Nov 272011
 

The following is a letter of complaint to BBC led by Mad Pride and supported by the other signatories

We are writing to complain about a lack of balance in the BBC’s coverage and programming in relation to the government’s proposals for welfare reforms and benefits, and their implications.

Disabled people, unwaged carers, trade unions, low-paid workers and unemployed people have raised serious concerns about ‘mandatory work’ programmes that force people on benefits to work without pay. These pose a direct threat to the basic minimum wage, restrictions on working hours  and rules on unfair dismissal, and therefore to the pay and conditions of people in paid work. These implications have not even been mentioned, let alone been properly aired.

Instead we have a torrent of programmes aimed at stigmatising and demonising benefit claimants by highlighting benefit fraud, especially for incapacity benefit (“Britain on the Fiddle”, Panorama 3 November) and the ‘feckless’ who supposedly don’t want to work.  An impact of this wholly disproportionate misrepresentation of claimants as frauds and scroungers by some sections of the media has been cited as a direct cause of a reported increase in assaults and other abuse on disabled people, and to appearances parallel The Department of Work and Pensions own  propensity for distortion, itself criticised for the way it has released misleading figures and statistics that have been used to feed this biased propaganda.

Reality here is for the best part skewed by the BBC. Rates of fraud for disability benefits are the lowest – 0.3% to 1.9% — and are insignificant compared to the low amounts people are expected to live on, and the billions in underclaimed benefits.  People who can work should be entitled to a reasonable living wage and decent and safe working conditions.
http://statistics.dwp.gov.uk/asd/asd2/fem/fem_oct09_sep10.pdf

Many disabled people are not able to work. Many fear they will be wrongly ruled ‘fit for work’ by the revised ‘work capability assessment’ that has been much criticised. And for the many made unemployed through no fault of their own by the effects of the economic downturn – or passed over to unemployment benefit via assessment! –  they now face being forced into ‘mandatory’ work with no pay.

Our very real and legitimate concerns are not being aired. We have not been given an opportunity to make ourselves heard and understood.

Is it right that the BBC is part of this propaganda? Should a publicly-funded body engage in what is tantamount to the promotion of hate crime?

The BBC’s charter says it must show proper balance in its reporting and programming and should not be politically biased. It seems to us that there has been no proper balance and that the programmes aired show a political bias to promote and defend the government’s welfare reform, while hiding the views of those who will be directly affected by them.

We insist on our right to have our concerns properly heard and we demand the right to a full and effective ‘right to reply’ to help to counter the weight of the prejudicial propaganda put out by the BBC.

Disabled benefit claimants, unwaged carers and unemployed people are also licence payers, and we have as much right as people who are in paid employment to have a say in the content and conduct of the BBC.

We look forward to a response to start a process by which BBC Directors and programme makers can redress this current bias as soon as possible. This is a matter of urgent concern for thousands of people who have been barely managing to survive and are now faced with destitution or worse.

Claire Glasman- WinVisible
Ellen Cifford – Disabled People Against the Cuts
Joanna Long – Boycott Workfare
Dave Skull -Mad Pride
Johnny Void -Benefit Claimants Fight Back
Andy Greene – Islington Disabled People Against the Cuts
Paul Smith – Atos Vic tims Group
Richard Rieser- Co-ordinator UK Disability History Month
Warren Clarke – Boycott Workfare

The response received from the BBC goes as follows –

We have received a wide range of feedback about this programme and feel it is worth highlighting that considerable correspondence to us has been generated by online lobby activity. Bearing in mind the pressure on resources, the response below strives to address the majority of concerns raised but we apologise in advance if not all of the specific points you have mentioned have been answered in the manner you prefer. Please be assured we have raised your concerns with the programme and have done our best to issue a substantive response.

Panorama’s ‘Britain on the Fiddle’ looked at a number of issues surrounding public sector fraud, including benefit fraud, the nature and extent of the unlawful subletting of council properties, the issue of identity fraud and the misuse of blue badges. The programme also followed the work of some local authority fraud investigators and by doing so revealed how time consuming and costly inquiries into suspected fraud can be.

The programme made it clear that fraud effectively takes money from all of us, especially those in genuine need. On benefit fraud, including incapacity benefit specifically, the programme stressed that most people on benefits really need them and don’t cheat the system.

Far from concentrating on the economically deprived, the programme featured, for example, the case of a man claiming benefits to pay for a council flat whilst owning and running a pub business many miles away – travelling between both destinations in a luxury car.

Furthermore, the film featured fraud investigators tackling the misuse of blue badges. Many people have since written to Panorama to express their gratitude to the programme for highlighting the problem which causes them distress and much inconvenience.

We don’t agree that the cases featured in our film were extreme or were not broadly indicative of instances of benefit fraud. That is not the experience of the local authority fraud investigators who were kind enough to allow us to film their work. Dr Mark Button, from the Centre for Counter Fraud Studies said in the programme:

“I think a lot of organisations are not realistic about the levels of fraud that they face because in any organisation there are large levels of fraud that are undetected. So if they rely on detected levels of fraud they are not getting the picture of the levels of fraud within their organisation.”

Emphasising this, it is important to note that just recently the Audit Commission released its most up to date figures for detected fraud against local government which explains that these figures are only the tip of a very large iceberg.

We believe the programme explored a subject which is clearly in the public interest and did so in a fair and impartial manner.

Thanks again for taking the time to contact us.
Kind Regards
BBC Complaints

Jul 042011
 
hand palm with words'hands off'

hands off our services...

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

Rally of Birmingham City Council Meeting

5.00pm Tuesday 5 July 2011

Outside Council House, Victoria Square

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jun 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