Apr 092014
 

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Reposted from the OCAP site with thanks

Austerity is Global – so is our resistance!

The Raise the Rates Campaign is excited to announce an Ontario-wide speaking tour this coming May 2014 of Ellen Clifford from Disabled People Against the Cuts (DPAC) UK.

Who is DPAC: The Cameron Government in the UK has implemented brutal cuts to programs for unemployed and disabled people. This includes a system called the Work Capability Assessment that has been used to deny benefits to thousands of people. Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC) is an organization in the UK that has been at the forefront of challenging this situation. It has mobilized disabled people to fight back and formed alliances with community organizations and unions in resisting the austerity measures of the Cameron Government. The hated private company, Atos, that was carrying out the assessments of sick and disabled people has been forced to quit as a result of the powerful resistance DPAC and others have taken up.

Here in Ontario, we also face major attacks. Ontario Works (Welfare) and ODSP (Disability) rates are too low to enable people to pay their rent and eat properly. The Special Diet and Community Start Up have been slashed by the Ontario Liberal government. Under huge pressure from ongoing community action, the Liberals have promised not to merge OW and ODSP but the danger remains that they will bring in a UK style assessment system that would pose a huge threat to disabled people on ODSP. We need to understand what is happening elsewhere and how people are fighting back and winning against the attacks. Austerity is global – but so is our resistance.

From May 4-15th, Ellen Clifford from DPAC will be visiting Toronto, Kitchener, Sudbury, Kingston and Ottawa. She has been campaigning with the disabled people’s movement for 15 years and, since 2011, has sat on the National Steering Committee of DPAC. She is also a member of Unite the Union and works to build solidarity between workers in unions and those forced to live on social benefits.

Details of the tour, with times and places for meetings will be announced soon. Visit: raisetherates.ca for the full schedule & for more information call the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty at (416) 925-6939
Join the Raise the Rates Campaign Today!
Raise the Rates is a campaign to fight poverty by raising social assistance rates in Ontario. Jointly organized by the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty (OCAP), the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) Ontario, Sudbury Coalition Against Poverty (S-CAP), Kingston Coalition Against Poverty (K-CAP), Poverty Makes Us Sick Waterloo Region, Poverty Makes Us Sick Ottawa, OPSEU and other grassroots anti-poverty organizers and trade union allies from across Ontario. We are a growing movement united in fighting for:

• Raise Social Assistance Rates 55%: reverse the cuts, raise the rates!
• Restore Special Diet and Community Start-Up Benefits
• Stop the Attack on Disability Benefits
• Living wage for all: Raise the Minimum wage above poverty wages

 

For more see http://www.ocap.ca/node/1148

Visit: RaisetheRates.ca
https://www.facebook.com/RaiseTheRates
#RaisetheRates

 

May 292013
 

“The government have managed to get away with causing misery…and there hasn’t been an outcry because they’ve wrapped it up in all this language of reform”

Ahead of the national day of protest against welfare reforms this Saturday, we caught up with Ellen Clifford – one of the organisers of the Benefit Justice Campaign. In this first part of the interview, we talk about the Campaign, divisive tactics and the need for unity.

Ellen Clifford - Benefit Justice Campaign/DPAC

Ellen Clifford – Benefit Justice Campaign/DPAC

For those that don’t know, could you tell us a bit more about the Benefit Justice Campaign, how it came about and why now? 

The Benefit Justice Campaign was set up by three campaigns, DPAC – Disabled People Against Cuts, Defend Council Housing and the Right To Work Campaign. We came together in January of this year because the people that we represent were being hit on all sides by cut after cut after cut from this government and we wanted to unite together to form a campaign. So rather than disabled people campaigning on our own, we want to be with council house tenants who were going to be hit by the bedroom tax, and with unemployed workers, and we also wanted to unite with workers through the trade unions because the government has been using a lot of divisive rhetoric about benefit scroungers and the difference between strivers and skivers, and we wanted to come together and overcome a lot of those myths, that a lot of people who are being hit by the benefit cuts are actually in work. And what the government is doing affects people in work and out of work – so to provide a combined campaign to oppose it.

Why have the government been pushing this striver vs. skiver debate? 

Well it was very effective and it has been very effective over the last couple of years. People have actually thought we really need to reform the welfare state. A lot of people talk about the need to stop all these people having a lifestyle on benefits. So actually the government rhetoric has been really effective, and what they’ve managed to do is they’ve managed to get away with causing misery and pushing many, many thousands of disabled people – the poorest members of society, into poverty. That’s what they’ve been effectively doing, but they’ve got away with it and there hasn’t been an outcry because they’ve wrapped it up in all this language of reform and saying that these people are taking all the taxpayers’ money, and trying to point the finger at people that don’t really exist. There aren’t people choosing to live a lifestyle on benefits because it’s ‘such a wonderful life’.

A lot of people would say we’ve got this national debt, so there has to be cuts. ‘Everyones feeling the pinch’, so what would you say to them?

Yeah, not everyone’s feeling the pinch. There’s a certain section of society that really isn’t being affected by it. Meanwhile, there are sections of society that are being hit over and over again. So research that came out recently from the Campaign For a Fair Society, showed that the poorest members of society are being hit harder than anyone else. But they also showed that disabled people with the highest level of support needs, people with complex and severe disabilities, are being hit 19 times harder than the average person so there’s no way ‘we’re all in it together’. There are some sections of society who are being deliberately targeted harder than anyone else.

“Austerity is lining the pockets of certain sections of society.”

Meanwhile, the Sunday Times Rich List in April showed that the 1000 wealthiest UK residents increased their wealth by £35bn last year. So some people are getting richer out of this actually. Austerity is lining the pockets of certain sections of society.

So why aren’t we attacking rich people more?

I think some sections of the population are, but we mainly do that through social media, through our own blogs, or through the left wing media maybe. Certain elements of the right wing media certainly have fallen in with the government and they will reproduce the government statistics which are shown to be misrepresented most of the time.

A Previous Defend Council Housing Protest in London Image: demotix.com

A Previous Defend Council Housing Protest in London Image: demotix.com

You already have a lot of support for the campaign, but how do you get to the people who are a little more shut off? There must be people who would maybe stand with you and support you, but they aren’t aware of what is going on. How do you get to them, and how do you get them to act?  

And it’s the isolated people who are more likely to be in trouble because they’ve got no support so it’s about reaching those people. I think through social media DPAC has got quite an online presence. We’re very involved in Facebook and Twitter and social media, and people find us through that because people are looking because they don’t know where else they can turn to. So that’s one way, but of course people don’t all have access to social media and the internet, and what we’re seeing increasing is local campaigns being set up and just going around, like I was doing on Sunday, just knocking on doors in estates where people are affected – so actually meeting people in person.

At the Benefit Justice Summit a couple of weeks ago in Westminster, you had many organisations coming together for different struggles – around 37 from around the country including DPAC, Hands Off Our Homes, Manchester vs. Bedroom Tax and so on. There was a lot of talk about unity, and coming together – why is that such a strong message right now?

I think people are feeling that because we’ve been attacked for the last couple of years and we haven’t managed to change it yet. The government have done some small U-turns – for example the bedroom tax exempting children with severe disabilities. But, we’ve never got them reverse the direction of welfare reform so I think people want to come together en masse to try and mobilise, to try and fight against the bigger things that are happening – essentially to get the government out and that’s only going to happen if everyone campaigns together.

Find out more about the Benefit Justice Campaign here.

Join us for the second part of the interview on Thursday.

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With thanks to Real Fare please follow this excellent blog

http://realfare.wordpress.com/

 

 

Jun 032011
 

Indications of shock and disbelief came from all quarters of social media from watching the Panorama program Undercover Care: The Abuse Exposed. While I had to force myself to watch, it was sadly not news for me. Like the whistle blower, disabled people have long been voicing our misgivings about how people with learning difficulties[i] bear the brunt of disability hate crime. It is not so long ago that Fiona Pilkington committed suicide [ii] because she could no longer bear the abuse; she contacted the police no less than 13 times in the year of her death.

When a case such as the Panorama program highlights these real occurrences, there are knee jerk reactions and  righteous noises about the support workers – and rightly so, some of them were arrested. But these abuses are, sadly, not rare and it also misses the crux of the issues.

These support workers were working in an environment (and society) which has no respect or regard for disabled people. They see them as ‘patients’ to be restrained and vent their boredom in bullying and abusing the people in their charge to pass their time. There was no supervision, no managerial support. It’s all very well to vilify them but there are some bright ideas afloat that unemployed people should be sent ‘to serve the community and take care of disabled people’. Disabled people are held hostage by the label as the ‘most vulnerable’, as subjects to be ‘taken care of’ and also, in this scenario, as punishment. Support workers are badly paid and as we can see in the program, scarcely trained. I am fortunate enough to know many support workers who care about the people they support in the community but these sterile ghettos/ care institutions where people with learning difficulties are kept locked up are not the type of places they would chose to work given a choice. These ‘inmates’, because that’s what they are effectively are rather than patients,  are not for all intents and purposes, ill. They are disabled people. Moreover the  treatment meted out to them by being kept in such institutions causes additional mental health issues.

Clare Wrightman, Director of Grapevine, Coventry, a charity that helps people with learning disabilities to grow their lives tells us:

‘As an advocacy organisation we know that people with a learning disability are on the receiving end of abuse and ignorance, especially in the new institutions. In the Panorama expose independent advocates were completely absent. Our workers are a vital part of safeguarding the most vulnerable.
Why did we close long stay institutions run by the State as part of government policy only for local government to commission new ones from the private sector? People can be supported to live in their communities close to the people who really care about them’

Ellen Clifford, who has worked within the People First movement said:

One point I do think needs to be made is how traditionally there is such a risk averse approach to support for people with learning difficulties, favouring segregated institutional based care. This programme shows  the extent of the dangers that are faced by people placed in exactly those type of settings that are purported to be safer for them as opposed to being supported to live independently in the community.

She continues:

the Quality Care Commission (QCC)  clearly failed when it was given evidence of abuse on a plate which it ignored. There needed to be improvements in its systems. However as Panorama rightly identified, the core issue is that locked institutions should not be allowed to exist. The programme at times described people as “not being able to look after themselves” and as having the mental age of children, however that approach fails to recognize the abilities, talents and contributions which all people with learning difficulties have; as one of the programme experts said at the end, there is no reason why any of those people could not live better in the community with support.

The privatisation of care homes must be seen as a factor contributing to the existing abuse at places such as Winterbourne. Private companies are seeking to make a profit from an industry which is already severely underfunded, the outcome can only be inadequate quality of support with the subsequent incidences of abuse. Supporting people with challenging behaviour is a complex and difficult job which requires intelligence (high levels of both IQ and EQ), understanding and training. You do not get support workers with that mix of skills and attributes for the kind of wages that the the so-called care sector pays. Not when you consider the executive salaries which are also paid out to the Directors.

The coalition government is pushing for a Big Society but without state intervention and regulation to ensure people get the support they need, there is every danger, as the Panorama programme provided evidence, of cultures of abuse becoming more widespread and accepted.

The programme highlights the key value of user led organisations: one of the experts described how the staff cannot have viewed the patients as “human beings just like them” in order to have engaged in the treatment they did. Where disabled people are visibly part of service commissioning and provision we can provide a constant reminder that we are indeed people just like them. If we don’t want people in our society to be abused as seen on Panorama then society needs to invest in our organisations.

Jim Mansell from the Tizard Centre, Kent University was one of the experts in the programme. What is highlighted on the Panorama programme is already detailed in a chilling report by him and his colleagues.[iii]

What we want to know is when is this austerity driven government going to see that this privatised, institutionalised care is not cheaper but that it costs disabled people and their families dear in depriving them of their human rights to live independently with support in the communities that includes them.

—-Eleanor Lisney


[i] Disability hate crime needs to be tackled  http://www.guardian.co.uk/society/2011/jun/01/disability-hate-crime-keith-philpott

[ii] Fiona Pilkington case: police face misconduct proceedings http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2011/may/24/fiona-pilkington-police-misconduct-proceedings

[iii] Exploring the incidence, risk factors, nature and monitoring of adult protection alerts, Jim Mansell et al.

https://shareweb.kent.gov.uk/Documents/adult-Social-Services/adult-protection/tizard-report.pdf