Tag: welfare reforms

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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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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Woman sanctioned after miscarriage was left in poverty and suicidal

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A woman was left with just £24 each week of her social security to live on after suffering a miscarriage and being sanctioned. She has told the Daily Record how she considered suicide after being left with barely anything to buy food and pay bills.

Lyndsey Turnbull told of her ordeal as the Scottish Government formally launched their new welfare-to-work programmes.

Lyndsey from Midlothian, said: “I wanted to get into work but the whole thing seemed geared up to punish those who wanted to get off benefits.”

She was on approximately £140 a fortnight Employment and Support Allowance when she missed an appointment after having a miscarriage around nine weeks into a pregnancy.

She said: “I was in a bad place and couldn’t talk to anyone about it.”

Lyndsey was sanctioned because was too distressed to disclose the reason for missing the appointment, which is absolutely understandable. However, the punitive sanctions framework does not accommodate people’s circumstances and situations when they may be very vulnerable.

Having to face a stern and unsupportive bureaucrat, whose role is to discipline and punish people who cannot comply with rigid welfare conditionality, to discuss deeply personal and distressing circumstances – and such a traumatic event as miscarriage – is the very last thing anyone needs. 

She added: “I went down to £24. I had no food, nothing to pay bills. It was awful.

“I really thought suicide might be the only option – and I wondered how many people would be just like me.”

Fortunately, Lyndsey eventually found someone to talk to at welfare service group Working Links, who helped her to get a second sanction reduced.

She later found a job at a petrol station and she said the new system’s voluntary focus will make it easier for people to get off benefits.

Lyndsey courageously contributed to a group meeting with Scottish National Party (SNP) Employability Minister Jamie Hepburn, to explain the problems she faced with the UK Department for Work and Pension sanctions regime.

Holyrood has no control over major benefits policy. However the new Scottish programmes will be voluntary – with no financial penalties attached – in a bid to get better results.

In other words, they will be genuinely supportive, rather than punitive and mandatory.

Around 4,800 people with disabilities and health conditions will get some help into work, the Daily Record reports.

Employment support is one of the first powers devolved through the Scotland Act 2016, made possible by the Vow of more powers before the independence vote.

Work First Scotland will help 3300 disabled people while Work Able Scotland will focus on 1500 people with long-term health conditions.

The Record revealed last year that the SNP would block any bid by Westminster to impose a sanctions system on the new programmes.

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Batul Hassan, 49, who also met Hepburn yesterday, was made redundant after 11 years at a local authority and was helped into work by Remploy.

She has dyslexia, dyspraxia and hearing problems and said her previous employer struggled to understand her needs.

Batul, from Edinburgh, added: “The new system has the potential to be a good thing.

“Two contracts mean people can move at the right pace, not lumped together.”

Hepburn said: “The devolved services will have fairness, dignity and respect at their core.

“We believe people will see them as an opportunity to gain new skills through supportive training and coaching.”

The Conservatives have clearly changed the meaning of words such as “fairness”, “support” and “respect”, in order to persuade the public that their punitive policies are somehow acceptable, and to deny the negative consequences they have on people who need the most support.

They are not acceptable.

 


 

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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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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Malnutrition, austerity and eugenics.

Minnes

Earlier this year, I reported that figures released by The Office of National Statistics (ONS) showed 391 people died from malnutrition in 2015. There were 746 hospital admissions for malnutrition in just 12 months. The statistics also showed two people in the UK are admitted to hospital with the condition every day in what campaigners have called a “national scandal.” 

Official figures more recently from the Department of Health reveal that people with malnutrition accounted for 184,528 of days in hospital beds taken up in England taken up last year, a huge rise on 65,048 in 2006-07. The sharp increase is adding to the pressures on hospitals, which are already struggling with record levels of overcrowding and limited resources because of underfunding.

 

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Critics and campaigners have said the upward trend is a result of austerity and rising absolute poverty, deep cutbacks in recent years to meals on wheels services for the elderly and inadequate social care support, especially for older people. 

Theresa May has made it clear there will be no end to Tory austerity, she said:“What I’m clear about is we’re going to continue as we have done in Government over the last six years – ensuring that we’re a country that can live within our means.” 

The figures once again directly contradict the glib claim from government ministers that the rise in the use of food banks is linked to the fact that there are now more of them. Ludicrously, millionaire David Freud has claimed that people use food banks just because they provide a  “free good”.  However, research shows that people turn to charity food as a last resort following a crisis such as the loss of a job, the delays and problems accessing social security benefits, and through benefit sanctions. 

People may only be referred to a food bank by a professional such as a social worker or GP. If someone turns up without a voucher, food bank staff put them in touch with relevant local agencies who can assess whether they need a voucher and signpost them to the right services. The number of people receiving emergency food is disproportionate to the number of new food banks opening: following the welfare “reforms”, by 2013, numbers helped by food banks increased by 170% whilst there was only a 76% increase in new food banks opening. 

Over 50% of children living in poverty in the UK are from working households and many of the people helped by food banks are in work, with the rising cost of living combined with no rise in low wages causing many to hit a crisis where they can’t afford to met basic needs such as eating.

Jonathan Ashworth, the shadow health secretary, unearthed the latest figures in a response to a recent parliamentary question submitted to the health minister Nicola Blackwood. He said: 

“These figures paint a grim picture of Britain under the Conservatives. Real poverty is causing vulnerable people, particularly the elderly, to go hungry and undernourished so much so that they end up in hospitalOur research reveals a shocking picture of levels of malnutrition in 21st-century England and the impact it has on our NHS. This is unacceptable in modern Britain.”

In a very wealthy first-world  democracy, it is completely unacceptable that anyone is left hungry, malnourished and in absolute poverty.

The Department of Health figures showed that the number of “bed days” accounted for by someone with a primary or secondary diagnosis of malnutrition rose from 128,361 in 2010-11, the year the coalition came to power, to 184,528 last year – a 61% rise over five years.

The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence classes someone as malnourished if they have a body mass index of less than 18.5, have suffered the unintentional loss of more than 10% of their weight over the last three to six months, or if they have a BMI under 20 and have unintentionally seen their weight drop by more than 5% over the previous three to six months.

The worrying decision by the chancellor, Philip Hammond, not to fund the NHS or social care with any more money in his autumn statement last week will only worsen this already unacceptable situation.

Ashworth said: “The reality is the government have failed this week to both give the NHS and social care the extra investment it needs while also failing to invest in prevention initiatives to foster healthier lifestyles. The cuts to public health budgets along with an emaciated obesity strategy are both utterly misguided.” 

Figures are not available for exactly how many patients accounted for the 184,528 bed days last year, but information supplied to Ashworth by the House of Commons library shows that 57% of the patients were women and that 42% were over-65s.

Worryingly, four out of five people who needed inpatient hospital care because of malnutrition were admitted as an emergency, which suggests their health had deteriorated significantly in the days before they were taken in.

Not enough health and social care professionals have the time or knowledge to correctly identify malnutrition.

Stephen Dalton, the chief executive of the NHS Confederation, which represents hospitals, said: “Our members take malnutrition seriously. Good nutrition is a fundamental human right our citizens can expect, and vulnerable, particularly older, people are most at risk of serious consequences if denied basic compassionate care. At a time of unprecedented demand on health and social care we need to be alert and will take seriously any reliable evidence of basic care not being delivered.”

Time and time again, when challenged and confronted with overwhelming empirical evidence of the harm that their class-contingent austerity policies and welfare “reforms” are inflicting on citizens, the government simply deny any “causal link”. They say that the increase in absolute poverty, malnutrition and hunger, deaths and distress are unrelated to their policies, which they claim to be “working”.

With no sign that the government are going to emerge from behind their basic defence mechanism of collective denial – nor are the Conservatives remotely interested in investigating a clear correlation between their blatant attacks on the poorest citizens via their draconian policies and the terrible hardships people are suffering –  we do have to wonder what the real intention is underpinning such clearly targeted austerity.

Conservative ideology seems to be founded on the hypothesis of an inborn and “natural order” – a society that is based on a human hierarchy of worth. The Conservatives feel justified that they are part of a superior class in society and therefore they have an entitlement to hold power. Their policies don’t include the majority of us in their design or aims. The government are not democratic, they are authoritarians. Conservative policies act upon ordinary citizens and have become increasingly detached from citizen needs.

I was accused of the terrible crime of being an “interfering do-gooder” recently by someone with social Darwinist ideals. I couldn’t understand his ferocity. Then I made a connection, the proverbial penny dropped. Again. I suddenly felt very weary, disgusted and shocked – the recognition froze me. Again

Historically, eugenicists thought that misguided “do-gooders”, by giving poor people help and support, were allowing them to survive “unnaturally”, and were consequently interfering in human “natural selection”, a benign force which they thought was “deselecting” the people with the “weakest” genes and the “moral defectives”.  The Conservatives moralise about people who are poor and their punitive anti-welfare policies indicate plainly that they think that poor people have moral deficits.

The Conservative message that poverty is caused by character or behavioural “defects” and not socioeconomic and political circumstances should have been ringing alarm bells very loudly everywhere. The problem with authoritarian governments is they usually have sufficient power, one way or another, to mute the alarm. The first base of power over public perceptions that all authoritarians build is invariably facilitated by the corporate mass media. 

Austerity, “the national debt”, “a country living within its means”, “hardworking families”, the scrounger/striver rhetoric, “hard choices” and the “culture of entitlement” has all been a smokescreen for eugenic policies.

We cannot find any comfort in the belief that the government are simply neglectful policy makers. The persistent and loud denial regarding the increasingly precarious existence of the poorest citizens – especially disabled people – and the loud refusal to investigate the correlation between austerity policies and social outcomes that are damaging and harmful, and to consider the empirical evidence of humanitarian harm presented by citizens, academics, charities and campaigners, indicates a government that is not ignorant of the consequences, yet has no intention of changing their policies. The Conservatives are appallingly unconcerned about the terrible harm they are inflicting on invididuals and on our society.

 “Eugenic goals are most likely to be attained under another name than eugenics.” – Frederick Osborn

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The art of character divination

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A few thoughts on the implications of the United Nations report

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There is an important link between human needs and human rights that the Conservatives have dismally and persistently failed to recognise

The United Nations (UN) inquiry into the allegations many of us made regarding the systematic abuse of the human rights of disabled people in the UK has exposed the multiple injustices of targeted cuts and the disproportionate burden of austerity heaped on sick and disabled people, their carers and their families, evidencing and detailing the effects of a range of policy measures affecting them that have been introduced since 2010. These include the bedroom tax and cuts to disability benefits, funds to support independence and social care.

The report concludes that the overall effect of what is now an essentially punitive welfare regime, which has been based almost entirely on unevidenced political claims and assumptions, has had an extremely detrimental and regressive effect on the rights of disabled people, to live independently, to meet their basic needs, to seek and stay in work,  and to be able to live an ordinary life as citizens.

The UN report documented multiple violations of disabled people’s rights, including the way that they are politically portrayed as being lazy and a “burden on taxpayers”, the harm to health caused by unfair assessments, the cuts to legal aid and curtailed access to justice, the imposition of the bedroom tax and the ending of the Independent Living Fund.

I wrote a lengthy article about the unsurprising but nonetheless disquieting report findings and recommendations as I read it, here.

Predictably, the government responded to the damning contents of the report by denying a “causal link” between their policies and the evidenced accounts of the consequences being presented to them. Yet the government have never monitored the cumulative impact of their policies and successive cuts on disabled people, and they told the UN rapporteurs that it was “not possible or practical” to carry out an impact assessment on how reforms would affect disabled people. The UN disagreed, and stated that with the evidence and data already available, the government could have done this. 

The UN have called on the government to carry out a cumulative impact assessment. The government have refused to comply with any of the recommendations the UN has made. However, that means they cannot legitimately claim that there is “no causal link demonstrated” regarding the austerity measures and psychological distress, severe hardship, deteriorating health and death, as they have persistently refused to investigate the associations that academics, charities, disabled people’s organisations, individual campaigners and opposition MPs have consistently demonstrated. Denial isn’t empirical evidence or any kind of proof that your claims are valid. Nor does withholding evidence of correlation disprove causality.

It was also noted that the government failed to listen to the concerns of disabled people it had claimed to involve in policy making processes. Disabled people and their representative organisations “were not meaningfully taken into account in the decision-making and had little or no influence on policy decisions.”

The implication is that disabled people have not been democratically included. The government have persisted in treating us as objects of policies, rather than seeing us as democratic subjects and citizens. 

Also of note: “The [individual] impact assessments conducted by the State party prior to the implementation of several measures of its welfare reform expressly foresaw an adverse impact on persons with disabilities.”

The State party has not conducted a comprehensive human rights-based cumulative impact assessment even though reliable sources have indicated it is feasible.”

The UN stated that the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) failed to properly investigate people’s deaths after their social security payments were stopped. t was noted that the government had made no “attempts at objective, thorough, open and impartial investigation(s)” to look at the alleged 90 deaths a month, despite being aware that there was widespread public concern about this.

Among other concerns, the committee said the UK government had used rhetoric to stigmatise disabled people, negatively influencing public perceptions. The report says that disabled people “have been… negatively portrayed as being dependent or making a living out of benefits; committing fraud as benefit claimants; being lazy and putting a burden on taxpayers, who are paying ‘money for nothing’. Persons with disabilities continue to experience increasing hostility, aggressive behaviour and sometimes attacks to their personal integrity.”

The committee said it found no evidence to support any of these ideas, especially the idea that disabled claimants were committing benefit fraud.

The committee were very critical of the legal aid cuts, which have created a significant barrier for people challenging benefits decisions and holding the government accountable:

“Evidence indicates that legal aid to challenge administrative decisions ending or curtailing their benefits before first-tier tribunals has been restricted. Legal aid for cases before those tribunals has also been curtailed. Similarly, access to review by an independent and impartial tribunal has been restricted by the introduction of mandatory reconsideration procedures before the same administrative entity that has ruled on benefits.”

I was pleased to see the United Nations report highlight a fundamental prejudice that informed the very basis of the “functional capacity approach” of the Work Capability Assessment (WCA), as well as commenting on the major flaws of the assessment process itself. The WCA is based on the assumption that a health condition or disability should not automatically be regarded as a “barrier” to work and that work itself can have health benefits. However these assumptions have been controversial from the outset.

The WCA places focus entirely on how we as individuals experience our illness and impairments. As such, this approach does not permit us to place our experiences of disadvantage in the context of how organisations, institutions, policy-makers and wider society interact with us. Despite the government claiming that they take a social model approach, eligibility for benefits and services is still being determined by assessment of how much our own bodies are affected by illness and impairment rather than the disabling social, cultural and political barriers that we experience.

The report said: Work Capability Assessments do not take into account the “support persons with disabilities need to perform a job or the complex nature of some impairments and conditions.” 

The inquiry also found that welfare assessors displayed a “lack of awareness and limited knowledge of disability rights and specific needs”, and disabled people experienced distress, “anxiety and psychological strain” as a result of this flawed process, and the financial insecurity that it generates.

“The committee observes that measures have caused financial hardship to persons with disabilities resulting in arrears, debts, evictions and cuts to essentials such as housing and food,” the report said.

The Government’s own research, published in June this year, revealed that one of the cornerstones of their austerity campaign – that cutting social security means recipients will be more likely to find work – is fundamentally flawed. 

Researchers found that cutting unemployed peoples’ benefits had the opposite effect to what is being claimed – something that many of us have also previously argued. The study, carried out by Oxford city council and the Department for Work and Pensions, found unemployed people become less likely to get a job when benefits are cut. Instead of looking for work, they are forced to devote their energies to surviving day-to-day. For every £1 in benefits cut per week, a person’s chance of getting a job drops by 2 per cent.

The government can no longer justify its narrative about benefit cuts, claiming that they are  “incentives” to “support” people into work.

Beyond the rhetoric – the hidden agenda

There is a wider agenda driving the welfare “reforms” and it is important to consider the hidden ideological dimension and the language references and signposts to that, as well as the superficial narratives and semantic shifts being deployed as a PR exercise, techniques of neutralisation and gaslighting to obscure political intentions and the consequences of policies.

The UN report effectively exposed the justification narratives presented by the government for their welfare “reforms” as unfounded and unsupported by empirical evidence. This report is just the beginning, it arms us with an invaluable weapon with which to continue our campaigning, and shape future challenges and debate to government policies and social injustice.  

The Conservatives have an ideological commitment to a “small state” and this is fueled by privatisation and an ever-expanding neoliberal competitive “market place.” The market place, private profit opportunities and neoliberal outcomes have been conflated with citizen’s interests and needs.

The welfare “reforms” have presented the opportunity to promote and deliver private income protection provision via profit making companies operating in free markets. Insurance companies and right-wing think tanks have been attempting to steer governments in this direction for many years. 

For example, Matthew Oakley, a senior researcher at the Social Market Foundation, and government advisor, recently published a report entitled Closing the gap: creating a framework for tackling the disability employment gap in the UK, in which he suggests considering a “role that a form of privately run social insurance could play in both increasing benefit generosity and improving the support that individuals get to manage their conditions and move back to work.

Oakley also proposes abolishing the ESA Support Group. To meet extra living costs because of disability, Oakley says that existing spending on PIP and the Support Group element of ESA should be brought together to finance a new extra costs benefit. Eligibility for this benefit should be determined on the basis of need, with an assessment replacing the WCA and PIP assessment. The Conservative definition of “the basis of need” seems to be an ever-shrinking category.

May’s new director of policy, John Godfrey, is a keen advocate of what in his last job, at financial services giant Legal and General, he called “Beveridge 2.0”: using technology to introduce new forms of “social insurance”.

Godfrey told a campaigning group, the Financial Inclusion Commission, last year that the systems used to deliver “auto-enrolment”, the scheme that ensures all low-income workers have a pension, could also be used to help the public insure themselves against “unexpected events”.

“There is a clear lesson from auto-enrolment that if you have a plumbing network or an infrastructure that works, that auto-enrolment infrastructure could be used for other things which would encourage financial inclusion: things like, for example, life cover, income protection and effective and very genuine personal contributory benefits for things like unemployment and sickness,” he said. “They can be delivered at good value if there is mass participation through either soft compulsion or good behavioural economics.”

Note the context shift in use of the term “inclusion”, which was originally deemed a democratic right, now it’s being discussed narrowly in terms of individual responsibility.

A report published by the Adam Smith Institute as far back as 1995 – The Fortune Account – also sets out proposals to replace “state welfare” with an insurance system “operated by financial institutions within the private sector”.

Mo Stewart has spent eight years researching the influence of the US insurance giant Unum over successive UK governments, and how it led to the introduction of the “totally bogus” work capability assessment (WCA), which she says was designed to make it harder for sick and disabled people to claim out-of-work disability benefits.Stewart’s book, Cash Not Care: The Planned Demolition Of The UK Welfare State, was published in September. She states that the assessment was modeled on methods used by the controversial company Unum to deny protection to sick and disabled people in the US who had taken out income protection policies.

She goes on to say that the WCA was “designed to remove as many as possible from access to [employment and support allowance]on route to the demolition of the welfare state”, with out-of-work disability benefits to be replaced by insurance policies provided by private companies like Unum.

Stewart warns us that the UK is now close to adopting a US-style model.  

The implications of the inquiry findings for Conservative welfare policies 

The government has announced further welfare measures which will affect disabled people including a four year freeze for most working-age benefits, reductions in the Benefit Cap, changes to tax credits and to Universal Credit, and abolishing the “Work-Related Activity Component” for new ESA claims from 2017.

As noted in the UN report: “The State party continues its policy of reducing social benefits of persons with disabilities as reflected in the Welfare Reform and Work Act 2016.” 

Article 28 of the Convention on the rights of persons with disabilities (CRPD) says: Adequate standard of living and social protection – This article affirms the rights of persons with disabilities to an adequate standard of living for themselves and their family, and to social protection without discrimination on the basis of disability. This right includes access to assistance from the state with disability-related expenses for persons with disabilities and their families.

The report reiterated something that many of us have noted and discussed in detail previously: that there is no evidence of a causal relationship between a reduction in social security and an increase in employment amongst disabled and sick people. Nor does welfare “dependency” “disincentivise” people seeking employment more generally. It was pointed out in UN report that these views are not evidenced. The two assumptions are embedded in justifications of Conservative welfare policies, and are prejudices that have been around since the Thatcher administration.

Bearing in mind these are key assumptions underpinning current policies and the proposals set out in the recent work, health and disability green paper –  for example, the recent decision to reduce the money paid to people who have been assessed as being unfit to work but able to undertake work related activity (those people in the Employment and Support Allowance work related activity group (WRAG)) is based on the same assumption- the Department for Work and Pensions have claimed  – that it will “remove the financial incentives that would otherwise discourage claimants from taking steps back to work”.

Particularly important in the current context and given the government’s recent work, health and disability green paper, the UN report says that: “Given the barriers that still prevent the full participation of persons with disabilities in the labour market and mean higher unemployment rates for them, income-maintenance social security schemes are particularly important for persons with disabilities. Such schemes allow them to maintain their autonomy and freedom of control and choice of their living arrangements and day-to-day activities. Without an adequate level of social protection, persons with disabilities run the risk of being isolated, segregated from the community and/or institutionalized. 

States parties should find an adequate balance between providing an adequate level of income security for persons with disabilities through social security schemes and supporting their labour inclusion. The two sets of measures should be seen as complementary rather than contradictory.

Measures aimed at facilitating the inclusion in the labour market of beneficiaries of social security should include transitional arrangements to ensure income protection while they reach a certain threshold and sustainability in their wages. They should become eligible again without delay if they lose their jobs.” 

Although many of us have been discussing these issues for a few years, the inquiry has consolidated a lot of valuable evidence and provided a concise rebuttal of government justification narratives for cuts in support for disabled people, which we really needed to be presented to the government formally, from an independent, official and international witness.

Though the government have tended to dismiss much evidence to date of the harm that their policies are causing, such as that which has been presented through case studies by shadow ministers, as “anecdotal”, it is rather more difficult to dismiss and ignore the substantial evidence presented as a result of rigorous international scrutiny.

The government response was founded on denials, more misdirectional rhetoric and techniques of neutralisation, defensive arrogance, authoritarian scorn and contrived outrage, rather than being about stepping up to democratic accountability, reasoned discussion and rationality. No sign of civilised conscience and decent concern regarding the impact of the prejudice and discrimination that is being intentionally and systematically embedded in Conservative policies, aimed at disabled people, at all. 

The government’s response to the UN report bears little resemblance to the lived experiences of disabled people, despite claims to the contrary. The government has justified systematic cuts to disabled people’s social security by claiming such cuts “incentivise” people to find work. The cuts are a form of punishment (apparently for our own “good”) designed to bring about “behaviour change” and this approach is founded on the wrongly perceived attitudes of disabled people, who this government consistently describes as being “parked on benefits” with the “misperception that they can’t work”. 

This does nothing at all to address the barriers disabled people face in finding and staying in work, nor does it address the acknowledged prejudiced attitudes of employers and Conservative ministers. It’s not long ago that Conservative welfare minister David Freud expressed the view that disabled people should work for less than the minimum wage. He wasn’t the only one, either. Philip Davies expressed the same view, claiming that disabled people “are the most disadvantaged by the national minimum wage,” so they should be “permitted” to work for less in order to “compete” in the labor market. Davies described criticism of his remarks that disabled people could work for less than minimum wage as “leftwing hysteria”.

It seems that Conservatives believe that the only way of “helping” disabled people in any way is by simply taking money from them. 

In their response to the UN report, the government say: “The United Kingdom is proud of its record in supporting disabled people to lead more independent lives and participate more fully in society. More than 20 years ago the UK legislated to protect disabled people’s rights. It now spends around £50 bn a year on benefits to support disabled people and people with health conditions, which is over £6 bn more than in 2010. That is around 5% of GDP, or over 6% of government spending. The UK spends more on disabled people and people with health conditions than the OECD average, and countries such as Germany, France and the USA.”

That’s definitely Conservatives being… conservative with the truth again.

The Institute of Fiscal Studies (IFS) report on spending on benefits for disabled people says the actual spend is £36,063 bn but this is partly in benefits that are not counted as working age disability benefits: War Pensions, Attendance Allowance for over 65s, Statutory Sick pay, Carer’s Allowance, Industrial Injuries Benefits and the ILF which the government has closed)

The total of those benefits not paid to working age disabled people is £7,908bn

That makes the actual spend on all working age benefits for disabled people £28,155 billion

The IFS report says: “The spending on DLA/PIP is only half what it was in 1995-96. Spending across Great Britain on disability benefits in 2014–15 was £13.5 billion. At 0.8% of national income this is half the level of disability benefit spending when it was at its peak in 1995–96.

The overall number of individuals receiving disability benefits has fallen slightly since the mid-1990s. But this is in the presence of underlying demographic change that would have tended to push UP the numbers receiving considerably – both overall population growth and the baby boomer generation reaching older working ages.”

It’s not clear if the spending figures include the massive costs of private companies that are contracted by the state, ironically, to cut welfare spending. 

The National Audit Office (NAO) report earlier this year scrutinised public spending for parliament, and is independent of government. The report indicates how public services are being appropriated for purely private benefit.

The audit report in January 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-cut scheme will be actually spending more money on the assessments conducted by private companies than it is saving in reductions to the benefits bill.

From the report:

£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.

This summary reflects staggering economic incompetence, a flagrant, politically motivated waste of tax payer’s money and even worse, the higher spending has not created a competent or ethical assessment framework, nor is it improving the lives of sick and disabled people. Private companies like Maximus are paid millions from our welfare budget, yet they are certainly not “helping the government” to serve even the most basic needs of sick and disabled people.

I will be challenging the government’s response to the UN report fully in due course. It would be good to see some collaborative effort from disabled campaigners and activists in addressing the government as comprehensively as possible. If anyone is interest in working together on this, just contact me here via the comment section.

The UN committee will meet to discuss the government’s comments and determine a response in Geneva, in March 2017. 

Meanwhile it’s crucial that we use the body of evidence collated by the UN and the conclusions drawn in the report effectively. For example, our responses to the consultation on the work, health and disability green paper must address the underpinning propositions and delve beneath the superficial rhetoric and glittering generalities, rather than permitting the DWP’s weighted and somewhat leading questions to shape the outcome of the consultation.

We must use the UN findings constructively to continue to challenge existing policies, and any which arise in the future to violate the human rights of disabled persons. 

We need to continue to coherently and collectively challenge the government’s assumptions on which their proposals for work, health and disability policy are based, none of which are not supported by a shred of solid empirical evidence.

 


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

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UN’s highly critical report confirms UK government has systematically violated the human rights of disabled people

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The United Nations (UN) have published a report following investigation into the allegations of “grave and systematic” abuses of the human rights of disabled people in the UK. Campaigners and disabled people’s groups contacted the UN, making formal complaint about violations of disabled people’s rights and raising serious concerns about the consequences of the welfare reforms for disabled people, in 2012, which triggered the inquiry under article 6 of the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD). Many of us also made further submissions, supporting the inquiry with evidence. The report has been welcomed by disability campaigners, with many saying the findings come as no surprise.

The report said “The Committee is impressed by the amount of data collected by stakeholders who contributed to the inquiry.”

The highly critical report was published in Geneva yesterday afternoon. It concludes that the rights of disabled people to live independently, to work, and achieve an adequate standard of living have been detrimentally affected by austerity measures. The range of measures aimed at reducing public spending since 2010, including 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 report of the findings of contraventions by the UK government to the rights of disabled people, which said much of what many of us have been writing and campaigning about for the past four years –  since the controversial 2012 Welfare “Reform” Act and the targeted austerity programme – said nothing that many of us didn’t already know. But reading it personally was a surprisingly powerful emotional experience, despite the measured and emotionally-neutral language used throughout the report.

Whilst I am relieved most of our concerns, research, analysis and experiences were confirmed on one level, and that the government were exposed for their withholding of evidence, and of sometimes manufacturing it; of excluding disabled people from any consultation regarding the cuts to their support, I am nonetheless still shocked that we live in a country  with a society that has permitted a government to treat sick and disabled people with such contempt, excluding us from full democratic citizenship and denying us basic human rights.

Members of the UN committee of 18 independent experts visited Britain in October 2015 and the report was based on more than 200 interviews and some 3,000 pages of documentary evidence.

The 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.

As anticipated, the UK government has rejected the UN report, saying in a formal response that its findings presented an “inaccurate picture” of life for disabled people in the UK:  “While the government continues to improve and build on the support available to disabled people, it stands by and is proud of its record.”

The government went on to say: “As a strong parliamentary democracy, where the voices and opinions of disabled people are represented and listened to, the UK is a place where disabled people’s rights are respected, promoted and upheld.”

As a person who is disabled because of illness, and someone who has supported many other disabled people going through assessments, mandatory reviews and tribunals, I can say that our collective experiences indicate that we are NOT represented, nor have we been listened to. Our rights have clearly not been respected, promoted and upheld. The government have treated disabled people with contempt, we have not been included in the economy, we have experienced political and social prejudice and discrimination, we have not been extended equal opportunities, nor have we been permitted full citizenship and recognition of our human rights.

The government feel it’s acceptable to lie about the fact that they have failed to recognise our human rights, outrageously claiming that disabled people are “supported.” I have never heard of “support” that entails the systematic removal of people’s lifeline income, which was originally calculated to meet only basic needs.

The response is telling. The government did not produce evidence to substantiate their claims and denials, and there wasn’t a shred of concern for disabled people or remorse expressed about the distress and harm that the Conservative’s targeted austerity cuts have caused; there was just a refusal to be accountable and transparent, more denial and more gaslighting.

In their lengthy rebuttal, the Conservatives claimed that the UN inquiry was “too narrow in scope” and that the UK government did not plan to follow-up on the recommendations any further.

The inquiry findings

The conclusion of UN inquiry: “The Committee considers that there is reliable evidence that the threshold of grave or systematic violations of the rights of persons with disabilities has been met in the State party.

The facts submitted by the source were disputed by the State party. The Committee engaged in a verification exercise in which the facts that appeared to be controversial were cross-checked with data collected from a variety of sources, including parliamentary inquiries, reports of the independent monitoring body of the Convention, official statistics, reports and data originating from other government departments or units, entity governments, research institutes, service providers, academic centres, independent experts, former government officers, grass-roots non-governmental organizations, organizations of persons with disabilities and individuals.

In some cases, some State party’s statements were not supported by evidence collected by the investigation. In others, the State party indicated that no data were available. The findings below are based on a comprehensive analysis of data provided by various sources.

The Committee observes that various pieces of legislation related to recent welfare policies do not fully enforce the international human rights framework related to social protection and independent living. In connection thereto, it was observed that in the field of social protection, persons with disabilities have not been properly considered as right-holders and entitled to benefits with regard to their right to social protection.

Similarly, while the Care Act 2014 reflects the principles of well-being of persons with disabilities and underlines the objective of personalization of support packages, it fails to properly acknowledge the elements of autonomy and control and choice, which are intrinsic to the right to independent living as referred to in article 19 of the Convention.”

That conclusion is based on the following findings of systematic violations of the convention:

(a) The State party has implemented a policy aimed at reforming its welfare system and the reforms have been justified in the context of austerity measures to achieve fiscal and budgetary policy consolidation;

(b) The assumptions made under the policy include that: taxpayers need to be treated with fairness; large numbers of persons with disabilities have been relying and dependent on social benefits; persons are better off in work than on benefits; the dependency of persons with disabilities on benefits is in itself a disincentive to move them into employment; the number of persons with disabilities relying on social benefits were to be decreased; and tightening sanctions and conditionality of social benefits is a legitimate tool for incentivizing their moving into employment;

(c) The impact assessments conducted by the State party prior to the implementation of several measures of its welfare reform expressly foresaw an adverse impact on persons with disabilities;

(d) Several measures have disproportionally and adversely affected the rights of persons with disabilities;

(e) Measures resulting in reduction of support provided to meet the extra cost of disability, denial of reasonable accommodation in assessment procedures and realization of the right to employment have had a discriminatory effect on persons with disabilities;

(f) The core elements of the rights to independent living and being included in the community, an adequate standard of living and social protection and their right to employment have been affected: persons with disabilities affected by policy changes have had their freedom of choice and control over their daily activities restricted, the extra cost of disability has been set aside and income protection has been curtailed as a result of benefit cuts, while the expected policy goal of achieving decent and stable employment is far from being attained;

(g) There is evidence that a large number of persons with disabilities have been affected (e.g. 13,900 persons with disabilities have lost their Motability schemes and therefore their adapted cars, upon implementation of Personal Independence Payment up to February 2016; 492,180 had been placed in the Employment and Support Allowance work-related activity group by end of 2015; 41,792 Employment and Support Allowance work-related activity group sanctions were handed out up to March 2014);

(h) Evidence gathered nationally by the Parliament, the independent monitoring framework, universities and research institutes and centres and independent experts, has documented adverse and disproportionate effects of measures on persons with disabilities;

(i) The State party has not conducted a comprehensive human rights-based cumulative impact assessment even though reliable sources have indicated it is feasible;

(j) The State party continues its policy of reducing social benefits of persons with disabilities as reflected in the Welfare Reform and Work Act 2016.

Comments from the report

“Evidence indicates that legal aid to challenge administrative decisions ending or curtailing their benefits before first-tier tribunals has been restricted. Legal aid for cases before those tribunals has also been curtailed. Similarly, access to review by an independent and impartial tribunal has been restricted by the introduction of mandatory reconsideration procedures before the same administrative entity that has ruled on benefits.”

Further observation: “The availability of support [for disabled people] is established on the basis of what is considered to be an affordable service in the market, rather than on the specific needs of the person concerned.”  Austerity measures were introduced and targeted disproportionately at disabled people at the same time that UK millionaires were awarded a tax cut of £107, 000 each per year. What is considered “an affordable service” is entirely founded on ideologically driven political decision making and has no basis on economic necessity.

Critical comment about Conservative propaganda and scapegoating: “The roll out of those policies included the issuing of statements by high-ranking officers that the reform was aimed at making the welfare system fairer to taxpayers and more balanced and transparent and reducing benefit fraud. Persons with disabilities have been regularly portrayed negatively as being dependent or making a living out of benefits, committing fraud as benefit claimants, being lazy and putting a burden on taxpayers, who are paying “money for nothing”.

Although the State party produced evidence of formal efforts and public awareness campaigns to improve the image of persons with disabilities, the inquiry collected evidence that persons with disabilities continue to experience increasing hostility, aggressive behaviour and sometimes attacks to their personal integrity. The inquiry also found no substantiation of the alleged benefit fraud by persons with disabilities.”

Importantly: “Public sector equality duty obliges State authorities to carry out impact assessments when they plan to introduce measures, including legislative measures, to ensure that groups with protected characteristics, among them persons with disabilities, are properly consulted and any adverse impact on them is properly justified.

The State party submitted evidence that it has complied with domestic legal duties for all the intended changes to the welfare system. The inquiry collected evidence that a major piece of legislation of the welfare reform, the Welfare Reform Act 2012, was not thoroughly compliant with those requirements. Similarly, a court of law found that the decision to close the Independent Living Fund was not in compliance with domestic equality duty, which compelled the authorities of the State party to carry out another equality assessment.

The inquiry also collected evidence that the views of persons with disabilities and their representative organizations who had participated in consultations launched by the State party, were not meaningfully taken into account in the decision-making and had little or no influence on policy decisions. “

Particularly important in the current context and government work, health and disability green paper, the UN says that: “Given the barriers that still prevent the full participation of persons with disabilities in the labour market and mean higher unemployment rates for them, income-maintenance social security schemes are particularly important for persons with disabilities. Such schemes allow them to maintain their autonomy and freedom of control and choice of their living arrangements and day-to-day activities. Without an adequate level of social protection, persons with disabilities run the risk of being isolated, segregated from the community and/or institutionalized. 

States parties should find an adequate balance between providing an adequate level of income security for persons with disabilities through social security schemes and supporting their labour inclusion. The two sets of measures should be seen as complementary rather than contradictory. Measures aimed at facilitating the inclusion in the labour market of beneficiaries of social security should include transitional arrangements to ensure income protection while they reach a certain threshold and sustainability in their wages. They should become eligible again without delay if they lose their jobs.”

One of the recommendations is that the state party: “Take appropriate measures to combat any negative and discriminatory stereotypes or prejudice against persons with disabilities in public and the media, including that dependency on benefits is in itself a disincentive of employment; implement broad mass media campaigns, in consultation with organizations representing persons with disabilities, particularly those affected by the welfare reform, to promote them as full rights holders, in accordance with the Convention; and adopt measures to address complaints of harassment and hate crime by persons with disabilities, promptly investigate those allegations, hold the perpetrators accountable and provide fair and appropriate compensation to victims.”

“[…] including that dependency on benefits is in itself a disincentive of employment.”  This also has implications for the recent green paper, which discusses at length “incentives” for addressing disabled people in the ESA support group being “parked” on benefits and “mistakenly perceiving” that they are too ill to work. The findings of the inquiry expose most of the Conservative’s underpinning assumptions in the green paper, and in all their “interventions” aimed at disabled people, as utter tosh. (I will be including quotes from the UN report in my consultation responses to the work, health and disability green paper.) 

Most of the cuts to social security have been justified by that particular myth, and so has the increased, harsh welfare conditionality, the extremely punitive sanctions and exploitative workfare schemes, the endless pseudopsychological state “therapy” aimed at “behaviour change”, attitude modification, nudging and coercion, condescending character assassinations, and of course it’s worth considering the lucrative contracts handed to profiteering private providers ironically costing us billions, whilst being contracted to take money from poor people to save the “tax payer” money. 

Further comment:“Evidence indicates several flaws in the processes related to the Employment and Support Allowance. In particular, the Committee notes that, despite several adjustments made to the Work Capability Assessment, the assessment has continued to be focused on a functional evaluation of skills and capabilities, and puts aside personal circumstances and needs, and barriers faced by persons with disabilities to return to employment, particularly those of persons with intellectual and/or psychosocial disabilities. In the initial period covered by the present report, evidence indicates a significant percentage of assessments were overturned by tribunals.”

“The situation of persons with disabilities deemed “fit to work” is not monitored as such. Those who have re-entered the system by claiming the Job Seeker’s Allowance to support them until they find work face stringent levels of conditions and sanctions, which do not take into account the specific barriers they face. The Committee was informed that, in some cases, sanctions had led to financial hardship for persons with disabilities, and particularly persons with intellectual and/or psychosocial disabilities. 

The State party initially stated that it did not monitor deaths that occurred after assessments. Evidence gathered during the inquiry indicated that, in 2012 and 2015, such information was released by the Department of Work and Pension following freedom of information requests. Additionally, information originated from official sources indicated that 33 deaths of claimants who died after being assessed were being examined. The State party claims that there is no causal link. The Committee is not aware of any attempts at objective, thorough, open and impartial investigation regarding those deaths by an independent body.”

Recommendations

The Committee recommends that the State party:

      (a)          Conduct a cumulative impact assessment of the measures adopted since 2010, referred to in the present report, on the rights to independent living and to be included in the community, social protection and employment of persons with disabilities. The State party should ensure that such assessment is rights-based and meaningfully involves persons with disabilities and their representative organizations;

      (b)          Ensure that any intended measure of the welfare reform is rights-based, upholds the human rights model of disability and does not disproportionately and/or adversely affect the rights of persons with disabilities to independent living, an adequate standard of living and employment. To prevent adverse consequences, the States party should carry out human rights-based cumulative impact assessments of the whole range of intended measures that would have an impact on the rights of persons with disabilities;

      (c)          Ensure that: any intended legislation and/or policy measure respects the core elements of the rights analysed in the present report; persons with disabilities retain their autonomy, choice and control over their place of residence and with whom they live; they receive appropriate and individualized support, including through personal assistance, and have access to community-based services on an equal basis with others; they have access to security social schemes that ensure income protection, including in relation to the extra cost of disability, that is compatible with an adequate standard of living and ensure their full inclusion and participation in society; and they have access and are supported in gaining employment in the open labour market on an equal basis with others;

      (d)          Ensure that public budgets take into account the rights of persons with disabilities, that sufficient budget allocations are made available to cover extra costs associated with living with a disability and that appropriate mitigation measures, with appropriate budget allocations, are in place for persons with disabilities affected by austerity measures;

      (e)          Introduce all adjustments necessary to make all information, communications, administrative and legal procedures in relation to social security entitlements, independent living schemes and employment/unemployment-related support services fully accessible to all persons with disabilities;

      (f)           Ensure access to justice, by providing appropriate legal advice and support, including through reasonable and procedural accommodation for persons with disabilities seeking redress and reparation for the alleged violation of their rights, as covered in the present report;

      (g)          Actively consult and engage with persons with disabilities through their representative organizations and give due consideration to their views in the design, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of any legislation, policy or programme action related to the rights addressed in the present report;

      (h)          Take appropriate measures to combat any negative and discriminatory stereotypes or prejudice against persons with disabilities in public and the media, including that dependency on benefits is in itself a disincentive of employment; implement broad mass media campaigns, in consultation with organizations representing persons with disabilities, particularly those affected by the welfare reform, to promote them as full rights holders, in accordance with the Convention; and adopt measures to address complaints of harassment and hate crime by persons with disabilities, promptly investigate those allegations, hold the perpetrators accountable and provide fair and appropriate compensation to victims;

      (i)           Ensure that, in the implementation of legislation, policies and programmes, special attention is paid to persons with disabilities living with a low income or in poverty and persons with disabilities at higher risk of exclusion, such as persons with intellectual, psychosocial or multiple disabilities and women, children and older persons with disabilities. Those measures should be put in place within contributive and non-contributive regimes;

      (j)           Set up a mechanism and a system of human rights-based indicators to permanently monitor the impact of the different policies and programmes relating to the access and enjoyment by persons with disabilities of the right to social protection and an adequate standard of living, the right to live independently and be included in the community and the right to work, in close consultation with persons with disabilities and their representative organizations in all regions and countries that constitute the State party;

      (k)          Respond to the present report within the time limit prescribed under the Optional Protocol, widely disseminate the Committee’s findings and recommendations and provide appropriate follow-up to the recommendations of the present report, including during the consideration of the State party’s initial report before the Committee.

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Inquiry reports

1. Report of the Inquiry Concerning the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland carried out by the Committee under article 6 of the Optional Protocol to the Convention

2. Observations of the Government of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland on the report of the Inquiry carried out by the Committee under article 6 of the Optional Protocol to the Convention


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