Category: Social Policy

PIP assessments are dehumanising, degrading, very distressing and potentially harmful

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I co-run a support group for people going through Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) and Personal Independent Payment assessments and appeals. I have heard many people’s harrowing experiences of these assessments, I have written about them, and I’ve written critically about the assessment process itself. However, it isn’t until you experience one of these assessments for yourself that you may fully appreciate just how utterly distressing, surreal, degrading and dehumanising the process actually is. Or how potentially harmful.

I had my first ever Personal Independence Payment (PIP) assessment today. I have systemic lupus and pulmonary fibrosis, among other problems, all of which affect my mobility and capacity to live independently, day-to-day. My consultant is a rheumatologist and more recently, I have been seeing a pulmonary consultant. Other specialists I sometimes need to see are a neurologists, opthalmologists, physiotherapists and haematologists.

After a bout of pneumonia and sepsis earlier this year, which almost cost me my life, a follow-up scan found further lung problems, which have probably been ongoing for some time. Fibrosis can happen as a result of connective tissue illnesses like lupus, scleroderma or rheumatoid arthritis. It can also happen to people whose conditions have been treated with a chemotherapy called methotrexate – which I was given from 2012 onwards. My mother, who had rheumatoid arthritis, died suddenly of pulmonary fibrosis in 2009. The coroner said it was a complication of her illness, not because of a treatment. She was never given methotrexate.

The interview part of the assessment seemed okay, initially. I provided further evidence regarding my recent assessment, undertaken by my local council’s Occupational Therapy Service, which led to the prescription of aids and appliances in my home. The assessment report was quite clear about my basic medical conditions and day-to-day mobility limitations. I was asked about medication. I explained that following my second appointment with my new rheumatologist, I was prescribed some new medications, including one for secondary Raynaud’s syndrome, which has arisen because of my having lupus, as a complication.

A recent thermal imaging and microvascular study shows that this condition has got worse over time, and so my rheumatologist prescribed a treatment called Amlodipine. It concerned me that the Health Care Professional looked confused and skeptical when she asked for a list of my medication, and she said that this is a treatment for high blood pressure, she seemed to disbelieve what I had told her. I explained that I don’t have high blood pressure, and that calcium channel blockers such as Amlodipine are used for more than one condition, such as certain types of angina – which I also don’t have – and secondary Raynaud’s syndrome, which I do have. 

I was asked about the impact of my illnesses on my day-to-day living. At one point I explained that I find preparing and chopping food difficult because of the tendonitis in both wrists. I have been diagnosed with De Quervian’s Tenosynovitis, which makes putting any weight or strain on my wrists very painful.

I was also concerned that I was then asked if I have had my wrists splinted. This shows a lack of understanding about my condition. I have had splints but it did not make any difference to my wrists. I was diagnosed with De Quervain’s syndrome by my rheumatologist and a physiotherapist in 2011, but had the problem for considerably longer. As my physiotherapist pointed out, my wrists are not injured or strained through overuse and so won’t get better with rest or splinting. This is because they are damaged by a chronic systemic inflammatory disease process that is ongoing, and he told me it is medication rather splinting that is needed to try to manage the level of inflammation in my body as a whole.

Splinting my wrists is akin to putting a plaster cast on a knee affected by rheumatoid arthritis, or a plaster on cancer. It won’t help at all. That the HCP didn’t seem to understand the difference between the chronic inflammatory symptoms of connective tissue disease and curable strain and injury related conditions bothered me.

Another thing that bothered me is that I was asked about the frequency of my periods of severe illness and how that impacts on my ability to manage things like personal care. She wanted an actual number of days, which of course is impossible to give with any precision when you have a fluctuating condition. Sometimes I struggle getting dressed and spend days on end in my pyjamas, and the HCP asked me “how often”? I tried to give an average number of days per month, but because the acute flares of my illness vary so much from month to month, week to week, that was very difficult to do. She also seemed impatient that I struggled to try and work out an average. I have cognitive problems as a result of my illness.

Another problem is that I struggle with washing my hair sometimes, and she demanded to know how often I need assistance with that task. The best I could do was to explain that when I have no help, I can go up to two weeks at a time with matted, unwashed hair. I felt embarrased and ashamed enough in having to discuss these personal difficulties with someone I have never met, but it was made to feel somehow like a confict, that part of the discussion. I felt that if I didn’t provide precise and quantified “evidence”, the qualitative details – my experience of my disability – would not be taken seriously by the HCP. 

Another problem with the assessments that worries me is that there was nowhere near enough time to discuss the complex impact of all my complex medical conditions and wide-ranging symptoms on my day-to-day life.

The ‘examination’

After discussion of my conditions and how my illnesses impact on upon my day-to-day living, I was asked to do some tasks during an examination, which have left me in a huge amount of pain. I also felt stripped of dignity, because I struggled to manage the exercises and felt very anxious and distressed. I was shocked at some of the tasks I was asked to do, and also shocked at the fact I couldn’t actually undertake a number of these tasks. My shock turned to anger later, as I had to leave in significantly more pain that I had arrived with at the start of the appointment. I was also asked to do each of the unfamiliar tasks and exercises in quick succession, which made assessing any likely pain and potential damage difficult before trying to do them.

It is also a traumatic experience to suddenly discover that your illness has insidiously robbed you of a degree of mobility that you previously assumed you had. That is always a shock. 

Last year, my GP was carrying out a standard examination and smear, when my hips locked painfully, as I tried to move my legs. She couldn’t completeher examination and the procedure as my egs would not move. After this, she told me to not get up for a while, and she described the experience – discovering that my mobility had been painfully restricted by my illness – as “traumatic.” It was.

I have, among other problems, very painful inflammatory arthritis and tendonitis in my knees, hips, spine, Achilles’ tendons and ankles. Because the inflammation and damage is bilateral and symmetrical – affecting both knees, both hips, both ankles and both Achilles’ tendons equally, and across my lower spine – it leaves me unable to compensate for pain, stiffness and weakness by shifting my weight and balance onto another limb, as that is also weak, stiff and painful. It leaves me unsteady. I often use a stick to stop me falling over, but as an aid for walking, it’s pretty useless generally, because my shoulders, elbows and wrists also won’t take any of my weight.

The inflammation process causes marked stiffness as well as severe pain, and so restricts my mobility. I was asked to “squat down” at the start of the examination. I refused, and told the assessor that I couldn’t do that. It would have certainly caused me severe pain and possibly an injury. As I can’t support weight on my shoulders and wrists – I also have osteoporosis in my wrists and hands –  had I tried and fallen backwards, I may have easily ended up with a fractured bone. I was horrified at being asked to do that. I struggled to equate the “health care professional” with what I had been asked to do, and felt confused and shocked that she had asked me to do something that may have been harmful.

I also felt that the HCP may have misconstrued my comments that I couldn’t undertake this task as an unwillingness to cooperate, as she looked unhappy about it. She did ask why, and I explained. I felt that trying some of the other tasks she set, which looked to be less dangerous, would at least demonstrate that I wasn’t being uncooperative, and most looked like they wouldn’t inflict any damage at first glance, when she demonstrated them.

However, other exercises I tried to do resulted in my neck locking and severe pain when I was told to turn my head to look over my shoulder – and couldn’t. I have neck problems through longstanding inflammation there and an upper spine injury involving a displaced vertebrae, which is sometimes very painful. In addition, the problems in my shoulders also contributed significantly to the level of pain when I turned my neck, and my neck clicked painfully at the base of my skull. 

I was asked to put my hands and wrists in positions that looked impossible to me. I tried, though. I was asked to line the backs of my wrists up with my hands flat, which I couldn’t do, and it hurt me a lot to try this.

Phalens-maneuver
This is called Phalen’s Manoeuvre. I was asked to do what is actually a provocative diagnostic test for carpal tunnel syndrome – which entails compression of the median nerve. The test provokes the symptoms of carpal tunnel problems, in the same way that the painful Finkelstein test provokes symptoms of severe pain in people with De Quervain’s. I have never been diagnosed with carpal tunnel problems, but I do have more than one diagnosis of bilateral De Quervian’s Tenosynovitis, as stated previously.

I tried to do this manoeuvre, even though it isn’t applicable to my condition (though I didn’t know that at the time, I have since researched the test, as I wanted to know why I couldn’t perform it). I couldn’t even get close to managing it, it hurt my shoulders a lot when I tried to align my elbows at right angles with my dropped finger tips, and I couldn’t drop my wrists fully due to an incredible pain and stiffness that I had not expected. The backs of my wrists simply painfully refused to meet.

I do struggle with pain when putting any weight on my wrists, but didn’t realise how much they had stiffened up, restricting their movement. Not being able to perform this movement doesn’t mean I actually have carpal tunnel syndrome. Nonetheless, I feel that given my previous concrete diagnosis, I was put through this painful and traumatic series of medical tests for no good reason. 

This is the problem with a short assessment of complex conditions. Many of my problems and diagnoses go back years, and only some of them are summarised neatly on my consultant’s report. My relationship with my new rheumatologist started in April, my old one moved in 2015. My new rheumatologist decided to “challenge” the previous diagnoses of two former rheumatologists. Her report to my GP was woefully inaccurate because she had not read my notes or listened to what I told herLong story short, she re-diagnosed me, inaccurately, with fibromyalgia, she didn’t read my notes, she sent me for tests and scans I had already had previously, whilst suspending my treatment pending results. The scans and tests took months. That resulted in a serious lupus flare, which culminated in a bout of pneumonia and sepsis. During the time I was in hospital, I was re-diagnosed with lupus following abnormal test results. My having lupus is thought to be the key reason why I had got so ill – unfortunately, lupus leaves me very susceptible to serious infections like pneumonia, kidney infections and sepsis. I now have a new rheumatologist who says I definitely have lupus.

Atos say they won’t carry out ‘diagnostic tests’ but they did.

In the appointment letter from Atos, it says: “The Health Professional will talk to you about how your health condition affects your daily life”. Much of this was covered with the council’s initial care plan report, but I did discuss my health issues and barriers to independence at length during the assessment.

The letter from Atos then says: “This will not be a full physical examination or an attempt to diagnose your symptoms.” 

My neck and shoulders are stiff, painful and I currently have limited mobility in them, yet I was asked to put my hands behind my head, raise my arms and so on. Loud joint cracking, popping, creaking and gasps of pain and my screwed up face didn’t stop the demands of what I felt was the impossible. I was actually sweating and trembling with the effort and pain, and still she did not stop the “examination”. I felt I couldn’t say no, as I would have seemed somehow unreasonable. I kept thinking that if I tried, gently, I was at least showing willing, and that would be okay, but unfortunately I wasn’t. 

It’s difficult to equate these artificial manoeuvres with day-to-day activities, and therefore it is also difficult recognise the impact it would have on my mobility limits before I tried them and to gauge how much a movement in isolation is going to hurt. 

Immediately following the examination/tests, my left calf has inexplicably swollen to twice its normal size, I could feel the uncomfortable tightness in it, and the swelling was visible through my jeans, whilst still with the assessor, and I commented on it.

My pain level has significantly increased everywhere. I had no groin or neck or elbow pain when I arrived until I was asked to do activities that were beyond my capability and that caused me a good deal of needless pain. I felt undignified trying to do those tasks, shocked and dazed at the pain, and sometimes, at how limited my movements have become. It was an extremely distressing and dehumanising experience. I was also shocked at how the effort made me tremble and sweat, and at how my clear distress was completely ignored by a so-called “health care professional”.

Of course I am going to make a formal complaint about this. It shouldn’t cause people so much pain and distress to be assessed for support. And any examination part of the assessment ought to take your medical conditions and descriptions of mobility constraints fully into consideration without such a grueling and painful examination regime.

It is worth bearing in mind that in addition to my own account, medical evidence from my rheumatologist was submitted in advance, and a report of recent assessments by a council occupational therapist who prescribed aids and adaptations, which clearly outlined my mobility difficulties, following two assessments, was also submitted. This was a report written by a qualified professional and was based on her own examination of my level of functionality and mobility while I tried to perform directed tasks in my home, such as climbing stairs, preparing food and using a bath board in my bathroom.

The fundamental difference between the assessments is that the one for my care plan allowed me to undertake tasks at my own pace, with dignity, and the Atos assessment did not. The former also felt like it was a genuine assessment of my needs, with support being the aim, whereas the latter felt like some sort of skeptic’s test to see if a way could be found to claim my account and those of my doctors were somehow incorrect. The Atos assessment was so horrifying because it felt like it was about reluctantly providing support for maintaining my independence as a very last resort only. 

According to the government’s PIP handbook, for a descriptor to apply to a claimant they must be able to reliably complete an activity as described in the descriptor. Reliably means whether they can do so:

 safely – in a manner unlikely to cause harm to themselves or to another person, either during or after completion of the activity.

The descriptors at no point demand that a person completes the Phalen manoeuvre or squats. The brief and painful completion of raising your hands above your head does not demonstrate either a fluctuating ability to do so, or your ability to hold your arms up long enough to, say, wash your hair and rinse it, even on a good day. Nor does it adequately account for severe pain, profound fatigue, coordination difficulty and breathlessness that often impact on any performance of that task. I did point this out, and the fact that the activities had left me in a lot of pain.

It’s now the day after my PIP assessment. I am still in a lot of pain with my joints and tendons. I feel ill, anxious, depressed and I am still shocked and angry. I can’t even manage to wash today. I have also developed pain on the left side of my chest, which feels rather like pleuritis. I feel really unwell, profoundly tired and haven’t felt this bad since my bout of pneumonia. The assessment hasn’t made me ill – I was already seriously ill. But it HAS exacerbated by symptoms. 

No-one should be made to feel worse because of an assessment for support. The activities I was asked to do should have been stopped when it became clear I was struggling. I stated I was in pain, I was visibly sweating, trembling, weak and clearly in a lot of pain with the effort, and as a “health professional”, the assessor should have halted that examination. I am very concerned that unintended harm may be caused by assessors conducting examinations because they do not have qualification, sufficient information or understanding about patients’ conditions.

My condition, for example, has left a trail of individual symptom diagnoses and medical data that goes back many years. With such a complex array of joint and tendon problems, I felt that there was absolutely no consideration of the impact that, say, a hand and wrist manoeuvre may have on a person’s damaged shoulders and elbows, as well as their wrists, or how a neck movement may impact on an upper spine injury and inflammatory shoulder problems, as well as the neck.

Given the assessment report I submitted and medical evidence, in addition to my own account, I feel that such a painful physical examination ought to be restricted to cases of absolute necessity. I don’t believe those simple isolated movements I was asked to do can possibly demonstrate he complex limitations on my day-to-day independence, and how I manage (or don’t) to cope with domestic tasks and general mobility.

The fact I couldn’t do some of them was both traumatising and humiliating, as well as very painful. I am still in a lot of pain as a result. 

The shame of being there to explain to a stranger about your illnesses, the intimate details of your life, your vulnerabilities and why you need help, is difficult enough, without the added distress of being coldly assessed by someone who doesn’t understand your conditions and does not care that what they ask you to do may be traumatising, painful and potentially very damaging.

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Related

What you need to know about Atos assessments

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

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

Tory MP says PIP should only go to ‘really disabled’ people, not those with anxiety ‘taking pills 

Disabled mum took fatal overdose after she was refused PIP

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

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


 

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Judicial review rules benefit cap unlawfully discriminates against lone parents

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The  Conservatives have been dealt a blow by a high court judgement today, which ruled that the government’s highly controversial benefit cap unlawfully discriminates against lone parents with young children. The imposing of a benefit cap on tens of thousands of lone parents with children under the age of two is not only unlawful, it has has resulted in “real damage” to the families affected, the high court has ruled.

The judicial review challenge brought by four lone parent families, concerned the reduced benefit cap introduced by the Welfare Reform and Work Act 2016. The revised benefit cap drastically reduced housing benefits, leaving lone parent families across the country unable to afford basic life necessities to care for their children.

Mr Justice Collins has ruled that the application of the revised benefit cap to lone parents with children under two amounts to unlawful discrimination and that “real damage” is being caused to the claimants and families like theirs across the country.

The flagship welfare policy meant that there is a cap on total benefits, at either £23,000 a year in London, or £20,000 for the rest of the UK. The Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) had said that people were exempt from the cap if they work at least 16 hours per week – which the claimants said discriminated against lone parents with children under the age of two.

The benefit cap, which limits the total amount households can receive in benefits to £20,000 a year, or £23,000 in Greater London, was claimed to be  an “incentive” to “support” unemployed people to move into work. In reality, it has hindered people who want to prepare for work, demotivating them because they are struggling financially to meet their basic needs. Implying that taking support away from people – making cuts – is somehow “support” is a particularly ludicrous Conservative claim.

Mr Justice Collins said in his judgment that the policy visited “real misery to no good purpose” on lone parents with very young children who were subject to the cap despite there being no “official” requirement for them to find work. However, even for those citizens who are required by the state to seek work, it is still very difficult to justify cutting those people’s support, too, since welfare was designed to meet only basic needs.

Lone parents with children under two do not qualify for free childcare and so would find it difficult and often impossible to juggle working the minimum 16 hours a week required to evade the cap while finding means to care for the child. 

He said: “The evidence shows that the cap is capable of real damage to individuals such as the claimants. They are not workshy but find it, because of the care difficulties, impossible to comply with the work requirement.”

Most lone parents with children aged under two were not the sort of households the cap was intended to cover and it was “obvious” that it would exacerbate poverty. “Real misery is being caused to no good purpose.

He continued by stating that: “Most lone parents with children under two are not the sort of households the cap was intended to cover and, since they will depend on DHP (Discretionary Housing Payments), they will remain benefit households.”

Cutting people’s lifeline support causes extreme hardship and harm

Campaigners have argued that the benefit cap is a powerful driver of poverty and destitutionOfficial estimates published earlier this year show 50,000 low-income families caring for an estimated 126,000 children were at risk of serious financial hardship after being trapped by the lower benefit cap.

Rebekah Carrier, the solicitor acting on behalf of the families, said: “The benefit cap has had a catastrophic impact upon vulnerable lone parent families and children across the country. Single mothers like my clients have been forced into homelessness and reliance on food banks as a result of the benefit cap.

“Thousands of children have been forced into poverty, which has severe long-term effects on their health and wellbeing.” 

She added: “We are pleased that today’s decision will relieve my clients – and other lone parent families around the country – from the unfair impacts of austerity measures which have prevented them from being able to provide basic necessities for their children.” 

The Conservatives have said they intend to appeal the decision. The DWP has been given leave to appeal against the ruling. A spokesperson said: “We are disappointed with the decision and intend to appeal. Work is the best way to raise living standards, and many parents with young children are employed.”

Alison Garnham, chief executive of the Child Poverty Action Group charity, said: “In exposing the absurdity and cruelty of the benefit cap, we hope this case is the beginning of the end for this nasty policy. It is a policy that punishes the vulnerable for being vulnerable and even fails on its own terms.”

In 2015, although the Supreme Court found that the original cap was lawful, a majority found that it breached the rights of children. Despite evidence of the impact upon child poverty and amidst calls to review the way the benefit cap works, the benefit cap was lowered again in November 2016. The new annual limit was reduced significantly, with lower rates for households outside of London. Previously, London seem to bear the brunt of the policy but the revised cap is now affecting thousands of households across the country.

Mark Serwotka, general secretary of civil servants’ union the PCS, said the benefit cap should be scrapped.

He said: “As the union that represents DWP staff, we opposed the benefit cap from the outset because we knew it was cruel and unnecessary, and would drive families into poverty and homelessness.

“We welcome the judge’s ruling and comments about the misery being caused ‘to no good purpose’, and we now call on the Government not just to tweak the cap but to scrap it entirely.”

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn described the ruling as a “further demonstration of the failure of this government’s austerity agenda”.

“It is failing in its own terms, it’s failing our communities, and it’s failing the most vulnerable in our country – including the victims of domestic violence and those facing homelessness,” he said.

“Labour has stood against the benefit cap, its discrimination against parents with children and the government’s cruel austerity programme. 

He called on the Government not to appeal the decision, and to “end this discrimination against parents and children”. 

Earlier this year, I wrote an article about comparative research at an international level, which has undermined the government claim that the UK welfare state encourages “widespread cultures of dependency” and presents unemployed people with “perverse incentives”.

The study, which links welfare generosity and active labour market policies with increased employment commitment, was published in 2015. It has demonstrated that people are more likely to look for work if they live in a country where welfare provision is generous and relatively unconditional. Empirically, the research includes more recent data from a larger number of European countries than previous studies. 

The research also compared employment motivation in specific sub-sections of communities across countries: ethnic minorities, people in poor health, non-employed people and women, and adds depth to previous studies. It has been concluded that comprehensive welfare provision is increasingly seen as a productive force in society (Bonoli, 2012), that stimulates employment commitment (Esser, 2005) and supports individual inclusion and participation in society and the labour market, particularly among disadvantaged groups. 

The researchers found that the more a country paid to unemployed and disabled people, and invested in employment schemes, the more its population were likely to agree with the statement, whether employed or not. 

The research findings challenge the Conservative’s neoliberal ideology, antiwelfare narratives regarding so-called “perverse incentives”, their highly controversial and stigmatising “scrounger” rhetoric and the brutal welfare cuts, implemented in stages since 2012. 

Welfare was originally intended to cover only basic needs: it allows families to pay rent, buy food, keep warm and simply keep going. When families get less money because of the Benefit Cap, the government’s own research shows that large numbers of people go into debt, end up with rent arrears, and can’t afford adequate food. Through no fault of their own. When people are struggling and can’t meet their basic needs, surviving becomes their overwhelming priority. This demotivates people, and means that it is almost impossible for them to meet their higher level psychosocial needs. Such as the need to look for work.

The government’s draconian welfare policies are founded on a “small state” neoliberal ideology, traditional Conservative class-based prejudices and a mean spirited, punitive approach to public needs.

Lies, damn lies and sadistics. The Tories have introduced sanctions which affect people in work who are low paid or work part-time. People have to prove that they are trying to “progress in work”. Once upon a time, we had a strong trade union movement for collective bargaining. Nowadays, when employers exploit workers, paying them a pittance, the employee is punished by the government.

 


 

I don’t make any money from my work and I have no funding. I am disabled because of illness. You can support Politics and Insights and by making a voluntary donation which will help me continue to research and write informative, insightful and independent articles, and to provide support for others. The smallest amount is much appreciated, and helps to keep my articles free and accessible to all – thank you.

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Nothing about you without you – the Labour party manifesto for disabled people

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FOREWORD

Over the last seven years disabled people have borne the brunt of the cuts inflicted on them by the Conservative Government and the Coalition before them.

The cuts have had a detrimental effect on the lives of disabled people, cutting living standards and undermining their access to education, social care and to justice.

Two years ago the United Nations (UN) convened a committee to investigate state violations of the UN Convention of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UN CRPD). Last year the UN published their report and concluded that the Conservative Government had committed ‘grave, systematic violations of the rights of persons with disabilities.’

This is a damning indictment of the treatment of disabled people by the Conservatives, one which shames us as a country.

We believe in a social model of disability, a society which removes the barriers restricting opportunities and choices for disabled people. As such we will build on the previous Labour government’s commitment to disabled people in 2009 as signatories to the UN CRPD. A Labour government will incorporate the UN CRPD into UK law.

We are proud of the manifesto we have developed with, and for, disabled people, and would like to take the opportunity of thanking everyone who has taken part in Labour’s Disability Equality Roadshow over the last year. We have crossed the length and breadth of the country to engage with disabled people and their carers, capturing their views on what needs to change for disabled people to live full and independent lives.

We will continue to work with disabled people in government, fulfilling our promise of ‘nothing about you, without you’.

Jeremy Corbyn, Leader of the Labour Party

Debbie Abrahams, Shadow Work & Pensions Secretary

Marie Rimmer Shadow, Minister for Disabled People.

To access full CONTENT click here (PDF)

After seven years of punitive policies and systematic abuse of the human human rights of disabled people by the coalition and Conservative governments, it is such a profound relief to see Labour have developed this manifesto, using consultations as a democratic opportunity to HEAR and include us in political decision making, and will strongly support disabled people and their families. I am proud to have contributed to this via the consultation held in Newcastle.

Here is a brief summary of some of Labour’s policies:

  • Labour will make it a priority to repeal the numerous cuts in social security support for people with disabilities. They will do this through a new Social Security Bill that will be passed within the first year of the new parliament.

  • Labour will reverse the £30 per week cut that the Tories recently imposed on disabled people who receive Employment and Support Allowance (ESA).

  • Labour will scrap the Bedroom Tax that has cruelly and disproportionately hit over 400,000 families with disabled members with punitive charges for “spare” rooms that are often used to store medical equipment, or for carers to sleep in.
  • Labour will end the pointless and needlessly expensive continuous reassessments of disabled people with permanent disabilities, chronic illness and degenerative illness.

  • Labour will end the privatisation of disability assessments so that disabled people never again have to face the indignity degradation of having to prove their disability to some corporate bureaucrat with targets to throw as many disabled people off their benefits as possible.
  • Labour will scrap the discriminatory and degrading Work Capacity Assessment (WCA) regime that costs billions more to administer than it actually saves in reduced payments in social security support for disabled people.
  • Labour will end the privatisation of disability assessments so that disabled people never again have to face the indignity degradation of having to prove their disability 
  • Labour will scrap the Personal Independence Payment (PIP) assessment regime too.
  • Labour will replace the WCA and PIP assessment regimes with a system where personal advisers help to provide every disabled person who feels capable of work to develop a tailored personal plan, adopting a genuinely holistic approach. Those who feel they can’t work will be supported without punishment or threat of uncertainty.
  • Labour will incorporate the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities into UK law. And observe the law.
  • Labour will scrap  the draconian sanctions regime that has consigned hundreds of thousands of disabled people to absolute destitution. 
  • Labour will increase the Carer’s Allowance by £11 per week to bring it into line with the rate of unemployment benefit. 
  • Labour will reverse the Tories’ assault on the Bereavement Allowance.

The Labour Party manifesto is a fantastic demonstration that they have been listening to the concerns of disabled people and their families.

The manifesto presents a set of policies that will make people’s lives better.

I’ve summarised a handful of policies here, so be sure to read the full document.

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 Alex Cunnigham, me, Debbie Abrahams and Gail Ward at the Disability Equality Roadshow in Newcastle

A comparison of Labour and Conservative manifestos – CLASS

The Institute For Fiscal Studies (IFS) analysis of the Conservative and Labour manifesto proposals, which shows that both parties will run a surplus by 2019/20 , with Labour having £21 Billion spare. 

The Centre for Labour and Social Studies (CLASS) is a thinktank established in 2012 to act as a centre for left debate and discussion. Originating in the labour movement, CLASS works with a broad coalition of supporters, academics and experts to develop and advance alternative policies. 

CLASS produces briefings, policy papers and think pieces to influence policy development, which spans a field. Projects already underway address issues of growth and the economy, work and pay, housing and equality, security and aspiration, democracy and welfare, amongst many others.

CLASS have produced a comprehensive briefing which  breaks down and compares Labour and Conservative manifesto proposals across policy areas including public services, tax, education, employment and Brexit.

Here is a summary. I recommend you read the full report here.

Brexit

Labour has pledged to focus on jobs and living standards as the first priorities in Brexit negotiations:

 Labour states that leaving the EU with no deal would be the worst possible outcome, and reject it as a possibility.

 Labour has accepted the end of freedom of movement, meaning that the UK will have to leave the single market.

 Labour wants to maintain as many benefits of the single market and customs union as possible.

 Labour will scrap the Conservatives’ Great Repeal Bill, replacing it with an EU Rights and Protections Bill that will protect working rights, consumer rights, equality law and environmental protections.

The Conservatives have made Brexit a central theme in their manifesto, stating that it is the biggest challenge the UK will face in most of our lifetimes.

 The Conservative manifesto maintains that no deal would be better than a bad deal.

 The Conservatives have pledged to scrap freedom of movement as a red line in Brexit negotiations. This means that the UK will leave the single market, which is made clear in the manifesto.

 The Conservative manifesto pledges a deep and special relationship with the EU, but there are no specific details. 

Conclusion: Both Labour and the Conservatives have pledged to accept the referendum result, and both parties voted to trigger Article 50 and start the formal process of leaving the EU.

However, their priorities in Brexit negotiations are different. The Conservatives’ acceptance that no deal is a possibility for Brexit would have huge implications for the UK economy. We welcome Labour’s statement that leaving with no Brexit deal should not be an option.

Immigration

The Labour party has stated that freedom of movement will end post-Brexit, but have not pledged to reduce immigration.

 Labour would guarantee the rights of EU migrants in the UK immediately.

 Labour will not set an arbitrary target on immigration levels to the UK.

 Labour will reintroduce the Migrant Impact Fund, to ensure that increased migration in certain areas does not place a strain on public services. The Conservative party have pledged to end freedom of movement and reduce migration, claiming that when immigration is too high it is difficult to build a cohesive society.

 The Conservatives will not guarantee the rights of EU citizens before Brexit negotiations start.

 Despite missing their immigration targets repeatedly while in government, the Conservatives have again pledged to reduce immigration to the tens of thousands -including students.

Conclusion: Both parties are committing to ending freedom of movement post-Brexit. This could have serious consequences for the UK – 10% of our doctors and 4% of our nurses are from elsewhere in the EU.

It is also concerning to see that students will be included in Conservative immigration numbers. However, while the Conservatives continue to suggest that immigration must be limited, Labour have stated that immigration targets are unhelpful. This is a positive step forward in our national conversation about migration.

Tax and redistribution

Labour pledges to make the taxation system fairer through a combination of increasing existing taxes on the top 5%, new taxes, and tighter rules on existing taxes to crack down on evasion and avoidance. This aims to raise £48.6bn in revenue. Key proposals are as follows:

 Lowering the 45p additional rate threshold to £80k (Top 5%) and reintroducing the 50p rate on earnings above £123k. Raising £6.4bn.

 Excessive Pay Levy: paid by employers directly on salaries over £330k. Raising £1.3bn.1

 Increase corporation tax to 26% in 2020–21 (2011 levels) with a lower rate for companies with annual profits below £300k. Raising £19.4bn.

 Introduce a Robin Hood Tax – a tax of about 0.05% on financial transactions. Raising £26bn.

 A clamp down on tax avoidance. Raising £6.5bn. A £3.9bn allowance has been made for behavioural changes and uncertainty.

The Conservatives have emphasised a low tax economy with a new deal for ordinary people (see our employment section). As could be expected with a low tax focus, their plans are more modest than Labour’s:

 Increase the personal allowance to £12,500 and the higher rate of tax to £50,000 by 2020.

 Cut corporation tax to 17% by 2020.

 Conduct re-evaluations more frequently to prevent large changes.

 Stop tax avoidance and evasion.

Conclusion: Tax is one of the biggest dividing lines between the parties. We welcome Labour’s plan for increased taxes on the rich and bold measures to tackle inequality. We are concerned that the Conservatives plan for a low tax economy would simply mean high earners and corporations gain, while low and middle income earners would see their wages eaten away by inflation.

Investment

Labour announced a £250bn fund for investment in infrastructure – transport, energy systems, telecommunications – scientific research, and housing (to be raised by borrowing). Funds will be targeted at:

 Extending HS2 into Scotland.

 Building Crossrail for the North.

 Investment in new, state-of-the-art low-carbon gas and renewable electricity production.

 Universal superfast broadband by 2022.

 3% of GDP on research and development.

 A goal of 60% of jobs created through investment to be high skilled.

The Conservatives have also proposed an industrial strategy with major investment in infrastructure, skills and research and development. They plan to continue the existing £170bn infrastructure investment plan over the next parliament. A part of this funding will come from borrowing and part is already allocated in the budget.

They aim to:

 Meet OECD average of 2.4% of GDP on research and development.

 Launch a £23bn National Productivity Investment Fund.

Conclusion: Both parties have pledged to invest in infrastructure and skills. Labour’s measures are more ambitious in outlook and funding, and are more clearly costed. CLASS believes that this big and bold idea brings the investment the UK so vitally needs.

Environment

 The Labour party used their manifesto to link the environment to sustainable agricultural industries and flood defences. Their main policies are:

 An end to fracking.

 Championing sustainable farming, food and fishing by investing in and promoting skills, technology, market access and innovation.

 Introduce a new Clean Air Act to deal with illegal levels of air pollution.  Halt the privatisation of public forests.

The Conservative party talked about the environment in the context of business, with relatively little on environmental protections by themselves, arguing for:

 More fracking, hailing the technique as a “revolution”.

 Devise a new “agri-environment system”.

 Produce a 25 year Environment Plan.

 A pledge to be the first generation to leave the environment in a better state than they inherited it.

Conclusion: There are clear dividing lines on the environment, most noticeably regarding fracking, with the Labour party firmly opposed to the industry, and the Conservatives proudly supportive.

There is also the matter of Labour’s greater emphasis on environmental protection and clean air, and lack of Tory attention to these issues. Given this divide, we do not see how a Conservative government would be the one to leave the environment in a better state.

NHS and social care

The Labour party has focused on additional funding for the NHS and social care, stating that cuts to NHS and social care budgets by previous Conservative governments have led those services to crisis point.

 Labour has committed to £30bn in extra NHS funding over the next parliament.

 Labour has committed £8bn for social care over the next parliament.

 Labour pledges to guarantee access to NHS treatment within 18 weeks, and that patients will be seen in A&E within 4 hours. The Conservative party manifesto has pledged to increase NHS spending, while proposing new rules for social care costs.

 Conservatives will increase NHS spending by at least £8bn over the next parliament.

 The Conservatives propose ensuring that anyone who needs social care will be able to keep £100,000 of assets.

 People will be able to defer payment on social care until after their death, enabling them to keep their house.

Four days after the Conservative manifesto launch, Theresa May announced that there will be a cap on the amount an individual will pay towards their care, despite the manifesto mentioning no cap and specifying only that no one would be left with less than £100,000 in assets after paying care costs. There has been speculation that a narrowing poll lead led to this announcement, which the Conservatives refuse to describe as a change.

Conclusion: We welcome commitments to properly fund the NHS, but Conservative commitments do not equal the missing funding identified by many campaigners, and their figure is less than a third of Labour’s commitment.

The Conservative social care proposals are also flawed, as people would be likely to pass on their assets to their children to avoid charges. While four in five councils can’t cope with the demand for elderly social care, Labour’s proposals for a big funding boost would be the better option for social care.

Education

The Labour party has pledged to create a National Education Service to reform our education system.

 Labour will reverse cuts to school funding.

 Labour will increase Sure Start funding.

 Labour will create a National Education Service for cradle to grave education, free at the point of use.

 Labour will reduce class sizes to less than 30 for all five, six and seven year olds.

 Labour has pledged to scrap tuition fees and reintroduce maintenance grants.

 Labour has pledged to restore the Education maintenance Allowance (EMA).

 Labour will provide free Further Education, including English lessons. The Conservative party has made pledges to increase school funding and make sure that more children attend good schools.

 The Conservatives have pledged that no school will have their budget cut as a result of the new funding formula.

 The Conservatives will build 100 new free schools a year.

 Conservatives will lift restriction on creating grammar schools.

 Conservatives will open a specialist maths school in every major English city.

 Conservatives will stop universal free school lunches for primary age children, replacing them with free universal breakfasts. The savings will be used for £4bn in schools funding over the next parliament.

Conclusion: Labour’s commitment to reversing school cuts should be welcomed – 99% of schools will have per pupil funding cut by 2020 under current government policy.1 The creation of a national education service for lifelong learning is another welcome proposal, enabling people to retrain in a fast changing jobs market.

However, we were disappointed to see another commitment to new grammar schools from the Conservatives, with a pledge to lift restrictions on the creation of new selective schools. As we have highlighted before, there is no evidence that shows grammar schools increase social mobility – it actually shows the opposite.

Welfare system

The Conservative party state that they have no plans for further radical welfare system reform in the next parliament. The Conservatives will therefore continue to roll out universal credit.

The Labour party has pledged to reform the controversial Universal Credit program. Labour has also pledged to:

 Scrap the bedroom tax.

 Scrap punitive benefit sanctions. 

 Scrap the Work Capability Assessment.

 Scrap cuts to bereavement support.

 Restore housing benefit for under 21s.

Conclusion: After several years of cuts to benefits, and numerous examples of suffering caused by those cuts, it is disappointing to see no changes to the welfare system proposed by the Conservatives. However, we should welcome commitments by Labour to scrap some of the worst features of recent welfare reforms.

Working rights and employment  

Labour released a 20-point plan to increase workers’ rights and provide better security at work. The most important are as follows:

 Give all workers equal rights from day one, whether part-time or temporary.  Ban zero hours contracts.

 Legislate to ensure that recruitment of labour from abroad does not undercut workers at home.

 Repeal the Trade Union Act and roll out sectoral collective bargaining.

 Maximum pay ratios of 20:1 in the public sector and in companies bidding for public contracts.

 Raise the Minimum Wage to the level of the Living Wage (expected to be at least £10 per hour by 2020) – for all workers aged 18 or over.

 End the Public Sector Pay Cap.

 Action on bogus self-employment so the law assumes a worker is an employee unless the employer can prove otherwise.

 Double paid paternity leave to four weeks and increase paternity pay.

The Conservatives have taken a different focus on workers’ rights. Their promises are certainly less ambitious, but there are some positive commitments:

 A statutory right to a year’s unpaid leave to care for a relative.

 EU workers’ rights protected.

 Protection from the gig economy.

 Improve worker representation on boards – watered down from previous commitments to have workers on boards.

 A right to training.

However, the Conservatives have weakened their National Living Wage commitment to meet 60% of the median wage by 2020. With rising inflation, this is likely to cause increased poverty among low earners.

Conclusion: Although this is one of the Conservative party’s more worker friendly manifestos, Labour’s finger is definitely more on the pulse when it comes to workers’ rights. Labour’s manifesto has a real potential to tackle the deep inequality that the UK suffers from.

Inequalities

Labour has pledged a range of measures to reduce equality for several groups. Some of these include:

 Labour will assess future policy for its impact on women.

 Bring offences against LGBT people in line with hate crimes based on race and faith.

 Labour will introduce a requirement for equal pay audits on large employers to tackle the pay gap faced by BME workers.

 Labour would classify British Sign Language as a recognised language.

The Conservative party had a particular focus on disability discrimination.

 A one year national insurance holiday for companies who employ a person with a disability.

 The Conservatives will continue plans to tackle hate crimes against a person based on their sexual orientation, gender identity, disability and religion.

 The Conservatives will review access for disabled people and pledge to work with service providers to reduce any extra costs faced by people with disabilities. 

Conclusion: Labour have proposed concrete policies to help improve equalities in the UK. Although the Conservatives have clearly stated a commitment to people with disabilities, this is in the context of cuts to benefits under a Conservative government which have had a disproportionate impact on people with disabilities.

Housing

The Labour Party has an ambitious goal of council house building and a raft of protections for renters:

 Build 100,000 council and housing association dwellings for every year of the next parliament.

 Build more affordable housing.

 Make three year tenancies the norm.

 Abolish the bedroom tax.

 Inflation capped rent increases, and a ban on letting agent fees.

 New minimum standards introduced for the private rental sector.  Reinstate housing benefit for 18-21 year olds.

 A plan to end rough sleeping within the next Parliament, with 4,000 additional homes for people with a history of rough sleeping.

The Conservative Party is also making bold pledges on house building:

 A promise to deliver on their 2015 manifesto commitment to build a million homes by 2020, and a pledge to built another 500,000 homes by 2022.

 A new generation of fixed-term council housing linked to a new Right to Buy.

 Free up more land for new homes.

 Give housing associations more flexibility to increase their stock.

 Give councils more power to intervene when developers don’t act on planning permissions.

 Look at increasing protections for renters

Conclusion: We are happy to see commitments from both parties to building large numbers of houses, though this does reflect how bad the crisis has become.

We call on both parties to commit to building 200,000 social houses to meet demand. We applaud the multiple new protections for renters from Labour, and are concerned with the lack of firm policy commitments from the Tories.

Pensions

Labour plans bring both strong protections for pensions and a potentially radical shift in pensions policy. Proposals include:

 Keeping the triple lock on pensions, so the state pension rises by 2.5%, inflation, or earnings growth.

 Commission a new review of the pension age, to develop a flexible retirement policy reflecting people’s contributions, the variations in life expectancy and the varying health effects of work.

 The Winter Fuel Allowance and free bus passes will be guaranteed as universal benefits.

 Protect pensions of UK citizens living overseas.

The Conservative proposals broke with the political consensus on pensions and the elderly (See the social care section for more detail on that particular policy). Their commits on pensions are:

 Means testing the winter fuel allowance (potentially affecting 9m pensioners).

 Change to a double lock on pensions, so they go up in line with earnings or inflation, whichever is higher (removing the third 2.5% lock).

 Measures to protect private pensions by increasing punishment for mismanaging schemes.  

Conclusion: We are happy to see commitments from both parties to building large numbers of houses, though this does reflect how bad the crisis has become. We call on both parties to commit to building 200,000 social houses to meet demand.

We applaud the multiple new protections for renters from Labour, and are concerned with the lack of firm policy commitments from the Tories. 

Public services and nationalisation

The Labour party has pledged to prioritise public service over private profit, and stated that prices have risen and services have suffered in privatised industries.

 Renationalise railways by bringing them back into public ownership as franchises expire.

 Renationalise Royal Mail.

 Establish publically owned regional water companies.

The Conservative party have pledged to take action on rip-off bills.

 Pledge to freeze energy bills, a policy that was also in the 2015 Labour manifesto.

 Pledge an independent review into energy costs.

 Pledge the largest investment in railways since the Victorian era and extra capacity to tackle overcrowding.

Conclusion: Labour have made it clear that privatisation of public services, all natural monopolies, has not worked. We should welcome the commitment to nationalise industries to make them accountable to the public who use them, and with the aim of reducing prices.

The Conservatives have made no pledges on nationalisation, but have promised rail investment. It is unlikely that investment alone could tackle the issues facing our railways. 

 

 


Related

What Labour achieved

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

Image result for Human rights are universal

The following letter was published in the Guardian today, written and signed by a group of academics, professionals, campaigners and grassroots activists who work together cooperatively.

We collaborate to fulfil our mutual aims of achieving a progressive, civilised, just and safe society for all. We hope to do this by ensuring that the society we are a part of is democratic and fully inclusive: we want a civilised society that observes and meets its human rights obligations on behalf of all social groups. This isn’t happening currently. (See: UN’s highly critical report confirms UK government has systematically violated the human rights of disabled people).

As an independent researcher, writer, campaigner, and as a disabled person, I am very proud to be included among them. 

westminster-20121020-00081

Many disabled people see Labour’s policies as a lifeline, say the 30 signatories to this letter. 

For chronically ill and disabled people, recent years have been a disaster. The UN recently found “reliable evidence that the threshold of grave or systematic violations of the rights of persons with disabilities has been met” (Report, 8 November 2016).

We have been forced through a work capability assessment that the government’s own expert adviser described as “inhumane”, and which in 2015 was found to be associated with an additional 599 suicides.

Many needing help are now forced through another persecutory assessment – the personal independence payment – designed to reduce the numbers qualifying for help by half a million.

Social care has been so savagely cut that some young disabled must wear incontinence pads for lack of toileting assistance. People can’t take any more of this.

Many disabled people are not party-political, but see Labour’s policies for disabled people as a lifeline – envisioning a society where people are treated as human beings deserving of respect, equality and a decent life. Please, don’t endorse recent human-rights abuses; endorse the human rights of disabled people by registering, and by voting Labour on 8 June.

Paul Atkinson Jungian psychotherapist
Stef Benstead Spartacus Network
Peter Beresford Co-chair, Shaping Our Lives
Gary Bourlet Founder, People First Movement in England
Dr Emma Bridger Research fellow in psychology
Professor Woody Caan Journal of Public Mental Health
Dr Kelly Camilleri Registered clinical psychologist
Merry Cross
Dr David Drew Labour Parliamentary candidate for Stroud
Nick Duffell Psychohistorian
Dr Simon Duffy Centre for Welfare Reform
Dr Dina Glouberman Skyros Holistic Holidays
Catherine Hale Chronic Illness Inclusion Project
AC Howard DWPexamination.org – For The UK’s Disabled Community
Chris Johnstone General practitioner
Sue Jones Psychologists Against Austerity, researcher and writer, campaigner
Jayne Linney Disability activist
Alec McFadden TUC Salford
Helen McGauley Trainee clinical psychologist, Lancaster University
Beatrice Millar Person-centred counsellor/psychotherapist
Rev Paul Nicolson Taxpayers Against Poverty
Gavin Robinson Alliance for Counselling and Psychotherapy
Professor Andrew Samuels University of Essex
Nicola Saunders Psychotherapist
Martyn Sibley Disability blogger
Mike Sivier Vox Political
Professor Ernesto Spinelli
Mo Stewart Independent researcher, disability studies
Gail Ward
Dr Jay Watts Queen Mary, University of London
Dr Claudia GillbergSenior Research Associate in Education; Fellow at Centre for Welfare Reform and Disability Rights Activist

Dr Richard House Alliance for Counselling and Psychotherapy

 

Join the debate – email guardian.letters@theguardian.com

Read more Guardian letters – click here to visit gu.com/letters


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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Disabled mum took fatal overdose after she was refused PIP

Susan Roberts was found dead because of a morphine overdose (Photo: Philip Coburn)

A disabled mum, Susan Roberts, was found dead at home following an overdose of morphine. Susan died just metres away from a heartbreaking 11-page letter she had written to the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), detailing her suffering following being told she wasn’t eligible for Personal Independence Payment (PIP). 

Susan, a grandmother of eight, had survived four heart attacks. She died £4,000 in debt, after taking a fatal overdose within hours of being informed that her claim for PIP was unsuccessful. She had previously claimed Disability Living Allowance (DLA) and had been given an indefinite award, as her medical conditions were considered highly unlikely to get better.

The letter from the Department for Work and Pensions (Photo: Philip Coburn)

Susan was asked to apply for PIP by the DWP following the proposed closure of her DLA claim. Many people who have previously been eligible for DLA have found that they lose their support once they are reassessed for PIP. The government introduced PIP to replace DLA and to cut costs in 2013, as a part of their welfare “reform” programme, which inflicted cuts on the poorest citizens. The Conservatives claim that PIP “targets those most in need”. However, many people with the highest level of needs have been turned down for PIP after having indefinite or lifetime awards of DLA.

Susan’s tragic death also highlights that despite their claims, the government are not succeeding in “targeting the most vulnerable people”

Before taking a fatal dose of morphine, Susan had placed the paperwork from the DWP, which informed her that she had been turned down for PIP following mandatory review, a Do Not Resuscitate note and her unsent letter, on her dresser.

Susan was shocked when she was informed that she did not even qualify for an award of PIP at the lower rate. 

She began her heartbreaking letter: “Dear sirs, first of all, I request that you read this through carefully – this is my life after all.”

She said: “I am in a considerable state of depression after receiving your decision about my claim for PIP.”

Describing her health, she said: “My gall bladder needs to be removed because of multiple stones, weight loss, vomiting, excruciating pain – but specialists won’t operate because of my heart condition.”

She then describes the impact of suffering from ME, and explains that she can only manage to do tasks for just two or three hours a day. 

Susan had a stent fitted after her heart attacks and spent most of her time bedbound, largely due to also having ME.

An operation to remove part of her bowel meant she needed help to go to the toilet. She also needed help with her personal care, such as showering and with shopping, as she struggled to walk. But in late 2015, the Conservatives scrapped DLA and replaced it with PIP. Anyone 65 or older on April 8, 2013 still got DLA.

Susan’s daughter, Hayley Storrow, said: “It’s so sad. If she was born a week earlier she may have still been alive today.”

Susan’s PIP assessor had somehow erroneously decided that she could wash and bathe unaided, go to the loo and walk over 200 metres. Shockingly, this type of “error” and gross inaccuracy is very commonplace in the reports produced when disabled people are assessed for their lifeline support. In fact, earlier this year, the Labour party, the Green party and the Liberal Democrats called for the government to act on claims of widespread dishonesty by the medical professionals paid to compile benefits assessment reports, following a two-month investigation by Disability News Service.

Susan added in her letter that she would be virtually housebound without her Motability vehicle and her concluding comment is: “Thank you for reading this, with the greatest respect.”

She lost her Motability car last April because of the DWP’s decision not to award her PIP. Susan had sent a heartbreaking text to her daughter, Hayley, saying: “I’m never going to be able to see you again because they are taking the car.”

Susan is among thousands of disabled people who have lost their specialist Motability vehicles and wheelchairs because of cruel Conservative cuts and the restrictions to the eligibility criteria of PIP, and many more are likely to be affected. 

The PIP is supposed to help with the additional costs of being disabled, and in supporting disabled people in maintaining their independence and dignity, but many people are being denied the benefit because they are not assessed properly, and because the eligibility criteria have been made increasingly restrictive.

This means people previously eligible for the mobility component of DLA lose their cars and wheelchairs once they have been reassessed for the new PIP, if they don’t qualify for the mobility component. For many disabled people, this is a massive blow which impacts on their ability to remain independent, take part in their communities or get and keep a job. PIP is not means tested, so disabled people in work may claim it to help with additional support and extra costs. Many people losing their Motability vehicle will no longer be able to work.

Susan had asked for a review of the DWP decision following her first appeal. On 18 May last year, a letter arrived at her warden-assisted flat to tell her that the PIP award had been turned down yet again.

She was found dead the following morning and despite the letter and papers left out on the dresser, remarkably, a coroner said in October that she “had not taken her own life as there was no suicide note”, ruling it was a “drugs-related death”.

However, her daughter, Hayley, said: “I believe her unsent letter was her suicide note.”

It’s highly unlikely that an accidental overdose would have somehow prompted Susan to include a Do Not Resuscitate note with her letter and the bundle of DWP paperwork, too.

Do Not Resuscitate (DNR) orders are basically notes kept in a patient’s file that they do not want to be resuscitated should their heart stop. The medical establishment views DNR orders as the patient’s choice, though they do request that those considering DNR orders to discuss it with their family members. DNR orders may be requested by patients for a variety of reasons, all of them designed to keep the patient from suffering further. However, DNR laws do not take into account the situation of mentally ill patients framing a DNR order as a preparation for suicide.

The fact that Susan left the DNR note out with her letter and bundle of DWP documents indicates that her overdose was not accidental.

The Coroner’s verdict

By the end of 2015 it had emerged that the UK had experienced the largest annual spike in mortality rates for nearly 50 years.

Much media coverage seems to avoid reporting suicide as a response to structural conditions, and instead tends to emphasise suicide as an outcome of “mental illness” – as an individual act, rather than a problem that is influenced by socioeconomic and political conditions. The government has attempted to reconfigure wider social and economic problems as psychological problems, which has pushed highly politicised individual clinical and state therapeutic interventions – embodied in a rise of the mass provision of cognitive behavioural therapy and mandatory “attitude adjustment” classes for welfare recipients in the UK. This approach reflects political ideology and prejudices, rather than tackling the bigger issues of social inequality, poverty, lack of opportunity and an extremely punitive welfare regime. All of which are largely shaped by government policies.

Earlier this year, the Samaritans pubished their report Dying from Inequalitywhich clearly recognised rising socioeconomic inequality with a higher risk of suicide. The charity called on the government to direct support to those with unstable employment, insecure housing, low income or in areas of socioeconomic deprivation.

Mary Hassell, the senior coroner for inner North London, wrote directly to the DWP in 2015, stating that the suicide of Michael O’Sullivan, a disabled man who hanged himself, had been a direct result of being ruled “fit to work.

The coroner’s verdict of Michael O’Sullivan’s suicide is widely seen as ground-breaking by disability rights campaigners and groups like Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC) because the DWP, the media and charities usually frame suicide as “complex” with no single cause, which means suicide has rarely been directly linked to the austerity programme, nor have government policies more generally been seen as directly responsible for suicides. 

Suicide is a significant social problem. Over 800,000 people commit suicide every year. Many of these can be quite properly understood as “economic suicides” because they take place against a backdrop of structural adjustment policies and rampant neoliberal market-led reforms. A counter discourse to the government tendency of psychologising socioeconomic conditions, making them the responsibility of individuals, rather than government and wider society, is of course crucial.

Technically, a coroner makes a finding of fact at the end of an Inquest. The coroner cannot attribute blame to any individual and cannot imply a criminal or civil liability, by law. The Coroner must use the evidence heard to decide who the deceased person was, where they died, when they died, and what the cause of their death was. Commonly, the “finding of fact” is referred to as a verdict or conclusion. A conclusion of suicide is decided where the evidence indicates a person has voluntarily acted to destroy his or her life in an intentional way. Inquest verdicts of Suicide (and Unlawful Killing) must be decided “beyond reasonable doubt”. Other causes of death may be decided on “a balance of probability”.

However, there is evidence to suggest that suicides are being under-reported because of the change in Coroner’s statutory regulations and guidelines, in 2013. Interestingly, contrary to the current trend in health and safety inquests, the Ministry of Justice guidance tells coroners that, wherever possible, short-form conclusions should be delivered, rather than the more detailed narrative conclusion.

Furthermore, open conclusions are discouraged, to be used only as a “last resort”. Concerns have been raised about the government’s new short-form conclusions and some organisations, including the Royal College of Psychiatrists, have asked the government to give due consideration to changing the standard of proof required for suicide verdicts. The 2013 reforms also enable the government to suspend an independent inquest into any death in favour of an inquiry, which under the Inquiries Act 2005 can be now be held in secret. 

The House of Commons Health Committee Suicide prevention: interim report Fourth Report of Session 2016–17 says: “Our evidence suggests the need for a more rapid provisional notification of suicide at the time when a suspected death by suicide occurs. We recommend that the Government take action to improve consistency between coroners and to make routine the use of provisional notifications of suicide. Furthermore, we recommend that the standard of proof for conclusions of death by suicide should be changed to the balance of probabilities rather than beyond reasonable doubt.” 

Rule 43 of the Coroners Rules (1984) states that if the Coroner is of the opinion that a death could have been prevented if different action had been taken by a particular person or organisation, he/she may make a recommendation for change. Also, the scope of the coroner’s investigation must be widened to include an investigation of the broad circumstances of the death, including events leading up to the death in question, where this wider investigation is necessary to ensure compliance with Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights (right to life). The positive duty to protect life implies a duty to investigate unnatural deaths, including but not confined to deaths in which state agents may be implicated.

Hayley has accused the government of having blood on their hands. She said: “People are living in poverty or considering suicide because of these benefits changes. My Mum won’t be the last to die.”

A DWP spokeswoman said: “Our thoughts are with Mrs Roberts’ family but there is no evidence to suggest any link between her death and her benefit claim.”

There is no evidence to suggest it isn’t, either, without further investigation, which so far, the government have refused to do. There is an established correlation between disability benefit assessments and increased mental health problems, distress and exacerbations of physical illness symptoms, too. While correlation isn’t necessarily the same thing as causation, it quite often implies a causal link, which may only be ruled out following further investigation, rather than political denial.

The DWP has quietly carried out investigations into 60 cases where benefit claimants are said to have taken their own lives. Labour MP Diana Johnson said the figures cast doubt on claims that there is no link between suicide and welfare re-assessments, with the DWP carrying out the internal reviews over the last five years. 

Johnson said: “Ministers have repeatedly claimed there to be no link between suicide and welfare re-assessment whenever figures have come to light.

“This parliamentary answer to me blows this claim out of the water.

“If there was no link, there wouldn’t have been 60 reviews of suicides in the past five years.

“I am appalled that these figures have remained unpublished for so long.”

A written parliamentary question from the Hull North MP revealed that the DWP carried out 15 internal reviews into suicides or alleged suicides of so-called DWP “clients” in 2012/13 alone.

“Families who’ve been left in the dark need to know everything the DWP knows about these cases,” Johnson said.

“Most importantly, we need a welfare system that supports, rather than victimises, the poorest and most vulnerable in our society.”

Susan’s daughter, Hayley said: “When my brother went to mum’s flat after she died, he found 37p in her purse. Even with DLA she was living day to day, scraping by. She was found dead with the PIP refusal letter placed strategically on a dresser.

“She was a poorly woman and this ­decision tipped her over the edge – she was in a desperate situation. I feel if it wasn’t for PIP and the Tory Government, my mum would still be alive. 

“They failed her like they have failed thousands.”

Susan wrote the 11-page letter criticising the decision and outlining her circumstances but as the DWP turned down her initial appeal within six days, she did not have time to send it. 

Hayley said: “I just want Theresa May to know that her rules and regime are killing the most vulnerable people in society.

“With the election coming up, it is so vital that things change.

“I feel any vote for the Tories is going to lead to more deaths.”

 

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’

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

New discriminatory regulations for PIP come into effect today


 

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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EHRC report highlights unacceptable political discrimination against disabled people

 

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Discrimination on the grounds of disability was made illegal 20 years ago when Parliament passed the Disability Discrimination Act 1995. Further legislative progress was made with the Human Rights Act (2008) and the Equality Act (2010). So discrimination can’t happen now. Right?

Wrong.

Disabled people are not being treated as being equal with other citizens and continue to be denied the respect, dignity, opportunities, an acceptable standard of living and other acceptable outcomes that non-disabled people take for granted.

The government claim that the economy has recovered from the effects of the global recession, but that recovery is not one that is shared equally to include everyone. If the economy is doing as well as the government claims, why are disabled people still facing austerity cuts to their lifeline support, while wealthy citizens are handed out substantial tax cuts? 

In one of the wealthiest countries in the world, targeting disabled people, who are much more likely to be living in poverty than other citizens, is absolutely inexcusable. However, the neoliberal right justify their rigid small state, pro-privatisation, deregulation, mythological meritocracy, low tax, high VAT and antiwelfare ideology with folklore economics. “Paying down the debt” has become an almost farcical bare-faced and parroted Conservative lie. 

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The neoliberal small state “big society”.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission report is the most comprehensive analysis on how (or if) the rights of disabled people are observed and protected in Great Britain. The most recent report says that changes to benefit rules have had a particularly disproportionate, cumulative impact on disabled people’s right to live independently.

According to the report, titled Disability report: Being disabled in Britainwhich was published on Monday, the proportion of disabled people with no qualifications was nearly three times that of non-disabled people. (See also: Disabled students fear for their future as independence payments cut).

Fewer than half of disabled adults are in employment (47.6%), compared with almost 80% of non-disabled adults – and the gap between these groups has widened since 2010-11.

Food poverty has affected 18.4% of disabled people aged 16-64, compared with 7.5% of non-disabled people.

David Isaac, Chair of the Commission, commenting on the damning new state of the nation report into life for disabled people, said: “Whilst at face value we have travelled far, in reality disabled people are being left behind in society, their life chances remain very poor, and public attitudes have changed very little.

“This evidence can no longer be ignored. Now is the time for a new national focus on the rights of the thirteen million disabled people who live in Britain. They must have the same rights, opportunities and respect as other citizens.

“We must put the rights of disabled people at the heart of our society. We cannot, and must not, allow the next twenty years to be a repeat of the past.”

The research, which covers six key areas of life, finds that disabled people in Britain are experiencing disadvantages in all of them, and sets out vital areas for urgent improvement.

This includes: a lack of equal opportunities in education and employment; barriers to access to transport, health services and housing; the persistent and widening disability pay gap; deteriorating access to justice; and welfare “reforms” (cuts) significantly affecting the already low living standards of disabled people.

The Commission has also highlighted these issues to the United Nations, for their forthcoming examination of how the UK measures up to the international standards on the rights of disabled people (the Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities – CRPD).

The United Nations (UN) has already determined that the UK government has systematically violated the rights of disabled people. The highly critical report, which was published in Geneva last December also concluded that the rights of disabled people to live independently, to work, and achieve an adequate standard of living have been detrimentally affected by the Conservative’s austerity programme.

The range of measures aimed at reducing public spending since 2010, including extremely controversial changes such as the bedroom tax, and cuts to disability benefits and social care budgets have disproportionately and adversely affected disabled people.

The UN’s 22-page report condemned the radical and largely unmonitored welfare cuts and benefit caps, and social care cuts introduced as a major part of the Conservative’s austerity programme – the government claimed these cuts would make the welfare system “fairer and reduce benefit fraud.” The UN found no evidence of benefit fraud or fairness.

However, the government have simply dismissed the UN’s fully evidenced report, which included the first-hand accounts of many of those disabled people affected by Conservative austerity, disability campaigners, researchers and advocacy organisations.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission report reveals:

  • In England, the proportion of children with Special Educational Needs achieving at least  5 A*-C GCSEs is three times lower than for non-disabled children (20.0% and 64.2% respectively). Disabled children are also significantly more likely to be permanently or temporarily excluded.
  • The qualification gap between disabled and non-disabled people has narrowed, but the proportion of disabled people with no qualifications was nearly three times that of non-disabled people, and the proportion of disabled people with a degree remained lower. 
  • More disabled people than non-disabled are living in poverty or are materially deprived. 
  • Social security “reforms” have had a particularly disproportionate, cumulative impact on the rights to independent living and an adequate standard of living for disabled people. Families in the UK with a disabled member are more likely to live in relative poverty than non-disabled families.
  • Across the UK, 18.4% of disabled people aged 16-64 were considered to be in food poverty compared with 7.5% of non-disabled people. Disabled people over the age of 65 were twice as likely as non-disabled people in the same age group to be in food poverty.
  • Disabled people continue to face problems in finding adequate housing, due to a shortage in accessible housing across Britain, and in Scotland the amount of wheelchair-adapted local authority housing for physically disabled people has decreased. Disabled people in Britain were also less likely to own their own home. 
  • Accessing healthcare services is problematic for disabled people, and they’re less likely to report positive experiences. Considerable shortcomings remain in all three countries in the provision of mental health services, where disabled adults are more likely to report poor mental health and wellbeing than non-disabled adults.
  • There is an urgent need for prisons to monitor and report on prisoner mental health. Prisoners are more likely to have mental health conditions compared with the general population, and 70% of prisoners who died from self-inflicted means between 2012 and 2014 had an identified mental health condition. 
  • Detentions in health and social care settings under the Mental Health Act 1983 are continuing to increase in England and Wales. The number of detentions in hospitals increased from 46,600 in 2009 to 2010 to 63,622 in 2016. 
  • Changes to legal aid in England and Wales have negatively affected disabled people’s access to justice. Across GB, there has been a 54% drop in employment tribunal claims on grounds of disability discrimination following the introduction of fees in July 2013. 
  • More disabled and non-disabled people overall are in work in Britain in 2015/16 compared to 2010/11. Despite this, less than half of disabled adults are in employment (47.6%), compared with almost 80% of non-disabled adults, and the gap between these groups has widened since 2010/11. However this is not the case across all impairment types, and for those with mental health conditions and those with physical disabilities the gap between them and non-disabled people has narrowed. 
  • The disability pay gap in Britain also continues to widen. Disabled young people (aged 16-24) and disabled women had the lowest median hourly earnings of all.

David Isaac continued: “This report should be used as a call to arms. We cannot ignore that disabled people are being left behind and that some people – in particular those with mental health conditions and learning disabilities – experience even greater barriers.

“We must have a concerted effort to deliver the changes that are desperately needed. Vital improvements are necessary to the law and policies, and services must meet the needs of disabled people.

“Britain must be a fair and inclusive society in which everyone has equal opportunities to thrive and succeed.”

The report calls on the UK, Scottish and Welsh governments to place a new national focus on disability equality, so that the rights of disabled people are fully realised and to deliver improvements in their experience and outcomes.

These include reducing the education and employment gaps for disabled people; ensuring that essential services such as housing, health and transport meet the needs of disabled people; and improve existing laws and policies to better protect and promote the rights of disabled people.

The Commission’s recent submission to the UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, produced jointly with the other equality and human rights commissions across the UK, also highlights the need to do more to protect the human rights of disabled people.

It contains 75 recommendations to the UK and devolved governments on how they can improve the rights disabled people enjoy across areas such as housing, transport, social care and employment. The main public examination of the UK by the UN Committee will take place in August 2017, and the Commission will work with the other UK equality and human rights commissions and disabled people and their organisations to help make the recommendations a reality.

Further to this activity, the Equality and Human Rights Commission is engaged in a range of ongoing work aimed improving the lives of disabled people, including legally enforcing the Equality Act, improving access to public services, housing and transport, analysing the impact of welfare reforms, and influencing new legislation.

In light of the cuts to Employment and Support Allowance (work-related activity group) and the recent re-writing of PIP regulations to save money for the Treasury from disabled people’s support, while at the same time the government chose to hand out tax cuts to millionaires, it is inevitable that the situation for disabled people will only get worse.

These additional cuts have happened since the UN published the report about the systematic violations of disabled people’s human rights, to which the government have responded with utter contempt.

Human rights, inclusion and equality are the bedrock of a democratic society. We know from experience over the last six years that we can not depend on this government to observe any of these prerequisite obligations. 

Andrew McDonald, Chair of disability charity, Scope, said: “It is shameful that in 2017 disabled people continue to face such high levels of inequality: at home, at school and at work. And Scope research shows too many continue to face prejudice day-in-day out. 

“But government action has been incoherent. While there have been some positive commitments, the impact of recent reductions and restrictions to benefits and inaction on social care threaten to make life harder for many disabled people. 

“We hope this report serves as a wake-up call. Urgent action is needed. If the government is serious about shaping a society that works for everyone, the Prime Minister should act now to set out a cross-departmental strategy to tackle the injustices disabled people face.”

Liz Sayce, Chief Executive of Disability Rights UK, said: “This new report makes sombre and disappointing reading, and highlights the unfairness disabled people continue to face, day in and day out.

“As a society, we say we want progress towards disabled people taking a full part in society; but instead we appear to be going backwards.  We need concrete plans from government, with outcomes measured regularly, to ensure we get back on track. We welcome the Equality and Human Rights Commission report and are keen to work with them and others to tackle discrimination.” 

Robert Meadowcroft, Chief Executive of Muscular Dystrophy UK, said: “Much of today’s report puts hard numbers on what we hear every day from people with muscle-wasting conditions about the extreme difficulties in finding a job, a safe place to live and accessing the opportunities many of us take for granted. 

“The government has to respond positively and urgently to the severity of today’s findings, not least in calling a halt to the damaging aspects of benefits reforms, but they are not the only people responsible for making society accessible to all. 

“Employers can be more proactive about making their workplaces and their recruitment policies more open to disabled people. Local councillors can increase their accessible housing targets. And we can collectively check our own attitudes to make sure that the Equality and Human Rights Commission has better news to report in 20 years’ time. This alarming report is a wake-up call that needs to be heard.” 

Let’s not pussyfoot around the deliberate socioeconomic exclusion of disabled people. It’s absolutely unacceptable that in a very wealthy so-called democratic state, disabled people still face so many disadvantages as a direct consequence of discriminatory government policies, across so many different areas of their lives compared to non-disabled people.  

The Conservative’s policies since 2012 that have doggedly aimed at cutting disabled people’s support have been preempted by an outgrouping rhetoric and an all-pervasive political scapegoating media campaign designed, to stir up resentment and desensitise the public to the consequences of policies which discriminate against disabled people. Such actions are a damning indictment of the political intention behind those policies. 

We now have a social security system that is the stuff of dystopian novels about totalitarian bureaucracy. Rather than providing support, welfare has been redesigned by the Conservatives to focus on compliance with unreasonable “behavioural” conditionality (which assumes that poverty is a “lifestyle choice, as opposed to the inevitable consequence of neoliberalism and policies which serve to engineer growing social inequality) and extremely punitive sanctions, rather than supporting people back into appropriate work. 

Stopping or threatening to stop someone’s lifeline support when they are too unwell to work is unforgivably cruel, inappropriate and completely ineffective at helping anyone into employment.

In fact, we know that sanctions will make it almost impossible for someone to find employment. Withdrawing lifefline support as a punishment is likely to create desperation and absolute poverty. The impact of poverty is greater, and often devastating on those people who are ill and disabled. If people cannot meet their basic living needs, they cannot possibly meet higher level psychosocial ones. 

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Sanctions cause unacceptable harm to people who are disabled and ill, and sometimes, sanctions kill people

It is not acceptable that a government in the UK continues to formulate regressive and punitive policies aimed at cutting support for disabled people, which create vulnerability, loss of independence and dignity, distress, psychological and physical damage, and is putting people’s lives at risk.

It is shameful and it needs to be halted.

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

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