The End of Decency: Tories to Make Disabled People Work Unpaid for Their Benefits

What is wrong with the people of Britain? For two and a half years now, the Tory-led coalition government has been waging war on the most vulnerable members of society — the disabled — and hardly anyone seems to care. In order to cut the welfare bill, the government is paying a fortune to Atos Healthcare, a French-based multinational company, to conduct reviews of disabled people in order to find them fit for work, whether they are or not.

This process, which necessitates cruelty and indifference on the part of the assessors, is hugely stressful for the people subjected to the reviews, and has contributed to hundreds of deaths since it was first introduced (also see here and here for links to some harrowing stories).

I have been campaigning against it for the last two years — see, for example, my articles, Today the Tories Took £100 A Week from Some of the UK’s Most Disabled People: How Can This Be Right?, RIP Karen Sherlock, Another Victim of the Tories’ Brutal, Heartless Disability Reforms, Doctors Urge Government to Scrap Callous Disability Tests, Where is the Shame and Anger as the UK Government’s Unbridled Assault on the Disabled Continues? and Call Time on This Wretched Government and Its Assault on the Disabled. Read the rest of this entry »

Call Time on This Wretched Government and Its Assault on the Disabled

Please, please, please sign and promote the petition, initiated by Pat Onions and other disabled activists, calling for the British government to “stop and review the cuts to benefits and services which are falling disproportionately on disabled people, their carers and families.” The petition needs to reach 100,000 signatures by November 1 to be eligible for Parliamentary debate.

One month ago, the Paralympic Games came to an end, and there were hopes that, after two weeks in which disabled people had been the focus of the media and the British people, and had performed spectacularly well, the time might be ripe for those fortunate enough not to be physically or mentally disabled to realise that they were being lied to by their government, and that the Tories’ wretched assault on disabled people as cheats and scroungers was both cruel and deeply unfair.

In a cynical attempt to cut expenditure on welfare, the government has embarked upon a particularly horrific assault on the mentally and/or physically disabled through the Work Capability Assessment (WCA), administered by the French-based multinational company Atos Healthcare, and designed to find disabled people fit for work, even when, as in a heartbreakingly large number of cases, they are not.

In addition, hundreds of thousands of disabled people will lose between £20 and £131.50 a week when the ­Disability Living Allowance (DLA) that is a crucial part of their support is ­”replaced with the more restrictive ­Personal ­Independence Payments as part of a £2.2billion cost-cutting plan,” as the Sunday Mirror explained last month. As the Mirror also explained, “The DLA currently goes to around 3.2 million people at a cost of £12.6 billion a year. Analysts estimate up to 500,000 disabled people will have their allowance entirely withdrawn over the next four years as ­eligibility criteria is tightened.” Read the rest of this entry »

A Future for Occupy? Why We Need A Campaign for Genuinely Affordable Housing

A year ago, when Occupy Wall Street began, people occupying public spaces in large numbers and refusing to go home was innovative and radical, but then those spaces were reclaimed by the establishment — with violence, or through legal machinations — essentially bringing the first phase in this new era of protest and activism to an end.

Anyone thinking that the Occupy movement has gone away, however, is missing the point. Just as the movement introduced a powerful new concept — the 99 percent versus the 1 percent — into political discourse, so the complaints that motivated people to occupy public spaces in the first place have not gone away.

Essentially, we live in a broken system, broken by criminals who have not been held responsible for their actions, criminals on Wall Street and in the City of London and Canary Wharf, motivated by greed on a colossal scale, who, aided and abetted by venal and/or stupid politicians, crashed the global economy in 2008 but then got away with it.

Saved by government bailouts, the criminals continue to live lives of almost unprecedented wealth and greed, while the rest of the people — the 99 percent — are being made to pay for the crimes of these thieves through savage austerity programs that are driven by malignant ideologies and are also, it should be noted, economically suicidal. Read the rest of this entry »

Disgusting! As Tories Lurch to the Right, Criminal Jeremy Hunt Takes Over Health

Please sign the campaigning group 38 Degrees’ open letter to Jeremy Hunt, warning him not to mess with the NHS.

Sometimes it’s almost unspeakably depressing to be living in England, in a dystopian fantasy that no one voted for, with a useless coalition government of the Tories and the Lib Dems that required Frankenstein-like engineering just to come into being.

Yesterday was one of those particularly depressing days, as David Cameron shuffled his cabinet and lurched even further to the right. Of course, there is desperation in the Prime Minister’s manoeuvring, and we should be thankful for that. Cameron has not got rid of George Osborne, of course, as he is the prime architect of the Tories’ economic policy, which involves allowing the rich to hoover up whatever they can, including that which has been secreted offshore, while obliging the rest of us to have to try and prise five pound notes out of Osborne’s hands, who it turns out, has the tenacity of a corpse with advanced rigor mortis. However, when 48 percent of voters recently gave Osborne a vote of no confidence, it was obviously significant. Cameron may be the whey-faced buffoon who can come up with an opinion at any time of the day or night, but Osborne is the whey-faced buffoon in charge of economic policy — Gordon Brown to Cameron’s Tony Blair, if you will.

48 percent of voters recognised the toxicity of Osborne, thereby providing a stunning vote of no confidence in the government, but he remained in place in the reshuffle while other buffoons got shifted around or axed. Andrew Lansley, who trailed the Chancellor with a 37 percent disapproval rating in the Guardian/ICM poll on August 28, was shifted out of health, to be replaced by Jeremy Hunt, who had a 24 percent disapproval rating as culture secretary. Michael Gove (on 36%) keeps his job as the butcher of education, Kenneth Clarke (on 28%) was replaced at justice by the incompetent employment minister Chris Grayling, and William Hague (on 21%) kept his job as foreign secretary. Read the rest of this entry »

Photos of the Paralympics Demonstration Against Atos Healthcare in London

RIP Cecilia BurnsThe mark of a civilised society is how it treats its most vulnerable membersStudents against AtosAtos: bloody contract killersCounter Olympics NetworkNobody likes hurdles as much as Atos
How many paupers' funerals per Atos 2012 Paralympics gold medal?David Cameron's Boris bumThe protest against Atos HealthcareAtos Out!

The Paralympics Demonstration Against Atos Healthcare in London, a set on Flickr.

Yesterday, Friday August 31, was the last day of the Atos Games, a week of events organised by Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC) and UK Uncut against the jaw-dropping hypocrisy involved in Atos Healthcare, the French IT giant, being allowed to sponsor the Paralympic Games, while the company is also in charge of running the government’s Work Capability Assessments, a review process that is designed to find disabled people fit for work.

As a result, huge numbers of disabled people, who are not fit for work by any genuinely objective measure, are being driven into poverty — a wretched and cruel policy for a government that claims to have Christian values — and the results are leading directly to suicides, or other deaths through the stress involved. Undeterred, however, the government recently renewed Atos’ contract, to the tune of £400 million, and ministers are permanently involved in ignoring the inconvenient truth 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. Read the rest of this entry »

Photos of the Olympics: In Search of the Paralympic Torch

Tower Bridge from Butler's WharfCanary Wharf from RotherhitheThe Shard, viewed from beside City HallHay's GalleriaRick Rodgers, Paralympic torch bearerOne of the Paralympic Games' corporate sponsors
Light the wayThe Paralympic torch relay, WestminsterThe Paralympic torch on the move in Westminster

The Olympics: In Search of the Paralympic Torch, a set on Flickr.

With the main Olympic Games now a memory, the focus, for the next 11 days, is on the Paralympic Games, before Britain returns to the gloom of life under the crushing yoke of a myopic Tory-led government. While the Games were a great success, the emotional resonance of the Paralympic Games is much stronger, given the obstacles people have had to overcome to take part in the first place, and it is a tribute to the UK that the Paralympics began here in 1948. As Wikipedia explains:

The first organised athletic event for disabled athletes that coincided with the Olympic Games took place on the day of the opening of the 1948 Summer Olympics in London, United Kingdom. German born Dr. Ludwig Guttmann of Stoke Mandeville Hospital, who had been helped to flee Nazi Germany by the Council for Assisting Refugee Academics (CARA) in 1939, hosted a sports competition for British World War II veteran patients with spinal cord injuries. The first games were called the 1948 International Wheelchair Games, and were intended to coincide with the 1948 Olympics. Dr. Guttman’s aim was to create an elite sports competition for people with disabilities that would be equivalent to the Olympic Games. Read the rest of this entry »

Where is the Shame and Anger as the UK Government’s Unbridled Assault on the Disabled Continues?

What has happened to my country? I grew up in a Christian household — my father was Church of England, my mother Methodist — and both believed in Christian charity; in other words, the need for people of faith to look after those less fortunate than themselves. In the case of my Methodist heritage — as a working class religion, rather than the establishment C of E — this care for those in need was absolutely central to how the world was perceived, providing a social and political perspective as much as one based on religion.

Christians — and, of course, believers of other faiths — have their own share of hypocrites, and certainly do not have a monopoly on caring for the poor and the sick, as can be seen by the number of atheists with a well-developed social conscience, but in the Britain of today, driven by the Tory-led coalition government, concern for the poor and the ill appears to have become deeply unfashionable, leading to a callousness in society as a whole that has been encouraged by governments themselves (not just this shower of heartless Etonians), and by large parts of the media.

The defining characteristics of this cruel new world appear to be a preoccupation with selfishness and materialism, and, as part of a decline in empathy and the dissolving of the kind of political solidarity that was central to those opposing Margaret Thatcher in the 1980s, for example, a narrow and horribly misplaced focus for dissent — not on the bigger political picture, and on the corporate and banking elites getting way with financial murder, but on people’s neighbours, or those regarded as different, or inferior, or feral, or workshy scroungers. Read the rest of this entry »

Doctors Urge Government to Scrap Callous Disability Tests

Two weeks ago, doctors at the annual conference of the British Medical Association (BMA), which represents 141,000 doctors and trainee doctors in the UK, delivered a resounding rejection of the Work Capability Assessment (WCA), which is being used by the government to establish that people who have physical and/or mental health disabilities are fit for work.

The inflexible computer-based system, administered by ATOS Healthcare in sessions that last for just 20 to 30 minutes, has been repeatedly condemned by disability campaigners, and/or by those subjected to it, and at the BMA conference, as a press release noted, London GP Louise Irvine said the WCA system “was causing ‘distress’ to thousands of people with long-term health conditions deemed fit for work, as well as subjecting the doctors involved to ‘McDonaldisation’ of their careers.”

She added, “There is no empathy in the system, it is all accusatory.”

Although David Snashall, a London-based consultant in occupational medicine,  “urged the meeting not to call for the WCA to be replaced, arguing that there was a scrutiny process in place to improve the system,” the BMA supported a motion to demand that the WCA should be ended “with immediate effect and be replaced with a rigorous and safe system that does not cause unavoidable harm to some of the weakest and vulnerable in society.” Read the rest of this entry »

Video: Watch UK Uncut’s New Film, “The Missing Billions,” About Savage Austerity Cuts and Corporate Tax Avoidance

I hope you have 25 minutes to spare to watch a new film by UK Uncut, entitled, “The Missing Billions,” which I’ve posted below. Since emerging in October 2010, the UK Uncut campaigners have protested against tax avoidance in the UK and have worked to raise awareness about cuts to public services. They have also undertaken — and encouraged others to undertake, on a kind of free franchise basis — countless actions involving theatrical occupations of corporate outlets, and are now, as they put it, “extending their actions into the courts.” See here for their legal action page — and how to donate to support their legal cases.

This is an important documentary, and a perfect follow-up to my article yesterday, RIP Karen Sherlock, Another Victim of the Tories’ Brutal, Heartless Disability Reforms, in which I not only mourned the death of disability campaigner Karen Sherlock, who was herself severely disabled, but also reiterated my sustained attack on the government’s cruelty and incompetence, with particular reference to the government’s assault on education, on the NHS, and on the unemployed and disabled.

The film includes interviews with disabled people, with others opposing the artificial age of austerity imposed on us, and also with financial experts and lawyers explaining the colossal extent of tax avoidance, and how we do not need to accept that the cost of bailing out the banks who caused the global economic crash of 2008 is being paid for through cuts, when it should be tackled by clamping down on tax evasion and tax avoidance. Read the rest of this entry »

RIP Karen Sherlock, Another Victim of the Tories’ Brutal, Heartless Disability Reforms

Since coming to power in May 2010, through a Frankenstein’s Monster coalition with the Lib Dems, the Tories have embarked on the most sustained and unprecedented assault on the British state in history, and seem determined to turn back the clock to a time before notions of universal suffrage, of education and healthcare for all, and a welfare state that would look after the most vulnerable and unfortunate members of society took effect.

In this savage world, in which, for ideological reasons — and using the global economic crash of 2008 as an excuse for punishing those who had nothing to do with it, and allowing the rich crooks to escape scot-free — the Tories and their Lib Dem stooges have been pushing a criminally deceptive message: that everything that has not yet been privatised must be privatised, and that the state provision of services is unaffordable, and must must be brought to an end.

Amazingly, the government has largely been getting away with its lies, shielding irresponsible and almost unthinkably greedy bankers and corporate tax avoiders from scrutiny, and these 21st century neo-liberal butchers, whose policy decisions are all filtered through an un-Christian, cruel, myopic and destructive worldview, have even succeeded in making people believe that, although we, the taxpayers, pay over £500 billion to the government in tax and national insurance every year, we no longer have any right to demand that any of that money — any of it — is used for the state provision of services like health, education, or welfare. Read the rest of this entry »

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Andy Worthington

Investigative journalist, author, campaigner, commentator and public speaker. Recognized as an authority on Guantánamo and the “war on terror.” Co-founder, Close Guantánamo, co-director, We Stand With Shaker. Also, singer and songwriter (The Four Fathers) and photographer.
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