The latest blockbuster to come out of Hollywood called ‘Me Before You’ is seen as a gross misrepresentation of the lived experience of most disabled people. The film is based on the best-selling novel of the same name. A young man becomes disabled, he falls in love with his ‘carer’ and they have a fantastic year together but despite her protests, he decides to end his life at Dignitas so she can move on and he is no longer a burden to her.
DPAC and the TUC Disabled Workers Committee planned a quick direct action for the conference lunch hour. This was reported to be very successful and Mik Scarlet has said that passers-by, workers on a nearby building site and the fire brigade officers (who were attending an incident and who protesters had to clear the road to allow through) were all massively supportive showing how the government’s targeting of disabled people is now falling apart and losing public support.
Thanks to David Morgan, who wrote this article to explain the financial implications of being sanctioned under Universal Credit, and how hardship payments which are supposed to help claimants to avoid total destitution, because they are now recoverable, extend the duration of a sanction.
If you are low paid or unemployed, you are probably aware that Universal Credit will replace both Jobseekers Allowance (JSA) and tax credits. Part of your deal to get that benefit payment will be a claimant commitment — a signed promise. That claimant commitment will be to actively job seek — for example for 35 hours each week if you are unemployed or to work and job seek for 35 hours in total. It may also be part of your claimant commitment to get a payrise, work more hours or get a second job. The purpose of the claimant commitment is to decrease your reliance on the government for income and become self-reliant.
The Jobcentre will appoint a work coach to you. That person will track your efforts — either checking what you search for on the DWP web site — Universal Jobmatch or invite you in for meetings to discuss your job seeking efforts. The frequency will depend on whether you are unemployed or employed. It could be 2 weekly, monthly or 3 monthly.
At some point they may decide you have failed in your commitment — for example you didn’t get a second job or a payrise that you said you would or didn’t search for enough jobs. At this point they may decide to sanction your benefit. This will mean losing all of your benefit for a period of time — typically 4 weeks. A benefit that may be paying your rent or enable you to pay for your busfare to work or the jobcentre — or to buy food.
The DWP or CAB may tell you to apply for a hardship payment. The rules to get this payment will mean that you have to be refused help by your relatives first and that you need it for essential things like food or electricity, not for example to pay for your Sky TV box. It will not be easy to get a hardship payment. Before they even process your hardship claim, they will check that you are still following your claimant commitment. So that may require another meeting at the Jobcentre one or two weeks later.
Assuming the Universal Credit basic allowance is £251.77 per month for a single person and assuming the DWP have agreed to pay you a hardship payment that will only be 60% of your normal Universal Credit payment. The single worker might get £151 as a hardship payment and would be £100 short that month. A female lone parent with a severely disabled child might get as much as £2167 normally under Universal Credit — which includes rent and other allowances. If she is sanctioned but gets hardship, she could lose over £876 — that could be equivalent to a month’s rent. And as those payments are loans, they will have to be paid back from future Universal Credit payments. So they will both continue to be short of money on Universal Credit for months.
The month after a sanction, the DWP would automatically deduct 40% from a Universal Credit payment to repay a hardship loan. For the lone parent who was normally getting £2167 to help with a severely disabled child she will have another £867 deducted from her income — again potentially another month’s rent. The single worker would have another £100 deducted to repay the loan. Again perhaps no busfare for work and no money for lunch.
The following month both will still owe 20% of their DWP hardship loans. So another £50 deducted for the single worker and another £433 from the lone parent with the disabled child.
A one month punishment will have been extended to three months for both these people already deemed to be on low incomes and needing the safety net of the DWP.
But it will not end there. Each month the DWP will check their status: “are you job seeking, did you get a payrise or did you get another job”. So they could both have another sanction and then another. It will never end as long as they continue to claim Universal Credit.
In a recent survey by York University, they found cases of people having 5 benefit sanctions one after another. Increasing in length from 4 weeks to 3 years. If you are unlucky enough to have repeated benefit sanctions, this will seriously affect your physical wellbeing and mental health — and that of your children if you have any.
The aim of the government is to make you self-reliant — but Universal Credit sanctions may mean you have to rely on relatives or friends and the goodwill of service providers to not end up in court, homeless or worse.
For more information about benefits and sanctions:
On the 3rd of May I was one of the 300 people who shut down the UK’s largest coal mine; a place called Ffos-y-fran in South Wales. Going on any action can cause its share of trepidations—even if you don’t identify with the ‘disabled’ tag; but the decision to take action against coal, for the local community, and ultimately for the future was actually a joy to take.
Facilitated with the Reclaim the Power network, who had set-up camp on the commons above Merthyr Tydfil, we then proceeded to have five days of action-planning, skilling-up, networking and ultimately connecting with others. I was amazed by the truly multinational scope of the camp, with people from all over Europe, America, India and beyond. The local resistance organisation UVAG (United Valleys Action Group) provided us with support and a vital personal perspective on their ten-year long struggle against the opencast mine.
Walking over the narrow hillpath and down into the mine and seeing the small communities nestled cheek-by-jowl nearby it saddened me how these people were being treated with such callous disregard; unfortunately, a familiar feeling for any who experience long-term health conditions.
A tiny bit of history then: The Ffos-y-Fran ‘Land Reclamation Scheme’ is the UK’s largest coal mine, and proposed to become much bigger if the developing company Miller Argent get their way. Locally and nationally controversial, the Welsh Assembly has already called for a moratorium on opencast coal mining in 2015, but Miller Argent ignored them. They proposed to build another huge mine at the adjacent site of Nant Llesg, and despite being rejected by the County Council, then raised the threat of legal actions should they be refused!
The actions of the day were many; from those of us who could making our way, column-style, down into the mine itself (following a gigantic red-dragon from Wales!), with other affinity groups already locking on to machinery, or blockading the front gates. Despite any reservations we might have had; there was a carnival atmosphere that day, as the space was transformed from a dull and poisonous wound, to the feeling of a spontaneous summer party.
I am aware of how lucky I am of being able to be there. My disability is (mostly?) an invisible one—a mental health condition that has curtailed my activism over the years, during the different seasons of mood that I can go through. Knowing that action-camp life can sometimes be strenuous (especially the come-down after the action) I took the opportunity of going to the Well-Being Tent run by the camp’s Tranquillity Team. This was a quiet, supportive place where people could catch a few hours’ sleep, a cup of tea, or have just simple and supportive conversations should they need it. Unlike the clinical care that I have received in the past, this space felt entirely different: you didn’t have to be mad to go there, just as you didn’t have to be ‘ill’. No judgements were passed you were allowed to sit and read, or zone-out, talk, or whatever you needed to. This actually felt very supportive and self-led care rather than the mainstream ‘top-down’ approach to care. I also took time to speak with GBC (Green and Black Cross, a legal advisory group for activists) about the possibility of being arrested and what to expect as a disabled person, the pros and cons of carrying medicine on me etc — more on that in another action-report.
Sometimes there can be a sense of wariness over disability and activism, as if one might preclude the other. From what I saw at the Reclaim the Power camp (I saw at least one wheelchair user there as well) this view is entirely outdated. Disability rights and access to safer spaces is a vital part of the climate struggle, just as the climate struggle is a key part of disability rights here and abroad. The right to live visibly and with dignity is the right to a safer space for all of us: the right to live on a world which is not being destroyed under our feet and over our heads! Fuel Poverty Action (a campaigning group also represented at the camp) state on their website that “as well as polluting our environment, fossil fuels are also increasing in cost.” Unconventional and extreme fossil fuels such as opencast mining, deep-sea drilling and fracking are all driving up the costs of heating our homes, as well as endangering our planet. Academics from the Universities of Leicester and York found back in 2015 that disabled people in the UK [and the world] bear a much higher burden of fuel poverty, and a much higher risk of climate change due to substandard housing, inefficient insulation, and institutionalized economic poverty.
I’m coming to the view that direct action is actually good for the heart, just as acts of civil disobedience are good for civil society (where would we be without the Suffragette movement, without the chartists, the bus-boycotter’s and the peace campaigners?). Despite how my Impairment might define me in some ways, they did not impede me taking action to defend our planet—and being a part of a community taking action was joyous.
Student Nurses have called another march against the cuts to the NHS bursary. Bursary or Bust is a grassroots, student led campaign and needs your support!
March with them for NHS bursaries and for the FUTURE OF THE NHS!
NHS bursaries are a LIFELINE for many – the cuts will affect podiatrists, physiotherapists, dental nurses, speech and language therapists, radiographers, occupational therapists, operating department practitioners, midwives and nurses.
NHS students, work up to 50% in clinical placements (full time) which is why the bursary is fundamental to us because working part time is very difficult. We are not asking for special treatment, we simply want to keep our financial support in order to be healthcare professionals. If the NHS bursary is cut, it will mean only those who can afford to pay will become healthcare professionals. We strongly believe that a diverse range of people in healthcare professions is important.
We believe that less people will want to train, or retrain, to be healthcare professionals. For nursing, the evidence shows that less equals higher mortality rates. There is currently a deficit of 24,000 nurses which is set to continue to grow. An apprenticeship route has also been proposed for nursing which would mean that those training would receive approximately £3 an hour. We feel that this is incredibly unfair.
In Osborne’s Autumn spending review, it was revealed that NHS bursaries would be cut and replaced with a loan system. Furthermore, with a freeze on loan repayment thresholds and a rigid Agenda for Change pay scale, NHS students who qualify into their professions will be dealt with further cuts in their pay. The NHS bursary campaigners support free education for all.
The imposition of a loan system is an attempt at breaking the tie between students and the NHS to pave the way for the complete dismantling of the health service in order to privatise and profit. NHS bursary cuts are simply the tip of the iceberg.
Please join us! Supported by: DPAC, The Peoples Assembly, King’s College London Student Union, Unite, NUS, Unison and the RCN.
We will have a special performance from the AMAZING NHS CHOIR!!! SPEAKERS INCLUDING: Roger Mckenzie Assistant General Secretary of Unison. Dr Aislinn Mcklin-Dougherty and Dr Mona Kamal Our amazing Helen Corry reading some of her wonderful and original poems Ann Corry a patient and lover of the NHS
As you will be aware, last week, Disability Labour delivered a letter to the Prime Minister and to Work and Pensions Secretary, Stephen Crabb MP, following the Ch4 Dispatches programme, which revealed the most appalling abuse of claimants with complex healthcare needs. ( Letters attached )
With extremely limited resources, we have attempted to do something about the PIP scandal, which is now discredited but continues to cause deep distress to tens of thousands of vulnerable people across the nation.
Today, we launched our Change.Org campaign, calling for an inquiry and for the PIP programme, to be scrapped immediately. Its punitive and has no place in a a modern civilised society.
In yesterdays Sunday Times, Zac Goldsmiths campaign team, cited the Governments relentless attack on the disabled, as the primary reason for losing the mayoralty to Sadiq Khan.
Can you please sign the petition and forward to all your networks?
Thank you & best wishes
Disability Labour National Executive Committee
Disability Labour’s Letter to Stephen Crabb (click to enlarge pages)
Disability Labour’s Letter to David Cameron (click to enlarge pages)
Barnet Alliance for Public Services (BAPS) is horrified to learn that Capita, which runs services for Barnet council, have cancelled the Freedom Passes for a number of disabled residents, apparently without warning and with no legal basis.
The council temporarily halted further cancellations, pending a review, only when complaints were raised by local bloggers.
BAPS demands that all cancelled passes will be reinstated immediately and Capita’s actions be subject to an independent investigation.
The 5th of May is independent living day. We support European Network on Independent Living (ENIL) on #ENILILDAY
What is the European Independent Living Day?
The European Independent Living Day, celebrated on 5 May, is an annual event to raise awareness about the right to Independent Living and its importance for disabled people. It was launched by the European Network on Independent Living (ENIL) in 2014 and each year the Independent Living supporters from many countries celebrate it by staging protests, launching reports, organising exhibitions and other awareness raising activities that target the general public.
What is Independent Living?
ENIL defines Independent Living as the daily demonstration of human rights-based disability policies. Independent living is possible through the combination of various environmental and individual factors that allow disabled people to have control over their own lives. This includes the opportunity to make real choices and decisions regarding where to live, with whom to live and how to live. Services must be available, accessible to all and provided on the basis of equal opportunity, free and informed consent and allowing disabled people flexibility in our daily life. Independent living requires that the built environment, transport and information are accessible, that there is availability of technical aids, access to personal assistance and/or community-based services. It is necessary to point out that independent living is for all disabled persons, regardless of the gender, age and the level of their support needs.
No public money, at any level, should be used to build or renovate institutions for disabled people. Disabled people should be supported to live in the community and not locked away in institutions.
Situation in the UK
We have seen the decimation of independent living. The closure of the Independent Living Fund, the cuts to local authorities, the forthcoming ESA 30% cut to those in the work related activity group from 2017, the change to PIP that has left many without support, cuts to Access to Work, and constant cases of those institutionalised who have died in a series of high profile cases-independent living isn’t working. The gains made by generations before us are being lost. But as disabled people we will continue to fight for independent living throughout Europe.
What you can do to support
You can join the fight by sharing this post, tweeting the hashtag in support, or joining ENIL’s campaign on Facebook
This year, ENIL is encouraging everyone to take a photo with a sign ( download sign here) saying what Independent Living means to you.
Here are two different cases concerning universal credit and work. Both prove the point extremely well that universal credit and the work conditionionality contract linked with this is completely unworkable. Politicians from all parties are not taking this issue seriously enough. Luckily we are.
Case one. A housing association in Leeds are dealing with a tenant in Leeds who was unable to pay his rent after loosing his job with his employer. This is their story. The person in question was employed by a company working between 16 and 17 hours a week. On his contract it stated that they were not allowed to apply for extra jobs with other companies. But their jobcentre advisor told them that they must, and he was advised to apply for a job with a rival company. As you can imagine this didn’t go down too well, and the company that they worked for sacked them for gross misconduct. They had obviously broken their work contract agreement. The DWP awarded them for their diligence in applying for this second job by giving him a three year Sanction. Why? Because they got sacked. Why? Because he had been told to look for a second job which clearly broke his employment contract. Now what is interesting about this, is that approximately 40% of Jobcentre staff will be also on in work conditionality when they are switched over to universal credit. The DWP employee contract strictly prevents applying for an extra job, thus leaving them in exactly the same position as claimants. They will be stuck between the devil and the deep blue sea. Do they apply for a second job and get sacked? And then sanctioned? Just like claimants? There is no choice really. It’s a no win situation.
Case two. A young person, who wants to remain nameless were employed by a small company. Thet were on universal credit as they only worked 30 hours a week and needed the top up money. Now, when our are claiming universal credit you have to have your phone on hand all the time. Failure to answer your phone to your advisor can result in a sanction. This young person was constantly called at work by their advisor. His other two employees who were also claiming universal credit were also constantly phoned. One day all three staff were called in to see their advisor on the same day. As a result he had to shut his business. An altercation occurred the next day when he informed his staff that this couldnt shut the shop again, it cost him too much money, and the constant telephone calls were distracting both his employees and customers. They argued that they had to keep their phones next to them and that they had to do whatever their advisor told them to do. As a result they were all dismissed and he now employs pensioners who are in proven receipt of pension credit. He says that he cannot afford to employ anyone on universal credit anymore.
Now this asks the questions. Are there more employers like this one? And if so have they had to do the same thing as he has? Also sanctioning of working people as part of their in work conditionality is starting to become a big problem. They are doing their best to find work because they are working. Many are working under contracts which forbid them to gain other employment. Other employees are driven to distraction by jobcentre advisors and constant job searches that actually being in work is actually becoming more stressful than actually being unemployed, which is stressful enough already. Being in work on universal credit does not pay at all.
Make no mistake, there is no unintended consequences with universal credit. It has been created as a mass disentitlement project and very careful planning was involved when creating it. It’s about time that every political party realises this.
We are calling on all our members and supporters to email their MP – you can find your MPs contact details here by entering your postcode – http://www.theyworkforyou.com/mps/ and you can also use this site to message them. Here is a suggested email / message that you can send to them:
Dear [MP Name], I am one of you constituents and I would be grateful if you could ask Stephen Crabb and Priti Patel about the 2 examples cited in this link https://thepoorsideoflife.wordpress.com/2016/04/29/you-cannot-serve-two-masters-universal-credit-and-your-employer/ of people losing their employment due to Universal Credit and in work conditionality. I am sure this sort of situation was never intended and feel that it is vital that changes are made to the way in which conditionality is being implemented.
I am sure you must agree that something is not working properly and that urgent changes to Universal Credit conditionality need to be made.
I’ve already noted all is not well at Leonard Cheshire Disability (LCD): the Chief Executive and the Head of HR left at no notice. (LCD’s PR team told a Third Sector magazine journalist that Pelham would stay on until replaced, but now LCD refute having said any such thing.) Now the Interim Chief Executive has announced that she’s leaving LCD too as soon as LCD appoints a new CEO (anticipated in September / October.)
We now know why this is happening: LCD have a £750,000 hole in their budget for the year. (They primarily blame the National “Living” Wage for this; though we know that they did precious little to prepare for the increased wage bill – and what they did claim to do was proven to be a lie.) The new Chair of the Trustees has conducted exit interviews of senior staff, whom have been very forthright about Clare Pelham. It is widely acknowledged that Clare was only motivated by the wish to become “Lady Pelham”. LCD have lost industry confidence due to pervasive doubts about their governance – a large consultancy decided not to bid for a contract valued at £200,000 per year due to their significant concerns about LCD’s management competence.
The senior directors aren’t any loss; but the other staff LCD’s making redundant most definitely are – both in the homes they are closing and elsewhere.
In earlier years, LCD had a reasonably successful “Service User Support Team” (SUST). These disabled employees worked as facilitators and mentors throughout the UK, tasked with empowering service users to achieve greater independence. This had some moderate success. As one (charming) resident in a LCD care home put it:
Every time I see a cabbage it reminds me that I could still have been in the cabbage patch myself, if I hadn’t been persuaded that there was a life for me outside.
Leonard Cheshire obviously couldn’t let a moderately successful user empowerment project stay unmolested, so they attempted to shut it down. There was an outcry, so in the end LCD just got rid of most of the employees, leaving a vestigial staff of 14 isolated disabled people dotted round the country, in the renamed “Customer Support Team” (CST). Each part-time staff member was charged with single-handedly empowering hundreds of care home residents and domiciliary care service users across their (massive) patch. Despite being manifestly overstretched and under resourced, they made a genuine difference to disabled people’s lives, because these workers genuinely cared about the rights of Leonard Cheshire’s service users.
Disabled user empowerment workers made redundant
Leonard Cheshire are annihilating them. LCD has cut the Customer Support Team budget from £450,000 to £0,000 overnight. LCD is starting a sham “consultation” on 9th May (a bit like their sham “consultation” on the closure of Honresfeld home) but as there is no money, it is pretty clear that LCD will make all CST staff redundant. (Some have already announced their redundancy.)
The reason LCD gave for this budget cut is that its trusteestook so long to consider the team’s future (over 5 months) that its budget for 2016/17 was still undecided come April 1st. That would be bad enough if it was genuine; however I note that £450,000 p.a. is a significant saving towards the £750,000 deficit, and I suspect this is the real reason. Meanwhile the “consultation” can’t start until 9th May because Mark Elliott (Leonard Cheshire’s non-disabled Director of Development) is on a multi-week holiday in South Africa. (Good of him to check everything was A-OK with his team before swanning off [not] – perhaps he should bugger off permanently like Clare Pelham [CEO] and Vicki Hemming [HR director.])
Leonard Cheshire hasn’t told its own service users about this. Senior staff are discouraging the CST from telling us, which puts the employees in an invidious position – do they risk their references by telling service users their empowerment service is being given the boot? The CST’s dedicated team of disabled people already have to cope with being told at three weeks notice that there’s no budget for their wages, forcing them to seek employment elsewhere with great urgency (and we know disabled people experience many barriers when seeking employment, even at the best of times.) In the meantime, LCD are refusing to answer any questions about the situation (from anybody, including from the CST) until the “consultation” process starts.
The Customer Action Network, a user-led organisation attempting to provide representation of LCD service users despite continual interference and undermining by LCD, wants to start a petition to save the CST – but is being asked to delay this until the CST are under formal review. I’m glad to say the Network sent it out anyway – the petition is here.
That’s how LCD are treating the dedicated, hard-working and caring disabled people who (until now) did their best to empower LCD service users despite inadequate resources and lack of support. (i.e. those whom actually attempted the user empowerment for which LCD claims credit.)