Six months in… disability

Chris Sherwood /   June 29, 2015 at 8:34 PM 1,469 views

It’s six months since we launched this version of Guerilla Policy. Here’s a selection of some of our favourite posts we’ve published in disability. Thanks to all those contributors we’ve published so far. Back in November, Jayne Linney wrote an open letter to Iain Duncan Smith: “On the Andrew Marr Show this morning you spoke of needing to protect Pensioners from Welfare Reform Cuts, which you justified by their lack scope and opportunity to earn and increase their Pensions. I agree with you on this point, however I fail to understand how when you offer empathy for their very situation, you refuse to apply the same to another group of people in often identical situations, Chronically Sick & Disabled people?” As Jayne explained: “I grew up in the 60′s & 70′s and was taught that you go to work and pay ‘your dues’, namely Tax and NI, you live within your means and try to save for a ‘rainy day; this is what I did for over 30 years. And then I became ill, very ill with something that left me so totally fatigue, my employers, my GP, 3 Consultants, Occupational Health & my family, all worked hard over 3 years to support me arrive at the inevitable conclusion; I had become Disabled through my ill health and could no longer work. That was 3 years ago and since then I have been forced to claim Employment & Support Allowance; and the changes and cuts you and your colleagues have made under the guise of Welfare Reform mean that I now struggle to survive.” Jayne later wrote about the experience of feeling “bullied” by the DWP, in her case receiving what seem like threatening letters to attend assessments: “I find myself feeling fortunate that despite suffering from severe depression, I have a great support mechanism in my family which enables me to talk, cry, rant and scream my way through to a position where I can analyse such letters. I am also very aware though that others don’t have access to this essential assistance. I think it’s clear that even the threat of loss of money. cannot force a very ill individual to attend and take part in anything. Personally, most days I cannot walk, or do even the most basic tasks for myself and the only possible outcome of sanctions would be I would incur further debt from the associated bank charges, failed direct debits, rent arrears and further ill health from the associated lack of nutrition.” Even when not personally affected by specific reforms, the general climate of fear and uncertainty has impacted on disabled people – something Jayne reflected on in another post, ‘The Depression Challenge’, in December. Also in December, Jane Young wrote about the loss of Motability vehicles and the ’20 metres eligibility rule’ (which subsequently gained a lot of attention and criticism over later weeks and months): “Hundreds of thousands of disabled people whose cars are vital to their life and health stand to lose virtually everything. No car = no independence, no job, no salary (with a consequent risk of homelessness), no social life plus increased dependence on family members, health and social care services and other benefits to survive. This begs the question: how does this cut help disabled people to fulfill the social contract of being part of society and contributing by work, volunteering or being part of their community?” Jane also explained in another post how the closure of the Independent Living Fund (ILF), the scrapping of the Severe Disability Premium under Universal Credit, and the pressures on increasingly under-funded and over-stretched local authority adult social care services amounted to an assault on the independence of disabled people: “Without greater aspiration on the part of local authorities and increased resources, the closure of the ILF will almost certainly prevent those with the highest support needs from participating in the way they have been able to until now. For disabled people who have ‘done the right thing’, making the most of their abilities, being economically productive and playing their part in society, this will be a cruel blow. The big question for me is, even in these difficult times, can the Coalition rise to this vital challenge, or will the life chances of disabled people be destroyed for a generation?” Extending this point, Pseudo Deviant later examined the impact that PIP would have on local authority-funded social care: “Realistically, without getting extra funding from central government to make up the deficit, councils will have to respond by raising the bar regarding eligibility criteria. This will make it far harder for many disabled people to access much needed care. Without access to social care disabled peoples independence is sorely curtailed. For many of us social care means we can go to work, take part in everyday activities and live in our own homes. Taking that away will be devastating to the lives of many.” In January, Sue Marsh issued an ‘#esaSOS’ about changes to the Work Capability Assessment (WCA), the flawed ‘fitness to work’ test which assesses whether sick and disabled people can get Employment and Support Allowance (ESA). As Sue noted: “Although these changes have been advertised as small ‘amendments’, they will in fact have a huge impact on the way people’s illnesses and disabilities are assessed. Many vulnerable people’s needs will suddenly be able to be overlooked or ignored, meaning they could end up losing the support they desperately need to manage their conditions.” We subsequently reflected on how the grassroots campaigns against the WCA changes represented an example of guerilla policy in action. Many speakers in the Parliamentary debate on the reforms were heavily informed by groups such as Spartacus, the grassroots movement of disabled people whose work is based on real life experience, in reaction against a political class that mostly isn’t listening. In February, Jane Young posted about some of the victories won as a result of the campaign against the Personal Independence Payment (PIP) regulations, but also the battles still to fight: “We’re still faced with criteria that mean someone who can walk reliably, repeatedly, safely and in a timely manner for more than the ludicrously short distance of 20 metres could lose their entitlement to the enhanced mobility component of PIP and hence the Motability scheme (or, of course, the resources to fund an alternative means of independent mobility). Since most wheelchair users can walk, if not very far, this means that disabled people could lose adapted cars and expensive, complex wheelchair conversions. That includes me… not only to me, but to many thousands of others who have significant difficulties getting around. …our barrister is advising that the lack of consultation on the 20 metres may be challenged in the courts. …We’ve won some important battles but we’ve not yet won the war. It will be unacceptable for several hundred thousand disabled people to be unable to leave their homes, visit their GP surgery or the hospital, visit friends, take their kids to school, participate in voluntary work or be reliant on the Access to Work scheme to get to work. Independent mobility matters to all of us, including disabled people, so we keep fighting.” Campaigners including Jane later succeeded in ensuring that PIP will face a legal challenge in the form of a judicial review. In ‘Imaginary wheelchairs & other ESA changes’ posted in January, Pseudo Deviant made the important point that the reforms ignore the intersections between physical and mental health: “This is a massive issue as many conditions have both mental/cognitive and physical components. It’s also problematic because many physical health problems exacerbate mental health conditions and vice-a-versa.” As Jayne Linney also later blogged, in response to the so-called ‘expert opinion’ regularly trotted out in hostile and uninformed parts of the mainstream media, “If we as those living with ill health don’t know where one problems starts and another one ends just how can ATOS assessors or DWP decision makers?” In April, Tanya Marlow powerfully summed-up the personal impact of the reforms – and why the Government is failing the disabled but also the taxpayer: “It will mean a continual fear of not knowing whether you will get your money. It will mean that the most vulnerable in our society will feel sick to their stomach every time that brown envelope comes in. It will mean a cut of £2bn on disability allowance, but an increase of almost £1bn to pay Atos to administrate these changes. It will mean 500,000 disabled people losing all of their benefit, just so that the government could say they were targeting scroungers and could then afford to give a tax cut to the richest in society. This is what the changes will mean. Just so we’re clear.” Similarly, on Good Friday, just before many of the welfare reforms came into force, Scriptonite Daily urged readers to take action to challenge the ‘beginning of the end for UK poor’: “It is time to get on the right side of history. There will be reasons getting in the way of you attending this weekend’s mass protests against the Bedroom Tax and other cuts. You might have had a long week, fancy a haircut, or maybe just not feel like it. Sorry, but this just isn’t good enough. If you consider yourself opposed to these cuts, it is not enough to bemoan them over a glass of red wine. You must get involved, people are relying on you. Yes you, reading this right now. When future generations ask you where you were when this cruelty was exercised, when they ask you what you did to stop it…what are you going to say?” For Kitty S Jones, recounting her discussion with Anne McGuire, Shadow Minister for disabled people, the campaign against the Government’s reforms also represents a much wider struggle for justice and democracy: “We need to learn how to be responsible citizens and participate in how our Country is governed. And we must. We do have a choice: we can each contribute something, when we are able, and in our own way, to raise public awareness and demand positive change. Governments must reflect and serve the needs and interests of the whole population, and not just an elite. It’s our duty and responsibility to make sure that they do.” Let us know which other bloggers on disability we should be posting. Get in touch with us at: [email protected]

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