Archives For Disability

Hestia, a charity delivering supported housing, registered care, domestic violence refuges, community outreach services and day centres across London, today expressed concerns about changes to the welfare system saying that Government reforms are failing vulnerable people – with less and less practical support being available to people in urgent need.

Hestia’s services support adults and children who are in crisis. For example they support people with mental health needs as well as helping 500 victims of domestic abuse every day through the largest number of domestic abuse refuges in the capital.

In responding to the Government’s current consultation on Local Welfare Provision, the charity spoke to staff and service users across its schemes to get a real view of how the removal of Community Care Grants and Crisis Loans, as well as cuts to discretionary funds are having on the most vulnerable in society.

Hestia found that vulnerable people are not being adequately protected by the current system.

A series of case studies found it common that women moving on from domestic abuse refuges would have no access to beds, fridges, cookers, washing machines or other essential household items as they moved into empty and unfurnished accommodation. This situation could remain unresolved for months due to current constraints and delays. The Government proposals could withdraw discretionary support entirely and make the situation even worse.

Patrick Ryan, Chief Executive of Hestia, said:

“From our experience of working with vulnerable people across London every day, we can see that the  previous changes to the welfare system are failing those most in need. We are concerned that further changes and reductions to discretionary support will have devastating effects on the most vulnerable.”

“We already see that discretionary assistance is inadequate to meet the needs of vulnerable people at a time of crisis. For example, we have seen women who are pregnant or with severe physical health needs being denied a bed to sleep in or a cooker to feed themselves for months on end.”

“One service manager stated that of the 290 tenants she supports, around a quarter had made enquiries for financial and practical assistance – and none of these had been successful under the current provision. These setbacks undo much of our work to rebuild people’s lives. The human and financial costs of not providing these essential necessities are much greater than the financial commitment required to do so.”

The flaws in the Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) system are so grave that simply “rebranding” the assessment used to determine eligibility for ESA (the Work Capability Assessment (WCA)) by appointing a new contractor will not solve the problems, says the Work and Pensions Committee in a report published on Wednesday.

The Committee calls on the Government to undertake a fundamental redesign of the ESA end-to-end process to ensure that the main purpose of the benefit – helping claimants with health conditions and disabilities to move into employment where this is possible for them – is achieved. This will take some time, but the redesign should be completed before the new multi-provider contract is tendered, which is expected to be in 2018.

In the meantime, the Committee recommends a number of changes which should be made now, to help ensure that claimants receive an improved service, and that the outcomes for claimants are more appropriate.

Dame Anne Begg MP, Committee Chair, said:

“Many people going through the ESA claims process are unhappy with the way they are treated and the decisions which are made about their fitness for work. The current provider of the WCA, Atos, has become a lightning rod for all the negativity around the ESA process and DWP and Atos have recently agreed to terminate the contract early.

“But it is DWP that makes the decision about a claimant’s eligibility for ESA – the face-to-face assessment is only one part of the process. Just putting a new private provider in place will not address the problems with ESA and the WCA on its own.”

“We are therefore calling for a number of changes which can be made to improve ESA in the short-term, while also recommending a longer-term, fundamental redesign of the whole process.”

“We hope that the new Minister for Disabled People, who was appointed last week, will respond positively to our constructive recommendations for improving the ESA process.”

One of the key issues which the Report identifies is that ESA is not achieving its purpose of helping people who could work in the short to medium term to move back into employment.

One of the reasons for this is that the outcomes of the ESA claims process are too simplistic. Claimants can be found “fit for work” and are then ineligible to claim ESA. Claimants found to have such limited functionality that that they cannot undertake any work-related activity are placed in the Support Group, where they are subject to no work-related conditionality. This leaves a large and disparate middle group of claimants who are not yet fit for work, and may even have a deteriorating condition, but who are required nonetheless to undertake activity which is meant to help them find work in the longer term. These claimants are placed in the Work-related Activity Group (WRAG). The WRAG covers too wide a spectrum of claimants with very different prognoses and employment support needs.

Tom Pollard, Policy and Campaigns Manager at Mind, said:

“We welcome the findings of this report which highlights the many problems with the process used to assess applicants’ eligibility for ESA. Nearly half of people who are currently receiving ESA do so because of a mental health problem and we agree with the recommendation that the Work Capability Assessment needs to be urgently reformed in order to assess people fairly and accurately. The current assessment fails to take full account of the impact having a fluctuating condition such as a mental health problem can have on someone’s ability to work.

“The assessment process is just one small part of an entire system which is failing to provide people with the support they need. The vast majority of people with mental health problems want to work, but they need tailored, personalised support to overcome the barriers they face – from their confidence and skills through to employers’ attitudes and the support available in the workplace. Many people are being forced to undertake activities in order to receive ESA, but rather than helping people back to work, this often creates immense anxiety and can damage their health, pushing them further from work.”

Redesigning the ESA process

The Committee recommends that the ESA redesign should aim to ensure that the process properly identifies claimants’ health barriers to employment and the particular support they need, so that the conditionality that they are subject to and the employment support they receive can be tailored more closely to their circumstances. For claimants in the WRAG, proper account needs to be taken of where they are on the spectrum of readiness for work, given the wide range of conditions and disabilities which the WRAG encompasses, and the different impacts these have on an individual claimant’s functional capacity.

The descriptors used in the WCA process should also be reviewed as part of the redesign, as concerns about their effectiveness, and the way they are applied, remain, despite the recent review commissioned by DWP.

Dame Anne Begg MP, Committee Chair, said:

“ESA is not properly joined up with employment support because an individual’s health-related barriers to working are not being properly assessed as part of the process. We recommend that the Government reintroduces a separate assessment of these barriers, along the lines of the Work-focused Health-related Assessment – the WFHRA – which it suspended in 2010.”

Shorter term measures to improve ESA

Dame Anne Begg MP, Committee Chair, said:

“We know that the redesign can’t happen overnight, but the current system needs to be improved now, because it is clearly causing claimants considerable distress and anxiety.

“The re-letting of the contract provides an opportunity to address some of the problems. The new contract needs to set out robust and clear service standards on the quality and timeliness of assessments and the reports produced by the contractor, and for the way claimants are dealt with.”

“DWP has acknowledged that this will cost more money, but this is justified if the service provided by the new contractor is better. To ensure this is the case, DWP needs to rigorously monitor the service standards to ensure they are being met and to take immediate action, including imposing penalties, if they are not. This has not always happened with the Atos contract.”

“The changes we recommend include ensuring that, where possible, paper-based assessments are used to place people in the Support Group, rather than requiring them to go through a WCA, where their health condition or disability clearly has a severe impact on their capability to work. Unnecessary and too frequent reassessments should also be avoided.”

“DWP should also improve the way it communicates with claimants – at the moment, the letters that are sent to claimants are too technical and complex. They need to be in plain English and avoid using jargon. The terms “limited capability for work” and “limited capability for work-related activity”, which are currently used to categorise claimants, are too confusing and DWP needs to find more meaningful alternatives.”

The Committee recommends that DWP implements a number of other changes in the shorter-term to ensure better outcomes and an improved service for claimants. These include:

 

  • DWP taking overall responsibility for the end-to-end ESA claims process, including taking decisions on whether claimants need a face-to-face assessment, rather than this decision being made by the assessment provider.
  • DWP proactively seeking “supporting evidence” on the impact of a claimant’s condition or disability on their functional capacity, rather than leaving this primarily to claimants, who often have to pay for it. DWP should seek this evidence from the most appropriate health and other professionals, including social workers and occupational therapists, rather than relying so heavily on GPs.
  • The “descriptors” used to assess functional capability in the WCA being applied more sensitively.
  • Placing claimants with a prognosis of being unlikely to experience a change in their functional abilities in the longer-term, particularly those with progressive conditions, in the Support Group and not the WRAG.

Mandatory reconsideration and appeals

The Report also considers the impact of the introduction of mandatory reconsideration (MR) of ESA decisions, and the appeals process. MR has the potential to be beneficial, if it leads to fewer decisions being taken to appeal, and therefore reduces both stress for claimants and the cost to public funds.

However, the Committee calls on the Government to set a reasonable timescale for completing reconsiderations, rather than leaving it open-ended, and to end the current illogical situation of claimants being unable to claim ESA during the reconsideration period.

It is also important that both DWP and the assessment provider learn lessons from the feedback which the Tribunals Service now gives in the summary reasons for its decisions, so that more initial decisions are “right first time”.

 

From Just Fair:

report published this week by Just Fair finds that the UK government is in breach of its legal obligations to respect, protect and fulfill the human rights of disabled people.

The report is the first comprehensive analysis of the extent to which the UK government is meeting its international obligations to realise the rights of disabled people in the austerity era. It examines the rights to independent living, work, social security, social protection and an adequate standard of living.

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Combining legal analysis with testimony-based evidence, the report concludes that government policies are compromising disabled people’s enjoyment of these fundamental rights, causing significant hardship.

The report – Dignity and Opportunity for All: Securing the rights of disabled people in the austerity era – analyses the impact on disabled people of public austerity and the reform of social security.

Baroness Jane Campbell, crossbench peer and Co-Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Disability Group, says:

“It is both extremely worrying and deeply sad that the UK – for so long regarded as an international leader in protecting and promoting disabled people’s rights – now risks sleepwalking towards the status of a systematic violator of these same rights … I hope that this excellent report serves as a major wake-up call.”

 

The report highlights the support that is at risk for disabled, support which both threatens disabled people’s abilities to live independent lives and puts the UK government in breach of it’s obligation to protect, respect and fulfil the human rights of the disabled.

Aoife Nolan, Trustee of Just Fair and Professor of International Human Rights Law at the University of Nottingham, says:

“Following several years of progress in realising disabled people’s rights, through equality legislation and the welfare system, government policies are now compromising disabled people’s enjoyment of their human rights, reducing their autonomy and independence. Not only do these policies cause significant hardship and anxiety, but they also amount to impermissible backward steps in relation to disabled people’s human rights, contrary to the United Nations human rights framework.”

The report will now be submitted to the UN body that monitors implementation of human rights.

You can find out more and download it here. 

by Kam Sandhu @KamBass

Last weekend, Disabled People Against Cuts set about starting a protest in the form of a three week camp at Westminster Abbey, to run till the end of Parliament in action against the closure of the Independent Living Fund. The camp disbanded soon after it began, when the Dean of Westminster Abbey John Hall, called police to the scene to physically remove those chained to the gates. We spoke to Rob Punton from DPAC about what happened at the camp, the Church of England, the ILF and the future of the campaign. Here in his own words, Rob explains what happened and why he is forced to continue with action.

Image: @TheSilentAnon

Image: @TheSilentAnon

The Independent Living Fund…

“I was one of the first people to claim the Independent Living Fund. I’ve been claiming the ILF since 1988. Why it’s important to me is because it allows me to carry on with my independent living, and it allows me to do the social part of living not just the personal care part. It allows me to go out with friends. It allows me to go out and take part in community activities. The money has not been ring-fenced. We’re all scared we’re all going to end up with just home care and being marooned, if you like, in our own homes, not able to get out and take part in community activities and carry on with a fulfilled life.

“It’s like a care package. The local authority pays two thirds of your care package and the ILF gives you a third, but as we know most local authorities are struggling so if we lose the ILF, a third of our money could be lost.

“It was actually Maria Miller who announced it in 2010. She said the ILF was going to close in 2015. We’ve been fighting for this to get it stopped for five years, and when the people took the thing to High Court and won the case we thought we got a victory, but of course, Mike Penning MP decided to ignore what the High Court said, which has forced us really, to take more action.”

The Camp at Westminster Abbey

“I was down at the camp but I was locked out on the main street. I didn’t get inside the camp, I was outside the gate.

“The camp ended because we went to Westminster Abbey because we made the assumption that the Church of England, who had already spoken out about the government and about the austerity cuts, was supportive and would allow us to camp out on their property. But of course, as soon as we got there, John Hall, the Dean of Westminster Abbey, came to say that we weren’t welcome on his property and called the police to come and physically remove us. So that’s why there was 300 policemen for 100 protestors. They kettled everybody in and refused to allow food, water and medication in to the protestors so they were forced to leave early.

“I was actually out on the gate with my PA and a protestor came over and asked us to pass his medication over. We tried to pass it over. I tried to push this bag back over and police actually pushed my PA and pushed this guy needing the medication apart and he was really aggressive towards people, and like I said refused people water, food and medication.

300 police kettled 100 protestors

300 police kettled 100 protestors

 

“Inside the camp there were 100 protestors, and there were 300 police. And that was just normal police. Later in the afternoon they sent ones armed with guns into the camp and they were marching around with guns halfway through the protest.

“The Dean was cowering in his cathedral behind closed doors and wouldn’t even come out and face the media. He just locked the doors to the Abbey and let the police deal with things.

“We’ve been shown that they’re the Church of the Establishment. That’s what CofE stands for now, because they obviously don’t give a monkeys about the people of Britain. They talk about standing up and fighting for normal people, but when it comes to doing things on the ground, they cower away. We’re disgusted and we’re considering writing a letter putting forward a proposal to get the Dean of Westminster removed from his post because we don’t think he’s right. He talks about Christian morality but he hasn’t shown much Christian morality in this situation.

“What’s even more alarming is that this man is supposed to be the chair of a disability organisation but when it came to supporting disabled people in the street, he turned his back on them, so it doesn’t say a lot about the way he looks at disabled people.”

The Media

“Mainstream media belongs to the government anyway. So the BBC and ITV and people like Sky only report what the government want them to report. Obviously, the austerity cuts that everybody is facing are not just being reported to the general public so we have to use social media to get it out there.”

Image: Rob Punton

Image: Rob Punton

What now?

“There’s another demonstration on Friday 4th July outside Parliament and we’ll continue to escalate the situation and take it forward. Luckily we’ve got some good support form Occupy and got some links with community groups to work together to bring down this government and coalition.

“The alternative of losing is dire consequences for everybody because the government have proved they have no regard for anyone at all.”

If the closure of the ILF went ahead…

“There are thousands of disabled people who have got no power. What you’ve got to remember is that while people like myself are going out and protesting, a lot of people are not in the position to do so and they are the ones being socially imprisoned in their own homes and being institutionalised and isolated from society. And we’re worried that because of the growth of urgency, we’ll leave a lot more people vulnerable and open to abuse in their own homes.

“I think we have to stop blaming the most marginalised people in society for society’s problems, because while we’re getting angry about benefit claimants we’re losing the NHS. It’s the banks and businesses that need to take responsibilities and we need to ensure that big companies like Amazon and Boots pay their taxes. If everybody paid their taxes, the money would be there to help people. We need to have proper assessments from people who know about the people who need assessing and we need to start talking to disability organisations and disabled people to include them properly and get social justice for everybody and not just the powerful, rich and the strong.”

Find out more about DPAC here.

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A shocking report launched today (Thursday 12 June) has found that the back to work support provided through the Work Programme and Jobcentre Plus is causing severe anxiety for people with disabilities and pushing them further from the job market.
 
Fulfilling Potential? ESA and the fate of the Work Related Activity Group’ is based on data from over 500 people with a range of physical and mental health problems. All respondents had been assigned to the Work Related Activity Group (WRAG) having applied for the disability benefit Employment and Support Allowance (ESA). People in the WRAG can have their benefits stopped if they do not engage with work preparation schemes.
 
This research found that the Work Programme or Jobcentre Plus had helped just five per cent of respondents move into work, while six in 10 people said that their health, finances, confidence and sense of purpose had all suffered as a result.
Most people who responded to the survey had been compelled to undertake compulsory back-to-work activities or have their benefits cut. The majority said their disabilities were not acknowledged or accommodated and made engaging in such activities difficult. Eighty per cent of people said they felt anxious about not being able to access activities and 70 per cent were worried about their benefits being cut.
 
The actual or threatened cutting of benefits is meant to motivate people to get back to work, but the report suggests motivation is not a problem. Sixty per cent were strongly committed to work, 30 per cent weren’t sure they could work and just 10 per cent either didn’t want to, or didn’t think they’d be able to, work. For most people (90 per cent), their health or impairment was the main barrier to work.
 
The report was produced by Catherine Hale, a Work Programme service user, with support from the mental health charity Mind and the Centre for Welfare Reform. Catherine currently claims ESA due to myalgic encephalopathy (ME), a long term health condition, and said:
 
“The majority of disabled people want to work. However, people who have been awarded ESA have genuine and often severe health problems which make it difficult to access employment. The current system ignores these difficulties, and relies on the threat of sanctions to get people into work. It is no surprise that it is not only failing disabled people but causing additional distress and anxiety, on top of the barriers that they already face.
“At my first back to work meeting, the Jobcentre adviser accused me of fraud and threatened to stop my benefits if I didn’t try harder to get well. They assume that people are not working because of defective attitudes and morals, not because they’re ill or disabled. This is wrong and deeply damaging.
 
“People claiming ESA need to be placed with specialist organisations experienced in supporting disabled people into employment, not into mainstream welfare-to-work schemes. Employers should widen job opportunities and consider making adjustments to accommodate people with disabilities including flexible or shorter working hours and the option of working from home.
 
Tom Pollard, Policy and Campaigns Manager at Mind, commented:
 
“This report adds to the existing evidence that the current benefits system is failing people with disabilities and mental health problems. There is far too much focus on pressuring people into undertaking compulsory activities, and not nearly enough ongoing, tailored support to help them into an appropriate job.
 
“Just five per cent of people are actually managing to get into work through this process, while many people are finding that the stress they are put under is making their health worse and a return to work less likely. We urgently need to see an overhaul of this system.”
 
The report, which has been endorsed by a further 18 organisations including Mencap, RNIB, Parkinson’s UK and the National Autistic Society, also found:
 
  • Most people received generic back-to-work support such as CV writing classes with very few receiving specialist support. Over half the respondents felt their ‘action plan’ of activities was inappropriate for them, and six in 10 people felt no adaptations were made to activities to take account of their barriers.
 
  • Almost all respondents were threatened with sanctions if they failed to participate in mandatory activities. On average, respondents had at least three different kinds of difficulty in participating in activities due to their health condition or impairment. 50 per cent said these difficulties were not acknowledged and 70 per cent said no adjustments were made to accommodate their disability.
 
  • 87 per cent of respondents who failed to participate in a mandatory activity were prevented by factors relating to their health or impairment. Only 6.5 per cent had actually received a cut in benefits.
 
  • The majority of respondents said they wanted to work given the right support and a job suitable to their disability, and that they believed employers could make use of their talents if jobs were more inclusive. 82 per cent of respondents said their Work Programme provider or JCP made no effort to adapt jobs on offer to make it easier for them to work.
 
  • Most people agreed the most helpful would be a package of support agreed upfront so that they could reassure potential employers of their ability to do a job. Adjustments that employers could make included flexible hours, working from home, working fewer than 16 hours per week, increased confidence on the part of employers and recruitment through work trials rather than interviews.

On Saturday, thousands of people up and down the country demonstrated against the bedroom tax as it reached the one year mark since it’s introduction. The spare room subsidy has inflicted unwarranted stress on those who face it, and the one year anniversary should also mark the beginning of it’s end.

Image: hullgreens.blogspot.com

Image: hullgreens.blogspot.com

Here is why we need to end the bedroom tax:

1 – 96% of people have nowhere to move to.

A study by the Independent in August last year, revealed the ‘big lie’ behind the bedroom tax. Government had claimed that the bedroom tax was designed to ‘free up’ larger households for those that needed it, whilst others would move to more ‘appropriate’ and smaller accommodation. However, the Independent revealed that 96% of those facing the penalty have nowhere to move to, with a huge lack of one and two bedroom housing, thus having no other choice than to take the penalty.

2 – Bedroom tax hits the poorest and most vulnerable hardest

Two thirds of those affected by the bedroom tax are disabled. The bedroom tax causes unnecessary extra pressure for those who are already battling other cuts to benefits and welfare reforms.

The government publicly promised that disabled people would get greater protection from the effects of the bedroom tax, but research conducted by the disability charity Papworth Trust found that disabled people were no more likely to receive DHP than non-disabled, even when they lived in adapted accommodation. Further nearly one out of three DHP applications from disabled people were being rejected, and nine in 10 disabled people were forced to cut back on food and household bills following refusals of DHP.

3 – Discretionary Housing benefit is not enough and forces those in need to apply periodically

The government claimed that Discretionary Housing Benefits would receive a bolster in revenue to ensure that the most vulnerable or unable to pay would have help. Whilst more money was allocated to an emergency pot, this has not been enough to protect the most vulnerable.

As mentioned above, many in need have been refused help. Further the DHP may alay fears in the immediate sense but the emergency help in the form of DHP is only allocated for a certain time, which can be a one off payment or a weekly addition, but at the end of that term, the claimant has to apply again.

Also, the money allocated to the council for that year only lasts for that year. Once it is gone, it is gone.

Image: urban75.net

Image: urban75.net

4 – Exemptions have not been sufficient, and government knows this

The government claimed that there would be sufficient exemptions from the bedroom tax for those that were unable to move or required the extra room due to a disability.

However, mounting court cases and examples of this protection failing, have flooded the courts and the media. The following case was brought by five families, and took an eighteen month battle to win at their own expense:

“A group of five families with disabled children issued proceedings in the High Court in an attempt to protect their homes and the homes of thousands of other families like them from  the effect of the policy.  The claimants included a child with Down’s Syndrome, three children with autism, and one with a rare and very severe genetic condition, Joubert’s Syndrome.  All of the children had been assessed by experts as requiring their own bedroom, due to their disability or the disability of a sibling.

“….The government’s response was confused. In March David Cameron stated publicly that the tax did not apply to disabled children: this was simply not true….

“After this  legal challenge succeeded, the government still delayed in changing the rules, failing to keep the families and their lawyers informed, and only finally making the new Regulations yesterday, the final day allowed by the Court.
The mother of TA, one of the Claimants, said today:

“I am relieved that at last the position for families like mine is clear and that following the court’s decision in July the government have finally changed the rules which would have had such a terrible effect on families like mine. My son needs his own bedroom because of his serious health problems. Without that bedroom, we were told he would have to go into residential care. I m sure that everyone can understand what heartbreak such a situation would cause any mother. We have been very disappointed by the way that the government have behaved throughout our case, but delighted that at last the position is clear. We will continue with our appeal, because at the moment the government has an order for legal costs against us, which seems ridiculous to me, given that we won our case and that the rules have now been changed as a result. However, we are so happy that the real battle is over.”

Press Release, HMB Solicitors, 1st November 2013

5 – Debt is piling up, and misery is too

27% of those pushed into debt because of the bedroom tax, are in arrears for the first time. This reform has not been about saving money, or leaving people with no money – it’s leaving people in debt and with no other choice because as mentioned, they have nowhere to move to, there are limited funds to help, and even those thought to be exempt have had to fight. The bedroom tax only serves to provide those already identified as the poorest and most vulnerable, with debt, stress and misery.

6 – Scotland has banned it

The Scottish government have banned the bedroom tax by taking on the cost in Scottish government. These actions and the findings of the Scottish government’s Welfare Reform Committee earlier this year, should serve as a lesson for our government too. Here is what the report found”

 

  • “The bedroom tax is having a real and harmful impact on people’s lives, and often the most vulnerable in society, including those with disabilities and children in separated families.
  • “Many people are ‘trapped’ into paying the ‘bedroom tax’ in that there are not enough one bedroom properties available to down-size to.
  • “Although the ‘bedroom tax’ will reduce the housing benefit budget, it introduces a number of new costs to tenants, housing associations, local authorities, the Scottish Government and others – the tax may cost more than it saves.
  • “Evidence submitted suggests the bedroom tax breaches tenants human rights, particularly in relation to discrimination against disabled people and the lack of a proper impact assessment of the tax.
  • “The level of Discretionary Housing Payments originally allocated by the Department of Work and Pensions to deal with the transitional problems does not match the scale of the problem. It welcomes the additional £20 million Discretionary Housing Payments allocated by the Scottish Government for 2013-14 and 2014-15 but calls on the DWP to confirm its allocation of funds for the next two years. It also wants the DWP to increase this allocation for Scotland to match the evident need.

“Overall the Welfare Reform Committee finds the ‘under-occupancy charge’ (yet another name for it), to be iniquitous and inhumane and believes that the only way to deal with the ‘bedroom tax’ effectively is to abolish it. The Committee therefore calls on the United Kingdom Government to abolish the ‘bedroom tax’ immediately. If not, the Scottish Parliament should be given the powers and resources to abolish it.”

Read more here.

The court cases,media coverage, protests, cases like Stephanie Botrill, Raquel Rolnik’s investigation and more are enough to demonstrate that this tax should be axed, and the evidence is embarrassing for government.

Further evidence still suggests the bedroom tax could actually cost more than it saves, as more tenants require emergency housing and help with debts. This is all becoming increasingly embarrassing for government, who will after repeated exposure to the problems, now refuse to give the subject much light or debate. However, Saturday demonstrated that the fight to end the spare room subsidy is continuing and gaining strength, and won’t stop until the bedroom tax is abolished.

 

Bedroom Tax Protest Image: birminghamagainstthecuts.co.uk

Bedroom Tax Protest Image: birminghamagainstthecuts.co.uk

by Kam Sandhu @KamBass

RFM Our Welfare Reforms Are Compassionate

Tomorrow will see a National Day of Protest against the French healthcare firm ATOS, with over 65 demonstrations happening all over the country at ATOS centres.

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ATOS are given £100m a year to administer the Work Capability Assessments, as part of the coalition’s programme to move people off benefits, through more difficult criteria rather than assessments of need.

The WCA uses a few basic questions to assess the extent of a person’s ability to work. Questions asked include whether a claimant is able to walk 200 metres and whether they can lift either arm above their head. The claimant is then given a score of between 0-15, with 15 as a high rate of disability and 0 as minimal. These scores are then used by the Department for Work and Pensions to assess whether to ‘award’ a claimant the Employment and Support Allowance.

The government say the assessment is designed to find out what a person can do rather than what they can’t, but the assessments leave a huge gap of understanding in whether a person can take on work. Evidence from investigations and claimant experiences show the tests are discriminating and are motivated by the desire to move people off benefits by re-defining the criteria for the ESA rather than supporting them into work if they can.

The cost of ATOS

The government has been handing over £100m a year for ATOS to carry out the assessments nationwide. But, ATOS had breached it’s contract even before it was signed. ATOS had promised they would provide, with 22 sub-contractors, 750 testing centres up and down the country to enable easy procedures and a maximum 60 minute travel distance for all claimants. However, the number of sub-contractors had dropped to 8 at the time of signing the contract, and the DWP has failed to reveal exactly how many of the centres they have provided.

Occupy News Network

Occupy News Network

Appeals

Appeals against ATOS have revealed a broken testing system which unneccesarily puts sick and disabled people through stressful procedures. Around 2/5 decisions made by ATOS are appealed against and around a third of these appeals overturn the original decision.

Earlier last year, the tests were branded ‘farcical’ for telling nearly half of those with progressive diseases, such as Parkinson’s and multiple sclerosis, that their condition would improve.

The appeals could be costing the taxpayer a further £50 million for some clearly inexcusable decisions.

Discrimination of those with mental illness

Mental health charities such as Mind, Re:think Mental Illness and the National Autistic Society along with some disabled claimants, won a lengthy battle against the Department for Work and Pensions at the beginning of last year. The charities and support groups helped to give evidence on behalf of those they helped, against the WCA in a case that lasted two years. The Upper Tribunal ruled that the WCA disadvantaged those with mental health problems.

However, the DWP and ATOS appealed against the decision which was upheld at the end of last year, at the expense of more of the taxpayer’s money and a continuance of the testing system which was discriminating those with mental illness.

Lives

Put simply, ATOS testing has been fatal for thousands of sick and disabled people in the UK. In the year 2011-2012, 10,600 disabled people died within six weeks of their claim ending.

The DWP has refused to release the data for the year 2012-2013.

This number is likely to be higher. And this refusal of release of information is hiding the true extent of the deaths ATOS testing is causing, in a bid to save face for the government at the expense of people’s suffering.

Still, there have been many examples in the media of negligent decisions at the hands of ATOS:

“Lyn’s husband was seriously ill for 24 years with a badly injured back, a heart condition and diabetes.

“She said Atos decided he was “capable of limited employment” and his benefit was cut, leaving them with just £71 a week. He appealed but was told a ruling would take almost a year.

“David didn’t have a year. He was later diagnosed with cancer and given weeks to live.

“In the short time he had he battled to reverse the decision. “He kept saying ‘I wish I could win this case before I die’,” said Lyn, 57.

“David got a very rare form of cancer, it took his sight and his hearing, then finally his life. But months before that Atos took his dignity. His doctors and specialist nurses wrote to the firm but never received a reply.”

“David, 57, was called to his Jobcentre late last year. Lyn said: “They just took his blood pressure. They never checked his back or asked about his diabetes and the terrible ulcers he had on his legs.

“We were told it would take 10 months to hear the appeal. Well it’s 10 months now, David’s dead and we still haven’t heard a word.”

Daily Mirror

So on Wednesday 19th February, a national protest will take place against the treatment and huge number of deaths at the hands of ATOS.

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Image: Community Press Group

A short statement by the founder of the website atoskills.tk in reply to Atos:

“Atos have issued a statement on their website with reference the demonstrations   This statement alludes to the fact that the Company (Atos) were merely following DWP orders and that they are aware that their actions have deeply affected lives, an understatement in view of the deaths.  Atos in this statement seek to shift blame as many have done in the past in Court trials with the excuse ” I was only following orders” this is reminiscent of Nuremberg.

“Thousands have died and Atos played a major part in the policy actions of those deaths. It is unacceptable to state we were only following orders whilst taking millions of pounds for that action and knowing it was deeply affecting lives to the extent it caused major fatalities. I will agree that they are not alone in being culpable but the statement is an admission, in part, of responsibility.

“Following orders, knowingly, in committing acts that result in the deaths  of many disabled people is perhaps genocide but can also be equated to contract killing. Atos have acted as hired hitmen of this Government.

“At the bottom of this page you will find a video of Atos staff  training where it is clearly stated Atos assessors were working to targets, they say from the DWP which was denied by that department.

“No threats have been made of disruption to Atos nor to staff members, it is intended as a peaceful demonstration to draw public attention to a travesty that has caused multiple deaths that no one has so far investigated or stopped.

“The DWP’s own data shows 10,600 deaths in an eleven month period during 2011, a cause for concern and investigation at minimum.

“Blood is on the hands of Atos, it’s staff, the DWP and this Government.

“This statement is my own opinion and not one belonging officially to the organisers of the demonstration.”

Here is the video:

Here is the full Dispatches episode the filming was lifted from.

See a full list of demonstrations here.

by Kam Sandhu @KamBass

We came across this excellent video made and created by the dole animators who also take part in the video. From the voices of those at the heart of the effects of punishing welfare reform, we hear what it is really like for the so-called ‘scroungers’ who are on benefits, after losing their job, becoming ill or unable to work.

“We warn you not to be ill,

not to have an accident,

not to lose your job.

We warn you not to make the choices we didn’t make.”

The Dole Animators

Writer, comedian, actress and disability campaigner Francesca Martinez began this petition to put an end to the devastating welfare reforms and tests which are causing suffering for the sick and disabled, and an end to the war on welfare – hence the nickname WoW petition.

The petition has reached around 70,000 and we need an extra 30,000 for it to be debated by a government committee.

This is a great opportunity to take this issue to Parliament. Sign.

Francesca Martinez - Image: The Guardian

Francesca Martinez – Image: The Guardian

“We call for:

“A Cumulative Impact Assessment of all cuts and changes affecting sick & disabled people, their families and carers, and a free vote on repeal of the Welfare Reform Act.

“An immediate end to the Work Capability Assessment, as voted for by the British Medical Association.

“Consultation between the Depts of Health & Education to improve support into work for sick & disabled people, and an end to forced work under threat of sanctions for people on disability benefits.

“An Independent, Committee-Based Inquiry into Welfare Reform, covering but not limited to: (1) Care home admission rises, daycare centres, access to education for people with learning difficulties, universal mental health treatments, Remploy closures; (2) DWP media links, the ATOS contract, IT implementation of Universal Credit; (3) Human rights abuses against disabled people, excess claimant deaths & the disregard of medical evidence in decision making by ATOS, DWP & the Tribunal Service.”

To sign the petition click here.