Category: Political ideology

Fear of losing disability support led a vulnerable man to a horrific suicide

PAY-Protesters-with-posters-outside-the-Dept-of-Work-Pensions

The government have persistently denied that there is a “causal link” between their welfare “reforms” (a Conservative euphemism for savage cuts) and an increase in suicides, premature deaths, psychological distress and severe hardship. However, a number of researchers and many campaigners have demonstrated a clear correlation that the government have so far refused to investigate further. Correlation quite often implies a causal relationship, and as such, requires further research.

Each case that has been presented to the government as evidence that their policies are causing severe harm has been dismissed as “anecdotal”.

Dr Simon Duffy, Director of the Centre for Welfare Reform said: “It is not enough to just stop introducing new policies to attack the rights and lives of disabled people and the poorest in society. These policies have been in place for six years and many are designed to increase poverty year on year. The Government should apologise for the harm it has caused since 2010, calculate the full impact of cuts that targeted the most disadvantaged and begin a full programme of reparations.”

This is the third harrowing article I have written this week about the devastating impact of the Conservatives’ punitive welfare policies on some of our most vulnerable citizens. I wish with all my heart that this is the last such article.

However, we have a government that has casually and systematically transgressed the human rights of disabled people, and then casually denied that they have done so. 

There will continue to be a need of witnesses like myself and other campaigners until the political denial stops.

Last month, an inquest in Ipswich heard how Peter, a disabled man, struggling to cope with mental health problems, committed suicide by setting himself on fire because of fear that he would lose his lifeline support, following his compulsory re-assessment for Personal Independence Payment (PIP).

The government introduced the controversial PIP to replace Disability Living Allowance (DLA) in order to save costs and to “target those most in need” in 2013.  

Peter Sherwood set fire to himself in front of horrified onlookers in Lowestoft town centre on September 4, 2015.  The retired builder died in Broomfield Hospital, Chelmsford, which has a specialist burns unit, on September 8, 2015, following the horrific incident in Lowestoft town centre four days before.

Peter had received a letter from the Department for Work and Pensions, informing him that his DLA was ending and that he needed to reapply for PIP.

He suffered with a recurrent depressive disorder and psychosis. Peter had attempted to take his own life on a number of occasions previously. He also had a condition called tardive dyskinesia, which caused involuntary movements to his mouth and is a known side-effect of anti-psychotic medications.

Giving evidence at the inquest, Lucinda Stapleton, care coordinator from the Waveney Recovery Team, said this had affected Peter’s self-confidence as he was worried people were laughing and staring at him when he left the house.

In a statement read during the hearing, Mr Sherwood’s niece, Sarah Wilby, said: “I knew he was feeling a bit low the last time I saw him, which was two weeks before he died. He held me close on the sofa and told me he loved me.

“He was a loving person and had a great sense of humour.

He was angry at many things in life, but could put a good front on.

“I loved him very much and miss him dreadfully.”

Ms Wilby said she was shocked at the drastic way her uncle took his own life.

She added: “He seemed to want to make some kind of a statement, but I don’t know what.”

During the inquest Ms Wilby said that Peter was claiming Disability Living Allowance but not long before his death he received a letter informing him he needed to reapply for Personal Independence Payment, which she believes contributed to his low mood at that time.

She said: “I personally think quite an underlying cause of his anger was the change in benefits.

“Knowing Peter as we did that would have had a huge impact on him.”

Paul Anderson, a community support worker for the Norfolk and Suffolk Foundation Trust, said Peter had claimed that the Government was trying to take money off him.

The Coroner, Peter Dean, read statements from witnesses, who described seeing Peter spraying something on the pavement starting with the letter ‘h’ with an aerosol can.

The inquest heard passer-by William Groves asked Peter if he was a street artist, to which he replied “no, I’m a suicide artist”.

Peter then poured liquid over his head and set himself on fire using a lighter.

Members of the public tried to douse the flames by first throwing their jackets onto Peter, and then using a fire extinguisher from a nearby shop.

Police at the scene reported that Peter had muttered the word “humanity” to them a couple of times following the incident.

On September 4, 2015, Peter was visited at home by the community mental health team and he had expressed plans to end his life.

An urgent appointment was made for Peter to see a psychiatrist the following week, but it was tragically too late.

Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust has since updated its criteria of when patients should be referred to the 24-hour crisis team, following its routine investigation into Peter’s death.

The medical cause of death was given as 75% non-survivable full thickness burns, and mental health concerns.

The coroner’s conclusion was suicide.

If you are experiencing distress and feel suicidal, please don’t suffer in silence. The Samaritans have launched a free telephone national helpline number, 116 123. 

People who are going through a difficult time can access the service round the clock, every single day of the year.

This number is free to call from both landlines and mobiles, including pay-as-you-go mobiles. You do not need to have any credit or call allowance on your plan to call 116 123.

 

Related

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

New discriminatory regulations for PIP come into effect today

Disabled mum took fatal overdose after she was refused PIP

Vote Labour to uphold the rights of disabled people – our letter to the Guardian


 

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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Raincoat. Age. Die. A guest post by Hubert Huzzah

Hubert

In 2008 there were 700,000 people with dementia in the UK. That number is rising rapidly and is projected to be over 1 million by 2025. One in three people over 65 will end their lives with a form of dementia. In 2008 there were 580,000 people with dementia needing Carers in England.

Not all Dementia Sufferers are home owners. For the age group most likely to suffer Dementia 71.6% (45-75+) of the population do own their own home. The average home is worth £215,847 at 2017 prices. So, of the one million people with dementia by 2025, 716,000 will be sitting on assets worth a total of £154Bn.

Imagine being able to take ownership of £154Bn of assets simply by waiting ten years. That is the Dementia Tax. By 2027 those who are currently suffering from even mild dementia symptoms will have to pay for care as the value of the Home will be taken into account when means testing financial support for social care.

Currently, Carers put £132Bn into the Economy purely through Caring Services. This is the amount of money after all benefits – not just Attendance Allowance or Carers Allowance – are paid out. Carers are, in general, the next generation for Dementia sufferers – the children and grandchildren. In total, the Dementia Tax will be taking £286Bn from people who already pay substantial amounts into the economy and have been doing so for two generations.

That means penalising people until 2050 and it does not even make financial sense.

A report from the London School of Economics and King’s College London commissioned by the Alzheimer’s Society estimated the financial cost of dementia at over £17 billion for the state and families in 2008. This cost grew significantly as the number of people with dementia rose. A King’s Fund study estimated that the cost of dementia in England would rise from £14.9 billion per year in 2007 to £24 billion (at 2007 prices) by 2026, making up 74% of mental health service costs. Using £154Bn of assets to pay for £24Bn of expenditure is not only poor economics it is an invitation to fraud on an industrial scale.

The less well understood outcome will be a house price collapse leaving first time buyers in negative equity for the first time since the 1980s. In efforts to reduce the amount paid for Care Services, it will become rational for Carers of Dementia Sufferers to undervalue the property to bring the total estate under £100,000 for the purposes of means testing. Undervaluation to receive benefits is, in Social Security Law, fraud. Which will result in a market in avoidance and evasion promoting corruption. The policy, itself, is about effective money laundering which is, always, corrupt.

This undervaluation of properties will, inevitably, signal to the markets that house prices are dropping and so provide pressure to further reduce house prices. This will leave existing first time buyers at risk of negative equity. When Dementia Sufferers within the Dementia Tax Regime begin to die, First Time Buyers will sell to escape negative equity. Resulting in an extreme boom and crash market that will last for decades. The initial boom will be hailed as an economic miracle until the initial crash reveals the depth of the problem. In 2007 the National Audit Office estimated that £102 million could be saved by reducing the time people Dementia Sufferers stay in hospital.

A Lincolnshire case study they found that people with dementia on orthopaedic wards were staying over 24 days on average compared to under 17 days for people without. That increased length of Hospital stay is increasingly expensive as Private Contractors provide the service. At the same time, the Private Contractors, driven by profit, have no incentive to move Dementia sufferers out of Hospitals. The overall outcome is that Hospitals will become bed blocked by Private Contractors and that will feed back to poorer Accident and Emergency Service, longer waiting times and increased ill health in the general population.

The Dementia Tax is a poorly thought out policy that has one objective: releasing £154Bn of assets into financial markets. With the net contribution of £29Bn to the UK economy from the Insurance Sector in 2015, the indication is that the £154Bn will be a five year soft landing for the Insurance Sector on exit from the EU. That soft landing will, inevitably, be a source of capital flight from the UK to other EU capitals such as Dublin, Paris and Berlin. Which leaves the policy cascading out from the Health and Social Care Sector to cascade destabilisation across the Economy.

There are 379 authorised Life Insurance Companies in the UK. 200 are UK authorised and 179 are headquartered in another European country and passport in under the EU Third Life Directive. With the unfolding of Exit from the European Union, the Dementia Tax creates a mechanism for capital flight from the UK via those 179 passported Life Insurance companies. If the UK wishes to retain a working financial services relationship after exit then those 47.2% of Life Insurance Companies passported into the UK market will become the potential source of almost £73Bn of capital flight.

It is a poorly thought out, uncosted, scheme that seeks to buy time for the Tories. Given the public availability of information that can be used to cost the scheme, and the pieces of past research that show how poor equity-release is for solving financial problems, where did the Dementia Tax actually come from?

 

Sources: National Audit Office, Alzheimers Society, Association Of British Insurers. Picture: Madeline Von Foerster. “The Promise II” (Death And The Maiden).

Written by Hubert Huzzah

Woman was too scared to leave job centre during a heart attack as she feared being sanctioned

Salena Hannah (Photo: Adam Sorenson)

A woman who suffered a heart attack during a job centre in-work progression interview has said she was too scared to get up and leave to get medical help as she was afraid of ­losing her benefits. Salena Hannah, who works part-time, says that she had the attack during her appointment, but was ignored by the “callous” job centre interviewer.

She explained: “I had been suffering with chest pains for about two weeks and took a couple of sprays of GTN spray, to help with my angina, before I walked in to meet my interviewer.

“My job is under 16 hours, so I am forced to attend regular meetings, or my benefits might be stopped.

“I was feeling some really bad pains in my chest and I told her at least two or three times that I was in agony, but she was just so callous, she just kept ignoring me.

“I said I needed to go to the NHS walk-in centre immediately, but it fell on deaf ears. I was living in fear of being sanctioned and just felt trapped. I didn’t think I could leave or I would be sanctioned.”

Salena says she was forced to endure a 40-minute interview, while sweating profusely and suffering chest pains.

As soon as she left the interview, she went straight to a nearby NHS walk-in centre, where medics immediately called an ambulance and took her to hospital.

Blood tests revealed she had suffered a heart attack and she had to have surgery to have two stents inserted into her arteries.

Although Salina was discharged after three days in hospital, she suffered serious chest pains an hour after she got home, and had to return to hospital, where doctors inserted three more stents.

Salina is now recovering at home but is struggling for breath and feels constantly weak.

She said: “I was just dreading getting sanctioned. I just would not be able to afford to live if that happened, so pain or no pain, I had to endure that meeting.

“It is unbelievable how cruel the sanction scheme can be to people like me. It is almost like they are trained to be unfeeling.

Is that what Britain is coming to these days under a Tory Government?”

Salena, a mum of four, is bringing up her two grandsons aged 14 and 10 on her own. Had she been sanctioned, she would not have been able to provide for their basic needs.

At the time of her heart attack, she was working in a chip shop and was in receipt of JSA and housing benefit.

Last year, the The National Audit Office launched a scathing attack on the benefit sanctions system, saying that punishing people for “non-compliance” with welfare conditionality does more harm than good and costs more to enforce than it saves. There is no evidence that the pointlessly cruel welfare sanctions work at all. 

The report said that withholding benefits, which is now very commonplace, plunges claimants into hardship, hunger and depression. It also seriously jeopardises their health, since sanctions leave people without the means to meet the costs of food, fuel and often, shelter – and these are fundamental survival needs.

Dr Wanda Wyporska, director of The Equality Trust, said: “It’s disgusting to see how some of the most vulnerable people in society are treated.

“Our social security system is being slowly eroded and further cuts will see the poorest families hit even harder.”

Tim Roache, general secretary of the GMB, said: “You have to wonder if all compassion has been completely ripped from our system by continued austerity and cuts to frontline services.”

A Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) spokesperson said: “We would always encourage claimants who suddenly fall ill to seek medical attention, or to speak to a member of staff for assistance.”

The Department, however, is not focused not on helping individuals but on cutting welfare expenditure while hitting targets for doing so. 

In February, employer relationship manager at Jobcentre Plus in Tyne & Wear and Northumberland, who is based at the branch featured in the film I, Daniel Blake, said: “I, Daniel Blake is a representation … I hope people don’t think the film is a documentary, because it’s a story that doesn’t represent the reality we work in.”

“My team and I try to treat people as individuals, and we care about the work we do,” he told the Guardian. “There will be times when we get it wrong, but I don’t believe we are ever as wrong as how we are portrayed in this film.

“I remember talking about the film in the canteen. We were concerned about how it might affect our relationship with the people we were trying to help find work. How would they react to it?”

Ken Loach, however, defended the authenticity and realism of the film’s content. “I challenge anyone to find a single word in that film that isn’t true,” he said.

I, Daniel Blake tells the story of a joiner who has had a heart attack, and is no longer able to work. However, he becomes caught up in the nightmare bureacracy of the welfare state, is passed as “fit for work” at his work capability assessment, and is told he has to look for work. He suffers a second fatal heart attack just before his tribunal, as a consequence of the sustained psychological distress and strain he experiences because of the punitive Conservative welfare “reforms”. 

Damian Green, the work and pensions secretary, said the film was “monstrously unfair” – though he added he had not seen it. 

I wonder if Green considers his department’s lies “monstrously unfair”. For example, in August 2015, the DWP admitted to using fictional stories from made-up claimants on leaflets, despicably advertising the “positive impact” of benefit sanctions, following a Freedom of Information request from Welfare Weekly, claiming that they were for “illustrative purposes only” and admitting that it was “quite wrong” to pass these off as genuine quotes.

Later that month figures were released which showed that between December 2011 and February 2014, 2,650 people died shortly after their Work Capability Assessment told them that they should be finding workThe DWP had fought hard for the figures not to be released, with chief minister Iain Duncan Smith at one point telling Parliament that they did not exist.

Research published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health by Oxford University and Liverpool University, showed there were an additional 590 suicides between 2010 and 2013 in areas where Work Capability Assessments (WCA) were carried out. The researchers say that the DWP had introduced the policy of moving people off benefits without understanding the consequences. The research showed a correlation between worsening mental health and the assessments. The DWP of course denied the evidenced correlation between suicides and the WCA. 

I, Daniel Blake has been criticised by some media commentators, such as Toby Young (the Daily Mail) and the Sunday Times film critic Camilla Long who said it did not “ring true”. However, Hayley Squires, who plays a single mother in the film, said it showed “the absolute truth of what’s happening to millions of British people in this country” and accused Young and Long of “irresponsible journalism”.

The government’s controversial benefit sanctions regime can cause “damage to the wellbeing of vulnerable claimants and can lead to hunger, debt and destitution”, according to a damning new report, which debunks Tory myths that benefit sanctions – denying people who are already struggling the only means by which to support themselves and their families – “incentivise people into work.”

In a report titled Benefit Conditionality and Sanctions in Salford – One Year on, it was concluded that, far from than “incentivising” people to move into work, the sanctions regime actually serves as a demotivator and barrier, preventing people from engaging in appropriate training, volunteering and employment-related activities.

Furthermore, the sudden loss of income caused by removing benefits – through the imposition of a punitive sanctions regime – often damages people’s mental health, creates tensions within family relationships and may cause individuals to turn to crime in order to meet their basic survival needs.

Salford City Mayor, Paul Dennett said: “People on benefits are already struggling to afford food, heating and essential costs. They can’t save so they have no financial safety net. They live in dread of being sanctioned  which isn’t the right frame of mind for job hunting, volunteering or going back into education.” Or for looking for more hours of work.

The cruel and inhumane way that Salena Hannah was treated by a job centre “advisor”, and the fear and dread that she felt at the prospect of being sanctioned, is real.

Susan Roberts’ despair following her PIP application being refused, which led to her suicide, was real.

David Clapson’s awful death, which was the result of grotesque government policies, is real.

David Sugg, who was so afraid of the catastrophic health impacts that the strain of the Work Capability Assessment (WCA) may have had on him, left a letter for the local coroner, to be opened in the event of his sudden death. He feared the assessment would kill him. That is real.

George Vranjkovic’s extreme anxiety, agitation and fear facing the WCA, which he knows is designed to try and cut costs and take lifeline support from sick and disabled people, is real. He lost his lifeline support for six months previously. His panic attack the night before the WCA is real. 

A man who was forced to give up work with heart problems had his benefits stopped for failing to complete a WCA – after suffering a heart attack during the examination. That is real.

Sheila Holt, who suffers from bipolar disorder, was sectioned after being taken off Income Support. Days later she had a heart attack and fell into the coma. Nonetheless, she was sent a letter by Atos to ask why she was not working. That really happened. 

I co-run a support group on Facebook for sick and disabled people claiming disability benefits. I know from the accounts and everyday experience of many others just how stressful the assessment process is. It’s a terrible and shameful state of affairs when people who are already struggling with severe health problems are made even more vulnerable because of callous cost-cutting government policies. That is real.

It needs to change. That is real.

We are all, potentially, Daniel Blakes. That is real.

Dave Johns in I, Daniel Blake. (Mongrel Media)


 

I don’t make any money from my work. I am disabled because of illness and have a very limited income. The budget didn’t do me any favours at all.

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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The government has failed to protect the human rights of children

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The UK has plummeted from 11th position to 156th in global ranking for meeting its children’s rights obligations in the space of just a year. The UK now ranks among the bottom 10 global performers in the arena of improving the human rights of the child, after it achieved the lowest possible score across all six available indicators in the domain of Child Rights Environment (CRE), according to the KidsRights Index 2017.

The Index gathers data from Unicef and the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) to identify global trends in the arena of children’s rights protection. It comprises a ranking for all UN member states that have ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, a total of 165 countries. 

The report says that a nation’s prosperity does not always guarantee children’s rights. Interestingly, economically better performing countries are not necessarily doing a better job when it comes to safeguarding the rights of children.

This year’s overall worst performing countries are the United Kingdom, Papua New Guinea, New Zealand, Guinea-Bissau, Equatorial Guinea, Chad, Vanuatu, Sierra Leone, Afghanistan and Central African Republic.

Very serious concerns have been raised about structural discrimination in the UK. Muslim children are facing increased discrimination following recent anti-terrorism measures, and a rise in discrimination against gypsy and refugee children in recent years.

The KidsRights Index is comprised of 5 domains: 

  1. Right to Life
  2. Right to Health
  3. Right to Education
  4. Right to Protection
  5. Enabling Environment for Child Rights

Marc Dullaert, founder and chairman of the KidsRights Foundation, has urged the UK government to treat non-discrimination as a policy priority, and to speed up the process of aligning its child protection laws with the Convention on the Rights of the Child at both the national and devolved levels, as well as in all crown dependencies.

He said: “Discrimination against vulnerable groups of children and youths is severely hampering opportunities for future generations to reach their full potential.” 

“Following the general election, the new government should demonstrate to the world that it will not allow the retreat from the EU to adversely affect the rights and opportunities of its children.” 

In light of the findings, Lord Philip Hunt, shadow deputy leader of the House of Lords and shadow health spokesperson, accused the Government of “inactivity” and “inadequate service provision”, urging it to do more to protect the rights of the child.

He said: “This report exposes the inactivity of the current UK government and inadequate service provision in this most important area of policy making; rights of the child.” 

“The UK is the sixth largest economy globally and therefore has the resources at its disposal to ensure that our children are adequately protected and cared for across multiple disciplines. Our children are our future and the barometer of our approach to social justice and the state of our society.”

Although many states have adopted new children’s rights policies in recent years, the Index reveals that implementation is often not evident, and many new policies fail to fully comply with the principles and provisions of the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

The Index rates and ranks the extent to which a country has implemented the general principles of the Convention on the Rights of the Child while taking into account the basic infrastructure for making and implementing children’s rights policies. Portugal is this year’s global top ranking nation, with France, Norway, Sweden, Finland and Spain also ranking in the top ten.

The Index methodology means that extremely poor performances in one domain cannot be compensated by higher scores in other domains, as all of areas children’s rights are deemed to be equally important.

The report concluded that many industrialised nations, and especially the UK, are falling far short of allocating sufficient budgets towards creating a stable environment for children’s rights, by neglecting their leadership responsibilities and failing to invest in the rights of children to the best of their abilities.

Human rights and the impact of childhood poverty 

Earlier this month, another damning report published by the Royal College of Paediatrics, Child Health (RCPCH) and Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) revealed that more than two-thirds of paediatricians believe poverty and low income contribute “very much” to the ill health of children that they work with. 

The report – Poverty and child health: views from the frontline  is based on a survey of more than 250 paediatricians across the country, whose comments provide an insight into the grave reality of life for the millions of UK children living in poverty.

Latest figures show that more than one in four (nearly 4 million) children in the UK live in poverty – with projections suggesting this could rise to 5 million by the end of the decade.

The report explores number of areas including food insecurity, poor housing and worry, stress and stigma – and the effect of these issues on the health of children.  

The report reveals that:

  • more than two-thirds of paediatricians surveyed said poverty and low income contribute ‘very much’ to the ill health of children they work with
  • housing problems or homelessness were a concern for two-thirds of respondents.
  • more than 60% said food insecurity contributed to the ill health amongst children they treat 3
  • 40% had difficulty discharging a child in the last 6 months because of concerns about housing or food insecurity
  • more than 50% of respondents said that financial stress and worry contribute ‘very much’ to the ill health of children they work with

Alison Garnham, Chief Executive of the Child Poverty Action Group, said:

“Day in, day out doctors see the damage rising poverty does to children’s health. Their disquiet comes through in the survey findings and should sound alarms for the next government. Low family incomes, inadequate housing and cuts to support services are jeopardising the health of our most vulnerable children.

“We can and must do better to protect the well-being of future generations. reinstating the UK’s poverty-reduction targets would be an obvious place to start.” 

Professor Russell Viner, Officer for Health Promotion at the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, said:

“Poverty has a devastating effect on child health and this report makes disturbing reading. The health impact on children living in poverty is significant – whether that’s increased likelihood of respiratory problems, mental ill-health or obesity – than children living in more affluent areas.

“Worryingly, almost half of those surveyed feel the problem is getting worse, with the combination of increasing poverty, housing problems and cuts to services meaning more families are struggling.”  

The RCPCH and CPAG are calling on whoever forms the next Government to tackle poverty urgently through: 

  • the restoration of binding national targets to reduce child poverty, backed by a national child poverty strategy
  • the adoption of a ‘child health in all policies’ approach to decision making and policy development, with Her Majesty’s Treasury disclosing information about the impact of the Chancellor’s annual budget statement on child poverty and inequality
  • the reversal of public health cuts to ensure universal early years services, including health visiting and school nursing, are prioritised and supported financially, with additional targeted help for children and families experiencing poverty
  • the reversal of cuts to universal credit which will leave the majority of families claiming this benefit worse off.

As one survey respondent said: “We cannot expect to have a healthy future for the UK if we leave children behind. Poverty makes children sick.”

There were 3.9 million children living in “relative poverty” in 2014-15, up from 3.7 million a year earlier, according to figures from the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).

The report follows the release of  figures from the DWP which revealed one in four (nearly four million) children in the UK live in poverty – with projections suggesting this could rise to five million by the end of the decade.

It’s not as if the government have been unaware of the consequences of their policies and the implications of a consistent failure to uphold the UK’s human rights obligations towards children. In 2014, the Children’s Commissioner warned that the increasing inequality resulting from the austerity cuts, and in particular, the welfare reforms, means that Britain is now in breach of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, which is supposed to protect children from the adverse effects of government economic measures.

In 2015, the Children’s Commissioner criticised the Conservative’s tax credit cuts and called for measures to reduce the impact that the changes will have on the poorest children. Anne Longfield, who took up her role on 1 March 2015, called on the government to exempt 800,000 children under five from tax credit cuts and to offer additional support to families with a child under five-years-old.

The role of Children’s Commissioner was established under Labour’s Children Act in 2004 to be the independent voice of children and young people and to champion their interests and bring their concerns and views to the national arena. The Commissioner’s work must take regard of children’s rights (the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child) and seek to improve the wellbeing of children and young people.

However, the government rejected the findings of what they deemed the “partial, selective and misleading” Children’s Commissioner report. The Commissioner wrote to the Chancellor to call for children in the poorest families aged under five to be protected from the cuts.

However, George Osborne shamefully remained brazenly unrepentant.

A damning joint report written by the four United Kingdom Children’s Commissioners for the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child’s examination of the UK’s Fifth Periodic Report under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC), dated 14 August 2015, says, in its overall assessment of the UK’s record: 

“The Children’s Commissioners are concerned that the UK State Party’s response to the global economic downturn, including the imposition of austerity measures and changes to the welfare system, has resulted in a failure to protect the most disadvantaged children and those in especially vulnerable groups from child poverty, preventing the realisation of their rights under Articles 26 and 27 UNCRC. 

The best interests of children were not central to the development of these policies and children’s views were not sought. 

Reductions to household income for poorer children as a result of tax, transfer and social security benefit changes have led to food and fuel poverty, and the sharply increased use of crisis food bank provision by families. In some parts of the UK there is insufficient affordable decent housing which has led to poorer children living in inadequate housing and in temporary accommodation.

Austerity measures have reduced provision of a range of services that protect and fulfil children’s rights including health and child and adolescent mental health services; education; early years; preventive and early intervention services; and youth services. 

The Commissioners are also seriously concerned at the impact of systematic reductions to legal advice, assistance and representation for children and their parents/carers in important areas such as prison law; immigration; private family law; and education. This means that children are denied access to remedies where their rights have been breached.

The Commissioners are also concerned at the future of the human rights settlement in the United Kingdom due to the UK Government’s intention to repeal the Human Rights Act 1998 (HRA) which incorporates the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) into domestic law; replace it with a British Bill of Rights (the contents of which are yet to be announced), and ‘break the formal link between British courts and the European Court of Human Rights’.

The HRA has been vital in promoting and protecting the rights of children in the United Kingdom and the European Court of Human Rights has had an important role in developing the protection offered to children by the ECHR.The Commissioners are concerned that any amendment or replacement of the HRA is likely to be regressive.”

In another regressive and punitive policy move by the government, from April 6 2017, child tax credits and universal credit across the UK will be restricted to the first two children in a family. This measure will affect all households with two or more children that have an additional child after this date.

Analysis by consultancy Policy in Practice revealed a low-income family whose third or additional child is born before midnight on the day before the policy came into force would qualify for up to £50,000 in tax credit support over 18 years whereas a similar family whose third child is born on April 6 will miss out.

The government says it wants to save money and make the tax credit system “fairer”. It intends the two-child restriction to “influence the behaviour” of less well-off families by making them “think twice” about having a third child. But it also accepts there is no evidence to suggest this will happen.

This is an extremely regressive eugenic policy, with its emphasis being on social class. Eugenics was discredited following its terrible escalation and consequences in Nazi Germany.  

The two children only policy also a reflects a politically motivated form of crude behaviourism –  behaviour modification through the use of financial punishments. It’s probably true that all authoritarians and tyrants are behaviourists of sorts.

Critics say that at current birth rates, 100,000 third or subsequent children will not qualify for tax credit support over the next 12 months, inflating child poverty figures by at least 10% by 2020.

Social Darwinism is linked closely with eugenic ideas – a view that society and economics will naturally “check” the problem of dysgenics if no welfare policies are in place. 

The Conservative government has steadily dismantled the welfare state over the past seven years, so that now, there is no longer adequate support provision for people both in work and out of work, to meet their basic living needs. 

The current retrogressive, draconian approach to poverty needs to radically change if we are to be a nation that respects and upholds the human rights of all its citizens.

 


 

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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Mandatory reconsiderations and the rule of law

When is a reconsideration not a reconsideration?

When the Department for Work and Pensions are reviewing their own decisions.

Mandatory reviews were introduced by the Conservative government to deter people from appealing unfair Department for Work and Pensions decisions. They are not actually genuine reconsiderations. A Freedom of Information (FoI) request has revealed that there is a target set so that decisions in at least 80% of cases are to be upheld in the Department’s favour. That is regardless of the actual details and circumstances of each case under review, and the level accuracy, fairness and rationale that informed the original decision. This fundamentally removes an opportunity for access to justice and the right to redress for people who are on the end of unfair political decision making processes.

“This appears to be an absolutely outrageous interference by the executive with the rule of law.”

Absolutely. I campaigned against the introduction of Mandatory Reconsideration back in 2012/13, precisely because it smacks of despicable political authoritarianism and rigid ideological antiwelfareism.

The FoI response says:

The key measures which are used by the Department for Work and Pensions to monitor Mandatory Reconsideration (MR) Performance are: 
 
a) 90% to be cleared within target. 
         
b) 80% of the original decisions are to be upheld. 
 
The performance measures for April 2016 – March 2017 are: 
 
% MR Cleared within target = 70.2% 
 
% MR Original Decision Upheld = 87.5% 

Henry Brooke

Note: This should now be read alongside my next blog on Muddled language, as it appears that the DWP did not mean what it said in answer to the FOI request.

From time to time I have been invited to help seriously disabled people attain their rights after their applications for appropriate benefits have been turned down by agents appointed by the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP).

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Theresa May euphemizes savage cuts to PIP when confronted by an angry disabled person demanding democratic accountability

Theresa May

The prime minister has been avoiding confrontation with real citizens and voters so far, and has simply concerned herself with a series of stage-managed media appearances featuring Conservative supporters.

However, Theresa May faced a series of difficult questions after she was confronted by a furious voter over cuts to disability benefits while she was campaigning in Abingdon, Oxfordshire.

Cathy Mohan, who has learning difficulties, challenged the Prime Minister over Conservative cuts, which meant she lost her carer. She also asked about how others had been affected as the Disability Living Allowance (DLA) is replaced by the new cost cutting Personal Independence Payment (PIP). She told the PM that she has been forced to live on £100 a month in benefits after being denied essential support with the extra costs of coping with a learning disability.

In the footage captured by Channel 5 News, the voter demanded tht the government return to the DLA payments system, explaining that she couldn’t survive on the PIP scheme that has replaced it. 

Suprisingly, The Express also ran the story, although it was interesting to note the language use and interpretation to describe the exchange, with the Prime Minister “replying”, “saying”, “concluding” and Cathy “continuing her tirade” and “her rant“. Anyone would think that the Express journalist wanted to portray this citizen demanding democratic inclusion as unreasonable. 

Cathy simply asked: “Theresa, are you going to help people with learning difficulties? 

It’s good to see the Prime Minister being held democratically accountable for once by a real member of the public with a real life account of the devastating impacts of Tory austerity cuts, which have fallen disproportionately on those with the very least, and those who are among our most vulnerable citizens. 

2014-02-17-BurdenoftheCuts-thumb

You can see Cathy angrily and bravely confronting the Prime Minister here

Cathy says “I’m being serious, I want you to do something for us.”

 May replied: “We’ve got a lot of plans for people with mental health in particular…”

But absolutely furious with being fobbed off,  Cathy swiftly interrupted the Prime Minister and continued: “And learning difficulties? 

Because I’ve got mild learning disabilities and I haven’t got a carer at the moment, and I’m angry.

I would like somebody to help me because I can’t do everything I want to do.

I’m talking about everybody not just me, for everybody who’s got mental health and anybody who’s got learning disabilities.

I want them not to have their money taken away from them, and being crippled.

They just took it all away from me,” she said.

She added: “The fat cats keep the money and us lot get nothing.”

It’s true that the vulture capitalist private companies undertaking disability assessments take millions from the public purse to deliver pseudo-medical assessments that are specifically designed to make it unlikely that your claim will be successful, regardless of how ill and disabled you are. 

An audit report concluded that the Department for Work and Pension’s spending on contracts for disability benefit assessments is expected to double in 2016/17 compared with 2014/15. The government’s flagship welfare-cutting scheme will be actually spending more money on the assessments themselves than it is saving in reductions to the benefits bill – as Frances Ryan pointed out in the Guardian, it’s the political equivalent of burning bundles of £50 notes.

The report also states that only half of all the doctors and nurses hired by Maximus – the US outsourcing company brought in by the Department for Work and Pensions to carry out the assessments – had even completed their training.

The NAO report summarises:

£1.6 billion
Estimated cost of contracted-out health and disability assessments over three years, 2015 to 2018

£0.4 billion
Latest expected reduction in annual disability benefit spending

13%
Proportion of ESA and PIP targets met for assessment report quality meeting contractual standard (September 2014 to August 2015).

See: Doctors bribed with 70-90k salaries to join Maximus and “endorse a political agenda regardless of how it affects patients.”

May responded by using trite and meaningless sloganised reassurances: “The government is “particularly focused on those who are most in need”.

“Focusing on those most in need” is a Conservative euphemism for cutting lifeline support for those who need it, by a series of incremental restrictions to the eligibility criteria for PIP.

The criteria for receiving PIP has recently been restricted by the Conservatives, leading to more than 160,000 vulnerable people being denied the additional financial help that they once received.

May continued: What I can do is ensure that we’re giving more help to people with mental health and learning disabilities.

We want to ensure when we look at the help we’re giving to people with any disability that particularly we focus on those who are most in need.”

PIP 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, including staying in work. 

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, aimed at reducing the eligibility criteria for entitlement. The government were explicit in their statement about the original policy intent behind PIP. However, what it is that defines those “most in need” involves ever-shrinking, constantly redefined categories, pitched at an ever-shifting political goalpost.

Two independent tribunals have ruled that the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) should expand the scope and eligibility criteria of 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, the government rushed in an “urgent change” to the law to prevent many people with mental health conditions being awarded the mobility component of PIP. Without any parliamentary debate. 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 new regulations were rushed in without any dialogue with the Social Security Advisory Committee, too, via statutory instrument. 

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 DWP warned that it would cost £3.7bn extra by 2022 to implement the court rulings. The government have responded by formulating an extremely authoritarian “emergency legislation” to stop the legal changes that the upper tribunals had ruled on from happening. From 16 March the law was 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 certainly does not reflect that commitment.  

Let us not forget that last year, the United Nations’ highly critical report confirmed that the UK government has systematically violated the human rights of disabled people.

And let us not forget that this government dismissed the findings of the inquiry and each of the major concerns raised, calling it “offensive”.

It’s rather more offensive that a government of one of the wealthiest so-called democratic nations in the world chooses to disregard its human rights obligations towards disabled people, often leaving them without lifeline support and with devastating consequences, whilst gifting millionaires and rogue multinationals with tax payers money.

Image result for disabled people's rights uk


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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Conservatism eats itself by Deborah Talbot

Image result for Theresa May conservatives satire UK

This article from guest author Deborah Talbot is also published on The Sociological Imagination site.

Conservative politics are everywhere, but what is Conservatism and what are Conservatives really like? Deborah takes an ethnographic, insightful and irreverent look at the Conservative mindset. 

In the cities, you don’t notice conservatism. It’s there, for sure, but is pretty quiet about itself. Political parties of a more left persuasion don’t get a chance to do a bit of intense political ethnography, so we assume that everyone is pretty much on the same page, despite differences of opinion over issues.

It was only when I moved to one of England’s Southern regions that my immersion in political and social conservatism began. And I realised then what the Brexit culture wars were all about. Forget Cameron, Johnson, and Osborne. They are just metro decadents and a bit like us – conjured up to lull us into thinking the socially liberal consensus was here to stay.

Because real conservatism is not just a difference of opinion about issues (I support welfare; you think the poor should be made to work in chain gangs, kind of thing). It’s embedded in who they are – their psychology and identity. Which then dictates how they respond to issues.

So I thought it would be helpful to employ my ethnographic skills and do an eight-month investigation into the conservative mind – as it really is, not how it likes to portray itself in the media. Here are my results.

Conservatism is more than party politics

Conservatism is pretty wide ranging, though sometimes it does settle on a political party or perspective, like at the moment with the Conservatives, UKIP and Brexit.

But it doesn’t have to. People that have stayed in the same place for decades, haven’t experienced the significant changes over the past 40-50 years occurring in cities or just don’t get out much, tend towards the conservative. Being creates consciousness, and all that.

Even if they may have traditionally voted Labour for years, their prevailing attitudes to women, immigrants or any local thing they don’t like, makes them easy prey for the right-wing sociopaths.

They don’t like change

That’s right. Any change is met with a wall of muttering and complaint. It could be a good change, like a new building, or trying to sort out a failing transport system.

And despite having acres of space around them, they definitely don’t like change that involves new housing. Or immigrants coming in. Or Londoners. Or the post office down the road changing its sign. Or temporary road works. Or a new cycle lane.

It’s all the same. Change is bad.

Keeping it simple

There’s the sketch that Stewart Lee does about UKIPs anti-immigration policy, where he says, for racists, ‘reality is too full, isn’t it….’

It’s truer than Lee knows. Conservative people just don’t get complexity, whether this is multi-causal chains of reasoning, evidence-based policy or large conurbations.

I guess it’s why change confuses them…because it adds a new variable.

Despite what they say, they don’t like community

Conservatives will make a song and dance about community, but mostly what they mean is that they want to keep it for people exactly like themselves, and to act with impunity.

Because contrary to what they say, conservatives are more likely to engage in anti-social acts, like leaving dog poo in the streets and speeding. Because it’s all about them – hang everyone else.

They parade family like a banner but don’t like children

You’d think conservatives, being all family, nation and work, would like children. But they don’t. Children, in their eyes, need to know their place. Be quiet, stop crying, man up.

Teenagers and even worse, youths, for your average conservative, are evil and it would be better if they were all locked up or forced to join the army (same thing).

Conservatives provide nothing for children and particularly teenagers to do and then castigate them for taking the initiative. Conservative areas are high on vandalism and street drinking (and even so, 99% of young people are lovely). Do they see the relationship? Not at all.

They do love babies though, probably because they are helpless and can’t talk back, which is just how conservatives like ‘em.

They never experienced identity politics

Conservatives of all hues just never went through the identity revolution that hit most cities in the UK and beyond. Because they never experienced it, they don’t understand it, and believe the Daily Mail when they are told it’s ‘political correctness gone mad’ and a ‘threat to the social order’.

The idea that it’s about giving people equality and respect, and not being abusive to people who aren’t like you, seems to have passed them by. Conservatives lack basic good manners, except when it comes to people just like them. Which brings me to…

Patriarchy reigns

Both men and women in conservative areas support a set of social practices and policies that perpetuate the oppression of women. In conservative areas, it’s not sexist to bully and troll women on social media, fail to provide job flexibility and childcare and shut women out of work and professional networks.

‘Her indoors’ gets to stay indoors.

I once innocently asked a local male politician from the ‘Independents’ (closet conservatives) how he could attend so many meetings when he has small children. He said, without batting an eyelid, “My wife does all of that.” There was no shame or irony.

Little provision is made for women who have small children and who want to go to work or meetings. In The Patriarchy, women need to know their place, which is firmly latched to the kitchen sink.

Call attention to it, and it’s very much a case of ‘calm down dear’, or you are called a raging fantasist.

Dislike of the arts and psychological sensitivity

Offered a choice between, say, an art gallery and a bus station, conservatives will opt for the bus station.

The arts are a threat to their narrow social order and need to be marginalised or if possible, crushed. They aren’t beguiled by the success of the creative industries; that’s just a liberal plot to shake them out of their boring shires and give it to young people and immigrants.

And you can’t have a world with things in it, remember?

Similarly, conservatives are very anti-emotion. Sensitivity is tortured out of children by bullying at schools and general ostracism. Because emotion is pinko stuff and real men don’t cry. But, and here’s a big but, some of them invite social media abuse. They are less comfortable with understanding and empathy. Hmm…

Difference, what difference?

Conservatives lack empathy. They simply can’t feel the presence of other humans and assume that those objects moving close to them (people) are simply inanimate or just an extension of them.

I think this is why in conservative areas people lack spatial awareness. Despite all the space they have around them, they simply don’t hear you coming or bump into you because they haven’t seen you. Weird right?

Aggression, anxiety and fear

Road rage, tailgating, noisy neighbours, train noise – the list of things people in conservative areas find annoying and anger provoking is extensive. One gets the impression if they moved to a city they’d have an aneurysm within a year. Or chill the hell out.

Beneath this lies a deep anxiety and fear. The world is a scary place for conservatives. Whatever bad things happen, the government had better do it to someone else rather than them. This is probably why they are so enthusiastic about folk devils and punitive policies.

“Do it to them, not me” should be the conservative motto.

Dislike of public anything

Public transport, public sector, public housing – these all strike fear into the heart of your average conservative. Because they are scared of what they’ll find in public spaces (they might stumble across, say, a person unknown to them personally), they want to destroy it for everyone else.

Conservatives are all about private spaces, first class carriages on trains, cars and roads, where they can pay to keep themselves separate – anything to avoid having an unpredictable encounter with another human.

Obedience is safer

I had a strange conversation with a conservative type who said that they’d voted for Brexit and now they had to go along with whatever May wanted. Anything she wanted, because they had to agree with it (sold their soul, was my interpretation). Conservatives love obedience because they are too scared to be independent. Rather than face that, they try and force everyone else to be obedient too.

But get this, conservatives. Some of us have gone and grown up and can cope with ambiguity and freedom. And do it with other people. We’re not pretending. We really can.

The love of obedience makes their pretend notion of taking back control completely fatuous. What they mean, of course, is hand control to their leader. And then shut your mouth, because the exercising of your democratic rights is making them uncomfortable.

It’s not the economy, stupid

Walking around a small local town with an avid conservative, he looked at all the shops and small business, and sneered, “It’s a bit commercial, isn’t it?”

And here’s the shocker. Your average conservative type doesn’t like economic growth and commercial activity. They don’t. They just pretend to in their manifestos and propaganda.

That’s because they are either retired, independently wealthy, employing other people to run things for them, living off rent, or unemployed. They are not even that keen on volunteering anymore, though remnants of an older conservatism are still out there. Working, volunteering or building a business requires engagement with human normality. Moreover, you need a functioning economy to thrive.

I bet if anyone did a calculation they could correlate declining economic participation with the rise in conservatism.

Think about Brexit. It’ll by all accounts tank the economy and push the UK into long-term shrinkage. Do Brexiteers care? No, because they don’t need an economy. So they believe. Obviously their savings would tank too, but that’s a while off. And remember, they can’t handle a multi-causal chain of reasoning – it’s all about that direct relationship between them and their personal pot of gold.

Their lack of caring about the economy and their dead-eyed love of authority is expressed in the continued conservative support for a hard Brexit. And no wonder they don’t like immigrants, who are generally entrepreneurial and energetic.

Conservatives are more like to say, “Where’s my deckchair?” than “This great new café has opened; let’s go.”

It’s Labour that has become the party of enterprise, which is all over the cities. Conservatives are disengaged. Surprising, eh?

More than any of the other self-defeating psychological dispositions I’ve talked about, the lack of enthusiasm for economic issues shows us that conservatism is eating itself.

Pea sized imaginations

Anyone that wants to hand this lot the reins of power needs to think again. They are myopic, careless and stuck firmly in a past that more suited their narrow-minded fear-obsessed world.

They don’t want to lead us into a new productive and democratic reality. They want to shrink the world, so it fits their pea-sized imaginations.

So if you are thinking about voting Conservative, but you don’t want people in power who have these traits, have another think. Conservatism is eating itself.

Let’s just let it die.

Related

Conservatism in a nutshell

There is no such thing as a ‘one nation’ Tory: they always create two nations

Granfalloonery, scapegoating, social dominance theory and Conservatism