Mar 022011

DPAC is happy that James Elder-Woodward gave us permission to publish his speech given at the Welfare Reform: Who Benefits?  A major conference by Inclusion Scotland – Friday 4th February 2011, Glasgow

Welfare Reform Conference 4th February, 2011
By James Elder-Woodward

James Elder-WoodwardNow listen up – Disabled people are under attack

The forthcoming cuts to our welfare will devastate our quality of life and deny our human rights as never before. For the past twenty years or so, we’ve continually had welfare reforms – but they’ve always meant the same thing; cuts to our quality of life and further restrictions on our equality of life opportunities.

But this will be the biggest and deepest cut of all
By 2015
• The ILF will be no more
• DLA will be no more
• Incapacity Benefit will be no more
• £18b will have been taken out of the welfare system
• 3.5m disabled people will have lost over £9.2b of critical support
• Moving disabled people from Incapacity Benefit onto Job Seekers Allowance will account for half (£4.87 billion) of these losses.
• This represents a loss of £9k for each person moving onto JSA
• Only ‘severe and critical’ need will be meet by local authority social services,
• Which means our right to independent living, to family life and all our other rights under various UN Conventions will be seriously curtailed
• And probably countless other support programmes will have been cut or substantially reduced
• Including, more than likely, our own disabled people’s organisation; be it some social club, educational group, user-led service, or campaigning organisation
Never in the history of welfare reform will the lives of so many in need be so ravaged by so much, to meet the political agenda of so few in power

Because this is motivated by a utilitarian government who say, in order to make people work, you must make their lives hell; make them as poor as the proverbial door-mouse; poorer than the poorest peasant working in the field

Don’t get me wrong – we all accept the need for welfare reform

My God it’s a monstrous beast; complicated; dysfunctional; incomprehensible; illogical – you name it, it’s that.

Don’t get me wrong, either – we all agree it’s been abused

You’ve just got to watch “Still Game” on television to see how Winston abuses the system to get a home help or a disability benefit. Yes it’s comical, but it also mimics the very DNA of many in society that those on benefits are lazy layabout scroungers who need a good kick up the backside to find work

So programmes like “Still Game” don’t do genuine disabled people like us much good because we’re all tarred by the same brush. We’re all made to feel like dirt, not just by society, but by the very system which is supposed to be there to help us. We all have our own stories about how the system treats us. We all have heard the negative attitudes towards us as n’er-do-wells, feckless spendthrifts, and altogether no-gooders.

But isn’t it great how this government is using our social model to do away with our DLA

Yes, by 2013 the DLA will be no more. DLA, the only non-means tested benefit for disabled people designed to meet the extra cost of living with a disability will become the Personal Independence Payment. Like the DLA, PIP will have two parts to it; personal attendance and mobility. Disabled people’s call for independent living will be answered by the PIP, for the PIP will be based on the principles of independent living

But hang on a minute, according to this millionaire government – I call them this, because there’s more multi-millionaires around the Cabinet Table in number 10 Downing Street, than the whole of central Scotland. Anyway, they say by using the principles of independent living, this means if you have a self-propelled wheelchair; you won’t need as much mobility allowance, because you can move around independently.

I say: until I can get onto every bus and train by myself; until I can get into every Indian Restaurant, every butcher, baker and candlestick maker (if there’s any left) on every street – I need every penny of my mobility allowance

What do you say?

It’s reckoned that 360,000 disabled people will be affected by the demise of the DLA. What really gets my goat is taking away the mobility allowance from people in residential care. This will well and truly throw away their key to independence and participation within society, locking them within segregated care homes for good

But, this ploy of saying if you have an aid to daily living you don’t need as much PIP, along with others, like having to be reassessed every couple of years, will reduce the existing DLA budget by 20% – that’s a saving of £1.4b

I don’t know about you, but I don’t think I’m going to be cured of my cerebral palsy within the next two years – which means that any savings will be offset by expensive and degrading reassessments every two years. Nevertheless, half a million – that’s half a million disabled people will lose their DLA

This public school boy government; they are mostly public school boys anyway, who wouldn’t know a jammie piece if it hit them on the head from a tenement building; they say they want to provide “fair and progressive” reforms in public services, but what is “fair and progressive”; and what about the maintenance of quality of life and human rights.

There’s been a big debate over the need for universal benefits like child benefit and free travel for those over 60. Now I agree with universal benefits, if they are truly universal, not just based on age, like only the young and the elderly – why not disabled people as well?

I am sick and tired of being means-tested – aren’t you?

Why do we need to be the ‘deserving poor’ before society helps to remove the barriers society has created to keep us out in the first place? Why do we need to be means-tested before we can get help with our personal care, or house adaptations and technical aids? Why should only the ‘deserving poor’ be supported to exercise their citizenship? Why can’t we all be supported to exercise our rights of equal citizenship?

But that is the basis of our social welfare system.

The eighteenth century social philosopher, Jeremy Bentham, upon who’s thinking Victorian utilitarian welfare was based, thought that those on poor relief – that is welfare – should receive “less than the lowest peasant in the field”

Well these changes to our welfare benefits certainly make sure that will happen today – give the sick, the disabled, the unemployed less money, then they will be more motivated to go out to earn is their utilitarian way of thinking.

But how do you find work, when there’s no work there? How do you work, when there’s a mountain of discrimination against you in the labour market? How do you work, when there are cuts to the budgets of services and equipment to help you work? How do you work when social services won’t help you to get up out of bed in the morning?

All of this won’t be helped by taking £20 a week from you and putting you on a Job Seekers Allowance, just for one year, before taking it off you altogether. Then what will you do?

I wonder how I would fare today, if I were young and without job experience, as I was in 1970 when I left university. It took me and my careers adviser 546 applications before I got my first job. I’d be well and truly starving in the gutter if I had to find a job within a year. And that’s even if there were 546 job opportunities for me now, which I doubt
But it’s not just the quality of our lives that will be ravaged by these cuts – it’s our human rights as well. Believe it or not, but the UK government has actually signed several conventions on human rights, including the UN Convention of Rights for Disabled People.

This reinforces many of the rights of non-disabled people, including the right of privacy, family life, independent living; and most importantly the freedom from torture, inhumane and degrading treatment.

We have been hearing of people living on sandwiches and tea because they only get 15 minutes a day of home help. We have been hearing of people sitting in soiled nappies all day, because they can only get help to go to the toilet once or twice a day. And I have heard of home helps leaving the service due to work overload and a sense of guilt at not being able to do their job properly. One person had a workload of 40 people (or ‘tuck-ins’ as she called them) to see in a four hour shift – that’s 6 minutes per person, including travelling time. This really is a shocking state of affairs, which will only get worse as the cuts bite deeper and deeper

They say you’re never oppressed until you feel oppressed. Many of my contemporaries felt oppressed. Segregated in their family homes, unable to get out and do the things they wanted; even worse there were those in residential homes. They couldn’t even decide what to eat each day of the week. The gruel was just plonked down in front of them whether they wanted it or not.

Things have changed now, thanks to people like, Paul Hunt, Ken Lumb, Ken Davis, Mike Oliver and many more who saw their poverty of life opportunities, not as a result of their physical conditions, but as a result of the social injustice society was throwing at them. They did many a battle of the minds with many a politician and bureaucrat to win what little freedoms we have today

If not for their sake, at least for your own, join with us in the fight for our freedom movement. Let’s fight for our freedom of family life and privacy; our freedom of movement and community living; and our freedom from inhumane and degrading treatment.

Not all of us can go on a march; nor will many want to clash with police on the streets, like those students did before Christmas. But, like Ken Davis, Vic Finklestein and Mike Oliver, and all our predecessors, we can use our minds to argue, debate, use the new technology of Twitter and Facebook, to get our voices heard and taken note of.

Of course, some of us have and will march with others in protest. Disabled People Against Cuts are a loose connection of disabled people who demonstrated against the cuts in the streets of Birmingham last October. They have a three prong strategy; taking to streets; encouraging people to write to their MPs as well as visiting them in their surgery; and using social media, twitter, facebook, etc

I urge you to look them up on your internet under

Not everyone could go on their “Cuts will Kill” march last October; but if you look on their website you’ll find some of the many well wishers who posted their comments.
There are other sites on the web which you should take part in including
Hopefully, after this conference we’ll be able to circulate a list of sites to which you can contribute

And don’t forget YouTube
There are some really funny videos, some of which we’ve been able to download and play for you today, like “Liar, Liar”

Finally, we hope to join others on a quiet civilised march in March. “There’s another Way” march will be made in March, but Dave Moxham, General Secretary of the STUC will tell you more about that. I do hope, however, some of you will come along. It’s fun to be with people who feel as you do. The warmth of comradeship and common purpose, but to put it quite bluntly, if you don’t feel the pain – the pain of these cuts – you’ll be dead to the anguish others like you will be feeling

I urge you; feel the pain; feel the anguish; get angry; and react in anyway you can. For it is only by joining together, or by thousands of people doing their own individual thing – like putting your thoughts on paper, Facebook or YouTube – that such anguish suffered by so much oppression by so many can burst like a geyser, drenching this government of millionaires, for millionaires, in basic humanity and common sense.

James Elder Woodward

Vice Convenor of Inclusion Scotland