Parliament just slapped millions of disabled people in the face

A debate in parliament on Wednesday 5 June showed at best the lack of concern for millions of disabled people. At worst, it is a sign of the contempt hundreds of MPs hold their chronically ill constituents in.

Another day, another debate

A debate on invisible disabilities and access change happened in the House of Commons. It was about impairments that are not always visible in terms of their effects, and what can be done to raise more awareness of these.

Now, don’t misunderstand me. I am the partner of someone who lives with predominantly invisible disabilities and illnesses. So, I welcome any debate into the lives of chronically ill and disabled people and how government and society treats them.

Nic’s story

My girlfriend Nicola Jeffery is just one example of millions of people in the UK ravaged by chronic but often invisible diseases, illnesses and conditions. She currently lives with (yes, it’s gone up again since the last time I wrote):

  • Hypermobile Ehlers-Danlos syndrome (hEDS).
  • Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (ME).
  • Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome (POTS).
  • Craniocervical Instability (CCI).
  • Atlantoaxial Instability (AAI).
  • Hypotension.
  • Megaloblastic Anaemia.
  • Peripheral Neuropathy.
  • Chronotropic Incompetence.
  • T3 Hypothyroidism.
  • Mycotoxicosis.
  • Deformations in left foot, left leg shortness.
  • Non-epileptic focal aware and tonic clonic seizures.
  • Polycystic Ovary syndrome.
  • Temporomandibular Joint Dysfunction (TMJ).

Nic is the perfect example of how invisible disabilities can severely debilitate someone’s life. She explained in her usual, eloquent but to-the-point manner in this Twitter thread. I suggest you read the whole thing:

In short, her treatment at the hands of government bodies, medical professionals and society more broadly has been disgusting.

But Nic’s story, which you can read here, is sadly like hundreds of thousands of other people across the world.

So, Wednesday’s debate was an opportunity for MPs to show their concern, understanding and wish for action to happen.

‘Rarely diagnosed’. Rarely debated.

As I tweeted, invisible disabilities are far from ‘rare’ in the UK. As Nic always says, they’re more ‘rarely diagnosed’:

Did MPs turn out in their droves?

Did they hell:

HoC Invisible Illnesses.png

Now, I know what you’re going to say.

All the white bits of paper on the benches are MPs who aren’t physically present but who wish to either vote or make it be known they support the debate. Ironically, they’re ‘invisible’ but still there.

This is not the point.

“Parasites”

As I previously wrote for The Canary, we’ve been here before. A UN committee accused successive UK governments of “grave” and “systematic” violations of disabled people’s human rights. It said they had caused a “human catastrophe”.

But the parliamentary debate into this was almost empty. As I wrote at the time:

empty seats… amplify the impression to the public that disabled people’s rights are a niche issue – one that doesn’t require the full attention of MPs – just a handful to show willing by the party… It gives the feeling that the “grave” and “systematic” violations of… 13.3 million disabled people’s human rights are not really that important…

 

The UN previously said there was a culture in UK society where disabled people were viewed as “parasites, living on social benefits… and [living on] the taxes of other people”. And by not bothering to take half an hour out of their day to sit and listen to a debate over one of the most serious issues in recent history… MPs merely add fuel to this fire.

The invisible disabilities debate was exactly this, with the usual exceptions.

Shout outs and shout downs

The ever-present and indefatigable Labour MP Debbie Abrahams has been a bastion of solidarity with disabled people, and was of course present. Sharon Hodgson and Justin Madders were also there, among others. The SNP’s Carol Monaghan and Angela Crawley were there, the latter making very good points about the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP). Some Tories were present, with Justin Tomlinson representing the government.

But the lack of MPs once again gives the impression that they really don’t care that much. It’s an impression that for many of them is probably spot on. Disabled people, as the UN alluded to, are viewed by many MPs as a burden to be tolerated. They are people who should be kept in the most basic of living standards by the state (if at all) and otherwise forgotten about. Empty benches on this debate were of little surprise.

Underwhelming

Of course, the end result of the afternoon was as underwhelming as the turnout. As Nic tweeted:

Yup, that was just about it.

Forget breaking down the miseducation, prejudice and stigma that exists in the medical world over countless invisible disabilities like ME.

Don’t worry about the scandal of “Fabricated or Induced Illness” (FII) diagnoses, where the state removes children from their parents – often because their disabilities are invisible and bodies like social services think the mothers are making their children’s illnesses up.

Let’s not debate PACE trial – one of the biggest medical scandals of the 21st century that has left people living with ME, EDS, Fibromyalgia and other conditions effectively being told to ‘think themselves better’.

We won’t talk about the scandalously low levels of research funding into diseases like ME, either.

Nor will we mention the barely fit-for-purpose Equality Act 2010, that is even less fit-for-purpose for invisible disabilities.

And let’s ignore the entrenched misunderstanding, abuse and neglect that exists in the very fabric of our society just because people living with invisible disabilities look ‘normal’. From disbelief and accusations of lying to being kicked off accessible seats on buses. It’s there, and it’s not invisible.

Wednesday’s debate was just another example in a long line of parliamentary lip service to disabled people. I applaud the MPs who were present. But the woeful turnout and the limp conclusions offer nothing to millions of people in this country, whom society has thrown on its scrapheap.

I’ve given up writing full time to support my partner Nic, who lives with ME and nearly now 13 other diseases and illnesses. You can read about her journey here. Most of her medical treatment now has to be private; a challenge in itself with no income.

If you want to support us on this journey, or if you like my writing, any gifts/donations are gratefully accepted below. Thank you.
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CanaryPod: #ToppleUncaged meets… Your Heterosexual Violence

THIS PODCAST CONTAINS LANGUAGE AND CONTENT SOME PEOPLE MAY FIND OFFENSIVE. IT ALSO CONTAINS COMMENTARY ON PEOPLE TAKING THEIR OWN LIVES, WHICH SOME LISTENERS MAY FIND DISTRESSING.THE VIEWS EXPRESSED IN THIS EPISODE ARE THE OPINIONS OF THE HOST AND GUESTS. Welcome to series two of #ToppleUncaged!…

The DWP’s Universal Credit was just saved by Philip Alston

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) got somewhat of a gift on Wednesday 22 May. It came in the form of a UN report by Philip Alston. And while much of the media has focused on his scathing criticism of successive UK governments, it missed the most important point. It was that Alston effectively gave the DWP a ‘get out of jail free’ card over Universal Credit.

The DWP and the UN

If you are reading this and don’t know much about the controversial new benefit, then you can read The Canary‘s excellent coverage here. In short, Universal Credit rolls six previous welfare payments into one. But controversy has marred it – from increased food bank use to homelessness. Now, and for the fifth time, the UN has got involved.

Alston is a UN special rapporteur on extreme poverty. He visited the UK in November 2018 on a fact-finding mission. His aim was to see how successive governments’ austerity programme, welfare cuts and Universal Credit had affected people. And on 22 May he released his analysis.

You can read it in full below:

UK Alston Poverty Report Final

As the The Canary‘s James Wright reported, much of Alston’s report was damning. He said that:

14 million people living in poverty, record levels of hunger and homelessness, falling life expectancy for some groups, ever fewer community services, and greatly reduced policing, while access to the courts for lower-income groups has been dramatically rolled back by cuts to legal aid.

He also noted [pdf, p5]:

It might seem to some observers that the Department of Work and Pensions has been tasked with designing a digital and sanitized version of the nineteenth century workhouse, made infamous by Charles Dickens…

But Alston also focused on Universal Credit.

“Universal Discredit”

He talked [pdf, p11-14] about the benefit’s “shortcomings”, including:

  • Food bank use increasing where the DWP has rolled it out.
  • Government treating claimants like “guinea pigs” with its “test and learn” approach.
  • Ministers dismissing his concerns.
  • The “perverse” and “catastrophic” five-week payment wait.
  • “Punitive” sanctions.
  • The flaws in Universal Credit being online only.

But he also had some praise for the benefit. He said [pdf, p11]:

Consolidating six different benefits into one makes good sense, in principle.

And he noted [pdf, p4] a:

welcome increase in work allowances, as a consequence of which an estimated 2.4 million households will be better off in 2019,10 and some 200,000 people will rise out of poverty.

But overall, he was highly critical. Problem being, that Alston merely scratched the surface of the catastrophe.

A fault in his argument

By agreeing with the benefit in principle, he fails to understand that Universal Credit is designed to be punitive, vicious and chaotic. This is not government error or failings. And it will not change.

It’s a very concerning flaw in his analysis which in some respects makes much of his other commentary redundant. Here’s why I think that.

A potted history

I would urge you to read here a potted history of Universal Credit I did for The Canary. But, in short, as I wrote:

Universal Credit was the brainchild of [Iain Duncan Smith] and his think tank [the Centre for Social Justice (CSJ)] along with some people who are, essentially, Christian fundamentalists.

 

The overriding notion behind it? That everyone who can do even the smallest bit of work, should. This would, in turn, end welfare ‘dependency’. The thinking was also to reinstall marriage as central to society. All this would herald a return to a Victorian-like era; one where charity and philanthropy support sick, disabled and poor people – not the government.

I continued by explaining that the first major report by the CSJ in 2006, for the opposition Tory Party under David Cameron, outlined that:

poverty and welfare dependency were not due to capitalism’s inequalities. But that poor people and their reliance on welfare existed due to “pathways to poverty”: “family breakdown, education failure, economic dependence, [welfare] indebtedness and addictions”. Solve these, and everyone has “the chance to climb the ladder”, as the report put it

 

Central to this was ‘dynamic modelling’, the idea of creating a system that changed people’s behaviour to get them into work (see Kitty Jones’s excellent work on “nudge theory”). Essentially, this meant cutting people’s money so they had no choice but to get a job. Or, in the case of in-work benefits like tax credits, cutting them as people started earning more.

A digital workhouse

We’re back to Alston’s “digital and sanitized” 19th century workhouse analogy again. That is, Universal Credit is the digital equivalent of a workhouse. It will push all the people who were of no use to the system (that is, had little monetary value) under one roof: severely disabled, sick and chronically ill people, those living with mental health issues, single mothers and the ‘work-shy’. All housed in a virtual workhouse. Segregated from the rest of society. A truly dystopian nightmare.

Propaganda overdrive

Meanwhile, and as if by magic, to coincide with Alston’s report release the DWP launched it’s heaviest propaganda offensive yet: a massive splash in the Metro:

Of course it’s not magic. It’s part of an ongoing campaign by the DWP to sell its most draconian policy as something positive. Campaigners have been vigorously opposing Universal Credit for a while, now. But if you believe YouGov polling, neither the DWP nor activists are shifting public opinion on the benefit.

Public confusion

The pollster reported in October 2018 that public opinion over Universal Credit was divided:

Universal credit charts-01.png

The confusion and working class division over Universal Credit is evident on our estate.

On the one hand, we have a friend who works in the gig economy and is struggling with the tapering of the earnings floor under the benefit.

Then we have another friend, a single parent of three, who thinks Universal Credit is a great idea. Despite still using food banks they are all for it.

Failing? It’s intentional.

Alston said in his report that with Universal Credit, successive governments were guilty of:

failing to properly design a system that is meant to guarantee the social security of so many…

On the contrary. Successive governments and the unelected civil servants have designed Universal Credit perfectly. And its roll out is going pretty well to plan.

It was always meant to be chaotic. The more confusion and difficulty experienced by claimants, the more potential claimants would be put off applying for it. It’s the same notion of poor prison conditions being used as a ‘deterrent’ to put people off committing crime.

So, the worse Universal Credit is, the more people will fall off the edges of society or get any work they can. It will leave those in the greatest of need reliant on it, stuck in this virtual workhouse.

Half-baked analysis. Game over?

Alston has done nothing to hasten the benefit’s demise. In fact, all he’s done is given the government and DWP ammunition to tinker a bit more around the edges if they want to. His report comes in a long line of UN reports and a Human Rights Watch one just this week. All were scathing but in reality all were useless.

His half-baked analysis and ironic tinkering around the edges (which Alston criticised the UK government for doing) is of no help to the millions of people suffering in the UK. It will be forgotten in a matter of weeks. And the barbaric roll out of the dystopian Universal Credit will continue.

It is again down to activists to spread the word in their communities, apply pressure on political parties and ultimately do everything they can to bring about the demise of this wicked, nightmarish horror.

I’ve given up writing full time to support my partner Nic, who lives with ME and nearly now 13 other diseases and illnesses. You can read about her journey here. Most of her medical treatment now has to be private; a challenge in itself with no income.

If you want to support us on this journey, or if you like my writing, any gifts/donations are gratefully accepted below. Thank you.
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Brexit Britain: where dead disabled people are less important than the ‘A50’ petition. #PutItToThePeople?

Brexit chaos has continued unabated this week with a petition to revoke Article 50 (A50) getting over four million signatures by 10am on 23 March. Also on 23 March was the #PutItToThePeople march in London.

Good for the “FBPE” crowd. Because while they obsess over the EU, there’s another petition out there. It’s calling for an inquiry into the deaths of disabled on the Department for Work and Pensions’ (DWP) watch. Sadly it has only got around 0.25% of the signatures of A50 one. Perhaps a damning testament to how ludicrous the UK political arena has become.

So, we’re in a mess with Brexit. I won’t furnish you with an update. Because by the time I hit “publish” on this article the situation will probably have changed. But in the midst of all this chaos another petition is doing the rounds. It’s one that I think is far more important than the other, liberal wet dream.

Justice for Jodey

It’s called:

Justice for Jodey Whiting. Independent inquiry into deaths linked to the DWP…

Here’s the link:

https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/243337

If you want to read the full background and Jodey’s horrific story, please read John Pring’s Disability News Service article here. But as he wrote:

Relatives of six disabled people who died due to… (DWP) failings have backed a new petition to MPs that calls for an independent inquiry into deaths linked to the department’s actions.

 

The petition… says such an inquiry should also investigate potential misconduct by ministers and civil servants.

 

And it says that any evidence of misconduct contributing to serious harm or deaths of benefit claimants should be passed to the police for a possible criminal investigation.

 

The petition… brands DWP ‘institutionally disablist and not fit for purpose’.

 

And it calls on DWP to ‘urgently change its policies and administration of social security benefits to make the safety of all claimants a priority’.

Sadly, I think six people’s deaths under the DWP’s watch is just the tip of the iceberg. The figures back this up as well.

Tens of thousands. Dead.

Nearly 30 people a day have been dying on the DWP’s watch, either waiting for benefit decisions or when the department told them they were ready to move towards work. Then, the DWP was forced to reveal 21,000 people died waiting for it to pay them money it owed them.

Meanwhile, an Oxford University study found that at least 590 people had taken their own lives, due in part to the Department for Work and Pensions’ (DWP) Work Capability Assessment.

This is on top of five successive UN reports, one of which slammed successive governments for committing “grave” and “systematic” violations of disabled people’s human rights. And another which branded the situation a “human catastrophe”.

All of this is without the self harm, abject misery, poverty and mental torture which the DWP has had a hand in.

A bunch of odious shits

So, why so few signatures for this petition, yet so many for the A50 one? Of course, if you’ve signed both – I salute you. So please disregard this section.

If not…

Let’s be honest: of course the A50 petition would be more important to some (not all) of the FBPE group.

Some of them are Lib Dem supporters, who helped push through harsher DWP benefit sanctions in return for the Tories passing their 5p carrier bag charge. No, really.

Then, some of them are Labour supporters from the Blair school of thought. The same ideology that started the DWP on the path to a “human catastrophe”.

Also, some of them are ‘compassionate Conservatives’. You know the ones – the Anna Soubry’s of this world whom TV show (and alleged disability advocate) The Last Leg think is amusing to have on as a guest. Actually, Soubry and her ilk are the worst kind of Tories: feigning care with one hand while metaphorically punching disabled people with the other.

‘Othering’

But moreover, politician’s and the media’s demonisation and “othering” of sick and disabled people over the years has got us to this point. A point where there can be tens of thousands of deaths and the public barely flinch.

Of course, sick and disabled people dying now (as in, right now, probably 30 today) is far less important than the self-serving motivations of these collective odious shits and their FBPE obsession.

Sorry, what do you want?

You can argue with me until you’re blue in the face that Brexit will make life worse for sick and disabled people. Maybe it will. But point me to the evidence of how the EU stopped five UN investigations, tens of thousands of deaths and immeasurable suffering caused by the Tories and the DWP, previously?

Also, explain to me how you will reform the inherently undemocratic, corporatist capitalist EU for the better, to improve the lives of sick and disabled people in this country – when the EU project itself will either implode, or become neoliberalism on steroids?

And tell me how revoking Article 50 and/or a People’s Vote will not play into the hands of the far-right figureheads, already embolden by the Brexit chaos, plus seemingly unrelenting in their racism even after the New Zealand massacre?

I personally think, as I did in 2016, we’re screwed either way. So we need to get on with the job of dismantling the current systems of power where we can affect them: in this country.

Stop the deaths, or get lost

The first part of that is to stop people dying. Unless my moral compass is completely skewed and I should be focusing on where people can fish after Brexit? Would that be better for you?

Seriously, screw the people who think Brexit is more important than people dying, right now, in this country. And screw the self-serving horse you rode in on. Also, screw those who’ll tell me ‘We don’t!’ yet can’t put the energy they have into the FBPE movement, into fighting for sick and disabled people.

Anyone else who has a shred of moral credibility and half a heart, please sign the DWP petition here.

I no longer write for The Canary (due to my girlfriend’s chronic illnesses – read about that here) so any donations to keep this site and my writing here going, or help me and her, are gratefully accepted. Thank you.
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