Spartacus Stories

Here is a collection of Stories written by many different disabled people about the impact that DLA has on their lives. It also includes stories of fear about the proposed changes to personal independence payment.

Admin: benefitscroungingscum, Lucia and Lucy
to add your story email us at spartacusstories @ g mail . com (without the spaces) (your posts are there, just being scheduled throughout the day) (can you add how you want your 'name' to appear ta)

Monday, 16 January 2012

Welfare Cuts and The Callous Coalition #spartacusstories #spartacusreport #ombh

Welfare Cuts and the Callous Coalition
By Anton Tadeusiak

Rose Day is a mother of a highly active autistic child and officially suffers from fibromyalgia, a medical disorder distinguishable by chronic widespread pain. Her GP thinks she may actually have Lupus, meaning her condition is deteriorating, but he is not sure. A former bodybuilder, Rose is now housebound and restricted to working as an artist from her bed. Due to her ill-health, she receives a number of benefits, including Disability Living Allowance and Incapacity Benefit, which total just short of £10,000. Most of this goes towards providing enough care for her son and though eligible for more, she faces the prospect of losing all her benefits if she enquires about them. Rose is also one of the many thousands who will now be subject to the government’s assessments to find out whether she truly needs her benefits.

The Condem coalition has made the decision to cut the welfare budget by £18 million to reduce the deficit and get rid of what it describes as ‘a dependency culture’. It plans to do this by retesting all DLA and IB recipients and eventually replace the benefits with a Personal Independence Payment and Employment and Support Allowance. If enforced, this would mean that many will have to face much stricter criteria there by missing out on appropriate support.

The Working Capability Assessments which recipients have to undergo have been heavily condemned by benefit claimants, charitable organisations and the Citizens Advice Bureau (a service which offers free public advice). The company at the centre of the storm is Atos Healthcare, whose parent company Atos Origin is a French owned multinational which specialises in IT services. In 2005, Atos were granted a seven-year contract worth £500million in return for providing medical advice and assessments for numerous benefits. In the first half of 2010, the multinational tripled its revenue and recorded a €60million profit.

There are serious allegations that Atos have been employing doctors for whom English is not their first language, who are semi-retired, who do not have sufficient qualifications and are very ill-mannered. Claimants have accused Atos of providing unsuitable waiting facilities, of having appalling response times and its staff of keeping them under constant surveillance; all of which have caused unnecessary distress and left some people without any income at all.

Indeed, according to one anonymous doctor, who assessed Incapacity Benefit claims for Atos, there is very much a culture of keeping down the number of claimants:

“Medical management pointed out that the figure for the number of people getting through, that is being told you’re not fit for work, was on the high side and the national average should be this particular figure.”

Moreover, by paying £60,000 salaries only to those doctors who are exempt from General Medical Council conditions, there is strong evidence to suggest that Atos are also discriminating against disabled doctors.
Both Atos Healthcare and the Department for Work and Pensions were asked to respond to these accusations, but neither one were willing to comment.

The CAB published a document in May 2010 denouncing the assessments as ‘unfit for purpose’. It concluded that 68% of claimants were wrongly being to be able to work  including clients ‘including clients with Parkinson’s Disease, Multiple Sclerosis, terminal cancer, Bi-Polar disorder, heart failure, strokes, and agoraphobia.’ This is despite claimants providing the assessors with evidence from their GPs stating otherwise. The report also found that, ‘Around 1 in 4 fit for work assessments reach a tribunal, with 39% of these appeals being won by the claimant. Where a bureau represents a client, 70% of appeals are won by claimants.’
Citizens Advice Scotland also issued a ‘Nightmare Dossier’ to all Scottish MPs on the 27th October 2010 emphasising how ‘deeply flawed’ the new Employment and Support Allowance is. Susan McPhee, CAS acting chief executive, said: “We said last year that ESA was unfit for purpose and we see no reason to change that view…We need to protect people in times of suffering, not cause them further hardship.” Responding, the DWP stated, “It cannot be right to leave people trapped on benefits. That’s why we will assess everyone on incapacity benefit to see whether they could get back into work.”

Conversely, Atos is not a stranger to controversy. In April 2007, the NHS had to suspend services throughout the North-West due to technical and administrative errors by Atos. This resulted in their contract being suspended and up to 900 patients having to be recalled for a second round of medical scans. In April 2009, Atos Origin was hit with an £8.6million compensation claim by De Beers after the diamond company ‘became concerned about progress and slippages in the timetable for delivery of [IT] software.’

Unsurprisingly, many disabled people believe they are deliberately being ostracised by both government and corporate media alike. The prevailing narrative, which depicts claimants as ‘scroungers’ and unemployment as a ‘sin’ and a ‘lifestyle choice’, has had a significant impact on sick and disabled people, leading to both abuse in public and at work.

Peter Austin suffers from Ankylosing Spondylitis, a chronic and painful degenerative disease of the spine, and Osteopena, a precursor to brittle bone disease. He says that people who abuse the benefit system are not typical of the average benefit claimant:

“I get annoyed being classed as a ‘scrounger’, as I worked until I could work no more and I didn’t choose to be afflicted with a painful incurable disease.”

“It’s ridiculous to call unemployment a sin, especially these days with jobs so few and far between.”

“I have suffered discrimination. I often get asked how much I get in benefits by people who I don’t even know and get told ‘surely there’s something you could do for a job’ or comments such as ‘fucking mobility scooters should be banned.’”

Kaliya Franklin, a disability activist for The Broken Of Britain, says that such prejudice is commonplace, “Even the NHS one of largest employers in the public sector feels able to openly discriminate; it’s not really surprising that 60% of disabled people who would like to work are unemployed.”

“I think most non-disabled people think that disabled people live in nice little bungalows and we get our mobility scooter and pocket money, but that just isn’t true.”

“The first rule of being disabled is that you have to fight for everything and when that fight is for something as intimate as your personal care needs dignity goes out the window.”

Robert Williams-Findlay, member of Disable of People against the Cuts, believes that the fear of “public abuse” isn’t disabled people’s main concern, “Abuse by national and local Government, [being] forced to live on charity or accept ‘slave labour’ is more commonly expressed. Many equate what is happening to the Nazi’s T4 programme; people are living in terror.”

Franklin is not surprised by these sentiments:

“It sounds very dramatic until you start looking at the details. The propaganda that the Nazis used was all about showing the German people how much the disabled people cost them in taxes and labelling them as burdens to the state.”

“They called it ‘workfare’ which is the same unfortunate choice of name that Iain Duncan Smith has chosen for this. We have seen a propaganda war against disabled people in the media, benefit claimants are constantly demonised without sufficient balance.”

There are an estimated 11 million disabled people in the UK, of which only 2.9million are recipients of Disability Living Allowance. According to the DWP’s report on ‘Fraud and error in the benefits system’ for 2008-2009, DLA is the benefit which has the lowest fraud rate at just 0.5% or £50million. That is approximately 14,500 fraudulent claims out of an overall 2.9million. However, government are hoping to reduce that number of claimants by 500,000. Even if that figure is an extremely conservative estimate it still falls far short of the coalition’s target of half a million.

During a discussion about the impact of October’s Comprehensive Spending Review, Miller blamed the proliferation of harmful stereotypes on the media. She said that they had "not [been] particularly helpful suggest[ing] that the government is putting forward that view" and that charities were in a "unique and powerful position" to provide "factual information" on welfare reform to counter the "distort[ion]" by the media.

Many have been quick to point out that not only is the government’s claim that £5 billion is lost annually from benefit fraud actually false, but also that many more billions in taxation is not being collected.

During the Spending Review, George Osbourne said:

“We estimate that £5 billion a year is being lost in this way - £5billion that others have to work long hours to pay in their taxes. This week we published our plans to step up the fight to catch benefit cheats and deploy uncompromising penalties when they are caught.”

In response, the Methodist Church, the Baptist Union of Great Britain and the United Reformed Church issued a joint letter to the Chancellor in which they used the government’s own statistics to argue that the government was being disingenuous. The DWP report entitled ‘Tackling fraud and error in the benefit and tax credits systems’ states that tax credit fraud is estimated at £0.6billion and benefit fraud is estimated at £1billion, together totalling £1.6billion; the remaining £2.2billion is due to errors made by officials or benefit recipients. Osbourne also said that there was only £7billion in missing tax revenues, but the HM Revenue and Customs discount this. According to them £42billion is unaccounted for; the biggest shortfall being in VAT, where 16%, or £15.2billion of all the potential tax has not been collected.

 Some opponents of the welfare cuts have brought up the coalition’s responsibility under international law. The UK been a signatory of and thus legally bound by both the UN Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities and its Optional Protocol since 2009. Written into the Convention is article 8. According to which, state parties must ‘undertake to adopt immediate effective and appropriate measures’ which ‘combat stereotypes, prejudices and harmful practices relating to persons with disabilities, including those based on sex and age, in all areas of life’. Another article, article 20, says that state parties shall ‘facilitate the personal mobility of persons with disabilities in the manner and at the time of their choice, and at affordable cost.’ It is arguable whether the government are contravening the convention, but since no one has yet taken the case to the UN Disability Committee, one can only cautiously speculate.

The controversial assessments have since been independently reviewed by Professor Harrington who concluded that it was ‘impersonal, mechanistic and lacked empathy’ and that ‘a lack of procedural justice can lead people to feel embittered and for some this can lead to psychological distress with affects on physical and mental health.’

The government have said that it would adopt Harrington’s recommendations, one of which is to look into the possibility of allowing claimants to record assessments with audio tapes. However, The Broken Of Britain have identified that the coalition are still pressing ahead with plans (drawn up by the New Labour) to assess claimants who have difficulty walking by using imaginary wheelchairs and to remove nearly half of the 41 mental health descriptors for which claimants can score points.

 Originally posted as part of the One Month Before Heartbreak Campaign Jan, 2011

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