My frustration comes from the fact that Maria Miller keeps peddling the same lies, no matter how often she is challenged. As Winston Churchill said, "A lie gets halfway around the world before the truth has a chance to get its pants on." Ms. Miller seems to have been paying more attention to Churchill's disability policies than to his wisdom on lies. Until she answers fully, the Broken of Britain will keep challenging her on her evasions and untruths.
As always, all are welcome to copy-and-paste this letter:
Dear Ms. Miller,
RE: Your interview in The Guardian on 16/02/2011
Writing to you after you make some strange pronouncement seem to be becoming a habit for me. Indeed, it seems that most of my work in the past 6 months can be considered one long letter to you. Yet you have never replied to my correspondence, and my detailed analysis of your reform proposals, for reasons that are open to interpretation. And yet again, I find myself writing after your interview in The Guardian, published today.
It is difficult to gauge where to direct criticism as most of the interview, on your part, is clearly a disingenuous exercise in misdirection. However, I begin by discussing the way that you patronised Disability Living Allowance (DLA) claimants by telling Amelia Gentleman, your interviewer, that: "I often hear concerns that are based on a lack of detailed information of what we are talking about in terms of our reforms. People need to get the facts rather than speculation".
My letter to you dated 09/12/2010 included detailed analysis of your proposals, to which you failed to reply. Other disability right groups, charities, thinkanks and political blogs http://www.leftfootforward.org/2011/02/rise-in-disability-living-allowance-explained/ have offered further detailed analysis, which you continue to meet by repeating your initial falsehoods. As you will have seen in your Live Q&A session last week on the Money Guardian website, most DLA claimants understand the system better than you do, and are fully aware of the consequences of your proposed reforms. How dare you tell us that our concerns are based on speculation? The truth is that it is you who is ignoring the facts, and even distorting them to suit your own agenda.
For example, you say that: "50% of people receiving DLA have never been required to submit any independent evidence of their need.” There is no explanation here of what ‘independent’ means. You must be aware that making a claim for DLA is not easy – 52% of DLA claims are disallowed (DWP Research Report. 490) – and that substantial evidence must be presented, including medical evidence. Is it not this Government’s policy to promote GP commissioning of NHS services in England. And yet your words seem to suggest that ‘mere’ GPs cannot be trusted to give independent evidence. Are you calling the Health Secretary’s wisdom into question?
You also say that: “Significant numbers of people have had no contact with the department since their awards were made almost 20 years ago and we have no way of knowing if their need of support has increased or not". Yet you ignore the fact that if a claimant is awarded DLA indefinitely, without reassessment, it is because they have a condition which will not get better and reassessment was deemed a waste of resources.
Your most staggering claim is that: “The DLA reform absolutely is about making sure that the benefit is working properly. At the moment it's not working properly. My priority is to get the benefit right, to get the assessment right, to make sure it is supporting the disabled people who have the most difficulty living independent lives." You offer no evidence at all that DLA is not working properly. There are no DWP research reports published that support your assertion in the slightest. Further, most DWP research reports on DLA present on of the most effective, efficient, and popular, benefits managed by the DWP.
You seem to switch between claiming that DLA is a ‘broken’ system and saying that: "This is about making sure that the more than £40bn a year the government spends in support of disabled people is used most effectively in the way that disabled people would want us to. Nobody is benefited by having a system that can be brought into disrepute.", as it suits your agenda. But it is the efforts of this Government, and the Conservative party before and after the 2010 election, that have brought DLA into disrepute. DLA has an estimated fraud rate of 0.5%, joint lowest in the benefits system, and is well-known to be a tough benefit for which to claim because of the burden of proof required. The disrepute surrounding DLA in 2011 is entirely the fault of your Government and political party, who have repeatedly exaggerated, distorted and lied in order to cast doubt on the veracity of DLA claims and the integrity of claimants.
You keep repeating that: "This is an opportunity to drag that benefit into the 21st century, giving us an opportunity to recognise disabled people's issues as they are today, rather than as they were 20 years ago, when views on disability were very very different," which was a repetition of a statement you made during the Money Guardian’s Live Q&A. I repeat a question that I asked you then: what does it mean to drag the benefit into the 21st century? No evidence has been published by the DWP to support your statement, and although you claimed to have evidence last week, you have not referred to it as I requested. Once again, I challenge you to publish if you are using evidence that is not in the public domain.
Lastly, you say of the proposed DLA reforms that: “the very clear objective of the government is that we are supporting disabled people to live more independent lives”. You fail to explain that DLA exists in order to help disabled people with the extra costs of ‘living more independent lives’, and to explain why cutting the DLA caseload by 20% will help achieve this. The 20% who lose eligibility for DLA will, in fact, be less able to live independently.
The sanguinity with which you are approaching the proposed reforms suggests that you are failing to appreciate the justified anger of disabled people. 4825 people thus far have signed a petition calling on you to recall the public consultation on DLA reform, 61 MPs have noted their concerns by signing the EDM on the DLA consultation, a statement of opinion opposing DLA reform has been tabled in the Welsh Assembly, and a motion condemning the DLA reform process has been tabled in Scottish Parliament. Do not underestimate the opposition that you face.
I close by asking you:
1) to reply personally and in detail to my letter date 09/12/2010, answering each argument
2) to ensure that the data supporting the claims you make on DLA is published, and make clear that no data published thus far supports your case
3) invite The Broken of Britain disability rights group and myself to meet with you, Hywel Williams MP, Lord Wigley and Dame Anne Begg MP so that we may discuss this with you.
Rhydian Fôn James,
The Broken of Britain
cc: Hywel Williams MP, Dame Anne Begg MP, Baroness Campbell, Baroness Grey-Thompson, Lord Wigley, Amelia Gentleman