaire and the reminder. However, there is no law imposing a time limit on the claimant for the return of the questionnaire’.
It means a claimant would have grounds for appeal if he was not given the time necessary to fill the ESA50 form, especially compared with other claimants who met the time limit imposed by DWP internal policies, and this claimant could argue he has been placed at a substantial disadvantage compared to them.
DPAC is in no doubt that the WCA is not fit for purpose, and is a distressing process for many claimants as illustrated by the evidence received only yesterday .
But it is made even more distressing when corners are being cut, as it seems to be the case with the ESA50 form, and this seems to have a very negative impact on the length of appointments and on the claimants themselves, as illustrated by the person who wrote to us (see the footnote).
What we are expecting from Maximus is the reassurance that every single claimant referred for a WCA will be sent first an ESA50 form to fill, and that they will be given as a minimum the time limit imposed by DWP internal policies to do so in order for the decision to attend a face to face assessment to be made. This should minimise the number of face to face assessments necessary and the need for Maximus to cancel assessments at the last minute, while claimants are waiting to be seen in the assessment centre.
Response copied to:
Mario Dunn, Maximus Marketing Director
Justin Tomlinson, Minister for Disabled People
Sue Marsh, Head of Customer Experience
Kate Green, Shadow Minister for Disabled People
 While writing this letter, DPAC received an email from a person who had to negotiate with Maximus in order to use a recent ESA50 and to have enough time to fill it. She succeeded at last and went for her WCA at end of June. After waiting for an hour and a half, she was sent home along with 5 other people without being seen: ‘I have to go again on Monday. It has turned my world upside down. I took an overdose the day after as I just couldn’t take any more. I am now on diazepam from my doctor and struggling with everyday stuff and with getting any sleep. I am terrified of what could happen if I get refused ESA but I’m trying very hard to just take one day at a time. It’s awful to think of all of the sick people out there being legally put through the wringer by this system. No wonder they don’t want to publish the figures of deaths associated with this procedure’.
The reason given to her by Maximus to cancel the appointment was ‘We are seeing lots of people who have had other conditions diagnosed since they filled in their ESA50s so they have to thoroughly investigate and are taking a long time with appointments’.
Although this person’s identity will always been protected, DPAC has the evidence available, should anybody doubt this story.
This person had a WCA on Monday. When she arrived, the Maximus Assessor did not have and had not read her ESA50 form. Fortunately, she had a copy in her bag. Her recommendation is: ‘I would just like to get the message out there that everyone should take a copy of their form with them no matter what otherwise they will definitely be on the back foot and at a huge disadvantage’.
So please, make a copy of your ESA50 and take it with you. What it means is that Maximus is not following the DWP procedures, and reviewing first the ESA50 form before deciding that a face to face assessment is needed.
The first part of this article showed that the decision to cut ESA benefits for the WRAG (Work Related Activity Group) relied on the complexity of the system in order to drive cuts, which would be considered unacceptable, if people who should know better understood the system. BBC journalist Nick Robinson wrote on his blog before the cuts were announced:
He had to amend his blog after being told that nobody claiming ESA, either in the WRAG or Support Group, has been ever been ‘deemed capable of work’.
These cuts seem even more surprising in the light of the Government announcement that a record number of disabled people moved into work (a claim which will be scrutinised further in future), and of 3 million ESA claimants closing their claims since 2010. Furthermore, disabled people are the only group to have fared worse in terms of poverty. There is a 2 percent point increase in disability poverty after taking into account housing costs, which is not surprising as 2/3 of households hit by the bedroom tax include a disabled person, and people in the WRAG are not exempted from the benefit cap. This is going to get worse.
Disability is associated with higher costs. Somebody with limited mobility needs more heating and will have higher heating or electricity bills, another might need incontinence pads, dietary supplements, or the use of special transport or equipment.
There also would be repeated trips to the hospital or the GP
Higher insurance premiums because of disability
Over the counter medications
Extra bedding or clothes/shoes
Servicing of any aids or equipment etc.
Apart from the costs associated with disability, a Demos research paper identifies the poverty drivers for disabled people:
private rented accommodation
reliance on public transport
no informal support from family and friends
requiring higher levels of care and support
living in London
receiving Jobseeker’s Allowance
no savings, in debt and no bank account
These are costs which will now have to be met on the equivalent of JSA, which is worth £73.10 per week for over 25s. It is what “the law says you need to live on each week” and according to DWP: ‘Benefits are not made up of separate amounts for specific items of expenditure such as food or fuel charges, and beneficiaries are free to spend their benefit as they see fit, in the light of their individual needs and preferences’.
The findings of a report by Scope were that disabled people pay on average £550 per month on extra costs related to disability. How a £30 cut in ESA, bringing it to the level of JSA, will help disabled people assessed as unfit for work move into work is anybody’s guess, when it is likely to make them poorer and even more socially isolated that they already are.
In fact this cut in benefit has nothing to do with incentives or disencentives to move into work. The 2011 impact assessement of Time limit Contributory Employment and Support Allowance to one year for those in the Work-Related Activity Group spells it out very clearly:
This is nothing more than a cost saving exercise, disguised as a policy realignment under the pretext that not enough disabled people have moved into work.
The same document states: There may be an increased movement into work from people on ESA due to the change in emphasis towards ESA being a shorter-term benefit. The scale of this effect is very difficult to estimate at this stage.
Roughly, ESA is split into 2 groups:
The Support Group for the most severely disabled, or terminally ill people
The WRAG which is supposed to be a short-term benefit and which is also split into 2 groups for Work Programme purposes:
ESA WRAG with 12 Month or longer prognosis, which means claimants are not expected to be work ready before 12 months or later, and their participation in the Work Programme is optional
ESA (IR) WRAG with 3-6 Month prognosis, and claimants are mandated onto the Work Programme.
These distinctions between different types of ESA (SG and WRAG) and different types of WRAG (12 months and 3-6 months) assume from the Work Capability Assessment a level of sophistication greater that it actually has. There have been too many WCA failures to list here, but stories about terminally ill people, or people with degenerative illnesses being found fit for work or placed in the wrong group are numerous, as illustrated by the Work and Pensions Committee’s report on the WCA in 2014:
More than 80,000 new ESA claimants and IB claimants undergoing reassessment, many of them with progressive conditions, have been placed in the WRAG since ESA was introduced, with a prognosis statement that a change in their functional abilities is unlikely in the longer term. The purpose of the WRAG is to provide work-related support for people who are expected to be fit for work in the short to medium term. Work-related conditionality accompanies this designation. We believe that it is wholly inappropriate to place people in the WRAG if they have a condition which is unlikely to improve and which makes their prospect of returning to work remote. We therefore recommend that DWP changes its practice so that claimants with this prognosis are allocated to the Support Group and not to the WRAG.
There is also the case of 4,900 claimants stuck on the WRAG for years, some since 2008 (like the FOI request shows below), or like Jon, placed in the WRAG since 2010, and who has been classified as being “unable to work in the longer term”. He is currently undergoing his 8th WCA.
The failures of the WCA have even been noticed by the OECD which addressed the issue of the small number of ESA claimants with a 3-6 months prognosis moving into work: ‘An improved WCA processmay help to better identify claimants were [sic] a 3-6 months prognosis is justified, thus increasing the average health level of this group’.
What George Osborne and his government are doing is cutting benefits for people who have been wrongly assessed as being work ready within 3 to 6 months, and who will have no possibility to offset the shortfall by working as they are unable to do so.
It is already tragic that so many unemployed people have to live on such a pittance as JSA, but the tragedy is compounded (if the OECD is right and there is no reason to believe it is not, as it has no political mileage to gain from not telling the truth as opposed to the government) by disabled people being wrongly assessed as almost work ready when they are not and having to meet the costs of disability on an ever shrinking allowance.
Higher level of conditionality
The last worrying aspect about singling out this group as needing incentives to move into work, apart from suggesting that disabled people prefer to languish on disability benefit rather than working, is the suggestion to consider a higher level of conditionality by the Reform report. It is already obvious that the level of conditionality for this group is much too high: Over 3,000 sanctions were imposed in December 2014 on disabled people, 4.5 times more than in the same quarter in 2013. Disabled people (and non disabled people) have been driven to homelessness, destitution and suicide by sanctions.
What the government may have not noticed, is that it has toxifed the Work Related Activity Group and that more and more claimants and their GPs realise that this group presents a real danger to claimants’ physical and mental health. It is on this basis that claimants should use Regs 29 and 35 to get the protection they need against a ruthless, ineffective and harmful regime.
As anticipated, George Osborne announced in the 2015 Summer Budget that from 2017 “new claimants of Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) who are placed in the Work-Related Activity Group will therefore receive the same rate as those claiming Jobseeker’s Allowance”. The reason given is that “The current system creates a financial incentive to claim sickness benefits over Jobseeker’s Allowance”.In his speech, he also added: “The number of JSA claimants has fallen by 700,000 since 2010, whilst the number of incapacity benefits claimants has fallen by just 90,000. This is despite 61% of claimants in the ESA WRAG benefit saying they want to work”.
Although technically true, the impression given is that after over 4.6 million Work Capability Assessments, only 90,000 claimants left incapacity benefits. In fact the picture is very different. Between May 2010 and November 2014, there were 5,274.740 new ESA claims (on flows) and this includes the IB claimants who upon being reassessed and entitled to ESA became New claims. And during the same period, 2,728.670 ESA claims were closed (off flows). Almost 3 million claimants who did not feel that ESA created a financial incentive for them. Although these numbers look big, because of DWP incompetence and the WCA disaster, proportionally more claimants left ESA or Incapacity Benefit under the previous Labour government than under Iain Duncan Smith’s DWP leadership, during which he has presided over a backlog of well over ½ million ESA claimants. In fact, their numbers were decreasing before the 2010 elections.
But where there is real deception is to imply that ESA is more attractive than the Jobseeker’s Allowance, discouraging claimants from finding a job. This argument was made in a recent report: How to run a country: Working age welfare co-written by Charlotte Pickles, an aficionado of the revolving door between DWP and the CSJ (the right wing think tank set up by Duncan Smith), and who now works for Reform, another think tank set up by Conservative members, although one of advisory board member is Frank Field, who could qualify as an Honorary Tory.
This ‘report’ looks at the Work Programme and concludes: ‘Provider payment rates are higher for those in the JSA ex-IB group (ie. for claimants who moved from IB onto JSA) than for participants in the ‘new ESA’ payment group because they are judged harder to get into work. Yet the job outcome rates for the harder to help JSA ex-IB cohort are 18 per cent higher than those for the short prognosis new ESA claimants. DWP should look into what is driving this, paying particular attention to the effect of the differing levels of conditionality for JSA and ESA’.
The argument being that claimants in the JSA ex-IB group, who are supposed to be harder to help, fare better on the Work Programme in terms of job outcomes than new ESA claimants with a 3-6 months prognosis, and the explanation can only be, at least for the authors, that the level of conditionality for the WRAG group is not high enough (translated as not enough job searches, interviews etc. leading to more sanctions), which makes ESA more attractive.
What seems to have eluded this report’s authors is the differing status between claimants. The Ex-IB JSA claimants have been found fit for work, which is not the case for the new ESA claimants. Different levels of conditionality are applied, because it is recognised that the ESA claimants may work in the future, but are currently unfit to work. Although it is mandatory for them to undertake some work related activity or to attend some Job Centre work related interviews, they have no obligation to look for and apply for jobs, because they were assessed as unfit for work. Therefore, it is inappropriate but also disingenuous to make a direct comparison between the two groups.
However, the dishonesty does not stop there. The abysmal performance of the Work Programme, in relation to ESA claimants job outcomes, highlighted by the report and used by Osborne as the justification to cut benefits, may have a different explanation, and the OECD, that bastion of socialism, suggests that beyond improved interventions of providers and a better labour market situation, an improved WCA process ‘may help to better identify claimants were [sic] a 3-6 months prognosis is justified, thus increasing the average health level of this group’.
It seems that even the OECD has heard of the WCA disaster and of its complete inability to assess accurately claimants’ fitness for work. What the OECD is saying is that claimants are given a too short prognosis and are nowhere near ready to move into work within 3 to 6 months, which explains why job outcomes for this cohort is so low (especially compared to ex-IB JSA claimants to whom they should not be compared anyway). At no point does the OECD mention that ESA creates a financial incentive or is more attractive financially or otherwise than JSA, and had it been the case, the OECD would be the first to say so.
The OECD also refers to something very interesting about the ex-IB JSA claimants on which the report’s comparison and Osborne’s justification for cutting disability benefits are based. According to the latest statistics released and updated in July 2015 by DWP, 257,700 reassessed IB claimants were found fit for work, but only 33.490 were referred to the Work Programme.
Put otherwise, 88% of IB claimants who have been assessed as fit for work do not go on to claim JSA and never appear on the Work Programme. They simply disappear from the statistics, neither in work, nor on benefits, a mystery also puzzling to the OECD. Looking at the number of IB claims closed before assessment (just over 53,000 in September 2014, the most recent figures for this cohort), it is not too stretching to suggest that the small number of IB claimants who go on to claim JSA are among those who closed their claims before assessment because they got better, and to look at this small cohort as a self-selected group of the healthiest claimants, ready to move into work, while the rest disappear under the radar. This would also explain why they fare better than the ESA claimants on the work programme.
An honest report would have looked objectively at all the evidence, and would not have had any pre-determined outcomes or used selective data to support a tighter alignment of ESA on JSA.
And an honest Chancellor would not portray the ESA claimant’s inability to move into work as an indicator of perverse incentives in the system and knowingly exploit the failure of the WCA to accurately assess them in order to cut disability benefits.
My name is Gregory White and I’m a doctoral researcher in the Department of Social Policy and Social Work at the University of York. I’m looking for participants to be involved in my research project on protest groups.
As part of the project, I’d like to invite you to a one-to-one interview. The interview itself should last no longer than an hour. I am very flexible as to how the interview is conducted, although it is preferred that we meet in person. The interviews for this project are to take place over the next few months. I’m ideally looking to speak to people who have taken an active role in organising with DPAC either at a national or local level.
If you are interested in being involved in the research then I’d be happy to discuss this further. I can be contacted personally via e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Has your Council taken out or turned off safe street crossings to create a so-called Shared Space? As these are desperately dangerous for people with any and all impairments, Unity Law are now taking action against 5 councils.Please consider joining the action if you have a Shared Space where you live. Unity Law will represent you at absolutely no cost to yourself and the more people and places they have on board the better.
Image: Edvard Munch’s The Scream (Creative Commons)
I frequently think of my life as a never-ending race, in which I am up against the man I should be for the prize of the life I desire. I hold the sharper mind, but carry a permanent injury, so I mostly remain two steps behind. Occasionally I may draw level, thanks to a combination of sheer bloody mindedness and support from others, without which I would undoubtedly fall even further behind. Alone, it would be no contest.
And yet, the fact that I have cerebral palsy has never truly scared me before now. Sure, there have been many battles of angst-ridden internal frustration, but these have always been personal, my own. At no point previously have these battles, due to my disability, endangered my life choices or sense of identity. I have my parents’ support, both financial and otherwise, to thank for this. It has allowed me to dream big and achieve beyond what others narrowly imagined.
As I look to move out of home permanently, age 25, with journalism finally beginning to pay its way, the reality of fully relying upon Britain’s 2015 model of social welfare is nauseating. This government has pledged to cut £12bn from the welfare budget, and leaked Whitehall documents suggest that a portion of these will fall upon disability benefits.
Like many other disabled people, I live in a twilight zone, with a mind and personality at sharp odds with the restrictions of my body. Most people, friends included, do not know how my disability affects my daily life. I do all I can to hide it. But, bluntly, I need help just to live. I cannot dress or transfer to the toilet without help. I cannot cook. This is just the surface.
Now, at a time when I should be taking risks to make the most of life, thanks to government cuts, I face the prospect of becoming what Stephen Hawking so perfectly described as a “burden”. This is something every person needing assistance dreads, be they elderly, disabled, depressed or in the grip of addiction.
I presently rely on year-long live-in care placements from Volunteering Matters, a charity providing volunteering opportunities for foreign and domestic students who average between 18 and 22 years old. This arrangement suited me perfectly during days of drunken student hedonism and essay filled all-nighters, but eight years on, I crave long-term stability. I would like to have someone within my age range who understands where I am in life to help empower me. But instead, I will either need to rely on a series of agency carers, costing hundreds of pounds, or council care.
The concept of the professional council care worker is now a myth. Many councils, including my own, outsource care responsibilities to private companies who draw from a limited pool of applicants with no standardised training. This leads to a make-do rather than best practice attitude, with hours squeezed due to financial constraints.
To give you an example, as a young man, I asked the council for a male carer to provide two hours’ additional assistance in the morning to allow my mother some respite care. You see, our live-in volunteer is only allowed to work 35 hours a week. Crucially, this includes hours “on call” as much as hands-on work, and therefore falls far short of the actual hours in a week. This leaves mum and dad, age 63 and 68 respectively, to fill in the gaps. Both have been denied carers allowance because they are in receipt of the old age pension. Admittedly, we do not live close to the breadline as they were both successful in their lines of work, but they are literally being made to pay for having a disabled son.
After waiting for four months, during which no male carers were found, I reluctantly agreed to a female carer in a bid to speed up the process and save the strain of my mother’s (very understandable) tiredness and the strain on the family. A lady was found within days. I began to prepare myself, to think of the bigger picture. And then, fortuitously yet ominously, the lady failed to turn up. Eventually a man was found.
Despite the unexpected outcome, the episode provided a bleak snapshot of my potential future – one where I have no choice but to forgo all personal dignity and my sense of self-respect in order to simply survive.
I am thankful for all help I receive. It’s just that, for all the jokes my friends make about how great it would be to have a Swedish model helping me in to the shower, this goes against all I feel comfortable with at 25. They do not have to face the reality, only adolescent fantasy. I had plenty of female “carer” relationships throughout my childhood, including every classroom assistant, every nanny. It is a different story now. Let alone the fact that a female carer would cause difficulties with future girlfriends, for instance. Imagine how silently awkward it would be, how delicately confusing and painful for all involved.
I am a full-grown man and deserve to be treated as such.
I am not alone in this desire. There is no more vivid depiction of the strain disabled people are facing than when, earlier this month, 30 disabled protesters, some in wheelchairs, tried to storm prime minister’s questions. They were fighting to save the Independent Living Fund (ILF), a longstanding £320m initiative central to helping disabled people manage care costs and live independently, which was recently signalled for closure and finally terminated last week. Its loss will affect 18,000 disabled people, the most disabled being the most affected.
The parliamentary authorities were caught off guard by this protest. They hastily locked the doors and called on the considerable police presence to deal with the escalating situation in the central lobby. “I’ve never seen anything like this,” proclaimed the BBC’s Norman Smith, as police forcibly grabbed wheelchair users. But you may have missed it in the news, as the powers pressured for coverage to be kept at a minimum.
The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) continues to frame the closure of the ILF not as a cut, but rather a “transition” of responsibility to local authorities under the new Care Act. A spokesperson for the government told me that “more than £260m will be made available to former ILF users” in the forthcoming year, with local authorities and devolved administrations “fully funded to ensure disabled people get the targeted support they need to live independent lives”.
What the DWP fails to mention, aside from the £60m decrease, is that the money given will not be ring-fenced. Considering the £1.1bn cut in social care budget that the local authorities will face this year, there is every chance that the Care Act money will find itself allocated elsewhere and severely disabled people will be cut off
One week before the ILF’s closure, pressure group Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC) used freedom of information requests to find that, of the 147 local authorities that responded, 88 were still unaware of how much funding they would receive. Worse still, 12 were unable to say whether any of these funds would be spent replacing the ILF support. 30 have not, as yet, even set a timetable for the completion of replacement support assessments required under the Care Act.
All this means that, when I do move out, it is highly unlikely the council will agree to the “on call” care I need. As a freelance journalist with alternating working hours and a busy social life, my life demands flexibility. Breaking news and showbiz parties do not stick to rigid care timetables or recognise my disability (a wonderful truth that I revel in.) And so, in the search for independence and attempts to fulfil ambition, both professional and personal, my parents and I must either try and fund private care at great expense, thereby limiting their precious retirement time alone together, or I must rely on friends and loved ones for support.
And this is where my fear of being a “burden” becomes very real. I tell no one at work that the reason I do not join them in the canteen on the night shift is because that is when I meet my mother to help me to the toilet. Her two hour round trip in and out of London, sometimes late at night, cannot go on.
It sickens me that it has come to this. I sometimes feel idiotic about my choice of profession. Zero hour contracts are rife, permanent roles sparse. But then I remember disabled people and those needing social care have already been hit up to 19 times harder by cuts than others. I would need more than just any paying profession, but a very well paid one indeed, to be able to live the life I’d like.
At this point, I must ask myself, how much am I prepared to lose of myself to fit the system? I have spent my life bucking it, but now I need to rely on it. However, I neither fit the convention of Cameron’s “desperately disabled”, fulfil the role of inspiration porn (as explained so wonderfully by the late Stella Young), nor am I a work-shy benefit scrounger. I am part of the vast lost middle, too unique for government statistics and cuts to compute.
A friend who I studied journalism with in London understood this nuance and we joked about it often. “You’re such an inspiration,” she would say, with quiet sarcasm. Although it often went unsaid, I sometimes felt that the fact that she is gay allowed her to appreciate my silent struggle not to be anything strikingly different, but simply, oneself. That is a human right, and one I will fight for.
The prospect of relying on friends, girlfriends or other loved ones at some point in the future makes me feel guilt, but the responsibility for this does not really rest with me and stretches far beyond party politics. It represents the loss of moralism in favour of big business and cold market forces, a sad fact that might be reversed by giving human faces to those affected.
So while I may not have the answers, I am sharing my reality here in the hope that it makes someone, with the power to help, stop and think of the lives behind the numbers.
Image: Edvard Munch’s The Scream (Creative Commons)
Eleanor Firman, Unite Community activist and Left Unity member, shares her views on yesterday’s announcement by Chancellor George Osborne.
The compulsory National Living Wage which Osborne announced today is a complete and utter con. The media are hyping it as the Tories stealing Labour’s clothes but the miniscule Living Wage is not about Osborne getting tough with low wage-paying bosses – the reality is in fact the complete opposite: the Tory Chancellor is merely instructing businesses to return a tiny fraction of the money that has been stolen from our (social) wages and handed to bosses in the form of the employers’ National Insurance ‘allowance’ that began last year (up to £2000 per employer) and was increased by Osborne yesterday to £3000.
Society seems to have forgotten that Employers’ N.I. contributions are actually part of wages – they are the portion of the wage that instead of being paid direct to the employee is forwarded directly to Treasury by the employer where it is pooled with all N.I. contributions and returned to workers in the form of the social wage i.e. the welfare state provisions of pensions, the NHS, compulsory education and social housing. So employer’s contributions are actually our wages but we don’t see it because it is paid on our behalf and then collectivised before we get our pay packet. This collectivisation includes spending in the form of social assistance for those who cannot work due to their impairments or those whose pay is inadequate.
This system of social insurance that began in 1946 is commonly referred to as the post war social settlement but understood by the left as a compromise between labour and capital to fend off rising social unrest: capital could keep a certain amount of profit if workers laboured not just for subsistence wages in the form of cash, but also improved social conditions.
Now public services and welfare are being dismantled and employers are being made to give back a tiny portion of their new N.I. allowance to the workers in the form of the new ‘national living wage’ – but the overall amount of tax and N.I. allowances bosses receive will more than offset a marginally more expensive workforce. Let’s not forget corporation tax was also cut to 18% along with other tax breaks for the rich. So this national ‘living wage’ is not just a downgraded replacement of the higher voluntary living wage as many are pointing out, – but is actually a cut to the existing compulsory minimum wage.
Osborne was deadly serious when he described his budget as a new social settlement. But do the public realise what has really been lost? Less tax and less welfare does not just mean higher incomes for a few, and lower incomes for the many. It means less public services as well as greater financial inequality. Iain Duncan Smith’s reaction yesterday in the Commons and the following day in the Daily Telegraph, clearly signalled that for people like him who only came into politics to realise the vision of Margaret Thatcher, Osborne’s National Living Wage is a dream come true. For the rest of us it’s a laissez faire nightmare.
Cameron’s father Craig Mathieson (pictured) won a Supreme Court test case challenging rules governing disability allowances
A family has won its legal bid to challenge limits on welfare payments to severely disabled children in hospital.
Benefits for Cameron Mathieson, five, stopped after he spent more than 12 weeks in Alder Hey Hospital, Liverpool.
Supreme Court judges agreed the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) had been “grossly unfair” when it stopped his payments after 84 days.
His family said they had continued the fight over Disability Living Allowance (DLA) “on behalf of other families”.
Cameron, from Warrington, Cheshire, died in 2012 after suffering from cystic fibrosis and Duchenne muscular dystrophy, among other conditions.
Speaking after the ruling, his father Craig said: “This decision is a fantastic legacy for Cameron.
“Cameron adored people and he would have been delighted to know that because of him, other vulnerable children and their families will not have to endure the same financial hardships we had to contend with while he was in hospital.”
The court was told payments were suspended in November 2010 when Cameron was three.
A panel of three judges concluded the Secretary of State’s decision “violated [Cameron’s] human rights under article 14 of the convention” and “acted unlawfully in making the decision.”
Analysis: Kathleen Hawkins, BBC News, Ouch
This decision will be celebrated by many disability campaigners, who have argued for a long time that disability benefits should continue while a person is in hospital.
They say that a disability does not simply stop when a person enters hospital, and the costs incurred by family members are often much higher during this time.
They also argue that for children the need for a continuing allowance during a hospital stay is crucial. Severely disabled children often have specific, individual needs that only parents may understand, and articulating these needs to hospital staff can be an important part of the care they receive.
Up until now, DLA has been payable to under-16s for the first 84 days of a hospital stay. It has two components – care and mobility – and in this case Cameron’s parents say they continued to act as full-time carers to their son.
It was estimated by children’s charities in 2013 that there were around 500 children affected by this rule every year, so this decision could signal a change in how funding is handled for these families too.
The family’s solicitor Mitchell Woolf, said: “While this judgment does not immediately apply to all similar cases, it enables around 500 families to seek the reinstatement of their DLA payments.”
He said his client lost his son in 2012 but “chose to fight for other families so they would not go through the hardship the Mathieson family faced when DLA was stopped.”
Stopping DLA leaves “other families unable to afford to visit and support their children, sometimes as they suffer a terminal illness,” he said.
In a joint statement, charity bosses Amanda Batten, of Contact a Family, and Dalton Leong, of the Children’s Trust, said: “It is a significant victory for the Mathieson family who have fought tirelessly on behalf of some of the most severely disabled children in the UK who require hospital treatment.”
Both groups, who have campaigned on the matter, said they were “delighted” the Supreme Court had recognised it was “unfair to remove disability benefits from the most sick and disabled children when they need it most.”
It was “welcome news for families of disabled children across the UK,” they added.
A DWP spokesman said: “The government recognises the difficult situation faced by parents and families where a severely disabled child requires a long stay in hospital for treatment.
“Up to now, DLA has been suspended when a child is in receipt of long-term NHS in-patient care in order to prevent double provision – the taxpayer paying twice for the same thing. This has been the case for more than 20 years.”
The spokesman added: “We are considering the judgment carefully.”
Massive Banner Dropped across the Thames opposite Parliament – reads “‘Balls2TheBudget #DPAC”. Photo by Kate Belgrave (@Hangbitch).
The massive banner you can see above was made by the Banner Collective @blacbanner (Anna, Anton, Robin, Seamus and Sharon). DPAC are hugely grateful to them for making it for us in memory of @moriarty107 who passed away #RIP.
DPAC also want to thank Class War, Streets Kitchen, Black Dissidents, London Latinxs, Columbian Women in Action, Occupy, Brick Lane Debates, Winvisible, London Black Revs, Reclaim Hackney, Camden Resists, Never Again Ever, Global Women’s Strike, People Before Profitand Fuel Poverty Action and all that supported us on the 8th for joining with us to make the day such a massive success.
From this day to the ending of the world,
But we in it shall be remembered-
We few, we happy few, we band of crips;
For them to-day that marches or tweets with me
Shall be my sibling; be they ne’er so vile,
This day shall gentle their condition;
And crips in England now watching Wimbledon on BBC2
Shall think themselves accurs’d they were not here,
And hold their wobbly bits cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us upon #Balls2theBudget day.
With apologies to William Shakespeare (from Henry V)
There follows pictures, tweets and videos of the protest, hope you enjoy the show:
Tomlinson’s letter included this very touchy paragraph about the government’s closure of the Independent Living Fund – the fund that severely disabled people used to pay for essential extra carer hours before the government closed the fund on June 30:
“Aditya Chakrabortty’s article (Disabled people have become human collateral in an ideological war, 9 June) is a travesty of the truth. First among a catalogue of inaccuracies is the claim that support made available to some disabled people under the independent living fund is to be removed. Responsibility for providing this support is, in fact, being transferred to local authorities. Far from being taken away, it will be administered in a way better able to take account of variations in local circumstances and services.”
Tomlinson was talking total shit, of course. We knew that and many have reported on it, but still. I sent an FOI recently to local authorities to ask for updates on the devolution of ILF funding to councils.
FOI responses have started to trickle in. It’s still early days, but we can already see where this is going. A few examples: Lewisham council says it still doesn’t have a final figure for the amount of devolved ILF funding it will get from government (Lewisham sent its response today). Sunderland only found out how much it would get a week before the ILF closed and only began to assess ILF recipients to figure out their future care needs and costs on 1 July. Some councils haven’t yet assessed the former ILF recipients that they’re now responsible for and some have only assessed a few. Nobody has any idea if they’ll get any money after 2016 (the government has said only the ILF money will be devolved to councils for a year). And I got an intriguing response today from Barking and Dagenham council in response to a question about the council’s expectations re: its ability to fund care for ILF recipients in an ongoing way.
I asked: “Does the authority expect to be able to meet the care costs of all ILF recipients to the same level as ILF funding?”
“No,” said the council.
Always interesting to get a straight reply from a local authority. It was certainly a straighter answer than Tomlinson gave in his highly misleading, disingenuous, whiny letter.
Anyway. There we are. More as responses come in.
Video: disabled protestors occupy parliament on 24 June in protest at the closure of the Independent Living Fund:
Well attended by a diverse section of the community as well as the local council leaders , MPs, trade unions, CAMPAIGN groups such as DPAC, Palestine solidarity, asylum seekers, GLBT committee and multi faith leaders.
The event was organised by UAF and One Sheffield many cultures- over 250 people attended.
It was a wonderful, emotional day and very humbling.
Here are some pictures.
And here is a great speech by Jen from Sheffield DPAC as a Quicktime movie at link https://www.dropbox.com/s/i46whiuky9jc360/jen.speech2%20%283%29.mp4?dl=0
In 2012, thanks to an award from The Winston Churchill Travelling Fellowship, disabled actor and activist Liz Carr travelled to the then five countries where assisted suicide and/or euthanasia are legal ie Belgium, The Netherlands, Switzerland, Luxembourg and in the USA, Oregon and Washington State. (Assisted suicide is now also legal in the US state of Vermont and in Canada).
Liz is opposed to the legalisation of assisted suicide and wanted to discover for herself how these laws work in practice and how, if at all, their existence changes the culture of a country. She shares her discoveries in a two-part BBC World Service radio documentary entitled, “When Assisted Death is Legal” and which is available to listen to here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p014dkq5
In under an hour of listening time, these programmes provide important new information and perspectives on this most difficult of topics. For example:
* In Luxembourg, Jean Huss and Lydie Err, who co-sponsored the Assisted Suicide and Euthanasia Bill 2012, admitted they were disappointed in the law because they said it failed to include children and those with dementia. When I asked why these groups were not included in their law, they said that they knew it was easier to pass the law initially for terminally ill people only and then, once passed, to increase the law’s application.
* In Oregon, where the law is the blueprint for the Assisted Dying Bill currently before you in the House of Lords, the 2013 statistics reveal that pain is infact not one of the main concerns of people requesting assisted suicide. Instead, the three main reasons are loss of autonomy (93%), decreasing ability to participate in activities that make life enjoyable (88.7%) and loss of dignity (73.2%). By comparison, inadequate pain control or concern about it was one of the least important concerns at 28.2%.
* Since this documentary was produced, Washington State’s 2013 annual report has shown that 61% of all those who were supplied lethal drugs in order to commit suicide listed the feeling of being a burden on family, friends or caregivers as one of their main reasons for their request.
* In Switzerland, assisted suicide has been legal since the late 1800’s and one of its most stringent safeguards is that each case is investigated by the police
* The Netherlands are currently debating something called ‘Completed Life’ which would legalise assisted suicide for those 70+ who are tired of life
* In the first 10 years since the Belgium Euthanasia law was enacted, there has not been one case of abuse reported. Is this because there have been no abuses (the BMJ reported in 2010 that only half of all euthanasia cases are properly reported) or because, as in most other countries, reporting and monitoring are self-regulatory?
Liz’s personal conclusion is that the risks to the safety and wellbeing of the majority should continue to outweigh the individual needs of those who want an assisted suicide. She hopes you agree and will vote ‘no’ to the Assisted Dying Bill.
Wolverhampton South MP Rob Marris’s Assisted Dying Bill is going to be debated and voted upon in what’s known as it’s Second Reading in the House of Commons on September 11th. This is the first time in 18 years that MPs will have had the chance to vote on an assisted suicide (AS) law.
We need to talk to our MPs about our fears and concerns about such a bill, to find whether they’re for or against it and if the latter, we desperately need them to attend on 11th September to vote against this bill.
This information sheet is the legal one. It details the current legal situation and looks at the details of these assisted dying bills.
The current situation
Those of us who oppose a change in the law, believe the current situation is adequate. Under the 1961 Suicide Act, killing yourself is not illegal but encouraging or assisting another person’s suicide is and can lead to up to 14 years imprisonment. The current law acts a deterrent to malicious or manipulative assistance with suicide.
But the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) also has a discretion not to prosecute if, for example, it is clear that assistance has been given reluctantly / after serious soul-searching or for ‘wholly compassionate’ reasons to ill or disabled people. It is this discretion that has allowed the high profile assisted suicide cases to avoid prosecution.
There are a list of factors considered when deciding if the law has been broken but in reality, if a person has made it clear that they want to end their life by an assisted suicide for health / impairment reasons and a friend or family member aids them (as opposed to a medical professional) then whilst they may be investigated, it is unlikely that they will be prosecuted. Infact less than 20 cases a year throughout the whole of England and Wales cross the desk of the DPP and few of them call for prosecution. And yet apparently this law isn’t working?
But laws send out messages – when something is legalised, it acquires the stamp of social approval. An assisted suicide law says, in effect, that if you are terminally ill, ending your life is an option that it is appropriate to consider.
And by putting assisted suicide into the hands of the medical profession, it’s feared it could become a treatment option.
Critics of the current law say that it’s unfair for families and friends to have to help an ill or disabled person to end their lives and not know in advance whether or not they’ll be investigated and charged. We say the illegatlity of the assisted suicide acts as a deterrent and ensures it is not the easy option.
Supporters say that because it’s not currently legal for a Dr to assist, that people have to kill themselves with amateur means which may fail. We say that everyone has the means to commit suicide and why should ill / disabled people be given a 100% successful method when over 90% of suicides for everyone else actually fail?
They say that dying people may have no choice but to take themselves off to somewhere like Dignitas before they’re ready to die but while the person is still well enough to travel – and that travelling to Dignitas is costly and difficult for those involved. We say that rather bringing assisted suicide to the masses and make it an easy option, that there should be improvements to end of life care for all people to ensure everyone can have a peaceful and pain free end to their life.
Supporters say they want the right to die. We believe the right to die already exists for each and every one of us. What those wanting a change in the law are actually asking for is the right for someone else to kill them.
Instead of a discretionary power where very few assisted suicides are ever prosecuted, supporters of a change in the law want to lay down in advance, the situations when it is okay for a Dr to assist a person to end their life. We say the law as it is enables the choice of a few whilst protecting the many.
What’s in the Assisted Dying Bill?
At the time of writing the text of the Marris bill is unknown but it’s likely that it will be very similar to the Lord Falconer Assisted Dying Bill that Not Dead Yet UK protested against in the previous Parliament. (Lord Falconer has also re-introduced his Assisted Dying Bill into the House of Lords so even if we defeat the Marris Bill in the Commons, we will still have to contend with Falconer at some point in the future!). Firstly they’re calling it an assisted dying and not an assisted suicide bill. They say it’s because it’s only for those who are actually dying but we say it’s to make the term more palatable, after all, the current campaigning group Dignity in Dying used to be called the Voluntary Euthanasia Society.
If passed, the ‘assisted dying bill’ would license doctors to supply lethal drugs to:
terminally ill patients with less than 6 months to live and who have,
a settled intent to end his or her life
the capacity to make such a decision and
are making the request voluntarily, on an informed basis and without pressure or duress
Two doctors are required to certify that these criteria have been met and their decision is to be referred to a judge of the High Court for confirmation. There is no requirement for a psychological assessment to assess capacity. The doctors do not have to be your regular doctors. If approved, the person would be supplied with the lethal drugs to enable them to commit suicide.
A medical professional (but not necessarily a doctor) would remain with the person until they died but they cannot help them to take the drugs – to do so would cross the line between assisted suicide and euthanasia.
Many people who support this bill believe it is to assist those who cannot kill themselves to have the same opportunity as everyone else but in fact, if someone cannot physically ingest or do the final act themselves would not technically come under this bill.
The proposed law – unsafe to change
Critics of the bill are meant to be reassured by ‘safeguards’ to protect ‘the vulnerable’ from abuse – and ultimately murder. So what safeguards exist to protect someone from being killed without their fully informed consent?
The proposals list a number of qualifying criteria for assisted suicide – such as settled intent, capacity to make the decision and freedom from pressure – but they do not translate these criteria into concrete safeguards. Instead, they
propose that these issues should be dealt with by the Secretary of State in codes of practice AFTER Parliament has agreed to change the law. SO MPs don’t even know the full extent of what they’d be voting for on September 11th. In effect, the issue of safeguarding has been side-stepped and Parliament is being asked to sign a blank cheque.
After concern about lack of safeguards was raised when the House of Lords debated the Assisted Dying Bill, Lord Falconer added a proposal that when a doctor assessing a request for assisted suicide considers that it meets the designated criteria, the decision should then be referred to a judge of the High Court for confirmation. The bill does not, however, require the Court to undertake any investigations of its own and as such, the role envisaged for the Court is little more than that of a rubber stamp. It is expected this will also be included in the Marris Bill.
Many aspects of a request for assistance with suicide go beyond a doctor’s professional competence. It may be fair to ask a doctor to confirm that a patient is terminally ill, to offer a prognosis and to advise on possible treatments. But most doctors are in no position to judge whether a request for assistance with suicide derives from a settled wish or whether there are any pressures operating in the background that could be influencing the request. In today’s world of busy multi-partner GP practices and declining home visits doctors often know little of their patients beyond what they pick up in the consulting room and they do not have the time or resources to set about investigating such matters.
The Oregon Experience
The Oregon Death with Dignity Act has been the blue print for the Falconer Bill and will be no doubt for the Marris Bill too. Here are some of the problems with the Oregon law:
Individuals seeking assisted suicide can resort to doctor shopping- visiting doctor after doctor until one agrees to write the lethal prescription.
Patients are often misdiagnosed as terminally ill with less than 6months to live when in fact they live for months and even years beyond what was originally expected.
Individuals with a new illness or disability are often faced with depression, which requires more than Oregon’s 15 day waiting period to be treated.
Many patients experience outside pressure to commit assisted suicide, which often goes unnoticed and unpunished.
Individuals are often portrayed as a burden on their families and are made to feel that their life is not as valuable.
In 2007, none of the individuals that requested assisted suicide in Oregon were referred for a mental health evaluation.
Under Oregon law, depressed or mentally ill individuals can still be considered “competent” to request assisted suicide.
Under Oregon law, doctors that fail to report or file incomplete or inaccurate reports face no penalties.
All records are sealed and all underlying data is destroyed after the annual report is published.
The 2013 Oregon statistics reveal that the three main reasons given for requesting an assisted suicide are loss of autonomy (93%), decreasing ability to participate in activities that make life enjoyable (88.7%) and loss of dignity (73.2%). By comparison, inadequate pain control or concern about it was one of the least important concerns at 28.2%.
Assisted suicide is also legal in Washington State. The 2013 annual report has shown that 61% of all those who were supplied lethal drugs in order to commit suicide listed the feeling of being a burden on family, friends or caregivers as one of their main reasons for their request.
64 year old Barbara Wagner was diagnosed with metastatic lung cancer. Her oncologist prescribed chemotherapy to slow cancer growth, reduce symptoms, and extend her life. The Oregon Health Plan however would not cover the costs for her chemotherapy prescription, but sent her a letter saying they would instead pay for assisted suicide drugs.
There’s a paradox in the way Employment & Support Allowance was built. It affects 5,000 of the 2.5 million ESA claimants. Very few people know about it, and even fewer care. I’m one of those 5,000 people. This group includes people with degenerative conditions like Alzheimer’s dementia, or people with static but permanent conditions like my untreatable neurogenetic sleep disorder. The BBC confirmed what those of us who keep an eye on welfare have known for a while; that the Government is considering eliminating part of ESA and forcing those people to claim JSA. For us 5,000, this is a perfect storm of awfulness.
How does ESA work?
After the medical assessment (‘Work Capability Assessment’, WCA), people are assigned to one of three groups, the Work-Related Activity Group (WRAG), Support Group or they are found ‘fit for work’. Officially, and contrary to the concerted campaign of disinformation by the Government and media for the last five years, to get into the WRAG or Support Group, you must be medically incapable of any work. The difference is whether you are capable of work-related activity, like ‘writing a CV’. The WRAG comes with mandated ‘work related activity’ which is to ostensibly ‘prepare people for employment’.
There are 5,000 of us with permanent disabilities in the WRAG, classified as being “unable to work in the longer term”. We are in the position of being told we need to ‘prepare for employment’ while the Government itself says we are very unlikely to be able to work in anything resembling a reasonable timeframe. Personally, I have been in the WRAG for 5 years, since September 2010 and am currently undergoing my 8th WCA*. My condition has only gotten worse.
That people can be told “you need to get ready to work” while being told “you can’t work” by the same person defies logic.
Today, the BBC confirmed that the Government is considering eliminating the WRAG of ESA and moving us all to Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA). This is (understatement) a very bad idea, for a few reasons.
1: It is not legal to claim JSA while you can’t work , but if you’re in the WRAG, you cannot work. These people are going to be left with no legal source of income.
2: The WCA itself is crap and inaccurate and is biased against the poorest and most disabled areas of the country, as I’ve discussed previously [clickable link]. In these areas, you are more likely to be found fit for work or to go into the WRAG. Removing 30% of these people’s income is simply yet another attack on the poorest and most disadvantaged areas of the UK.
3: Even if the legislation was changed so these people became eligible for JSA, there is no way they could cope with the extra conditionality. People with mental illness, particularly, are already massively struggling and failing to meet the relatively lax conditionality of ESA.
“You must work, but you cannot work”.
There are 5,000 of us in the WRAG of ESA with the prognosis that we will be “unable to work in the longer term”. If (when?) this change goes through, we will be in the position of being permanently disabled to the point we, by the Government’s own admission, cannot work. They will then punish us for not being able to work by removing the income they’ve already cut by 30%.
We are an oversight. Given that we are only 0.2% of the ESA case-load, it seems beyond doubt that the situation of people who are unable to work in the longer term going into the WRAG was not intended, but we are too few to make enough noise to fix this on our own. We’re too few for the media to care about.
The charities that originally did the FoI request to show how many of us there were called for exemptions to this for their pet condition, shafting the rest of us without these conditions which are notable for the sympathy they elicit and their public awareness.
I’ve been fighting this on in my own way, including all 5,000 people. I’ve wrote to my MP and the media. I’m working on getting an official policy on this into my own Party, but I and the 4,999 others need help carrying all these torches. This whole policy must be opposed, but when that fight is over, the 5,000 still need your help.
Iain Duncan Smith had his official credit card suspended after running up more than £1,000 in expenses debts, it can be revealed.
The Work and Pensions Secretary was among more a dozen MPs subject to action by the Commons watchdog after failing to show spending was valid.
The details – disclosed in response to a Freedom of Information (FOI) request by the Press Association – are likely to prove embarrassing for Mr Duncan Smith, who has previously backed pre-paid cards for benefits claimants to stop them spending public money on the wrong things.
The Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (Ipsa) issues MPs with credit cards for to pay for items such as travel and accommodation.
The politicians then have to prove the spending was genuine by the end of the month, or they build up debts to the watchdog.
According to the FOI response, Ipsa has suspended the cards of 19 MPs since the beginning of this year because they have not settled outstanding sums.
The debts were then recouped by not paying out valid claims filed by the politicians.
Mr Duncan Smith’s card was blocked when he owed £1,057.28. He does not currently have any debt.
Others to have their cards suspended included his Labour opposite number Rachel Reeves, who owed £4,033.63 at the time.
Shadow business minister Toby Perkins was subject to action when he owed £693.30.
Health minister Ben Gummer had his card stopped with £1,290.07 outstanding, defence minister Mark Lancaster had a £600 tab, and former universities minister David Willetts owed £1,172.05.
Disgraced former Labour MP Eric Joyce, who assaulted a fellow MP in a Commons bar, had his card blocked when he owed £12,919.61, and later had his salary docked.
Liberal Democrat Simon Hughes had a stop placed on his card when he owed £826.56.
All have since cleared their debts.
Ipsa also released information about 25 MPs who had sums outstanding as of this week.
DUP MP Ian Paisley owed £13,833.38 on June 29. He previously had his card blocked when his tab hit £6,195.94.
Lib Dems Stephen Gilbert and Mike Crockart had their cards stopped when they owed £2,925.76, and £720.64 respectively. Mr Gilbert owed £13.50 this week and Mr Crockart £90.
An Ipsa spokesman stressed that the debts from June 29 were a “snapshot” and in many cases could merely be awaiting evidence from MPs that they were valid claims.
“An MP may owe an amount to Ipsa for many different reasons, and the fact that an amount is owed does not, in itself, indicate any misuse of the MPs’ Scheme of Business Costs and Expenses,” the spokesman said.
“As part of our credit management programme, MPs are sent financial statements detailing their monthly position with Ipsa. Where MPs have amounts owed to Ipsa, action is taken to recover these amounts.”
People might like to know that IDS has “previous” with expenses – back when he was Tory leader he tried to claim for underwear on his ex’s.
It was with these considerations in mind that I sent an email, which has been the subject of much selective quotation by the press, on the 30th January 2003 to the Chairman, the Chief Executive and the then newly appointed Director of Communications, Mr Paul Baverstock. I also blind-copied the email to my Deputy, Miss Layton, for her information. What I sought to achieve was clarification of the correct procedures and a meeting had been arranged for the Chairman and the Chief Executive to meet Mr Paterson to discuss these highly sensitive matters.Not documented in this email but particularly pertinent to this scheduled meeting was the widespread concern that Mr Duncan Smith was not paying for his own personal expenses—which included his lunches, haircuts, food for his own home, a mirror for his flat, his laundry and the purchase of underwear. In November 2002, I had been obliged to present Mr Duncan Smith with a list of expenses which had been incurred on his behalf and paid for, in the first instance, by his staff who were then reimbursed by CCO. I recollect that sum to have been in excess of £400. He always took considerable time to present a cheque—a fact which caused me great concern as I was determined to ensure that we improved financial controls in his office. All of these facts had also already been discussed privately with the Chief Executive and Mr Paterson as well as within the context of the weekly communications meetings.
The other item I raised for discussion with Mr Paterson was an apparently cavalier attitude with which we appeared to be treating our most regular donors—those with private planes who frequently lent them to Mr Duncan Smith if requested. These issues were considered once again to be so sensitive that Mr Paterson was delegated to raise them with the Leader. It was against this background and these on-going concerns that I felt obliged to send my email at all.