Archive for February, 2012

WRB Will Be Made Law But It’s Not The End

So that’s it.

Tonight Lord Best forwarded an amendment to the WRB, asking that the government did detailed research on the impacts of the bill so that if it does – as many fear – cause more harm than good it can be dealt with quickly.

Lot’s of Lords spoke in support but eventually Lord Freud convinced the Peer that his amendment was not necessary and Lord Best withdrew. Now there will be no more ping-pong between the Lords and the Commons. The bill will become law. It just has to get Royal Assent, and that is a given.

It’s so sad to think that all the amendments put forward to help those who are vulnerable have systematically been denied by a blinkered government waving ‘finacial priviliage’ at any hint of Lords opposition.

Is this the end? No.

The big fight is just beginning.

Lawyers and Human Rights specialists are gearing up to fight it as are we. Remember the Poll Tax made law but was eventually defeated. We can work towards more protests and direct actions in the coming year.

The PIP consultation is currently ongoing so we have a chance to mitigate some of the damage it might cause. Go to and you will find easy read documents, help and a sheet you just have to fill in to send off to the DWP so your voice is heard. There is even a forum you can join to get help and meet others like you. I’m making the most of it šŸ˜‰

In a couple of years we’ll have another general election and we can show the government exactly what we think of them. We’ll also have had our chance to get our stories out nationally by then.

It’s important we try to make this a major area for Labour and other parties to focus on so they don’t forget the WRB should they come back into power. We can keep up the pressure there.

And those are just the first things off the top of my head.

Let’s no get too disheartened about this, there is still plenty more we can do.Ā 

The Green Party Opposes ‘Availability For Work’ Testing & Current Government Contractors

This Saturday 25 Feb 2012, Green Party Spring Conference 2012 passed a ‘Record of Policy Statements’ [RoPS] motion that proposed clarifying major differences between the stance of the Green Party of England & Wales vs the consensus of the other parties. RoPSĀ  statements work as guidelines for elected Green Party MPs while we doĀ  not have a sufficient majority to implement Green Party policy as government policy.

The synopsis for the ‘Availability for Work’ motion reads:

“Pending the introduction of a Citizens Income*, which will remove the Ā perceived need by the government for ‘availability for work’ tests, the Green Party believes that such decisions remain within the remit of the NHS.”

Alan Wheatly, who proposed the motion made a quick speech in support which went as follows;

“Friends, elected Greens, grassroots Greens and disability benefit claimants inside the Green Party and beyond, this motion seeks not just to bury the involvement of dodgy unaccountable companies in the lives of vulnerable people.

“It seeks also to make life worth living for those that other parties portray as excessive baggage, for whom the Hippocratic Oath is a luxury. Atos Healthcare tells its trainee
Examining Medical Practitioners: ‘You are treating claimants, not patients.’

“The friendly amendment [changing reference to ‘own GP’ to ‘within a publicly owned NHS’] has my name to it and reflects e-mail and workshop discussion. The private sector despises vulnerable people, and individual GPs are not omniscient, but a publicly owned NHS is wiser and Ā more all-embracing.”

Happily the Record of Policy Statement motion was passed unanimously and so the following wording will be recorded into RoPs:

“The Green Party has a commitment to the introduction of a Citizens Income which will mean that the need to test ‘avilability for work’ is no longer required. In theĀ  meantime we believe that decisions about whether someone is healthy enough to be required to be ‘available for work’ should be made within a publicly owned NHS.”

In short, as far as the Green Party of England & Wales is concerned, it opposes the Unum/Atos approach that the other major parties either celebrate or tolerate.

* For those who do not know the Citizens Income would replace social security benefits and would be a non-means tested, non-taxable, non-withdrawable income paid to everyone so that no-one goes without. It would be topped up by wages and would allow people greater freedom of choice in their lives. It is written about here and a leaflet on the subject can be downloaded here

A Quick Update

I’ve not really been able to sit and blog in the last couple of weeks, which I am sorry about. I have been having trouble with a condition flaring and writing is just one of those things that has been too hard. I don’t think I’ve had a night where I’ve got more than 2 hours uninterrupted sleep in the last fortnight and it has eaten away at my ability to really do much. I’m sure many of you have often been in the same boat.

Still, I have been trying where I can to keep myself busy with useful work and I’ve had my favourite ‘fight back’ song playing as inspiration.

Mis-Shapes by Pulp – a transcript of the lyrics is at the bottom of the post.

The Welfare Reform Bill will be back in the Lords tomorrow. The Peers will consider the amendments made by the House of Commons, which was to refuse the Lords amendment on the “Bedroom Tax”, and they will most likey back down. If the Lords pass no more amendments then the WRB will get Royal Assent (because the Queen really has no power over what she signs or doesn’t) and it will become official. If you want to remind Lords to actually turn up and debate the WRB after the Health Bill, as well as explaining that we are watching then I listed I lot of ways you can contact them here.

So far the government haven’t accepted one amendment and the Lords haven’t forced the issue so an awful lot of nastiness has been passed already. The real struggle is going to be providing support, information and care for those who will be hit by the reforms in the all too near future. That is what I’m starting to focus on and it’s taking a lot of work. I don’t really have anything solid to show for it yet but hopefully in a few months I should be able to write something positive about it all.

Moving away from the WRB, I’m pleased to say that it’s International Women’s Day on March 8th. Given that today the guardian reports that there have been massive failings found in the way Police in the UK handle reported rape’s “Only three out of 43 forces keep up to date area profiles, while 2,131 reported offences were logged as ‘no crimes’” I think it’s clear there is still a fair way to go before women get equality in this country.

That said, On Saturday March 3rd Million Women Rise is holding a huge march & rally in London to coincide with IWD. I’m going to be making the hectic trip to London with my powerchair and I know quite a few other fantastic people will be too, hopefully I’ll get a chance to see some of you there! It promises to be a wonderful day.

Transcript of Lyrics:
Mis-shapes, mistakes, misfits. Raised on a diet of broken biscuits, oh we don’t look the same as youWe don’t do the things you do, but we live around here too. Oh really. Mis-shapes, mistakes, misfits, we’d like to go to town but we can’t risk itOh ’cause they just want to keep us out. You could end up with a smash in the mouth just for standing out.

Oh really. Brothers, sisters, can’t you see? The future’s owned by you and me. There won’t be fighting in the street. They think they’ve got us beat, but revenge is going to be so sweet. We’re making a move, we’re making it now, we’re coming out of the side-lines. Just put your hands up – it’s a raid yeah: We want your homes, we want your lives, we want the things you won’t allow us. We won’t use guns, we won’t use bombsWe’ll use the one thing we’ve got more of – that’s our minds.

Check your lucky numbers, that much money could drag you under, oh. What’s the point of being rich if you can’t think what to do with it? ‘Cause you’re so very thick. Oh we weren’t supposed to be, we learnt too much at school now we can’t help but see. That the future that you’ve got mapped out is nothing much to shout about. We’re making a move, we’re making it now,We’re coming out of the side-lines. Just put your hands up – it’s a raid. We want your homes, we want your lives,we want the things you won’t allow us. We won’t use guns, we won’t use bombsWe’ll use the one thing we’ve got more of – that’s our minds.

Brothers, sisters, can’t you see? The future’s owned by you and me. There won’t be fighting in the street. They think they’ve got us beat but revenge is going to be so sweet. We’re making a move. We’re making it now. We’re coming out of the sidelines. Just put your hands up – it’s a raid. We want your homes, we want your lives, we want the things you won’t allow us. We won’t use guns, we won’t use bombsWe’ll use the one thing we’ve got more of – that’s our minds. And that’s our minds. Yeah.

WRB Is Back In The Commons

This morning (about 25mins ago) my local MP, Gisela Stuart tweeted that the Welfare reform Bill will be back in the House of Commons. Now, like most activists I’ve been watching the orders of business for Parliament looking out for a mention of the WRB and I’ve been pretty shocked nothing has been put up.

It looks like they are sneaking it in today under the title ‘Consideration of any Lords Amendment‘. I don’t know about the rest of the anti-WRB movement but this rather dirty trick to keep it off our radars (and therefore stop the frantic campaigning) seems like a win for us. By trying to hide it away they are showing exactly how much power campaigners have and how scared of us they are.

I’m going to do some more digging for clarification, I’ll pop any new developments up here.

Update @ 11.15 – just seen that they have changed the schedule to actually say clearly that they are debating the WRB amendment.

That amendment is of course, the Bedroom Tax. Under the WRB proposals those who have a second ‘unneccesary’ bedroom will face having to pay about Ā£14 a week extra.

Of course the government has not told me where I am supposed to find a one-bed home for under Ā£100 per week that has enough room to store bulky equipment, like in my case, a powerchair, a manual wheelchair, bathing equipment and a second bed for when I am in too much pain to sleep but need to be in bed so my partner can sleep before work the next morning. So far none of the social housing we have seen has the room (and we are ‘lucky’ enough to be so desperate as to have made it onto the housing register).

Workfare For The Sick & Disabled

I’m a bit angry and normally I wouldn’t write in this kind of mood, but I think something needs said about this straight away.

Remember when Philip Davies MP came under fire last year for suggesting disabled people work for less than minimum wage? Do you remember how everyone, even members of his own party (Conservative if you hadn’t guessed), called him a prat and ignored him? Well, it seems that some of the coalition took him seriously.

Today’s Guardian leads with the story that disabled people might be forced to do unlimited unpaid labour in exchange for benefits;

I’m sure you’ve all heard about workfare. It’s the governments welfare to work ‘experience’ programme in which they force those who are claiming JSA to work full-time stacking shelves at a successful retail store (with no guarantee of a job at the end of it all) for nought but bus fare. As JSA is such a pitifully small amount, it means that people engaged in workfare are earning a whopping Ā£1.50 an hour, paid by the government, not the shops they are staffing, for doing the same work as someone else earning over minimum wage.

The government seems to think that CV’s that don’t state 6 months compulsory shelf stacking at Tesco are the reason that unemployment is rife in our country. Not the fact there is on average 1 vacancy for every 5 unemployed people. In reality all they are doing is giving major retailers even less of a reason to hire staff. Why would you hire someone to work for over Ā£6 an hour when the government will provide you with someone who will be forced to do the job for free?

Initially it looked like this scheme was simply being directed at those on JSA (which was bad enough) but now it has been shown that they are planning to roll it out to those ESA claimants in the Work Related Activity Group (WRAG) too!

The WRAG is for people who cannot currently work because they are too sick or disabled, but may, in the future be able to do some paid employment. It is not for otherwise fit and able to work people with disabilities and it’s not for people with a cough that will be gone in a fortnight. I’m in the WRAG simply because where I cannot work at the moment, there is a slim chance that one day (which could be a decade or more away) my condition will improve and I’ll be able to work. Also one should bear in mind that ATOS assessments to decide which groups people are placed into are very often found to be incorrect. Many in the WRAG should actually be in the Support Group, but have been poorly assessed.

Still, they are planning to force people like me to start working unlimited hours of at one of their workfare providers, if we don’t our benefits will be cut or stopped. Of course if we do then we will presumably be booted to JSA as we ‘prove’ we are capable of some work.

NAWRA says “This proposal is very worrying. There are completely inadequate legal and medical safeguards ā€“ bearing in mind that these are people with long-term health problems and disabilities, often serious ones. Compulsory, unpaid work may worsen some people’s health, with the consequences of the DWP’s savings being passed on to the NHS at greater cost. If jobs are there to be done, people should get the rate for the job, instead of being part of a growing, publicly funded, unpaid workforce which, apart from being immoral, actually destroys paid jobs.”

Disability Rights UK adds,Ā  “…it is questionable whether genuinely disabled people should be under mandatory and often inflexible systems when the focus for many should be on managing health conditions or rehabilitating after an accident or injury.”

The RCPSYCH also raises concerns about “the capacity of relevant members of staff in Jobcentre Plus and work programme providers to make appropriate decisions about what type of work-related activity isĀ suitable for claimants with mental health problems”.

I shall let you know if I get drafted into workfare. I will try and grab some pictures as I lean forwards in my wheelchair and vomit all over a Poundland. Or I will grab some quotes from customers as my PTSD gets triggered and they get to watch me having a flashback, I may even punch one as I try to fight for my life. Or I may even try record the reactions from staff as I sit for hours in a staff room crying and screaming in agony with my bowel obstructed downing Oramorph. It’ll be great.

If, like me, you don’t think workfare is a decent, humane or even possibly legal idea and you fancy doing something about it then there is a government e-petition you can sign here. You can contact your MP and ask them to lobby against it. You can also follow Boycott Workfare’s website or twitter feed.

Contact Lords About The Return Of The WRB

It’s been confirmed, the Welfare Reform Bill (WRB) will be back in the House of Lords thisĀ  coming Tuesday. Valentines day. One year after the DLA consultation we fought with the one month before heartbreak campaign ended.

Labour peers are saying they plan to try and fight for the women, the vulnerable, sick and disabled once more. I believe the party is once more going to challenge the bill at every step.

If we want to fight this bill and push once more for amendments that protect people against the damaging effects of this bill we need to act together once more. We need to convince Peers that the fight is not over and that justice and fairness for all can be achieved.

If you want to help and contact a peer (or fifty) you can do so in the following ways;

On Twitter

Type a message such as “When the #WRB returns on Tuesday please act to protect the vulnerable by curbing its cruel excesses” and copy and paste it to easily get your message over. The Lords are human and will respond as any human would to personal messages. Why not link them to any good pieces about the WRB on your blog whilst you are at it? The following lists are taken from LabourLordsUK on twitter

On Facebook

Send a slightly longer message to individual Lords by posting on their Facebook pages. You could direct them to the Resposible Reform Report (aka Spartacus Report). That way everyone can see your questions and messages adding a little bit of extra pressure.

I’m trying to find lists of all Lords of Facebook, but for now the best way of finding them is either to;

By Post

If you chose to write to them simply address your letter to [Name of the Lord], The House of Lords, London, SW1A 0PW. Making the letter personal, no matter how short, will really help.

If I come across a good template letter I will paste it here for those with trouble writing.

The Lords ignore bulk mailings if they are not individually addressed then they will not get read and you will have wasted the cost of a stamp.

By Fax

You can fax individual Lords, send it to 020 7219 5979.

Like with letters the Lords ignore bulk faxes, each one must be individually addressed.

By Telephone

You can even telephone the main parliamentary switchboard and ask if you can be connected to a specific Lord by calling 020 7219 3000 or you can leave a message by calling 020 7219 5353.

By Email

If you click on the name of a Lord on this list as well as getting a pretty picture of the person in question and some history, you will also see their email address listed in their contact details. Tell them why the WRB is unfair and damaging and why you would appreciate their help in fighting it. Maybe you could give them a link to the Responsible Reform report too?

Best of luck to you all x

On Disability, Fraud, Distrust & Abuse

This post is going to be about the bits abuse and bullying I have had since becoming disabled. It may be triggering for some.

Edited to add: A version of this post is on the Guardians CiF peoples panel with regards to negative attitudes faced by disabled people.

I think the most humiliating thing to happen to me is when (often drunk) men try to grab at my breasts and face if we go out on an evening. Something that fortunately didn’t happen to me until I became a wheelchair user*. I think it’s because I’m an easy target, if my breaks are on I can’t turn away and, anyway, who would believe someone would grope a wheelchair user? We are often thought of as asexual and almost alien. I don’t often talk about it because I feel ashamed and embarrassed which is made worse by having been treated a couple of times I have complained like I am either making it up or should be grateful. A nice mix of sexist and disablist stereotypes fuels those myths. I’ve never contacted the police, I doubt a drunken boob grab from someone I can’t identify will be acted on. All that would happen is they would ruin whats left of my evening.

Where that is humiliating, the bit that actually hurts the most isn’t sexual harassment. It is that people regularly approach me when we are out (especially when my carer has stepped away for a bit) to ask questions like “Do you really need that wheelchair or are you doing it for the money?” and “I saw you move your leg! Are you just too lazy to walk?”. Every where I go I’m subjected to a grilling from strangers with regards to my disability, my employment prospects and my lifestyle choices. I feel like I have to defend myself to these people because if I don’t they assume I’m a faker, but in defending myself I have to share the painful story of my disability and some very personal details about how it effects my ability to live. I have developed a fear of being left alone in my chair because that’s when people most often come to ‘talk to me’ about my disability – just to make sure it’s real. Last December my city held a big Christmas market and I decided to attend. I was told to “Go home” repeatedly and mocked loudly by various people for both my appearance and for having a wheelchair all the way through. Not all cruelty is direct, the indirect “This isn’t a place for you” when it is clearly a public area is also very damaging. It’s like you are being pushed out and told you don’t belong in public. If it was done online I’d call it concern trolling. I came home and cried and couldn’t go near the city centre again until after it had gone. That kind of thing happens every time I try to go out to somewhere with lots of people and it’s just not good enough.

I associate this rise in abuse with a huge rise in public distrust & vilification of people who are disabled. I think that is fuelled by disproportionate the amount of negative stories in the media (often coming straight from the DWP) which paints the majority of those who claim disability benefit as fraudsters land manipulative scammers. There are a lot of faulty assumptions made by the which are fuelled by poor reporting such as; the assumption DLA is an out of work benefit ā€“ it isn’t, the assumption you just get a free car when of course you don’t, and the assumption you don’t need evidence to claim disability benefits which just isn’t true.

In reality Ā£16 billion in disability benefits goes unclaimed in the UK. There is a 0.5% fraud level (ignoring DWP error) yet thanks to the unbalanced reporting in the media the general public assumes the level is much much higher. As a result of this kind of distrust we can see a witch-hunt beginning. Disability hate crime is up 75% according to government statistics, many reporting that those attacking them often use scrounger or similar as a term of abuse. In 2009/10 a massive 96% of calls to the national benefit fraud hotline were found to be malicious or time-wasting though I’m sure most of the people that rang in were sure they were shopping a scrounger. The government needs to take serious steps to address these issues and to raise public awareness of the reality of living as a disabled person in the UK.Ā 

* although I am aware it happens to other non-disabled women a lot too

WRB Back In The House Of Commons

Today the Welfare Reform Bill is back in the House of Commons, as I type the 7 amendments passed by the House of Lords are being debated. Sadly only a few MPs could be bothered to debate the issue, the rest will simply turn up and vote, probably in line with the party whips.

I’ve tweeted every Liberal Democrat MP I could find on twitter to ask them to vote with their hearts, not with their whips and I’ve sent emails to other MPs but sadly I can’t manage anymore. Saturdays action coupled with a busy Sunday has taken every last bit of energy I could muster. On Monday I got ill and I’ve not yet gotten better. I’m resigned to my bed, unable to sit up without crying, walk without screaming or eat and drink without vomiting. I am sleep deprived because of the pain and sickness and I’m emotionally drained.

The concessions put forward by IDS do nothing to help protect the disabled, sick & vulnerable. At best they give them a little longer to ‘adjust’ before being catapulted into a life of personal poverty at worst or financial dependency* on another at best.

If you want to see or read more about it then…

The WRB is being live blogged by the Guardian here.
You can watch it get debated here.
There is a list of Lib Dem MPs on twitter here – just click on each name and paste in your message.
Soina Poulton has written a wonderful piece about it for the Daily Mail of all places here.

* lets not forget how much more likely those who are financially dependant on another are to be abused.

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