Look Left – The human cost of the government’s inhumane welfare reforms


 

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Iain-Duncan-Smith

• The horror of the welfare reform bill continues to loom large, with the stress and fear engendered by the government’s inhumane reforms taking an ever more worrying toll.

Leading disability campaigner and Left Foot Forward contributor Sue Marsh is in hospital.

This morning she wrote:

“Well I can confirm categorically that Arbeit does not macht you frei.

“Quite the opposite in fact. Far from ‘freeing’ me, work has put me in a hospital bed chained with plastic tubes.

“I’m almost certain none of the politicians so glibly deciding our futures know what the ‘spoon bank’ is. If you have a long term condition, then you only have so much energy for any given day. When it’s gone it’s gone – WIGIG. Now that doesn’t mean you can’t borrow energy, but just like the deficit, it has to be paid back.

“When you borrow energy (or ‘spoons’) you are paid in adrenaline. The adrenaline convinces your body that all is well. OK, you’re a little too shrill, a little too twitchy, you’re eyes a little too bright, but I’m sure Mr Grayling wouldn’t have noticed any of that as he sat talking to the composed little scrap with her make up just so.

“After a while, your natural instincts try to step in. ‘Go to bed’ – the thought unbidden takes you by surprise. ‘Just close your eyes’ – the siren call of rest as the adrenaline ebbs for a moment.

“In my case, I pay in immunity. As the weeks went on, I got a cough here, a splitting headache there so piercing it made me cry. I got neuralgia, sinusitis, the cough turned into a chest infection, I got spots in front of my eyes, atrial fibrillation. Little immune complaints popping up all over in protest at my unsustainable spoon debt.

“And then I stopped.

“When you stop, the adrenaline ebbs away. For a day or so you feel sad, but you’re not quite sure why. Then you get sick. Really, really sick. the adrenaline blanket that had been keeping all those ‘niggles’ that you ignored through gritted teeth at bay, is stripped away. My chest infection turned into something worse, my temperature started spiking, my face puffed up like a football, my ribs started screaming in pain.”

She concludes:

“They [Grayling and the government] ignored the coalition we built, they ignored every major charity backing the Responsible Reform report and issuing press releases and statements in support. They ignored the rush of Blairites to confirm that actually, some very bad things are happening. Not one did a serious piece on our research.

“Not one. They all wanted ‘stories’ – the soldier with his leg blown off refused benefits, or the cancer patient who dies just hours after being found fit for work.

“We wouldn’t give them. We refused. Because that’s not what the Spartacus Report was about. There were at least 5 serious news stories in it, and if that wasn’t enough misery-porn for them, then our story will just have to wait.

“I’m ‘in the best place’ – antibiotics and saline drips and painkillers are oozing into my blood. Everyone is very kind. The nurse who admitted me knew who I was and actually grabbed my wrist to check my name – ‘Are you Sue Marsh??? You??’

“I have no idea if we will be able to do what we did again. We knew it was unsafe. At some point, we need the more able to take some of the load. We need them to see what is being done in their name. We need them to act. Because we can only act for so long.”

Earlier this week, a former member of the Conservative party wrote about his decision to leave in protest at the reforms:

“Having been a member of the Conservative party since 1992 and a councillor from 2006, I decided to relinquish both of those positions in 2011. A big decision but one that I decided to make because of the government’s endless attacks on disabled people and their right to independence and full equality…

“Cameron has had personal experience of disability – he more than anyone should know the challenges and obstacles disabled people face, and as prime minister has the authority and power to ensure equality for all. The question is, will Cameron do the decent and honourable thing and actually instruct his ministers to listen?”

This week on Left Foot Forward, we’ve had Steve Griffiths on the DWP’s quarterly love-in with the tabloids; Anjuli Veall, social policy and campaigns manager at Parkinson’s UK, on how the government’s replacement for disability living allowance is not fit for purpose; the Papworth Trust’s Helen Sampson on the growing calls for a pause to the welfare reform bill; and Declan Gaffney on whether the government will take money away from disabled people on a hunch.

And we’ve also had Ann Milnes Roberts on the horror of a system in which people who are clearly disabled being denied DLA:

“If you demonstrate your ability in the face of your disability, then God help you. Because by showing that you can take part in the world, you’ll be banned from the world.

“No DLA, no Motability, no car, no life. This heartless, calculating, cruel Conservative government has managed a clever trick, backed up by the right-wing press. In spite of fraud accounting for less than half a per cent of all claims, we’re regaled with tales of ice-skating cripples, disabled ballroom dancing champions bent on cheating the system.

“Stop it. Stop it now. People are kinder, more honest, better than you think. The public don’t think we’re all scoungers, in spite of your best efforts. Look for a more popular enemy. Perhaps you could target those rich people who aren’t paying their taxes? Just a thought…”

• Another week, another grim set of figures on the economy, with youth unemployment hitting a record high (again) and the jobs picture generally one of gloom.

On the youth unemployment stats, Sally Hunt, general secretary of the UCU, wrote on Left Foot Forward:

“The unemployment figures (pdf) make for grim reading yet again this month. The unemployment rate has not been higher since 1995 and the number of unemployed people has not been higher since 1994.

“And, as Graph 1 shows, the number of jobless 16 to 24-year-olds has risen by 52,000, to 1.04 million, which is the highest number since records began in 1992…

“Ministers need to recognise that higher education is a public good that generates billions for our economy and that investing in it will benefit all of society and potentially prevent hundreds of thousands of young people from a lifetime of signing on.

“The government needs to make a clear statement that it backs our universities and young people and the best place to the start is with HEFCE’s grant letter when it is finally delivered in the next few days.”

While on the wider picture, Richard Exell explained:

“This is the sixth month running to have seen an increase – if unemployment continues to rise at this rate it will reach three million by July.

“The number of unemployed women rose again, reaching 1,128,000, the highest figure since October 1987. The 59,000 increase is the largest since April 2009. The claimant count measure of unemployment rose 1,200, to 1,597,000. The rise was rather less than expected, but the five per cent claimant count rate remains the highest since August 1997. The number of people under 25 who are unemployed rose again, to 1,043,000…

“There are other signs of a weak labour market in today’s figures. On the quarter, the number of redundancies increased by nearly ten per cent, continuing what now looks like a trend, not a blip:

“There are now 5.8 unemployed people for each job vacancy, up from 5.6 in the last quarter. Again, this looks like a trend, not a blip… The prime minister is wrong: the labour market is very weak and the prospects for unemployed people are very poor.”

As Cormac Hollingsworth wrote, jobs, and growth, will cut the deficit – if only George Osborne would listen:

“Rising unemployment and recession are increasing the deficit. In the fiscal year 2011-12 the government’s policy measures of £19 billion have only cut the deficit by £ 9 billion. Ed Balls has been arguing a very simple point that government action to reverse the slump would reduce the deficit…

“Labour’s five-point plan should be implemented in 2012 because UK output would be four percentage points higher in 2015, which lowers unemployment by two percentage points, but most importantly lowers borrowing by £16 billion.”

Also this week on Left Foot Forward, we’ve got more on Ed Balls’s repositioning of Labour’s policy on cuts and the deficit, here and here, and check out our deficit calculator, where you can enter your prediction for growth in 2012, and see what deficit is likely to be produced…

• It was a week to forget for Boris Johnson, with the London Mayor losing his poll lead, and getting stick over his airport idea, his views on youth unemployment, his closeness to bankers and his lack of accountability over the Met.

The latest YouGov London Mayor poll has Boris trailing Ken Livingstone 51%-49%, his eight-point lead last June evaporating, with Peter Kellner noting that Johnson is now seen as “increasingly out of touch”:

“Our poll suggests two factors have been at work: one has dented Boris’s appeal, while the other has burnished Ken’s.

“Boris’s new year problem is that he is seen as increasingly out of touch. As in our poll last June, we listed eight characteristics and asked people to say which applied to the two candidates. As a rule of thumb, with this kind of question – where we ask people to pick from a list rather than judge each characteristic separately – anything over 30 is a good score, and anything under 15 a bad score.

“The proportion saying Boris is ‘in touch with the concerns of ordinary people’ has tumbled since June from 20% to 13%. A bearable score has become a terrible one. Meanwhile Ken, who was already ahead with 37%, has seen his ‘in touch’ score climb to 40%. He was in front; he is now out of sight…

“As for Ken, it looks as his promise to cut fares on buses and the tube has made an impact. Among all Londoners, transport vies with crime as their top concern. But among Ken’s supporters, transport is clearly ahead.”

On the plan for a ‘Boris Island’ airport in the Thames Estuary, though reports at the beginning of the week suggested David Cameron backed the idea, today’s Times (£) says the Tories are now looking at expand Gatwick and Stansted instead:

“Although David Cameron and George Osborne are warming to the idea of a new airport in the Thames Estuary, there are doubts about cost and feasibility… Instead, [ministers] are looking to expand Gatwick or Stansted, although that means revoking a separate promise in the coalition agreement.”

On his closeness to bankers, Jenny Jones AM wrote on Left Foot Forward about his backing of his fat cat chums over small businesses, while on his failings over the Met, Joanne McCartney AM explained:

“As the Mayor seizes more control of the Metropolitan Police and police authorities are scrapped these concerns are brought to the fore. This retreat from accountability is something we should all be worried about.

“The Metropolitan Police Authority (MPA) has been replaced by the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime (MOPC), the Mayor will hand over day-to-day running of the Met to Tory Assembly Member Kit Malthouse.

“These changes are part of the government’s controversial plans to introduce directly elected police commissioners.

“The dangers of directly elected commissioners are well documented and were raised during the debates in Parliament that saw these changes being forced through…

“It is incumbent on us as members of the London Assembly and the police and crime committee to hold the Mayor, his deputy for policing and the police to account on behalf of the public. As we have seen in recent years the issues at stake are far too important to be taken lightly.

“It is essential the MOPC and the police are transparent and forthcoming towards investigations run by the new scrutiny committee; anything less is unacceptable. Otherwise there is a great danger trust will be lost and trust of the public in its police service is vital. For the public to trust these new arrangements and the police we must continue holding the Met and Mayor to account.”

And on his comments on youth unemployment, Val Shawcross AM wrote:

“Boris Johnson follows in the footsteps of Norman Tebbit and Iain Duncan Smith by blaming those looking for work for London’s unemployment. It’s the oldest trick in the Tory book.

“Last time a Tory government pushed unemployment into the millions, Tebbit said people should get on their bikes to look for work that didn’t exist. Iain Duncan Smith said they should get on a bus. And now – when there are 234,000 Londoners fighting for just 33,000 jobs – the Tory Mayor blames their lack of ‘energy and appetite for work’…

“I’ve visited colleges. I’ve spoken to young people in my south London constituency and across the city and I know there is no problem with their ‘work ethic’.

“What I do see and hear is a generation of young Londoners who are having their dreams and ambitions blocked by a government who sees them as surplus to requirements. There is a very real feeling that they’re being disregarded and sidelined.

“Either Boris Johnson knows this but doesn’t care or he doesn’t have a clue about what is happening in the city he is supposed to govern.”

As Ken Livingstone said:

“Tory Boris Johnson is calling Londoners workshy and lazy when in fact they’re the hardest working people in the world. He’s completely out of touch with reality.

“Boris Johnson has two jobs, earning him £400,000 a year combined, so it is little wonder that he is so out of touch about how hard it is for many to find work in a city with some of the highest unemployment in Britain.

“The Tory mayor seems oblivious to the real problems young Londoners face. He should be working round the clock to create new jobs for Londoners, but instead he has been silent as his Conservative government has cut EMA and raised tuition fees.”

Progressive of the week:

British tennis player Laura Robson, who stood up for equal rights at the Australian Open this week, wearing a rainbow-coloured hairband during her first round match on the Margaret Court arena, named after the former Aussie tennis great and anti-gay firebrand.

The Telegraph reports:

“Robson said she wore it after reading about comments made by Court, who is now a pastor at a Perth church, and has claimed that homosexuality had tarnished women’s tennis.

“Last week, Court, 69, reportedly said: ‘Politically correct education has masterfully escorted homosexuality out from behind closed doors, into the community openly and now is aggressively demanding marriage rights that are not theirs to take. The fact that the homosexual cry is, “We can’t help it, as we were born this way,” as the cause behind their own personal choice is cause for concern.’

“She has previously been criticised by her fellow female tennis stars Martina Navratilova and Billie Jean King, who are both gay, while Kerryn Phelps, former president of the Australian Medical Association, called on Tennis Australia to rename the Margaret Court Arena.”

With the Guardian adding:

“Court was a Catholic but became an evangelical Christian in 1972, the year before winning the last of 11 Australian titles. She won a record 24 grand slams and is regarded as one of the greatest players in the game’s history. She is now the senior pastor at the Victory life Centre in Perth, which she founded in the 1990s.

“However, her reputation has taken a battering since she made remarks last month that infuriated gay rights activists and provoked criticism from openly gay tennis champions such as Martina Navratilova, Billie Jean King and the Australian Rennae Stubbs, who commentates on tennis on Australian television.

“Court accused gay people of indulging in ‘abominable sexual practices’ and described same-sex marriages, promoted by legislation introduced by the current Labor government in Australia, as ‘unhealthy, unnatural unions’.”

Well done Laura on making a stand – it’s a shame more players didn’t join her. As for the Australian Open organisers, surely it’s time to rename the arena?

Regressive of the week:

Employment minister Chris Grayling, who, fresh from spinning the miserable job stats earlier this week, today whipped out his dog whistle with another attack on migrants, in the Telegraph and on the Today programme, his comments as inaccurate as they were nasty; same old Grayling then…

He claimed there were 371,000 benefit claimants, a claim described by NIESR’s Jonathan Portes as representing an “almighty mess”; as Alex Hern wrote:

“Rather than showing that migrants come to the UK from overseas to leach of the welfare state, the data in fact shows that migrants impose less than proportionate costs on the UK.

“Of course, this isn’t Grayling’s spin. Forced to defend his dog-whistle anti-immigrant rhetoric on the Today programme, he argued that: ‘It’s important to have a system everyone has confidence in… [and it’s] extraordinary we didn’t have any data on nationality of benefit claimants… otherwise how can people have confidence that we are paying out to people who are entitled.’

“When confronted with the fact that his own data has little evidence of benefit tourism, he claimed: ‘We have yet to establish the full picture… It may be there isn’t a problem now… but we have seen in recent years illegal immigrants get NI numbers… I want to make sure we know fully what is going on and can answer questions in Parliament about it.’

“This government’s attitude to evidence is fast becoming clear: Ignore it if you can, spin it if you can’t, and act on it only if it confirms your prejudices.”

Evidence of the week:

The latest quarterly crime statistics (pdf) and the British Crime Survey, published this week. The crime figures show the number of knifepoint robberies rose 10% in the year to September, with overall crime in England and Wales falling 4%, while the BCS suggests crime went up by 4%, with an 11% rise in personal crime – the biggest in a decade.

The increase in personal crime, which includes violence against the person, robbery, bag snatches and pickpocketing, is the largest since 2001-02.

As Matt Cavanagh wrote of the statistics, the rise in crime marks an opportunity for Labour to punish the government’s complacency on crime:

“No one knows for sure what is going to happen to overall crime levels.

“I have argued consistently that it is too early to say whether the apparent increases showing through in the figures are blips; or a sign that the long downward trend in crime since 1995 is flattening out to be replaced with a new stability; or the beginning of an upward trend.

“The second is the preferred hypothesis of Home Office statisticians; the third has some grounding in past experience of economic downturns, even leaving aside the issue of falling police numbers and morale. The full picture probably won’t be clear until the annual figures are published in summer 2013.

“But what is inexcusable, particularly for a government which is cutting police numbers, is the clear sense of complacency – and this is a weakness Labour should expose relentlessly.”

This weekend on Left Foot Forward:

Saturday:

• Darren Johnson AM on the new ‘Boris Tunnel’.

• The Week Outside Westminster – sign up to receive it by email here.

Sunday:

• Matthew Sowemimo on the new politics of protest.

• The Week Outside Westminster – sign up to receive it by email here.

This week’s most read:

1. Sunday Times stoop to new low with poll asking if Ed Miliband is “too ugly”Will Straw

2. The hidden legacy of the Stephen Lawrence caseDr Phil McCarvill

3. Win or lose, Scottish independence referendum heralds a revolution in UK politicsEd Jacobs

4. What Labour needs to say about debtGeorge Irvin

5. The World Outside Westminster – Violence in Nigeria, unrest in Pakistan, and RomneyChris Tarquini

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  • Ash

    “Not one did a serious piece on our research.

    “Not one. They all wanted ‘stories’ – the soldier with his leg blown off refused benefits, or the cancer patient who dies just hours after being found fit for work.

    “We wouldn’t give them. We refused.”

    Oh Sue, for God’s sake *why*? Public perception of disabled people (and other ‘scroungers’) is largely driven by the right-wing press’s dishonest use of stories about fraudulent benefit claimants – ‘dishonest’ because they lead people to form a general view of claimants that’s not borne out by the statistics on fraud etc. The press express a willingness to print ‘honest’ stories of a sort that might lead people to form a view that *is* borne out by the statistics, that *does* reflect the reality of what’s going on, and you refuse to play ball because you want them to print stories about pure statistics and leave their readers to figure out for themselves what the figures mean for disabled individuals? I don’t get it, I really don’t.

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  • Arecbalrin

    Those newspapers DO print stories about statistics and then DO leave their readers to come to their own conclusions; it’s just that most of the time those statistics are cherry-picked or fiddled to push one particular agenda and most who don’t know the story behind them can only conclude what the agenda wants. Those same newspapers do print stories about obviously deserving cases, but this does not change their reader’s perceptions because such cases are then inevitably compared with the negative ones those papers print the rest of the time.

    That is what they would obviously do if we provided them with human interest case studies, so why should we play ball with that? They simply want to distract readers from the figures we present that give a context that is inconvenient to their usual agenda on welfare.

    Mason Dixon, Autistic

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