Welfare Wrongs and Human Rights: a dialogue with Anne McGuire

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“It is undeniable that every human being is entitled to living space, daily bread, and the protection of the law as a common birthright; these are fundamentals and should not be handed out as an act of charity” ― Alfred Delp, S.J.

Nor should the meeting of such fundamental human needs ever be regarded as such.

“A decent provision for the poor and vulnerable is the true test of civilization” – Samuel Johnson.

I know that some of you have been waiting for an account of the discussion that took place between Anne McGuire and the small group of us that met with her in November, and quite understandably so. Labour currently present our only viable way of undoing the devastating damage, bleakness and despair that the Tory-led Coalition have created for so many of us, and of halting the shameful suffering and premature deaths being inflicted on some of our most vulnerable citizens. I am sorry this has taken such a while to write up, but I haven’t been very well, and have had to make some difficult choices about priorities over the last few months. I was hospitalised and seriously ill at the start of the year, and that has set me back some. However, Gail produced a report shortly following the meeting, this is the substantial version. It’s a long read, it was a long meeting that covered a lot of ground.

The meeting between Gail Ward, Susan Archibald, Sue Jones (me) and Anne McGuire took place on Friday 16th of November at the Stirling Labour headquarters. The meeting arose as follow on work from Sonia Poulton’s letter to Ed Miliband regarding the serious concerns many of us have about the work capability assessment (WCA). The idea of the letter arose, in part, because of a productive debate between Sonia and myself, following the Dispatches and Panorama documentaries about Atos and the WCA, and the appalling and shameful treatment of sick and disabled people by the Coalition.

The meeting with Anne was not time-limited, and she had to cancel an appointment to extend our time with her. We are enormously grateful for her time and consideration. The meeting also reflects something of Labour’s ongoing dialogue with the disabled community, which is a very positive development, as is the ongoing work of MPs such as John McDonnell, Michael Meacher, Dennis Skinner, Anne Begg, Debbie Abrahams, Tom Greatex, Anne McGuire, Liam Byrne and others in championing the human rights of the sick and disabled, and challenging an increasingly authoritarian Government.

Gail Ward and I each compiled an independent list of issues that we felt reflected those concerns we have encountered most commonly amongst our peers. The lists were remarkably similar, and so I consolidated the issues we both observed to inform and formalise an agenda.

Our starting point in the discussion was to state categorically that we believe that welfare provision is NOT a “hand out” or “something for nothing”. It is paid for by us via taxes, and is for us, to support us at times of vulnerability, such as when we are sick, or unemployed due to recession (some are now calling it a depression) that has been created by a totally ideologically-bound and unresponsive Government.

The fact we felt we had to state this at all indicates plainly just how terribly effective the Government’s anti-welfare propaganda has been. The Tories and some of the Sun, Mail and Telegraph-reading public are finger pointing, bullying, mean spirited: the moralsing outraged, and we are victims of the hideous, dehumanising Tory-led ideological rantings, we are the minoritized, marginalised and disabled, and we are shocked, fearful, and cannot believe that this has been allowed to happen. We are justifiably afraid and angry. We know the current benefit system is no longer about welfare, and current policies do not have a core principle – implicitly or explicitly, despite the rhetoric – of ensuring or promoting the well-being of sick and disabled people.

The welfare “reforms” – and the word “reform” implies some positive change that certainly isn’t evident here  –  are entirely about stripping away our publicly paid for welfare provision –  our “social security”. Not a single Tory “reform” is about enhancing lives: they are all about taking money away, leaving us to struggle for survival, and so stifling our potential for positive experiences, personal growth and development.

Through a combination of changes to existing benefits and the new Universal Credit, the UK Government aims to cut £18 billion off the benefits bill. A further £10 billion is to be cut from welfare provision in the near future. The hate-filled propaganda campaign of this Government is all about an attempt at justifying the theft of our support and provision. It is our money that we have PAID into the system via taxes. It was never the Government’s money to take from us. They have stolen it.

When we struggle to meet basic physical needs, we cannot transcend biology to fulfil other higher level, psychosocial  We become bound by the physical, and can’t be motivated beyond struggling to survive. Abraham Maslow told us that.

Benefit rates were originally carefully calculated by a body of professionals and officials to meet basic living requirements, such as food, shelter and fuel costs. Benefit rates have never reflected anything more than a financial amount to meet these fundamental human needs. Our welfare provision has eradicated absolute poverty in Britain, and has been an essential lifeline for many citizens, in times of their need of support. Benefit rates were set at the amount “the law says you need to live on”. If people cannot meet their basic living requirements, they die. It’s a fact. Furthermore, Maslow tells us that if we are struggling to survive, we cannot fulfil other human needs and motivations. The welfare “reforms”, and the subsequent reduction of our benefits indicates that the Government do not care about the wellbeing and survival of those people that depend on this crucial support to meet their basic living requirements.

This is not a Government that recognises the intrinsic value and worth of life. It is not a Government that recognises human potential, or values personal growth and development. It is not a Government that values social evolution and progress. Trying to explain these fundamental concepts to a Tory is like pondering how best to describe a rainbow and shooting stars to a blind man with no imagination. Or soul.

This is not just about an ideologically motivated economic theft from the people with the least, and a redistribution of wealth to those that need it least (the already very wealthy), it’s an existential attack too: a psychic war that is being waged on us every bit as much as a fiscal one, with the media on the enemy frontline, attacking us on a linguistic and psychological level every day. We have been redefined, semantically reduced, dehumanised, and demarcated from the rest of the population and turned into the others, and this divisive strategy has paid off for the Government, because we are now regularly attacked by our own side: by those people who are also with us on this increasingly sparsely resourced, economically excavated side of the growing inequality divide. Tory divide and rule tactics: fostering a politics of hatred.  

Imagine what that does to faith and hope. For those of you that are not sick and/or disabled, I can tell you that it is often a very isolating and lonely experience. That is made so much more unbearable by prejudice and hate from other people. To be excluded further from everyday life and experience, both materially and existentially, brings about a terrible, bleak, desolating sense of social abandonment and a very real imprisonment. We are living in a Government-directed culture of hatred.  It’s no coincidence that hate crime against disabled people has risen quite steeply over this past two years. Most of us have experienced some verbal abuse from members of the wider public, at the very least. It’s become such a common experience that it may be regarded as almost normalised behaviour.

Anne McGuire told us that she and Anne Begg, amongst others, have challenged  the Tory-led stigmatising and dehumanising language, and the shameful invention of statistics in the media. Publicly and privately. Anne expressed her anger and disgust at the “serial offenders” – especially Iain Duncan Smith.

The defamatory Tory-led commentary must surely constitute hate crime and we know that the rising statistics of disability hate crime is certainly linked to this hateful propaganda campaign on the part of the Coalition to justify removing support and benefit from the sick and disabled, and from those in low paid work.

Tory logic – punishing people into non-existent or unsuitable jobs

We raised our grave concerns about the fact that the Government have recently introduced harsh sanctions of up to three years without benefits for all benefit claimants, the only group being exempt from sanctions currently are those in the ESA Support Group. This is only  a proportionally small number of claimants that will remain unaffected. The Conservatives claim that the sanctions will “help people into work”, and are to be applied to those who “fail” to meet certain “conditions” to look for work. We know, however, that sanctions are applied often without any justifiable reasons because the DWP  deliberately set people up to fail, and we also know that the Government sets sanction targets for the DWP. 

Firstly, only a very cruel and injudicious Government would punish people for being out of work during an economic depression in this way. There are no jobs. We know this is true from our everyday experience, despite the Governments continued lies about employment figures. Secondly, removing people’s means of meeting fundamental survival needs by sanctioning them is most certainly not going to motivate them and “help them into work” as the Government are claiming.

“Evidence also suggests that work can have a positive impact on the long term health of people with disabilities and health conditions,” according to the Government, but we have yet to see convincing evidence of this. Those in the ESA Work Related Activity Group (WRAG) are expected, from December 3rd 2012, to undertake unlimited periods of mandatory workfare in order to meet conditions for continued eligibility. This means that they are at an increased risk of being sanctioned, because the condition of qualifying for this benefit in the first place is that a doctor has provided a statement to say that the claimant is unfit for work. There is clearly a monumental problem regarding Government expectations of those in this group. Once again, the sanctions raise some serious concerns regarding the Government’s casual transgression of human rights.

The previous Minister for Employment, the Rt Hon Chris Grayling MP, has made the following  official statement regarding the new sanctions regime and Human Rights: “In my view the provisions of the Jobseeker’s Allowance Sanctions Amendment Regulations 2012  are compatible with the Convention rights”. We don’t agree.

Anne concurred with our concerns regarding human rights transgressions, and she stated that the benefit system as it currently stands is unfit for purpose more generally, and agreed that the Government need to carry out an impact assessment to consider the cumulative consequences of the welfare reforms on disabled people, including the reform of DLA. We also have the 12 month time limit on contributory ESA, the incapacity benefit reassessment to move people on to ESA, cuts to local authority care budgets and the lowering of disability premiums under universal credit. Some people may be hit by only one or two of the changes, but some might have to deal with them all, as they are implemented over the next two years.

That would be an enormous and very challenging change for them. Despite being urged many times by Anne McGuire and Anne Begg, amongst others, Iain Duncan Smith refused to acknowledge the pressing need for a cumulative impact assessment – part of the crucial equality and human rights safeguarding, as well as the considerable need for Government accountability. Iain Duncan Smith claims there is no need to carry out an assessment regarding the consequences of his “reforms”. I believe that Iain Duncan Smith already knows the devastating impact that his “reforms” have already had on many, and that he is also aware that the real catastrophe is yet to come, when the very worst of the cuts are implemented in April.

The welfare reforms, and the lack of equality impact assessment have massive implications regarding our various human rights. We know that the Legal Aid Bill contravenes Article 6, and with regard to the welfare reforms, we cited further probable contraventions of Article 3, particularly with regard to the sanctions, with further possible breaches to Articles 2, 4, 6, 8, 11 and 14. Anne also agreed that there is a real concern with respect to our human rights,  and she told us she has undertaken some work with Liam Byrne regarding a public consultation to address the issue of human rights for disabled people, and to raise public awareness.

Anne also explained that the Equality and Human Rights Commission have suffered significant cuts to funding from 70 million when Labour were in Government to just 25 million since the Coalition took Office, with fears that this will be further reduced to just 18 million. This has meant severe staffing reductions, and a massive backlog of work, and at a time when many are seeking to bring forward cases regarding the impact of current Government legislation. We all agreed that it is no coincidence that the Legal Aid reform is also due to be implemented at the same time, as well as the Bedroom Tax and the Localism Bill in April 2013.

Anne and others have also expressed concern that Harrington’s recommendations are not being implemented – “The review notes that although all recommendations from two previous annual reviews of the system have been accepted by the government, “not all have been fully acted upon yet”.… progress has been slower that hoped for and the scope and depth of these changes is less than desirable.” –  Michael Harrington

Bearing in mind that there are people dying within days or weeks of being told that they are “fit for work” by Atos and DWP, we all agreed that very clearly, urgent attention  is required from the Government. We note, however, that the Government prefers to ignore the rising number of deaths associated with people being wrongly assessed, and of course, having their benefit payments stopped. It’s a well known medical fact that stressful circumstances exacerbate illness, yet the Government persistently refuse to listen to these very real fears and concerns. One would have expected, at the very least, that an independent enquiry into the deaths would have happened by now. Ask yourselves what kind of Government responds to such grave concerns with shrugging indifference and a loud determination to carry on with a process that is causing, or at the very least correlated with fatalities at a rate currently estimated by some at more than  73 per week, according to the DWP (via an FOI).

Anne confirmed that discussion with the Government regarding the circumstances of ESA related deaths has been problematic, and both Anne and her colleagues have called for the release of pertinent information regarding those circumstances, such as details of which claimants were in the process of Appeal, and which ones had been reassessed.

I also know from discussion I had with Tom Greatex recently that the Government are now claiming that those 10,600 deaths that happened within six weeks of their claim for ESA ending may have happened “either side” of their claim being stopped. In other words, the claim may have ended because of the death, rather than the other way around.

Furthermore, of those deaths amongst those placed in the Support Group, the Government have (conveniently) claimed that “these were very ill individuals, and so we expect that there will be a higher death rate amongst that group”. Claiming that “the deaths MAY have prompted the claim to be closed, in some cases, rather than the converse being true” is NOT an adequate response at all. Anne and other Labour Ministers have demanded accurate, clear and precise data regarding the circumstances of the large number of tragic deaths. None have been presented to date.

However, I analysed the data from DWP, and noted that between October 2010 and November 2011, people with a recorded date of death within six weeks of that claim ceasing, who were until recently claiming Incapacity Benefit, (those that had been migrated to ESA ) totalled 310. Between January and November 2011, those having their ESA claim ended, with a recorded date of death within six weeks of that claim ending totalled 10,600.  One would expect that the death rates would be similar to those who have only ever claimed ESA. This is very clearly not the case.

So the Government don’t appear to be keeping very clearly defined data regarding the impact of their “reforms” and the precise circumstances of those deaths, or at least that information isn’t being released. Once again, we have to ask ourselves what kind of Government would be so casual about the large number of deaths of a group of citizens, especially when Government policy has been implicated as the cause of those deaths. Whilst the Coalition continue to play unacceptable, disgusting data interpretation games to support their loud and flat denial of culpability, people continue to die. The Government’s indifference to the deaths of vulnerable citizens is completely unacceptable and inhumane, the lack of willingness to investigate the correlated deaths, the loud and faux indignant framed denials, and the refusal to carry out an impact assessment regarding the broader impact of the welfare reforms  lead me to conclude that the consequences were known in advance of the legislation. We have an authoritarian Government that has a social Darwinist agenda: those deaths are calculated, hence the refusal to engage in open public discussion about the subject, and to investigate the circumstances of those deaths.

For the Record.

We raised the issue of  the right to record Atos assessments, and we informed Anne that whilst some people’s requests were accommodated, many were simply told that the equipment was not available. Some people also reported that they had their appointment cancelled on the last minute due to a lack of available recording machines. The provision is patchy, to say the least, and some people are being denied the right to have their assessment recorded.

 large number of reports by charities and disability groups have highlighted gross inaccuracies in the WCA testing process, which determines eligibility for Employment and Support Allowance. Many claimants are anxious to record their assessments to make sure an account of their health problems is correctly reflected in the Atos report. A wide array of accounts tell us that Atos reports are often full of “inexplicable” errors and not so full of truthful detail. Large numbers of cases are currently going to Tribunal because applicants know that  have been wrongly refused benefits; around 40% of cases are overturned in the claimant’s favour at tribunal. That percentage rises steeply, proportionally, when claimants are represented at Tribunal. This is evidence in itself that the Atos assessment process is deeply flawed, at the very least.

Despite a Government promise that everyone is entitled to record their assessment, many people have been told there are no machines available, because they are being repaired, and that they must go ahead with the test anyway. Individuals have been told they are not able to record assessments with their own devices “in view of security and confidentiality considerations”.

Chris Grayling has said: “Large scale purchase of machines in the absence of an evaluation of the process is not effective use of public money.” Bearing in mind that the right for all to have their assessment recorded was one of Harrington’s key recommendations in his first report, Grayling’s response is deplorable. We need to ask why the Government don’t favour assessments being recorded, for transparency and accountability.

I explained to Anne that those of us having been through assessments, particularly more than once, know that the whole process is heavily weighted towards ensuring that a person is passed as “fit to work”. I informed Anne that we know that even the fact that someone has managed to gather medical evidence is regarded as an indication by Atos that the person is capable of organisation and coherent thought. That’s a tick in the “work capability” box. The fact that the task may have taken a month of intermittent effort, and caused extreme pain and fatigue for the claimant is not recorded by Atos, of course. Nor is whether or not a person can perform any task reliably, consistently, safely and comfortably. (These and related issues was addressed in more detail later in the discussion.)

We pointed out to Anne that the consensus amongst our peers and ourselves is that Atos often lie in their reports to minimise (and trivialise) the impact of our illnesses and disability on our lives, and ability to function. Therefore, many now wish that the assessment is recorded, in order to at least make it more difficult for Atos assessors to write grossly misleading reports. And of course an accurate record is also important for appeal.

The shadow employment minister, Stephen Timms, who has written to Grayling to highlight his concerns about the lack of recording equipment, said: “I find it hard to believe that a company with a multimillion pound government contract is incapable of obtaining and operating sufficient recording devices.”

Anne informed us that despite the fact that Chris Grayling has said that more equipment has been purchased, there is no actual evidence of this being the case. MP’s are not allowed to call each other “liars”. I handed Anne an apt phrase when occasion calls for observation of parliamentary rules and etiquette – being “conservative with the truth”. Anne liked that very much.

Anne also told us that we do have a right to have our assessment recorded. That was recommended and established by Harrington.

We also raised the problem of access to Atos buildings, and explained that we have encountered many accounts of difficulties from disabled people, including appointments taking place that are not on the ground floor, with no lifts in the building. We know of people who have had their benefit stopped because they “failed to turn up for the assessment”. Anne recognises this problem, and how outrageously and unacceptably unfair it is, she told us that this pressing issue is to be raised by the Commons Work and Pensions Committee. (The Chair is Anne Begg)

The Blame Game.

We informed Anne that it is common opinion that the WCA – no matter how much it may be re-designed – is not fit for purpose, and that no-one has any faith in it because of the appalling damage already inflicted on so many members of the disabled community. The overwhelming consensus is that it needs to be scrapped. Atos have no credibilty whatsoever, with most of us regarding them with loathing and fear. Unfortunately, many sick and disabled people also recognise that successive Governments have contracted Atos, trust and faith in Government and Ministers has receded. I explained that some blame the previous Labour Government for current problems, as they originally contracted Atos to undertake the WCA. I don’t agree with this, personally, but I raised the point because it’s one that I’ve encountered frequently, and I recognise that it’s an important issue for some. However, I would like to point out that I don’t hold a previous Government responsible for what a current one does.

Anne explained that the original Labour Party contract with Atos did not happen within a context of welfare cuts, and was very different to the one that the current Government have with Atos.  Labour support some kind of assessment, and the old system typically involved a decision that was made entirely by the DWP, and the decision was regarded as final. Labour had felt at the time that this needed addressing with some form of independent decision-making mechanism.

We stated that the WCA has had such devastating consequences for so many sick and disabled people that it would never be trusted again, no matter how much it was redesigned and “improved” by ANY Government. However, the context of the Labour version of WCA, when it was piloted, was a completely different one to present day. There were many more jobs available, we were not in a recession, and there was support available (and well funded) for disabled people who wanted to work. Anne pointed out again that it is in the context of the welfare reforms, which are about taking away essential support, rather than providing it, that the aims of assessment have become grossly distorted. The original aims were intended to support sick and disabled people. That is clearly not the Coalitions’ aim at all.

Disability living allowance supports many in work, and despite Labours’ pleas for common sense safeguards, according to the Hardest Hit survey, three in ten disabled people stated that without DLA their carer would not be able to work. Carers UK estimates that 10,000 people could lose carer’s allowance as a result of cuts to DLA. Without this vital care, disabled people could be forced to turn to overstretched social care services. Liam Byrne  stated that here must now be an assessment, in the round, of all the changes hitting disabled people: a cumulative impact assessment. Esther McVey weakly said to the Commons that she wouldn’t order one because “Labour never did one.” Labour did complete a review, and informed this Government of the findings, and raised their concerns regarding the piloted WCA. They were completely ignored. Furthermore, Labour never inflicted the concerted attack we’re now seeing on disabled citizens. It was the Coalition that harshly “reformed” and reduced our welfare provision, and not Labour.

The Access to Work fund was re-established by the last Labour Government to ease the transition to work for disabled people, by paying grants to businesses for vital equipment. It was put in place to support people with disabilities, it aimed to reduce inequalities between disabled people and non-disabled people in the workplace by removing practical barriers to work. This fund has seen severe cuts since 2010, which flies in the face of this Government’s claim to “make work pay” for all. By reducing this essential funding, the Coalition have effectively excluded many from work.

Additionally, disabled people with the highest support needs have been left in fear and distress following a Government announcement that it is to callously abolish a key source of independent living support. The Government decision to close the Independent Living Fund and devolve responsibility to local authorities follows a consultation that disabled people claim is unlawful and on which an urgent hearing has been scheduled by the High Court to go ahead on 13/14 March 2013. Labour have also challenged the decision to close this crucial source of support. Opportunity for new applications for this funding was closed in June 2010 by the Coalition. Once again this plainly indicates that the Coalition do not consider the needs of disabled people as important, and clearly demonstrates the extent of their eager ideological drive to strip away essential provision and support for the vulnerable.

It’s important to acknowledge that there are those of us who simply cannot not work. Anne told us that the Labour Party agree that regardless of the national employment situation and support for those who could and wish to work, we must, as a civilised Society, make provision and support those who cannot work, too. I’m pleased that this important issue was recognised, because as we know, doctors are providing written evidence to the DWP and Atos that verifies people are not fit for work, and that professional and expert opinion and evidence is being ignored by people who are NOT qualified to decide otherwise. DWP “decision-makers” and Atos assessors have no expertise on medical conditions and how those impact on a persons’ capabilities for work. We know that the majority of Atos assessors are nurses or occupational therapists, and that Atos don’t take into account any medical facts at all: the assessment is entirely about “work capability”.

We informed Anne that we are acutely aware that every single part of the assessment process is designed to interpret any capability a person has to complete a task at all, no matter how small, as an indication that they can work. For example, if a person says that they watch TV, that translates as “can sit unaided for at least half an hour”, even if that half an hours viewing is done laid up in bed, propped up by pillows. Huge inferences are drawn from anything that a person can do, and translated into “work capability,” regardless of whether or not person can fulfil tasks without pain, fatigue and discomfort, and it always assumed that people can complete a task reliably, consistently and safely, unless it is explicitly stated that this isn’t the case. Even when it is expressed clearly, it is often ignored and omitted from the Atos reports. Anne acknowledged that there is a significant problem with the WCA descriptors, not least because of the many cases that have been brought to her attention regarding this issue.

Anne recognised that the WCA makes it very difficult for health professionals to exercise their professional judgement. It’s computer-based and has little or no regard to the complexity of the needs of severely disabled or sick persons. This is why the British Medical Association has condemned the WCA as unfit for purpose. Those who have been assessed often feel the opinion of their own health professionals have been overridden or ignored. As Iain McKenzie, Labour MP for Inverclyde, put it: “It is ridiculous to have people making an assessment based on a tick-list that looks like it should be used for an MOT on a car.” Anne has observed and acknowledged that people are having their lives ruined by a system that was designed to support them. It is outrageous; it is inhumane, it is shameful.

Labour conducted a review of the ESA pilot, and by the time they lost Office, they were aware of the fact that there were problems with the Work Capability Assessment: the main ones being that it did not acceptably accommodate fluctuating conditions, or mental health problems. Labour raised their concerns about this with Iain Duncan Smith, but he refused, as previously stated, to undertake an impact assessment, and he pushed the reforms through and made them law, regardless. Furthermore, the WCA was amended by the Coalition to be even less sensitive to how conditions impact on work capability. We know that when Atos were re-contracted by the Coalition, it was in the context of the “reforms”, and Atos are therefore contracted to remove support from the vulnerable. Dr Steven Bick revealed that there are targets imposed on staff at Atos, and  that only one in eight ESA claimants are passed as eligible for ESA (as “unfit for work”) regardless of their actual state of health and their capabilities.

This exposes what a sham the entire assessment process is, because it has been decided in advance that 7 out of 8 will lose their eligibility for ESA, no matter how much a person needs that support, or  how much of a negative impact this will have on the lives of those stripped of their ESA award. It’s therefore not terribly surprising that Atos reports contain so many widely reported “errors”, “inaccuracies” and “mistakes”. These are actually calculated and deliberate lies, which are also attempts at justifying taking away a persons’ benefit, regardless of the impact this will have on their well being and health. This is what Atos are contracted to do by the Coalition. This has nothing whatsoever to do with genuine assessment. It has everything to do with denying people what they are entitled to, and what they have already paid for. It has everything to do with an ideological drive to strip our welfare provision to the bone.

We know that PIP has targets because Esther McVey has indicated this by stating in advance that “More than 300,000 disabled people to have benefits cut”. It is concerning that in making her statement to Parliament, Disabilities Minister Esther McVey set out very clearly the numbers of people who she believed will qualify for the new benefit. But not surprising in light of how the whole legislative process has been conducted by Esther McVey. Conservatives are not known for following established procedure and protocol, nor do they value transparency and accountability.

Labour recognise it is people that are the most vulnerable who will bear a disproportionate share of the  cuts, simply because of the inequality they face in employment means they are more likely to rely on benefits. In other words they are facing a double penalty simply because of their characteristics – disadvantaged in the (somewhat limited) labor market and now targeted by benefit reform. This also raises concern about human rights, since this constitutes discrimination on the basis of “characteristics”, in accord with Labour’s Equality Act.

Anne has voiced major concerns about the mandatory workfare introduced to the ESA Work Related Activity Group, and the sanctions attached to this. She commented: “How can people be punished into work, especially during a recession?” We all agreed that there is a likely contravention of human rights, and we cited Article 3 of the ECHR, which we believe has clearly been breached.

Again, I pointed out that the issue isn’t so much one concerning the availability of jobs, but rather, it is one concerning the fact that people who have been deemed unfit for work by a doctor are being bullied into unlimited workfare and finding jobs, when they cannot, and ought not be expected to undertake these tasks. Anne agreed again that those who cannot work ought to be fully supported, and should not be not coerced into any kind of work if professional opinion is that they are unfit for work.

Again, the issue of human rights contraventions was raised, and Anne told us that there is a substantial backlog of work, concerning human rights cases, and this is because the  Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) – established by Labour – has had its funding severely reduced  this past two years, as stated previously.

One cannot help but wonder just how calculated the cuts are in light of the extremely punitive nature of the reforms, and the continued blatant disregard of basic human rights, which is very evident in Tory-led policies. Such a well-coordinated attack on our rights seems unlikely to have happened by coincidence.

Since the meeting with Anne took place, I have remained in regular contact with her, and Anne Begg, John McDonnell, Tom Greatex, Dennis Skinner and my own MP, Kevan Jones. I send out information and articles on a regular basis, to ensure that the continued impact and the consequences of current policies are known to the Labour Party, as well as the United Nations and parliamentary select Committees when appropriate. By raising awareness, we can prompt the Opposition to challenge effectively. That is needed, because we have a Government that doesn’t follow procedure and protocol, and does not like to share information regarding its own policies, even to the relevant Parliamentary Committees, let alone with the Opposition.

We know from history that under Conservative Governments, poverty, unemployment, inequality and civil unrest increase, whilst the wealthy accumulate even more wealth, whilst the recognition and accommodation of human rights, our social secuirty, and all of our public support provisions and programs decrease.

“Those who do not remember the past are doomed to repeat it” –  Boris Pasternak

We need to learn how to be responsible citizens and participate in how our Country is governed. And we must. We do have a choice: we can each contribute something, when we are able, and in our own way, to raise public awareness and demand positive change. Governments must reflect and serve the needs and interests of the whole population, and not just an elite. It’s our duty and responsibility to make sure that they do.

It’s our responsibility to keep the Labour Party informed, and to push for effective challenges to be made against the Coalition, and to promote, prioritise and value social progress, the recognition of human potential, fairness and equality. We set the policy agenda, as voters, if only we will take that responsibility. The Coalition are dismantling democratic process. David Cameron has already stated that he wants to “reduce” consultations, judicial review, and equality impact assessments, amongst other processes that are essential to human rights safeguarding, accountability and transparency. “It’s not how you get things done” he said of these essential processes of inclusion and democracy. Ask yourself what it is that he wants to “get done”, which requires bypassing democratic process and human rights safeguarding. Clearly, this is a Government that certainly intends to continue to inflict harm.

We must collectively fight the Coalition’s steady attack on our support programs, welfare provision, human rights, and their determined intentions of undoing all that is civilised and decent about our society. We must maintain those (Labour) principles that make society welcoming, supportive and inclusive to all.  It is our own responsibility to recognise the equal worth and potential of every person, and the intrinsic value of each life. It’s an established, historically verified fact that Conservatives never have, and they never will.

Labour are currently consulting with the public on a National level, regarding the policy content of their Manifesto. That’s democracy in action. Make sure you have your say. It matters.

You can also get involved in Labour policy ideas here and here , or you can contact your nearest Labour MP here .

Further reading:-

This is what happens when we do collectively push for positive change and participate: we arm the Opposition with crucial information, detail and cases studies so that they can challenge effectively (from column 1050 onwards.)


The Shadow State: The “dehumanising, degrading” treatment of disabled people

New Statesman

ESA SOS 

Sue Marsh

The ESA Revolving Door Process 

Kitty Jones

Clause 99, Catch 22

Kitty Jones

Back to the Dark Ages as the Tories plan to scrap your Human Rights

Mike Sivier, Vox Political

 
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Thanks to Robert Livingstone for his brilliant art work 

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20 thoughts on “Welfare Wrongs and Human Rights: a dialogue with Anne McGuire

  1. it should be called the nazi party not the tory party they should hang there heads in shame wot they have done to the poor people of this once great nation we live in bring on the revolution and bring thease bastards dowm

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  2. It is highly embarrassing that in the 7th ‘richest’ nation on Earth we have effectively ‘abandoned’ a large part of society, ie. the sick, disabled, elderly, disadvantaged and poorest families to an inhumane life of extreme poverty. Look at the figures at home, not abroad. Our children, their parents are starving as well as other vulnerable groups including homeless when there are almost a million houses vacant and hundreds of thousands of other buildings likewise that could easily be made habitable for a lot less money than the cost of ‘mopping’ up the mess. Putting families and others in to very expensive so called B & B accommodation is a gross waste of taxpayers money when there are a myriad of other ways far less costly and damaging to their social crises that could easily be used at a fraction of the monetary and human cost. The vast majority of taxpayer’s money is lining the pockets of unscrupulous private housing and temporary housing ‘providers’ when it could be put to much better use to create much longer term temporary and permanent housing of hugely superior quality negating the use of these leech – like ‘landlords’. One particularly good scheme I have seen mentioned in the press recently involves specially adapted shipping containers insulated and converted in to decent sized studio flats. Why can’t this idea be rolled out country wide to absorb the extreme shortage of one bed small homes? Why can’t two or three containers be used to create bigger homes for families? I’m stuck in the trap that I cannot downsize to a suitable property because there simply aren’t any anywhere nearly suitable for my severe disability needs. I couldn’t afford to move even if I wanted too. It cost £750 removal expenses, over a thousand pounds in flooring and in excess of £500 for other expenses. Who would pay that now even if there were a suitable property? I swapped houses in good faith four years ago with a couple who approached me because they wanted to live next door to one of their daughters and across the road from the other. All this was done legally, quickly and easily with the full consent of the housing association because they own both properties. That same housing association have refused to help me even though I became extremely physically and much more psychologically disabled three years ago because of an horrendous series of life threatening illnesses and remain critically ill to this day. However, I would gladly move, if my expenses were met and home adapted to my specific needs, even to a double converted shipping container (I’d need extra space for my wheelchairs and two extra bedrooms for frequently needed overnight carers. I’m willing to meet the government halfway, why aren’t they willing to meet me?

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  3. ‘No amount of cajolery, and no attempts at ethical or social seduction, can eradicate from my heart a deep burning hatred for the Tory party. So far as I am concerned they are lower than vermin’. Aneurin Bevan. Nothing changes. They are vile and inadequate human beings. Don’t turn the other cheek hit the bastards back. They are conducting a pogrom against the unemployed, the sick and disabled and the poor. This is a war for decent values.

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  4. Thanks, Sue. Wondering if the information I gave you was any use, and if it was discussed at your meeting? I really hope all your effort pays off, for all our sakes. Take care, Joyce.x

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  5. Joyce, yes that information was used very well, it meant we could cut through the bull and get down to the real issues, and it did inform out agenda. I’m working on another article , using that information next, as a separate topic. Many many thanks for your valuable contribution, both here, and elsewhere. x

    Thanks all.

    A Longworth – Dames, I couldn’t agree more – ‘This is a war for decent values.’ . Yes it is. Everything we value is at stake. Everything that makes a human being decent and worthwhile: empathy, kindness, compassion, love, caring, nurturing – all of these things are under attack on a social and psychological level, and we MUST fight back. The Tories are trying to re-script our natural inclinations toward social cooperation, and turn us all into competitive, isolated individuals, fighting for scarce resources, because they are taking away everything that we have paid for, all of our support services.

    Human rights were formulated to make sure that we are civilised and decent. They were fought for. Human rights were also formulated to make sure the Holocaust never happens again. This is a silent holocaust by stealth. Murder by stealth is still murder. They are trying to unravel the last 60 years of evolution and progress. It is a war and we have to fight. They mean us harm.

    We really have to face this fact. We cannot change what we don’t confront.

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  6. It’s totally depressing what this government is up to but even more so is the lack of public outrage, The Tories have succeeded in dividing the people of this country and scapegoating the vulnerable. I just hope they’re not voted in again in the the next election but nothing would surprise me now!

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  7. Lynda, I agree with you, and I am so sorry to hear of your own circumstances.

    Maria, its is up to us to try and re-educate people and to tell the truth loudly and at every opportunity. I have faith in the 100th Monkey Principle .We have to let people know that the only way to rid ourselves of of this scourge that is the Tories is by voting Labour. Historically, we know that it’s the only way we will have a half decent life and a decent, civilised, more equal and supportive society that values everyone, and not just a few greedy, very wealthy, psychopathic aristocrats and autocrats

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  8. Well done to you all, welfare reform is clearly an attack on the disabled and most vulnerable in society. The Tories are and always have been an inhumane bunch of rich self serving out of touch people and it seems once again nothing has changed. Say anything to get in to power then revert to their old ways..very similar to the Thatcher years….but worse. I do not believe they will get in again..its the damage they will do in the meantime which worries me and the fact that they don’t listen to to their own people. As one of the highest taxed countries in Europe maybe its time the taxpayer…and every one pays it, in some form..just exactly where all the taxes paid goes to..rich shareholders..bailing out bankers…bailing out other countries instead of looking after our own.

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