Archive for June, 2012

Reversing Recovery Report

The grass roots team that brought us the Responsible Reform Report (known to many as the Spartacus Report) have launched a new report called Reversing Recovery. You can see pdfs of the summary or full version by clicking these links and if you go to the website there are links to accessible formats too. 

For those that don’t have time to read the report here is the press release whic nicely summarises the main points raised by Reversing Recovery; 

New report warns car industry to lose out under welfare reform plans

A new report has highlighted the dangers to the UK’s economy following an analysis of the impact of welfare reform on the motor industry.

‘Reversing from Recovery’, published by the WeareSpartacus campaign group, analyses figures supplied by the Department for Work and Pensions and Motability, the organisation that supplies lease cars to disabled people claiming Disability Living Allowance. The report focusses on some of the impacts of the government’s plans to reform Disability Living Allowance (DLA), and its proposal to remove 280,000 disabled people from claiming the higher mobility rate of DLA, which currently qualifies them to lease a car under the Motability scheme.

The analysis estimates that, under DLA’s replacement benefit, Personal Independence Payments (PIP), there will be a 27% reduction in the number of working age disabled people, and a 17% reduction in the number of disabled people overall, qualifying for the Motability scheme. 

Motability’s publication ‘Economic and social impact of the Motability Car Scheme’ (2010) identified the scheme’s contribution to the economy through employment generation and tax receipts. The new report shows that welfare reform plans will lead to a domino effect including the loss of:

·         3,583 jobs (from 21,080 jobs to 17,497 jobs in Motability-related industries)

·         £342 million contribution to GDP (from around £2 billion to £1.67 billion)
·         £79 million in tax receipts
·         Up to £324 million contribution to GDP from disabled people’s ability to undertake paid work.

Jane Young, an independent disability consultant who co-authored the report, said: 

“It’s not just disabled people who will lose out under the Government’s welfare reform plans. Changing from DLA to PIP means fewer people qualifying for Motability cars to the tune of about 31,000 fewer vehicles a year. Less demand means fewer jobs for the car manufacturing industry, a lower contribution to GDP and the exchequer, and a knock on effect on the availability of cars in the second hand market, which also contributes to the economy.”

The report also raises concerns about future investment in the UK by car manufacturers, given the demand for new cars is going to drop as the government phases in its plans.

Rob Parsons, an Open University lecturer who also contributed to the report, added: 

“We must remember, of course, that part of this picture is the impact of these changes on disabled people themselves.  85% of Motability car users say the car has a positive impact on their ability to access health services, whilst more than 1 in 3 of those able to work say it maintains or improves their ability to undertake paid employment. 7% of customers’ families say it enables a family member to gain or keep a job.“We’ll see disabled people less independent, less likely to be able to get or keep a job and more likely to close businesses or give up self-employment. Having welfare reform plans which interfere with employment prospects is nonsensical. The Government should think again.”

The report is calling on the Government to give further consideration to the wider consequences of disability benefits reform, including consulting more widely, before finalising the regulations under the Welfare Reform Act.

For more information or to obtain a copy of ‘Reversing from Recovery’, the full report or summary version, contact:

Notes for editors:

·         ‘Reversing from Recovery’, both the full report and the summary version, will be available to download from after publication (25 June 2012)

·         Disability Living Allowance (DLA) is a benefit that helps individuals meet the additional costs that come from living with a disability and is payable to people in work as well as out of work
·         Details of the Government’s proposals for PIP, including projections of the number of people expected to be eligible for the enhanced mobility rate, can be found in the DWP consultation document, ‘Personal Independence Payment: Assessment thresholds and consultation’ (January 2012), available at
·         The Motability publication, ‘Economic and social impact of the Motability Car Scheme’ (2010), is available for download at
·         The WeareSpartacus campaign group is an internet-based group of disabled and sick people from around the UK which campaigns for welfare benefits and social care services that enable disabled and sick people to live independently and with dignity.

Opposition Day Disability Debate

Cartoon image entitled ‘The Great Disability Debate In Brief’. Shows a practically empty house of commons with two figures from opposite sides of the house shouting “This is your fault” whilst lone voices say “Remploy!”, “Is it lunchtime yet?” and “The disabled… are those the poor ones?”. You can click the image to enlarge.

The wonderful DrHackenbush produced this cartoon which fully sums up yesterdays Opposition debate on the following motion (emphasis mine);

That this House believes that cuts to support for disabled people and carers poses a potential  risk to their dignity and independence and will have wider social and economic costs; regrets that the Department for Work and Pensions has dropped the aim of achieving disability equality; whilst recognising that Disability Living Allowance (DLA) needs to be reformed, expresses concern that taking DLA from 500,000 disabled people and contributory Employment Support Allowance from 280,000 former workers will take vital financial support from families under pressure; expresses further concern at the Work Programme’s failure to help disabled people and the mismanaged closure of Remploy factories; notes the pressing need for continuing reform to the Work Capability Assessment (WCA) to reduce the human cost of wrong decisions; agrees with the eight Carers’ Week charities on the importance of recognising the huge contribution made by the UK’s 6.4 million carers and the need to support carers to prevent caring responsibilities pushing them into ill-health, poverty and isolation; and calls on the Government to ensure reform promotes work, independence, quality of life and opportunities for disabled people and their families, restore the commitment to disability equality in the Department for Work and Pensions’ business plan, conduct a full impact assessment of the combined effect of benefit and social care cuts on disabled people and carers, reform the WCA descriptors as suggested by charities for mental health, fluctuating conditions and sensory impairment and re-run the consultation of the future of Remploy factories.

The end result was Aye’s 236 (in favour of the motion) No’s 298 (against the motion). The No’s won. Of course the ConDems voted againsteven though many argued that the WCA was broken (and blamed labour) and that the cuts faced by disabled people (blamed labour) were hurting constituents – a nice bit of hypocrisy there. 

It showed the true nature of the House of Commons in stark reality. These debates are not about helping people or trying to make the world better but about point scoring. Team blue & yellow stopping team red getting a goal. Simple as that. 

Sue Marsh wrote a decent explanation of events (if you’d like to read some more click here). Personally I can’t be bothered to dissect a debate that the politicians attending & voting on didn’t treat with seriously any more than already have I have.

Some Good News

I feel I should mention before I go on to talk about my good news that there was a Opposition day debate today. Liam Byrne MP (Labour) tried to get a motion passed which would see the lives of disabled people improved. He was trying to get the government to agree that a) the WCA (work capability assessment) was unfit for purpose and needed reforming and b) that they should do a cumulative impact assessment on welfare reform. The ConDems blocked it the way they block every motion that would improve our lot. No one was surprised, many felt a bit more depressed.

I thought that news was going to be it for today so I was getting ready for some hardcore sulking about it when I remembered I hadn’t checked the post. When I got to the door there was a big brown envelope waiting for me from the DWP. Those who claim any form of benefit will tell you that this is not usually a welcome sight. These envelopes tend to herald at the least heartache and frustration and at the worst terrifying financial decisions and accusations of fraud.

I sat down to open it and out came a thick wodge of paper. I remembered that I had appealed the decision to be placed in the ESA WRAG (work related activity group) on the basis I actually meet some of the criteria for the Support Group. I assumed from the day I sent the appeal in they would deny it, so this felt like no surprise – it was clearly information on how to appeal.

You can imagine my shock when I flicked my eyes down and read the following;

Photograph of DWP letter, click to enlarge. Transcription of the text follows.

About your claim for Employment Support Allowance.

You made an appeal against a decision about being placed in the work related activity group. 

We have looked at the evidence you provided and your records and decided to change the decision in your favour.”

I actually went white and dropped the letter. To my great shock they had even returned the evidence I had sent in  to ‘prove’ my condition. I was getting scared that all my originals had gone missing.

I’m very happy. Not only have I managed to explain to the DWP why I deserve to be in the support group without having to attend an odious ATOS interview, we have got the keys to an accessible bungalow that we are currently decorating and my DLA claim is finalised. Now I can get on with helping other people fight for their rights instead of having to use the precious little energy I have left at the end of the day to fight the DWP and local council.

It’s been 3 years of battling, which is 2 years 10 months more than I feel it should have been, but we’ve done it. Now I feel like I could sleep for a month!

Changing The Conversation Around Caring

Carers week begins today in the UK and I’d like to write about it from the perspective of a disabled person with care needs. I’m going to talk about non-professional carers/ personal assistants in this piece; the family, friends and children of those with care needs.

I think all of us have read enough flowery statements overflowing with praise and gratitude for those who care so I’m not going to write one of those. I appreciate those who care for me and I am grateful to them but that is not where my feelings on the matter end. My feelings, like most other peoples’, are much more complex and deserves talking about in full rather than simply stopping at praise for people often struggling to cope in a very difficult and emotive situation. 
There is a complex relationship between the sick/disabled person, their carer(s) and the support services (like social services, the NHS, DWP and others). There is a huge power imbalance at the core which, when dealt with well, can really strengthen the bonds between everyone involved in a positive manner. On the other hand, when the power imbalance isn’t acknowledged or is abused it can cause health problems, hospitalisation, neglect, abuse or in more extreme cases like that of Fiona & Francesca Pilkington, suicide and murder. If we wish to see supportive relationships built it is vital for everyone involved that the morale, physical health and mental well-being of carers is maintained.
Currently it’s estimated that 6.4 million carers in the UK (nearly 1 in 10 of the population) provide £119 billion worth of unpaid* labour annually. Carers Trust states that two thirds of those carers have never sought the help of any services outside of their families. It is all too common for carers to muddle on without contacting social services for a carers assessment, or the DWP to look at claiming DLA & Carers Allowance, which could provide (limited) financial help, respite, professional care and/or adaptations. In these circumstances it’s not just the carer who misses out; the person being cared for loses out on the opportunity to potentially live more independently and to have a choice over whom delivers their care.

As a disabled person this makes me angry. Angry that the support services do not communicate with each other to reach out more effectively to carers, so that they are aware of exactly what help is available. Angry that the media and society help perpetuate a culture where family & friends think they should take on the hard work and responsibility of caring without support or financial remuneration. Angry that I don’t get to choose if I want my partner to be my carer or not and that they don’t have a say in it either (unless they want to move out). Angry that the people whom I frequently rely on so that I can wash, eat and take my medication are left stressed, untrained and unpaid by the system. 

This system fails everyone and we need to get angry about it. This world doesn’t need yet another conversation about how we should pity those who care and commend their bravery. I don’t want to ‘celebrate’ that my loved ones, friends and family are emotionally manipulated by society and forced to work as my carer because there is no other real choice. I also don’t want to feed into the idea that disability is a burden either, it’s counter productive and feeds resentment on both sides. What I believe the world needs more of are conversations about how we can;
  • Improve access to support for carers and for the people they care for.
  • Pay carers a proper wage for all the hours they work whilst supporting someone.
  • Ensure real choice for both the carer and the person with care/support requirements.
We can all start to address these issues by challenging assumptions; we can ask politicians why carers are not paid for the work they provide, we can talk openly about how this current system is not, in fact, a beautiful model of glorious sacrifice in the name of love, we can mention its problems and express why it’s better for everyone that family members are not forced to provide unpaid labour.

I don’t think it should be radical to suggest that caring is work. Nor should it be radical to suggest that carers deserve to be treated like other public service providers. Family members should have a choice in whether or not they dedicate their lives to caring for disabled relatives.

It’s great that carers work hard for no pay. But they shouldn’t have to.

* I include in this those that receive Carers Allowance as I do not think that £55 per week for up to 24 hour a day care is a ‘wage’. Someone providing 30 hours of care would only be receiving an insulting £1.83 an hour

Birmingham City Council Public Question Time

This Tuesday, June 12th, saw the first Birmingham City Council (BCC) ‘Public Question Time‘ launched. The  initiative was forwarded by Sir Albert Bore, the new Labour head of the BCC. 

I was intrigued by the idea so I forwarded a question about disability and the effects of the cuts. To my great surprise it actually was one of the 7 selected, so this Tuesday I took myself down to the BCC chambers to ask it. 

On arrival I was taken up to the chambers which are not really designed for wheelchairs but they found me somewhere to park and had a non-fixed microphone available. The room was beautiful, but at the same time I couldn’t help feeling like I didn’t really belong in a different world as all of the rather well heeled councillors entered the opulent hall. In a time of austerity this kind of old world grandeur seemed a bit too ostentatious for my tastes. I also couldn’t help but reflect on what a huge pity it was that one of the more beautiful rooms in Birmingham City Centre was generally off limits to the general public. Just one more display of the divide between many in the ‘political class’ and the rest of us.

The meeting started with a Christian prayer, something I didn’t think was really necessary and I felt rather uncomfortable abstaining but that’s the way it goes. The Lord Mayor quickly explained the format, we would have 1 minute to ask our question and a relevant member of the council would have 2 minutes to reply, then it would be onto the next.

The questions began and I soon realised the councillors sat in front of myself and another disabled questioner were Conservative & Liberal Democrats. I was shocked when they decided to talk amongst themselves as members of the public, potentially their constituents, voiced their questions and concerns. I assumed they would stop, but they didn’t. Laughing, passing notes and showing complete contempt for not only the Labour councillors responding to questions, but the questioners and any people in the hall trying to listen to the meeting. One question about human rights violating council contractors seemed to really rile them up. The gentleman sat next to me lent forwards to ask them to stop being so rude but they decided not to listen. Eventually I asked my question;

“The previous administration slashed services to disabled adults.As an example; I was left trapped in my house because budgeting restraints wouldn’t pay for a simple wheelchair ramp. I was told that because I could step out of my door – even though I’m virtually unable to walk nor could I carry either of my chairs with me – my needs were not high enough. I simply do not think this state of affairs is good enough at all.  

“To make it worse, in February the council is quoted as having said “We have sought to identify the things that people value the most” when discussing it’s consultation on a new £62m of cuts. It transpired that the vulnerable were not deemed as valued so the brunt of that £62m fell on Adults & Communities, the people who provide much needed help, support & equipment for disabled adults. 

“I believe it is a council’s duty to protect the vulnerable and promote independence over dependence, will this council work to undo the damage done by the previous administration?” 

I didn’t hear the majority of the reply because of the rudeness of ConDem councillors showing a complete lack of respect for the person replying and for myself. The gist seemed to be that the council was upset that they were not receiving their fair share of financial support from Westminster, I believe a comparison with Woking was made to illustrate a large discrepancy. The implication was that with more funding they would be able to do more for the disabled. They reiterated that they would make sure they provided appropriate care for those who were deemed in need of it, but there was no mention of the fact that they choose who is in need and the unfair way BCC has historically redefined disability so that only those who are critically at risk are able to receive direct payments. They also didn’t touch on the issue that left me trapped in my own home, the fact BCC won’t pay for wheelchair ramps for those without NHS electric wheelchairs. The only people in this area that can receive NHS electric wheelchairs are those that can’t walk a step without support. As I can manage a few metres, even though it causes severe pain to do so, I can’t have one. It does not mean that I don’t need a wheelchair ramp.

I left the meeting feeling pretty disgruntled to say the least. Not because I didn’t get the reply I wanted, I expected that but because of the way certain members of the council treated the question time. I can’t believe that humans with any empathy or care about the people they represent would treat constituents raising valid concerns in that manner. I believe one of those councillors will be my local councillor when we move, I will be sure to take myself down to one of her meetings to ask her why she treated me in that manner.

If you want to watch the council meeting you can watch it by following this link to 

Being Non-Binary

I’m genderqueer. It’s something I haven’t really written about but feel like I should so bear with me whilst I try.

For years I didn’t feel comfortable in myself, something seemed wrong. I didn’t feel like a woman or a girl but at the same time didn’t feel like a man or a boy. The whole time I assumed that because I didn’t want to transition to a different body I was just being weird so just I ignored my internal disquiet.

At Uni I had a brief foray into trying to appear more masculine but it didn’t work for me. I didn’t feel like a man any more than I did a woman. Years crept by until eventually I realised that I didn’t really believe I had a gender. I didn’t believe deep down that I either was male or female. I thought of myself either as someone of a third gender or simply as genderless. As at the time I identified as bisexual I was aware of the T & Q elements of LGBTIQ. A lot of reading and questioning later I realised the term genderqueer applied to me. It covered everything I had been struggling to give voice to for years and stopped me feeling like I was alone in feeling that way. Speaking to other genderqueer people really helped me feel like I could be accepted for who I am. It also led to me finding pansexual to be a much more fitting term for my sexuality than bisexual, as the ‘bi’ aspect represents the false (in my opinion) gender binary.

Most don’t think I’m genderqueer when they meet me because I don’t present in an androgynous or butch manner. The reason I don’t is because I don’t feel like I’m both genders, nor do I feel masculine so I don’t see any point in going to lengths to dress that way. It still won’t reflect what’s going on behind my eyes. I present in a femme manner because my body shape lends to it and femme clothing fit’s well and feels comfortable*. Having hypersensitivity issues and chronic pain in my abdomen mean comfortable clothing is a must for me. It doesn’t feel like it represents what’s inside of course, but at least it’s physically comfortable. I also think there is value to challenging the stereotypes that appearing femme is a bad, counter-revolutionary thing in feminist circles.

That’s all I really feel comfortable writing about me right now so I’m going to leave it there.

Thanks for reading

* I don’t sew, nor do I have the funds to have clothes made for me

%d bloggers like this: