Bedroom tax campaigner’s ‘contempt’ for ministers who forced his family to fight

One of the disabled campaigners whose “bedroom tax” cases were heard in the Supreme Court this week has spoken of his “contempt” for ministers who have forced them to spend years fighting for their rights through the legal system.
Paul Rutherford said it was tough and even “scary” to take on the government, but that he and his wife Susan “owe it to all disabled people to see it through”, despite a legal battle that began in 2013.
He said: “I have nothing but contempt for anyone who can put people like us through this, just by making a policy that is ideological and hasn’t saved money.”
The Supreme Court was asked this week to deliver a final ruling on whether the bedroom tax discriminates “unjustifiably” against disabled people.
The court heard evidence concerning six disabled people, who have all been struggling since the introduction three years ago of what the government calls its spare room subsidy removal policy.
Disabled activists were outside the Supreme Court in Westminster to show their support for the disabled people and carers who have spent years trying to persuade the courts that they should be exempted from the bedroom tax.
Bedroom tax regulations mean tenants in social housing are punished financially if assessed as “under-occupying” their homes, with about two-thirds of those affected being disabled people.
The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has argued that the needs of disabled people subject to the bedroom tax because they need an extra room should be met by discretionary housing payments (DHPs), extra funds handed by DWP to local authorities.
But Paul Rutherford told Disability News Service after the hearing that ministers “ought to walk in our shoes before deciding we need encouragement to work.
“We work 24/7 looking after Warren, even with the carers who come in every day to help.”
He and Susan care for their 16-year-old disabled grandson in an adapted three-bedroom bungalow in Pembrokeshire.
Both the Rutherfords are disabled and can only look after Warren, who needs 24-hour care, with the help of a paid, overnight care worker, who stays overnight in their third bedroom, which is also used to store vital equipment for their grandson.
Although the rules allow for an extra bedroom if an adult claimant or their partner needs overnight care, this does not apply to families with a disabled child.
Rutherford said: “Sue is especially angry because our security has been taken away, and because the DWP said in court [in 2014] that us having carers in was a ‘lifestyle choice’ and means nothing.
“It is a lifestyle choice to give up her life for the last 15 years and look after Warren. It means he can have a loving, caring family life and not be ‘consigned’ to a home at a cost of at least £250,000 a year.”
Rutherford, who attended the first day of the hearing, said it was worth the impact on his own health to be able to look the seven Supreme Court justices in the eye, but that having to now wait two or three months for the court’s decision was “massively stressful”.
He praised the support from other disabled people, including Disabled People Against Cuts, WinVisible and Sisters Uncut at the Supreme Court, with further support from Carers UK, Grandparents Plus and Papworth Trust, and the Child Poverty Action Group, which provided the legal team.
He added: “We realised we would have to carry on the fight when we heard about others in similar situations.
“Some have cases stayed pending the outcome of this week’s hearing and others weren’t able to appeal for many reasons.”
Another of the cases heard this week by the Supreme Court was that of Mervyn Drage, who lives alone in a three-bedroom flat in a high-rise block, let to him 19 years ago because his council considered it was unsuitable for families.
He has a number of significant mental health problems and physical impairments, which are exacerbated by stress, anxiety and changes to his routine, and is anxious about having to move if his full housing benefit is not reinstated.
Drage has had to rely on DHPs from his local council, but they ran out last month and he now has to wait to hear if the council will approve his latest DHP application.
A third case concerns Jacqueline Carmichael, who lives with her husband Jayson in a two-bedroom housing association flat.
Her impairment means she has to sleep in a fixed position in a hospital bed, on an electronic pressure mattress.
Her husband, her full-time carer, cannot sleep with her in the bed because of the risk of hurting her while he’s asleep, but there is not enough space for a second bed, so he sleeps in a second bedroom.
When the new regulations were introduced the Carmichaels had their housing benefit cut by 14 per cent because they were seen as over-occupying their home.
The court heard evidence on two sets of cases over the three days this week.
The first cases were brought by Mervyn Drage, the Carmichaels, James Daly, JD*, and Richard Rourke. The second set of cases include the Rutherfords.
In all of the cases, the high court ruled that the bedroom tax regulations were discriminatory, but that this discrimination was justified and therefore lawful.
In the first set of cases, the court of appeal refused to overturn the high court’s ruling, but in the Rutherfords’ case the court of appeal overturned the high court’s ruling and found that the government had failed to justify the discrimination.
Karen Ashton, from Central England Law Centre, which represents James Daly, Mervyn Drage and JD, said the cases were about “fairness”.
She said: “It is about disabled people being entitled to be paid sufficient housing benefit for the size and type of accommodation they need because of their disabilities and not being penalised because they are disabled.”
Ugo Hayter, solicitor at Leigh Day, who acts for the Carmichaels and Richard Rourke, said: “My clients are looking to the Supreme Court to recognise and bring to an end the awful hardship they, and many other disabled people nationally, have been subjected to since the introduction of the bedroom tax.
“They don’t want special treatment, they just want the ability to live with dignity and the same security enjoyed as of right by their able-bodied counterparts, who aren’t made to rely on short term and discretionary payments to meet their housing costs.”
*An anonymity order has been made to protect the identity of JD’s disabled daughter
3 March 2016

Sister hopes campaign for benefit sanction inquest will prevent further deaths

The sister of a disabled man who died after his benefits were sanctioned has launched a campaign to persuade the attorney general to order an inquest into his death.
Gill Thompson needs to raise £10,000 to instruct lawyers, apply for the necessary records, and seek expert evidence relating to the death of her brother, David Clapson, in July 2013.
Clapson died from diabetic ketoacidosis, an acute lack of insulin, three weeks after having his benefits sanctioned.
His electricity key had run out of credit because he had no money, so the fridge where he kept his insulin was not working.
An autopsy found his stomach was empty, and the only food left in his flat was six tea bags, a tin of soup and an out-of-date can of sardines. He had just £3.44 left in his bank account.
But despite the troubling circumstances surrounding his death, there has never been an inquest, while DWP has twice written to the family to insist that “no errors were made” in dealing with his case while he was alive.
DWP has also admitted in a letter to his MP that it was aware that he relied on insulin.
Thompson said she believed her brother was killed by the sanctions system, and added: “They are not going to give in. I have tried everything. I can’t bring David back, but I would like to be able to make a difference.
“I thought that if I get an inquiry into the circumstances leading to David’s death through the sanctions I will show that what they are doing is having consequences.
“I just don’t want any more deaths.”
Clapson had previously worked for 30 years, including five years in the army, and recently as a carer for his mother, who had dementia, but had had his £71.70-a-week jobseeker’s allowance stopped for a month after he missed two meetings at his local jobcentre.
CVs for job applications were found near his body, and he had been on work placements, passed a fork lift truck qualification and attended a computer training course.
His sister said: “David was a quiet, private and proud man who never asked or wanted much; he never complained or told me or his friends he had been sanctioned.
“He was not a ‘scrounger’ or ‘skiver’, he was simply unwell and vulnerable and needed caring support rather than being sanctioned without a lifeline.”
She added: “I feel that by doing this I will have done something for David and for others. I don’t want anything from this but to make a difference.
“If we said nothing, they would be getting away with it.”
Merry Varney, from law firm Leigh Day, which is representing Thompson in her fight for an inquest, said: “Managing type one diabetes requires good nutrition and regular insulin injections.
“Rendering a person unable to afford food and/or unable to chill their insulin is likely to have fatal consequences.
“David’s death must be investigated to make sure safeguards are in place to protect others and to establish whether the DWP knowingly cut off David’s lifeline.”
Thompson launched her fundraising campaign just a day before Disability News Service (DNS) was due to ask a tribunal to force the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) to publish information from secret “peer reviews” it has carried out into the deaths of 49 benefit claimants.
Thompson, like other families who have lost relatives in benefit-related circumstances, has no idea whether DWP carried out a peer review into her brother’s death.
She has backed efforts to force DWP to release the information, and said: “I think the families have a right to know the truth.”
DNS is appealing against the refusal of the Information Commissioner’s Office to require DWP to release details from the reports.
The hearing took place in London today (3 March) in front of the First-Tier Tribunal (Information Rights), although a decision is not expected for several months.
Next week, Thompson will hand DWP an online petition of more than 211,000 signatures, calling for an independent inquiry into the government’s benefit sanctions regime.
A protest to mark the handover will take place at DWP’s Caxton House headquarters, in Tothill Street, London SW1H 9NA, from 2.30-4pm on Wednesday (9 March).
3 March 2016

Disabled peers lead fresh efforts to halt ‘offensive’ WRAG cut

Three disabled peers have led fresh efforts to halt government plans to cut £1,500 a year from hundreds of thousands of claimants of out-of-work disability benefits.
The House of Lords overwhelmingly passed an amendment – later rejected by MPs* – by the disabled crossbench peer Lord [Colin] Low that would have delayed the measure until the government had researched its impact on people’s health, income and ability to return to work.
The government proposal would mean a loss of about £30 a week for new employment and support allowance (ESA) claimants placed in the work-related activity group (WRAG) from April 2017.
Peers heard this week that the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) had written to a Labour MP raising concerns about the impact assessments carried out by the government for the welfare reform and work bill.
EHRC chief executive Rebecca Hilsenrath said in the letter that the government’s analysis relating to the WRAG cut was “very limited”, while the assessments as a whole “contain very little in the way of evidence”.
Lord Freud said the amendment would “substantially delay implementation” of the WRAG cut, possibly until 2020, and accused Lord Low of “a delaying tactic that undermines conventional parliamentary process”.
But Lord Low replied: “The minister said it would be an expensive and time-consuming matter to provide the information my amendment calls for, but I would say that if the government do not already have this kind of information they should not seek to implement such a drastic cut to ESA in the first place.”
His fellow disabled crossbench peer, Baroness [Jane] Campbell, said that for the government to suggest the cut would incentivise disabled people to work was “deeply flawed and, frankly, quite offensive”.
She said that disabled people in the WRAG faced “multiple costly barriers in finding work and in just living from day to day”, including managing their conditions and getting to work and staying in work, such as inaccessible transport, offices and information systems, and employers’ attitudes.
She said the government should not be asking peers to vote for such a measure until it had published its planned white paper on employment support for disabled people later this year.
She said: “It is nonsense to make such drastic changes to the financial support received by disabled people in the WRAG before the House knows what a reformed employment and support system will look like in the future.
“The government are asking us today to take a massive leap of faith in their future policy intentions. This is a huge gamble with people’s lives and survival, and I am not prepared to take it.”
A third disabled crossbench peer, Baroness [Tanni] Grey-Thompson, also attacked the government’s proposals.
She said: “It almost feels as if we are putting the blame on disabled people, trying to fix them and not understanding the barriers that they face getting into work.
“Reducing the gap between those who are economically inactive through sickness and those who are unemployed throws away all recognition of those who are facing hardship through sickness and through no fault of their own.”
Lord Low’s amendment was passed by 289 votes to 219.
The Lords had previously thrown out the WRAG measure – again through a Lord Low amendment to the bill – but Tory MPs reinstated it into the bill last week.
Welfare reform minister Lord Freud had attempted to win over peers by offering concessions that would see an extra £15 million for support for WRAG claimants from jobcentres, and removing the 52-week limit on how long WRAG claimants can carry out up to 16 hours of “permitted work” a week while still claiming ESA.
But Lord Low said the concessions were “just not enough”, while Baroness Campbell said they would “do little to address these barriers that have nothing to do with sorting out the individual but have everything to do with sorting out society”.
Last week, Disability News Service reported that the government was likely to face legal action if it pushed ahead with the WRAG cut.
Disabled People Against Cuts has taken advice from a barrister, and has been told that a legal challenge – arguing that the group of disabled people affected would be discriminated against under the Equality Act – has a good chance of success, but could only be taken once the cut had been implemented.
*Last night, MPs threw out Lord Low’s amendment, by 309 to 274 votes. It will return to the Lords but it is likely that peers will now be forced to admit defeat and allow the WRAG cut to go ahead
3 March 2016

Sayce calls for ‘strong, united message’ to change hostile attitudes

A leading national disabled people’s organisation (DPO) is to campaign to produce a “sea change” in attitudes to disability, as one of its priorities over the next three years.
In its strategic plan for 2016-19, Disability Rights UK (DR UK) says it will focus its campaigning on independent living, improving disabled people’s career opportunities, and – a new priority for the charity – influencing public behaviour and attitudes.
In a blog accompanying the document, DR UK chief executive Liz Sayce points to a phone-in on BBC Radio 5 live last month in which disabled callers spoke of being “rejected, demonised, stared at, [and] made to feel unwelcome everywhere from playgrounds to trains”.
Sayce says DR UK now wants to collect disabled people’s experiences of some of the worst experiences they have faced, “whether it’s being viewed as scroungers or incompetents, being feared or looked down on, avoided or bullied”.
And she suggests there is a need for a “strong, united message” that resonates with the public, as with the LGBT movement’s call for “equal marriage”, and the US “black lives matter” campaign.
The strategy document says this message needs to demonstrate that disabled people are “contributors” rather than “costs”, and dismantle the “false dichotomy between scroungers and super-heroes”.
Sayce says that contact with disabled people – in education, work and elsewhere – will play a huge part in changing the “assumptions and actions” of non-disabled people.
“If we campaign to learn together, work together, pray together, live together – that will break down barriers,” she says.
The strategy also pledges to help build a national network of hate crime reporting centres, providing safe spaces for disabled people to report hostility and hate crime, and to work closely with other DPOs, police and the Crown Prosecution Service to combat hate crime and hostility.
DR UK will also focus on independent living as another of its three priorities, with plans to campaign to reduce the number of disabled people living in institutions and the use of coercive powers to detain and treat people against their will.
It will also focus on the funding necessary to live independently, for example through benefits and social care personal budgets; and organise a national campaign on access alongside its members.
On career opportunities, DR UK says it wants to show the government the importance of investing in peer support for skills and careers, and to focus on both the “carrots and sticks” that will persuade employers and education and training providers to take action.
The strategy highlights some of the statistics it would like to see published by the government – with regional figures for the most important areas – to allow progress towards disabled people’s equality and human rights to be measured.
These include the number of disabled people living in institutions; the pay gap between disabled and non-disabled people; and levels of disability discrimination, hostility and hate crime.
3 March 2016

DWP ‘ruined me’ with ‘victimisation’, says disabled benefit claimant

A disabled man has accused the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) of victimising him and ruining his life after it tried – and failed – to prosecute him for benefit fraud, despite letters from medical professionals confirming his serious medical conditions.
The case of Gary Moyse has shone a spotlight on DWP’s use of fraud investigators, and of secret filmed footage in cases where a claimant has a serious but fluctuating condition.
It comes as figures obtained by The Observer showed that more than 85 per cent of benefit fraud allegations made by the public to DWP over the last five years were false.
Moyse has chronic pain syndrome – following a car accident in December 2007 – as well as diabetic neuropathy and retinopathy, anxiety and depression, but was told by a diabetes consultant to stay as active as he could, however much pain it caused him.
He had been claiming disability living allowance (DLA), with higher rate mobility support and middle rate care.
But he claims that investigators working for an insurance company disputing the level of his claim for six-figure damages filmed him as he walked to his local high street – as he tried to follow his consultant’s advice to stay active – and then edited the footage to remove shots of him pausing, taking breaks, taking his medication, being assisted by friends, and falling over.
DVDs of this footage were later used by DWP to try to prove he was claiming DLA fraudulently.
The stress of the battle with DWP – which began in 2013 – has harmed his health even further, and last year he tried to take his own life. He is now recovering from a mini-stroke and a mild heart attack.
A consultant psychiatrist who saw him concluded in January 2015 that he had been “unfairly victimised”.
And Moyse says that two DWP investigators told him not to bother applying for personal independence payment (PIP) – which is replacing working-age DLA – and warned him that they would be watching him if he walked a single step outside his front door.
When he did apply for PIP, an Atos nurse who assessed him said he was entitled to the benefit, but her advice was ignored by the DWP decision-maker, the same civil servant who had dealt with the fraud allegations.
Moyse, a former treasurer for a multi-national oil company in Saudi Arabia, said: “I now get extreme anxiety.
“The only time I have been out of the house is to get out of taxis or a friend’s car and drive to the hospital or to the legal meetings.
“It’s pure victimisation. I am struggling to keep going against these tribunals.”
He is appealing through the tribunal system to overturn a ruling last August that he was not entitled to DLA and should pay back £20,000 in benefits to DWP.
The tribunal concluded that his “stated level of disability was lacking in credibility” and that he “suffers from no mental health disability”, despite the evidence of doctors and psychiatrists.
A consultant who examined Moyse for DWP and reported that he “walked slowly and stiffly with a right-sided crutch”, then saw the DVD of him walking more freely and concluded that he was “an unreliable witness”.
But Moyse points out that he never takes his medication when he is being examined for a DWP assessment, which explains why his movements were so different when he was seen by the consultant and the Atos nurse.
The tribunal ruling last August came even though, he claims, there were no witnesses at the hearing – including the two investigators – who he could question about the case against him.
The following month, a crown court judge directed the jury to find Moyse not guilty of misrepresenting his condition, after the Crown Prosecution Service was unable to produce the investigators who filmed the footage.
But when he applied for PIP, the DWP decision-maker rejected his claim, despite quoting in the decision document from letters from an occupational therapist and a diabetes consultant which backed up Moyse’s case.
The DWP decision-maker also suggested that Moyse’s “perseverance” with his claim and his insistence that he had been unfairly treated was “inconsistent with the anxious, depressed man featured in his claim”.
He also stated that DWP “dropped” the case against Moyse, when it was actually thrown out by the court.
Despite his PIP claim being rejected – it is currently going through the process of mandatory reconsideration – Moyse has been found not fit for work and is in the support group of the out-of-work disability benefit employment and support allowance, while his local council in Great Yarmouth spent thousands of pounds installing a wet room in his home.
He has been struggling to survive on ESA, as his DLA was stopped in October 2013, which meant he also had his Motability vehicle taken away, while his partner is no longer able to claim carer’s allowance, even though she helps him get up, wash and dress every day.
Since he lost his Motability car three years ago, and moved in with his partner, he has tried to walk the 200 yards to the local shops several times, but has had to stop every few yards because of the pain, and then has to sleep on the sofa for the next few days because of the resulting pain and diabetes complications.
He said: “I have been struggling ever since. They are just trying everything they possibly can to break me.
“I have panic attacks when I see the postman coming, because you never know what the next thing is going to be. Whenever I see a brown envelope, I ask my partner to open it.
“They have totally ruined my life. The only reason I am holding out is that I don’t believe people with that sort of power should be able to treat innocent people the way they are treating me.
“I shudder to think of the other people they have done this to who have caved in.
“I can’t go out of the front door without stress and paranoia. I don’t see why the government should be allowed to do this to people.”
A Department for Work and Pensions spokeswoman said: “PIP is awarded on the basis of how a claimant’s condition affects them rather than on the condition itself, and decisions on entitlement are taken on the basis of all the evidence held.
“The Independent Appeals Service agreed Mr Moyse was not entitled to DLA and is required to pay back his overpayment.
“We have a duty to the taxpayer to ensure recovery of overpayments.”
She added: “The judge directed the jury to find the defendant not guilty because he was not prepared to grant an adjournment to deal with a technicality in the proceedings – not on the basis of the evidence.”
She confirmed that this technicality was that DWP was unable to produce the investigators to give evidence in court within 24 hours.
3 March 2016

New campaign ruffles feathers as it takes aim at ESA ‘dead parrot’

A new user-led campaign has issued a controversial call to replace out-of-work disability benefits with a new system that recognises that many sick and disabled people cannot find work because of their “reduced productivity”.
The Dead Parrot campaign is the latest to call for the government to scrap employment and support allowance (ESA) and its eligibility test, the work capability assessment.
But its emphasis on “reduced productivity” and the argument that a replacement for ESA must recognise the “ruthless” nature of the labour market has led some disabled activists to brand the campaign as “dangerous”.
Pat’s Petition and CarerWatch, the two user-led groups that have launched the campaign, say the labour market allows only people who “can do the most work for the least money” to find employment.
They argue that this means that many sick and disabled people will never find work, because of their “reduced productivity”, even if employers make reasonable adjustments for them.
Because the government has made it so tough for people to claim unconditional support – through the ESA support group – many have been left in no-man’s land, not qualifying for the support group but with no chance of finding paid work.
Pat’s Petition and CarerWatch say the government could address this by easing the ESA support group eligibility criteria, amending equality laws and intervening in the jobs market.
They say: “Until this changes, people whose productivity is reduced won’t be able to gain employment and so need a safe secure income without threats and conditionality.”
So they argue that the replacement for ESA should be paid – without any conditionality – to anyone who cannot find work because of reduced productivity.
The idea has won support from some prominent disabled campaigners, including Professor Peter Beresford, Spartacus researcher Stef Benstead, union activist Sean McGovern, and Rick Burgess, formerly with the New Approach campaign and the WOW petition.
Pat’s Petition (PP) and CarerWatch are now encouraging other campaigners to discuss the idea on the PP Facebook page and website.
But their campaign has already divided disabled campaigners, particularly because of its focus on “reduced productivity”.
A statement from the national steering group of Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC) said this focus – with the phrase mentioned three times on the website – was “dangerous” because it implied that all disabled people have “reduced productivity”.
DPAC said the new campaign failed to focus on disabled people’s support needs, or attempt to challenge issues such as government cuts to Access to Work.
DPAC said: “We feel this has not been thought through properly in terms of negative implications.”
And it warned that the new campaign was “totally naïve” in suggesting that the government would consider signing up to its demands.
It also warned that the campaign could provide ammunition for work and pensions secretary Iain Duncan Smith, who has suggested that people in the ESA work-related activity group could work a few hours a week, and welfare reform minister Lord Freud, who has spoken approvingly of paying some disabled people a lower hourly rate because they are “less productive”.
DPAC also pointed to the controversy in 2011 when the right-wing Tory MP Philip Davies argued in a Commons debate on the minimum wage that employers should be allowed to pay people with mental health conditions less than the minimum wage because they were not “as productive in their work as someone who does not have a disability of that nature”.
The DPAC statement adds: “The DPAC national steering group feel there are too many problems and negative implications with [the campaign] to give our support to it.”
Frances Kelly, a founder member of PP and CarerWatch, accepted that their campaign risked entrenching employer discrimination, but said it was vital to find a new approach that “closely models reality in the job market and helps and protects everyone”.
She said they had been left with no option to their new model by the government’s insistence that “the only way out of poverty is work”, even though the job market was “ruthlessly competitive”.
Kelly said the system assumed a “cliff face” from the support group to everyone else, which made life intolerable for those who cannot compete on a level playing-field.
Pat Onions, founder of Pat’s Petition, said: “We hope that this campaign will put pressure on Iain Duncan Smith to ensure a safety net that supports all sick and disabled people into work at their own pace, without the sanctions that have been such a major part of the current system.”
She added: “We are aware that we are liable to being accused of siding with [ministers] and of suggesting that sick and disabled people are less productive and therefore of less value.”
But she added: “We want to acknowledge that some of us are indeed less productive: why are people so scared to say the obvious? But that does not make any of us less valuable for that.”
3 March 2016

MPs’ pay rise ‘is an insult’ when ministers are freezing PIP and DLA

MPs have been asked to defend an annual pay-rise of 1.3 per cent, at a time when disabled people will see their benefits frozen for a year.
The Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (IPSA) has announced that all MPs will receive a pay hike of 1.3 per cent in April, on top of a rise of more than 10 per cent announced last July.
But the latest pay increase comes at a time when the government is enforcing a freeze on working-age benefits.
IPSA said that the “annual adjustment” to MPs’ basic pay for 2016-17 would be an increase of 1.3 per cent, bringing the overall salary to £74,962 from 1 April 2016.
The annual adjustments of working-age benefit rates were decided last October, and are based on the CPI (consumer price index) rate for September, which showed that measure of inflation at minus 0.1 per cent.
CPI has since risen to 0.2 per cent in December, and is likely to rise higher over the next few months.
This zero per cent increase, which will come into force in April, is separate to a freeze on many other working-age benefits, which will last until 2020 and was announced by chancellor George Osborne in last year’s summer budget.
This freeze did not apply to benefits such as disability living allowance (DLA), personal independence payment (PIP) and the support group component of employment and support allowance (ESA).
But the government’s decision to shadow last September’s CPI means that working-age benefits including DLA, PIP and the ESA support group component will be set at exactly the same rate in 2016-17 as they were in 2015-16.
And it comes when the government is also trying to push through a £1,500-a-year cut in payments to new ESA claimants placed in the work-related activity group, through the welfare reform and work bill, despite opposition from the House of Lords.
A spokesman for Disabled People Against Cuts said: “The MPs’ pay rise at the time of an effective zero increase for claimants is an insult.
“Awarding themselves yet another big pay rise while at the same time voting disabled people into starvation over the ESA cut feels like a message is being sent out from Westminster.
“And that message to disabled people is: ‘We don’t care, we don’t care about you, we don’t care how you perceive us and we don’t care what harm we do to you.’”
Disability News Service approached the disabled Tory MP Paul Maynard for his views on the pay-rise and the benefit freeze, but he refused to comment.
But Angus Robertson, the SNP’s leader in Westminster, said he believed MPs should donate their pay-rises to charity.
He said: “Now is a time of austerity and huge financial difficulties for far too many people.
“It is not right for MPs to have a pay-rise in these circumstances.
“As IPSA has gone ahead with these changes, I think it would be right to use the funds to support good causes.”
Debbie Abrahams, Labour’s shadow minister for disabled people, also said she did not want to benefit personally from any pay-rise.
She said: “Although MPs’ pay is now decided by an independent body, IPSA, personally I believe that any decision on MPs’ pay must be consistent with what is happening to nurses, teachers and others in the public sector, people in receipt of social security, as well as conditions in the private sector.
“I didn’t enter politics based on the salaries MPs are paid and don’t think it is appropriate that we should get a pay rise when so many of our constituents are struggling to make ends meet.
“I have always stated that I will not benefit personally from any increase and I propose to put the extra money towards ensuring that my staff are properly recompensed for their hard work.
“If there are any funds remaining, it has been a long-standing wish of mine to establish a community fund, for example, to expand the summer school I run for young people.”
3 March 2016

DPOs ‘hold the key to a welfare state fightback’

User-led and disabled people’s organisations hold the key to fighting back against the government’s long-term assault on the welfare state, according to a leading disabled academic.
In his new book, All Our Welfare: Towards Participatory Social Policy, Professor Peter Beresford argues that service-user and disabled people’s organisations (DPOs) “offer a force for achieving change” and for moving towards a “future sustainable welfare state”.
Beresford, who chairs Shaping Our Lives, the national network of disabled people and service users, says in his book that the new identity movements of the 1970s – such as the disabled people’s movement – developed new ways of thinking.
They offered new ideas and models of support, and more equal methods of research; and they developed co-operatives, and focused on environmental sustainability and the importance of meeting people’s needs and rights.
But faced with a dominant right-wing media and politics, they survived only as an “undercurrent”.
Now, he says, the disabled people’s movement, which overcame “massive struggles” to develop its own pioneering, user-led services, can provide the foundation for a new “revisioned” welfare state, pushing back against the current media and political forces that want to marginalise the idea of welfare.
“I don’t see any other progressive way forward,” he told Disability News Service (DNS). “If we don’t manage to have that then I fear for where this country will be heading.”
He believes that successive governments have performed a “conjuring trick”, by transforming the welfare state – which historically has included services such as the NHS, social care, education and social housing – to simply mean welfare benefits.
“The welfare state, according to this government, is now ‘welfare’,” he says, “which means ‘people getting benefits that you are paying for, who are scum.’ That’s how they are presenting it.”
But Beresford, who is professor of citizen participation at the University of Essex and emeritus professor at Brunel University, is convinced that the seeds of the downfall of the government’s right-wing, anti-welfare state approach have already been sown.
“It’s difficult to be optimistic in terms of how many terrible things are going to continue to happen,” he told DNS, “but I don’t see it is a sustainable road of travel in where we are headed, I really don’t.”
He believes that younger people will feel more and more beleaguered by the prospect of huge higher education debts, and having to find the money to cope with job insecurity and – if the welfare state continues to be whittled away – healthcare, pensions and social care.
Young families with disabled children “will not tolerate what people tolerated 20, 30, 50 years ago; they want a life for their children; they see their children as like anybody else”.
And older people, he says, now worry about their grandchildren, and where their jobs will come from, and where they will live.
He believes these factors will provide a “growing groundswell that will be encouraging for the radical movements like the disabled people’s movement”.
“The concerns are rising,” he says. “My concern is how long it will take, how much damage will be done in the meantime.”
Beresford believes that the most important question is “how we look after each other in modern society”.
“This government has pretended that we can do that on our own and that really the issue is all these people claiming rights and income they are not entitled to.”
But he does not advocate a return to the “old paternalism” of the post-war welfare state, which “failed to involve people, was top-down, and failed to understand diversity”.
Instead, his book points towards a future welfare state that is “financially and environmentally sustainable”, that is “participatory”, where “social rights and needs guide economic policy”, and in which “supporting each other is recognised as a productive creator of real wealth, personal and collective well-being”.
If this is to be achieved, he says, the disabled people’s movement has to highlight “not only the bad things that are happening now but the good things it has to offer, and show non-disabled people what disabled people can offer in a much more systematic way”.
He also wants to see user-led organisations build more alliances.
“We have got to be outward-looking as movements, we have got to collaborate more, we have got to be more tolerant of each other’s differences, we have got to really work on addressing diversity in our activities.”
But he feels “optimistic” for the future, as long as disabled people and their organisations work “in concert” with others.
“People listen to people with shared understanding and experience, people like them,” he says. “We must show that commonality.”
He is convinced that the values represented by the disabled people’s movement and user-led organisations will win through.
The values that he says have been imposed on society – individualism, fighting each other, greed and criminality – “seem immensely powerful, but they don’t stand up to investigation”.
Instead, what ordinary people want are “traditional values about treating people with respect and not discriminating”.
“They are the things that the disabled people’s movement, the other movements and user-led organisations are fighting for,” he says. “They are eternal values and those values will out.”
3 March 2016

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