Theresa May pledges to create new internet that would be controlled and regulated by government

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A plurality of views and perspectives is a fundamental ingredient of a flourishing democracy. Freedom of speech is a prerequisite of an inclusive, genuine democracy. When a government tries to stifle some perspectives, and control which views may be expressed or permitted online, it’s an indication that we have left democracy behind, and strayed into the realms of authoritarianism.

If Theresa May gets to form a new government next month, then it would appear that the Conservatives will be attempting a regulatory land grab of the Internet. But, if the Conservatives’ digital record is anything to go by, its pledge to negotiate an “international settlement” and be a “global leader” for an incredibly complex area of Internet and data law looks, frankly, like the stuff of dystopian movies about totalitarian regimes. I suspect the phrase “digital crime” is set to take on a whole new meaning. 

May is planning to introduce far-reaching regulations on the way the internet works, allowing the government to decide what is said online. Much of the internet is currently controlled by private businesses like Google and Facebook, Theresa May intends to allow government to decide what is and isn’t published, the manifesto strongly suggests.

I’m all for an internet environment that is safe and free from harassment and bullying. However, we already have legislation in place to ensure that it is.

The proposed laws would also force technology companies to delete anything that a person posted when they were under 18.

 The companies would be forced to help controversial government schemes like its Prevent strategy, by promoting “counter-extremist narratives”.

It seems that this is a Conservative reaction to the EU Digital Single Market Project.
It’s aim is “to create a true digital single market, where the free movement of goods, persons, services and capital is ensured — and where citizens and businesses can seamlessly and fairly access online goods and services: whatever their nationality, and wherever they live.” (Commission Press Release May 2015).

The new EU digital single market legislative package seeking to improve cross-border access to digital services and create a level playing field for companies will be launched in 2015. The Commission will also seek to complement the regulatory telecommunications environment, modernise EU legislation on copyright and audio-visual media services, simplify the rules for consumers making online purchases, and enhance cyber-security. This ambitious agenda includes concluding the long-running negotiations over data protection reform.

As my friend Hubert Huzzah has pointed out, the European Single Digital Market will make it difficult to defraud people, and importantly,  it will the Election manipulation in the form of  “we are just advertising on Facebook” strategies worthless.

The Conservative plans are in keeping with the Conservatives’ commitment that the online world must be regulated and controlled as strongly as the offline one, and that the same rules should apply in both.

“Our starting point is that online rules should reflect those that govern our lives offline,” the Conservatives’ manifesto says, in justification for the new level of regulation. 

In laying out its plan for increased regulation, the so-called “small state” Tories anticipate and reject potential criticism that such rules could put people at risk.

“While we cannot create this framework alone, it is for government, not private companies, to protect the security of people and ensure the fairness of the rules by which people and businesses abide,” the document reads. “Nor do we agree that the risks of such an approach outweigh the potential benefits.”

Tucked away at the end of the Conservative’s manifesto, it’s clear that May wants to introduce huge changes to the way the internet works:

“We will take up leadership in a new arena, where concern is shared around the world: we will be the global leader in the regulation of the use of personal data and the Internet.”

Among the new self -appointed powers proposed, the government intends to force internet companies to remove “explicit” or “extremist material”, backed by legal power to impose fines.

This is a government that has labeled disability campaigners  “extremists” and fully endorsed the media labeling of those in standing in democratic opposition to Conservative policies as “saboteurs”.

The Conservatives say “Some people say that it is not for government to regulate when it comes to technology and the internet.  We disagree.”

The Conservatives are claiming this proposal is part of an ambitious attempt by the party to impose some sort of “decorum” on the internet and social media.

Senior Conservatives have also confirmed to BuzzFeed News that the phrasing indicates that the government intends to introduce huge restrictions on what people can post, share and publish online.

The plans will allow Britain to become “the global leader in the regulation of the use of personal data and the internet”, the manifesto claims.

Internet imperialism, how very Conservative.

There are many proposed measures in the manifesto that are designed to make it easier to do business online, of course, but the Conservatives are proposing a rather more oppressive approach when it comes to social networks.

One particular issue that caught my eye was the Conservative’s voiced “concerns about online news”, warning the government is willing to “take steps to protect the reliability and objectivity of information that is essential to our democracy”, while pledging to “ensure content creators are appropriately rewarded for the content they make available online”.  

One Tory source clarified that this comment relates to Google and Facebook’s growing dominance of the advertising market, which the newspaper industry believes is crushing its business model. The source suggested that if the web giants failed to act voluntarily then they could be forced by legislation to find ways to financially compensate traditional news producers.

Implications for social media

So, the Conservatives will also seek to regulate the kind of news that is posted online and how companies are paid for it.

This may have some potentially serious implications for the growing number of online independent media platforms that have developed precisely because of an undemocratic crisis of representation in our mainstream media, which has increasingly become an unreliable source of objective news, generally. 

Independent media includes any form of autonomous media project that is free from institutional dependencies, and in particular, from the influence of government and corporate interests.

We are not constrained by the interests of society’s major power-brokers. So far. 

I haven’t forgotten Iain Duncan Smith’s pledge to “monitor” the BBC’s news coverage for “left wing bias”, or the jackbooted government officials visiting the Guardian offices to smash the hard drives containing the Snowden leaks. This doesn’t signal a coming improvement if it is to be based on Tory standards of “objective and reliable”. 

The manifesto also says that the government will work even harder to ensure there is no “safe space for terrorists to be able to communicate online”. That is apparently a reference in part to its work to encourage technology companies to build backdoors into their encrypted messaging services – which gives the government the ability to read terrorists’ messages, but also weakens the security of everyone else’s messages, technology companies have warned.

The proposals follow on from the Investigatory Powers Act being passed into law. That legislation allowed the government to force internet companies to keep records on their customers’ browsing histories, as well as giving ministers the power to break apps like WhatsApp so that messages can be read.

Imagine a future when the only online reflection of reality is a Conservative one. Antisocial media.

“In every really great world-shaking movement, propaganda will first have to spread the idea of this movement. Thus, it will indefatigably attempt to make the new thought processes clear to the others, and therefore to draw them over to their own ground, or to make them uncertain of their previous conviction.

Now, since the dissemination of an idea, that is, propaganda, must have a firm backbone, the doctrine will have to give itself a solid organization. The organization obtains its members from the general body of supporters won by propaganda. The latter will grow the more rapidly, the more intensively the propaganda is carried on, and the latter in turn can work better, the stronger and more powerful the organization is that stands behind it.” Adolph Hitler, Mein Kampf.

Hitler’s promise of “strong government and stability” was widely supported particularly by industrialists and businesses, who were terrified of the left wing unions, socialism and communism.

A lot of people describe Theresa May as a New Right Conservative, some have been misled by her semantic shifts and claimed she is a “red Tory”. However, it seems she is more of an old right wing authoritarian, after all.

The stuff of nightmares.

 


 

I don’t make any money from my work. I am disabled because of illness and have a very limited income. Successive Conservative chancellors have left me in increasing poverty. 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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Vote Labour to uphold the rights of disabled people – our letter to the Guardian

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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. 

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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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The government has failed to protect the human rights of children

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

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

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

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

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

The KidsRights Index is comprised of 5 domains: 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Human rights and the impact of childhood poverty 

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

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

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

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

The report reveals that:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

However, George Osborne shamefully remained brazenly unrepentant.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 


 

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

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Mandatory reconsiderations and the rule of law

When is a reconsideration not a reconsideration?

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

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

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

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

The FoI response says:

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

Henry Brooke

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

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

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

Theresa May

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2014-02-17-BurdenoftheCuts-thumb

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The NAO report summarises:

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

£0.4 billion
Latest expected reduction in annual disability benefit spending

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Any social security policy that is implemented with the expressed aim of “targeting those most in need” and is implemented to replace a policy that is deemed “unsustainable” is invariably about cost cutting, aimed at reducing the eligibility criteria for entitlement. The government were explicit in their statement about the original policy intent behind PIP. However, what it is that defines those “most in need” involves ever-shrinking, constantly redefined categories, pitched at an ever-shifting political goalpost.

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

Following a court ruling in favour of disabled people, the government rushed in an “urgent change” to the law to prevent many people with mental health conditions being awarded the mobility component of PIP. Without any parliamentary debate. The court held that people  with conditions such as severe anxiety can qualify for the enhanced rate of the mobility component, on the basis of problems with “planning and following a journey”, or “going out”.  The new regulations were rushed in without any dialogue with the Social Security Advisory Committee, too, via statutory instrument. 

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

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

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

It’s worth noting that the Coalition Government enshrined in law a “commitment” to parity of esteem for mental and physical health in the Health and Social Care Act 2012. In January 2014 it published the policy paper Closing the Gap: priorities for essential change in mental health (Department of Health, 2014), which sets out 25 priorities for change in how children and adults with mental health problems are supported and cared for.

The limiting changes to PIP legislation certainly does not reflect that commitment.  

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

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

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

Image result for disabled people's rights uk


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

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Desperate, underpaid NHS paramedic tells Theresa May: “I’ve seen things no one should have to witness”

Pride's Purge

A paramedic has written a moving description on Facebook (see below) of the difficulties he has to face every day in his job, and how he is paid a pittance of just £12.35 an hour to do it.

This is because the Tory government has over the last 7 years capped paramedics’ and other public workers’ pay rises at 1%.

The cabinet ministers who made that decision, however, have seen their own pay rise over the last 7 years to the point they are making approximately £117.92 an hour*, on top of which they can also claim expenses, subsidies and other perks.

A perfect example of Theresa May’s warped Britain today.

Brian Mear:

I joined the Ambulance Service in 1986.
For over 28 years I worked doing “Front Line” work. That’s Emergency work. Covering 999 calls. For the last 6 years of my service I worked alone predominantly on nights at…

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