Petition and Protest: Stop This Callous Government’s Sickening War on the Disabled

21.9.13

Please sign the petition to the British government to end the “War on Welfare,” which currently has over 55,000 signatures but needs 100,000 to be eligible for a Parliamentary debate, and, if you can, come to the ’10,000 Cuts & Counting’ protest in Parliament Square on Saturday September 28. 

The British government’s assault on the poor, the ill, the unemployed and the disabled is so disgraceful that it’s often difficult to know which particular horror is the worst, although every time that their attacks on the disabled come under the spotlight I’m reminded of the importance of the saying, “The mark of a civilised society is how it treats its most vulnerable members” — attributed, in various forms, to Mahatma Gandhi, Winston Churchill and Harry S. Truman — and it strikes me that the most disgusting of all the oppressive policies directed at the most vulnerable members of society by sadistic Tories masquerading as competent politicians — backed up by their Lib Dem facilitators and the majority of the mainstream media — is their war on the disabled.

The people behind these assaults overwhelmingly identify themselves as Christians, even though no trace of Christian values exists in their policies, and they are, instead, waging war on the very people that Christ would have told them are in need of their protection most of all.

I have been covering the government’s war on the disabled since 2011 (see my archive of articles here and here), and a brief explanation of what has been happening can be found in an article I wrote last August, in which I explained:

As the centrepiece of its mission to impoverish the disabled, the government has implemented a Work Capability Assessment, designed to establish that people with serious physical and/or mental disabilities are, in fact, fit for work, and can have their financial support cut — and, in some circumstances, be forced into unpaid work. Beginning [in 2013], with the stated aim of cutting spending by 20 percent over the next three years, the Disability Living Allowance (DLA), which, as the Guardian put it, “pays out a maximum of £130 a week [and] is a welfare payment designed to help people look after themselves and aimed at those who find it difficult to walk or get around,” will be replaced by the Personal Independence Payment (PIP), heavily criticised by disability campaigners. Moreover, the fact that the government has announced its intention to cut spending by 20 percent indicates that it is driven by cost and not by need, as is also clear from an examination of the tests run for the Department for Work and Pensions by the French company Atos Healthcare.

The tests, are, by any objective measure, a disaster, as they deliberately fail to provide an accurate assessment of claimants’ illnesses, and are being overturned on appeal to such an extent that any attempt to claim that the system is credible is being thoroughly undermined. As I explained in another article last year, “the inconvenient truth [for the government is] that, on appeal, tens of thousands of decisions made by Atos’ representatives are being overturned. The average is 40 percent, but in Scotland campaigners discovered that, when claimants were helped by representatives of Citizens Advice Bureaux, 70 percent of decisions were overturned on appeal.” Of the 1.8 million assessments carried out by Atos since 2009, around 600,000 have been the subject of an appeal, costing the government £60m.

In July, Atos was severely criticised by the Department for Work and Pensions, following what the Independent described as “months of complaints about allegedly unfair and slapdash decisions” made by the company. The DWP “audited around 400 of the company’s written reports into disability claimants, grading them A to C. Of these, 41 per cent came back with a C, meaning they were unacceptable and did not meet the required standard.” What this meant in practice was that “a serious error or omission occurred, such as no evidence to justify the recommendations,” or there were “inconsistencies in the evidence provided.”

Surprisingly, the findings led the DWP to describe the poor quality of the reports as “contractually unacceptable,” and to decide to strip Atos of “its monopoly on deciding whether people with disabilities are fit to work,” as the Independent described it. The DWP announced that “it would be inviting other companies to bid for fresh regional contracts by summer 2014,” but although this is a blow for Atos, it is unlikely that any replacement company will do a more objective and honest job, given that the whole purpose of the reviews is to cut the number of claimants; in other words, to fix reality around the policy.

In a powerful article in the Guardian, Amelia Gentleman greeted the news about Atos as follows:

Many people will welcome the Department for Work and Pension’s decision to bring in new providers alongside Atos to perform the work capability assessment (WCA), and to retrain existing Atos staff.

They will include Sylvia Newman, whose husband, Larry, was found fit for work after an Atos assessment. After a long career in work, he had developed a serious lung condition, his weight had dropped from 10 to seven stone and he had trouble walking and breathing. In order to qualify for employment and support allowance (ESA), the new sickness benefit worth £95 a week, he needed 15 points in the test; he was given zero. He was dismayed to note a number of significant inaccuracies in the Atos report, and decided to appeal, but died from lung problems, before the appeal was heard. One of the last things he said to his wife before doctors put him on a ventilator was: “It’s a good job I’m fit for work.”

Last year the Guardian reported on the case of Ruth Anim, who was told after an Atos assessment that she was capable of finding work in the near future, despite the fact she needed constant one-to-one care, had no concept of danger and attended life skills classes to learn practical things like how to make a sandwich or a cup of tea. She was also described in the Atos report as a “male client”. Atos apologised for “any discrepancy in our report and any distress this may have caused.”

Amelia Gentleman also highlighted the complaints about the underlying problems with the system:

[S]ome campaigners say the real cause of most problems associated with the WCA is not the company that carries out the tests but the underlying policy it is paid to implement. By focusing anger on Atos, attention is distracted from the government’s drive to reduce the numbers of people claiming sickness benefits, under which the eligibility criteria have been narrowed so that many severely ill and disabled people no longer qualify. Changing the company providing the test may not change the experience of many claimants, as the new providers will be obliged to test people according to the same criteria.

Caroline Hacker, head of policy at Parkinson’s UK, said : “This report confirms what many disabled people already know, that Atos Healthcare has been failing thousands of people across the UK for the last five years. Put simply, this admission of failure is far too little too late.

“Not all blame for the ongoing failures of these tests can be levelled solely at Atos Healthcare, who operate within the government’s utterly inadequate method of assessing our most vulnerable citizens. All too often we hear from people with Parkinson’s – a progressive condition – who are told that they will be fit to work in a year’s time because they’ve failed to score enough points under the government designed system.”

Highlighting the ongoing injustice of the assessment process, a coalition of campaigners — including Disabled People Against Cuts, Black Triangle Campaign, Disability Arts Online and Atos Stories — have come together to put together an event on Saturday September 28, beginning at 12 noon in Parliament Square, entitled, ‘10,000 Cuts and Counting,’ described as “a ceremony of remembrance and solidarity for those who have had their lives devastated by the austerity programme, including more than 10,000 people who died shortly after undergoing the Atos Work Capability Assessment, the degrading test used by the government to assess the needs of people receiving benefits related to disability and ill health.”

You can also sign up and share the event on Facebook, and for a collection of powerful stories about disabled people’s experiences of the Atos assessments, please see the Facebook page Atos Miracles.

The organisers urge the government to “Scrap Atos and end the Work Capability Assessment,” a move that was also voted for by the British Medical Association, and to create “a New Deal for sick and disabled people based on their needs, abilities and ambitions.”

As they state:

Disabled people are leading the fight back against the injustices of austerity: we cannot stand idly by while our communities and institutions are devastated by this government.

On Saturday 28th September, the community will gather to demand an end to the government’s austerity assault which particularly affects disabled people.

The ceremony will remember those who have died and those living who are having their independence and dignity challenged as a result of austerity, led by disability activists, Occupy activists, the Dean of St Paul’s Cathedral, Michael Meacher MP and other representatives.

A delegation from the gathering will present a demand to the Prime Minister, in support of the 55,000 people who have already signed the WOW Petition.

I hope to see you there.

Andy Worthington is a freelance investigative journalist, activist, author, photographer and film-maker. He is the co-founder of the “Close Guantánamo” campaign, and the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by Macmillan in the US, and available from Amazon — click on the following for the US and the UK) and of two other books: Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion and The Battle of the Beanfield. He is also the co-director (with Polly Nash) of the documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (available on DVD here – or here for the US).

To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to Andy’s RSS feed — and he can also be found on Facebook (and here), Twitter, Flickr and YouTube. Also see the four-part definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, and “The Complete Guantánamo Files,” an ongoing, 70-part, million-word series drawing on files released by WikiLeaks in April 2011. Also see the definitive Guantánamo habeas list and the chronological list of all Andy’s articles.

Please also consider joining the “Close Guantánamo” campaign, and, if you appreciate Andy’s work, feel free to make a donation.

13 Responses

  1. Andy Worthington says...

    On Facebook, Clark Sullivan wrote:

    I’ve organized a demo in SF,USA addressing these very concerns… I am disabled… but I am anything but helpless…

  2. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Clark. Very good to hear from you. Yes, the rapacious landlords and their apologists are everywhere, scheming how to milk those with less than them until we turn to dust. I always thought that land rights and land reform were the heart of the Occupy movement’s complaints, and led to the violence with which the occupations were eventually suppressed. We need to bring these complaints back into focus, though, as the scumbags lording it over us are determined to extract more and more from everyone who isn’t a homeowner (i.e hasn’t already paid most or all of a mortgage). Those renting and those with recent mortgages are supposed to put up with paying a higher and higher percentage of what they earn without complaint, while those who have profited from this get ridiculously rich. Housing – a basic right- has been turned into a turbo-charged casino.

  3. Andy Worthington says...

    My comments were slightly off-topic from the oppression of the disabled, Clark, but I find that it’s all connected. There’s no provision whatsoever for the most vulnerable because our leaders don’t want to provide the unemployed and disabled with anything – neither financial support nor a roof over their heads. And the low paid are also supposed to stay quiet and get no help, even though low wages are a direct result of unfettered profiteering by their employers. It’s a situation that’s ripe for revolution if people wake up to it.

  4. Andy Worthington says...

    Clark Sullivan wrote:

    Don’t stop… We need you to keep delivering that message…

  5. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks for the encouragement, Clark! The injustice of it – and its danger for the immediate future of our societies – eats away at me all the time. It’s only the demands of my other work on Guantanamo that prevents me from campaigning on this full-time.

  6. Andy Worthington says...

    Carol Brown wrote:

    We’ll be with you in spirit & we send our solidarity. We are going to Manchester for the NHS demo the following day. We can now access your site BTW!!

  7. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Carol. I hope to see you in Manchester. Glad you can now access my site, btw.

  8. Andy Worthington says...

    Clark Sullivan wrote:

    We are winning, even though things look dark… The American public stopped Obama in his tracks in Syria… 1st time ever…

  9. Andy Worthington says...

    Yes, that was important, Clark, and it happened here with our MPs, evidently reflecting the public’s lack of appetite for another war. Once people start to question war, they might also question what other lies they’re being told.

  10. Geraldine Roper says...

    I sincerely hope the tide is turning from apathy to action, for all who have suffered are suffering,and the families of the bereaved. I was born with a disability ,worked and coped.but this attack has never been so poisonous in my lifetime. Perhaps those who mock the afflicted should take a long look at themselves and think about what will happen to them if they fall ill or become disabled and find there is absolutely no one or nothing to help them> We have all contributed by work and taxes for a small level of help.This is no luxury. It is basic humanitarian aid. Im sure the UN. commission will find the UK in breach of basic human rights on this.Meanwhile we have to keep up the information against the propaganda demonising the poorest and most vulnerable.

  11. Thomas says...

    I’m not being someone’s slave, but the only job offers I get are from money laundering scammers. So I suppose I’ll be back to depending on my parents again.

  12. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks for the comment, Thomas. The sad truth is that many people are dependent on their parents, as our economies are frozen or have crashed because of short-term greed. I still think the orgy of outsourcing manufacturing, which began in earnest in the Reagan/Thatcher years, is one of the biggest factors in that. Where are the jobs?

  13. Andy Worthington says...

    Geraldine, thank you very much for getting in touch and for providing such a powerful appeal for people to think about their lack of sympathy for others who are suffering. It is absolutely clear that we must keep campaigning and trying to educate our fellow citizens. It is horrible how the Tories and the tabloids have tapped into a seam of hatred in our fellow citizens and are doing all in their power to encourage it.

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Investigative journalist, author, filmmaker, photographer and Guantanamo expert
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