Aug 282012
 

Reposted from Birmingham Against the Cuts with thanks

 

Report and Photos From Today’s DPAC Demonstration in Birmingham


Around 20 people demonstrated today outside the ATOS assessment centre in Birmingham as part of a week of actionprotesting the Working Capability Assessment (WCA) which is run by ATOS for the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) and is supposed to assess whether someone on disability benefits is fit for work, but has come under large amounts of criticism for failing to do that – and in the process punishing many disabled people by pushing them off disability benefits onto unemployment benefits and workfare.The week of action is taking place during the Paralympics because ATOS are one of the main sponsors. Their core business is as an IT outsourcing company, but like Capita and Serco they have moved into taking all government outsourcing contracts. The contract to run the WCA is £100m/year – and we pay an additional £50m each yearfor the appeals process to correct the huge number of people that ATOS declare fit for work who go through the appeal process and have the decision reversed – a process that can take over a year.Around 40% of appeal are successful – a figure that rises to 70% for people who have advocates or legal advice. Many people go to CAB for this advice, but Birmingham residents will soon find their access restricted, as funding cuts mean that CAB will probably be closing all but the city centre branch. At the same time, legal aid is being cut for welfare & benefit appeals, firmly closing the door on disabled people accessing legal advice.In a recent Dispatches program, a doctor went undercover to record the training process for ATOS, and was told by his trainer that ESA (the new disability benefit brought in by New Labour in 2008 to replace Incapacity Benefit) and the WCA are designed to remove people from disability benefits, and that they expect ATOS to find 89% of people fit for work.

The human cost of this target is huge, with 32 people a week dying after being declared fit for work. Many disabled people have died from their illness shortly after being told they are fit for work, including a local man who died of his heart condition just 3 weeks after ATOS told him he was fit to work.

Talk to disabled people about ATOS and the one thing you will hear time and time again is fear. The fear strikes when the letter arrives calling you for assessment. This letter comes even if you have an incurable, unchanging or degenerative condition. The tests can happen annually, and some people even find themselves called for reassessment just weeks after they have had a successful appeal. Or it comes when you receive the ESA50 form to apply for the benefit, a big lump of paper, designed to scare and confuse, intended so that people will not complete it properly. If you’re filling one of these in, do get advice, especially if you have a variable condition.

The fear continues as you wait for the assessment, knowing that doctors advice will be ignored in favour of a ticklist that doesn’t take into account variable conditions, doesn’t mention work and will award no points for manual dexterity if you can use one finger on one hand. (zero points means there is no problem).
Fear stays there until you receive the letter telling you if you are fit for work or not. You might get put in the “support group” where it’s accepted that you aren’t going to be able to work. Or the “Work Related Activity Group” (WRAG), where they say you are fit for work of some kind with the right support (and if there were jobs available, or employers willing to take on someone who will need more time off than other people for medical appointments, or runs the risk of falling very ill very quickly.. but they don’t mention these barriers to employment of course). Or you get told you are fit for work and pushed off to JSA unemployment benefit.
And the fear doesn’t stop then – the wait for the reassessment for those in the support and WRAG groups, the loss of income and support for those kicked off to JSA, the impending prospect of the Work Programme and workfare for those found fit for work (either in the WRAG group or like anyone else unemployed and on JSA), and the sanctions regime that has seen tens of thousands of disabled people lose benefits for up to 6 months.

The fear needs to end, the WCA needs to be suspended now, and altered in a major way so that it is a fair assessment, and ATOS need to be removed from the contract.

You can still take part in the ATOS games and help to make this happen:

Tommorrow (Wed 29th), DPAC will deliver a coffin full of messages from you.

On Thursday 30th: Phone jam! Let’s flood Atos with calls, and generate a Twitter-storm they can’t ignore!

Then on Friday 31st, join DPAC in London where they’re teaming up with UK Uncut for the Closing ATOS ceremony, at ATOS HQ in Triton Square, London from 12:45.

For more information on these events, go to the DPAC website

Thanks for the photos from @BrumProtestor on Twitter.

More photos from Stalingrad O’Neill with thanks!

Jul 072011
 

Thank you to Birmingham Against the Cuts for this post

A lobby at the council house was held yesterday, called jointly by Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC), Social Work Action Network (SWAN), UNISON Birmingham Council Branch, Right to Work and Birmingham Against the Cuts.

The five groups have come together this month to campaign on cuts to social and care services that the ConDem council are seeking to bring in, as part of the £212m council cuts.

The council plans to cut back services to disabled people in particular, with care only being available to those adults judged to have “critical” needs.  This means that adults with only “substantial” needs will no longer have access to care services.  Originally the council said that this would affect 11,000 people, but have more recently said that it will only be 4,500 people who are affected – we, like Graeme Horn from UNISON, are inclined to believe the original figure as the council are likely to have tried to massage the numbers down following an outcry from the people of Birmingham about these horrendous cuts.

Following the announcement of the cuts, a legal case was started which resulted in a judicial review in May that the cuts were unlawful, as the council had not done an equality impact assessment or consulted properly over the cuts.  This review has forced the council to start a new consultation, which begins shortly.  DPAC and SWAN decided to use July to campaign on this because the UN is currently monitoring the convention on the rights of disabled people – so at the same time the government is monitoring the report from the UN, they are cutting services to disabled people.  They then contacted UNISON, Right to Work and Birmingham Against the Cuts to build a united campaign which can be effective in its resistance to these cuts.

Graeme Horn from UNISON Birmingham said:

We need to make sure that during the consultation as many people as possible examine what the council are doing and speak up in defence of vulnerable and disabled people

Rich Moth from SWAN added that

We have chosen to start the campaign now because of the court victory under the Disability Discrimination Act concerning the £33m cuts to care and support services.  What we want to do coming out of that judgement is to build a campaign because Birmingham City Council will come back with proposals that we expect to be more or less the same and we need to build a campaign to fight these discriminatory cuts which kind of show who is really going to suffer – not the bankers who caused the crisis but disabled and vulnerable people.

Godfrey Webster from Birmingham Against The Cuts spoke about how it is important to make sure that the narrative of the neccesity of cuts is defeated

The problem is that the majority of people think the cuts are inevitable and there is no alternative.  We need to get the message out that there is an alternative

False Economy is a good website to start with to explore the alternatives to cuts, which broadly speaking encompass ideas such as closing the £120bn tax gap – especially the £25bn of tax avoided each year by wealthy individuals and large corporations; a robin hood and/or bankers bonus tax to ensure that the people and organisations that caused the crisis play their part in helping to get us out of it and investing in the economy (particularly in green manufacturing) to stimulate growth and prevent a double-dip recession which would cause tax revenues to fall, welfare payments to rise and the deficit to increase.

Matt Raine from Right to Work chose to highlight one particular cut

Mobility allowance is being stripped from old people.  This will mean that they are effectively prisoners in their care homes

He talked about the importance of linking up this struggle with the wider struggle against cuts, mentioning the Lib Dem conference in Birmingham in September, and the Tory conference in Manchester in October.

Sam Brackenbury

Finally, DPAC Sam Brackenbury spoke about how disabled people need to be active in this struggle.  He said that he was fighting so that he could have the support that he needed to have an independent life, to not be dependent on other people or have to accept the scraps that fall from the table.  Calling for all disabled people to be proactive in this struggle and to join DPAC in taking action to defend their benefits he said

Don’t cause a fuss, stop a bus

referring to this action that he took with Members of the Greater London Pensioners’ Association took to highlight issues of access and the cutting of mobility allowance, as well as broader cuts to benefits (Sam is one of the activists handcuffed to the back of the bus)

There will be more events from this campaign this month, as well as ongoing work as we seek to prevent the council from cutting vital services.  To steal SWAN’s slogan we want the budget to be based on peoples needs, not private greed.

On Thursday (7th July) Birmingham Trades Council has its monthly meeting, at 7:30pm in the Council House.  Bob Findlay-Williams from DPAC will be speaking.

On the 20th July there will be a public meeting at Transport House on Broad Street (TGWU/UNITE building) with speakers from the groups and services affected by these cuts.  Join the Facebook Event and invite your friends.

Come along to these events and help the campaign to ensure that the consultation that the council are being forced to undertake is not a sham, and that vital services for vulnerable and disabled people are protected.

All photos (c) Geoff Dexter Sherborne Publications – see more photos in his Flickr stream

Jul 042011
 
hand palm with words'hands off'

hands off our services...

Hands Off Our Care and Support Services, Our Benefits, and Our Futures!

Rally of Birmingham City Council Meeting

5.00pm Tuesday 5 July 2011

Outside Council House, Victoria Square

It is becoming increasingly clear that those who will be hardest hit by austerity cuts are those with least money and resources  –disabled people, mental health service users, carers, older people and those on benefits. In Birmingham the council plans to cut £33.2m from support and care services by raising eligibility thresholds. This will mean five thousand people in the city losing vital support. Cuts include the closure of six older people’s residential homes, increased charges for personal care, and the loss of skilled care workers as services become increasingly reliant on lower paid casual staff. A recent Panorama on the abuse of disabled residents at the Castlebeck unit showed the horrific results of providing social care on the cheap through privatised companies. Yet now the council is also proposing to privatise social work services using social enterprises. This will mean social work is turned into a business and workers forced to compete for contracts.

In addition many of those affected by cuts, disabled people and those with severe and terminal medical conditions, are also being forced to undergo  ‘work capability assessments’ and declared fit for work by the hated multinational Atos Origin which will profit from an outsourced £300 million government contract. This system has already led several claimants to commit suicide.

However, care service users and social and care workers are increasingly questioning why they should pay for a crisis caused not by them but by bankers. And so care staff and their unions in Birmingham are joining forces with disabled people to save our services and campaign against these discriminatory cuts.

In May a High Court judge ruled Birmingham council’s plans were unlawful under the Disability Discrimination Act and these cutback plans were put on hold. This is a fantastic victory but will only be the start of the fight back necessary. To build on this campaigners from Disabled People Against Cuts, Birmingham City Unison,  West Midlands Social Work Action Network, Right to Work campaign and Birmingham Against the Cuts have launched a joint campaign.

unison logoThere will be a month of action in July against austerity measures in Birmingham to coincide with the first UK monitoring report of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Activities will include a lobby of the first full council meeting since the election at 5pm on 5th July in Victoria Square and a public meeting on

20th July at the Unite (TGWU) Offices, 211 Broad Street from right to work logo630pm

We invite you to join us in demanding better public services for service users and those working in them not more cuts and marketisation.

Later in July, there will be a public meeting of all five sponsoring organisations (DPAC, SWAN, RtoW, Birmingham UNISON, and BATC). This will take place as follows

Hands Off Our Care and Support Services, Our Benefits and Our Futures Public Meeting

6.00pm Tuesday 20 July 2011
Transport House Broad Street, Birmingham

The five sponsoring groups are preparing a detailed pamphlet setting out the range of threats to services and benefits for disabled people, from council cuts in services, the privatisation of Social Work, to the cuts in benefits and the new medical assessment process. This will be published at the end of July.

Email us on mail@dpac.uk.net if you would like to take an active part in our campaign.

Jun 272011
 
June 30th placard

June 30th placard

In Birmingham

(with Birmingham Against the Cuts)

Assemble at 12 noon in Victoria Square for a rally and march.. This will be a regional demonstration with anti-cuts groups from around the region, and striking workers will be coming to the city centre from picket lines to demonstrate.

Confirmed Speakers:

Kevin Courtney (Deputy General Secratary of the NUT),

Hugh Lanning (Deputy General Secretary of PCS)

Michael McNeil (UCU Head of HE)

Local UNISON Branch speaker

DPAC speaker

+More speakers from Unions to be confirmed

Whilst for the unions this can only be about the specific cut they are striking about, for everyone else this can be about the cuts in general. DPAC will be supporting to show solidarity with the workers going on strike and to show resistance to the ConDem administrations both locally and nationally

We will join the rally at 12 noon at Victoria Square, and hope that people will be able to come on their lunch break or even better book annual leave for that day. If you can’t make it, then show support in whatever way you can.

In London

Unite the Fights June 30th

Unite the Fights June 30th

VOLUNTEERS NEEDED – Right to Work is looking for activists who can volunteer between now & the 30th June to help with stalls, campaigning, placard & banner making. We will be running campaign stalls at major demos across the country, see the battle map for protests & contact us on 07961 337 640 or 07749 481 600 to volunteer or be put in touch with the Right to Work group in your area.

Event

JOINT RALLY AND MARCH IN CENTRAL LONDON 30 Jun 2011 11:00 Assemble in Lincoln’s Inn Fields (Holborn Tube) at 11 am and march down Whitehall to joint union rally in Central Hall, Westminster.

Have a look at the  map of protest rallies in the rest of the country –

Jun 132011
 

Please note these dates in your diaries –

June 23rd –   7pm open planning meeting for Rage against the Lib Dems on September 18th UNISON offices, 19th floor McClaren Tower, B4 7LS opposite Argos, and Priory Court shopping centre.

June 29th Nick Clegg, Eric Pickles, and the delightful Baroness Warsi amongst others will be at ICC on Broad Street.

June 30th noon, Victoria Square, – mass march and rally in support of striking workers. This will be a family friendly event as most schools will be closed for the day. Ed Milliband will be invited to speak.

Final details about these 2 events will be on Birmingham Against the Cuts website.

July 5th at  5pm – meet in Victoria Square – Disabled people and allies will lobby the council meeting about cuts to care funding and privatisation of the assessment and management of adult care. Birmingham City Council is due to start a new consultation to try once more to change eligibility criteria for care

July 19th or 20th (TBC) a public meeting around care and support provision in Birmingham. Details to be confirmed.

September 18th Rage Against The Lib Dems, who have their conference in Birmingham. Meet noon Moor Street.

Apr 302011
 
May Day march Birmingham

May Day march in Birmingham

Today there was a demonstration called by Birmingham Trades Union Council to celebrate May Day— International Workers Day.

May Day celebrates International Workers Day and is marked traditionally when the Trade Union Movement gathers with the community to celebrate our achievements and to commit ourselves to achieving economic and social justice for all.

Birmingham TUC worked together with Birmingham Against the Cuts and invited trades unionists, students and the public to join this demonstration to stop the cuts and fight for an alternative based on our needs, not bankers greed!

DPAC was there with our stall and banner at the start at St Philips Cathedral – we were to march through part of the city centre to Victoria Sq where there were speeches. I joined Matt, Linda and Paul there to hand out leaflets and chat to the people there. It was a lively crowd and people seemed genuinely interested to stop and chat and to take up handouts. There was a UKuncut group dressed up in white body suits with black tipped markings – they said the body stockings were what the UKuncut people (Fortnum and Mason Solidarity Bloc) had to wear after the Fortnum and Mason event in London, 26th march. Next to our stall was the Confronting Anti Muslim Hatred stall. There was also an anti war stall.

Soon after 12 noon we set out on the rally – it was a rather good natured crowd and we hardly saw any police. A bit of noise but not much chanting with a few kids. All in all, there was a rough estimate of 200 perhaps. The UKuncut group stopped outside Primark to protest about non payment of taxes I think. I wound my way through the marchers with Linda and Paul holding the banner taking photos and handing out leaflets about DPAC. Linda told me later that someone asked her if she was taking care of me and if I had enough battery in my chair to last out the march! I had an older gentleman tell me he was buying me an ice cream but it never materialise!

Some of the people there were from the general public and quite a few of the older people there spoke of their own fears to me. I would have liked to be able to chat more except I had to keep up with the crowd.  They were quite a few open to chatting – it might be due to the weather!

We had the speeches about the cuts in Birmingham and how it affects the workers and service users in Birmingham and the recent legal case won against the council. I also read out the DPAC speech prepared for the day.

We did some networking and packed up at about 3 pm. I was not aware till later that the UKuncut group took some rough treatment at the Bull Ring shopping centre where they demonstrated against the non payment of taxes against Phil Green. (Fortnum and Mason Solidarity Bloc off Birmingham Mayday demo organised by Birmingham against the cuts  after the demo the bloc went to topshop in the bullring to raise awareness about the £300 million pound tax dodge by Philip Green) Photos of this event is at https://www.indymedia.org.uk/en/2011/04/478508.html

May Day Photos are at https://www.flickr.com/photos/disabledpeopleprotest/sets/72157626615066674/

—Eleanor Lisney

Eleanor Lisney speaking

Eleanor Lisney

Speech at the rally

Disabled people continue to face a multitude of attacks against their ability to live independently in the community and to take a full and active part in society along with their non-disabled peers.

These cuts include the abolition of Disability Living Allowance, a benefit awarded to meet the extra costs of being disabled, where even before further  testing of disabled people starts the Coalition government have said they will remove  20% of disabled people from entitlement to it and that we are financially unsustainable. This benefit in  particular allows many disabled people to work and therefore pay taxes.

1 million disabled people – not fraudsters as many newspapers would have people believe, are also being thrown off Incapacity Benefit and forced to seek non-existent jobs. But rather than removing the barriers to work for disabled people the coalition government have put even more obstacles to employment in place and with changes to Access to Work funding, a reduction to the Health and Safety Executive and the massive reduction of public sector jobs which provides employment for far more disabled people then the private sector.

Planned changes to social housing tenure and changes to housing benefits will also affect disabled people very badly and are likely to lead to an increasing number of homeless disabled people as well as pushing many into further poverty.

At a local level disabled people are already losing funding for care and support and together with the closure of day centres many are becoming isolated in their own homes. Social care is not free for the majority of disabled people either and locally in parts of the West Midlands people living on already meagre incomes are being expected to pay up to £50-£60 a week towards their care.

Mental Health services are also being drastically reduced in many areas due to cuts in NHS jobs and funding.

While many of you here today may think that what happens to disabled people is of little interest to you it’s important for everyone to realise that most disabled people have acquired an impairment  due to illness, accident, or old age., so helping us to fight for our rights and not be reliant on charity could help you or someone you care about in the future.

What I believe we all share in common however is that we are all being attacked by this millionaire government and that we have to fight for our futures together.

So what have DPAC done over the last 6 months?

All around the country together with others we’ve made it impossible for Condem politicians to leave the safety of Westminster and go out to visit places. Here in Birmingham MPs either were forced to use the back door on several occaisons or didn’t turn up. In London Boris Johnson was seen to cycle away from a group of protesters. We need to keep this up and make sure when they venture out into the community they can’t use the front door anywhere.

Secondly in Birmingham the council have been stopped from removing 11.000 disabled people  from receiving care by changing the eligibility criteria, This has been partly through pressure and partly through some disabled people winning a recent legal case. Other disabled supporters of DPAC  also have a Judicial Review pending against the heavily criticised Work capability Assessment for Employment and Support Allowance. A further case about Housing Benefit case is going to the Court of Appeal also.

We also now have several local DPAC groups around the country as well  and our campaigns against ATOS the private firm raking in millions of pounds for testing disabled people’s fitness to work are supported by politicians, union branches, and over 55 local claimant and anti-cuts groups. This campaign has so far involved three national days of action which resulted in ATOS offices all over the country, from Dundee to Truro, being closed down for the day.

We have been involved in organising an International week of protest against ATOS starting on May 9th again aimed to close down their offices all around the country. We have also and will continue to picket their recruitment fares when they try to recruit vaguely medical staff to carry out their tick box computer assessments. Of those tested by ATOS and found fit for work 70% who have representation and 40 % without any representation have the decision overturned on appeal, although it can take up to 12 months to reach a tribunal hearing because there are so many cases wrongly assessed.

We have also protested against the scandalous lies printed in the Daily Mail and are now involved in further campaigning against them. Its only in unity that we can achieve some success so we salute solidarity! in working together in the future.