Archives For mind

1) Young at increased risk of poverty, says report

Joseph-Rowntree-Foundation

The Joseph Rowntree Foundation has released a report revealing that the young are now at an increased risk of poverty, as unemployment and insecure work continues to blight the jobs market.

The report said:

“Youth unemployment has risen continuously since 2004. By 2011 it was two-thirds higher than 2001. At a record high, it’s three times higher than that of other adults.”

Education and qualifications seem to play a major part in whether a young person is able to remain out of poverty. The less qualified a person is, the more likely they are to be unemployed and living in poverty and after the age of 19, the likelihood of getting qualifications drops significantly.

  • “The lower people’s qualifications, the higher their risk of unemployment. This risk has risen over the past decade.”
  • “16- to 19-year-olds not in full-time education are at greater risk of poverty than any age group except the youngest.”

Though, gaps in attainment and increased risk of unemployment can be sourced back to early education. The report said:

“An ‘attainment gap‘ emerges before school. It continues through childhood. By 16 and older, it is considerable.

  • Tests at age 3 show a significant gap between more affluent children and the poorest fifth
  • Lower-achieving but more affluent children overtake the highest low-income achievers by age 7
  • Poorer children are half as likely to go to university as their more affluent peers

Across ethnic groups, white young people do less well than their peers from many minorities. But the performance and treatment of black Caribbean and Traveller children raise serious concerns.

For minority ethnic groups poverty is twice as likely, despite improved qualifications.

Poorer higher education students were already more likely to drop out, defer, switch, repeat or restart courses before tuition fees and cuts to Education Maintenance Allowance applied.

But the aspirations of disadvantaged young people are high.”

Read the report here.

2) Bill to stop ‘revenge evictions’ talked out

Image: Shelter

Image: Shelter

On Monday last week, around 1000 protesters demonstrated outside Parliament in demand for better rights for tenants.

Shelter estimate that some 213,000 people are evicted every year in ‘revenge evictions’ which happen following complaints to landlords over poor housing.

A Bill was put to the House of Commons to end these evictions. It required 100 signatures. Unfortunately, only 60 MPs signed.

Shelter also estimate that 2% of the public are landlords and that private tenancies have seen an increase in poor housing standards. Further, at a time of rocketing rents and stagnant wages, affirming rights for tenants should be a priority for government. Everybody should be able to access safe, secure housing.

Unfortunately, the outcome of this Bill shows priorities are held elsewhere.

Shelter later revealed that 2 MPs ‘filibustered’ the Bill – a tactic of talking out, to delay or ‘talk to death’. They are MPs Philip Davies and Christopher Chope.

Shelter vow to continue the fight until they win.

Read Shelter’s blog ‘We Will Make It Happen’ here.

Read more about this story here.

 

3) Government accused of ‘numbers game’ in use of apprenticeships

Hundreds of thousands of people aged 25 and over are entering apprenticeships which pay as little as £2.73 an hour.

Apprenticeships have been bandied around by parties of all colours as a solution to youth unemployment but  “figures from the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) show that more than 350,000 of the UK’s 851,000 apprentices were over 25, with more than 50,000 aged over 50.”

“The number of UK apprentices has risen from 491,300 in 2009 to 851,500 today – an increase of 73%.

“However, the proportion of those over 25 has more than doubled – it was 19% of all apprentices in 2009/10, but now stands at 42%.”

There is now concern that apprenticeships are being used to subsidise full paid jobs and losing focus on the young whilst also massaging employment figures.

Read more about this story here.

4) Theresa May says ‘Time is right’ for more police powers

Image: The Guardian

Image: The Guardian

Speaking at a counter terrorism event last week, the Home Secretary Theresa May said that the ‘time is right’ to increase police powers to monitor online behaviour in order to combat terrorism and child abuse.

This news snuck out following a general silence since the terror threat was raised to ‘substantial’ earlier this year in the UK.

Considering the ‘loss’ of 114 files on child abuse within government and the Home Secretary’s inability to find someone to lead the child abuse inquiry who had no connection with those involved, we remain unconvinced that these greater powers to probe our online conversations and activity is in our interests or for the protection of potential victims.

May said these powers should be implemented following the General Election.

Read more about this story here.

5) David Cameron attacks migrant workers, but does nothing about exploitative bosses

David Cameron was criticised for attacking migrant workers with further restrictions to benefits, whilst doing nothing to stop exploitative bosses from paying low wages.

Unite assistant general secretary Steve Turner said: “Today David Cameron did not act as a prime minister but as a low-grade scrapper, trying to save his political skin by kicking migrant workers.

“He knows he cannot please his big business paymasters who want free access to European workers and the profits that come from their hard work on low wages.

“Instead he inflames a fear of European workers, proposing to cement them as a second-class workforce with no access to the assistance that millions of low paid workers in this country simply need to make ends meet.

“Too many UK employers are addicted to welfare to top up their low waged workforce. It is not migrants that are dragging down pay, but boardrooms that are holding it down.

“Why does he not tackle this by ensuring that collective bargaining can safeguard wages? Look at Germany, which has far greater levels of immigration than the UK but which has laws to protect decent wages.

“What the prime minister did today was to send out a message that the problems in our economy are the fault of workers, wherever they come from. This is a lie. It is not migrant workers who recruit in Poland, or force zero hours work upon people desperate for a job.

“It is not migrant workers who have sold off council homes, cut our Sure Start places, brought ruin to our NHS, or have forced the greatest collapse in living standards in generations.

“It is business behaviour and political decisions that are causing insecurity, not ordinary people trying to make a living.”

Read more about this story here.

6) Government not doing enough to tackle ESA problems

Dr Litchfield’s fifth and final independent review of the Work Capability Assessment (WCA) has been published and the Government has responded to a Work and Pensions Select Committee review into Employment and Support Allowance (ESA).
For the last five years, Mind has been feeding into the independent reviews, calling for changes to the WCA process which is used to decide whether someone is able to get the disability benefit ESA. We have also submitted evidence to the Work and Pensions Committee outlining our concerns about wider benefit reforms and the failure of government schemes to support people with mental health problems into work.MIND%20logo[1]

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

“We welcome the ongoing improvements to the WCA through the independent review process, and particularly the focus on the experience of people with mental health problems. However the narrow scope of these reviews means that wider problems with the system for people with mental health problems have still not been tackled.

“The Work and Pensions Committee report provided a comprehensive evaluation of ESA and the WCA and included strong recommendations. Unfortunately the Government’s response represents a missed opportunity, with little sign that they are willing to make reforms of the scale needed.

“Very few people with mental health problems are being supported into work through ESA, and huge numbers of people are receiving benefit sanctions from a system that does not understand their needs and barriers. As a result, many people are finding that the stress and pressure they are put under is making their health worse, and making them feel less able to work. That’s why we’re calling for everyone with mental health problems claiming ESA to receive personalised, specialist support which acknowledges and addresses the barriers they may face in getting and staying in work.”

7) Pensioners lead protest for energy rights, after ONS reveal 18,200 excess winter deaths last year

Image: Fuel Poverty Action

Image: Fuel Poverty Action

Pensioners marched and demonstrated outside the offices of lobbyists Energy UK following the release of the winter death toll from the Office for National Statistics.

Find out more about Fuel Poverty Action here.

8) #Cameronmustgo trends for four days

The hashtag #Cameronmustgo trended for 4 days last week, with an outpouring of hundreds of thousands of messages and reasons to sack the Tory PM. Unfortunately, it got no coverage in the media.

From ‘Bring Back News to the BBC’ – Nov 25 –

#CameronMustGo is still trending in the UK on Twitter for the fourth day in a row. No sign at all of it on the #bbctrending Twitter feed. I haven’t heard mention of it on any BBC news outlets (do let us know if you see/hear anything like meaningful coverage). Daily, wall to wall coverage of a single tweet by Elizabeth Thornberry on all mainstream media outlets for many days, but 400,000 + tweets largely ignored by all but single articles in the liberal outlets (HuffPo, Guardian, etc), which have all written multiple articles on Thornberry – 2 to 3 a day for 5 days.

“The mainstream media is talking a completely different language and setting a totally different agenda to the people of the country, and it is happy to talk UKIP, immigrants, scroungers, but not austerity, injustice and poverty. That’s why we need to speak up for ourselves.”

9) George Osbourne’s #AusterityFail

Ahead of budget day on 3rd December, the People’s Assembly have put together a video of messages for George Osbourne.

 

The BBC have reported that the Government is considering cutting the rate of Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) by nearly £30 per week. Those in the Work Related Activity Group (WRAG), who have been found to be not ‘fit for work’ but able to engage with activities to help them move towards work, could receive little more than those claiming Jobseekers’ Allowance (JSA), according to Michael Buchanan at the BBC.

Let’s also not forget that more than a third of those with degenerative conditions such as Parkinson’s have also been put into this WRAG group, which is a cut to Full Employment Support Allowance already, and being in this group callously suggests these people will be able to work in the future despite the nature of their conditions meaning they worsen over time.

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

“If these proposals go ahead it would leave many people with disabilities struggling to make ends meet. People in the WRAG, over 40 per cent of whom have mental health problems, face significant barriers to returning to work and will take much longer to do so than people on JSA. As such, it is right that they receive additional support to allow them to have a reasonable standard of life while preparing for work.

MIND%20logo[1]

“Rather than looking to make reckless short-term savings, the Government should be focused on fixing a system that is failing people with mental health problems. The only responsible way to reduce the cost of ESA is to provide personalised and specialist support to people help them move closer to work. Current Government schemes are failing to do this and, in many cases, are causing stress and anxiety to people that is making their health worse and pushing them further from work.”

And on the new provider for Work Capability Assessments (which the BBC have reported as being US firm Maximus):

“We hope that the appointment of a new provider to carry out Work Capability Assessments will be used as an opportunity to make much needed improvements. The assessment process continues to cause a great deal of distress for people with mental health problems and often fails to recognise the impact of people’s conditions on their ability to work. We have long been calling for assessors with expertise in mental health, and greater use of evidence from professionals who knows the applicant best.”

“However, the WCA needs to be understood in the context of a wider benefits system that is failing people with mental health problems. Only a tiny proportion of people with mental health problems are moving into employment through this process, and actually many people find the pressure placed on them is making their health worse and a return to work less likely. We still need to see a complete overhaul of the system and a more personalised approach which helps people with mental health problems move closer to work and continues to provide ongoing support once they’re in work.”

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”.

 

1)  Council Tax Support cut sees over 600,000 now living in fear of bailiffs and court summons

Following a cut in council tax support, 600,000 people have now been summonsed to court and 87,000 are being pursued by debt collectors, because they cannot find the extra £127 on top of rising living costs and other cuts to benefits.

Those affected are some of the poorest people in the country and only gained the council tax support following means-testing which proved they could not afford it.

Among those suffering most are 394,000 disabled people and 3,000 war widows,” say the Mirror. 

Council tax benefit was slashed last year by £500m by Eric Pickles and has been dubbed the new poll tax.

Read more about this story here.

2) Nigel Farage squirms when challenged on £2m expenses claims, on ‘Have I Got News For You’

UKIP leader, Nigel Farage appeared on the BBC’s Have I Got News For You last week and was rightly challenged on his previous boastings of £2m worth of expenses claims. Farage replied “And who was it that brought up the issue of £2m and me and taxpayer’s money? Denis Macshane,” to which Ian Hislop pointed out “Yeah, he’s in jail, but you’re not.”

Watch the video here.

Image: The Mirror

Image: The Mirror

3) Iain Duncan Smith’s speech “Getting Britain Working” branded out of touch, and not a reflection of the true conditions 

Iain Duncan Smith’s speech last week was banging the same drum, once again suggesting there is a culture of welfare dependency that needs to be tackled and avoiding facts such as most people on benefits are in work. Paul Farmer, Chief Executive of the mental health charity Mind, responded to the Work and Pensions Minister’s speech in the Huffington Post, and called out Iain Duncan Smith’s lack of understanding and false reflection of what is really happening. Read the full post here.

“The picture he painted is one hugely at odds with the lives of the millions of ordinary people who are supported by benefits in the UK – many of whom are in work, but on low pay, caring for others, need care themselves or have lost their jobs.”

 

4) Sue Townsend dies aged 68

Image: The Guardian

Image: The Guardian

The author of Adrian Mole, Sue Townsend, died last week after suffering a stroke at home.

Townsend had tackled and written on the welfare state and it’s effects on the people it is meant to help, including the below extract from a piece she wrote for the Observer in 1989, on her own experiences and how she was left destitute.

Read the full article here.

“The DSS offices are not given enough funding, their staff are poorly paid and are driven to distraction by the amount of work they have to do. There is frequent turnover of staff. Morale is extremely low. Working with desperate people all day is very dispiriting; their unhappiness rubs off on you. For the sake of self-preservation you develop a thicker skin, you come to regard the claimants as the enemy. Because they are inarticulate in the presence of articulate officialdom, you do not respect them and habitually talk to them as though they are of lower intelligence than yourself. You are frightened of them, and all your communication takes place behind a glass screen. The furniture they sit on is screwed down because, in the past, this furniture has been thrown at you.

“They offend you in their poverty, you despise their clothes and their shoes. Some of them smell and have disgusting personal habits. That is why it is impossible to allow them free access to the lavatory; why they must queue up and ask for the key.

“Nobody goes to a DSS office to ask for state benefits if they are well and happy and employed. Nobody needs to. There is no need to have vile surroundings and seemingly uncaring staff as a disincentive.

“People down on their luck deserve the best: beautiful surroundings and well-paid professional staff to help them out of their difficulties. Why not train thousands more social workers and let them sit in on claimants’ interviews? Most social problems could be helped or prevented if people had more money and practical advice. The present benefits system is unfair, inefficient, and totally unprofessional; which is why millions of people do not claim the benefits to which they are legally entitled.”

 

5) Worldwide Wave Of Action continues

Join in. Do something – big or small. Be part of the change.

Find out more here

“Dear future generations….I will do everything I can, with all my heart, body and mind, to help create a world that works for everyone and all life. The time is now!#WaveOfAction

Image: Worldwide Wave Of Action Facebook

Image: Worldwide Wave Of Action Facebook

 

by Kam Sandhu @KamBass

 

 

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.

atos-e1390924724560

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

Most people believe that benefits and welfare are an important safety net for people in needs, but one in four people have hidden the fact they claim benefits because of the stigma attached and worries over what people would think, says a new campaign.

Image: Who Benefits?

Image: Who Benefits?

More than seventy charities and community groups have joined forces to launch Who Benefits? – a campaign to give a voice to the millions of people supported by benefits at some point in their lives.

Polling carried out for Who Benefits? – brought together by The Children’s SocietyCrisisGingerbreadMacmillan Cancer Support and Mind – reveals overwhelming public support for the principle that benefits should be there for those who need them. Eighty-one percent agree that ‘benefits are an important safety net to support people when they need help’, while two-thirds (64 percent) agree that ‘we all benefit as a society when support from benefits is available for those that need it’.

But despite widespread public support, more than a quarter (27 percent) of those who currently claim benefits say they have hidden this because of what people will think. This rises to half (47 percent) of 16-24 year olds who have been supported by benefits. And more than half (51 percent) of all those who had never been supported by benefits said they would feel embarrassed to claim.

The poll findings come on the back of the recent British Social Attitudes survey which showed a softening of public attitudes towards benefits and unemployment.

Who Benefits? argues that the overwhelming majority of those on benefits really need the support, yet too often their voices are ignored, misrepresented or at worst they are blamed for their situation.

The campaign, which launched yesterday (Tuesday 8th October), is asking people to share their stories through whobenefits.org.uk.  Hundreds of people who have been supported by benefits have already shared their stories through the website and through social media with the hashtag #WeAllBenefit.

The government and media attack on claimants has been forceful and disproportionate. The rhetoric put out by government has sought to tar all claimants with the same brush, as scroungers and skivers, in a bid to cut welfare for all who need it. All this despite the presence of the recession which has forced many into unemployment, under-employment or lower income. The campaign has worked to smear claimants, who are not to blamed for the crash of the economy, who should not to be blamed for losing their jobs, who should not feel blame for the help they need.

It’s time to change the way we talk about benefits, because We All Benefit from a system of social security. Who Benefits? calls on the government to stop the damaging and divisive rhetoric on the worst off, and instead look at the real reasons people are struggling and falling into debt – housing, living standards, low wages etc.

Laura is one of the hundreds who shared their story. She said:

“I’ve needed support from benefits because, as a mother of four, daily life can be a real struggle. Before we received support I was forced to borrow from family and friends. I’m a full-time mum, and my husband has been working as a full-time mechanic for six years.”

“Receiving support from Child Tax Credits is not a lifestyle choice for me – it’s a necessity. It helps me to put food on the table for my family, buy clothes and school uniforms for my children and prevent the gas and electricity from being cut off. Without this support I don’t know how we would survive.”

Matthew Reed, Chief Executive of The Children’s Society, said:

“Life is full of ups and downs, it can be unpredictable. But no one should go hungry because they lose their job or go into debt because they are on such a low wage. And it is reassuring to see that the public support this view.

“At a time when families up and down the country are feeling the squeeze, it is important – now more than ever – that society supports those in need. The overwhelming majority of people who get benefits really need them; whether they are working, looking for work or unable to work.”

Paul Farmer, Chief Executive of Mind, said:

“Support from benefits makes a huge difference to the lives of many people with mental health problems, allowing people to stay well and retain their independence; or help with the additional costs that come from having a disability.

“Lots of individuals with mental health problems face stigma and discrimination, as their condition is less visible than a physical disability. These new statistics suggest those who claim benefits experience double the stigma.”

You can visit the Who Benefits? website here. Let’s change the debate.

As austerity takes its toll on the nation’s purse, there is a growing worry for the public’s mental health. 

For those already suffering from mental health problems, stricter policies for benefit claimants, changes in applications and changes in finances can be hugely challenging and difficult to deal with. For those that are susceptible to mental health problems, the drop in income, work status or application could be a stress too far and bring about strong problems.

We caught up with Claire Bennett and Tom Pollard from the Mind Charity for Mental Health to talk about how welfare reforms are affecting those with mental illness, the link between mental health and poverty, and also their recent victory against the DWP and the Work Capability Assessment – which was found to discriminate against those with mental health problems.

You can listen to the interview here.

“We find this all across the benefits system, it’s often counter-productive the way these reforms and policies are being implemented, because people end up feeling worse because of how they’re treated, and end up feeling really under pressure because of the way the system views them and treats them, and actually that pushes people further away from work.”

“There is that element of shame around claiming benefits. People often feel like it’s something that has a lot of stigma attached to it, and obviously mental health is something that has a lot of stigma attached to it, so that’s not a very pleasant combination. And we certainly feel the way the reforms and the people who use benefits have been talked about over the last couple of years, and the public debate around that, has been far from helpful in terms of helping people feel comfortable in claiming the support they’re entitled to and the support they need.”

Tom Pollard, Mind

Unfortunately, that victory that Mind, and all those involved, had to work so hard for is now threatened. The Department for Work and Pensions has now been granted an appeal against the decision that the Work Capability Assessments were discriminatory against those with mental health problems.

Should the DWP win their appeal, the future for those suffering with mental health problems is pretty bleak.

The only hope for a defence of rights for mental illness sufferers in the event of a DWP win is a ‘Atos Mental Function Champion’. This is a role introduced by the DWP as an assessor of the ATOS Fit To Work test, there to “spread best practice and provide advice and coaching to healthcare professionals at any stage in a case”. The good people over at False Economy have been investigating the role and it seems they are yet to find out who they are and what they have improved.

We fear it is just another tick-box for the DWP, to say there is someone watching over the practices of ATOS and their treatment of those with mental illness, when in fact they either do not exist, or will not act as an assessor and independently report on any mis-handlings or advise on improvement.

However, there is a chance to fight back. The consultation over the WCA is now open. If you have had any contact with the Assessment and would like to add your experience and voice to the review, you can  – on the government website here.

Mike Sivier, journalist, campaigner, blogger and carer for his disabled girlfriend posted his submission here.

Find out more about Mind, their campaigns and how to get in touch if you want to talk – here.

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by Kam Sandhu @KamBass

1. The True Impact of the Bedroom Tax

The Independent broke the news that there had been a 338% increase in the number of people applying for emergency handouts as a result of the bedroom tax introduction last month.

25,000 applications were made for discretionary housing benefit (DHP) in April,  across 51 councils, to help cover rent. In the same month last year there were 5,700.

Every council saw a rise in claimants, and many reported a massive shortfall in funding given to deal with the influx, leading some claimants who would otherwise be helped, to be turned away. Some councils had to hire extra staff in order to cope with the increase in applications and to help give advice.

According to the DWP, the rise is down to better publicity of DHP by local councils. Somehow, we’re not convinced.

Read more about the story here.

Bedroom Tax Impact was front page news for The Independent

Bedroom Tax Impact was front page news for The Independent

2. The Universal Credit system is not working, according to official review

A report released by the Major Projects Authority which reviews the 170 most expensive projects set by government has put the Universal Credit system on an ‘amber-red’ status meaning it is in danger of failing.

The MPA works on behalf of the taxpayer to ensure the biggest and most expensive government projects are reviewed, creating better transparency and improve efficiency and delivery.

The DWP said that the findings were out of date and that through close consultation with the MPA, they have strengthened their plans to put the system back on course. However, the release of the data came on Friday evening, raising questions on whether there was an attempt to ‘bury bad news’.

Read more about this story here.

3. Iain Duncan Smith faces judicial review over ‘benefits cap’

The DWP seems to be forming a close relationship with the courts, as another summons was brought to them this week. This time, Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, Iain Duncan Smith, is challenged on the ‘benefits cap’ by four families.

The policy, brought in last month in some boroughs, caps the amount of benefits claimable for those who do not work enough hours to claim Working Tax Credits.  It is set at £500 for lone parents and couples and at £350 for single adults.

For two of the families, the £500 will not cover their current rent, leaving them no money for food, clothing or necessities. The cap will force them into arrears, eviction and probable homelessness. The other two families have escaped domestic violence from a spouse upon whom they relied financially. The cap will have equally devastating effects on their lives.

The government say the cap will affect 56,000 families by the time it is rolled out nationally in September this year.

Read more about the story here.

4. Working Capability Assessment ruled unfair on sufferers of mental health problems

There was some well-earned victory for welfare campaigners last week, as three judges ruled that the Work Capability Assessment was unfair on those suffering from mental illness.

Charities such as Mind, Rethink Mental Illness and the National Autistic Society took part in the case to give evidence on the experiences of its members, explaining that the task of gathering all of an individual’s paperwork and information from GPs, social workers and hospitals was simply too much for some sufferers.

Camapaigners are now calling for an all out review and suspension of the WCA in order to assess its overall suitability and compliance.

The DWP said it will appeal against the decision.

Read more about the story here.

 5. Disabled workers stop traffic in Central London

Ahead of the National Day of action on 1st June, attendees at the TUC Disabled Workers conference abandoned the last part of their day to take to the streets in a passionate and spontaneous protest that halted traffic along London’s Tottenham Court Road.

Protesters had spent the Wednesday vowing to fight against welfare reforms that are severely affecting their lives in terms of employment, housing and benefits.

by Kam Sandhu @KamBass

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by Kam Sandhu @KamBass

Image: Black Triangle Campaign

Image: Black Triangle Campaign

Three judges ruled that the Work Capability Assessment was unfair and discriminatory for sufferers of mental illness. The ruling, which was passed on Wednesday, came as a huge victory for welfare campaigners and charities such as Mind, Rethink Mental Illness and the National Autistic Society who all took part in the case to provide evidence based on the experiences of members and supporters.

The WCA requires candidates being put forward to supply all of their evidence from people and places that will help build their case, such as GPs or social workers. Acquiring this information is wholly the responsibility of the claimant, and this is what the case focused on.

The responsibility to gather this information for some sufferers of mental illness is simply too much, and this lead to some cases being unfairly decided upon because claimants found it impossible to gather everything they needed for the Assessment, and decisions were made without full knowledge of circumstance.

The DWP was found in breach of the Equality Act 2010, having failed to make reasonable adjustments for those with mental disabilities. The DWP must now ensure that evidence is not left out, and is taken into account.

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Above: Rethink Mental Illness and Mind – Two of the charity organisations giving evidence in the case.

Paul Jenkins, CEO of Rethink Mental Illness said:“This ruling proves once and for all that this cruel and unfair process is unlawful. The judges have independently confirmed what our members have been saying for years – the system is discriminating against some of the most ill and vulnerable people in our society, the very people it is meant to support.

“This ruling will help improve one aspect of the Work Capability Assessment, but there are still many other problems with it. We will keep campaigning on behalf of everyone we represent until the whole process is fair for everyone.”

This is a huge victory for campaigners who have worked for years to fight the cases of those suffering. We can only hope this is the first step to more justice for those who are being penalised unnecessarily.

KS

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