Urgent: UK-US trade inquiry and consultation quietly launched by select committee, deadline for submissions this Monday

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A Commons Select Committee launched a public inquiry on 2 February. The International Trade Committee invited the public to send their views regarding the upcoming UK-US trade deal. The Committee will use those ideas to form recommendations for the government’s approach to the deal. 

However, in addition to the fact that the inquiry wasn’t widely publicised, the time scale given for responding is less than a month. The deadline for written submissions is (unbelievably) Monday 27 February 2017

The Conservatives wholly endorsed the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), which would have enshrined the rights of corporations under International Law, and restrict future governments in overturning the changes through the threat of expensive legal action. These are the largest trade agreements in history, and yet they are NOT open for review, debate or amendment by Parliaments or the public.

The agreements would have shifted the balance of power between corporations and the state – effectively creating a corporatocracy. It would have NO democratic foundation or restraint whatsoever. The main thrust of the agreement was that corporations will be able to actively exploit their increased rights through the TPP and TTIP to extend the interests of the corporation, which is mostly to maximise their profits.

Human rights and public interests certainly would not have been a government priority. Six hundred US corporate advisors have had input into the TTIP. The draft text was not made available to the public, press or policy makers. The level of secrecy around the trade agreement was unparalleled. The majority of US Congress were also kept in the dark while representatives of US corporations were consulted and privy to the details.

A major concern for many of us was that many of the regulations likely to be affected under TTIP are designed to protect our health and the environment by setting safe levels of pesticides in food and chemicals in our toiletries and household cleaning products for example. These safeguards will be eroded or eliminated, potentially exposing people to greater risks of unsafe, unregulated commercial goods to support the interests of multinationals.

The infamous TTIP (and the EU-Canada trade deal CETA) provide likely blueprints for future trade deals. So we also have a good idea of what kind of potential dangers for our public services, such as the NHS, lie ahead. Trump, like the Conservative government here in the UK, is a strong advocate of deregulation and “free market competition” – which effectively means that (even more) of our public services are at risk of being sold off to big multinational companies.

The Conservative privatisation programme has been an unmitigated failure. We have witnessed scandalous price rigging, massive job losses and job insecurity, decreased wages and poorer working conditions, profoundly decreased standards in service delivery, disempowerment of our unions, and above all, at terrible cost to many citizens. But then the Conservatives will always swing policy towards benefiting private companies and not the public, as we know. In Britain, privatisation is primarily driven by the neoliberal New Right’s ideological motives, to “roll back the frontiers of the State” and to “increase efficiency”. 

SumOfUs – a global campaign that fights for people over profits, and is committed to curbing the growing power of corporations – have drafted six key demands for a better, more just trade deal with the aim of “letting Theresa May know right from the start that we won’t let her turn Brexit into a corporate takeover.” 

The SumOfUs community has urged the UK government to uphold the following principles in negotiating a trade agreement with the US: 

1. Labour, climate and human rights agreements and how they’re implemented in UK law should take precedence over the trade agreement.

2. Violations of human rights, workers’ rights and environmental protection should be sanctionable, and those sanctions meaningful and effective. 

3. Negotiations need to happen transparently and inclusively. Text proposals as well as consolidated treaty texts need to be published to allow for public scrutiny and robust debate. Corporations must not be granted privileged access.

4. No special rights for investors. The deal should not enable US corporations to sue the UK over policy in the public interest that threatens their profits.

5. All public services must be exempt and protected from corporate takeover. 

6. No race to the bottom on regulation – all laws should be harmonised to the highest standard and should always allow a party to go beyond the levels of protections agreed upon.

You can visit SumOfUs site to add your name to their message to the International Trade Committee, and endorse the six outlined principles. 

The inquiry is to examine the potential for a UK-US trade agreement, the opportunities and challenges any agreement might present and the implications for the production and sale of goods and services on both sides of the Atlantic. It will make recommendations to the Government on how it should approach trade relations with the US.

Interested organisations or individuals are invited to submit written evidence to the Committee. (Quickly.)

Terms of reference

The Committee is particularly interested in the following:

  • what the UK’s priorities and objectives should be in negotiating any such agreement;
  • the possible impacts (positive and negative) on specific sectors of the UK economy from such an agreement;
  • the extent to which any agreement could and should open up markets in services, including public services; 
  • the extent to which any agreement could and should open up markets in public procurement;
  • how any agreement should approach regulation, including regulatory harmonisation;
  • what dispute-resolution mechanism should form part of any such agreement; and
  • what involvement, if any, the UK should seek to have in the North American Free Trade Area or any future regional free trade agreement involving the USA.

Send a written submission to the International Trade Committee

Don’t forget that the closing date is Monday 27 February, so you will have to act quickly to have your say.

Chair’s comments

On launching the inquiry, Committee Chair Angus MacNeil MP commented:

“It seems highly likely that a trade deal with the US will be this Government’s first step in their attempts to reshape the UK’s economic relationship with the rest of the world. This will be a tough test. The UK will be entering negotiations led by a newly formed department. They may feel the need for a deal to show the rest of the world, and domestic audience, that the UK is open for business. And any outline agreement could impact on how our negotiations progress with the EU. 

The US might not be expected to offer many concessions, either. In his first days in office, President Trump has not shied away from implementing his campaign pledges, no matter how radical. How will his pledge to buy American and hire American sit with his aim to negotiate a deal “very quickly” with the UK? Is the President’s desire to prove his reputation for winning in deals bad news for a UK wanting some form of equal partnership?

Most importantly, this is a necessary inquiry as we must move beyond the showmanship and controversy that will no doubt be a feature of this process, and drill down to the detail of what is proposed. What should be the UK’s red lines? What sectors could win and lose? Will access to public services be on the table? 

Crucially, we want to explore how far Ministers should be prepared to go to get the marquee deal they are after.”

Related

A UK trade deal with Trump? Be careful what you wish for

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I don’t make any money from my work. I am disabled because of illness  and have a very limited income. But you can help by making a donation to help me continue to research and write informative, insightful and independent articles, and to provide support to others. The smallest amount is much appreciated – thank you.

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Unethical academics are making a mockery of our education system

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Here are two short articles from the Guardian’s Academics Anonymous, which provide insight into two particular problems experienced in universities.

A culture of unethical behaviour is thriving at our universities. But these are publicly funded institutions – and must be held to account.

On the face of it, ethics in academia have transformed over the past few decades – most, if not all, universities now have ethics committees to oversee the quality of research. Yet experience has shown me that, in reality, many academics pay little heed to ethics.

What qualifies as research is open to question, and increasingly academics working in non-traditional areas are not even engaging with the ethics committee at their own universities. Worse, educators are behaving unethically with respect to the university more widely, their professions and the UK taxpayer.

There are academics who have full-time corporate jobs while also receiving a university salary. There are clear examples in many Russell Group institutions. There are academics from professions such as medicine, engineering, law and archaeology who have either part-time or full-time contracts with other employers. Particularly worthy of note are the law academics who work full-time in practice at a law firm while also receiving a full-time university or college salary. 

Is the taxpayer subsidising the legal profession? And what happens to the independence of their university research? The boundaries of these moonlighting academic researchers are defined by their commercial practice.

Some seem not to have much real interest in being academics at all. Yet they are able to use academic titles to give them independent expert status in industry, build a career outside of academia, and ultimately gain financial recompense far greater than an academic salary.

These are not isolated cases, and universities contain many examples of other ways the system is being exploited. At one university, for example, an academic paid about £20,000 to hire a room less than 100m from their university for an event more about self-promotion than academic content.

I’ve witnessed academics hiring students to work on external career projects despite the fact that they are paid by the university. I’ve seen them fixing research contracts at part-time rates of pay while expecting the person to work full time, when full-time contracts are available. Others use their expertise to accredit foreign items looted from war-torn countries for auction houses and the wealthy elite (giving some form of provenance to the stolen treasure, be that through inclusion in an academic article, translating writing on the object, or providing a history of the object for a seller or owner).

Then there are the academics at prestigious institutions who spend just one day a week during term time at their universities, while living and working in other countries. They have signed contracts stating they will contribute to university life – but this is hardly possible if they’re located elsewhere.

No one is begrudging academic success, or ignoring other honourable academics who spend their free time lecturing classes – even at weekends, and for free, in some cases. But there is a widespread cultural problem surrounding ethics at universities.

There is little attention paid to how academics behave or deliver their duties. The remit of university ethics committees – which have clearly not stayed in touch with the issues – needs to be extended to include the decision-making of these academics. Universities are publicly funded institutions and play an important role in societal development. The taxpayer and the students paying high fees should be demanding answers.

If we the educators, paid for by the British taxpayer, do not operate and practise with the strictest ethical codes, how can we expect the rest of society to adopt sound ethical standards? Not only this, but the value of a university education is being diminished.

The ethics problem is systemic, but the solution is simple: academics should be made to disclose conflicts of interest in their jobs, and disclose external contracts and earnings to their university and the public. It is time to relieve the taxpayer of these unethical academics – and ensure that research independence, ethical behaviour and accountability are passed on to the next generation of students, academics and professionals.

Related

Rogue company Unum’s profiteering hand in the government’s work, health and disability green paperwhich in part lays out an account of the revolving door between corrupt corporate and political institutions and handful of careerist academics spinning out a lucrative, ideological and neoliberal niche for themselves.

I’m an academic but I took a corporate job. Should I be ashamed?


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I’m a British academic, but no longer feel welcome in the UK

Much has been written about the possible brain drain among European nationals following the Brexit vote. A huge 76% of European academics are thinking about leaving the UK. But they aren’t the only ones who feel unwelcome here. I’m a British academic, and I’m leaving to take up a post in Europe.

Thanks to now-mainstream racist and anti-immigration discourses and policies, I no longer feel at home here. For me, Brexit is the last straw, building on foundations laid by the government’s net migration policy (upheld by the supreme court last week). Introduced in 2012 to reduce immigration to “sustainable levels” by limiting family reunification, it has directly undermined my right to family life.

My personal experience of the policy began when I married a non-EU citizen in 2011 while conducting doctoral fieldwork in his home country. Although we’ve now been married six years, my husband has never been able to enter the UK. Our first application for a tourist visa, so that he could meet my family over Christmas in 2012, was rejected on the grounds that I did not have sufficient savings. 

I couldn’t apply for a two-year “leave to enter” visa for him either, because despite juggling part-time teaching and consultancy contracts, I didn’t earn over the £18,600 net income threshold that permits British nationals to invite a non-EU spouse. This threshold is designed to bar entry to individuals who would end up claiming benefits, but ignores other types of assets. In my case, I lived rent-free with my parents so my husband and I would never have had to seek recourse to public funds.

It is estimated that the threshold affects just over 40% of the British working population and discriminates against women in particular. As many as 17,800 families can be broken up each year, and in many cases the policy has actually created de facto single parents reliant on the welfare state.

I now have a full-time job at a university I adore, where I did two Master’s degrees and my PhD. The combination of departments and research centres at my institution makes it the perfect place for me to work. I take great pleasure in my job, which involves supporting less privileged students to enter higher education. And I have been lucky in that my supervisers and colleagues have been unwaveringly supportive, both professionally and emotionally.

I always assumed that I would settle with my husband in the UK, given my strong networks in British academia and the fact that my biological family all live here. But the most my husband and I see each other in person is for one to two weeks up to three times a year, and we maintain our relationship through Skype. Although we would love to start a family, we’ve postponed having children for several years as I couldn’t face the insecurity of giving birth to and raising a baby without him.

I now earn enough to bring my husband to the UK, but applications for “leave to enter” and especially “permanent settlement” are extremely onerous and expensive (£1,500 for the former and £6,000 for the latter). This is compounded by the fact that English is not the official language in his home country, so for permanent settlement he must pass exams requiring a standard of English well beyond that needed for everyday life in the UK. Because he also presents dyslexia symptoms, we would face the cost of years of private language lessons if we are to live together.

Like many other couples, the hurdles, uncertainty, and ongoing distance between us have negatively affected us both financially and emotionally. Until I recently secured a contract at a European university, we were in a constant state of anxiety as to whether we would ever find a solution to our situation.

Incredibly, I have more rights in Europe than I do in Britain as a British citizen. European countries realise the value of highly-skilled employees in making their universities competitive. For instance, Germany’s Humboldt Research Fellowship [pdf] provides a stipend for dependent family members, and funds language acquisition for non-German researchers and their spouses.

I have invested heavily in my academic career, and Britain has invested in me: I benefited from several degrees at previously subsidised rates of £3,500 a year, not to mention a prestigious Research Council PhD grant. But I don’t feel a sense of duty to “give back” to a country that denies me the right to family life.

Debates about the risks that the net migration policy and hard Brexit pose to academia have tended to focus on restrictions on international students [pdf], and the challenges UK universities will face in retaining and recruiting the best academics and securing collaborative research grants. Yet the potential loss of British academics affected by absurd family reunification rules, or those with EU spouses uncertain after Brexit, has remained largely invisible.

But after following the comments on various academic blogs, I sense that I am not the only one looking for an escape route. Theresa May’s model of Global Britain is anything but, and risks alienating those with personal and professional links to the world beyond this small island. Evidence shows that highly skilled Brits are currently emigrating en masse as salaries and quality of life are so much better elsewhere – and there is no reason to assume that this won’t apply to British academics after Brexit.

 

 Related

No longer welcome: the EU academics in Britain told to ‘make arrangements to leave’

Brexit exodus: EU academics ‘already pulling out’ of UK universities, MPs warned

Both articles are from the Guardian’s Academics Anonymous, which is the blog series where academics tell it like it is. If you would like to be the next contributor to the anonymous blogpost about the trials, tribulations and frustrations of university life, get in touch here.

 

Lords table motion to kill new Tory restrictions on PIP

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Around 160,000 disabled people will be stripped of their entitlement to support for the additional costs they face because of their disability after the government shifted the goalposts to deal with upper tribunal legal rulings, according to the Labour Party.

Debbie Abrahams, shadow work and pensions secretary, said: “Instead of listening to the court’s criticisms of personal independence payment assessments and correcting these injustices, the government has instead decided to undermine the legal basis of the rulings.

This is an unprecedented attempt to subvert an independent tribunal judgment by a government with contempt for judicial process.

By shifting the goalposts, the Tory government will strip entitlements from over 160,000 disabled people, money which the courts believe is rightfully theirs.

This is a step too far, even for this Tory government. Labour will stand with disabled people, who have already borne the brunt of seven years of austerity, in fighting this injustice.”

(See also:  Government subverts judicial process and abandons promise on mental health ‘parity of esteem’ to strip people of PIP entitlement. )

According to the Liberal Democrat Voice, the Liberal Democrats have tabled a motion to kill the government attempts to severely restrict disability benefits.

The move follows the recent undemocratic announcement by the government that they will be tightening the criteria for claimants of Personal Independence Payments (PIP) which will see people with serious illnesses such as diabetes, epilepsy and a wide range of mental illnesses left without support.

The purpose of Upper Tribunals

The government has introduced the restrictive regulations after losing two cases at tribunals, showing an utter contempt for the UK judiciary system. However, the UK tribunal system is part of the national system of administrative justice

Administrative law is the body of law that governs the activities of administrative agencies of government. It is designed to independently review the decisions of governments, and as such, it provides protection and promotion of fundamental rights and freedoms for citizens.

The Upper Tribunal is a superior court of record, giving it equivalent status to the High Court and it can both set precedents and can enforce its decisions (and those of the First-tier Tribunal) without the need to ask the High Court or the Court of Session to intervene. It is also the first (and only) tribunal to have the power of judicial review. (The Conservatives have a historical dislike of judicial review. See for example: The real “constitutional crisis” is Chris Grayling’s despotic tendencies and his undermining of the Rule of Law.)

The Tribunals, Courts and Enforcement Act 2007 created a new unified structure for tribunals and recognises legally qualified members of tribunals as members of the judiciary of the United Kingdom who are guaranteed continued judicial independence. This means that the judiciary is kept discrete from other branches of government. That is so that courts are not subjected to improper influence from the other branches of government, or from private or partisan interests.

Judicial Independence is vital and important to the idea of separation of powers. The intent behind this concept is to prevent the concentration of political power and provide for checks and balances. It has been significantly influenced by judicial independence principles developed by international human rights constitutional documents. in the application of the European Convention on Human Rights in British law through the Human Rights Act 1998, which came into force in the UK in 2000.

The government’s new regulations are a particularly autocratic move, aimed at simply overturning two legal rulings that the government did not like, partly because their zealotry concerning their anti-welfarism and “small state” neoliberal ideology has been challenged. The regulations were ushered in and imposed so that they would not be subjected to parliamentary scrutiny and debate or democratic dialogue with disabled people or groups and organisations that support and advocate for those with disability. 

From Penny Mordaunt’s statement:

“The first judgement held that needing support to take medication and monitor a health condition should be scored in the same way as needing support to manage therapy, like dialysis, undertaken at home. Until this ruling, the assessment made a distinction between these two groups, on the basis that people who need support to manage therapy of this kind are likely to have a higher level of need, and therefore face higher costs.

The second held that someone who cannot make a journey without assistance due to psychological distress should be scored in the same way as a person who needs assistance because they have difficulties navigating. By way of example, the first group might include some people with isolated social phobia or anxiety, whereas the second group might include some people who are blind. Until this ruling, the assessment made a distinction between these two groups, on the basis that people who cannot navigate, due to a visual or cognitive impairment, are likely to have a higher level of need, and therefore face higher costs.”

Responding to the announcement, Baroness Cathy Bakewell, Liberal Democrat Shadow Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, said:

“The government is using its recent losses in court as an excuse to severely restrict disability benefits. Rather than listening to the ruling they are using it to make matters worse for disabled people – that is utterly outrageous.

What makes things even worse is that they have sneaked this announcement out under the cover of by-elections. These decisions impact the lives of vulnerable people, Liberal Democrats will not allow the Conservatives to get away with treating people with disabilities with such total contempt.”

The Liberal Democrats contributed to scuppering the government’s plans to restrict tax credits back in October 2015.

Personally, I welcome any collaborative effort to challenge the Conservative’s draconian policies which deny people the help and support that they need. 


I don’t make any money from my work. I am disabled because of illness and have a very limited income. But you can help by making a donation to help me continue to research and write informative, insightful and independent articles, and to provide support to others. The smallest amount is much appreciated – thank you.

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Dangerous new changes planned to force sick people into work – or into poverty – Debbie Abrahams

With many thanks to Open Democracy.

The government promised to help disabled people back into work. They’re failing – and now it looks like they’re targeting those who need higher levels of support.


The punitive changes to social security for sick and disabled people were recently highlighted in the film I, Daniel Blake

The Government published its long-awaited ‘Improving Lives: Work, Health and Disability’ Green Paper at the end of October 2016 after originally promising a White Paper in 2015. The White Paper was supposed to define how disabled people would be supported into work and meet the Government’s manifesto pledge of halving the disability employment gap of 34% by 2020 (currently it stands at 32%).

The employment gap was used to justify further draconian cuts in social security support for disabled people in the Welfare Reform and Work (WRW) Bill published last summer. In particular, the Bill announced cuts of approximately £1,500 a year in Employment and Support Allowance to half a million people in the Work-Related Activity Group (ESA WRAG) – those people who had been found not fit for work, but who may be in the future – to be introduced in April 2017.

The 2016 Welfare Reform and Work Act followed the 2012 Welfare Reform Act which Scope estimated by 2018 will have cut nearly £28bn of social security support to 3.7m disabled people. Of course this doesn’t include £4.6bn cuts in social services support since 2010 or the NHS crisis, both of which affect disabled people.

The Green Paper, the consultation for which closed on 17th February just 6 weeks before the ESA WRAG cuts come into place, makes the bold claim that ‘…employment can… promote recovery.’

The issue I have with this statement, and the tone of the Green Paper as a whole, is that this implies that disabled people and people with chronic conditions would recover if only they tried a bit harder, or their doctors weren’t such soft touches. It doesn’t mention ‘shirkers’ directly but comments on how some people with the same condition languish in the ESA Support Group whilst others “flourish at work”, making it clear that’s what they’re thinking, ignoring their own rhetoric about “not treating everyone in a one-size-fits-all way”.

As a former Public Health consultant who researched into the health effects of work and worklessness, I agree that some work is good for health, but I don’t agree with the Government’s flawed thinking underpinning this: that it’s OK for people to return to work when they are still not fit, because it may help. This is not just unsound, it’s dangerous.

The scapegoating of disabled people, which includes people with physical or mental impairments and long-term health conditions as defined under the 2010 Equality Act, has been a hallmark of this Government and the previous Coalition. But even the conclusion of the United Nations inquiry that the UK Government has been responsible for ‘grave…systematic violations’ of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities since 2010, has been met with Government stonewalling.

It is already well established that disabled people are twice as likely to live in poverty as non-disabled people as a result of the extra costs associated with their disability. Currently 4.2 million disabled people live in poverty and I have been informed from unpublished analysis by an Economic and Social Research Council research project that this is getting worse.

The Government has refused to stop the cuts to ESA WRAG and Universal Credit’s Limited Capacity to Work which come in this April, which will undoubtedly increase the numbers of disabled people living in poverty, threatening their health and well-being. Various discretionary funds may be available, for example the Flexible Support Fund, but there is no guarantee of support and they are quite specific in what they can be used for.

The timing of these cuts when there has been a negligible reduction in the disability employment gap is quite shocking. The Green Paper rings alarm bells that people in the ESA Support Group are the next to be targeted. Linked to this, the new Work Capability Assessment criteria which the Government announced last September (after I committed to scrap the Work Capability Assessment) will be published later this year. These will give a clear indication what the Government’s real agenda is.

The Green Paper also talks about employers and the need for them to invest more in workplace health and occupational health support. This is, of course, very important; 90% of disability and long-term health conditions are acquired, so it is absolutely right to examine what can be done to reduce the risk of employees falling ill and how employers can make reasoned adjustments to support an employee to stay in work if they become disabled. But Access to Work helped only 36,000 disabled people stay in or access work in 2015 out of the 1.4m disabled people who are fit and able to work.

To date, the Disability Confident Campaign launched in 2015 has been a dismal failure making a negligible impact on the disability employment gap. Changes in employer attitudes and behaviour needs practical support, including Access to Work. But what is the Government doing to support employers, especially small businesses given that nearly half the workforce is employed by them? How can a small business access affordable, timely occupational health support? With the NHS in crisis and waiting times for non-urgent treatments escalating, how will timely interventions to help people back to work be delivered?

As always with this Government and the previous Coalition, they are happy to point fingers at everyone else without taking any responsibility themselves. They talk about the impact of work on health and the need for ‘culture change’ and to ‘reinforce health as a work outcome’ but what about the impacts of the social security system on the health of claimants? Their policies have a direct impact on people’s health in the punitive, humiliating way they are too often implemented, but also through the real, enduring poverty and hardship people are forced to live under.

Labour will hold this Conservative Government to account on all these areas, developing meaningful, alternative, approaches with disabled people, employees, and employers as part of our Disability Equality Roadshow. If this Government is committed to a fairer society, they should stop trying to rebuild the economy off the backs of poor, sick and disabled people.

Labour believe, like the NHS, our social security system should be there for all of us in our time of need, based on principles of inclusion, support and security for all, assuring us of our dignity.   

Related

Labour’s Disability Equality Roadshow is a nationwide public consultation about policy with disabled people  Make sure you go and have your say – Labour’s Disability Equality Roadshow comes to Newcastle

The next Disability Equality Roadshow event will be held in London on 27th Feb. Sign up here, to see when the consultation will be held in your area: Eventbrite -Labour’s Disability Equality Roadshow-Brixton. Attending the consultations is free.


I don’t make any money from my work. I am disabled because of illness and have a very limited income. But you can help by making a donation to help me continue to research and write informative, insightful and independent articles, and to provide support to others. The smallest amount is much appreciated – thank you.

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Government subverts judicial process and abandons promise on mental health ‘parity of esteem’ to strip people of PIP entitlement

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Personal Independence Payment is a non means tested benefit for people with a long-term health condition or impairment, whether physical, sensory, mental, cognitive, intellectual, or any combination of these. It is an essential financial support towards the extra costs that ill and disabled people face, to help them lead as full, active and independent lives as possible.

Before 2010, policies that entailed cutting lifeline support for disabled people and those with serious illnesses were unthinkable. Now, systematically dismantling social security for those citizens who need support the most has become the political norm.

Any social security policy that is implemented with the expressed aim of “targeting those most in need” and is implemented to replace a policy that is deemed “unsustainable” is invariably about cost cutting by reducing the eligibility criteria for entitlement. The government were explicit in their statement about the original policy intent behind Personal Independence Payment. However, those being targeted as “most in need” is an ever-shrinking, constantly redefined category – an ever-shifting and ever-shrinking shrinking goalpost.

Disability benefits were originally designed to help sick and disabled people meet their needs, additional living costs and support people sufficiently to allow  a degree of dignity and independent living. You would be mistaken in thinking, however, that Personal Independent Payment was designed for that. It seems to have been designed to provide the Treasury with ever-increasing pocket money. Or as the source of profit for private providers who constantly assess, monitor, coerce and attempt to “incentivise” those people being systematically punished and impoverished by the state to make “behaviour changes,” which entail them not being disabled or ill and taking any available employment, regardless of its suitability. 

The government have already considered ways of reducing the eligibility criteria for the daily living component of Personal Independence Payment (PIP) by narrowing definitions of aids and appliances, and were kite flying further limits to eligibility for PIP last  year

Two independent tribunals have ruled that the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) should expand the scope and eligibility criteria of Personal Independence Payment (PIP), which helps both in-work and out-of work disabled people fund their additional living costs. 

Following a court ruling in favour of disabled people last month, the government is rushing in an “urgent change” to the law to prevent many people with mental health conditions being awarded the mobility component of PIP. The court held that people  with conditions such as severe anxiety can qualify for the enhanced rate of the mobility component, on the basis of problems with “planning and following a journey”, or “going out”. 

The government’s new regulations will reverse the recent ruling and means that people with mental health conditions such as severe anxiety who can go outdoors, even if they need to have someone with them, are much less likely to get an award of even the standard rate of the PIP mobility component. The new regulations also make changes to the way that the descriptors relating to taking medication are interpreted, again in response to a ruling by a tribunal in favour of disabled people.

The first tribunal said more points should be available in the “mobility” element for people who suffer “overwhelming psychological distress” when travelling alone. The second tribunal recommended more points in the “daily living” element for people who need help to take medication and monitor a health condition. 

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) warned that it would cost £3.7bn extra by 2022 to  implement the court rulings. The government have responded by formulating “emergency legislation” to stop the legal changes that the upper tribunals had ruled on from happening. From 16 March the law will be changed, without any democratic conversation with disabled people and related organisations, or debate in parliament, so that the phrase “For reasons other than psychological distress” will be added to the start of descriptors c, d and f in relation to “Planning and following journeys” on the PIP form.

It’s worth noting that the Coalition Government enshrined in law a commitment to parity of esteem for mental and physical health in the Health and Social Care Act 2012. In January 2014 it published the policy paper Closing the Gap: priorities for essential change in mental health (Department of Health, 2014), which sets out 25 priorities for change in how children and adults with mental health problems are supported and cared for. The limiting changes to PIP legislation does not reflect that commitment.  

The new regulations are being rushed in without any dialogue with the Social Security Advisory Committee, too. 

The government have designed regulations which would, according to Penny Mordaunt, be about “restoring the policy originally intended when the Government developed the PIP assessment”.

The original policy intent was to create an opportunity to limit eligibility for those people previously claiming Disability Living Allowance (DLA) whilst they were being reassessed for PIP, which replaced DLA. And to limit successful new claims. 

Mordaunt also said in a written statement to MPs: “If not urgently addressed, the operational complexities could undermine the consistency of assessments, leading to confusion for all those using the legislation, including claimants, assessors, and the courts.

“It is because of the urgency caused by these challenges, and the implications on public expenditure, that proposals for these amendments have not been referred to the Social Security Advisory Committee before making the regulations.”

An ever-shifting, ever-shrinking goalpost

Any social security policy that is implemented with the expressed aim of “targeting those most in need” is invariably about cost cutting and reducing eligibility criteria for entitlement. The government were explicit in their statement about the original policy intent of Personal Independence Payment. 

The government has already considered ways of reducing eligibility criteria for the daily living component of Personal Independence Payment by narrowing definitions of aids and appliances, last  year

Prior to the introduction of PIP, Esther McVey stated that of the initial 560,000 claimants to be reassessed by October 2015, 330,000 of these are targeted to either lose their benefit altogether or see their payments reduced.

We ought to challenge a government that displays such contempt for the judicial system, and ask where the ever-reductive quest for the ever-shrinking category of “those with the greatest need” will end. 

Labour’s Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary, Debbie Abrahams MP, criticised the government’s decision to overturn the tribunal rulings, she said“Instead of listening to the court’s criticisms of PIP assessments and correcting these injustices, this government have instead decided to undermine the legal basis of the rulings”.

Abrahams added: “This is an unprecedented attempt to subvert an independent tribunal judgement by a right-wing government with contempt for judicial process.

By shifting the goal posts, the Tory Government will strip entitlements from over 160,000 disabled people, money which the courts believe is rightfully theirs. This is a step too far, even for this Tory government.”

The government seem to think that PIP is a policy that ought to benefit only the needs of a government on an ideological crusade to reduce social security away to nothing – “to target those in greatest need” – an ever-shrinking, constantly redefined and shifting category of disability.

It is not a democratic government: they are unwilling to engage in a dialogue with the public or to recognise and reflect public needs: that’s an authoritarian elite taking public money and handing it out to a very wealthy minority group in the form of “incentivising” tax cuts, who then say to the public that providing lifeline support for disabled people and those with mental health/medical conditions is “unsustainable”.

Implications for the UK’s obligations regarding the UN convention on the human rights of disabled persons and the Equality Act

The new PIP changes, pushed through without any public conversation or democratic exchange with disabled people, are in breach of both the UN convention on the rights of disabled persons, and the UK Equality Act.

In the Equality Analysis PIP assessment criteria document, the government concede that: “Since PIP is a benefit for people with a disability, impairment or long-term health condition, any changes will have a direct effect on disabled people. The vast majority of people receiving PIP are likely to be covered by the definition of “disability” in the Equality Act 2010.

By definition, therefore, the UT [upper tribunal]judgment results in higher payments to disabled people, and reversing its effect will prevent that and keep payments at the level originally intended. The difference in income will clearly make a real practical difference to most affected claimants, and (depending on factors such as their other resources) is capable of affecting their ability to be independently mobile, access services etc – all matters covered by the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities as set out at the start of this Analysis.”

It goes on to say in the document: “However, this does not necessarily mean that the increased payments that would result from the judgment are a fair reflection of the costs faced by those affected, or represent a fair approach as between different groups of PIP claimants.” 

People with the following conditions are likely to be affected by the reversal of the upper tribunal’s ruling on those needing support to manage medication, monitor a health condition, or both:

Diabetes mellitus (category unknown), Diabetes mellitus Type 1 (insulin dependent), Diabetes mellitus Type 2 (non-insulin dependent), Diabetic neuropathy, Diabetic retinopathy, Disturbances of consciousness – Nonepileptic – Other / type not known, Drop attacks, Generalised seizures (with status epilepticus in last 12 months), Generalised seizures, (without status epilepticus in last 12 months), Narcolepsy, Non epileptic Attack disorder (pseudoseizures), Partial seizures (with status epilepticus in last 12 months), Partial seizures (without status epilepticus in last 12 months), Seizures – unclassified Dizziness – cause not specified, Stokes Adams attacks (cardiovascular syncope), Syncope – Other / type not known.

People with the following conditions are likely to be affected by the reversal of the independent tribunal’s ruling on the effect of the upper tribunal’s judgment, regarding mobility, with conditions in the general category of “psychological distress”:

Mood disorders – Other / type not known Psychotic disorders – Other / type not known, Schizophrenia, Schizoaffective disorder, Phobia – Social Panic disorder, Learning disability – Other / type not known, Generalized anxiety disorder, Agoraphobia, Alcohol misuse, Anxiety and depressive disorders – mixed Anxiety disorders, – Other / type not known, Autism, Bipolar affective disorder (Hypomania / Mania), Cognitive disorder due to stroke Cognitive disorders – Other / type not known, Dementia, Depressive disorder, Drug misuse, Stress reaction disorders – Other / type not known Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), Phobia – Specific Personality disorder Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD).

The government’s so-called commitment to a “parity of esteem for mental health and physical health” was clearly nothing more than an empty promise – an opportunistic platitude. This is a government that says  one thing and then does exactly the opposite.

 It’s all part of a broader gaslighting and linguistic techniques of neutralisation strategy that passes as Conservative “justification” for their draconian deeds and bullying, discriminatory and uncivilised austerity regime, aimed disproportionately at disabled people.

Commenting on the Ministerial announcement (made yesterday, 23rd February), Rob Holland, Public Affairs Manager at Mencap and Disability Benefits Consortium Parliamentary Co-Chair said:

“We are concerned by these changes to the criteria for Personal Independence Payment (PIP). These risk further restricting access to vital support for thousands of disabled people. Last year, MPs strongly opposed restrictions to PIP and the Government promised no further cuts to disability benefits. Other changes have already had a devastating impact on thousands and in far too many cases people have had to rely on tribunals to access the support they need.

We are deeply disappointed as a coalition of over 80 organisations representing disabled people that we were not consulted about these proposals and their potential impact. The Government must ensure the views of disabled people are properly considered before they proceed with these changes.”

tough-choices

 

The full ministerial statement can be read here.

Download a copy of the new regulations here.

Related

PIP disability benefit test ‘traumatic and intrusive’

PIP and the Tory monologue

Government guidelines for PIP assessment: a political redefinition of the word ‘objective’


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Brendan Mason’s brutal murder reflects the darkest consequence of bias motivated behaviour.

brendan_mason_montage2

Brendan Mason, who was brutally murdered by two young men he thought were his friends.
Picture courtesy of the Leicester Mercury

Warning: this article was very distressing to write, and is likely to be very upsetting to read.

Two men who filmed themselves savagely beating a young man with learning difficulties and taunting him, telling him to “smile for the camera”, have been sentenced by Leicester crown court to life imprisonment for his murder. 

In the early hours of 5 July last year, Joshua Hack, aged 21, and Keith Lowe, 22, lured Brendan Mason, a 23 year old man with learning difficulties, to a park, where they said they wanted to spend time with him. Mason believed the two men to be his friends.

When the three of them arrived at the park, Hack and Lowe hung Mason from a tree. They took turns hitting him while the other held him down for several hours, cruelly laughing and taunting him. 

Mason was beaten unconscious, the two young men stripped him naked and threw his body in a pond, leaving him for dead in Abbey Park, Leicester. He was found by park groundsmen at 7.40 am naked, unconscious and bleeding and was airlifted to Walsgrave Hospital in Coventry. 

Medics discovered Mason had 99 separate injuries to his head and body, including brain injury, five broken ribs and a collapsed lung. He died from his injuries later that day.

Hack previously admitted murder. However, Lowe denied it.  However, he was forced to change his plea four days into his trial, after police produced video as evidence of what he did, which he had tried to delete from his phone. 

The court heard the attack had been planned the night before and that Hack and Lowe misinterpreted his behaviour towards a girl at a party. Prosecutor Miranda Moore QC said: “They were describing Brendan as a paedophile and nothing could be further from the truth.”

Mason’s learning difficulties led to a bias in how his ordinary social interactions were perceived.  

She added that police had recovered a “‘trophy’ picture of Lowe standing behind the naked and beaten Brendan, who is sitting cross-legged on the floor”.

A second video, lasting 53 seconds, was deliberately filmed on the mobile phone for others to see. The police managed to retrieve it from cloud storage, showing Lowe taking a direct part in the beating. Lowe had attempted to delete the footage from his phone.

 Moore said: “The audio that goes with it makes that clear.”

The court heard that in the second video, Lowe says: “Brendan. Look at him. Told you whatever he’d done to you, I’d do worse to him, told you that. Move your hand away from your face. Move your hand away from your face now.”

 Moore told the court:

“Officers were able to see the video on the Cloud, showing an unfortunate scene.

It shows Brendan’s battered and naked body with Lowe landing blows.

It was being made for a third party to show them what happened to Brendan.”

The court was also presented with Facebook messages the pair were sending each other while they were in the park with Mason prior to the attack. They used the Facebook messages to plan the attack. Mason who had trusted the two men, believing they were his friends, had no idea to what was about to take place.

At 2:46am, Hack sent Lowe a message saying: “Just hit him and we can both ****off when he’s K’ Od.  Just do it dude.” 

Lowe replied: “Shall we do it because he’s f**ked me off with the lies.”

The court heard how Mason died from inflicted, brutal and unsurvivable brain injuries.

 Mason’s family said in a statement:

“It is not right how two evil people can do such a horrific thing and leave a massive hole in our lives that will never be filled again.

Brendan was a lovely young man and he was so happy. He had numerous learning difficulties and very poor vision.

Even though Brendan had numerous learning difficulties and was very easily led by others, he always knew right from wrong.

The police have been a big part of our life for the past seven months; they have been amazing, but there will never be closure for us.”

Sentencing the two men to life in prison, Judge Michael Chambers said: “You [Lowe and Hack] subjected him [Mason] to a brutal and sustained attack in which you caused him great pain and humiliation.

Brendan Mason was only 23 with his life before him. You subjected him to a merciless attack with extreme violence.

He was sadly a vulnerable young man with learning difficulties. He was kicked mercilessly while naked. The video found was a chilling and deeply disturbing recording of Brendan naked, being kicked repeatedly to the head.

He’s even told to remove his hands from his face so you can kick him. You subjected him to a brutal and sustained attack of extreme violence. You caused him great pain and humiliation.

This was a planned attack, during which you filmed each other assaulting him and you revelled in what you had done, bragging to others. You stripped him naked and left him unconscious. He died later that day.”

The judge added that Hack had lied in his first interview with the police and had even gone with friends to lay flowers at the scene where Mason’s body was found. He said Lowe had bleached his bloodstained trousers, washed his hooded top and hidden his blood-spattered shoes in a bid to cover his tracks.

Senior investigating Officer Detective Chief Inspector Mick Graham said after the trial: “Brendan was known to the defendants and considered them as friends, and they lured him to the park with the full intention of hurting him. Brendan was subjected to a vicious, sustained attack which was filmed by his attackers on their phones. He was left naked and alone in the park having been brutally beaten.”

Hack and Lowe were caught on CCTV footage casually walking into a McDonald’s after they had stripped, hung and then beaten Mason into unconsciousness, seriously and fatally injuring him, and leaving him for dead. Lowe had kept Mason’s mobile phone which he and his then girlfriend were using in the following days.

The growth of prejudice, discrimination and hate crime: Allport’s ladder

Gordon Allport studied the psychological, social, economic and political processes that create a society’s progression from prejudice and discrimination to violence, hate crime and eventually, if if the process continues to unfold without restraint, to genocide. In his landmark exploration of how the Holocaust happened, Allport describes psychological and socio-political processes that foster increasing social prejudice and discrimination and he provides insight into how the unthinkable becomes socially and psychologically acceptable: it happens incrementally, because of a steady erosion of our moral and rational boundaries, and propaganda-driven changes in our attitudes towards “others” that advances culturally, by almost inscrutable degrees.

The process always begins with political scapegoating of a social group and with ideologies that identify that group as an “enemy” or a social “burden” in some way. A history of devaluation of the group that becomes the target, authoritarian culture, and the passivity of internal and external witnesses (bystanders) all contribute to the probability that violence against that group will develop, and ultimately, if the process is allowed to continue evolving, genocide.

Economic recession, uncertainty and authoritarian or totalitarian political systems contribute to shaping the social conditions that trigger Allport’s escalating scale of prejudice. The Conservatives are authoritarians, and prejudice towards vulnerable and socially protected minority groups is almost a cardinal Conservative trait.

Conservatives and the right more generally tend to view the social world hierarchically and are more likely than others to hold prejudices toward low-status groups. This is especially true of people who want their own group to dominate and be superior to other groups – a characteristic known as social dominance orientation. (Pratto, Sidanius, Stallworth, & Malle, 1994). 

Neoliberalism, as an overarching political-economic project of the New Right, establishes and maintains social hierarchies and the strong competitive individualism embedded in neoliberal ideology sets up conflict over resources between social groups, undermining social cooperation and solidarity. 

As inequality has grown in the UK, poverty has also invariably increased, which has caused fear and resentment towards intentional, politically constructed scapegoats and outgroups. 

The nature of prejudice

Prejudice, which is based on unjustified generalisations about groups of people, is reductive, it obscures the complexity of the human experience because the person with prejudices oversimplifies the diversity of life found in a single society or throughout the world.  The rise in prejudice and discrimination in the UK is because of right wing ideology and mythology, designed purposefully to divert the public from the fact that they are being systematically dispossessed of their wealth by a minority, and to maintain the legitimacy (and growing wealth) of those perpetrators in power.

The media is far from objective, benign and politically neutral, in fact we have handful of offshore billionaires that have, along with the government, subverted democracy and established a cultural hegemony. This self-appointed elite are telling you that some human lives are worthless, whilst investing in their own, quite literally, at all cost to our society.

The European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI) reprimanded some British media outlets, particularly tabloid newspapers, for “offensive, discriminatory and provocative terminology”.

In their report, the ECRI said hate speech was a serious problem in the UK. It cited Katie Hopkins’ infamous column in The Sun, where she likened refugees to “cockroaches” and sparked a scathing response from the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, and the same newspaper’s debunked claim over “1 in 5 Brit Muslims’ sympathy for jihadis”

“ECRI urges the media to take stock of the importance of responsible reporting, not only to avoid perpetuating prejudice and biased information, but also to avoid harm to targeted persons or vulnerable groups,” the report concluded.

It also named David Cameron and Nigel Farage as among the British politicians and institutions accused of fuelling rising xenophobia in the UK as debate continues to rage over Brexit, the refugee crisis and terrorism.

It found a “number of areas of concern” over intolerant political discourse and hate speech, as well as violent racial and religious attacks.

The media is being used by and large as a right-wing outlet for political techniques of persuasion, our culture has been saturated with a pathological persuasion to hate others. And prejudice tends to multitask, it doesn’t prefer one social group. It grows.

We live in a society where more than one in two disabled people have experienced bullying or harassment in the workplace, according to research by the disability charity Scope.

The survey of 1,009 disabled UK adults during August 2016 reveals 53% have been bullied or harassed at work because of their disability.

We have a government that does not observe the basic rights of disabled people. Furthermore, the Conservatives have systematically contravened the human rights of disabled persons. This is a government that uses gaslighting to avoid dialogue and democratic accountability regarding the consequences of their draconian, discriminatory  and illegal policies. Techniques of neutralisation used by the government include the manipulative use of language that is designed to mislead, for example, using the word “help” and support” to describe punitive policies and harsh cuts to lifeline support for disabled people.

The stereotypical mainstream media portrayals of people with disability and medical conditions as “shirkers” and “fakes”, with a significant increase in articles focusing on disability benefit and fraud has impacted negatively on people’s views and perceptions of  disability related benefits, leading to perceptual bias. This was a tactical political move to de-empathise the public,  preempting any objection and backlash to the brutal cuts the Conservatives applied to disabled people’s lifeline social security.

There are political and economic constraints imposed on this group of people by a highly discriminatory government. This sends out a message to the public – that disabled people have fewer rights than other citizens; that disabled people are not experts of their own condition or experiences and need the state to “incentivise” them to “overcome” their disabilities, and institutionalised discrimination, and that it is okay to direct prejudice at disabled people as they are somehow “less” than other citizens. 

Policies are systemised, intentional political actions and reflect how the government thinks society ought to be. The majority of austerity cuts have been directed at those with disabilities. The recent removal of the Employment Support Allowance (ESA) work related activity component; the scrapping of the Independent Living Fund; the purposeful reduction in those people deemed eligible for ESA using an amended and harsher work capability assessment; the reduction in those deemed eligible for Personal Independent Payment and subsequent access to the motability scheme, may be regarded as punitive measures aimed at an “undeserving” group. Such policies have systematically stigmatised, outgrouped and ultimately, contributed to the cultural dehumanisation of disabled people.

The discriminatory cuts have caused ill people to feel desperate and worthless by depriving them of the practical means to live, and have become another means of promoting an ideology defined by exclusion and inequality. Many people with medical conditions have died as a consequence of not being able to meet their basic needs, people with mental distress and illness have been pushed over the precipice, and have taken their own lives.

There has been a 213 per cent rise in hate crimes against disabled people, with figures rising 40% per year from 2015. Lee Irving was brutally murdered in June, 2015. Irving had severe learning difficulties. He was bullied and tortured over several days at a house in Newcastle. When he died from his terrible injuries, his tormentors dumped his body on a footpath. Wheatley’s mother, Julie Mills, his then girlfriend Nicole Lawrence, 22, and his accomplice Barry Imray, 35, who also has learning difficulties, did nothing to protect Irving. They were bystanders Wheatley’s mother, Julie Mills, 52, his then girlfriend Nicole Lawrence, 22, and his accomplice Barry Imray, 35, who also has learning difficulties, did nothing to protect Irving. They were passive bystanders.

The justification narrative for the last two government’s targeted austerity policies, and the policies themselves have entailed negative role modelling which has influenced the attitudes and behaviours of the public. Hate crimes are bias motivated behaviours.

The major contributing factor to the increase in hate crime is the collective bias, attitudes and behaviours of the current government, which has perpetuated, permitted and endorsed prejudices against social groups, with a largely complicit media amplifying these prejudices. Their policies embed a punitive approach towards the poorest social groups. This in turn means that those administering the policies, such as staff at the department for work and pensions and job centres, for example, are also bound by punitive, authoritarian behaviours directed at a targeted group. 

As authority figures and role models, the government’s behaviour establishes a framework of acceptability. Parliamentary debates are conducted with a clear basis of one-upmanship and aggression rather than being founded on rational exchange. Indeed, Cameron openly sneered at rationality and didn’t engage in a democratic dialogue, instead he employed the tactics of a bully: denial, scapegoating, vilification, attempts at discrediting, smearing and character assassinations. This behaviour in turn gives wider society permission and approval to do the same.

Scapegoating has a wide range of focus: from “approved” enemies of very large groups of people down to the scapegoating of individuals by other individuals. The scapegoater’s target always experiences a terrible sense of being personally edited and re-written, with the inadequacies of the perpetrator inserted into public accounts of their character, isolation, ostracism, exclusion and sometimes, expulsion and elimination. The sense of isolation is often heightened by other people’s reluctance to become involved in challenging bullies, usually because of a bystander’s own discomfort and fear of reprisal. 

The consequences of bystander apathy

Hate crime directed at disabled people has steadily risen over the past five years, and is now at the highest level it’s ever been since records began. That’s the kind of society we have become. 

Prejudice and discrimination cause inequality, which in turn causes more prejudice and discrimination. It requires the linguistic downgrading of human life, it requires dehumanising metaphors: a dehumanising socio-political system using a dehumanising language, and it has now become normalised, familiar and all-pervasive: it has seeped almost unnoticed into our lives. It has started to erode the natural inhibitions that prevent us from inflicting harm on other human beings.

Perpetrators have become increasingly confident in the “validity” of their prejudice, the public are being systematically desensitised and indoctrinated. Mocking, negative stereotypes and negative images become a part of our everyday culture and language: hate speech is normalised, discriminatory policies and practices flourish, hate crimes – bias motivated behaviours – are permitted.

Because we have allowed this process to unfold, as a society. 

The Holocaust is the most thoroughly documented example of the extreme cruelty, savagery and hideousness of dehumanisation. It’s a little too easy to imagine that the Third Reich was an aberration. We can take the easy option and dismiss the Holocaust as a very unusual phenomenon – a mass insanity instigated by a small group of deranged ideologues who conspired to seize political power and exercise their monstrously evil will.

It’s comforting to imagine that these were uniquely cruel and savage people. However, one of the most disturbing discoveries about how the Holocaust happened is not that all of the Nazis were madmen and monsters. It’s that they were mostly ordinary human beings, in a society of ordinary citizens like you and I. 

 

Related

Another bias motivated murder – Who killed Jo Cox?

Conservatives, cruelty and the collective unconscious: behind the cellar door

 



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The poor state of child health in the UK

uk-child-poverty

Neoliberalism is based on competitive individualism and mythical “market forces”. In such a competitive system, where the majority of people are left to sink or swim, most are pitched against the tide, as it were, since the very design of the economy means that only the wealthiest make significant gains.  It’s therefore inevitable there will be a few “winners” and many “losers”.

That’s what “competition” means. It means no rewards for most people – inequality and poverty for the 99%. It’s not possible to “work hard” to change this. Inequality is built into the very system of our socioeconomic organisation. Therefore it’s hardly fair or appropriate for a government to blame and punish people for the failings of their own imposed dominant ideology – a political and economic mode of organisation – which most ordinary people did not intentionally choose.

A  major report – State of child health – says that child health in the UK is falling behind that of many other European countries. It also confirms a strong link between growing inequality and poverty in the UK and increasing poor health and mortality. This comes at the same time as another key study found that poverty has a significantly damaging impact on the mental health and behaviour of children. 

The report raises particular concerns over rates of mortality, mental health issues and obesity among the young. Children living in the most deprived areas are much more likely to be in poor health, be overweight, suffer from asthma, have poorly managed diabetes, experience mental health problems and die early.

The in-depth report, from the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH), has emphasised that poverty is the cause of many child health problems.

UK health ministers claim that money was being invested in services to help tackle health inequalities.

The report looked at 25 health indicators, including asthma, diabetes and epilepsy, as well as obesity, breastfeeding and mortality, to provide a snapshot of children’s health and wellbeing.

It said there had been huge improvements in child health in the UK in the past 100 years, but since the mid-1990s “there has been a slowing of progress”.

This has left the UK falling behind other European nations in a number of league tables. For example, in 2014 the UK had a higher infant mortality rate (of 3.9 per 1,000 live births) than nearly all comparable Western European countries.

Infant mortality ranges from 3.6 in Scotland to 3.9 in England and Wales, and 4.8 in Northern Ireland.

Rates of smoking during pregnancy – an important factor in the health of babies – are also higher in the UK than in many European countries, at 11.4% in England and nearly 15% in Scotland.

Levels of smoking were highest in deprived populations and in mothers under 20, the report found.

Also, more than one in five children starting primary school in England, Wales and Scotland are overweight or obese, and there has been little improvement in these figures over the past 10 years.

Obesity leads to a significantly increased risk of serious life-long health problems, including type 2 diabetes, heart disease and cancer.  

In 2010 a report for the government in England by Sir Michael Marmot set out the social factors governing health and pointed to the role of a child’s early years in determining life chances. Now, leading child health experts are saying that little progress has been made since then and that health inequality is still blighting the lives of young people.

The Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health has stated that the wide gap between rich and poor is damaging infant health around the UK.

The college president, Professor Neena Modi, argues that a lot more needs to be done to improve child health and that it is “particularly troubling that stark inequalities have widened in the last five years.”

Mortality rate worsens

The report says that the UK ranks high amongst Western European countries on mortality rates for infants under the age of one. Deprivation is strongly correlated with death rates among children.

The report says that many of the causes of infant mortality are preventable and asserts that issues such as fetal growth restriction disproportionately affect the least advantaged families in society. Diet and adequate nutrition, for example, play a key role in healthy birth weight.

Reducing child poverty, with benefits and housing policy playing a part, are crucial for improving infant survival, according to the report.

New mortality data was published in January by the Office for National Statistics, which also underlines the scale of inequalities in the UK.

Modi also said: “Poor health in infancy, childhood, and young adult life will ultimately mean poor adult health, and this in turn will mean a blighted life and poor economic productivity. The UK is one of the richest countries in the world; we can and must do better, for the sake for each individual, and that of the nation as a whole.” 

Sarah Toule, head of health information at World Cancer Research Fund, agrees:“We strongly support RCPCH’s call on the government to close the poverty gap and improve our children’s health and future.”

The report calls for child health to be pushed high up the government’s agenda, as a cross-departmental issue. Each government – Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and England – should develop a child health and wellbeing strategy and consider children’s health in all policymaking.

Both type 1 and type 2 diabetes are on the rise

According to the report, there was also evidence that young people in the UK had low wellbeing compared with other comparable countries.

Type 2 diabetes is increasing. However, the report said that the UK could do much better at monitoring and managing type 1 diabetes, which is an increasingly common autoimmune condition amongst children and young people in the UK, though unrelated to “lifestyle choices” or obesity. It can lead to very serious long-term health problems if it isn’t adequately medically monitored and managed.

The report lays out a number of key recommendations for improving the health and wellbeing of the nation’s children.

These include: 

  • Each UK Government to develop a child health and wellbeing strategy, coordinated, implemented and evaluated across the nation 
  • Each UK Government to adopt a ‘child health in all policies’ approach 
  • UK Government to introduce a ban on the advertising of foods high in saturated fat, sugar and salt in all broadcast media before 9pm 
  • Each UK Government to develop cross-departmental support for breastfeeding; this should include a national public health campaign and a sector wide approach that includes employers, to support women to breastfeed  
  • An expansion of national programmes to measure the height and weight of infants and children after birth, before school and during adolescence 
  • A reversal of public health cuts in England, which are disproportionately affecting children’s services 
  • The introduction of minimum unit alcohol pricing in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland, in keeping with actions by the Scottish Government  
  • UK Government to extend the ban on smoking in public places to schools, playgrounds and hospitals 
  • UK Government to prohibit the marketing of electronic cigarettes to children and young people 
  • National public health campaigns that promote good nutrition and exercise before, during and after pregnancy  

The high number of Sure Start centre closures runs counter to the government’s rhetoric on improving children’s life chances across society. Sure Start was an innovative and ambitious Labour government initiative, introduced in 1998, aimed at supporting the most deprived families and safeguarding children. In 2010, Gordon Brown said the Conservatives would cut Sure Start spending by £200m, forcing 20% of all centres to close. Maria Miller, the (then) shadow children’s minister, dismissed this as “scaremongering”, saying the scheme had the Conservative party’s “full commitment”.   However, increasing numbers of the centres have shut under the coalition and Conservative governments, with 12 closing in 2011, 27 in 2012 and 33 in 2013. In 2014 the number increased to 85, and then 156 in 2015. 

Neil Leitch, chief executive of the Pre-school Learning Alliance, said the figures were worrying.

“Children’s centres are a vital source of advice and practical support for families – especially those more disadvantaged families – and so for so many to be disappearing at a time when there is so much government rhetoric on ‘closing the gap’ and improving children’s life chances seems completely contradictory,” he said.

The State of Child Health report said poverty left children from deprived backgrounds with far worse health and wellbeing than children growing up in affluent families.

One in five children in the UK is living in poverty, the report says, though other estimates have been higher.

The report urges the four governments of the UK to reduce the growing health gap between rich and poor children.  

Key messages to governments from the report

  • Poverty is associated with adverse health, developmental, educational and long-term social outcomes.
  • Nearly one in five children in the UK is living in poverty. This is predicted to increase. Therefore strategies are urgently needed to reduce poverty and to mitigate its impact on child health outcomes.
  • Improving the health outcomes of children living in poverty requires provision of good-quality, effective and universal prevention and health care services. 
  • All professionals caring for children should advocate for and support policies that reduce child poverty.

An ‘all-society approach’ is needed

Professor Modi who is the president of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, said she was disappointed by the findings of the report.

“We know the adverse economic impact of poor child health on a nation and yet we singularly seem to be incapable of doing anything substantive about it.”

Modi said other European countries had much better results than the UK in closing the health gap between rich and poor children.

“Their policies are much more child friendly and child focused,” she said.

“We have a tokenistic recognition of the importance of child health in all policies in this country, but we don’t have that translated into real action.”

She added the UK could transform the health gap with an “all-society approach”.

“As citizens we can say very loudly and clearly we do want a focus on child health and wellbeing… we can bring in child health in all national policies and make sure our government does have a strategy that crosses all departments.”

The Child Poverty Action Group also applauded the report’s recommendations. “The Royal College’s report demonstrates all too clearly how poverty in the UK is jeopardising children’s health,” said Alison Garnham, chief executive. 

“We are nowhere near where we should be on children’s wellbeing and health given our relative wealth. In the face of a projected 50% increase in child poverty by 2020, this report should sound alarms. It is saying that unless we act, the price will be high – for our children, our economy and our overstretched NHS which will take the knock-on effects.

A cross-governmental approach, considering child health in every policy, was the right one, Garnham said. “But the overall question the report raises for our prime minister is will she continue with the deep social security and public service cuts she inherited – to the detriment of our children’s health – or will she act to ensure that families have enough to live on so that all children get a good start? If other comparable countries can produce results that put them in the top ranks for child health, why not us?” 

A spokesman from the Department of Health in England claimed the government would be investing more than £16bn in local government public health services to “help tackle inequalities.”

There was no mention, however, of protecting children from poverty. The austerity programme, which impacts on the poorest citizens most of all, and other government policies cannot possibly do anything else but extend and deepen social inequalities.

Recommended key actions

  • Governments must introduce comprehensive programmes to reduce child poverty.
  • Increase awareness among health professionals of the impact of poverty on health and support all professionals working with children to become advocates for their patients experiencing poverty.
  • Ensure universal early years’ public health services are prioritised and supported, with targeted supports for children and families experiencing poverty.
  • Provide good quality, safe and effective prevention and care throughout the public health and healthcare service with a particular focus on primary care in order to mediate the adverse health effects of poverty.
  • Support research that examines the relationship between social and financial disadvantage and children’s health. 
  • Support the continued recording of income-based measures of poverty so that trends and impacts of service provision can be meaningfully assessed, with a focus on achieving a target of less than 10% of children experiencing relative low income poverty.

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Our children are the first generation in the UK in a very long time, if ever, to have much less than their parents and grandparents. Their lives are far less secure than ours have been. It’s not because of a lack of resources, it’s because of the greed of a small ruling elite and because of neoliberal ideology and policies. We have already lost the social gains of our post-war settlement: public services, social housing, legal aid, universal welfare and unconditional healthcare are either gone, or almost gone.

We must not allow this steady dismantling of our shared, public services, supports and safeguards to continue, as a society. We are one of the wealthiest nations in the world, and we have sufficient resources to support those most in need. It’s simply that the government chooses not to, preferring to be generous to the wealthiest minority, with tax cuts handed out from the public purse, and spending our public finds on being “business friendly” instead of recognising and reflecting public needs.

We must work together to challenge the toxic dominant ideology that places profit over and above human need and social wellbeing. We each share some of the responsibility for this. We now need to work on how to change this for the better, collectively. For our children and the future.

For a copy of the State of Child Health report, and the recommendations for each UK nation, visit the State of Child Health web pages.

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Children in poverty (before housing costs), UK, financial years 1998/99 to 2012/13; Institute for Fiscal Study (IFS) projections to 2020/21.  (Source:
 Child poverty for 2020 onwards: Key issues for the 2015 Parliament.)

Related

Nearly two-thirds of children in poverty live in working families

Poverty has devastating impact on children’s mental health

Health cuts most likely cause of steep rise in mortality, government in denial

New research uncovers ‘class pay gap’ in Britain’s professions – Social Mobility Commission.

 


 

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