Oct 302014

So finally released is the official news that Maximus take over from the toxic brand of Atos for £500 million. Already there are comparisons with Russell Crow characters, but there’s also an overlooked Maximus who might be more fitting as a parody or comparison. This Maximus comes from the U.S Marvel comics

Maximus was briefly the leader of the Inhumans while his brother, Black Bolt, went into exile, daring not to use his dangerous voice. Maximus believed that the Inhumans were the greater form of life on Earth and he set out to rule them and to destroy humankind to retake the planet.
More on Marvel.com: https://marvel.com/universe/Maximus#ixzz3Hd6bb9Bl

Leader of the inhumans seems much more fitting than the hero reduced to slavery and seeking revenge- can we compare Black Bolt to Atos going into exile too? No, not really, as Maximus are using Atos staff and equipment to continue with the inhuman Work Capability Assessments (WCA), and of course Atos have a whole host of other multi-million Government contracts including PIP-yet another planned disaster, shared with Capita, leaving disabled people stuck on a waiting list for up to a year without any financial support whatsoever. In June 2014 MacMillan identified that those diagnosed with cancer were waiting at least six months for the initial assessment rather than being fast tracked properly, as was the case under the Disability living Allowance.

We can be sure that this didn’t and doesn’t just apply to those with cancer,but those with other terminal illness’ too. The Work and Pensions Committee rightly condemned this, but then we hear nothing more than empty silence. New Labour say it will take 42 years to clear the PIP backlog. But they don’t tell us what they will do about it, which with an election year fast approaching is yet another lost opportunity for the rusty New Labour machinery.

From one toxic brand to another?

Its worth a quick recap on Atos and the WCA contracts. The Atos process contributed to deaths, the Atos process contributed to worsening mental health, Atos’ so called ‘healthcare professionals were ‘trained’ over a period of days, Atos got reports wrong frequently, Atos were subject to TV exposures, the Atos process was condemned internationally, Atos were closely linked Unum insurance sharing the same CEO, Atos declared people fit for work when they were in comas or days before they died. Atos pulled out of their contract saying that those nasty disabled people were being nasty to their staff- a claim which , true to form, they could provide no evidence for.

Atos became a toxic brand long before the hyped ‘pull-out’. Atos were targeted from 2011 onwards by DPAC with protests outside their shiny London headquarters and elsewhere. Atos tried to shut down web sites that said ‘bad’ things about them. In 2012 their sponsorship of the Olympic games ( along with a set of other dubious multi-nationals) led to a 7 day protest by DPAC, a protest that saw angry protesters outside Atos centres across the UK. It was then that national media, often silenced by their owners vested interests broke through. We saw from the first time a trickle of freelancers with a social conscience edge in the Atos issue under the Olympics rubric. We saw the beginnings of a snow ball affect which Atos’ public image never recovered from. Atos were known not as the IT company, but the company that carried out those bogus Work Capability Assessments.

From bad to worse
So what changes with Maximus? First let Maximus be in no doubt that they will get the same treatment as Atos did-disabled people will continue protest and civil disobedience- a name change doesn’t mean a thing. This company knew exactly what they were taking on-but money talks louder than conscience . As already mentioned Maximus take the infrastructure of Atos, its staff , its IT , its tick box assessments. Atos are still gaining. Second, Maximus take private contracts ( paid with public money) to help dismantle what’s left of our ( or anyone else’s) welfare state to force those ‘that can’ on to private insurance scams that may or may not pay out-Unum and co are also laughing all the way to their bankster friends. .

What’s different? Well, Maximus seem worse than Atos- yes you read that correctly. They have a string of law suits in their homeland the good old US of A. In 2014 they said

“We expect that demand for our core health and human services offerings will continue to increase over the next few years, driven by new legislation, austerity measures and increasing caseloads, as governments strive to deliver more services with fewer resources. Legislation, such as the Affordable Care Act (ACA) in the United States as well as other health and welfare reform initiatives abroad, has created increased demand for our services, a trend we expect to continue over the next several years.”

‘Core health and human services offerings’:?. It seems these ‘offerings’ have proved a bit of an expensive minefield. But these days such things are written off to risk if the profits out weigh the pay-offs companies will do what the hell they like. In 2007 Maximus settled a Medicaide card fraud with the Federal Government paying $30.5 million. In 2012 they paid $50,000 in a disability discrimination case. In 2013 it was reported that Maximus has been engaging in ‘improper billing advice’ concerning $3.5 million cost to tax payers (sounds familiar-except here our state dont appear to do much about such things).There’s more, but you get the picture. Final add is that Maximus also like to give lots of money to right wing politicians-ah it gets even clearer.

Looks like we should expect the worst and looks like our unelected Government have managed to surpass themselves, again. The drain on the so-called public purse- that’s tax payers money- is set to rocket again. But beyond financial concerns are what happens now with the WCA? What happens to the backlog? And what happens to disabled people- the news doesn’t look good, as many commentators on social media have already pointed out. However, several things have been missed on social media

All in it together?
While Disability Rights UK (DRUK) were one of the first to get the notice of Maximus taking over from Atos out on their website, they failed to mention how they will be ‘helping’ Maximus. This information is not on their web site. It can be found elsewhere on the Department of Work and Pensions website :

“On top of recruiting additional healthcare professionals, MAXIMUS also plans to make further improvements to people’s experience of an assessment and will seek to continually improve the service they offer. It will increase the number of specialists who conduct assessments, including experts in mental health. They will also spend more time with people before their assessment to fully explain the process and provide Disability Awareness training for all staff through Disability Rights UK”.

Didn’t Atos claim similar things too? There are some who might say DRUK is what is needed. We should ask those people how a so-called user-led disabled peoples’ organisation can, with any integrity, involve themselves in this at all. Its no secret that like Maximus themselves, DRUK would know about the WCA, the Government lies that surround it, the misery caused by it, and why it all chimes together to remove welfare/state support from disabled people-It marks a purposeful intention to further open -up the market for private insurers – is this a mistake on the DWP’s own Government site?

Sadly, we think not. In the latest release DRUK say that they’ve been in discussions with Maximus and no work has yet been agreed- shouldn’t they be categorically denying the association outright?

Yet, DRUK are already ‘in bed’ with big corporations and private insurance companies. After their prior foray with Capita, DRUK now appear to have joined the game of pushing private disability insurance too. They are partnering with 17 big insurance companies to show the difference insurance would make, instead of fighting for the rights of disabled people. That is disabled people who by DRUK’s own admission occupy one of the largest groups in poverty, a poverty level that has been systematically widened and worsened because of this Government’s pursuit of removing welfare.

A few months ago DRUK publicised a new television program calling for disabled volunteers: Seven Families. Seven families will take the same number of families and show the benefits of purchasing private disability insurance. Its not about pushing products says the Income Protection Task Force (?) blurb-its about raising awareness-not since the Guardian published the much criticised info ads for Unum have we seen this sort of ‘stupid public’ approach. Once again , you wont find this on the DRUK web-site it’s been removed. But DRUK’s strap-line of breaking the link between poverty and disability just took on a new meaning

More importantly, under the WCA contract Atos were paid per assessment. Under the PIP contract Atos and Capita are paid a lump sum not depending on the number of assessments- the planned backlog becomes clearer. But what of the Maximus contract -are they paid by assessment or paid a lump sum? What is obvious is that the rounds of assessments and reassessments will continue to persecute disabled people. At intervals they might get a pittance of support, they might need to wait longer for a mandatory reconsideration ( brought in in Oct 2013 to make the process even more difficult and knock people out of the system). The best bet is to forget that you’ve paid state national insurance for all of your working life and go see Unum- and if 99% of disabled people cant afford it tough, because even your own so called disability organisations are telling you this is now the only way.

We want answers and we call on New Labour’s Rachael Reeves and Kate Green to provide them-what will they do with Maximus? What will they do with mandatory reconsideration? What will they do for disabled people? Oh and why should we a) trust them b) vote for them?

For now as The Void suggests: ‘Maximus are the new Atos: destroy Maximus’ and everyone and every organisation involved in or supporting this inhuman regime of the corrupt WCA, until its scrapped completely!

Jul 202014

Rob prepared this statement for the recent Disability Rights UK conference (18th July) He was not allowed to give his statement- we publish it here so people can understand why all voices should be heard and listened to.

The Fight for Our Lives

 My name is Robert Punton I am a disabled person and an Independent Living Fund (ILF) recipient I come here today to oppose Disability Rights UK stance on the closing of the ILF.

I have been a disabled activist for over 30 years both in a paid and unpaid capacity.  The money I have received through ILF funding has in no small part enabled me to achieve this, I have employed the same two guys as my Personal Assistants Mike Orme and Darren Harrison for over 25 years and now I am employing their son Daryl Harrison-Orme in the same capacity.  If the closure goes ahead this puts our partnership (family) in serious jeopardy.

I make no bones about the fact that as a person with high support needs without this extra funding I would be languishing in a Scope home or one run by some other likeminded establishment.  In saying this I am not in anyway denigrating the lives of anyone living there but I much prefer my lifestyle and will fight to my last breathe to save it.  Make no mistake everyone using ILF is in the same boat and none of us want to sink.

I am a member of DPAC and Co Director in Community Navigator Services with Clenton Farquharson MBE and Jack Nicholas it is a Community Interest Company we all identify as disabled; we aim to build capacity within communities to allow them to participate within society to their fullest n need or want.  We all agree the closure of ILF will severely destroy the advances that disabled people that achieved in last 3 decades.

Disability Rights UK and Simon Stevens advocate that when they close ILF it will make it a level plain field when they pass on funds to local authorities and everyone will be treated equally, equality only works when you use the highest possible denominator, in other words no one wants to be treated like their neighbour if they are being treated badly.  The term we like to use now is fighting for social justice for all, hence wanting the best standard of living (in this case support plans) for everyone.

Simon Stevens and his supports say that the ILF has made users of their scheme elitists in their communities.  I can’t argue that this may be perceived in that light. However, I would argue this two-tier system in society cannot be blamed on the independent living fund or its users; it was the Conservative government who closed the ILF in 2010 under the guidance of Maria (Killer) Miller, and in doing so cut off thousands of possible or probable new users of ILF, Con-Demning them to the level of substandard support given by most Local Authorities.

This substandard support shows the priority most local governments, and therefore National Government accord to people requiring high support – they are more than willing to leaving wallowing in our own shit!

Anyone following the campaign to SAVE the ILF led by DPAC and Inclusion London must know that we the major goal is to reopen the ILF to all people who fit their criteria.  In doing so raising the standard of those people’s support.  We believe this is the only solution not butchering the funding  of the so called “lucky” ones it in all honesty won’t help anyone.

I would love to know where the advocates of this Don’t Save ILF think the monies to raise everyone’ standards of support will come from. The money release from ILF we be swallowed up by incompetent politicians looking after their powerful votes, not us the people they view as worth less. In Authorities like Birmingham who have amassed debts of £600m you think the money given up by ILF will not even make a drip in their ocean of debt.

While I disagree with Simon’s argument I support his right to voice his opinion.  However, it is an understatement to say I am flabbergasted to hear Disability Rights UK supports this argument.  I thought you represented disabled people not the establishment!

What really exasperates me though is that we never learn from our mistakes.  Once more we are doing the governments work for them fighting between ourselves while they sit back laughing at us.  We must stop fighting and work together to defeat the Con-Dem coalition

I will finish with message to the camp supporting shut ILF.  If you can’t support don’t fight us.

Today we fight for our lives, if we lose today there will be no Tomorrow just an eternity of marginalisation and isolation either trapped our own homes or corralled in Care(less) Homes run by unscrupulous privateers only interested in profit not people


Thank you for listening  I hope you hear me!


see also: https://dpac.uk.net/2014/07/disability-rights-uk-independent-living-or-new-visions-in-neo-liberalism/


Jul 172014

DPAC have had an odd kind of non-relationship with DRUK. We’ve disagreed about many things. For example, DPAC is for saving ILF, DRUK’s Sue Bott suggests this is something we should probably forget about, and that ‘Whilst the ILF has benefited many disabled people, claims that it has been at the forefront of independent living are a little exaggerated’[1]. This is not the view of ILF users. See their stories, their lives, their experiences  It is amazing that anyone can believe that passing ILF to local authorities who already say that without ring-fenced funding many ILF users will lose support and/or be institutionalised is something we need to accept while we all get together to talk about ‘new visions’.


The DRUK conference dedicated to a ‘new vision’ for independent living is also a confusing affair, not only are they embracing Simon Steven’s approach[2] ( He who accused DPAC of murdering disabled people and was dropped from Leonard Cheshire’s sponsor program because of his outright abuse to other disabled people[3]), but one of their advertised partners for this conference are Craegmoor .


Craegmoor are part of the Priory Group owned by Avent International which is a US Equity Company- changing times you may say-and you’re right. Maybe that’s what these new visions are about: capitalising on the market, private equity companies taking public money, and disability organisations getting in on the act- maybe neo-liberalism rather than disabled peoples’ rights and equality now make up ‘new visions’ of independent living


Craegmoor ‘s target market are those labelled with autism, learning difficulties and mental health issues. They take 85% of their funds from public funds[4]. Craegmoor’s  web site boasts of its residential homes:

We provide understanding and support for people with learning disabilities, autism and mental health problems in a variety of settings based on the individual’s abilities and needs. Our nationwide residential care services support people to develop the skills they need to live as independently as possible’.


Wait, since when were residential homes part of independent living? Weren’t these the very oppressions that early activists fought to get out of, and current activists (and ILF users) are fighting to stay out of?


Their brochure[5] goes further:

Craegmoor is part of the Priory Group of Companies. From education to hospitals, care homes and secure facilities, the Priory Group of Companies offers individually tailored, multidisciplinary treatment programmes for those with complex educational needs or requiring acute, long-term and respite mental healthcare’.


Treatment programs? Not sounding very independent living or social model. As well as residential homes, secure ‘hospitals’ and segregated schools. It all sounds very daunting.


But there’s much more on the Priory group of companies too which is even less palatable concerning cover-ups and abuse. Until July 2013 Phillip Scott was Chief Executive if the name isnt familiar, he was also the Chief Executive for Southern Cross. Itself a subject of inquiry on institutional abuse and 19 unexplained deaths[6] Craegmor say they transform lives, but in what way?


In May 2013 there was Melling Acres, ‘where inspectors reported major concerns about the care and welfare of its seven residents – care plans were poor, with scant information about physical health needs, there were limited activities and a lack of advocacy to enable people to express concerns about their care’. In September 2012 ‘following an anonymous tip, inspectors found residents at risk of abuse in Lammas Lodge, a home for young adults. There were not enough staff and what staff there were, inspectors found, were not properly trained to meet residents’ complex needs. There were six major areas of concern, including care and welfare, medication and safeguarding. The home, which was warned it must improve or face closure, has since been given a clean bill of health by the regulators’. Both homes were registered under Parkcare Homes’ so neither Priory or Craegmoor got the fall-out despite ownership[7].


This was not the case in 2012 when concerned relatives hid CCTV cameras in the room of Highbank hospital in Bury Manchester to reveal abuse by staff[8], not so with the Bentley Court home in Wolverhampton suspended by the council for what it called ‘safeguarding issues’ in 2010, a council that stopped sending those with dementia to Bentley Court[9], and not so in 2012 when what was described as the ‘Priory mental hospital’ in Windes on Bennet Lane was closed due to not meeting 10 standards of Government quality and safety including: Patients not being fully protected from the risk of abuse and their privacy, dignity and independence not being respected, staff not receiving necessary training, a lack of systems to assess and monitor the quality of the service provided, care plans did not always cover patients’ needs. There were also reports of patients attempting to escape during supervised visits into Widnes town centre[10].


So as said definitely NOT independent living.


In 2004 the then CEO of the Priory group Chai Patel said ‘My view is, if there is ever a conflict that involves choosing between care and profit, then we should not be involved in that environment,’[11] Given the examples above it seems profit is the defining factor.


It didn’t take long to find this information, it didn’t take long to realise that these are not the partners who should be with any organisation claiming to support independent living, even ‘new visions’. So maybe the question that needs to be asked is what exactly do DRUK support?


There are a few clues, in a recent blog piece by DRUK (dated 16th July) mentioning a very good Guardian piece by independent living activist John Evans[12], an ILF user, the last paragraph says: ‘Sue Bott, Director of Policy and Development at Disability Rights UK, has written a new blog which also discusses the role of the ILF but proposes that disabled people should concentrate their campaigning towards achieving a single integrated system that assesses people’s needs and allocates assistance and support based on the outcomes people could achieve in their communities and contribute to society’.


John Evans says everything we need to know-we have a vision for independent living and we already have a model forged by international independent living activists. There is nothing wrong with that model. There is no reason to stop fighting for it, abandon it or develop ‘visions’ or hallucinations of lesser systems in which we divide disabled people by perceived contributions to society-all disabled people are of value, all deserve to be supported. It is the ILF model that needs to be built upon and expanded to all-something that promotes real independent living.


The fact that a so-called user led organisation is putting forward anything different with the spectra of institutionalisation added to the mix is a tragic condemnation of all that disability activists have ever worked and fought for. We are appalled that DRUK are willing to sacrifice disabled people’s futures in this way and sadly can only assume this is to ensure on-going funding from the government.

follow @dis_ppl_protest for more

If you want to email DRUK you can do so by emailing:  liz.sayce@disabilityrightsuk.org


[1] https://disabilityrightsuk.blogspot.co.uk/2014/07/we-need-new-vision-for-independent.html

[2] https://disabilityrightsuk.blogspot.co.uk/2014/07/we-need-new-vision-for-independent.html


[3] https://davidg-flatout.blogspot.co.uk/2014/07/inclusion-forgotten-ambition-lost-i.html?spref=tw

[4] https://www.craegmoor.co.uk/library/files/Craegmoor%20Locations%20&%20Services%20Brochure(1).pdf

[5] https://www.craegmoor.co.uk/library/files/Craegmoor%20Locations%20&%20Services%20Brochure(1).pdf

[6] https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-24581693

[7] https://beastrabban.wordpress.com/2013/07/20/private-eye-on-failure-of-care-at-more-care-hospitals-owned-by-american-private-equity-firms/


[8] https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2227229/Nurses-quizzed-police-abusing-patient-Priory-Hospital-concerned-family-hid-secret-camera-room.html


[9] https://www.expressandstar.com/news/2010/01/15/elderly-will-no-longer-be-sent-to-care-home/


[10] https://www.runcornandwidnesweeklynews.co.uk/news/health/failed-priory-mental-hospital-widnes-5875608


[11] https://www.managementtoday.co.uk/news/432103/Man-Priory/?DCMP=ILC-SEARCH


[12] https://www.theguardian.com/society/2014/jul/16/independent-living-fund-closure-disabled-people-residential-care

May 252013

Any campaign from this Government which claims to support disabled people should be viewed with suspicion and the latest offering from the DWP is no exception.

The department yesterday put out a press release boasting: “Celebrities have joined forces with the government to help launch a campaign aiming to promote positive role models for disabled people.”

This campaign features a youtube channel where 50 videos have been posted which have “been produced with a focus on overcoming barriers”.  Many of these videos are unsurprisingly about disabled people who have high flying careers, such as Dame Anne Begg, or are stories of disabled entrepreneurs.

The accompanying press release includes a gushing quote from Emmerdale actor Kitty McGeever explaining how after becoming disabled it ‘took some time to get back into work’ but she managed it with the help of the Government’s Access To Work scheme.

This scheme provides funding for workplace adaptations, travel or some care needs for disabled people in employment.  The number of people benefiting from Access To Work has plummeted by over a third since this Government weren’t elected showing the true situation for disabled people currently seeking employment.

Whilst this campaign may be a cheap attempt to improve those figures, it comes against a background of savage cuts to benefits, services and housing for disabled people.  It is a campaign run by a government which is declaring hundreds of thousands of sick and disabled people to be ‘fit for work’ with the aim of stopping their benefits.  A government which has been only too happy to force sick and disabled claimants onto workfare as part of the Work Programme –  with no public scrutiny of where they are being sent or for how long.  A government that is set to force potentially hundreds of thousands of disabled people from their homes due to the bedroom tax, benefit cap and other measures.

And when Personal Independence Payments (PIP) fully replace Disability Living Allowance, this is a Government which will have slashed completely a vital benefit for 20% of disabled people.

This move alone is likely to mean that over 50% of disabled people are forced to leave work as funding for specialist equipment, care and transport disappears*.

Vast numbers of disabled people are set to be plunged into poverty by these measures, and it is this which reveals the true intentions of this latest DWP run project.  One of the charities involved in the campaign is quoted as saying that the “project is about showing what disabled people can do – not what they can’t”.

This is eerily similar to David Cameron’s line when interviewed shortly after the opening of the Paralympic games when he said: “It’s about the inspiration and it will change people’s minds and that’s what matters. It’ll teach people about what they can do, rather than what they can’t do.”

It is also the line used to justify the benefit-stripping Work Capability Assessment which according to the DWP focuses on “what an individual can do despite their health condition, rather than simply what they can’t.”

Minister for Murdering Disabled People, Esther Mcvey also pops up in this week’s press release, and whilst not quite so explicit, her underlying message is the same:  “young disabled people tell me they want to see more inspiring role models to show where disabled people have achieved their ambitions despite the odds being stacked against them”

For young disabled people the odds are stacked against them like never before due to this Government and in this context the true nature of the DWP’s latest campaign becomes clear.  This is not about providing role models for young disabled people or helping people fulfil their potential or even changing perceptions of disabled people as is claimed.  This Government doesn’t care about any of that.  This campaign is yet more insidious DWP propaganda attempting to give the impression that those plunged into poverty due to the ruthless cuts to disability benefits will only have themselves to blame.  If only they’d learnt to play wheelchair rugby, or been a fucking Dame, then they could afford to put the heating on.

The campaign also has a facebook page which might be a good place to share experiences of what people can no longer do due to the vicious cuts to benefits: https://www.facebook.com/Rolemodelsinspire

Dawn Willis writes well about this kind of narrative: ‘I’m not Stephen Fry, how damaging is that?’ from Dawn

*this figure comes from a survey carried out by Disability Rights UK (DRUK) which reported that 56% of those asked said they would have to leave work if they lost their DLA.  DRUK are notoriously in the pockets of the DWP, with Chief Executive Liz Sayce writing a report which recommended the closure of the Remploy factories.  The survey relating to the number of people likely to leave work due to PIP seems to have disappeared from DRUK’s website, for which there is surely an entirely innocent explanation.

Follow me on twitter @johnnyvoid

With massive thanks to the brilliant Johnny Void for letting us re-post

See more from Johnny at https://johnnyvoid.wordpress.com/2013/05/25/achieve-your-potential-or-starve/


Apr 162013

If you missed it all -the Disability Action Alliance or DAA[i] has had a strange and tortured beginning. It was set up in 2012 to help with the new disability strategy. The merged organisation of RADAR, Disability Alliance and the National Centre for Independent Living (NCIL) AKA Disability Rights UK (DRUK) got the’ job’ of co-organising the DAA. This was a great surprise to all, not least the United Kingdom Disabled Peoples’ Council (UKDPC). The great surprise was that this ‘job’ hadn’t been advertised or put out for tender. After initial rumbles of shock and discontent DRUK said that they would not be paid for this ‘job’ so it didn’t matter, or words to that effect -and we all forgot about it.

Another issue was that this Alliance would include charities, presumably big disability charities as well as small ones, and private companies or corporations. This caused more rumbles of shock and discontent because some of us had been taught and still believed that any ‘disability movement’ was about disabled people leading it, was user-led and rights not charity based, we weren’t sure how to deal with this astounding corporate thing being added on either.  DRUK said DAA would be advising on government policy and would not supplant the role of disabled peoples’ organisations so it didn’t matter, or words to that effect -and we all forgot about it.

Then there was a flash new website called unsurprisingly: Disability Action Alliance. At the link if you want to have a look https://disabilityactionalliance.org.uk/ or join

A site with pictures, a bit government branded in style, but what can we expect.  The ‘About us’ section says:

During the development of Fulfilling Potential – Next Steps, the idea of a new way of working in partnership emerged and ODI agreed to set up the Disability Action Alliance.  Disability Rights UK agreed to convene the Alliance to ensure ‘nothing about us without us’ – so that disabled people’s voices and experiences drive change, locally and nationally.

The ODI or Office of Disability Issues (an adjunct to the DWP) also set up a network called the ‘Network of Networks’ in 2010 so that disabled peoples’ voices could drive change, locally and nationally’ with a pure base of 12 user-led disabled peoples’ organizations, which they then disbanded, unceremoniously, shortly after the development of Fulfilling Potential.  So the ‘nothing about us without us’ does ring a bit hollow, especially with the potential corporate business and big disability charities in the ‘us’ bit.

Maybe a more apt chant would be ‘something about us without us again’ led by Government departments, sorry ‘disabled peoples’ voices’

Alliance Declaration and Membership Agreement

There was some more shock and discontent over the DAA ‘membership agreement’ on the web site. For example the section states members must:

‘Respect the views of other members, and not represent their views unless they are given permission’

It is unclear what this means exactly, but it doesn’t sound particularly empowering to disabled peoples’ voices. Does it mean that a group cannot represent another groups views ‘unless they are given permission’? or that they cannot represent their own views? It all seems a bit defeatist to us. Also included is that members must:

‘Protect the integrity of the Alliance and not bring it into disrepute’

Again, what does this mean? Why would any group want to bring the alliance into disrepute? And what is the ‘protect’ element about?

We also see members must: ‘Not campaign or lobby in the name of the Alliance (this would not affect whether members campaign or lobby on behalf of their own organisations)’

Oh well, that’s good then and…in the spirit of incorporating others into the new world order, members must:

‘Identify existing groups/alliances/networks who may already be acting and could be engaged’

Already be acting….?

Anyway, the drive for members of the quango, sorry, new exciting network of disabled peoples’ voices was launched and anyone could join up, presumably providing they could understand exactly what the Alliance declaration and membership agreement actually meant. At the time of writing there are 102 members. As we seem to have waited so long to find out who they are let’s see if our anticipation has paid off…

Members of DAA so Far….

Members include some disability type organisations, plus: the Department for Works and Pensions, the Department of Climate and Energy Change and presumably the ODI. Also Lloyds bank is there and big charity Shaw Trust. There are a number of companies but no big names such as Atos or Capita which is reassuring, for the moment anyway; a couple of DIAL’s (taken over by SCOPE a few years ago), a regional unison, and a local council.

For those who filled out or took part in completing the consultation on the disability strategy (Fulfilling Potential), the outcome of the DAA is all slightly surreal. There we were with our disabled voices trying to affect change and here we are with a hotchpotch of unforeseen organisations who are going to talk about it-providing they get ‘permission to represent’ their? Our? the DWPs? Views-oh who really knows anything about what’s going on with this anymore?

There was more surreal stuff to come when the TUC Disabled Workers Committee were approached by the government to join the Alliance- eh? –‘approached by the government’ must have been some kind of an elongated typo on the TUC website there…but anyway they said no. Why did they say no?

TUC Disabled Workers Committee says no to DAA

According to a piece in Disability News Service and on the TUC website: the TUC disabled workers committee were approached by the Government-OK-so not an elongated typo- to join the DAA. They said no. According to the TUC web site, they said no because:

Disabled trade unionists feel very strongly that joining the DAA – an organisation recently set up by the Office for Disability issues to encourage groups representing disabled people to work together – would restrict the TUC’s ability to campaign against government policies that are affecting disabled people.

Representing disabled people? Does Lloyds bank really represent disabled peoples’ views or do the DWP or those other government departments?

No, we didn’t think so either. But Sean McGovern (chair of disabled workers committee) gets to the heart of the matter and maybe to the focus of the real disability strategy when he says:

The government has been attacking the living standards of disabled people for almost three years now and things are getting worse.

Unions are working with disabled people against these brutal and inhumane cuts, and are campaigning against the government’s unnecessary and damaging austerity drive.

The ATOS work capability assessments, the closure of the independent living fund, the switch from disability living allowance to the personal independent payment, and the bedroom tax – every single one of these changes is punishing and impoverishing disabled people and their families.

Joining this government-inspired alliance now would be to pretend that none of this is happening.

We want to see all disabled people and the organisations that represent them continuing to oppose government policy and not conned into becoming part of the problem rather than part of the solution.’

And this is exactly where any growth of a real disabled peoples’ led disability action alliance must be focused for anyone aware of what is really happening to disabled people under this government and its disability strategy

 You can join up at www.dpac.uk.net

We already have over 12,000 members and supporters, and not a government department in sight. You know it makes sense.

[i] Not to be confused with Disability Awareness in Action a user-led organisation

Mar 232013

In the court case taken by five disabled people against the proposed closure of the Independent Living Fund (ILF) , and supported by a campaign led by DPAC and Inclusion London certain documents were used. These documents are mainly correspondence between civil servants at the Government’s Department for Works and Pensions (DWP) and the minister for disabled people: Esther McVey.

These documents were released and declassified after the court case because they had been mentioned in the case. This is a summary of those documents.

Early analysis of responses to the consultation on ILF Closure (undated)

This document gives a breakdown of responses and several points for McVey to take into account. First, the consultation asked:

Question 1Do you agree with the Government’s proposal that the care and support needs of current ILF users should be met within the mainstream care and support system, with funding devolved to local government in England and the devolved administrations in Scotland and Wales?[1] This would mean the closure of the ILF in 2015.


Question 2What are the key challenges that ILF users would face in moving from joint ILF/Local Authority to sole Local Authority funding of their care and support needs? How can any impacts be mitigated?


Question 3What impact would the closure of the ILF have on Local Authorities and the provision of care and support services more widely? How could any impacts be mitigated?

 As we see never were questions asked on extending the ILF or keeping it open. In fact question 1 is what is called a ‘leading question’

In the documents DWP tell McVey:

       ‘As we expected with the current challenges facing the care and support system, the majority of ILF users are opposed to closure of the fund, with many doing so on the basis that there could be no guarantee that their current level of funding would be protected in the future’


           ‘A range of smaller national and local disability groups expressed similar concerns with our proposal. Some have been able to support the closures in principle but usually conditional on current user awards being protected as part of ring-fenced funding. The most vocal group has been the relatively new Disabled People against Cuts, DPAC. This group has taken a very strong critical position on a range of DWP policies’.

Yes we have and both Miller (our old mister for disabled people) and McVey refused to meet us and ILF users several times-in fact they didn’t even bother to respond to these requests!

We were very surprised to see this section advising McVey:

           ‘The consultation exercise has been immensely useful and we have been satisfied that we have listened to a collection of views that is representative of all those individuals or organisations that have an interest in or may be impacted by closure and devolution and have considered whether to modify the preferred position set out in the consultation in light of those views’ (emphasis added)

Amazing! Because if most said : keep it open, and if most said people would lose support or enter institutions, including responses from local authorities: what exactly did they listen to?

The documents recognize that ILF users will see a drop in support with some not being eligible for support at all

             ‘We do recognise that upon reassessment by LA’s most users are likely to see some reduction in the current funding levels, and there are a group of users with low care needs that may not be eligible for local authority support under current needs thresholds in most LA’s.’

The cost of closure will be £39 million! One document states that some of this has been achieved by the savings from closing ILF to new users in 2010. But closure cannot be publically defined as value for money-indeed!

        ‘The transfer costs mean that this proposal will cost rather than save money and therefore it cannot be defined as value for money. However the transfer costs are fully affordable’.

Not to ILF users they aren’t!

And wouldn’t £39 million, plus transfer cost be better put into ILF? Of course that’s not what they want to do, in spite of a consultation exercise where the majority appeared to say a resounding NO to closure.

Why did the DWP think it would Easy to Close the ILF?

One of the reasons given that the DWP found it so easy to close the ILF to new users in 2010 was the lack of any objections from the ‘big disability organisations’ which DWP call ‘Major Departmental Stakeholder Responses’ whatever that is.

In terms of the announcement of proposed closure in 2015 it was noted that none of these ‘stakeholders’ had requested a meeting with ministers from Westminster. Basically most had kept quiet, and hadn’t seen the closure of ILF as any big deal. Great support guys!

On this basis the DWP tell McVey in another document around the potential announcement of the closure in 2015

         ‘on the basis of attention shown so far, we do not think this will   receive  significant attention on its own…’

Guess they forgot about that vocal group DPAC and Deaf and Disabled Peoples’ Organisation: Inclusion London, because the closure of the ILF has now received significant attention in the UK and in Europe, at European Parliamentary level through MEPs and at UN level and we’ll make sure this continues.

Neither DPAC nor Inclusion London has the millions for campaigning that the big disability charities have, nor dedicated media, press and campaign teams. But we do have passion, and we do care about what happens to us all as disabled people, and we care what happens to independent living. ILF users taking the case and supporting the case have appeared on TV, on radio and in newspapers to get the message across that ILF is important and this will continue too.

Any journalists that want to know more or run stories can contact: mail@dpac.uk.net

So what did these so called ‘stakeholders’ say in response to the consultation? According to the DWP, there was not enough resistance at all.

In the early analysis document those who the DWP define as key stakeholders are broken down and their responses analysed. Below is what DWP said of their ‘Major Departmental Stakeholder Responses’ in the exact words of the DWP to McVey

 Carers UK-Weakly Disagree

-User packages would be reduced placing extra demand on unpaid care

Disability Rights UK-Concerned

-Lack of choice and flexibility under Local Authorities (Las)

-User packages will be reduced

-Poor perception and past support of Las

-Difficult for ILF users to transition easily

 Disability Wales- Strongly Disagree

-users packages would be reduced which could make it impossible to support ILF users in a family environment

-since the 2010 closure of the fund to applicants disabled people have had to start entering residential care.

-believes the government is targeting the disabled for cuts

-LAs could not cope with the additional workload

-Lack of choice, flexibility and dignity for ILF users under LAs

-Do not believe transitional protection will be offered

 Inclusion Scotland-Strongly Disagree

-The proposal would create a postcode lottery of support

-User packages would be reduced

-LA support is budget led rather than needs led

-ILF expertise would be lost

-Lack of choice and flexibility under LAs

 MENCAP-Pragmatic Agreement

-If reforms go ahead they should be about finding a better system, not cutting costs

-Funding should be allocated to LAs as a separate ring fenced funding stream based on current ILF regional spending patterns in which current users enjoy time-limited protection

-need for Government to provide advice and information to all parties

 MS Society- Concerned Agreement

-Consolidation of funding streams would simplify the care system

-The proposal should not be enacted until the impact of current welfare reform is understood

-Lack of choice, flexibility and dignity for ILF users under LAs needs to be addressed

-LAs need as far as possible, to replicate the personalised expertise of ILF

-Representative groups need to be closely involved in the transition design

 RNIB-Weak Concern

-Concerned that closure might lead to a breach of article 19 on UN Convention of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities

-Representative groups must be closely involved in transition design

-Current levels of support must be maintained

 SCOPE-Concerned Weak Agreement

 -Consolidation of funding streams would simplify the care system

-The proposal should not be enacted during current funding constraints

-The mainstream care and support system needs more experience and commitment to independent living to be able to undertake the responsibilities of the ILF

 Spinal Injuries Association-Disagree

 -Funding is likely to disappear into wider LA budgets on transfer

-ILF is more efficient than LAs


‘Rights not Charity’ seems very apt as the major charities for disabled people appeared to agree with the closure, after all more institutionalisation of disabled people might benefit them mightn’t it?  Disability Rights UK (DRUK) a so called user-led organisation incorporating, but clearly forgetting the principles of National Centre for Independent Living, did not offer more than ‘concern’.  The Spinal Injuries Association ‘disagreed’ but what this needed was for all to come out and say ‘Strongly Disagree’ as Disability Wales and Inclusion Scotland did.

 Remember that when the charities ask you for money, remember that when those groups that didn’t come out fully against the closure of the ILF say they are on the side of disabled people or are working for disabled people: we believe they can no longer justify either of those statements.

 The DWP told McVey that ‘stakeholders’ (SCOPE, DRUK etc)

‘..have traditionally found it hard to defend the ILF model of funding care..’

‘none of the largest national disability organisations requested ministerial meetings and many did not submit responses to the consultation. While we have had an increasing number of letters from MPs on users’ behalf, the proposal to close the fund has received almost no attention in the mainstream media’ (correspondence to McVey 7th November 2012)

We will work through more of the documents looking at issues on transition, and the DWP’s media strategy which is unsurprisingly at odds with any issues raised by disabled people-you know the stuff Closure of ILF will give ‘choice and control’ , ‘committed to supporting disabled people’ blah, blah, blah.

The big difference here is that it is clear from the documents  that the DWP are perfectly aware that ILF users will lose funding and that their needs won’t be adequately met through the local authority system.

Cuts versus Reform

Finally, the DWP were keen to try and put the message out that the closure of the ILF was not about ‘cuts’ but about ‘reform’ –what’s the difference? They do appear to believe that if they say reform we all think this is a good thing, rather than identifying that everything that comes under the heading of reform is actually another cut.

The documents cannot be clearer: this is a cut

A cut to the dignity, life chances and lives of disabled people-not just those who are currently supported to lead independent lives through ILF , but also those who would have qualified before closure to new applicants in 2010 and all who could benefit from the ILF system in the future

Support ILF users now; support a better future-say no to the closure of the ILF!







[1] Funding for ILF users in Northern Ireland is currently the responsibility of the Northern Ireland Department for Social Development, not the Department for Work and Pensions.

Dec 152012


 A central feature of this article is an attempt to not only provide a response to comments made by leading figures within Disability Rights UK (DR UK) but also to offer a critical explanation as to why DPAC holds the positions it does vis-à-vis those comments. Our aim is an attempt to bring into the light important political differences that underpin the struggle against the Coalition’s attack upon disabled people. DR UK in their comments have raised historical issues relating to past practices of the Disabled People’s Movement therefore we are required to look back and consider how the past does indeed impact upon the present

Before embarking upon this journey we believe it’s necessary to reflect first of all upon some of the issues that have come to the fore over the last twelve months because they help us to understand and give context to the issues that will be under discussion.  

 How then should we appraise 2012?

 There’s little doubt that over the last twelve months the savage nature of the Coalition’s austerity measures have become a majority talking point among the community of disabled people. It’s also important to recognise that many disabled people have done much more than talk; there has been a massive influx into anti-cuts campaigns, the growth of campaigns led by disabled people, for example, the Spartacus Report, Black Triangle and our own organisation. We have also seen a range of alliances formed that have also impacted upon the struggle against the Coalition’s austerity measures, the most significant being, the disability charity led ‘The Hardest Hit Campaign’ and the formation of DR UK. If this is what has happened over the year, how should we appraise it?

 Firstly, it would be wise to say that large sections of the community of disabled people remain in a state of shock; many live in daily fear of losing their services, homes and benefits, with others seeing this fear turned into reality. The year has also been peppered with reports of both deaths and suicides linked to benefit assessments and removal.

 Secondly, whilst we have seen positive signs of a growing awareness amongst disabled people, nondisabled people and sections of the mass media about the true agenda of this Government, there has also been a steady diet of hatred, misrepresentation and rising hostility towards sick and disabled people. 

 A major factor that can’t be ignored, hence being a central feature of this article, is the fact that alongside acts of solidarity and common cause we have also witnessed divisions and an increase in political arguments between various factions within the community of disabled people. At the centre of these divisions and political arguments one specific organisation stands out from the rest; namely, DR UK. DR UK was formed through a unification of Disability Alliance, Radar and the National Centre for Independent Living on 1 January 2012 and since that date it has hardly been out of the news as far as disabled people have been concerned. Through a series of high profile projects, nearly all initiated by the Department of Works and Pensions, DRUK has found itself criticised by a raft of disabled people’s organisations and individuals. Before looking at this in more detail let’s provide some context. 

 Among disabled activists who are from mainstream politics the turn of events we’ve witnessed will not come as too much of a surprise because politics is primarily about a battle of ideas in terms of providing solutions to problems. In our opinion the existence of divisions within the Disabled People’s Movement were less obvious until the mid-1990s when things began to reach a crisis point. Up until this point in time activists sought not to wash their dirty linen in public and there was a genuine consensus at the heart of the Movement around the demand for an end to social exclusion and a call for social change. The divisions began to appear when different approaches towards achieving these aims were voiced and the Disability Discrimination Act became law. Activists such as Finkelstein, Oliver and Barnes questioned the direction the Disabled People’s Movement was going in.  

 Just as Cameron was spinning a line when he said, “We’re all in this together”, there is a certain political naivety within the community of disabled people which still believes “we all want the same thing” – a political analysis of the last twenty years of disability politics, we would argue, shows that this might not be the case. This article can’t provide such an analysis because there’s too much ground to cover, however, as part of our discussion on the different political perspectives that currently exist we will signpost to significant areas of debate.

 One of the problems with looking at current political perspectives among disabled people and their organisations is that there has been a historical break at both an ideological and organisational levels. The recent unification of Disability Alliance, Radar and the National Centre for Independent Living for example brought together one organisation created by the Disabled People’s Movement and two who were never associated directly with the Movement and are considered to have very chequered histories. How should this “unification” be viewed? Here’s a partial explanation.

 The legacy of the Disabled People’s Movement

 The word intent when used as an adjective can mean: ‘…having the mind and will focused on a specific purpose’. When DPAC was created its prime focus, as indicated by its name, was to stand in opposition to the draconian policies being put forward by the Coalition government. In this sense I would argue that the very reason behind the existence of DPAC was its intent to muster resistance to a full-frontal ideological attack upon the welfare state and as a consequence the lives of countless sick and disabled people.

 DPAC therefore right from its early days outside the Conservative Party Conference stood against the actions of people such as Osborne, Duncan Smith and Grayling. Some of the faces in government may have altered over time but their intent also remains the same.  What kept us apart from delivering our message directly to them that day was row upon row of police. This was the visible presence of the power of the State and it would be foolish for anyone not to recognise that the exercising of power is one of the major factors underpinning global politics. DPAC believes that the lack of power in many different forms is the reason why disabled people remain at the margins of society.  
The creation of DPAC wasn’t a spur of a moment thing; a knee-jerk reaction to what the Coalition was doing. The roots of DPAC were firmly within the politics of the social movement we often refer to as the Disabled People’s Movement. A social movement is a collective identity around key demands for social change and it can be argued that the Disabled People’s Movement has stood for seeing disability as a social issue rather than a personal one. Disabled academic Mike Oliver spoke of the Disabled People’s Movement as a social movement because:

  • it was peripheral to conventional politics
  • offered a critical evaluation of society
  • embraced ‘post-materialist’ or ‘post-acquisitive’ values (e.g. non-exploitative or anti-capitalist in nature)
  • had an internationalist perspective

 Oliver also stated quite recently that a ‘…key feature of the disabled people’s movement has been its focus on social exclusion and oppression.’ As a direct consequence of this ‘shared perspective’ disability politics of the disabled people’s movement:

a) Placed an emphasis on self-organisation;

b) Had a commitment to radical political action to promote change;

c) Sought to improve the quality of disabled people’s lives and

   worked to promote their full inclusion into society

 It’s doubtful that many disabled activists would disagree with this broad picture, although some might suggest that over the life of the movement there were elements within the Movement that moved away from these politics or have subjected them to ‘reinterpretation’. One area that has been subject to detailed ‘reinterpretation’ is the idea of “disability rights” and it can be found in what is nowadays called the Disability Movement.

The rise of the Disability Movement

 Since the early 1990s there has been a growing tendency among charities, public and voluntary sector bodies to adopt both the language and concepts of the disabled people’s movement but in the process, gutting them of their original meanings and intent. It is quite common these days to see local authorities for example speak about supporting the social model or implementing what is called ‘independent living’ however any scrutiny of their policies and practices reveal their approaches are a million miles from those developed by the disabled people’s movement. The failure of the disabled people’s movement to address this issue and the unwillingness to discuss divisions within our own ranks openly has produced an unhealthy situation where the community of disabled people are witnessing conflicting approaches towards defending “disability rights” and not fully understanding or appreciating what lies behind these conflicts.

 There is not a single factor that led to these divisions. Tensions existed prior to and after the defeat of the Civil Rights Bill and the passing of the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA). Vic Finkelstein who helped establish the disabled people’s movement believed there was a too narrow focus on obtaining ‘anti-discrimination legislation’ whilst others concluded that the DDA was in fact a victory for disabled people – which goes against all the evidence that exists. The differing positions taken on the DDA was the first indication of a fundamental split within the Disabled People’s Movement and it resulted in a tendency emerging with a focus solely on protecting and extending “disability rights”. Here was a clear division between those that stood for radical political action to promote change and a revision of the politics of disability which offered a reformist agenda. Although the actual division is clear, the forces who make up the two camps isn’t necessary obvious. As stated earlier, some disabled people’s organisations and individuals moved away from radical interpretations of social oppression and began to open a dialogue with traditional disability charities such as Scope and Leonard Cheshire Disability who were ‘using the right language’ (sic). People such Tom Shakespeare argued these organisations had ‘changed’, but time and time again these charities have been found to be employing double standards – speaking about ‘disability rights’ one minute and promoting ‘disability as a personal tragedy’ the next.

 Many of the organisations involved in the ‘Hardest Hit Campaign’, including DR UK, are sending mixed messages to both disabled people and the Coalition. The outcome of this new ‘disability rights’ approach spearheaded by DR UK, Scope and Leonard Cheshire Disability is the formation of a Disability Movement which seeks to present disability as an ‘opportunity’ within the marketplace. The notion of ‘disability rights’ becomes little more than a question of consumer rights – is it little wonder then that Disability Works* and DR UK have the ear of the DWP? Suddenly social oppression is assigned to the dustbin; we are informed that everyone favours ‘inclusivity’ in an age of austerity where disabled people are becoming less able to access mainstream provision or live independently. An Orwellian nightmare is unfolding before our eyes.

 What has all this to do with DR UK?

 At DR UK’s recent EGM and within an interview with Disability News Service (DNS) both Phil Friend, its new chair, and Liz Sayce, chief executive, made a stout defence of DR UK’s involvement in the report that supported the closure of Remploy factories, helping the outsourcing giant Capita win a lucrative disability assessment contract and convening the new Disability Action Alliance (DAA). There’s little point in going over old coals as DPAC has reported upon these issues at various stages of their development however a number of observations will be made in relation to these issues as part of DPAC’s response to DR UK’s defence of its own political perspective. It is our belief DR UK is attempting to justify its practice and political stance by distorting the history of the Disabled People’s Movement by reinforcing backward-looking interpretations of major concepts that came from the Movement. At the same time as calling for dialogue with sections of the Disabled People’s Movement it would appear they are trying to discredit the politics these sections represent.

 DPAC will forward a response under a number of distinct headings and will use material from the article written by John Pring for DNS in order to focus the debate.

 History, Politics and Practice

 Liz Sayce is reported to have said that if the disability movement had only protested in the 1980s and 1990s – and had not engaged with the Conservative governments of Thatcher and Major – “we would never have got direct payments; we would never have got the Disability Discrimination Act”. There are a number of issues here that need addressing because this paints a completely false picture.

 It is not clear as to whom Sayce refers to as the disability movement – there has always been a distinct difference between the nature of relationships Radar had with the governments of Thatcher and Major and the relations they had with the British Council of Disabled People. More crucially, we need to consider the position disabled people were in during the time of these governments compared to the position we find ourselves in today under the Coalition. Thatcherism was no friend – excuse the pun – of disabled people. It changed the nature of society, exploited the benefits system for its own ends and began the early stages of the ideological attack we’re seeing today. At no time, and we’ll return to this later, did any Tory government wish to introduce anti-discriminatory legislation. Despite this poor record there is a fundamental difference between the outcomes and intent of the Thatcher and Major governments and what is being done to sick and disabled people today under the leadership of Cameron and Clegg.

 BCODP did hold talks but the nature of those talks were based upon making demands on governments, seeking to influence and change policies – far removed from the world of undertaking projects on behalf of a government or working with the agendas set by governments. Sayce implies we would never have got direct payments or the Disability Discrimination Act without engagement with governments – once again, there’s more to this than meets the eye as they say. At no time did BCODP lend any support to Hague’s Disability Discrimination Bill (DDB) and once the Civil Rights Bill had been knocked back, the leadership of campaign group Rights Now sought work alongside the Opposition in order to obtain any many changes to the DDB as were possible. It should be noted however that the main six disability charities – those who now form the bedrock of what Sayce calls the ‘Disability Movement’ – were quite prepared to go behind the campaign group’s back and discuss the merits of the DDB with Hague! Is it the legacy of this opportunist, back stabbing that Sayce is drawing her inspiration from?

The history of the campaign for ‘direct payments’ is also an extremely complex one with various accounts which explore the political and social implications of the demand from a variety of perspectives. As noted elsewhere the notion of ‘direct payments’ is one of the examples where the meanings associated with it vary according to which agenda one is seeking to address. The Disabled People’s Movement had raised ‘direct payments’ as early as the 1970s as a cornerstone of ‘independent living’ however a sizeable number of activists would question whether or not the current practices around direct payment actually fulfil its original intent. Outside the core of the Disabled People’s Movement there have been differing political positions taken on direct payments with a body of opinion holding the view that the notion can quite easily be accommodated into right-wing ideologies which favour individualism, the free market economy and the weakening of dependency on the welfare state. It’s obviously not possible to explore these issues here, however, they do represent key considerations when discussing the relationship between the campaign for direct payments and the numerous Tory and Labour governments’ response to it.

 It is crucial therefore to understand that the campaign for direct payments was totally unlike any other campaign stemming from the Disabled People’s Movement – it didn’t seriously challenge the nature of society as the demand for anti-discrimination legislation had done; it was something the State could, if it had a mind to, accommodate. Similarly, the idea of direct payments, just like the concept of ‘Independent Living’, found itself subjected to both reinterpretation and transformation by governments and certain agencies working with disabled people as the shift towards neoliberal policies gathered pace. DPAC would argue that it is no accident that DR UK has hegemony over these two ‘policy areas’ and that this is part of an emerging pattern which fits quite nicely with Cameron’s plans for a ‘Big Society’.

 DPAC doesn’t accept the argument that one can compare the approach taken by the Disabled People’s Movement in the 1980s and 1990s with the current antics of DR UK and its allies in the Disability Movement (sic). The Disabled People’s Movement for the majority of this period took a principled and political stance vis-à-vis government; only with the arrival of New Labour did we witness fundamental divisions which seriously hurt disability politics. What we have never seen so openly, until now that is, are politics that are based upon the Janus approach – looking one way they seek to convince disabled people, by mingling among us and using our language and methods of organisation, that they represent us – looking the other way, they are sat with their feet firmly under the table of those who are socially oppressing disabled people and in doing so, are prepared to participate within projects which are tied, no matter how one might try presenting them, to maintaining the continuous attacks on disabled people without any real challenge to government.

 Let us develop this picture further.

 DR UK and the Government: the Janus approach

 Phil Friend said in the interview with DNS that DRUK had decided it would “rather be in the tent talking to the government than outside the tent chucking stuff in”. The statement makes a good “sound bite”, but does it stand up to close examination? Within the same interview both Friend and Sayce make contradictory observations which they not only fail to readdress but in the process went on to undermine their own argument.

 The last fifteen years of disability politics have been characterised by both Labour and Coalition governments being very selective about whom they “talk with”. Anyone who is ‘invited’ into government projects has been carefully vetted and no one with a radical agenda has made the grade. As we have already indicated, forces within the ‘Disability Movement’, including some DPOs, are working within a “disability business model” and have shown their willingness to trade with the Coalition – Essex Coalition of Disabled People and DR UK are prime examples of this approach and are often quoted in government documents. Logic suggests, therefore, to be in a position to be ‘invited’ into the tent one has to be seen to have something either worth listening to from the government’s point of view or something concrete to offer them. Okay, here’s where we employ a terrible pun: what intent is behind being in the tent? What is it that DR UK can say or offer the Coalition?

 Whilst we pause to consider this point, it should be noted that Friend is also reported to have said: ‘….he felt the current government did not care about how disabled people would be affected by the cuts and that the disability movement needed to “sit down and really reflect on how we are going to wake them up”’. So, let us consider this statement. If the government needs to be ‘woken up’, because they don’t care about the impact of their cuts on disabled people, what on earth is DRUK talking to the government about within the tent? Perhaps it isn’t DRUK “talking”; could it be that their role within the tent is one of sitting quietly as Iain Duncan Smith and company outline their orders? These two statements by Friend fail to add up.  

   To add fuel to the argument Sayce said Disability Rights UK was a “non party-political organisation” and would “work to achieve disabled people’s rights whatever government is in power”. This, of course, makes another good sound bite, but what does it actually mean in terms of what they’re actually doing? We hear a great deal from DRUK couched in the language ‘disabled people’s rights’ however this seems to be an abstract mantra that is never spelt out in any meaningful way and is always produced like a rabbit out of a hat when Sayce feels cornered. How does getting pieces of silver from the DWP’s piggy bank to legitimate the government’s closure of Remploy or to run their ‘selective’ Disability Action Alliance (DAA) further ‘disabled people’s rights’? Being a “non party-political organisation” doesn’t prevent any organisation undertaking projects on behalf of the State, so this statement doesn’t count for much, does it?

 DRUK does like to employ the Janus approach when it comes to articulating its relations with the government and the Disabled People’s Movement. One minute Friend is talking about his preference of being inside the tent talking with the government, the next he is advocating an array of activities:

“Some of that is direct action, some of that is sitting in rooms with civil servants, and some of it is getting Esther McVey to actually hear what we are saying.”  

 Wait one second Phil; you said the government didn’t care about how disabled people would be affected by the cuts, so why would McVey listen to what disabled people had to say? Sayce also contributed to this Janus approach when she said that, as well as campaigning against the “unprecedented threats to disabled people’s income”, Disability Rights UK needed to look for “opportunities where we can” within the government’s agenda, “just as we campaigned against the last government’s coercive mental health policies but still worked with them to achieve gains in disabled people’s rights”. Look, there’s that mantra again. 

 It’s interesting that Friend points out that DR UK does help lead the Hardest Hit alliance, which campaigns against the coalition’s cuts, and that many of its staff joined the TUC’s anti-cuts march in London under the Hardest Hit banner. This seems to imply they’re still “good guys” really, but does it? Isn’t it also the case that within the Hardest Hit alliance there are forces who also adopt the Janus approach by campaigning against the coalition’s cuts one minute, and are climbing all over each other the next in order to get a slice of the Workfare cake? 

 Another worrying and questionable statement from Sayce was her comment to DNS that: ‘…. the proposed rollout of personal health budgets, which could increase choice and control for people with long-term impairments and health conditions and ensure they were “much less likely to be stuck away in an institution”’. There is no empirical evidence whatsoever to support this view, in fact, the exact opposite opinion is held by many campaigners seeking to defend both NHS and Social Care services. It begs the question: exactly whose ‘voice’ are we hearing here?

 Part of the function of the Janus approach, not necessary a conscious effort, is to alienate and distort the politics of the Disabled People’s Movement – e.g. make the “radical agenda” look unreasonable whilst taking its concepts and making them fit for accommodation into the status quo. Here are two quotations to illustrate this point:

 ‘Sayce told DNS later that DR UK and grassroots campaigning groups such as Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC) – which has led a string of direct action protests against the cuts – “all want the same thing” but were just “different in their tactics”’. 


 ‘Sayce warned that divisions within the disability movement over how best to campaign on disability rights would just “play into the hands of the government”’.

 Based upon the arguments outlined throughout this paper, DPAC would challenge these statements on a number of fronts. First, there’s no clear evidence that DR UK and DPAC share a common understanding of what is required or are seeking in material terms the same objectives. Simply broadcasting that one champion’s ‘disabled people’s rights’ doesn’t provide a satisfactory explanation of the mysteries of envisioned outcomes DR UK is seeking. Following on from this we would dispute the idea that the differences between DR UK and DPAC can be reduced to a question of “tactics”. In our opinion there are fundament differences regarding how we view the positioning of disabled people within society and the tasks required to alter this situation. DR UK may claim to adhere to ‘the social model’ however within central pieces of their work there are arguments presented that DPAC believes seriously calls this claim into question. Being opposed, for example, to segregated provision doesn’t indicate that there’s an understanding of disablism vis-à-vis service provision or inclusivity present. Any dialogue around the issue of sheltered employment coming from a social oppression perspective would and should include an analysis of the disabling nature of the labour market; especially within the current economic climate. Does Sayce’s report on Remploy operate from within such a methodology?

 DPAC, however, would agree with Sayce that divisions around how best to campaign on ‘disability rights’ (sic) plays into the hands of the government, but we understand that these divisions arise from conflicting perspectives and interests. Sayce and Friend are snugly sat in the tent happily assisting to create Cameron’s ‘Big Society’ and being handsomely rewarded in the process, but they’re badly mistaken if they believe organisations such as DPAC are impotently standing outside the tent hurling stones. Disability politics haven’t developed over the last forty years through just ‘throwing stones’, they include well researched arguments, theoretical and practical concepts and ‘unity in action between disabled people and we intend to bring all of these things into play to bring the tent crashing down around its occupants because only by doing this will disabled people’s interests be furthered. As part of the process we hope to empower the Disabled People’s Movement to reclaim what is rightfully theirs and put an end to the political magpies growing fat by living off other people’s labours

 Sayce made an appeal for dialogue with parts of the disability movement that have been critical of its relationship with the government. As we have shown elsewhere ‘dialogue’ occurs when you have something worth sharing and this moment in time it is hard to identify any meaningful purpose – other than afford credibility – in talking with DR UK. The last twelve months has seen DR UK make their own bed to lie in and when criticism has ruffled the blankets they have suggested that it’s all down to misunderstandings, wrong interpretations and ‘differing tactics’ – sorry, DPAC is far from convinced. Here’s the reasons why:


 DNS quotes Phil Friend as saying: “I am still of the view that the long-term future for disabled people is not separate workplaces and at some point that was going to have to be considered.”  What kind of argument is that? DPAC too understands the historical role sheltered employment has played in maintaining disablism, but this ‘understanding’ can’t be place in a vacuum where we can draw up a wonderful abstract ‘disability equality wish list’ that has no bearing on the reality of disabled people’s lives. Disability rights aren’t simply ‘entitlements’ to engage in the activities currently afforded to non-disabled people; they are social demands within specific areas aimed at transforming the nature of existing social relations to accommodate the needs and interests of disabled people. We are talking about social change that benefits disabled people. DR UK’s collusion with DWP vis-à-vis writing the Remploy report cannot be viewed by any stretch of the imagination as championing ‘disability rights’.

 On the one hand we hear Friend say they “… had supported Sayce’s decision to write a report on disability employment programmes for the government, even though there was “a chance that her report would recommend closures of Remploy facilities and that would mean disabled people would be badly hit”’ and on the other, DNS reports:

  Sayce added: “I believe the government was going to close the Remploy factories anyway. I think I got commitments to a lot of things from the government. We have to be vigilant in ensuring they actually implement them.”

 And exactly what can DR UK do if DWP stick two fingers up? The DNS article gives us a clue:

 They both raised concerns about whether those commitments were being implemented. Friend said he was not yet sure there had been “vigorous enough efforts to support employees in turning Remploy factories into social enterprises”. 

 An article in The Guardian quoted Labour Party sources as saying only 31 of the 1,000 workers had found fresh employment! 

 Disability Action Alliance (DAA) 

 It is interesting that when news broke about the new alliance the DWP’s Disability Unit was establishing, the UK Disabled People’s Council (UKDPC) knew nothing about it. Was it poor communication, a misunderstanding or a cover up? DPAC only asks because Sayce says, in the DNS interview that the Disability Action Alliance ‘…. would not replace existing engagement between disabled people’s organisations (DPOs) and the government, and that its role would be to advise on “implementation” of government policy rather than suggesting new policies. Does this lead to UKDPC and other DPOs sleeping any easier in their beds at night; DPAC doesn’t think so!

 So why had confusion and concern been expressed over DAA? Firstly, there were mixed messages coming from both the government and DR UK regarding DAA’s function. It is now reported that: ‘ … DAA would focus on how existing policies could be improved at a local level, for example how DPOs could be more involved in the new health and wellbeing boards.’ This of course begs a whole series of questions about who is involved, the ownership and purpose of the agenda, not to mention its positioning vis-à-vis Cameron’s ‘Big Society’ agenda. Within the interview Sayce did make two very telling points in relation to ‘the market place’:  

 ‘She said: “If I thought it was to be advising on policy and supplanting the role of the disability sector being able to talk directly about policy with ministers, I would be very worried.”’ 

 Later she went onto say: ‘….no companies would be allowed to join “for commercial gain”, and added: “If Atos joined, I would have to resign from the alliance.”’  Note the use of the word, “I” here ….

 These comments are all the more bizarre because there was already something in place for this purpose called the Network of Networks (NoNs). This was a collection of some of the more radical user-led organisations with previous good standing in the ‘movement’- note not big disability charities and not private companies. These organisations wouldn’t have agreed to that. Instead, this was a group of small and medium sized Disabled Peoples Organisations  commissioned by the Office of Disability Issues (ODI), part of the DWP, precisely to avoid the problems of domination by large monolithic national organisations. What happened?

 Three commissions were agreed, after one commission and a meeting for a second, maybe the ODI realised that these DPOs weren’t as malleable as they would like them to be. Perhaps they realised that groups arguing for the current authentic experiences of disabled people were unhelpful to any public relations exercise they might choose. By June 2012, communication was strained to non-existent with the ODI, by the time the Alliance was formally announced, it was suggested that these DPOs simply join DAA: there were no further plans for the Network of Networks-of the DPOs involved, one has collapsed, and several are struggling to remain viable at a time when active user-led DPOs are needed more than ever. The remaining DPOs still await a considered reasoning of their ‘dumping’ from Ms McVey and the ODI.  

 This new alliance has begun its work, however, gaining access to what it is doing remains difficult to obtain. There are disabled people who are still questioning how the DWP selected DR UK to lead this project in the first place.

 Capita, Atos and DWP 

 Sayce had to explain another confusion that had arisen in relation to DR UK’s role in helping Capita secure one of three regional contracts to assess claimants of the new personal independence payment. Once again a quotation from the DNS interview says it all as far as DPAC is concerned.

 ‘Sayce admitted her organisation had been involved in discussions with Capita to explore ways of “improving disabled people’s rights”, but that its trustees had decided – after the tender document was submitted to the government – that they would restrict their involvement to providing “rights-based information” about PIP.’

 Yes, read it again, because the nugget lies at the heart of this quotation. It was the trustees, not Sayce, who had changed DR UK ‘role’. The worrying thing about DR UK is the tendency it has to employ the Janus approach – flip-flopping between engaging and distancing itself from DWP and the department’s associates. Earlier in the year there was an article published in which DR UK said it was the DWP rather than Atos who should be criticised for the WCA assessment process, yet elsewhere they’ve pointed fingers at Atos itself. There’s an old saying: it’s harder to hit a moving target!

DPAC believes it can’t be alone in questioning the role DR UK has in relation to the Coalition and its policies. Friend and Sayce at their EGM and in the DNS interview go to great pains to demonstrate the ‘reasonableness’ of their position within the tent and at the same time infer the ‘unreasonable’ and ‘impotent’ activities of those outside the tent. It is a difficult balancing act – facing two ways at once, especially trying to wear other people’s clothes at the same time!

What we have sought to do in this article is to respond to Phil Friend and Liz Sayce by providing our own context and take upon the current political scene. We are working in difficult times where it isn’t always obvious who our friends and enemies are. One thing that is certain for sure, DPAC is intent to stay well outside the tent, because ‘we aren’t all in it together’.


 We want to make it clear that DDA (Disability Action Alliance) has no relationship to DAA Disability Awareness in Action – an organisation with long standing credibility focusing on disabled people’s rights at the international level


 John Pring’s Disability News Service which DPAC writers have used for some of the source documents for this article can be subscribed to here 

You can also follow John on twitter: @johnpringdns

Sep 252012

The United Kingdom Disabled Peoples Council Response to the Fulfilling Potential Disability Strategy issued by the DWP.
The United Kingdom Disabled Peoples Council (UKDPC) initially had welcomed the long awaited publication of the Government Disability Strategy, Fulfilling Potential.

This important document would have guided the implementation of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and been a public declaration of intent to support disabled people to exercise full participation in every aspect of society.

UKDPC was surprised and disappointed to find that the action plan, Fulfilling Potential Next Steps, has set out the intention of creating a Disability Action Alliance, convened by Disability Rights UK, (DRUK). This alliance is apparently intended to be a partnership of ‘organisations from the voluntary, public and private sector who have expertise and influence’.

UKDPC is unable to support this action based on the following:

  • The contracting of DRUK to convene such a group was not obviously opened to expressions of interest or tendering by any other organisation. Alongside the appointment of the CEO to lead an employment review commissioned by Lord Freud without public tender, this places DRUK in a position of preferred supplier to the ODI.
  • The continued contracting of DRUK by the ODI and the convening of an unaccountable group could be construed as the creation of a Quango, which is against the principals of co-partnership and accountability.
  • This is a ‘top down’ structure that excludes disabled people from setting the agenda or defining the terms of reference. The creation of this alliance by the government is antagonistic to the principals of the CRPD which advocates the value of consulting and full involvement of disabled people.
  • Without clear terms of reference there is the possibility that the service providers or corporate employers represented would have a potential conflict of interest, eg if participating in government backed schemes such as Workfare or if being awarded contracts determined by changes in the benefits system.
  • The use of the name, Disability Action Alliance, gives rise to potential confusion with Disability Awareness in Action, a human rights based disabled peoples organisation that closed last year, with a well earned respect not just within the sector but also internationally.
  • As UKDPC considers the convening of the alliance as a flawed process then it follows that the function of such a group would similarly be flawed.
  • UKDPC wishes to state these concerns publically, and calls for:
  1. The process of contracting DRUK as the convenors be questioned and an open response be sought from government.
  2. The potential for forming a Quango be questioned and an open response from government.
  3.  Any proposed alliance be guided by disabled people with agreed terms of reference drawn up by the participants.
  4. Any further move to implement this alliance be suspended pending the questioning and satisfactory response to these concerns.

DPAC says….

We’d also like to add some further concerns as the inclusion of corporate partners and private for profit partners is not something DPAC endorses due to the activities of ATOS, UNUM and CAPITA being involved in actions through government partnerships and contracts that have clearly led to devastating outcomes for many disabled people. These outcomes have impacted on the core principles of independent living, dignity, respect and equality for disabled people throughout theUK.

We also feel that involving those who will profit from their exploitation of disabled people is against the intentions of the UNCRPD and the involvement of disabled people in self-determination of their lives and may lead to a conflict of interests with DRUK’s ability to carry out their functions.

Jun 082012

The closure of the Remploy factories has ignited a wealth of media attention and strong feeling as well as differences of opinion between disabled people, and Disabled Peoples’ Organisations (DPOs) on the position of disabled Remploy factory workers. The now infamous Sayce report called for closure of the factories in the ironically titled: ‘Getting in, staying in and getting on: disability employment support fit for the future’. This was followed by a consultation exercise in July 2011 to which DPAC responded outlining the impact of the closure of the factories and urging that they remain open.

Since then, DPAC, DPOs, Unions, disabled workers, disabled and non-disabled people have been active on the proposed closures in a number of ways which have been publicised on the DPAC site. DPAC have invited Liz Sayce to comment, but she has not responded to our request.

Most recently the Sayce report has been accused of doing the Governments ‘dirty work’, as elitist and a part of the cuts agenda at the TUC Disabled Peoples’ conference. 

There was overwhelming support at the annual TUC Disabled Workers’ Conference for the campaign to fight the planned closure of the Remploy factories.

The government announced in March that 36 of the 54 remaining Remploy factories across the UK would close by the end of 2012, with the loss of more than 1,500 disabled people’s jobs, while there would be further consultation over the future of the other 18 factories.

The announcement was part of the government’s response to a consultation on last year’s review of employment support by Liz Sayce, chief executive of Disability Rights UK (DR UK).

Sayce called in her report for funds currently used to subsidise the factories to be ploughed into more personalised forms of employment support for disabled people, including the Access to Work (AtW) scheme.

But Mandy Hudson, from the National Union of Teachers, told the conference that the Sayce report had “gone about doing the government’s dirty work”.

And she criticised “the completely cavalier way that Liz Sayce’s report sets adrift a whole set of disabled workers”.

The disabled peer Lord [Colin] Low also criticised Sayce’s report, and said its “highly individualised approach… seems to smack of elitism”.

Read more of the article by John Pring including the Remploy protest outside the offices of DR UK by Remploy workers and UKUncut here  

 Opening up the debate

Since the government announced the closures, some DPOs have backed its plans, arguing that the move was one towards the inclusion of disabled people.

But Tracey Lazard, chief executive of Inclusion London, said:

This is a cut. It isn’t about inclusion. We shouldn’t let the government justify this in the name of inclusion.

She accepted that the disability movement has been divided on whether to support the closures, but she said:

What we need is a dialogue. This is us putting an alternative view forward which hopefully will get a debate going. That’s what we need. Read more

Letter to the Guardian

The publication of a letter against Remploy closures was published in both on-online and print versions of the Guardian on May 10. The letter was composed by Inclusion London, DPAC and unions. Many DPOs and disabled people signed in support of the Remploy workers. The letter was shortened and some names and DPOs were reduced due to space restrictions by the Guardian. This link  will take you to the letter with a link to the original letter’s wording. DPAC will be updating the names and DPOs that were left off the printed and online versions shortly. We asked Liz Sayce to comment, but she did not respond.

However, a response article to the letter was issued by DPO Breakthrough UK claiming that while they agreed with many aspects of our letter they could not join other DPOs in signing it and wanted to open up debate on the Remploy issue.

We agree with opening the debate, and provide a link to the thoughtful piece by disabled activist and comedian Laurence Clark published in the Independent: Remploy Closures: right in theory but where does it leave disabled employees?

Sean McGovern a former Remploy factory worker responded directly to the Breakthrough article

and Les Woodward a GMB convener and worker at the Swansea Remploy factory said of the Breakthrough article:

This article, unfortunately is typical of the “Politically Correct” brigades attitude to Supported Employment and the language they use to try and justify their positions…

Another unfortunate slant of this article is that it totally fails to take into account the effect on the workers themselves or indeed other disabled workers who given the present economic climate would give their eye teeth for a job any job. They would sell their soul for a job in Remploy that can provide skilled work, training and other support that employment in Remploy offers.

 I have said it many times and I will say it a lot more. No-one ever forced a gun to my head to work in Remploy, over the 28 years I have been employed by the Company, I have been free to leave at any time I wanted, just like any other worker in any other workplace.

 Of course whether or not I exercise that choice to leave is dependant not least on economic circumstances that I have found myself in and whether or not the alternative employment was viable in terms of remuneration or terms and conditions. No employment opportunities that can match those that I am on in Remploy have presented themselves as yet.

 No one would disagree with the aspirations of a fully inclusive society, and I for one would absolutely love to see the day when Remploy really was old fashioned and there would be no need for Remploy because we would have a fully inclusive society that caters for everyone. Unfortunately we live in a rather different world which is going further and further away from inclusion and equality of opportunity over the last 18 months or so rather than moving more towards inclusion and equal opportunity. The reason for this is that we are now governed by the rich for the rich and of the rich, while we get poorer and poorer.

 The ultimate shame in all this is that organisations such as the one who authored this article are wittingly or unwittingly collaborating with this Government in implementing cuts in the living standards of some of the very people they purport to support.

 Thanks a million to everyone that signed the letter, we really appreciate it and appreciate the support that you give us.


 We will provide more responses soon….

Previous pieces from DPAC and others

DPAC has always been transparent in its connections, actions and thoughts on the Remploy closures, which have been published on the DPAC web site, some of which we list here. We also include pieces by other groups

Remploy Closures: no segregated employment translates to unemployment for up to 2000 workers

DPAC Remploy Workers meeting London March 20th

Right to Work Pledges Support for Remploy workers

London meeting unites resistance to Remploy Closures

Furious workers hit out at Boss whose report led to Remploy factories getting the Axe

Demo for Remploy workers April 20th

Independent: Betrayed Disabled Workers protest against Remploy Closures

Fight the Remploy Closures

Remploy Public Meeting Thursday 26th April

Government accused of Hijacking Disability Equality Language to Justify Remploy Closures

The closure of Remploy factories is about cuts and cannot be justified by a misguided language of inclusion in a time when disabled people are facing the worse attacks on their inclusion, human rights and equality in UK history. Disabled people and DPOs need to support the Remploy workers rather than engaging in forms of ideological bullying that refuse to take into account the impacts on disabled peoples’ lives. Nor should they be so arrogant as to suggest that these workers shouldn’t have choice in where they chose to work. Less than 5% of Remploy workers in the last set of closures found alternative jobs, with some committing suicide-is this really something that we want to support for up to 2000 more disabled people under a flimsy Tory rhetoric of inclusion?


Dec 132011

A contribution to the debate on campaigning by a Socialist Party member active in the disabled Peoples’ movement

Following The Hardest Hit campaign’s dozen regional marches and rallies on 22 October where more than 5,000 disabled people, family carers and supporters demonstrated against the Con-Dem’s Welfare Reform Bill, its next ‘action’ on Tuesday 13 December is to send a giant Christmas card to David Cameron and Nick Clegg.

The card has been illustrated by Gerald Scarfe, partner of Jane Asher who as president of Arthritis Care was prominent on The Hardest Hit’s London demo on 11 May.

About 20,000 signatures or messages will be included in the card, double the original target.

The card reads:

Dear David Cameron and Nick Clegg, While we don’t expect gifts this Christmas, we do want our basic rights protected and the support to enable us to live independently and with dignity.

             Please make the New Year something disabled people can look forward to by:

  • Not bringing in an arbitrary time-limit on Employment and Support Allowance for those who’ve paid into the system and still need support.
  • Making sure that those who rely on Disability Living Allowance continue to receive the financial support they need through Personal Independence Payment.

Those disabled people who have signed the card physically or online did so because they support its message, but what is noticeable is both the limited demands and ambition of the charity directors and disabled activists running this campaign.

The Welfare Reform Bill is a continuation of neoliberal policies that have been promoted by successive Tory and New Labour governments since the 1980s, only the scope of this one is much broader as Cameron, Clegg and Osborne attempt to do what Thatcher, Major, Blair and Brown never dared and cut the welfare budget by £18 billion.

If passed in its present form, the bill will:

  • Introduce Universal Credit which on paper promises a simpler benefits system but will witness caps on housing benefit and other payments. 133,000 households in London will soon be unable to afford their rent, many of whom will be disabled people or carers.
  • Introduce a much stricter sanctions regime with the loss of benefits for up to 3 years, a risk particularly to people with learning disabilities or mental health needs who find it difficult to cope with the demands of looking for work at the same time as having little prospect of finding employment.
  • Replace Disability Living Allowance (DLA) with Personal Independence Payments (PIPs) with the explicit aim of cutting entitlement by 20%.
  • Time limit contributions-based Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) to one year, therefore from April 2012 people who were assessed even by the brutal Work Capability Assessment (WCA) as being unfit for work could find themselves on Jobseekers Allowance.
  • Abolish the discretionary Social Fund, Community Care grants and most crisis loans, with responsibility being placed on local authorities to provide alternative support.

Combined with the current programme to abolish incapacity benefit for 1.5 million, cuts in housing, social care and health services, the closure of the Independent Living Fund and huge increases in the cost of utility bills and essentials, the future for disabled people and their families looks bleak if the Welfare Reform Bill becomes law.

Limited Demands

The Hardest Hit campaign has for some months called upon the coalition government to: improve the WCA run by Atos Origin; abandon the plans to time-limit ESA; ensure Universal Credit recognises the additional costs of living with an impairment or disability; and make sure no disabled person loses his or her independence when PIPs are introduced.

It also confusingly combines these with a list of four things it wants to achieve: no cuts to services vital to disabled people; and the government to ensure that changes to DLA do not make disabled people worse off, that ESA works by improving the assessment process, and for the welfare system to support people with the additional costs of living with a disability.

What is striking about the two demands in the Christmas card is they are even more limited than the ambitions above.

Following an independent review by the peer Lord Low that was funded by Mencap and Leonard Cheshire Disability, the government has announced that mobility allowances will not be taken away from those disabled people living in residential care when PIPs are introduced.

But more significantly, following a second review of the WCA by Professor Malcolm Harrington, employment minister Chris Grayling has accepted its recommendations.

These include giving more discretion to Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) officers when making benefit decisions following the WCA ostensibly to reduce the number of successful appeals, ‘improved support’ for people pushed onto Jobseeker’s Allowance, and working with disability groups to help develop guidance for Atos Origin staff and DWP decision-makers.

It is vital the organisations involved in The Hardest Hit campaign distance themselves from any measures that support the continuation of the WCA.

The fear for activists is that the failure to even mention the limited demand of improving the WCA in their Christmas card is because The Hardest Hit campaign believes Harrington’s recommendations satisfy this.

Given that the simplistic, function-based questionnaire that makes up the WCA was introduced by New Labour as part of a policy to drive one million off incapacity benefits, and the WCA process will be used as a model for the reassessment of mobility and care benefits when PIPs are introduced from 2013, any demand short of the scrapping of the WCA would be a betrayal of both the thousands who marched on 22 October and the million plus whose income will be slashed by it.

Missed opportunity

Unfortunately, from the start the Hardest Hit campaign has failed to weld the enormous anger amongst disabled people and family carers against the Tory/Liberal coalition’s programme of benefit and public service cuts into a mass campaign to stop the Welfare Reform Bill.

The thousands who demonstrated in London on 11 May and across Britain on 22 October could and should have been organised into campaign groups in towns and cities across Britain.

The Hardest Hit campaign has been top down and focused on trying to amend the Welfare Reform Bill in the House of Lords rather than calling for it to be thrown out.

We have even witnessed in November the widely-respected independent peer Jane Campell arguing for the term Disability Living Costs Allowance to be used instead of Personal Independence Payments, instead of using her authority to condemn the Tory/Liberal proposals outright.

Whatever name is used won’t change the fact that hundreds of thousands will lose mobility and care benefits to achieve a 20% cut.

In its publicity material for their Christmas card, The Hardest Hit campaign says: ‘The Welfare Reform Bill is now making its way through the final stages in Parliament.

The next month provides us with our last real opportunity as a sector to influence the bill and we need to make our next action BIG and LOUD.’

Whilst some further concessions may be won in the next week, unless a mass campaign is built now to stop the Welfare Reform Bill, what will be introduced from next April will have a profound impact on the lives of disabled people and their families.

If it becomes law, the one thing though that will be BIG and LOUD will be the questions asked by many disabled people and family carers as to why more was not done to oppose such an obscene piece of legislation.

The Hardest Hit campaign

Some left-wing disabled activists have refused to take part in The Hardest Hit demonstrations, primarily because of the involvement of the Leonard Cheshire Disability (LCD) charity.

But this position ignores the central role played by the United Kingdom Disabled People’s Council (UKDPC) in The Hardest Hit campaign, with a new generation attending their first demonstrations becoming aware of UKDPC’S existence for the first time.

The opposition to LCD’s involvement stems from its role in developing and maintaining residential homes for disabled adults over the last sixty years.

A small layer of activists in the 1970s and 80s who were influential in the development of the disabled people’s movement in Britain were themselves residents in Leonard Cheshire homes because there were no alternatives in the community for people with complex conditions at the time.

Their long struggle to live independently forged for themselves and the broader movement they influenced a very strong opposition to the segregation of disabled people in social care, education and broader society.

While there are historical roots to the opposition to LCD’s involvement, it was mistake for some disabled activists and their organisations not to participate in The Hardest Hit demonstrations for this reason.

This isolated them from a new layer of disabled people on their first demonstration that they could have influenced with leaflets and other political material.

We do though need to recognise that at a national level the directors and leading trustees of some large disability charities see public sector cuts and the privatisation of services as an opportunity to expand their business side.

However, many thousands of disabled people and family carers who are members of these charities also currently look to them and The Hardest Hit campaign as the best option to defend their benefits and services against cuts.

It is vital the disabled people’s movement builds a bold, energetic campaign against both welfare ‘reform’ and the public sector cuts.

Particularly by developing a programme that articulates the day-to-day concerns and issues facing family carers and disabled of all ages and impairments.

But it is essential that such a campaign explains the neoliberal origins of welfare reform, the privatisation of public services, and attacks on pay, pensions and conditions.

In particular, the way the capitalist class are increasing their wealth at the expense of the working class and middle layers in society, producing contradictions such as 25,700 excess deaths of older people due to cold weather in 2010/11 whilst the top 1% enjoy their rich lifestyles.

Such an approach will help disabled people and family carers to develop the confidence to challenge those in both the impairment based charities and the disability movement who prefer to compromise or openly collaborate with the Tory/Liberal coalition’s agenda rather than face up to the task of building a mass campaign against cuts to services and benefits.

The disabled people’s movement must also be wary of being used by Ed Miliband’s Labour Party and as a minimum it should demand it drops its support for welfare reform and commit itself to opposing all benefit and public sector cuts.

But the natural allies for the disabled people’s movement are the millions of public sector workers who are moving into action to defend public services and their pay and pensions.

If the full resources of the trade union movement had been mobilised in support of The Hardest Hit demonstrations on 22 October they could have been many times larger.

It is also vital for disabled activists to develop links with trade unions at all levels if a movement to stop welfare reform is to be built.

Although The Hardest Hit campaign is likely to continue in some form after the Welfare Reform Bill is passed, it is questionable whether it will be more than just publicity stunts or a vain attempt to convince the better nature of MPs of all persuasions that their support for the worst aspects of welfare reform and public sector cuts is wrong.

Disabled people’s movement

However if the Welfare Reform Bill is passed largely in its current form it is likely to lead to a serious debate about the role played by disabled people’s organisations since the government coalition came to power.

Some organisations at a local level such as Inclusion London and the Norfolk Coalition of Disabled People have opposed the Con-Dem’s cuts from the start, and used their resources to both explain in detail the implications for disabled people and mobilise support for The Hardest Hit demonstrations.

The strong opposition of disabled people’s organisations at a local level certainly influenced the decision of the United Kingdom Disabled People’s Council to call the meeting in January that initiated The Hardest Hit campaign.

Unfortunately, while thousands have been mobilised on The Hardest Hit demonstrations, the UKDPC made a serious mistake by allowing this campaign to develop a limited set of demands based on a strategy of amending the welfare reform bill in the House of Lords.

It also maintains a misguided confidence in the role the Human Rights Act can play in defending disabled people’s rights – when in July the retired prima ballerina Elaine McDonald lost her Supreme Court case to defend her need for overnight care arguments in support of her human rights were a very blunt weapon.

The UKDPC is faced with considerable financial pressures and has historically relied on project grants from charitable trusts and government programmes.

Increasingly this kind of funding is linked to support for neoliberal policies and practices, placing considerable pressure on the ability of disabled people’s organisations to maintain principled rights-based work.

But the UKDPC is still seen by a majority of disabled activists as the national representative organisation for the disabled people’s movement.

It is vital though that it develops a programme independent of those charities and disability organisations that are prepared to support the privatisation of public services.

While funding itself and conferences to encourage debate amongst disabled people will always be a challenge, the UKDPC can potentially play a historical role in helping to build mass opposition to the Con-Dem cuts.

But the UKDPC needs to develop stronger links with the trade union movement at all levels and look to its considerable resources for support.

RADAR/Disability Rights UK

Whilst the UKDPC has emerged from The Hardest Hit campaign with increased authority, the opposite is true of RADAR, the Royal Association for Disability Rights.

At the same time as disabled people and family carers were becoming aware of what the Con-Dem cuts would mean for them and marching in their thousands on 11 May, RADAR’s chief executive Liz Sayce was carrying out an ‘independent’ review of supported employment services.

This was commissioned by the Tory/Liberal coalition as part of George Osborne’s Autumn 2010 spending review, and Sayce had the support of a team from the DWP.

When published in June 2011, the Sayce Review disgracefully included proposals to remove government funding from residential training colleges and the closure of the Remploy factories that could lead to more than 2,500 disabled workers being thrown on the dole.

Sayce’s review “is supportive of the direction of travel towards a simplified welfare state and the introduction of a new Universal Credit” and therefore supports a key component of the welfare reform bill.

So when thousands marched on 11 May to oppose this legislation, Sayce and RADAR were already giving it their tacit support. With a friend like Liz who needs enemies?

Sayce is now the chief executive of Disability Rights UK, a recent merger of RADAR, Disability Alliance and the National Centre for Independent Living.

When minister for disabled people Maria Miller announced on 13 December 2010 the closure of the Independent Living Fund on the grounds it was “financially unsustainable” – news to its 21,000 disabled users – she said the government had “consulted informally with disability organisations”.

The fact that representatives of NCIL and Disability Alliance were among these, and met Miller on the day of her statement, doesn’t suggest they will temper RADAR/Disability Rights UK’s cosy relationship with the Con-Dem government.

Disability Rights UK will continue to support Radiate, a network of disabled ‘high-flyers’ set up by RADAR.

While Disability Rights UK will attract support from the 1% of disabled people trying to break through the ‘glass ceiling’, the 99% who are locked in the basement and don’t know what the glass ceiling looks like will develop a deep mistrust of Disability Rights UK or any other organisation for that matter that fails to fight against cuts to benefits and public services.

Disabled People Against Cuts

One positive development in the last year has been the emergence of Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC) and campaign groups such as Black Triangle in Scotland.

While DPAC was mistaken in its decision not to participate in The Hardest Hit campaign, it has been important in the organisation of demonstrations that have successfully highlighted the impact of the brutal WCA run by Atos Origin for both New Labour and the Tory/Liberal governments.

DPAC’s first conference in October was attended by about 65 activists and demonstrates the potential this group has to organise not just dozens but hundreds of disabled people if it can successfully establish local campaigning groups across Britain.

As well as electing a steering committee and establishing a number of working groups, DPAC is developing a Charter of Rights for Disabled People.

This will articulate a broad range of demands that reflect the many issues arising from disabled people’s day-to-day experience of discrimination, exclusion and poverty.

It is vital that this Charter also sets out an explanation as to why neoliberal policies such as welfare ‘reform’, the privatisation of public services and the contraction of social care have been adopted by successive Tory and New Labour governments.

In particular, it needs to argue that the defence of services, benefits and what few rights disabled people have in the ‘age of austerity’ is inextricably linked to the success or failure of the anti-cuts movement – a struggle disabled people and family carers should play a central role in.

Finally, for socialists within both the trade union and disabled people’s movements, a key task in the next period is to link the defence of family carers and disabled people’s services, benefits and rights to the need to fight for a socialist society based on meeting social need rather than creating profit for a greedy minority.

The Socialist Party calls for:

  • No cuts in benefits, jobs and public services.
  • Mobilise now to stop the Welfare Reform Bill through a united campaign involving disabled people and carers’ organisations, trade unions and the anti-cuts movement.
  • Decent benefits, education, training or work for all, without compulsion.
  • No privatisation of services. Take back in-house all privatised services.
  • Sack Atos Origin and scrap the Work Capability Assessment.
  • A living wage and provision of respite services for all family carers.
  • Provide free health and social care services to all who need them.
  • Central government and councils to stop using children and family members as a substitute for professional social services.
  • A national campaign to save the Independent Living Fund.
  • Oppose the closure of the Remploy factories – expand them to create employment for both disabled and non-disabled people.
  • Massive investment in social housing, services and infrastructure to create jobs and meet need
  • A mass movement against all cuts and further coordinated trade union action to oppose cuts in pensions, jobs and pay if needed.
  • For a socialist society that puts the needs of the millions before the profits of the millionaires.

Source: https://www.socialistparty.org.uk/articles/13319/09-12-2011/fighting-for-disabled-peoples-rights