Sep 062013
 

From  DPAC, Black Triangle and Mental Health Resistance Network action in central London:

So interesting that the Taxpayers’ Alliance got a free, media-wide pass yesterday to bitch again about people on benefits – on the very day that disabled protestors turned out in numbers in central London to demonstrate against the benefit and care cuts that are excluding them from work and from life (let’s not forget, what with all this Tory-Lib Dem-Labour faffing about the joys and rewards and glories of work, that some people can’t work, but still deserve and want to live. Which means they’re entitled to benefits). So. Pity, really, that I didn’t see Matthew Sinclair skulking round Westminster yesterday (I presume he lives in this country, or at least visits it). I may just have walked on over and offered to shove the morning’s various ironies right up his arse (I speak metaphorically, I am sure).

Another time, perhaps. Hopefully, even. In the meantime, here is some video from yesterday’s DPAC, Black Triangle and Mental Health Resistance Network protest in central London. This one is outside the DWP and starts with the line of underpants that people left out the front for Iain Duncan Smith. I gave some thought to leaving IDS the sweaty pair (was a hot day) of knickers I was wearing – on which I would have written that plenty of us (taxpayers all, btw Mr Sinclair) are happy to pay for social security, thanks very much. We certainly would rather pay for social security than for the chance to bankroll Iain Duncan Smith into pissing away whatever’s left of the exchequer on a second pass at Universal Credit.

There was a good turnout at the protest and clever targets, just as the BBC was a clever target on Monday. Yesterday, protestors paid visits to the Department of Health (to make the point again that Hunt has no mandate to cut and sell the NHS and that social care cuts, particularly to vital funds like the Independent Living Fund, will prevent people from participating in exactly the work and independence that the Taxpayers’ Alliance so publicly excites itself over) the Department of Transport (to campaign for the accessible transport which would aid independence in a way that endless government lip-service re: inclusion does not), the Department of Energy and Climate Change to protest about the fuel poverty many must live in while energy companies hoover up unreal profits, and the Department of Education to oppose government attacks on inclusive education. And last, but by absolutely no means least, the Department for Work and Pensions.

A few words on extremism

People carried and wore signs which read “proud to be an extremist”: a reference to the comments Paul Maynard made earlier this year: “Pat’s Petition, We Are Spartacus and other extremist disability groups that do not speak for the overall majority.”

I like to mention this so-called extremism in relation to many of the protests I attend these days. If I say so myself and I do – the things I have to say on this aspect of protest can’t be said often enough. It seems to me that we’re fast reaching a point where a mere objection will be described as extremist: a raised voice, or a sit-down protest (I thought of this when I watched a small group of anti-fracking protestors superglue themselves to the Bell Pottinger building a couple of weeks ago) is somehow translated by the mainstream as galloping insurrection (not that I would mind a bit of that either).

I make a couple of points here. The first is that sitting outside a government department and holding a banner which outlines your objections to service cuts is not extremism. It really isn’t. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. It really, really isn’t. Occupying a pavement outside the DWP and stringing up a row of underpants on which you’ve written a few rude words and drawn Iain Duncan Smith’s face (see video below – his face works brilliantly on an arse part) is not extremism. As I said during last month’s anti-fracking protests – gluing yourself to a building and refusing to move in protest at corporate plans to devastate your own planet is not extremism. It’s actually a very logical response to corporate plans to devastate your planet. By comparison, selling a public health service to your private sector mates when you’re in government – now that is extremism. It’s an extreme act. At the very least, it’s grand larceny. Taking public money from people who need public services and can’t get to work, or college and/or through life without those services, and giving that money to private companies – that’s extremism. Blowing big bloody holes in the planet with fracking gear is extremism. Those are actions that are likely to deliver extreme (read dangerous) results.

So.

The second point is that these protestors surely do speak for a majority. They speak for people who object mightily to the government’s cutting and selling of the NHS – see the Save Lewisham Hospital protests over the last year if you want to get a feel for that. They speak for people who are forced to watch as their fuel bills rise and rise as energy company profits grow. They speak for people who believe that social security ought to be a safety net for anyone in need, as opposed to a gravy train for the likes of Serco, Atos and Capita.

The problem is that more people need to hear them speak. This is where one of the major challenges lies. The political class does not want to hear these people and it absolutely does not want anyone else to hear them either. It was no surprise at all on Monday to find the BBC ignoring the protestors who’d shut down the BBC’s very own front entrance in protest at that broadcaster’s appalling “reporting” of benefit cuts, public sector cuts and austerity. No surprise either to find that yesterday, the enormous number of government and press worthies who inhabit the Westminster bubble and literally never leave it managed, somehow, to miss a large procession of people in wheelchairs, carers and supporters protesting in said bubble. A lot of tourists worked out that something was going on and asked questions (“what is happening? Is it a protest?”), but the silence elsewhere was loud.

The day finished with a lobby to deliver a disability manifesto – in, of course, a spectacularly inaccessible parliament committee room. At least half of the people who wanted to attend had to sit outside in the hall in their wheelchairs. That said it all, to be honest – a big bloody Up Yours from the government to everyone.

Reposted from the excellent Kate Belgrave with thanks http://www.katebelgrave.com/2013/09/protests-and-government-extremism/

Feb 012013
 

Many thanks to Kate Belgrave for letting us repost her blog and these great videos! Read also DPAC’s  draft position about the closure of the ILF.

 

This is the first of a collection of videos featuring people who will be directly affected by the government’s atrocious decision to close the Independent Living Fund (the ILF).

The ILF was set up in 1988 as a standalone fund which people with severe disabilities could apply to for extra money to pay for added care and support. That additional funding made it possible for people to live independently in their homes, rather than in residential care. For some people, the ILF paid for entire care packages. For others, ILF money was used to top up council funding for care. Most of the people who appear in these videos require round-the-clock care which – unsurprisingly – comes with a price tag.

In 2010, the Independent Living Fund was closed to new applicants.

Then in 2012, the coalition government announced that it would “consult” on the future of the fund for the ILF’s 19,000 existing users. The upshot of this was, towards the end of last year, an extremely unpopular decision to close the fund and devolve it to local authorities.

“In terms of independent living, this is the single most regressive action that the Condems could have taken,” DPAC’s Linda Burnip emailed to say. Indeed.

The money will not be ringfenced. It will be left to already cash-strapped councils to fund care for people with the most complex – and expensive – needs. That makes the whole prospect a complete shambles. Councils can’t meet demand as it is. Many are tightening eligibility criteria for care and have been taken to court for trying to restrict services, or for capping the amounts that they spend on claimants. Last year, as an example, Worcesterchire county council came up with a so-called maximum expenditure policy – meaning that if paying for someone to live at home with carers cost more than residential care, the individual would have to make up the difference themselves, or go into residential care – the sort of idea which would, as Sophie Partridge says in the video below, take everyone back to a time when people were hidden away in homes and made to sit around in incontinence pads.

So much for the advance of civilisation.

Penny Pepper

In this video, Penny Pepper – an Islington journalist and writer who has been receiving ILF payments for about 15 years – gives her views on the planned devolution.

The video starts with a few comments from Pepper about a letter (she’s holding it in the video) on the ILF closure which she received from her local MP Emily Thornberry – a letter that she says “doesn’t have any balls.”

Pepper requires round-the-clock care support. Islington council funds just over half of that. The ILF pays for the rest.

She believes that an independent funding structure like the ILF – run by people with disabilities themselves – is crucial to ensuring funding for people with complex needs.

She also says that she has found the political response to the government’s devolution proposal discouraging, to say the least. You’ll see in the video that she’s particularly disappointed with the response from Emily Thornberry, her local MP (I’ve asked Thornberry for her views on her own representation of people on this issue and had nothing back. Will keep you posted on developments if there are any).

Sophie Partridge

 

In this video, freelance creative practitioner Sophie Partridge, who is also a long-term ILF recipient and who also lives in Islington, voices similar concerns about a lack of political representation. She thinks that people with disabilities tend to serve as pawns in funding wars.

Any loss of care funding and hours could see her forced into residential care – an option that she says she will not contemplate. She says that councils should have fought harder to keep the ILF intact.

The lack of information that councils appear to have – or, at least, are prepared to release – about upcoming ILF responsibilities is purely amazing. Islington council (which part-funds care packages for Sophie Partridge and Penny Pepper) told me that it couldn’t predict whether or not it could match ILF funding, because the council “did not yet know the total amount to be devolved to local authorities.” Neither did the council know if it would need to fund extra staff, saying: “we do not yet know whether additional resources will be provided as part of the transition.” The council merely said, fluffily, that it would “always seek to meet people’s eligible needs in an appropriate way within available council resources.”

“Within available council resources.” Not a phrase to inspire confidence in this era.

Neither is this sentence [from the DWP]. “All disabled people, including those transferring from the ILF, will continue to be protected by a local authority safety net that guarantees disabled people get the support they need,” runs the fantasy that the DWP has posing as a ILF press release. A couple of weeks ago, I had an utterly painful phone conversation with a DWP press officer who insisted (and insisted) that the department’s ILF devolution plans must not be reported as a “cut.” I can see from your website that you write about cuts and this is not a cut! the press officer said several times. Loudly. It’s not a cut!

My two cents as I wrote in this short piece in the Guardian: if you believe that, you’ll believe anything. ILF recipients certainly don’t: a group of claimants has started court proceedings to challenge last year’s “consultation” on the closure. It’s the wider context that is the issue here. Council budgets and services are being obliterated. As things stand, an increasing number of councils now only fund people whose needs are assessed as substantial or critical in fair access to care bands. Being placed in the substantial or critical bands is no guarantee that your needs will be met, either. I’ve interviewed people who already struggle to pay for the care they need: this Lancashire woman, for example, who had been placed in the substantial band, told me that she had to stay in bed on weekends, because her care hours didn’t stretch to Saturdays and Sundays. This Cheshire woman, who was also in the substantial needs band, had run out of care hours on the day that I visited. I found her alone in her home lying next to a sick bucket. Who honestly thinks that the future holds local authority safety nets?

The early day motion which calls for MPs to fight the ILF closure is here.

 

Dec 132012
 

Cross posted and with thanks to Kate Belgrave

Ever since disabled man Geoff Meeghan was trapped in an Atos assessment centre a week or so ago when a fire alarm went off at the centre there’s been much discussion about the accessibility – or otherwise – of the buildings that Atos is using to hold work capability assessments for the employment and support allowance. ESA is a disability allowance, so it follows that a lot of people who must attend work capability assessments are wheelchair users and/or people who have mobility problems. You’d think that at the very least, buildings would be properly adapted to make entering and leaving those buildings as easy as possible for everyone.

Au contraire.

I took the video below in September when I accompanied DPAC campaigner Patrick Lynch and his carer Stephen to the assessment centre in Archway where Patrick’s WCA was to be held. I’ve uploaded it here to give you an idea of the rubbish which passes for accessibility in some of these centres.

As you’ll see in the video, the front doors at the centre wouldn’t open. A woman who was smoking a cigarette out the front came over to show us how to open the doors – she pulled them open with her bare hands. The “lift” was a single platform squeezed into the right-hand side of the groundfloor entrance. To call the lift, we had to hold the call button down and keep it held down. The door into the cupboard (which it was, literally) which housed this platform opened outwards, into the path of the wheelchair. Once inside, the platform only started moving when the call button was held down. It certainly took more than one person to operate everything.

I don’t know what would have happened if there had been a fire. Using this lift for escape purposes would have been challenging, all right, especially if you tried to fit more than one wheelchair in it. There may have been a brilliant, if not brilliantly obvious, escape route out back, of course, but if there was, nobody told us about it. Would we have had to find it ourselves?

Kate Belgrave

See also: DPAC Survey responses on WCA: Atos and DWP Exposed