Woman sanctioned after miscarriage was left in poverty and suicidal

A woman was left with just £24 each week of her social security to live on after suffering a miscarriage and being sanctioned. She has told the Daily Record how she considered suicide after being left with barely anything to buy food and pay bills.

Lyndsey Turnbull told of her ordeal as the Scottish Government formally launched their new welfare-to-work programmes.

Lyndsey from Midlothian, said: “I wanted to get into work but the whole thing seemed geared up to punish those who wanted to get off benefits.”

She was on approximately £140 a fortnight Employment and Support Allowance when she missed an appointment after having a miscarriage around nine weeks into a pregnancy.

She said: “I was in a bad place and couldn’t talk to anyone about it.”

Lyndsey was sanctioned because was too distressed to disclose the reason for missing the appointment, which is absolutely understandable. However, the punitive sanctions framework does not accommodate people’s circumstances and situations when they may be very vulnerable.

Having to face a stern and unsupportive bureaucrat, whose role is to discipline and punish people who cannot comply with rigid welfare conditionality, to discuss deeply personal and distressing circumstances – and such a traumatic event as miscarriage – is the very last thing anyone needs.

She added: “I went down to £24. I had no food, nothing to pay bills. It was awful.

“I really thought suicide might be the only option – and I wondered how many people would be just like me.”

Fortunately, Lyndsey eventually found someone to talk to at welfare service group Working Links, who helped her to get a second sanction reduced.

She later found a job at a petrol station and she said the new system’s voluntary focus will make it easier for people to get off benefits.

Lyndsey courageously contributed to a group meeting with Scottish National Party (SNP) Employability Minister Jamie Hepburn, to explain the problems she faced with the UK Department for Work and Pension sanctions regime.

Holyrood has no control over major benefits policy. However the new Scottish programmes will be voluntary – with no financial penalties attached – in a bid to get better results.

In other words, they will be genuinely supportive, rather than punitive and mandatory.

Around 4,800 people with disabilities and health conditions will get some help into work, the Daily Record reports.

Employment support is one of the first powers devolved through the Scotland Act 2016, made possible by the Vow of more powers before the independence vote.

Work First Scotland will help 3300 disabled people while Work Able Scotland will focus on 1500 people with long-term health conditions.

The Record revealed last year that the SNP would block any bid by Westminster to impose a sanctions system on the new programmes.

images

Batul Hassan, 49, who also met Hepburn yesterday, was made redundant after 11 years at a local authority and was helped into work by Remploy.

She has dyslexia, dyspraxia and hearing problems and said her previous employer struggled to understand her needs.

Batul, from Edinburgh, added: “The new system has the potential to be a good thing.

“Two contracts mean people can move at the right pace, not lumped together.”

Hepburn said: “The devolved services will have fairness, dignity and respect at their core.

“We believe people will see them as an opportunity to gain new skills through supportive training and coaching.”

The Conservatives have clearly changed the meaning of words such as “fairness”, “support” and “respect”, in order to persuade the public that their punitive policies are somehow acceptable, and to deny the negative consequences they have on people who need the most support.

They are not acceptable.

 

Terminally ill woman lost her ESA, home and all her belongings after being told she was fit for work

Claire Hardwicke

Claire Hardwicke has stage four thyroid cancer. This means that it has spread to other parts of her body, and sadly, Claire was told that her cancer is terminal. She also has chronic osteoarthritis. Despite taking 80mg of morphine a day to cope, she still experiences considerable pain.

Additionally, Claire already had a life-threatening, acute allergy to latex. This means that she has to carry an EpiPen at all times, which is an epinephrine (adrenaline) injection to treat life-threatening anaphylaxis. Developing a severe allergy to latex unfortunately meant that Claire could no longer continue working as a mental health nurse.

Claire first became ill 9 years ago with uterine/ovarian cancer, but it was the allergy that made her unemployable and ended her career as a mental-health nurse, her partner, Alan King, told me

Claire’s first bout of cancer was treated and she made a recovery, which lasted only 7 years. Sadly, the diagnosis of her more recent thyroid cancer and metastases wasn’t diagnosed until it was incurable. The tumours had spread throughout her thyroid gland, neck, lymph system and adrenal glands.

All Claire can hope for now is palliative care, which is alleviatory only, as a cure isn’t possible.

Unbelievably, Claire was assessed as “fit for work” by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) last year. Her Employment and Support Allowance was stopped. All of her financial support ended. This was despite being told by the Capita assessor (for Personal Independence Payments) that the report to the DWP would state that Claire was in need of more support, not less.

Overnight the couple lost every bit of financial support they had previously been entitled to, so Alan decided to use what little financial resources he had left to help Claire to fulfill some of  her”Bucket List.”

The couple were forced to say goodbye to their rented bungalow and 99% of their possessions because their housing benefit was stopped. They had no income, as Claire’s Disability Living Allowance (DLA) and Employment Support Allowance (ESA) was stopped, and the Carer’s Allowance also ended.

Claire explained to me that when she lost her lifeline support, the wait for appeal hearings was over 18 months. The couple couldn’t afford to wait that long, as they had no income. They also didn’t know if Claire would survive the wait.

Claire and Alan went to visit family members around the UK before setting off, in October 2016, on a Mediterranean cruise for a month, which Alan paid for, using his credit cards. They already owed a lot of money on their credit cards, but with no income at all, the couple were facing destitution.  The incredible distress the couple suffered took its toll on Claire’s already poor health, too.

On the return journey, both of them realised that coming all the way back to the UK – where they were homeless, with no income, and they no longer even qualified for free prescriptions – would be pointless. So the couple left the cruise when they got to Portugal, where it’s significantly warmer than the UK (and therefore less painful for Claire) – and they’ve been there ever since, living in a very basic, rented room.

Alan told me: “Claire’s cancer hasn’t claimed her life as quickly as we both had imagined, (which is good), but with medications, food and board, we’re now out of funds and out of options unless we can somehow fundraise for some subsistence.”

The couple have paid money in advance for their single room in Portugal, which covers rent until 14th March, after which time they will have absolutely nowhere to go.

Claire says: “There are new trial therapies for extreme cases of thyroid cancer like mine.

 I wish I had a pot of gold to pay for the experimental cancer therapy.
I don’t want to die, but choices and chances aren’t given to the poor people. We need a miracle, a winning lotto ticket. There should be equal opportunities for all patients.”

The treatment would possibly extend Claire’s life and improve the quality of the time she has left. She says: “I could have a chance of a longer, fuller life…. but I don’t have that option open to me….”

Tiffany Williams, a friend of Claire’s in the UK, has set up a crowdfunding page on JustGiving to raise £800 to help pay for her treatment. So far, 53% of the sum has been raised.

It’s such a modest amount for a treatment that will make a huge difference to Claire and Alan, who have lost their home and everything else they had in the UK. Now they are at risk of losing their room in Portugal, too.

You can make a donation at:  https://www.justgiving.com/crowdfunding/tiffany-williams

Update

Claire informs me that the gofundme collection has now closed. But for those wishing to help in some way, there is a beautiful painting of Claire by Jason Pearce, which is up for auction with funds going to her medical fees.  

She says many thanks. 

Jason Pearce is an administrator for a very popular political group, and like me, he was originally contacted and asked if a member (Alan) could post a gofundme page to raise money for treatment costs to the group, as his wife, Claire, is seriously ill. Jason agreed, and offered to help. As Jason is an artist, it was suggested that he could paint a portrait of Claire and it could then be auctioned online to help raise some more money towards Claire’s ongoing treatment.

This is Jason’s lovely painting of Claire.

17358823_10211339136927882_1860474519176663615_o

“Claire”

20″ x 16″ Mixed media on canvas.

You can follow Kitty S Jones at her webpage Politics and Insights

 

23 Days to Build an Anti-Tory Alliance and Save the Welfare State – vote SNP in Scotland and Labour in England

Now that we actually have the Labour manifesto, we can see a wide and unquestionable band of clear blue water between Labour and the Tories, but when it comes to social security there is nothing but the proverbial cigarette paper between Labour and the SNP.

However, Salmond’s suggestion that Labour has copied SNP policies is more rhetorical than serious. Both the SNP and Labour are essentially social democratic parties.

We do not, as a matter principle, support any one party, but have called for tactical votes for the SNP in both last General Election and this, as the best, indeed only, vehicle for advancing working class interests. Whilst the SNP Government is far from perfect, they have protected us in Scotland from some of the very worst excesses of the Tory Welfare cuts. They have already mitigated and promised to scrap the bedroom tax, mitigated housing benefit cuts for under 21s, and promised that the Scottish disability benefit that replaces PIP will take account of doctors’ reports of people’s needs and not depend on assessments carried out by private companies. They have promised that the training schemes that they will run will be voluntary and unsanctionable, and they have provided vital short-term help through the Scottish Welfare Fund. Only a small portion of the benefit system is being devolved, but the Scottish Government has promised that Scottish Social Security will have a completely different culture from the current punitive UK regime. At the same time, the SNP has consistently campaigned in parliament against sanctions and benefit cuts, including leading the campaign against the two children (rape clause) policy.

Of course there are some Labour plans that the SNP could do well to copy, especially a stronger focus on public ownership – but Labour’s continued commitment to Trident cannot be hidden behind the novelty of a Labour manifesto with some left-leaning policies.

bairns not bombs

And then there’s Independence, where the manifesto writers appear to have handed the pen to Kezia Dugdale’s Scottish Labour Party. Perhaps this is their return for backing a manifesto that is considerably further to the left than the Scottish leadership and most of the Scottish party is comfortable with. But since when did Unionism become the touchstone of Labour policy, and how can they justify not only campaigning actively against Independence, but even opposing letting us decide our own fate in a second referendum?

Blair McDougall

The Labour manifesto, despite its Trident-sized problems, has caused a flurry of interest among the Scottish left, but when it comes to choosing who to vote for, that shouldn’t cause us any problems. The only way that manifesto has a hope of becoming UK policy is by maximising the anti-Tory vote.

Here in Scotland, especially if polls are correct about former Labour voters moving over to the Tories, any significant shift of votes from the SNP to Labour risks letting in Tory MPs. If you want to avoid letting the Tories in by the back door, you should vote SNP.  If the seemingly impossible occurs, and Labour support rallies and grows in England and Wales, the very possibility of a minority labour government might be jeopardised by voting for Scottish Labour. And, despite Labour’s pre-election protestations, we can be sure that if SNP support was needed for a minority Labour government, it would not be turned away. This would pave the way to negotiations for a second Independence referendum; and the process of any future separation would be more constructive. For such a development to occur, the zombie Scottish Labour Party, with their bitter Britnat stance, has to be seen to die conclusively and make room for new beginnings. They have fallen far, but they must be seen to fall even further on June 8th if we are to see any chance of a radical reformed Scottish Labour Party that can provide a socialist, pro-Indy force, and can, again, seek to represent Scottish working-class interests.

You can follow the Scottish Unemployed Workers Network on facebook and on there webpage click here

 

WATCH: THE MOMENT A Disabled Person Finally Confronts Cold-Hearted May: ‘They Chucked ME Out The MIND’— Pleading with PM: ‘I Want My Disability Living Allowance to Come Back…They Took It All Away From Me’

 

Theresa May has finally been confronted by an ACTUAL disabled person — a woman who has been directly impacted by brutal Tory austerity cuts — during one of May’s rare ventures into public as she continued her election “campaign” in Abingdon-on-Thames today.

The woman who said she suffers from mental illness and learning disabilities confronted a startled May, saying: Are you going to help people with learning disabilities and mental health? Because, I stick up for the mental health AND for the learning disability

She then said that they “chucked me out of the Mind” (referring to the mental health charity).

 

The woman pleaded with May:

I want my Disability Living Allowance to come back — not have PIPs and get nothing

Adding:

I can’t live on a £100 a month — they took it all away from me

As May tried to deflect — the woman stood her ground. She continued saying:

The fat cats keep the money — and us lot get nothing!

She continued to plead with the PM:

who’s going to help me?

May tried to deflect away from the broader issues. May responded:

I’m sure…we’ll find a way — what you’re talking about — for YOUR case..

Before being shut down by the woman who said:

No! For everybody! Not just for me! I’m sticking up for them, because I go to a club for disabled people…I’m sticking up.

 

WATCH FULL CLIP: This is an unedited version of the clip. The mainstream media has shown varous versions all of which contains edits.

 

May showed that she is completely unable to handle the situation — or provide the woman with any actual help, or help for the disabled community whom the woman was bravely representing.

May responded by spouting about helping disabled people — and how she wants to: “focus on those who are most in need”.

The woman finished by saying:

I’m vulnerable to everything (so I been told) and I don’t get nothing — so you better help me — please!

The woman then walked off saying:

thank you

May was left looking flustered and bemused — her usual reaction when confronted by a member of the public.

She was also confronted by a man during the same visit who grilled her on the Tories appalling record of house building and ownership.

 

This is precisely why May generally does her best to stay away from the public — because whenever members of the public speak to her — they simply aren’t buying her shit — and they aren’t very impressed by May’s much touted “record”.

 

The disabled woman spoke — not as an isolated person — for whom the system had gone wrong. But as somebody who wanted to represent the very real chaos destruction and misery inflicted on the disabled by May and the Tories.

Disability Living Allowance (DLA) is gradually being replaced by Personal Independence Payments (PIP) as the main non-means tested benefit for disabled people. So far the system has been a complete disaster. Over 60% of disabled people are wrongly assessesed under PIP — with many being found (incorrectly) to be unentitled to the benefit —  and having to wait months to go to appeal (sometimes this can be as long as a year) before they have the decision overturned, and given the correct award.

Meaning that they can be — essentially left  — without anything to live off for up to a year, (often ) severe disabilities.

Further to this nearly half of disabled people subjected to “planned reviews” of PIP have their existing award cut, or removed completely according to figures obtained by the Disability News Service (DNS).

After the government lost a court case a few months ago – which found in favor of awarding people with certain mental illness the higher rate of PIP — the Tories decided to ignore the ruling.

Meaning that around 160,000 disabled people are simply punished by the government for having a mental illness. The Tories said that the higher rate of PIP was never intended to be extended to certain mental illnesses, yet the courts disagreed with them, finding in favor of disabled people with mental illness.

Further to this, of course, is the fact that hundreds of disabled people have killed themselves because of the DWP’s brutal (and frankly insane) decisions since the Tories came into power in 2010. Furthermore, we know of at least 2,000 cases where people have died shortly after being declared fit for work by the DWP (the numbers for both, could be much higher — the government is intensely secretive about all of this.)

 

Our Benefit system has been condemned by the United Nations (UN) and subject to 3 investigations by them. One of the reports found that The Tories are guilty of “grave or systematic violations” of disabled people.

The brutal Tory assault on the disabled has all happened under the guise of austerity — saving money — the fact that it hasn’t saved money – it has probably cost more, and in the process caused so much fear and misery should be enough to abandon this madness. This cruelty.

 

The woman who confronted May today shows us exactly who the Tories are — behind the facade of “helping” the “right” people. And May’s own recent pledge to help those suffering from mental illness.

When the Tories — when May — is confronted by one of their victims they have nothing to say — nothing to offer — and simply don’t care.

Well done to the woman today — I personally thank you for your bravery – and for standing up against the Tory scum.

No doubt, May will increasingly be confined to her safe space — so as to avoid these kinds of reality checks which break her carefully crafted and stage managed persona.

Most popular politician in the country?

NO — she – and her Tory pals are some of the most HATED people in the country. And almost everytime May meets the public they tell her why. And May shows that she couldn’t care less about them, us, or anything other than her rich pals.

Featured image Red Raiph

You can follow Chris Turnbull on twitter at @EnemyOfTheState or at his webpage Enemy of the state

The Bridge

“Politics is a life we choose because we think we can do some good” – Kezia Dugdale, 25th April 2017

Today the Scottish Parliament debated the cuts to Child Tax Credits being imposed by Westminster. This necessarily centered much of the debate around certain exceptions to those cuts, in particular the so-called Rape Clause. This article isn’t about that Clause in particular. That must be for others. If you want, you can watch the entire debate below

Instead I want to particularly highlight Labour leader Kezia Dugdale’s speech (from 26:20 above or here). Please watch it in the context of that debate before continuing.

Scottish politics is becoming increasingly polarised but sometimes we’re reminded that we don’t always disagree on what’s wrong and what needs to be fixed. Today, Dugdale reminded me of that. This may be a cynical and untrusting age but it still holds that Politics is at its absolute best when conviction shines through. It should be applauded when it does.

On issues like today, we can stand in complete agreement. The cuts to Child Tax Credits are wrong, the exceptions are wrong and trying to pass the blame for the policy on to the Scottish Government as theirs to “mitigate” is wrong.

In other issues, we may see the same way on the problem but differ on the solution. Compromise politics should be the order of such things and by them we should find a collegiate way forward.

Today was a reminder that even when such differences occur we can’t let ourselves be blinded by them and to use them to simply demonise our opponents as the source of all that is wrong in the world. We choose the life of politics because we think we can do some good in the world. It does us well to consider that when faced with our opponents and even when we self-examine our own policies. What good do they do in the world and what good are they supposed to achieve. Maybe when we understand that, we’ll better understand ourselves and each other. Maybe then we’ll find those solutions. And maybe we’ll do some good in the world.

Occasionally, we’ll differ on whether or not there IS a problem at all. This is where the discussion gets more difficult and this is where we are with the Conservatives today on this particular issue. The cuts and the Rape Clause aren’t in-and-of themselves problems to the Conservatives, but are a solution to their version of the problem (ostensibly, to “pay down our debts”, although, from my own point of view a relatively cursory examination of “Austerity” as a means to do that shows up the evident flaws in the logic). It will be harder to find a compromise solution which will please them (not least because their “suggestion” that the Scottish Government subsidise the cuts would have to be paid for by cuts elsewhere or by tax rises, both of which the Tories would no doubt also oppose). It will be harder even to get to the position of discussing compromise because we could spend all of our energy just trying to find out what they think the problem they’re solving actually is. Without that, we’d just be arguing at cross-purposes and making a lot of noise without meaning.

So instead I’d like to better understand my opponents. I’d like them to tell me what good they think they are bringing into the world with these cuts. I’d like them to tell me what good they think we who oppose it are bringing. I’d like them to try to better understand why we choose the life of politics and why we stand where we do within it.

And I’d like all of us to try to do the same with everything else we do in this life of politics we chose.

You can read more articles from Dr Craig Dalzell at The Common Green and also on twitter at @thecommongreen 

featured image The Bridge

tcg-logo-7

Universal Credit is nothing to celebrate

We recently heard that on the anniversary of the introduction of Universal Credit the Dundee DWP office dressed in blue and had celebratory cake. The thought of celebrating something that has caused so many people so much misery ought to be enough to make any cake stick in the throat, but this sort of corporate bonding event is designed to instil everyone involved with the organisation’s values, and to break down the barriers that separate their private life from their work life and protect their moral compass.

Meanwhile, in the real world, Universal Credit continues to provide further nasty surprises. A few weeks back we were talking to someone who is on Universal Credit and waiting for a Work Capability Assessment to see if he is eligible for the Limited Capability for Work component – the equivalent of ESA for people who are in the Universal Credit system. He told us that he is having to sign monthly at the jobcentre. This didn’t seem right, as people in that position who have applied for ESA are left alone and simply have to supply regular doctor’s notes. However, when we checked with the nice people at the Child Poverty Action Group they explained that, under Universal Credit, someone waiting for their assessment can be given all sorts of things to do, including job search. It is the DWP that decides what is reasonable to expect in their circumstances, and they are subject to the full sanction regime if they don’t comply. (In this particular case the jobcentre weren’t demanding more than the regular signing – but that was just as well as our friend had already waited 15 months for his assessment and had still not been given a date.)

You can follow the Scottish Unemployed Workers Network on facebook and on there webpage click here

 

‘Minions With No Opinions’

 

As I sit here in my living room half watching television on the day my daughter turned one, I find myself opening my twitter app reading posts from Conservative candidates and Tory followers. This should be a day of joy and exhilaration. Instead as I sit here looking at what these people are saying. It was like listening to a Theresa May’s Tory handbook.
When someone follows someone blindly in their opinions and is incapable of forming their own. It can be labelled a cult or a dictatorship. I believe with all my heart that everyone in this world should have their own views on things and that’s what is good about a democracy because it challenges others so that we all get a better, fairer deal that is a happy medium that we all can live with. This sadly is not the case anymore. Everywhere I look, read, see, speak. There are divided opinions everywhere. But there is something else happening now. Something I never thought would in my life time. The surge in the heartlessness of the right wing conservatives. Theresa May and her gang are imposing cuts on our elderly, on our youth and on the vulnerable. I can’t sit by and idly watch this happen and I know there are millions out there who share the same view as me on that.
Upon speaking and ‘debating’ with Tory candidates and followers in the street or on social media it is hard for me or anyone for that matter to get through to them. To help them find the error of their ways. It seems that they have a script in front of them, hand written by the Prime Minister herself and her backbenchers. It is so monotoned and transparent. On many occasions I will ask a few questions before we kick off ‘debating’. One of the questions I ask is ‘Do you support the rape clause?’ Now the rape clause is one of many of the Tory cuts that came into effect on April this year. It means that if you have a third child you will not receive any support from your Government to bring that child up. Clothe, feed, put a roof over their head. Unless you have been raped. That’s not all! You must write on documentation to prove that this is the case and send it away to the Government for investigation on which they will get back to you when or if your claim has been accepted. When I ask that question to many Tory candidates they seem to take the Ruth Davidson approach. They seem to take a long way around it and then hit back with how it can be prevented by the SNP. Now I don’t buy that. I believe that they do not support it, they do think it’s abhorrent and they feel red faced whenever they’re faced with the question. So why are they choosing to support this clause. Because they’re little minions with no opinions. They would rather walk blindly into a dictatorship with the Tories than help their fellow neighbour on the street. They would rather put their precious ‘Union’ and Queen in front of the average person on the street that is effected by these cuts.
These cuts are killing people. There will be no more housing benefit for 18-21 year olds. This will raise the number in people being homeless.
There are cuts on bereavement benefits leaving widow/widowers previously getting this benefit to support them for many years after their spouse had passed. This has been reduced to 18 months.
There are cuts on the disabled people who are claiming ESA. They’re cutting their benefits by £30 per week. That’ll be a massive £60 a fortnight less when they receive this payment.
They’re taking mobility cars from the disabled claiming that if they can walk ten yards they can work 8 hours a day.
They’re reforming the pension age of women from 64 to 66 while freezing pensions and trying to get rid of the triple lock that sees pensions rise by at least 2.5% per annum or it rises with inflation. This is affecting millions of women across Britain with complete uncertainty on their state pension age and if they need to keep working or not.
They’re doing all they can it seems to hurt and divide the people that are already hurt and divided. The people that scrape by from one day to the next. The people that rely on foodbanks or welfare funds to get them nappies for their kids and bus fare to get them to work.
If the Tory followers and candidates really are that heartless then I don’t want to be a part of this torrid union. If they really are that savage and brutal then I want everyone in ear shot to listen to me and tell them to never vote for them Tories.
The thing is. I don’t believe most of them are that heartless, brutal and savage. It’s not a game. You’re playing with people’s lives. It is not shameful of you to voice your own opinions and go against the Theresa May grain. Your voices and opinions matter too. We would welcome you and thank you if you told us how you really feel in all of this. Because ‘supporting’ these cuts are against the grace of god. Against human rights. Against what we all stand for. Do the right thing. Is your party, your union, your Queen really that important over the little person you take for granted. If that answer is yes, then you watch us go next time and you watch us create a better more prosperous place to live. And in your time of need when you find yourself unable to work or have a bad accident or your kids grow up and want their own house but can’t afford it or if your kids want a third child but are denied help in bringing up your third grandchild then we’ll be there. We’ll be there to help you, your kids, your grandkids. Because that’s who we are!

No wonder she was angry

Jen emerged from the jobcentre shouting and accompanied by a security guard. At first she was too angry to engage with us at all, convinced that, as with everyone else she had encountered, our offers of help were hollow. But something persuaded her to turn around and come back. Over a cup of tea in the café opposite, she explained that she had been on JSA but had taken a job for two weeks in a Glasgow club.  When she signed on again she was put onto Universal Credit. She had asked for a Rapid Reclaim, but the DWP treated her like a new claimant and she was undergoing the long wait for her first payment. To make it worse, they initially failed to put through the claim at all and she had had to start again. It was now nine weeks since she had applied, and she was yet to receive any payments other than a £350 advance loan, which had almost all been swallowed up in rent, as she had to keep a roof over her head. Now she had no money and just £9 on the electricity meter. She had gone into the jobcentre because she had hoped that they would be able to find out the cause of the delay and ensure she got her benefit payments; but she had been told there was nothing they could do and been fobbed of with the usual assurance – in which she had little faith – that the money would come through that evening.

We rang the Scottish Welfare Fund from the café, and they took details of her situation so that they could decide whether to give her an emergency grant. It was too late to contact the foodbank, but we told her to ring us if she needed to do this the following day. That evening she was going over to her mother who had just rung to tell her she had borrowed more money off a friend to see her daughter through.

To make matters worse, Jen’s private landlady clearly had a cavalier attitude to health and safety and her boiler had recently exploded. No-one was hurt, but Jen had been relying on expensive electric heating for two weeks and her only source of hot water was the shower. We discussed taking this and her other housing problems to Shelter.

When she left the café her intense anger had evaporated. She has not got back to us so we hope this means that some money has finally got through.

Our last blog looked at a couple of the people we have helped after they were found ‘fit-for-work’ and bumped off ESA. This one looks at some of the other problems we have come across in our last two stalls outside Dundee buroo.

Richard lost his job on the Riggs two years ago and has only had bits and pieces of work since. He told us that employers in other areas of work aren’t interested in him because they assume that he will leave as soon as better-paid oil work comes along. There had been a prospect of a good oil job recently, but a vital license had expired and he didn’t have the money needed to renew it. He had asked the jobcentre for help, but they had said there was nothing they could do. It was already too late for that job when he discovered himself, through friends, that the Scottish Government has set up a fund to help people in his exact predicament: something – as he pointed out – that the jobcentre should have been aware of. He gave us the link for anyone else who might need it.

The problems of finding work when you are older are well known, but last week we learnt about an additional hurdle from a woman looking for care work. She told us that younger people get their SVQ costs paid for them, but others have to pay these back out of their wages. And despite all the homage paid to the idea of building people’s confidence, another frustrated woman complained that she had just been told by her ‘work coach’ that although she had had three job interviews that week she ‘shouldn’t get her hopes up’. She had been living on just £23 a week after rent and overdue deductions, so we suggested she see a money advisor to get her repayments rescheduled.

Allan was also waiting for his benefit money to come through. He had no money and had not had a proper meal in two days. We tried to get him a food parcel, but it was (again) too late that evening. He, too, had been given the usual promise that the money would be in his account by the end of the day, but previous experience led us to ring him to check the next morning – when we found ourselves having to give him details of the day’s soup kitchens, before getting back on the phone to our friends at Taught by Muhammad to arrange a food parcel. We also advised him to take his case to the Welfare Rights drop-in when he was at the soup kitchen.

Mark had no money and no home. He was staying on his friend’s sofa and had been sanctioned because his jobcentre appointment had clashed with his Gran’s funeral, which wasn’t deemed sufficient excuse to change the date. But he didn’t want help because he was getting away from it all and joining the army. Maybe that was what he had always wanted to do, but it is easy to see how jobcentres make dangerously easy recruiting grounds.

Thanks to: Gordon, Dave, Gary, Susan, Sarah, Alison, Grant and Tony

You can follow the Scottish Unemployed Workers Network on facebook and on there webpage click here

When you’re ‘fit for work’, but not fit for work: negotiating DWP logic

With the DWP targeting the sick and disabled, we are constantly being approached by people who have been found ‘fit for work’ when they clearly are not. They have challenged the decision – always worth doing as the success rate is very high – but before they can put in a full appeal, they have to ask for it to be looked at again within the DWP (for a Mandatory Reconsideration), and while this is happening the only way they can get benefits is to sign up for Jobseeker’s Allowance. This means accepting the pretence that they are indeed ‘fit for work’ just long enough to get registered for the benefit; but once they are signed on they have the same rights to doctors notes as any other recipient of JSA. Most doctors are naturally concerned when their seriously ill patients are forced to look for work, and will readily ask for them to be excused job searching and other activities that make their condition worse. A doctor’s note for an extended period of sickness can last as long as 13 weeks. By that time, either the Mandatory Reconsideration will have reversed the decision (which is rare) or the person can move onto a full appeal, when they will be back on ‘assessment phase’ ESA.

Unsurprisingly, such a convoluted system, if it can be called that, puts people in the most absurd situations – situations that have serious impacts on their health. DWP workers have been conditioned into accepting the triple charade that the person in front of them is indeed ‘fit for work’, that the actions they are telling them to do will help them find work, and that work will be good for them. In reality, the actions people are told to do and the pressures of a system based on sanctions take them further away from recovery – and so, in fact,  further away, too, from paid employment.

Both this week and last we have accompanied someone into the jobcentre to help them  negotiate their way through this particular version of bureaucratic madness.

Katherine rang us after taking one of our leaflets. She has been refused ESA despite anxiety issues that make it difficult for her to interact with people. She has requested a Mandatory Reconsideration of the decision and has had to sign up to JSA meanwhile – but the pressures of being pushed back into searching for jobs she isn’t mentally ready for is sending her recovery into reverse. Her voice broke as she told me what was happening and I arranged to accompany her to her next jobcentre interview.

Some ‘job coaches’ are purposely cruel and controlling, but this was not the issue here. Katherine’s ‘job coach’ was encouraging. The problem seems to be that she actually believes that the system is designed in the interests of her ‘clients’. She kept emphasising how well Katherine was proceeding in her planned path back to work, while Katherine was visibly breaking down at the prospect of putting in for jobs she knew she was not ready to cope with. It can be harder to resist someone who thinks they are acting in your best interests than someone who is clearly antagonistic to you, but we were able to get the ‘coach’ to curb her enthusiasm by informing her that (on SUWN advice) Katherine was seeing her doctor the next week and would be asking for an Extended Period of Sickness note on the basis that putting her under pressure to look for work was having a negative effect on her recovery.

Jack contacted us a week later. He had got professional help with his Mandatory Reconsideration but he needed our help in negotiating the jobcentre as he was finding it all understandably confusing. After a long history of drug abuse, Jack had finally gone through rehab and ended his reliance on methadone a couple of years ago, but he is far from fully recovered and the pressures of the DWP system are driving him back into dependency. Visiting a potential employer can put him into a panic attack, and he told me that it was only heroin that enabled him to cope with his jobcentre interview. The discussion with his ‘job coach’ demonstrated the absurd double-think that the DWP expects of its employees. On the one hand, the ‘coach’ was very understanding of Jack’s situation and ready to accept that he would be bringing in an Extended Period of Sickness note as soon as he had seen his doctor. But at the same time he insisted that Jack went through the motions, as set out in his Claimant Commitment, of checking job sites and newspapers for jobs where he might not even be able to manage handing in a CV.

We hope that this blog will help others find their way through this two-faced bureaucracy, as well as alerting folk generally as to what is going on and why this system has to be stopped.

You can follow the Scottish Unemployed Workers Network on facebook and on there webpage click here

EHRC report highlights unacceptable political discrimination against disabled people

Discrimination on the grounds of disability was made illegal 20 years ago when Parliament passed the Disability Discrimination Act 1995. Further legislative progress was made with the Human Rights Act (2008) and the Equality Act (2010). So discrimination can’t happen now. Right?

Wrong.

Disabled people are not being treated as being equal with other citizens and continue to be denied the respect, dignity, opportunities, an acceptable standard of living and other acceptable outcomes that non-disabled people take for granted.

The government claim that the economy has recovered from the effects of the global recession, but that recovery is not one that is shared equally to include everyone. If the economy is doing as well as the government claims, why are disabled people still facing austerity cuts to their lifeline support, while wealthy citizens are handed out substantial tax cuts?

In one of the wealthiest countries in the world, targeting disabled people, who are much more likely to be living in poverty than other citizens, is absolutely inexcusable. However, the neoliberal right justify their rigid small state, pro-privatisation, deregulation, mythological meritocracy, low tax, high VAT and antiwelfare ideology with folklore economics. “Paying down the debt” has become an almost farcical bare-faced and parroted Conservative lie.

proper-blond

The neoliberal small state “big society”.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission report is the most comprehensive analysis on how (or if) the rights of disabled people are observed and protected in Great Britain. The most recent report says that changes to benefit rules have had a particularly disproportionate, cumulative impact on disabled people’s right to live independently.

According to the report, titled Disability report: Being disabled in Britain, which was published on Monday, the proportion of disabled people with no qualifications was nearly three times that of non-disabled people. (See also: Disabled students fear for their future as independence payments cut).

Fewer than half of disabled adults are in employment (47.6%), compared with almost 80% of non-disabled adults – and the gap between these groups has widened since 2010-11.

Food poverty has affected 18.4% of disabled people aged 16-64, compared with 7.5% of non-disabled people.

David Isaac, Chair of the Commission, commenting on the damning new state of the nation report into life for disabled people, said: “Whilst at face value we have travelled far, in reality disabled people are being left behind in society, their life chances remain very poor, and public attitudes have changed very little.

“This evidence can no longer be ignored. Now is the time for a new national focus on the rights of the thirteen million disabled people who live in Britain. They must have the same rights, opportunities and respect as other citizens.

“We must put the rights of disabled people at the heart of our society. We cannot, and must not, allow the next twenty years to be a repeat of the past.”

The research, which covers six key areas of life, finds that disabled people in Britain are experiencing disadvantages in all of them, and sets out vital areas for urgent improvement.

This includes: a lack of equal opportunities in education and employment; barriers to access to transport, health services and housing; the persistent and widening disability pay gap; deteriorating access to justice; and welfare “reforms” (cuts) significantly affecting the already low living standards of disabled people.

The Commission has also highlighted these issues to the United Nations, for their forthcoming examination of how the UK measures up to the international standards on the rights of disabled people (the Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities – CRPD).

The United Nations (UN) has already determined that the UK government has systematically violated the rights of disabled people. The highly critical report, which was published in Geneva last December also concluded that the rights of disabled people to live independently, to work, and achieve an adequate standard of living have been detrimentally affected by the Conservative’s austerity programme.

The range of measures aimed at reducing public spending since 2010, including extremely controversial changes such as the bedroom tax, and cuts to disability benefits and social care budgets have disproportionately and adversely affected disabled people.

The UN’s 22-page report condemned the radical and largely unmonitored welfare cuts and benefit caps, and social care cuts introduced as a major part of the Conservative’s austerity programme – the government claimed these cuts would make the welfare system “fairer and reduce benefit fraud.” The UN found no evidence of benefit fraud or fairness.

However, the government have simply dismissed the UN’s fully evidenced report, which included the first-hand accounts of many of those disabled people affected by Conservative austerity, disability campaigners, researchers and advocacy organisations.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission report reveals:

  • In England, the proportion of children with Special Educational Needs achieving at least  5 A*-C GCSEs is three times lower than for non-disabled children (20.0% and 64.2% respectively). Disabled children are also significantly more likely to be permanently or temporarily excluded.
  • The qualification gap between disabled and non-disabled people has narrowed, but the proportion of disabled people with no qualifications was nearly three times that of non-disabled people, and the proportion of disabled people with a degree remained lower.
  • More disabled people than non-disabled are living in poverty or are materially deprived.
  • Social security “reforms” have had a particularly disproportionate, cumulative impact on the rights to independent living and an adequate standard of living for disabled people. Families in the UK with a disabled member are more likely to live in relative poverty than non-disabled families.
  • Across the UK, 18.4% of disabled people aged 16-64 were considered to be in food poverty compared with 7.5% of non-disabled people. Disabled people over the age of 65 were twice as likely as non-disabled people in the same age group to be in food poverty.
  • Disabled people continue to face problems in finding adequate housing, due to a shortage in accessible housing across Britain, and in Scotland the amount of wheelchair-adapted local authority housing for physically disabled people has decreased. Disabled people in Britain were also less likely to own their own home.
  • Accessing healthcare services is problematic for disabled people, and they’re less likely to report positive experiences. Considerable shortcomings remain in all three countries in the provision of mental health services, where disabled adults are more likely to report poor mental health and wellbeing than non-disabled adults.
  • There is an urgent need for prisons to monitor and report on prisoner mental health. Prisoners are more likely to have mental health conditions compared with the general population, and 70% of prisoners who died from self-inflicted means between 2012 and 2014 had an identified mental health condition.
  • Detentions in health and social care settings under the Mental Health Act 1983 are continuing to increase in England and Wales. The number of detentions in hospitals increased from 46,600 in 2009 to 2010 to 63,622 in 2016.
  • Changes to legal aid in England and Wales have negatively affected disabled people’s access to justice. Across GB, there has been a 54% drop in employment tribunal claims on grounds of disability discrimination following the introduction of fees in July 2013.
  • More disabled and non-disabled people overall are in work in Britain in 2015/16 compared to 2010/11. Despite this, less than half of disabled adults are in employment (47.6%), compared with almost 80% of non-disabled adults, and the gap between these groups has widened since 2010/11. However this is not the case across all impairment types, and for those with mental health conditions and those with physical disabilities the gap between them and non-disabled people has narrowed.
  • The disability pay gap in Britain also continues to widen. Disabled young people (aged 16-24) and disabled women had the lowest median hourly earnings of all.

David Isaac continued: “This report should be used as a call to arms. We cannot ignore that disabled people are being left behind and that some people – in particular those with mental health conditions and learning disabilities – experience even greater barriers.

“We must have a concerted effort to deliver the changes that are desperately needed. Vital improvements are necessary to the law and policies, and services must meet the needs of disabled people.

“Britain must be a fair and inclusive society in which everyone has equal opportunities to thrive and succeed.”

The report calls on the UK, Scottish and Welsh governments to place a new national focus on disability equality, so that the rights of disabled people are fully realised and to deliver improvements in their experience and outcomes.

These include reducing the education and employment gaps for disabled people; ensuring that essential services such as housing, health and transport meet the needs of disabled people; and improve existing laws and policies to better protect and promote the rights of disabled people.

The Commission’s recent submission to the UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, produced jointly with the other equality and human rights commissions across the UK, also highlights the need to do more to protect the human rights of disabled people.

It contains 75 recommendations to the UK and devolved governments on how they can improve the rights disabled people enjoy across areas such as housing, transport, social care and employment. The main public examination of the UK by the UN Committee will take place in August 2017, and the Commission will work with the other UK equality and human rights commissions and disabled people and their organisations to help make the recommendations a reality.

Further to this activity, the Equality and Human Rights Commission is engaged in a range of ongoing work aimed improving the lives of disabled people, including legally enforcing the Equality Act, improving access to public services, housing and transport, analysing the impact of welfare reforms, and influencing new legislation.

In light of the cuts to Employment and Support Allowance (work-related activity group) and the recent re-writing of PIP regulations to save money for the Treasury from disabled people’s support, while at the same time the government chose to hand out tax cuts to millionaires, it is inevitable that the situation for disabled people will only get worse.

These additional cuts have happened since the UN published the report about the systematic violations of disabled people’s human rights, to which the government have responded with utter contempt.

Human rights, inclusion and equality are the bedrock of a democratic society. We know from experience over the last six years that we can not depend on this government to observe any of these prerequisite obligations.

Andrew McDonald, Chair of disability charity, Scope, said: “It is shameful that in 2017 disabled people continue to face such high levels of inequality: at home, at school and at work. And Scope research shows too many continue to face prejudice day-in-day out. 

“But government action has been incoherent. While there have been some positive commitments, the impact of recent reductions and restrictions to benefits and inaction on social care threaten to make life harder for many disabled people. 

“We hope this report serves as a wake-up call. Urgent action is needed. If the government is serious about shaping a society that works for everyone, the Prime Minister should act now to set out a cross-departmental strategy to tackle the injustices disabled people face.”

Liz Sayce, Chief Executive of Disability Rights UK, said: “This new report makes sombre and disappointing reading, and highlights the unfairness disabled people continue to face, day in and day out.

“As a society, we say we want progress towards disabled people taking a full part in society; but instead we appear to be going backwards.  We need concrete plans from government, with outcomes measured regularly, to ensure we get back on track. We welcome the Equality and Human Rights Commission report and are keen to work with them and others to tackle discrimination.” 

Robert Meadowcroft, Chief Executive of Muscular Dystrophy UK, said: “Much of today’s report puts hard numbers on what we hear every day from people with muscle-wasting conditions about the extreme difficulties in finding a job, a safe place to live and accessing the opportunities many of us take for granted. 

“The government has to respond positively and urgently to the severity of today’s findings, not least in calling a halt to the damaging aspects of benefits reforms, but they are not the only people responsible for making society accessible to all. 

“Employers can be more proactive about making their workplaces and their recruitment policies more open to disabled people. Local councillors can increase their accessible housing targets. And we can collectively check our own attitudes to make sure that the Equality and Human Rights Commission has better news to report in 20 years’ time. This alarming report is a wake-up call that needs to be heard.” 

Let’s not pussyfoot around the deliberate socioeconomic exclusion of disabled people. It’s absolutely unacceptable that in a very wealthy so-called democratic state, disabled people still face so many disadvantages as a direct consequence of discriminatory government policies, across so many different areas of their lives compared to non-disabled people.

The Conservative’s policies since 2012 that have doggedly aimed at cutting disabled people’s support have been preempted by an outgrouping rhetoric and an all-pervasive political scapegoating media campaign designed, to stir up resentment and desensitise the public to the consequences of policies which discriminate against disabled people. Such actions are a damning indictment of the political intention behind those policies.

We now have a social security system that is the stuff of dystopian novels about totalitarian bureaucracy. Rather than providing support, welfare has been redesigned by the Conservatives to focus on compliance with unreasonable “behavioural” conditionality (which assumes that poverty is a “lifestyle choice, as opposed to the inevitable consequence of neoliberalism and policies which serve to engineer growing social inequality) and extremely punitive sanctions, rather than supporting people back into appropriate work.

Stopping or threatening to stop someone’s lifeline support when they are too unwell to work is unforgivably cruel, inappropriate and completely ineffective at helping anyone into employment.

In fact, we know that sanctions will make it almost impossible for someone to find employment. Withdrawing lifefline support as a punishment is likely to create desperation and absolute poverty. The impact of poverty is greater, and often devastating on those people who are ill and disabled. If people cannot meet their basic living needs, they cannot possibly meet higher level psychosocial ones.

maslows_hierarchy_of_needs-4

Sanctions cause unacceptable harm to people who are disabled and ill, and sometimes, sanctions kill people.

It is not acceptable that a government in the UK continues to formulate regressive and punitive policies aimed at cutting support for disabled people, which create vulnerability, loss of independence and dignity, distress, psychological and physical damage, and is putting people’s lives at risk.

It is shameful and it needs to be halted.

PAY-Protesters-with-posters-outside-the-Dept-of-Work-PensionsYou can follow Kitty at her webpage Politics and Insights