Thursday, 26 January 2012

Is the coalition government enabling or isolating disabled people?

Switch: Enable or Isolate

Photograph taken close up to a switch on a train. The switch is labelled "Enable" at the top, and "Isolate" at the bottom. Out of focus in the background is a wheelchair user symbol on the wall.

The Welfare Reform Bill is currently being pushed through Parliament, despite strong opposition from the people it will directly affect, and from the House of Lords, medical professionals, social workers, allied health professionals, homelessness charities, disabled people's organisations etc.

It is being pushed through because the UK government doesn't seem to care about improving the equality of sick, disabled, and disadvantaged people.

It is based on flawed research, misappropriated academic models, misapplied and cherry-picked data, and the advice of a large health insurance company who have already been discredited in the US for similar behaviour.

You can help stop these changes from happening.

Sign Pat's Petition:

Write to your MP to voice your concerns about the changes.

Go here for advice on letter writing and more discussion and evidence for what will happen if the WRB carries on being pushed through.

Wednesday, 25 January 2012

An unemployment solution

I really feel sorry for people that lose their jobs. No, I really do. And I have an idea about how to make life a bit easier during that tough transition from economic activity to worklessness.

Firstly, the benefits system is a great safety net, but it's clearly not working because too many people fall through it. It's also expensive and inefficient. Think of the administrative costs of maintaining all those workless people in separate boroughs, towns, and cities. The system also fails as many people can't afford to pay their rent, if they're in rented accommodation, risking forced eviction.

Rather than risk people become homeless during this traumatic, confusing period of their lives, people can be supported into community accommodation units, where they can be part of a supportive community of others in the same situation.

The state will benefit too, as this centralises paperwork, and means it can benefit from economies of scale - buying food and goods in bulk, and distributing these amongst the residents to ensure all have access to a good, wholesome, basic nutritionally complete diet.

This is far more effective than expecting people to buy their own food and supplies, when they may make poor choices or be unable to partake in good value bulk bought discount goods. It brings good value for the country, and ensures nutrition for all.

Community Accommodation Units can also be linked in with local Jobcentres efficiently, with Jobpoints, and Advisers available to support the workless in their Jobsearch. Those that have inadequate work experience can take part in courses to improve their skills, or work experience schemes to help develop their employability.

The Workless would be expected to administer these schemes themselves, overseen by a trained member of staff, which both keeps costs for the country down, and improves the skills of these poor, unfortunate people.

Children can be looked after for parents in creches run outside of school hours. The negative influence of being raised in a Workless household can be mitigated by the influence of positive adult role models working in these creches.

Community Accommodation Units would need to be homely. They aren't to be seen as a punishment, but as a supportive environment to help the Workless become a productive part of society once again. Again, economy of scale means costs of beds, bedlinen, basic furnishings could be acquired at reasonable rates. Sponsorship from the private sector could be sought. However, they are also not to become luxurious - we don't want to encourage Worklessness in the population.

All in all, this really seems to me to be the kindest, best value option for the country. It really needs a catchy name. Community Accommodation Unit is a little clinical.

I know, why don't we call them "Workhouses."

(EDITED TO ADD: I feel the need to point out this is not a serious suggestion.)

Monday, 23 January 2012

Maria Miller disputes Spartacus Report

Maria Miller responded to a question put to the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions:

"I am aware of the publication of this report. I believe that the report seriously misrepresents the way the Department has carried out consultation and design of necessary reforms to disability living allowance. In particular the report fails to acknowledge the extensive work that the Department has done since the formal consultation on DLA reform ended nearly a year ago. We have also had ongoing meetings with disabled people and representative organisations and have just commenced a further, formal consultation of 15 weeks on revised assessment criteria as a result of the earlier informal consultation." (From Hansard )

However, despite claims of "ongoing meetings with disabled people and representative organisations" most disability organisations don't think the reforms are going to improve the lives of disabled people. Either Miller isn't listening to those people and organisations, or she's lying about the ongoing meetings.

Does anyone know which organisations Miller is talking about when she says she's having ongoing meetings with representative organisations?

And if you've read this, and think welfare reform isn't taking disabled people into account, please sign and share Pat's Petition:

It's not asking for no reform, simply for that reform to be done fairly and on an evidence-backed basis.

Saturday, 21 January 2012

reply from Maria Miller, 18/01/2011

I wrote again to my MP about the DLA reform consultation document.

Dear Heidi,

Thank you for your further letter of 22/12/10 on behalf of Mr Misplaced Marbles about the Disability Living Allowance reform consultation document.

The purpose of the new assessment is to allow us to more accurately, objectively and consistently assess individuals who will benefit most from additional support. The Department remains committed to the social model of disability and it is not our intention that the new assessment will be based purely on the medical model of disability and focused solely on an individual's impairment. It is likely to focus on individuals' ability to carry out key activities necessary for leading full and active independent lives.

As I have said, we are currently in the process of developing the detail of the new assessment with the help of a group of independent specialists. While I therefore cannot give details at this time of how the assessment will affect Mr Misplaced Marbles, I can assure you that it will not only take into account physical impairments, but also mental, intellectual and cognitive ones.

I was pleased to read that Disability Living Allowance enables Mr Misplaced Marbles to work. Currently the employment rate of Disability Living Allowance recipients is very low, I hope that our reform of Disability Living Allowance, alongside other current benefit reforms such as the Universal Credit and new Work Programme will enable many other disabled people to work and enjoy all the advantages that an active working life can bring.

I appreciate that there are many reasons why the number of people claiming Disability Living Allowance is increasing, but we need to get expenditure on a sustainable footing. Over the last decade spending on Disability Living Allowance has risen dramatically. In just eight years the numbers claiming Disability Living Allowance has risen from around 2.5 million to nearly 3.2 million - an increase of 30 per cent. The inherited fiscal legacy has forced the Government to make some tough decisions about how we target resources - the Budget defect is costing this country £43 Billion a year in interest payments alone. The Government has tried to make fair choices and to protect those who are most in need.

I hope Mr Misplaced Marbles will find this reply useful and that he will send in any further views as an official response to the public consultation.

I hope this reply explains the situation

Best wishes

Maria Miller

Letter from Maria Miller, 22/10/2010

I asked my MP (at the time, Heidi Alexander) to contact Maria Miller about the impact of the Comprehensive Spending Review on disabled people, and the Early Day Motion 706 - Spending cuts and disabled people.

Maria Miller's reply was:


Dear Heidi,

Thank you for your letter of 23 September to the Secretary of State on behalf of Mr Misplaced Marbles regarding the impact of the Comprehensive Spending Review on disabled people, and their support for EDM 706 - Spending cuts and disabled people. I have been asked to reply as the Minister for Disabled People.

This Government's approach is based on the key principles of fairness and ensuring disabled people have the same opportunities as everyone else in society. This is an essential component of social justice that is at the heart of this Department's agenda.

We are very aware that disabled people use a wide range of mainstream public services designed and delivered across central and local government. It is therefore key to engage with disabled people, who can tell us about the overall effect of public policy and services on their lives. We know that increasing choice and control over the services disabled people use is important, and we will bear that in mind as we develop our strategy and policy.

In particular, the Department's policies and services have a major impact on the lives of disabled people. We want to ensure that everyone who wants to work gets the support that they need. We want to break down barriers that make it difficult for disabled people to find work, access goods and services or participate fully in community life.

We want the benefit system to provide robust and credible support to those who face the greatest barriers and cost. We are currently reviewing the best way to support disabled people to enter into and remain in employment.

In relation to the Spending Review, work is under way to develop equality impact assessments as part of the development of options and these will be made public in due course.

The Department of Work and Pensions undertakes an equality impact assessment on any changes to departmental policies and practices and to that end, it has a well established set of processes to help policy makers develop equality impact assessments based on a strong evidence base. This includes guidance on taking information gathered from consultation and involvement with disabled people into account.

I do hope that Mr (addressed this to someone else's name here!) will find this reply helpful.

Best wishes

Maria Miller

Thursday, 12 January 2012

Asking my MP to ask the Minister for Disabled People two questions

With the very timely and helpful checking and editing of @Ti_theleis, @narco_sam, and @allbigideas from the Twitters.

Dear Ms Ruddock,

I am extremely alarmed about by the government's stated intentions of pushing the Welfare Reform Bill through with complete disregard for the evidence which shows that it will be to the severe detriment to the "most vulnerable" people they purport to care about. Again I apologise for emailing you so frequently - if you have a method of contact you would find more convenient, please let me know.

Given that the Responsible Reform report proves that the Minister for Disabled People has completely overridden disabled people's voices on DLA reform, and used misleading figures in Parliament to gain support for the reform. (See point 6 in Responsible Reform), there are two questions to which I think we are entitled to know the answers:

1) Did Maria Miller knowingly choose to use inappropriate and misleading statistics to support the plans for DLA reform, even though this is a breach of Ministerial Code?

I am asking this based on the following statement made by Maria Miller:

"The importance of personal independence payment means that spending must remain sustainable for the future. Currently 3.2 million people receive DLA, an increase of around 30% in the past eight years. The announced budget for working-age spend by 2015-16 will bring that expenditure back to 2009-10 levels." (Taken from Hansard, She uses the same figure on the 28th of March, and the 23rd of March, too)

This 30% figure refers to the entire adult DLA caseload, which includes people over retirement age, but PIP is not going to include people over retirement age, meaning this is an inappropriately high figure to use. Maria Miller should have been aware that this was an inappropriate statistic given that she is the Minister for Disabled People, and as stated in point 6 of the Executive Summary from the Responsible Reform report:

" 6. We find that the evidence does not support a 30% rise in DLA claims relevant to PIP as claimed by the Government
throughout their consultation and Impact Assessments. The figure is actually 13%. These figures were not
made clear to parliamentarians as they debated the bill, despite a Government report being signed off in May
2010. Government are still using the 30% figure despite admitting that it gives a “distorted view” " ( )

My second question is also to the Minister for Disabled People:

2) When you state that DLA isn't reaching the "most vulnerable" in society, and that you want to protect the "most vulnerable", could you please define whom you mean by "most vulnerable?"

My reason for asking this is that "most vulnerable" is a relative term, and I know people with complex and profound impairments who, having looked at (or having carers look at) the proposals for PIP are concerned that they are not covered by this vague (and I suspect speciously employed) statement "most vulnerable". Given the aim is to reduce the DLA caseload costs by 20%, and fraud rates for DLA are 0.5%, it is clear to me that people that who are disabled and do need support will lose that support.

Yours sincerely,


My address

Banging on about benefits

I keep banging on about benefits. I'm not on benefits. I work part time, and I no longer qualify for DLA support. I am a "hard working taxpayer" I don't get Working Tax Credits, I don't need Housing Benefit, I don't have kids so I don't need Child Maintenance.

So why do I bang on about benefits if I'm not on them? Well, I think as a country we have a duty to support people that need support. I pay my taxes in part to a system that is there to help people feed and clothe and house themselves if they can't afford to do so. If people are ill or disabled and need help to live a decent life, I am glad that my taxes help provide that.

The Tory / LibDem government are now making it very, very clear that their attacks on the benefits system are nothing but an ideological desire to see fewer people getting help. They don't care about the number of people that actually need help, they just want to give it to as few people as they can get away with.

There is evidence to show that tax fraud costs this country in the region of 15 times as much as benefit fraud. ( ) and yet it is benefit fraud that repeatedly makes newspaper headlines, TV programmes (the BBC produced a whole series called "Saints and Scroungers"), and public perception is, unsurprisingly given the unbalanced coverage it gets, that a far higher percentage of people claiming benefits are fraudulent than is the case.
Would you believe that the public thought 50 to 70 percent of benefit claims were fraudulent?! Actually, it's closer to 0.5 percent. ( )

So Disability Living Allowance is going to be reformed, and the government want to reduce its cost by 20%. Given fraudulent claims for DLA account for less than half a percent of claimants, that means not removing money from people that don't need, it means cutting support from up to a fifth of people that are disabled and do need support.

What can we do about this?

I have been emailing Lords, and my MP to encourage them to stand up for disabled people, and to not allow the Welfare Reform Bill to continue as it is.

We have been tweeting about what's going on. Using the hashtags #wrb #DLA and #spartacusreport . I also use #fuckyoutorybastards where I feel it's appropriate. It helps my mental health, and that's an important thing to look after!

The Responsible Reform report is an amazing report looking at the way the DLA reform is being carried out, and proves the government have not listened to disabled people when they've said they have, have lied to parliament, and haven't carried out their consultation in a way they meets their own rules. Read this, share this.

Sign Pat's Petition:

And hope.