Tag Archives: disability

Pls send this letter to your coalition MP

24 Jun

They lie and lie and they lie again . . . hold the Con Dems to account for their disgraceful, self serving distortions

The SKWAWKBOX

There has been a big response from readers to the two recent posts (here and here) on the response of Tory MPs to questions from their constituents about the government’s blatant abuse of statistics (i.e. lies, since they continue to repeat them even after the UK Statistics Authority rebuked them and told them not to repeat the claims).

In particular, the fact that most MPs who bothered to respond had clearly simply cut and pasted their response from a Conservative Central template, as the wording was identical, and the fact that even this response completely failed to address the questions raised, caused much outrage.

I would therefore like to enlist your help to send a letter or email to every coalition MP that cuts out – or at least renders overtly embarrassing – the option of doing the same thing in response. Hopefully, the wording of this new…

View original post 356 more words

Bedroom Tax

7 Apr

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BEDROOM TAX

** if you are affected by the bedroom tax and fear forced eviction, please send us a private email at: kickingtoryassonwelfare@hotmail.com and, along with other activists we WILL defend your home **

What is it?

The cutting of the “spare room subsidy,”[1] colloquially dubbed the “Bedroom Tax” by Labour (a term that Iain Duncan Smith has complained about to the BBC several times)[2] is directed at working-age housing benefit and unemployment claimants who are deemed to have a ‘spare’ bedroom in social housing. The Housing Benefit and Council Tax Benefit Circular states that the following will be entitled to one bedroom each: a couple, an adult aged 16 or over, two children of the same sex (aged under 16), two children aged under 10 regardless of sex, any other child under 16, and a non-resident carer providing overnight care. Should certain people fail to fit into these ‘boxes’ they stand to lose 14% of their housing benefit and those with two or more spare bedrooms are forecast to lose 25%.[3]  An estimated 1 million households with extra bedrooms are paid housing benefit,[4] which infers the mass impact it is going to have on the UK population. Critics say it is an inefficient policy; especially in the north of England where families with spare rooms outnumber overcrowded families by three to one, indicating that thousands will be hit with the tax despite no local need for them to move.[5]  Alongside this there is also nowhere to move to. In Hull for example, around 4700 tenants will be taxed, but there are only 73 smaller council homes in the town.[6]  This is a direct consequence of the three decade long continual purge of council housing by both the Tory and Labour governments, for which tenants are now having to pay the price (quite literally).[7] Additionally, two-thirds of the people hit by the bedroom tax are disabled.[8]

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So why is it being imposed? Well, statistically it aims to save £465 million a year; as many as 660,000 people in social housing will lose an average of £728 in benefits annually.[9] Yet, the number of disabled affected is estimated to at 420,000, thus accounting for about 64% of all bedroom tax affected households.[10] Stories and news reports have focused on families where, for example, a lift has been installed which takes up much room downstairs and also renders the upstairs ‘bedroom’ unusable. These ‘bedrooms’ will be counted under the tax and are clearly unfair by any definition; legal or otherwise, and lack any morality,[11] victimising the already vulnerable.

SPeye[12]’s social housing blog raises a pertinent issue within this new system: social housing is the only option for many who live their day-to-day lives with a disability: “when was the last time a private landlord spent thousands on installing disability adaptations in his property? The answer to that is never, as private landlords [in general] just don’t accommodate for disabilities and thus those with a disability either reside in owner occupied properties or the social housing sector.”[13] Hence, either the government has ignored or paid little regard to their Equality Duties in bringing the bedroom tax into social housing,[14] which clearly disproportionately affects the disabled. Through the Coalition’s blatant and wilful ignorance of the major disparities between the private and social rented sectors: simply if the private landlord don’t provide for those disabled and the social landlord does, then imposing a bedroom tax which the government maintain brings the social housing sector in line with those renting privately,[15] fundamentally ignores this binary. Statistically there are 999,058 Housing Benefit claimants with a disability in social housing and 314,233 in privately rented housing meaning 76% of claimants with a disability live in social housing and 24% live in privately rented homes.  Hence, the impact on those disabled is more than 3 times greater in the social rented sector than in private housing.[16] Additionally, the government’s woeful treatment of the disabled in society is further accentuated in that assessments of the bedroom tax’s  impact on them says it has not looked into this but will monitor it after the bedroom tax comes in.

Thus, the government is going to run the bedroom tax for at least two years to see what its impact is without having taken any precautions to assess such an impact beforehand. Page 21 of the Bedroom Tax assessment reads:

“DWP intend to undertake independent monitoring and evaluation to assess the impact of the introduction of size criteria in the social rented sector as outlined during the passage of the Welfare Reform Act. DWP expect the research to be undertaken over a two year period from 2013/14, with preparatory work starting in 2012/13 with initial findings being available in early 2013 [an ad hoc assessment therefore!] … Different types of authorities including a range of urban, rural and county district local authorities will be included and these will be selected to cover a range of different housing market demands, to ensure DWP can explore the effects of the introduction of size criteria effectively, and gain sound insight into the experiences of tenants of various age groups, those with a disability, their gender and ethnicity.”[17]

As Michelle and I recently stated, we 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, as this government continually falls excessively short of their responsibilities. Indeed the favouring of the rich over the poor is evident within the Welfare ‘Reform’ that came into action on  Saturday 6 April, which saw the 50p tax rate scrapped for high earners. [18]  Indeed, Labour claims 13,000 millionaires will get a £100,000 tax cut, which clearly indicates where the Coalition’s loyalties lie. With 62% of the Coalition being deemed millionaires[19] the injustice of these taxes are evident. Indeed, Patrick Wintour of the Guardian writes that the government’s aim is to tackle overcrowding and encourage a more efficient use of social housing,”[20] yet for those affected it seems much more sinister than that doesn’t it?

Furthermore, alongside this preposterous tax being imposed, on Monday 8 April, the Disability Living Allowance will be disposed of and replaced by the Personal Independence Payment (PIP),[21] demonstrating how the vulnerable are suffering disproportionately to the rest of the population under the cuts we Con-Dem. According to the DWP, assessment will not be based on your condition, but on how your condition affects you, so narrowing accessibility to the PIP.[22]  The qualifying period before someone can claim again will also be extended from three to six months,[23] meaning that should you fail to “prove” your disability you will remain destitute for the 6 months until you can be reassessed!  So nice of the government to determine that individuals have to “prove” how disabled they are: only once sufficient points have been scored on the assessment can a claim be made.[24]  The Tory rhetoric of “scroungers”, “skivers” and those committing benefit fraud which ‘justifies’ such schemes is clearly redundant when the harsh facts are looked at: $1.9 billion is lost in benefit fraud overall, in contrast to the $40 billion that is lost through tax avoidance by the rich.[25]

However, Cameron is determined to listen to his non-sensical party and enforce the “spare room subsidy” regardless of the potential consequences (of which he is not aware due to aforementioned failures to analyse this issue!) Ministers say the tax will encourage people to move to smaller properties and save around £480m a year from the spiralling housing benefit bill.[26] Yet this completely ignores the fact that there is a shortage of one-bedroom properties in certain areas and the fact that the upper floors of high rises were universally decreed unsuitable for families several years ago, meaning the Council placed single people in them. Additionally, critics such as the National Housing Federation (NHF) argue that as well as causing social disruption, the move risks increasing costs to taxpayers because a shortage of smaller social housing properties may force many people to downsize into the more expensive private rented sector.[27]  The federation’s warnings came as charities said the combination of benefit cuts and tax rises coming in from this week will amount to a £2.3bn hit on family finances.[28] Such certainly highlights how economically non-sensical this tax is. Indeed, Ministers came under new fire over benefit cuts as the independent body representing 1,200 English housing associations described the controversial bedroom tax as bad policy and bad economics that risks pushing up the £23bn annual housing benefit bill.[29] Channel 4 News recently suggested this too: “the governments controversial new “bedroom tax” will cost rather than save money in parts of the country.”[30]

Furthermore, research by the NHF says that while there are currently 180,000 households that are “under occupying two-bedroom homes”; there are far fewer smaller properties in the social housing sector available to move into. Last year only 85,000 one-bedroom homes became available. The federation has calculated that if all those available places were taken up by people moving as a result of the “bedroom tax”, the remaining 95,000 households would be faced with the choice of staying put and taking a cut in income, or renting a home in the private sector.[31] Indeed, if all 95,000 moved into the private sector, it says the cost of housing benefit would increase by £143 million, and by millions more if others among the remaining 480,000 affected chose to rent privately.[32]

This will only serve to deepen the housing crisis as more people are pushed out of council housing, making it easier for councils to sell the homes off – thus shifting more housing stock to private landlords and into the chaos that is the current market.[33] Indeed, it is private landlords who stand to gain the most out of this tax, because the tenants forced into smaller homes on higher, private rents, will be forced to claim more benefits as a result. Indeed, the rent controls that used to control such rampant capitalism were abolished by Thatcher in 1988 and so without those, there is little that can be done to control the amount of rent families will be forced to pay on their new properties, without spare bedrooms.[34]

So, what the hell is the point when this tax will not even improve the situation?

As Chief executive Leslie Morphy stated: “our poorest households face a bleak April as they struggle to budget for all these cuts coming at once. People are already cutting back on the essentials of food and heating but there is only so much they can do.

“The result will be misery – cold rooms, longer queues at food banks, broken families, missed rent payments and yet more people facing homelessness – devastating for those directly affected, but bad for us all.”

However, a Department for Work and Pensions spokesman stood by the policy, stating that: “our welfare reforms will improve the lives of some of the poorest families in our communities, with universal credit simplifying the complex myriad of benefits and making three million people better off. And by next year, we will have taken two million of the lowest earners out of paying tax altogether.” And sadly it appears that the media in general support such rhetoric, as the recent Bedroom Tax protests were largely under reported, despite activists turning out in their thousands.

Conversely, shadow chancellor Ed Balls surmised what we believe to be the truth: “this is the week when the whole country will see whose side David Cameron and George Osborne are really on and who is paying the price for their economic failure.” And sadly, it is not our side, but we will be footing the bill regardless.

How can we help? Are there any loopholes?

Loopholes in this new ‘reform’ are pretty hard to come by; however, there are a few:

  • People avoided the window tax which began in 1698 and ran until 1851 by blocking up their windows, so rise up and take off your bedroom doors that’ll make your house open plan – without a door a room is not separate.  Alternatively, take Labour MP Mr Field’s advice that land lords should “brick up” doors and “knock down the walls” in defiance,[35] thus removing tax commitments
  • If you have a spare room in your house under 70sq ft. then it cannot be classed as a bedroom under Housing Act 1985 Section 326,[36] instead it’s a box room and you cannot be charged for it

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  • Approach housing trusts and ask them to reclassify your spare rooms as studies or box-rooms so the tax cannot be placed upon them. In action: Knowsley housing trust in Merseyside has said it will do this to help tenants avoid the tax[37]
  • Put pressure on “social landlords” to take a stand against the tax and refuse to evict people from their homes who cannot afford the rent anymore. In action: Dundee council,[38] run by the Scottish National Party, has promised not to evict people for the first eight months Brighton and Hove, under the Green Party have since followed this action[39]
  • Get trade unions on side so that those of you who oppose the payment are stood by when legal action is taken against you. In action: unions in Glasgow housing associations and Tower Hamlets  council in East London have voted to stand by those housing workers who are disciplined for opposing evictions[40]
  • Join an anti-cuts group and let people in your area know that you are willing to collectively and physically prepared to defend people from being evicted. In action: this is exactly what people are doing in Sheffield on Firth Park council estate, as well as the Burngreave which is the next estate along[41]
  • Unite with other activists across the country to bring back the rent controls abolished by the Thatcher era
  • Join UK Uncut’s “Who wants to evict a millionaire?” protest. More information on this can be found on: http://www.ukuncut.org.uk/blog/updated-call-out-who-wants-to-evict-a-millionaire-saturday-13th-april
  • For more information on local groups or how else you can take action, just go to http://benefitjustice.wordpress.com/
  • There are many bedroom tax focused groups on Facebook and many have template letters and useful information in their files so it’s worth joining one; also there is our template letter below, which you could send in its entirety or copy and paste the part about the bedroom tax
  • Here’s a link to an excellent blog for some more ideas: http://mikesivier.wordpress.com/2013/03/30/thousands-turn-out-for-bedroom-tax-protests-but-what-happens-next/

 

Inspiration from Spain: unions of locksmiths and firefighters voted to refuse to evict those who couldn’t pay mortgages. The firefighters’ worked under the slogan of “we rescue people, not banks.”[42] Let’s unite and build this kind of movement against the bedroom tax and benefits cap, and kick some Tory ass!

IN SOLIDARITY, WE CAN DEFEAT THE WAR ON THE POOR!

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[6] ‘Socialist Worker’, 23rd March 2013, p 10

[7] ‘Socialist Worker’, 23rd March 2013, p 10

[12] Ibid

[19] ‘The New Internationalist,’ NI 459 January/ February 2013, p 

[25] UK Government, DWP and HMRC, 2011

[30] Channel 4 News, February 4, 2013

[33] ‘Socialist Worker’, 23rd March 2013, p 11

[34] ‘Socialist Worker’, 23rd March 2013, p 11

[37] ‘Socialist Worker’, 23rd March 2013, p 7

[39] ‘Socialist Worker’, 23rd March 2013, p 7

[40] ‘Socialist Worker’, 23rd March 2013, p 7

[41] ‘Socialist Worker’, 23rd March 2013, p 9

[42] ‘Socialist Worker’, 23rd March 2013, p 11

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
London
SW1A 0AA

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

Why we started this blog

13 Mar

by Michelle La Guilla and Laurie Antitory

I wrote the following post exactly a year ago on my blog trueredaintdead@blogspot.co.uk.  At the time I wished for nothing more than to be proved wrong; I wished with all my heart that my dire predictions were unjustified and things would get better.  Yet things are bleaker and more dystopian than I could even have dreamed. 

That’s why me and Laurie started this blog.  We believe that the only way to survive these frightening times is to love and support each other, and share information and advice.  That’s what we plan to do on this blog.  We’ve already published a template letter we’ve been bombarding MPs with and intend to submit to the national press; posts to follow will contain advice on the bedroom tax, DLA, ESA and workfare, including all the lovely loopholes we know (and if you know anything we don’t, please share it in the comments).

Why Cameron’s looking fat: he’s feasting on the blood of the poor

David Cameron’s government will have blood on their hands before this is over.

In a recession hate crime against the disabled rises.  This has been proven since the Second World War when Adolf Hitler’s less publicised first victims were disabled and chronically sick people condemned to die in the gas chambers for being a burden. 

This “burden” mentality continues to exist and always has, reinforced by such august providers of totally impartial news (yeah, right) as the Daily Mail and your soaraway Sun.  Those who have committed no worse crime than being born with an impairment or developing a mental illness which renders them unable to work have repeatedly been constructed as scroungers, malingerers, a drain on the decent hardworking taxpayer.  While such blue through and through publications have stopped short of advocating wholesale murder of our society’s sick and vulnerable (so far), is current government policy really so much more humane and progressive?

Consider.  Those unable to work are now forced through a punitive means testing process, carrried out by doctors employed by the state, who receive a bonus for every person they unceremoniously throw off benefits.  Yes, you read that right.  Whither impartiality and the Hippocratic Oath, whose first article, lest we forget, is, “First, do no harm”?  It doesn’t take much of a stretch of the imagination to visualise the consequences.  Some of the neediest and most vulnerable people in society already, many of whom have little or no support in place (and whose existing support is very likely to have been CUT) forced through a humiliating and frightening process which reduces human beings to collections of symptoms and strips away all dignity and compassion, with the very real possibility of being left unable to pay for even the basics of life?  Existing mental health conditions will be exacerbated (although, of course, it’s a lot easier to demonise and dehumanise sufferers of conditions which can’t be visually seen – it’s a sad fact that certain sections of society have always found it difficult to make the empathic leap to understanding that people may show no visible signs but still be cripplingly disabled by conditions such as agoraphobia.)  Desperation and fear will be everywhere, and for the most vulnerable and isolated, suicides are a real possibility. 

Of course, if you are disabled and you fail your medical – which seem on the evidence I have seen to be a hollow performance reminiscent of show trials, something which must be seen to be done but whose meaninglessness resides in the fact the outcome is decided before you even step into the room – you can go on jobseeker’s allowance, and be given a pitiful amount in return for applying for a set number of jobs which you are unable to do.  Or you can appeal – a hugely stressful and slow process during which you must accept a forty per cent cut in benefits.  The cynical might suggest that this is so you will be so beaten down, exhausted and disheartened – with mounting debts and the inability to do the basic things, like eating, that we all take for granted – that you will give up in the face of heartless and faceless bureaucracy, an omnipotent system you will never beat.  I wouldn’t dream of such a thing – nonetheless the process would seem to go against the basic tenet of innocent until proven guilty and turn it on its head.  And guilty of what?  Bringing me neatly back to my initial point – guilty of being a burden.

Then there is the issue of those in early recovery from addiction.  Contrary to populist rhetoric casting addicts as granny-mugging demons in our midst, those who have successfully overcome addictions with the help of treatment are usually courageous individuals who have faced down huge socio-economic and personal barriers – empirical research shows a high correlation between childhood abuse and addiction in later life, for example – to turn their lives around.  Now let’s say you are a bastion of true middle England conservatism and still can’t muster an ounce of compassion for such people, let alone the round of applause they deserve.  Well then, there is still an economic argument to be made.  What is the sense in investing thousands in costly treatment programmes only to then turf still vulnerable adults into penury, exacerbating the risk of relapse, depression, and a return to old and possibly criminal behaviours, all of which will cost the taxpayer far more in the long term?  But don’t worry, Cameron’s got the answer – cut funding for drug treatment so drastically there won’t be any recovering addicts!

It’s the same kind of short-sighted false economy which saw the closure of Sure Start children’s centres, which have been shown in longitudinal studies following children in such programmes to adulthood to produce innumerable societal and economic benefits such as stable employment, lack of involvement in criminality, higher literacy, better health and so forth, saving the taxpayer countless sums for every pound spent – even without moral considerations, such a return on investment is a worthy enterprise, surely?  The same holds true for cutting the benefits of the ill and disabled – health care costs in the long run will totally eclipse any short term savings of a paltry few pounds a week. 

The poor, the vulnerable and the disabled didn’t cause this crisis.  We all know who did, and the fact is that regardless, if the superrich who dodge their taxes, greedily hoarding what would be a drop in the ocean in terms of their billions, were all made to pay up, the country’s deficit would be paid and we’d still be £70 billion in credit!  Tax evasion costs the country billions more than the benefits bill, but you won’t read about that in the Daily Mail.

For those of us who still believe that the mark of a society is how it treats its most vulnerable members, we live in frightening times indeed.