Template Letter to Local MP

13 Mar

Hello 🙂 below is a template letter that we have written for you lovely people to send to your local MP. It outlines our personal concerns with welfare ‘reforms’ but feel free to edit as you please. Additionally, we intend to send a copy to the national press, so if you or any groups or organisations you know, or may be a part of, wish to be signatories please indicate in the comments section. Also, please feel free to send this letter or an adapted version to your own local press.

You can also find us on facebook: http://www.facebook.com/events/492533114144188/?ref=ts&fref=ts

and you can support us by thunderclap – an app which posts automated tweets and posts on your behalf at a set date and time publicising the campaign: http://www.facebook.com/events/492533114144188/?ref=ts&fref=ts

Thank you and happy tory asskicking!

Michelle and Laurie.

House of Commons

Dear —- —- MP,

I write to you with my concerns about your government’s welfare reforms, specifically the Welfare Reform Bill, the Work Programme and the so-called ‘Bedroom Tax.’ I believe the on-going reforms and upcoming ‘Welfare Reform Bill’ are deeply flawed both economically and morally.

Firstly, the work capability assessment has been, I believe, an inhumane, discriminatory disaster from the start. There have been numerous worrying reports of people with terminal conditions being passed ‘fit for work’ and staff having to meet targets for how many people they find ‘fit for work,’ leading me to conclude that the exercise is more about targets and tick boxes than the needs of sick and disabled people. It has been condemned by the General Medical Council for not taking account of fluctuating conditions; being based on a kind of positive thinking approach rather than medical evidence; and disregarding concerns from the individual’s own GP, who knows their condition much better than the ATOS staff member. Given the fact that the appeals process is incredibly protracted and the medical is to be carried out on an annual basis, it is perhaps unsurprising that those who do win their appeals, only to find the next medical due, fear they will be hounded to their grave.

Atos are also known to pursue individuals for further medicals even whilst their cases from the previous one are still under appeal, a practice I believe constitutes bullying and harassment and which indubitably adds to the already great anxiety and stress placed on such individuals.  I have also heard reports from many quarters of Atos engaging in an egregious practice of writing to claimants in a purported ‘follow up’ to earlier communications, threatening sanctions because the claimant has not attended an appointment or returned a questionnaire, when in fact no such appointment or questionnaire has ever been sent out.  I have heard of this practice independently from so many people that I have been led to believe in its veracity, and find its disingenuous, coercive nature deeply disturbing.  Atos is being paid £110 million in taxpayers’ money for its contract with the DWP, and the appeals process is costing £50 million more and counting, and yet I contend Atos are not fit for purpose.  As such I am deeply concerned that Atos are to be given further leeway to intimidate and harass sick and disabled people when doing the assessments for Personal Independence Payments when they replace Disability Living Allowance.  I believe it is a grave mistake to give Atos this further contract when they have already amply demonstrated their incompetence and cruelty.  (I am also deeply concerned that the descriptors for PIP assessment are written in such a way as to exclude as many people as possible, and thus take away money they need to make day to day living possible.)   Statistics have emerged that are deeply disturbing: over 10,000 people have died (as Michael Meacher MP recently brought to the attention of Parliament). As well as documented suicides there are many other cases where friends and family say the increased stress and worry was, in their view, a significant factor in the death of their loved ones.[i]  I have separately attached information circulated by the Black Triangle Campaign in Defence of Disability Rights which outlines some of the history of the WCA as a sinister ‘Disability Denial Factory’.  Dramatic though this sounds, I do not believe it is hyperbolic or an exaggeration to speak in these terms; there is a vast body of evidence and case studies to support it.  UNUM,[ii] the insurance company whose sponsored research is cited, have a vested interest in benefit cuts which they explicitly and unashamedly mention in this advert as early as 1993: ‘April 13th, unlucky for some.  Because tomorrow the new rules on state incapacity benefit announced in the 1993 autumn budget come into effect.  Which means that if you fall ill and have to rely on state incapacity benefit, you could be in serious trouble.’[iii] At the 2012 annual conference of GPs, general practitioners voted unanimously to scrap the WCA;[iv] twelve doctors are currently under investigation for misconduct due to alleged mistreatment of vulnerable people during WCAs;[v] it has also been alleged that Atos staff members used the facebook page to make demeaning and defamatory remarks about claimants, calling them ‘down and outs’ and ‘parasitic wankers’;[vi] there have even been cases whereby Atos staff members were found to be unlicensed to practice in the UK, and one where a doctor was conducting WCAs for Atos whilst on sick leave from his hospital job.[vii] This litany of incompetence and degrading, shabby treatment of the sick and disabled must stop.  I say again: Atos are not fit for purpose.  Moreover, cases are emerging whereby people with a physical disability are developing mental health problems on top, due to the stress of the process.  I believe that the reforms cannot even by justified economically because 40% of people win their appeals, and up to 70% when they have had advice from services such as the Citizens Advice Bureau, and the appeals process is extremely expensive. It also concerns me that when Mr Meacher bought this up in parliament, he did so to an almost empty house.

Unemployed and disabled people are not to blame for the financial crisis and in the vast majority of cases, are in their position through no fault of their own. I feel that attempts to paint the reforms as a means of tackling fraud by creating a false dichotomy between ‘scroungers’ and ‘skivers’ are at best disingenuous and at worst malicious, when the government’s own figures show that only 0.5% of the disability benefit budget goes to fraud. In light that we have now entered into a triple dip recession, these measures clearly aren’t working. Common sense tells me that economic growth cannot happen when people have no money to put back into the economy. Not only is the cap on benefit increases an unfair and harmful cut in real terms which will plunge many into still deeper poverty as commodity prices rocket, it makes no economic sense either.

Ifeel that the ‘Work Programme’, colloquially known as Workfare, is furthermore demonstrably wrong-headed. Aside from ethical considerations of mandatory unpaid labour there is strong evidence that participating companies are increasingly using the programme as a substitute for advertising paid positions with the accompanying minimum standards of rights and working conditions. Coupled with this is the fact that the likelihood of a placement resulting in a job at the end appears to be premised on a myth, namely: There is no evidence showing that workfare placements tend to lead to full time jobs.  A study by the DWP into workfare in the USA, Canada and Australia found that workfare ‘can even reduce  employment chances by limiting the time available for job search and by failing to provide the skills and experience valued by employers’. The same study also found that workfare is particularly ineffective at leading to work during periods of high unemployment.[viii] Therefore, this seems a highly counter-productive measure. The fact that people who are doing voluntary work off their own back can be forced to give that up in favour of a mandatory work placement (under the threat of stringent economic sanctions if they refuse) just seems to fly in the face of the Prime Minister’s own ‘Big Society’ rhetoric as well as diverting invaluable human resources from the massively over-stretched and demoralised voluntary sector, which itself is enduring heavy cuts. Voluntary work is an act of altruism, which can be a vital source of self-esteem for people who can’t engage in doing paid work, as well as benefitting the causes they work for and the wider community. To force people to end their involvement with such work in favour of placements, such as shelf stacking in Poundland, seems ludicrous and I fail to see any way this benefits society or the individual concerned.

I finally come to the so-called ‘Bedroom Tax,’ a measure which I see as catastrophically ill-conceived and unfair. I am concerned that it may actually be discriminatory and violate human rights laws as equality impact assessments have not been performed to assess the effects on the disabled and their carers and dependants. When it comes into play, people are set to be punished for things that are not their fault, such as there are a shortage of one-bedroom properties in their area and the fact that the upper floors of high rises were universally decreed unsuitable for families several years ago and thus single people were placed in such places by the Council in good faith. I feel the recent quote from Lord Freud suggesting that a divorced father should house his three sons in a single camp bed in his living room when they came to stay was patronising and insulting as well as contradictory of the Tories’ own stance of family values. Many sick and disabled people will have no one to help them move and no transport available even if they do manage to find a suitable one bedroom property. In addition to these myriad human costs, it is an economically nonsensical policy as to move from a Council home with two or more bedrooms into a one bedroomed property in the Private Sector (as realistically most will have to do due to the aforementioned lacking of one bedroomed Council properties) will in virtually all cases result in a higher weekly housing benefit being incurred as a result of private rents being higher than public.

Overall I feel that there is a climate of blame and division being created, that the impact of the cuts is being forced disproportionally upon people who are already struggling, and that such policies will only further exacerbate poverty and inequality (which are already shockingly high for a rich, ‘First World’ country). I feel that poor people generally and the sick and disabled in particular are being stigmatised and demonised which we believe has contributed to the steep rise in hate crime against the disabled; and finally it seems clear that impoverishing poorer parents will also impoverish their children, which is troubling as the government have pledged to reduce child poverty.  I further believe that the mark of any society’s decency is how it treats its most vulnerable members, and that on current evidence, Britain in 2013 is falling very short.

I look forward to hearing from you on these matters.

Yours Sincerely,

[i] A freedom of information request submitted to the DWP on deaths taking place after the WCA has still to be answered: http://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/deaths_of_claimants_receiving_js

[ii] American firm known as UNUM PROVIDENT (US) are one of the biggest occupational health insurance companies in the world. They have been involved with the DWP since 1994.
In 2002/03 an American class action lawsuit in California identified UNUM PROVIDENT (US) as running “disability denial factories” and the Judge fined them $31.7 million. The company were ordered to re-investigate 300,000 other refused claims; something the company has still failed to complete 7 years later.(as of 2011)
In 2005 American Insurance Commissioner John Garamendi declared: “Unum Provident is an outlaw company. It is a company that for years has operated in an illegal fashion.”
UNUM PROVIDENT (UK), now known simply as UNUM Insurance, fund psychosocial disability research at CardiffUniversity. Prof Mansel Aylward is the head of research at the Unum Centre at Cardiff University and he was the DWP Chief Medical Adviser who in 1994 recommended this medical evaluation system to the government to reform government care costs for DLA etc. Prof Mansel was instrumental in the methods to be used, imported from America using identical methods as Unum Provident. Unum Provident is banned from 15 States in the USA and 6 countries worldwide, so one wonders why this diabolical company are advisers to the UK government on welfare reforms? Atos Healthcare have employed the same methods as Unum Provident, hence the vast and growing numbers of chronically sick and genuinely disabled people being betrayed by this system of medical ‘evaluation’ which, in fact, is a seriously compromised 25 minute basic computer questionnaire, with no allowances for the vast differences within the same identified health condition.   (Source: Black Triangle Campaign in Defence of Disability Rights).

[iii] source: Red Pepper

[iv] source: Guardian

[v] source: Guardian

[vi] source: Computer Weekly

[vii] source: Computer Weekly


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