In the second part of our interview with Ellen Clifford, from the Benefit Justice Campaign, we talk about her work with DPAC (Disabled People Against Cuts), ATOS, and what happens after the national day of action on Saturday.…
You work for Disabled People Against Cuts. Can you tell us what sort of effects you have seen first-hand from the cuts. What is it doing to people that you’ve worked with?
Just to say I don’t work for them, we’re unfunded. It’s something we do after work or those of us who aren’t lucky enough to work. But we do have people contacting us everyday. Particularly due to the WCA (Work Capability Assessment), which has been in place and has been attacking people for the last couple of years. We have people who are suicidal, who are really in despair. I mean, the figures for people who have taken their own lives or who’ve died as a consequence of the stress of the WCA are shockingly high.
“People who really can’t see a way out because their income, the money that they need to feed themselves and to survive, is being taken away from them, and they don’t know where to turn or what to do.”
But I would like to think that through people getting in touch with other people in the same situation through DPAC, that people find peer support and avoid those situations where people really feel they’ve got nothing to do but kill themselves. But we certainly have people who are feeling suicidal, or are feeling depressed. People who really can’t see a way out because their income, the money that they need to feed themselves and to survive, is being taken away from them, and they don’t know where to turn or what to do. We’re seeing really, really, extreme effects on people.
This was highlighted in the case of Stephanie Bottrill, who a couple of weeks ago committed suicide. Her death was attributed to the bedroom tax, cuts and the government. Is this what we will see more of?
Unfortunately I think so, yes. I have heard that she wasn’t the first. Actually, there were some other deaths related to the bedroom tax before that. But unfortunately, I don’t think it will be an isolated case. There are some mental health organisations I know that have been reporting for the past couple of years huge increases in suicide, because people are being hit by all the different cuts and the changes and having money taken away.
“So when you leave people with absolutely nothing to live on…there’s consequences to that.”
I heard of one story in Hackney, of a man that had been found fit for work even though he had terminal cancer. He was appealing it, and while you’re appealing, you can’t actually get employment and support allowance. And, because of a mess up with his sick note from his GP he was left with no income, and then he was hit by the bedroom tax so he was actually minus income. Quite often we’re hearing about people who are left with not just nothing to live on, but actually owing money, because of the bedroom tax coming in on top of all their other money being taken away. So when you leave people with absolutely nothing to live on and food banks you can only visit a maximum of three times a week then you’re literally leaving people with nothing. There’s consequences to that.
I wanted to talk to you a bit about ATOS. Now we have heard the terrible stories about how ATOS has treated people, how they have deemed ill and severely disabled people fit to work. But why have they been able to carry on? It doesn’t seem like they are being stopped. Why?
These tests have been developed over many, many years. It started in the New Labour years. The DWP worked with ATOS and Unum insurance providers, to develop a way of looking at disability called the bio psycho social model of disability which denies disability exists and says that it’s in your own head.
So this has been a very determined and deliberate policy that’s created these tests over many, many years. The government isn’t going to back out on it because it’s achieving what they wanted.
“It was New Labour that introduced ATOS to this country. That’s something disabled people aren’t going to forget for a long time.”
And this is something that will happen under Labour or a Conservative government?
It’s harsher certainly under the Tories, but it was New Labour that introduced ATOS to this country. That’s something disabled people aren’t going to forget for a long time. And it was the DWP under Labour that were talking to Unum Insurance Providers about developing the bio psycho social model. That was at the same time they were talking to our faces, and championing the social model of disability, which is the empowering way of looking at disability.
On Saturday, there is a national day of action against welfare reforms which you have helped organise. But this must be forming part of a larger picture. So what happens next?
What we need to do is prepare for when and if evictions start happening. It’s great to have a national day to come together to show our opposition. But what’s really important at the moment is building the local campaigns at grass roots level, so that communities know how to fight back against what’s going on. They can put the pressure on their local council to do things like redesignate bedrooms, or to try and demand from councils that there are no evictions and no relocation. But, also that if it does come to it, that communities will be standing outside people’s doors, not letting the bailiffs in. So, I think one of our main focuses is on supporting those local campaigns to develop.
A Benefit Justice Summit Flyer
And what is the alternative if people don’t take action?
Then what we’re going to see is our communities being torn apart and destroyed . People being relocated to different areas. I think Lambeth’s choice destination for people is Clifton Villa, Margate, I found out the other week. Yeah, by the seaside but it’s an extremely deprived area and people are being removed from their families, their networks, their communities, and maybe even their jobs. We’re going to see a rise in people, unfortunately, who might be taking their own lives because they don’t where to go or what to do.
“What we’re going to see is our communities being torn apart and destroyed.”
But we’re also going see local authorities in complete chaos. There was an interview with I think a Leeds councillor last week, and they were saying it cost them so far £500,000 to put in the support for their council tenants who don’t know how they’re going to pay, or what they’re going to do. So local authorities are being thrown into crisis by this, and it’s going to be a complete mess. At least, if we have communities on the ground looking after each other, then we’re going to avoid some of the mess.
Find out more about the Benefit Justice Campaign here.
by Kam Sandhu – @KamBass