Thursday 8 September 2011

Funds Allocated For Time Limiting ESA Before WRB Is Passed

This from the Disability Alliance shows the utter arrogance of parliament  and our alleged representatives in 2011. Just as NHS reform plans are already going ahead before the vote, so welfare reforms are being pushed through before the democratic process has completed

Welfare Reform Bill (Employment and Support Allowance - Time Limiting - Contingency Fund Advance)

7 September 2011
The Minister of State, Department for Work and Pensions (Chris Grayling): As part of his Spending Review announcement, the Chancellor set out his proposal to introduce a time limit of 1 year for those claiming contributory Employment and Support Allowance who are in the Work Related Activity Group. The change will, subject to the passage of the enabling legislation, apply from April 2012. For those in the Work Related Activity Group who have already received a year or more contributory Employment and Support Allowance as at April 2012, entitlement will cease immediately.
In order to avoid delay in implementing this policy the Department for Work and Pensions has obtained approval for an advance from the Contingencies Fund of £2,705,000 to allow for the development of IT, ensure those potentially impacted by the time limit in April 2012 are notified of the change and to deliver the operational support that will be required before Royal Assent of the enabling legislation.
Parliamentary approval for resources of £2,705,000 for this new service will be sought in a Supplementary Estimate for the Department of Work and Pensions. Pending that approval, urgent expenditure estimated at £2,705,000 will be met by repayable cash advances from the Contingencies Fund. 
 DA says: this decision will end all out of work benefits for over 400,000 disabled people – including people with cancer. The Government is denying the House of Lords a chance to scrutinise and vote on this proposal in the Welfare Reform Bill before prematurely telling disabled people their support could end in six months.

More information

Coalition government – a ‘machine’ made from steel

By carerwatch

For countless years, with successive governments, family carers have continuously raised their voices outlining the many problems they face, about resources, finances, respite and/or equipment.
Yet no matter how much they chipped away at the brick wall no real action has been taken, by past and present govts. Campaigns have followed one after the other from many individuals, groups, and charities.
We are currently witnessing the biggest shake up of welfare benefits in over 60 years and still the issues surrounding Carers Allowance are not being addressed.  It is the LOWEST of all benefits at £55.55  per week.

As campaigners we will not give up even though the brick wall is now made of re enforced steel. Behind that wall lies a Coalition machine made from cold steel too. It shows NO understanding, NO compassion. It operates so clinically, so precise and its actions prove that it has no heart.
It speaks of Responsibility, Big Society, yet continues on its mission to persecute many disabled people, their families, and carers, with this current Welfare Reform Bill.
Is this the future we want for ourselves, for our children?
A future where disabled people and their families are battered from all directions.
Borrowing the famous words from Winston Churchill and altering them slightly…
Never has so much been given so freely by so few, for the benefit of so many.

 Carers need action and they need it NOW

 Please contact any groups/charities you belong to. Tell them your concerns surrounding Welfare Reform.
Contact your MP . Add your postcode in the box on this link to find their details
Feel free to use this template from Sue Marsh of The Broken of Britain
Support the Hardest Hit campaign which following on from a successful march in May 2011 are now planning local protests.
One simple change re ESA
As individuals any action we take may seem so small, but collectively we can be stronger.

Chaos And Capability

 With thanks to Saba and Raana Salman for this guest blog;

It was the sort of toxic mixture of elements and multiple assault on the senses that would until recently have triggered some challenging behaviour in my sister; a bustling crowd, loud music, the company of strangers and – to add insult to injury – an extraordinary day with no familiar routine.
But not only was 22-year-old Raana Salman at the very heart of the carnival throng in my parents’ Sussex hometown during the recent Bank Holiday weekend, she was loving every noisy, overcrowded minute.
Wearing a pink fairy costume and a wide, joyous grin, she was a proud participant in the Ferring Country Centre carnival entry as part of the learning disability charity’s float in the Worthing carnival. She even featured in a photograph in the local newspaper.

My sister, Raana, in her Ferring Country Centre tee-shirt

Raana Salman - carnival queen

The hand elegantly pointing at onlookers with a homemade wand (beautifully fashioned from a battered old Christmas tree star and a cardboard wrapping paper roll) was the same one that would flap incessantly or claw at my mother on fractious days out when something was unfamiliar or overwhelming.
It was the same hand that several years ago would frantically gouge out the skin on her other arm during an anxiety attack. This is what happened the time I mistakenly thought she’d be pleased with a trip to my new place in London; her worry and tears escalated the closer we got to my front door, and failing to placate her, I just drove her back to Sussex.

My extremely biased, unfettered pride at my learning disabled sister’s achievements will be obvious to some regular readers – from her first few faltering steps towards finding her own identity at The Mount, the first Camphill community in East Sussex she joined at 16, to her recent progress at Camphill’s Lantern Community in Ringwood, Hampshire. And the only major problems so far have been other people’s narrow minds.

And I’m delighted to say my shameless promotion of her progress continues apace. This summer, she spent a few days at the Ferring Country Centre, learning social and life skills through activities and enjoying day trips that boosted her independence and widened her horizons enough for her to join in the carnival parade.

The centre has grown since its launch in 1986 by a group of like-minded parents who recognised the need for a workplace-based setting for vulnerable adults. The aim is to boost social inclusion for the learning disabled, supporting them to play a valued role in society through training and work experience.
The scheme’s garden centre grows plants and vegetables for sale to the public with the project’s participants helping in every aspect of production. The riding therapy lessons are taken up by 600 learning and physically disabled adults and children every month. People with disabilities also work in the cafĂ© and the scheme’s small animals farm while off-site, they get involved in community projects, including newspaper collection and gardening.

When I asked Raana if she’d mind me writing about her latest experience, she nodded: “I loved it. I want to do it again next year.” And when I asked what the best thing about the Ferring centre was, she said proudly “my top”. Her answer didn’t really surprise me; the logoed tee-shirt and matching fleece are badges of honour for my sister as they demonstrate that she belongs to a community and they make her feel – very officially – valued. Do check out the Ferring project’s gallery to see more pictures of what this excellent centre does and to the team there – thank you, you’ve made our summer.

However, as grateful as I am for my sister’s progress, I never take it for granted. While she is currently so well-supported, others are in unhappier situations and the funding future is less than rosy for disability services. As campaigning organisations like the Learning Disability Coalition (LDC) and Voluntary Organisations Disability Group (VODG – note of transparency here as I also manage the group’s blog) have made clear, government cuts are a massive threat to disabled people while current funding rules are in desperate need of an overhaul.

Next week, 13 September, the Welfare Reform Bill has its second reading in the House of Lords and there is a very real fear that people with disabilities will lose out in the changes. Disability Living Allowance (DLA), for example, is used by the disabled for daily living costs but the government plans to replace it with Personal Independence Payment (PIP), which will save it money. But a recent survey of 2,200 people by charity the Papworth Trust, shows that the changes under PIP would mean 86% of disabled people would be forced to cut back on food or transport. There is a growing fear – and now growing evidence to suggest – that cuts are unfairly falling on the disabled.

For how long will young disabled adults be able to access the same activities and support as my sister in such a climate?

This week, Raana is back in Hampshire, getting stuck back into living, learning, socialising and working. Her work in the Lantern Community’s amazing shop, for example, now includes more responsibility for stock pricing, something of which she is very proud. Raana has so far not only achieved more any of us can have hoped for, but there’s a very real sense that there’s much more to come.

And I think for my parents, who know they shouldn’t but can’t help but compare Raana’s development with that of her two older siblings, it’s worth noting that I’ve certainly never been in a carnival parade and now I’m not the only one in my family to make the front page (note the tiny pink and white wand-holding figure in the centre of the throng). The only difference is that while I can write the news, I’ve never actually made it.

Wednesday 7 September 2011

Broken System, not Broken People?

Thanks to Michael for sending us this excellent guest blog;

When the esteemed people at The Broken of Britain Blog kindly invited me to write a guest blog for them, I did something typical of a person who suffers from anxiety and depression: that is, I instantly compiled a mental list of the reasons why I was unqualified or unable to write a blog.  What made me change my mind was reading some of the other contributors to this blog and others like it and reminding myself that many people have the same exact reactions when faced with something new or difficult.  Reading the other blogs also reminded me how many people there are out there who I share things in common with and whose lives have intersected in some way with my own- the people who find themselves isolated or alienated or restricted or flattened by ill health or all of the above.  My personal experience lies in five years of mental ill health and so it is this issue that I will focus on.

Mental illness does not happen in isolation.  There are well-worn figures about 1 in 4 people suffering from a mental disorder in the UK in their lifetime or that the World Health Organization predicts depression will be second only to heart disease as the most widespread illness in the developed world.  But mental illness is not just statistics on a page or distant “others,” far removed from regular human activity.  It is all too human.  It’s dependent on how we order our own individual worlds and how we relate to other human beings.  We evolved as a social species, it was partly our ability to co-operate within small group structures that helped us to outlast other early humans and enabled us to endure the unimaginably difficult circumstances that faced hunter-gatherer tribes for thousands of years before the development of agriculture.  

Psychiatrist, Neurobiologist and author Paul Keedwell explains in his book, How Sadness Survived: The Evolutionary Basis of Depression,
‘The biology of our brains was shaped over a period of six million years, and for over 99.5 per cent of this time Homo Sapiens lived in small groups of hunter-gatherers.  Compared to this period of evolution the past few millennia or so of human civilisation- dating from the beginning of the Bronze Age- are a drop in the ocean.  Advanced civilisation- the organisation of subject peoples within a large society, with armies and division of labour- has only been possible because of the relatively recent development of agriculture and animal husbandry.  Biology takes a long time to catch up with changes in environment.  Our brain mechanisms, although malleable and adaptable to cultural changes, have limits to their capability set by our ancestral heritage.’  

Keedwell goes on to say: ‘We may be witnessing an epidemic of insecurely attached, psychologically vulnerable individuals in modern urban society.  As the extended family has been replaced by a smaller more mobile one, balanced homes have been replaced by broken ones, rearing parents have become working ones, young parents have become more stressed and isolated; and we may have failed to rear our children effectively.  Furthermore, we may have started to chase the wrong goals, or goals which are out of reach.  We have exposed ourselves to ever-increasing work and social demands while turning our backs on mutual interdependence.  In the west we have gained much more personal freedom and material wealth, but at a cost.’   

We are not built to go it alone- I know this from my own experience of an isolating episode of depression.  My family have been my loyal tribe and taken care of me.  However, my inability to engage in wider society or reconnect with the friends I used to know has left a scarring void in my life that feels as unnatural as it does paradoxically instinctive for an introspective depressive.  This is crucial: mental illness is not just a burden for the individuals or their families that suffer, it is reflective of the society we have built and the effect that it can have on us.  The social breakdown, health and wealth inequality, binge culture and the Three Cs- Consumerism, Competition and Celebrity Culture- that we see in our cities and towns and on our televisions all affect our mental health.  Social mobility had stalled and is now in reverse.  A working-class ethnic minority kid going on to become Prime Minister is about as likely as any single sperm connecting with the coveted egg- it will happen against the odds eventually, as it did with Obama, but that doesn’t mean the system is fair.  These damaging phenomena are a monument to the unfettered market that has ruled our lives for three decades and has captured the leadership of all three major political parties.

It is widely acknowledged that the policy of ‘Care in the Community,’ which has been pursued for the last thirty years, represents progress to a more humane approach compared to the large Victorian asylums.  These imposing buildings were conceived of more as quarantines where the uncomfortable truth of “madness,” an ever-present throughout human history, was sealed off as an act of segregation.  This is a rare instance where the Thatcher government should be given the credit they deserve for a progressive reform.

However, despite this change in focus and political language (which suggests a more inclusive approach to caring for the large numbers of mental health “Service Users”) the reality is still oftentimes one of isolation, stigma and neglect if not outright abuse, either within NHS services or in wider society.  By accepting that sufferers of mental illness are a part and not apart from society, we must now accept that aspects of our society are contributing factors to our dire problems with our mental health.

The glaring void across the political and media debate is some recognition that the complex and multi-layered causes of mental illness can no longer be attributed solely to the individual.  It cannot just be their burden for a dysfunctional family life or some innate weakness.  We must instead acknowledge that a significant factor leading to our higher levels of mental disorders compared to other wealthy nations is the scarring and widening inequalities that are an inevitable consequence of our “brand” of capitalism.  Equally damaging is the widespread ideal in our society that we must all fret and compete over varying states of perfection which are invariably unattainable (or undesirable) chimeras, be they the perfect house, car, job, appearance or status.  The economist Tim Jackson writes in his book, Prosperity without Growth, ‘We are persuaded to spend money we don’t have, on things we don’t need, to create impressions that won’t last, on people we don’t care about.’

The public realm and, in my opinion, the public good have been systematically dismantled and undermined by a cross-party consensus of government economic policy.  The neoliberal mantra of ‘private: good, public: bad’ has ring-fenced large swathes of the economy as beyond regulation.  If the supreme aim of every country is to create an amenable environment in which to do business then the wellbeing of the citizens of those countries can never be more than an afterthought.  This leaves us with government measures in health, crime, education, immigration and environmental policy being largely a thankless task of trying to clean up a mess predominantly wrought by an economic system that fosters inequality, promotes greed and narcissism and propagates that all human meaning resides in the relentless pursuit of material wealth.  I prefer the argument for helping people to lead healthy and meaningful lives but even those with the reductive and wholly economic view of human affairs must deduce that it costs much more to deal with the effects of these problems than it would to begin to tackle them at root. What kind of mixed message do we send to children when the Health Secretary meets with fast food corporations to draw up policy and the England Football Team are sponsored by Mars chocolate bars?  And how will we explain to our grandchildren why we have a national carbon footprint three times the size of our country’s foot?  It is time that politicians were honest that their own ideological dogma is the straitjacket preventing real change from breaking through instead of conducting debates on the margins over minutiae.

Exhaustive research by eminent epidemiologists Kate Pickett and Richard Wilkinson for their fantastic book, The Spirit Level, reveals that more individualistic and unequal societies have higher rates of mental illness as well as crime and prison rates, overall health, gender inequality and social mobility.  They write, ‘There are big differences in the proportion of people with mental illness between countries.  In Germany, Italy, Japan and Spain, fewer than 1 in 10 had been mentally ill within the previous year; in Australia Canada, New Zealand and the UK the numbers are more than 1 in 5; and in the USA more than 1 in 4.’  These rates correlate accurately with how wide the gap is between rich and poor in the countries named.  Their contention is that mental illness is closely related to status and more particularly status anxiety within society and therefore more unequal and callous countries leave more people marginalised, more ‘losers.’  

Such high levels of mental illness mean that it is no longer an issue that can be brushed under the carpet.  Is there anything else which affects 1 in 4 people and touches nearly everyone’s lives which is so ignored or misunderstood by politics or media?  I think that those are the kinds of ratios which demand that we as a culture begin to re-examine our attitudes and language towards the concept of madness or insanity.

  The fact that there is a cross-party consensus over draconian welfare cuts shows us how politically acceptable it is to attack the most vulnerable and voiceless.  When a company like Atos Origin is allowed to undertake its outrageous assessments of the physically and mentally disabled with impunity it shows a culture that has lost its compassion, its humanity and its priorities.  

Sufferers of mental and physical disabilities can be forgiven for believing that whoever we vote for, we always lose as the choice is between three shades of the same ideological dogma.  This is why websites like The Broken of Britain are so important, so that a group of people who have been consistently ignored and discriminated against can join together, exchange stories and speak as one.

Monday 5 September 2011

Template Letter To The Lords Re Welfare Reform Bill

So, with the welfare reform bill about to have it's second reading in the Lords, I've written this template letter to send and DarkestAngel32 blog have produced this brilliant list of email addresses to send it to.

Obviously feel free to send your own letter about the things that matter most to you, but if you'd like to send mine, you're very welcome. Email addresses are at the end and whether you send the letter to one peer or everyone on the list, it all makes a difference.

Please do join in. The more letters and emails they receive, the more chance we have of making a difference. The bill is already facing difficulties because of the brilliant work we did while it was in the commons. Now we need to build on that and make sure that as many peers as possible know about the issues.

Finally, please share this article, tweet, link and send to friends. Thanks.

Dear ..........[insert name of peer]

On the 13th September, the welfare reform bill will have it'second reading in the House of Lords.

Rather unusually, many aspects of the bill are yet to be finalised or fully detailed. This in itself, will, I'm sure, make your job rather difficult as you consider the many, many details and changes proposed.

However, I'm writing to you with some very specific concerns that sick and disabled people have and I've linked to some articles and research which I hope you will find helpful.

1) Removing Disability Living Allowance mobility payments from adults in residential care.
An adult who needs to live in residential care will have extensive needs and are often amongst the most severely disabled. The mobility component of DLA afforded them their only freedom, allowing them to choose to fund a power wheelchair otherwise unavailable on the NHS, or to pay for taxis or transport to get out now and then. Taking this away would leave the most vulnerable disabled people effectively housebound. There is no support for this change anywhere - charities, independent benefit reports and even the government's own advisers have called for this to be removed from the bill.

2) Scrapping DLA entirely and replacing it with Personal Independent Payments (PIPs).
DLA is a very effective benefit with fraud rates of less than 1% (DWP own figures) It is already incredibly hard to claim and the qualification criteria are very narrow. The government have announced that DLA claimants will also soon face assessment and that the overall number of claimants will be reduced by at least 20%. The government's own advisory committee concluded that they could find no justification for this reform and have asked for clarification from the government.
If a benefit is already very efficient, yet a government announce a 20% cull before a single assessment has even taken place, we conclude it can only be a cost cutting measure that will ignore genuine need.

3) Time limiting Employment Support Allowance (ESA, previously Incapacity Benefit) to 1 Year
Many people who need to claim ESA have "long term variable" or chronic illnesses such as MS, Parkinson's, Bowel Disease, Leukaemia or severe Mental Illness. These conditions often do not go away after a year and sadly, often get worse over time. A high percentage of those with these conditions are being found "fit for work" under ESA but after 1 year, if they have a working partner, they will receive no state assistance whatsoever. All of their benefit will be stopped, a loss of just under £5000 a year.

4) ATOS assessments are "unfit for purpose" and a better way of assessing need must be implemented.

ATOS are the private company charged with assessing over 1.5 million sick and disabled people during this parliament.

-Up to 40% of rejected claims are going to appeal with up to 70% of those decisions being overturned with representation.
-Assessments are humiliating and degrading causing great anxiety to those genuinely in need.
-Just 7% of previous claimants are being found unfit to work on a long term basis.
-Testimony from Consultants and GPs is often ignored entirely.
-People are dying before lengthy appeals can be heard.
-Even the professor who designed these assessments calls them a "complete mess"

There are other problems with the bill - capping housing benefit; re-classifying "mobility" so that those who use their wheelchairs too efficiently can be classed as "fully mobile"; removing an age related payment from ESA; scrapping the Independent Living Fund; cutting community care provision; cutting the Access to Work programme and many more - all of which will hurt sick and disabled people disproportionately, but the four points above MUST be addressed before the Welfare Reform Bill is passed.

They are causing or will cause real hardship.
They will not achieve savings as pressures will only be shifted to the NHS or social care provision.
They will increase homelessness, mental illness and poverty amongst this most vulnerable group of all
They will leave many in genuine need without support
They reduce the independence, standard of life and dignity of those we have a basic duty to protect.

I urge you to give these issues your time and consideration. Please, help us to make sure that amendments to the bill are passed ensuring that these 4 issues are addressed.

Yours faithfully,

...............[add your name]

List of contact details :

Baroness Thomas of Winchester
Baroness Morgan of Drefelin
Baroness Sherlock
Baroness Stowell of Beeston
Lord Bishop of Hereford
Countess of Mar
Lord Feldman of Elstree
Lord Freud
Lord German
Lord Stoneham of Droxford
Lord Addington
Lord Adebowale
Lord Beecham
Lord Boswell of Aynho
Baroness Campbell of Surbiton
Baroness Donaghy
Baroness Drake
Baroness Flather
Baroness Greengross
Baroness Grey-Thompson
Baroness Hayter of Kentish Town
Baroness Healy of Primrose Hill
Baroness Hollins
Baroness Hollis of Heigham
Baroness Howe of Idlicote
Lord Kennedy of Southwark
Baroness King of Bow
Lord Kirkwood of Kirkhope
Lord Knight of Weymouth
Bishop Leicester
Baroness Lister of Burtersett
Lord Low of Dalston
Lord Mackay of Clashfern
Lord Mckenzie of Luton
Baroness Meacher
Lord Morris of Handsworth
Lord Newton of Braintree
Lord Patel
Lord Ramsbotham
Lord Rix
Lord Touhig
Baroness Turner of Camden
Lord Whitty
Lord Wigley
Baroness Wilkins