From Leigh Day & Co:
Lawyers vow to fight on after losing part of their battle on overturning the Government’s ‘Bedroom Tax’
Lawyers representing adults and children with disabilities who are challenging the Government’s ‘Bedroom Tax’ have vowed to fight on after today losing part of their High Court battle to halt the controversial new housing benefit regulations that came into force on 1st April this year.
Since 1 April 2013, persons deemed to have 1 spare bedroom have had their housing benefit reduced by 14% and persons deemed to have 2, or more, spare bedrooms have had their housing benefit reduced by 25%. The claimants all argued that these new Housing Benefit rules discriminate against people with disabilities.
The Court accepted that they are discriminatory, but decided that the discrimination was justified and therefore lawful – apart from in cases of disabled children unable to share a bedroom because of their disabilities.
Disabled Children and Bedroom Sharing
The Court found that the Secretary of State has been aware that the law must be changed to provide for disabled children since May 2012, and they were highly critical of his failure to make Regulations to provide for them. Lord Justice Laws said that the current state of affairs “cannot be allowed to continue”.
The Government must now make Regulations “very speedily” to show that there should be “no deduction of housing benefit where an extra bedroom is required for children who are unable to share because of their disabilities.”
The Wider Group
However the Court held that discrimination against adults with disabilities, even those in the same situation to children with disabilities who could not share a room, was justified. Lawyers for adults with disabilities today said that they believe this cannot be right.
They should be entitled to full Housing Benefit for the accommodation they actually need.
Lawyers for adults with disabilities today confirmed that they intend to appeal the ruling, arguing that the discriminatory impact of the measure on people with disabilities cannot be justified and is unlawful.
Disabled children and their families also intend to appeal as they are now left in a position where they do not know whether in fact they are entitled to full housing benefit to meet the costs of the homes that they need.
This is because the Government has declined to confirm that the new Regulations, which the Court says must be made, will cover their situations, or to provide a date by which the new Regulations will be made.
Since the new housing legislation was introduced it has had a devastating effect on many people across the country. Charities, Social Landlords and Advice Agencies have spoken out about the plight of people with disabilities who have been affected by the measure.
3 law firms are representing the Claimants: Hopkin Murray Beskine, Leigh Day and Public Law Solicitors.
Richard Stein from the Human Rights team at Leigh Day said:
“This is a most disappointing result. We will be seeking an urgent appeal to the Court of Appeal. Many people with disabilities including our clients may lose their homes unless the law is changed. Their lives are already difficult enough without the fear of losing their accommodation which has been provided specifically to meet their exceptional needs.”
The Guardian identifies some “puzzling anomalies” in the judgement.
Is justice really blind?
In theory, all forms of legally recognised discrimination (ie discrimination arising from one of the six ”protected characteristics”) are equally serious. Many of us have long suspected that in reality, that isn’t the case and that certain forms of discrimination tend to be taken less seriously than others. For instance, while racism is (thankfully) a complete no-no in the media and in most workplaces, sexism (especially in the form of jokes) is still widely tolerated.
In this context, a look at employment tribunal awards for the various forms of discrimination, makes informative and – for me, at least – quite surprising, reading.
Britain’s leading discrimination law specialist Michael Rubenstein, has just published an analysis (by employment lawyer Innes Clark ) of the Equal Opportunities Review (the ‘EOR‘) annual survey of compensation awards made in discrimination cases, and with their “kind permission” he’s set out the main points, as follows:
By Innes Clarke
The statistics are based on 422 cases either filed by the Employment Tribunal Service in Bury St Edmunds or sent to the EOR by individual lawyers.
The total compensation awarded in the 422 cases was £5,268,597. Discrimination awards are uncapped and the highest award made was £235,825 in the disability discrimination case of Wilebore v Cable & Wireless Worldwide Services Ltd, in which reasonable adjustments were not made for an employee who was returning to work after having treatment for cancer.
The only other award in excess of £100,000 was for £136,592 in an age discrimination case – Dixon v The Croglin Estate Co Limited.
Breakdown of Awards
Of the total amount awarded (£5,268,597), 47% is attributable to awards made for injury to feelings (£2,469,566) with the rest made up of, predominantly, financial loss (i.e. loss of earnings).
The highest awards made for the various categories of discrimination were as follows:-
Protected Characteristic Highest Award
|Religion & belief||£18,600|
I have set out below the median awards for the various strands of discrimination with the 2011 and 2010 figures for comparison purposes.
|Protected Characteristic||Median Award (2012)||Median Award (2011)||Median Award (2010)|
|Religion & belief||£3,000▲||£1,000||£6,976|
|All discrimination awards||£7,500▼||£7,518||£8,000|
An Employment Tribunal can make recommendations as to the steps that the respondent should take to reduce the adverse effect of the discrimination on the claimant. The Tribunal can also make recommendations for the benefit of the wider workforce and not just the particular claimant. In 2012 the Employment Tribunal made recommendations in 30 cases. Of these, 19 included wider recommendations to promote equality in the workplace. The most common wider recommendation was for training to be implemented either on equality or diversity.
It is worth noting that the Government is intending to remove the power of Employment Tribunals to make these wider recommendations which, in my view, is regrettable and appears to be something of a retrograde step.
It should be borne in mind that the statistics relate to a selection of cases which were decided by the Employment Tribunal and do not take into account the many claims that do not reach a full hearing and which, instead, conclude by way of agreed settlement for undisclosed sums.
Clarke notes that the EOR’s report also contains “some very interesting statistics” on the ‘injury to feelings’ element of discrimination awards and promises a further blog on that, shortly. Look out for it at ‘Michael Rubenstein Presents…’
This petition has now reached over 200,000 signatures:
This petition calls for Iain Duncan Smith, the current Work and Pensions Secretary, to prove his claim of being able to live on £7.57 a day, or £53 a week.
On Monday’s Today Programme David Bennett, a market trader, said that after his housing benefit had been cut, he lives on £53 per week. The next interviewee was Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith, who was defending the changes. The interviewer then asked him if he could live on this amount. He replied: “If I had to, I would.”
This petition calls on Iain Duncan Smith to live on this budget for at least one year. This would help realise the conservative party`s current mantra that “We are all in this together”.
This would mean a 97% reduction in his current income, which is £1,581.02 a week or £225 a day after tax* [Source: The Telegraph]
It’s not, perhaps, the most sophisticated response to the Tories’ across-the-board attack on welfare claimants (whilst simultaneously cutting the income tax on the earning £150,000 or more). But it’s bloody effective.
You never know, it might even embarrass Iain Duncan Smith to give it a try…but it would have to be for a year (as the petition demands) for it to be meaningful.
Will the Paralympics have a lasting effect? Will 2012 turn out to have been a decisive year in changing perceptions of disabled people?
From behind Murdoch’s paywall: a rather moving and very honest piece by Matthew Syed from The Times of September 8 2012:
My cousin Zoobi – and a million other human stories
First we saw freaks; then they were just pure athletes
Zoobi, my cousin, is a dwarf. She came to live with us in the summer of 1982 from her home town in Karachi: a brown-skinned, short-limbed 14-year-old in the heart of suburban Reading. Her family wanted her to broaden her horizons, to benefit from a British education. My parents, who have always believed in the extended family, welcomed her with open arms.
I look back on those years with considerable guilt. I was a year younger than Zoobi and I knew my father hoped that I would warm to my cousin. He hoped that she would go out on bike rides and shopping trips with me and my friends. He thought that if I accepted her without inhibition, others would, too. And he hoped that this would do wonders for her self-esteem and self-image.
But I didn’t accept her. I listened to my dad telling me to be kind and friendly, and I nodded dutifully. But it didn’t change anything. She was just too different. I could see people peering at her when she left our house, examining her curiously long body and stumpy limbs. They would point and giggle. When I was with her they stared at me too. I worried that they would think there was something wrong with all of us. The problem wasn’t Zoobi’s character, which was (and is) generous, wise and compassionate. It was that she was — how can I put this? — too different.
Perhaps all forms of human insularity emerge from tnhis sense of otherness. I imagine that my callow feelings of resentment resembled those of British people in the 1940′s, when the first wave of West Indian immigrants arrived on these shores. Black skin was pretty much unprecedented back then and it was common to stare, point and giggle. It was also common to resent. They are just too different. Too unfamiliar.
In the case of disability, this sense of unfamiliarity has been bplstered by a particular and sinister form of ghettoisation. The ghettos have not been geographical, as they often are with race, but institutional and moral. The locking up of the mentally ill in the 19th century was merely one manifestation of a society that for decades attempted to airbrush disability from view. The inaccessibility of transport, pavements, shops and buildings effectively excluded wheelchair users from the public world. The disabled were not merely unfamiliar; they were pretty much invisible.
Things have got better, of course, in recent decades. The disability rights movement may not have the media profile or resonance of, say, the civil rights movement, but it has been quite effective. Anti-discrimination legislation, greater access to public spaces and an extended understanding of equal rights have all changed lives. But progress has been slow. The sense of unfamiliarity, of otherness, remains. A sense that their world is not quite our world.
And it is in that sense that the Paralympics has been a game changer. If we are honest, many of us started watching these Games with a smidgeon of discomfort. Alongside the curiosity was an elevated sense of the grotesque.
The spectacle of athletes dragging themselves along the floor to the edge of the pool, or rolling around on the floor in the volleyball: all these were jarring for a simple reason. We are not used to staring at disabled bodies and their banal-herioc challenges.
Eleven days on and things have changed quite dramatically. We should always resist the temptation to claim more for sport than it deserves. But this time sport has been transformational. The perceptual distortion gradually subsided, then disappeared altogether. We are no longer watching a group of outsiders trying to play an eccentric form of sport. Rather, we are watching sport. We are no longer watching stereotypes, with embarrassment or condescention, but real people. People with hopes and dreams and moral weaknesses. The sense of otherness has been destroyed by the narrative force of their human journeys.
Ellie Simmonds has had a particular effect on me. Simmonds is a dwarf with a sparkling personality, a megawatt smile and an outstanding ability to swim fast. She has wowed us with her brilliance, but also with her charm, her ambition and her elation at winning gold medals. We have become familiar with her story and, as a result, have come to see her not as a token — not an example of a medical condition — but as a person.
And I suspect that if a dwarf were to move into suburban Reading today the response would be radically different. She would not have to endure the pointing and the insularity. She would not have people shunning her because of her physical shape any more than a black person would be shunned for the colour of her skin.
And she would not have the indignity of a cousin turning his back on her out of distaste and social embarrassment.
Above: Ellie Simmonds
“How do you wrestle with your conscience when the injustice you have perpetuated has destroyed the lives of children and left thousands of thalidomide victims still enduring pain and suffering, without adequate compensation?” – Sir Harold Evans, former Sunday Times editor, in today’s Observer.
After fifty years, Grünenthal, the company responsible for Thalidomide and the deformity and ruined lives of an estimated 10,000-to-20,000 children, has finally issued an apology. Of sorts.
The company has unveiled a statue and released a statement saying that it “regrets” the deformities and agony caused to babies born to mothers who took Thalidomide as a supposed treatment for morning sickness and other prgnancy-related difficulties, in the late 1950′s and early ’60′s.
But the company has not increased the meagre compensation it reluctantly provided to victims in 1968, nor admitted to the scandalous extent of its profit-driven criminal negligence when it released the drug in the ’50′s, without proper testing and with fraudulent claims about its safety. Exactly how much Grünenthal knew about the risks at the time of the drug’s launch is not clear: but for sure, they ignored early evidence of the terrible side-effects (including the wife of one of its own employees, who used Thalidomide and gave birth to a baby without ears before the drug was put on the market).
In Britain, the Distillers Company (now part of Diageo) distributed the drug with the approval of the Ministry of Health (then on very good terms with Distillers) until, eventually, the scandal was exposed by the Sunday Times. It was a dark chapter in the history of medicine but a fine example of courageous, campaigning journalism. The Sunday Times had to take on not just Distillers, but the legal establishment and the Tory government of the day. The attorney-general, backed by the House of Lords obtained an injunction preventing publication of the paper’s devastating findings, and the paper had to spend millions of pounds fighting for the right to publish. Eventually, thanks to the tenacity of then-editor Harold Evans and the paper’s proprietors, the truth came out, the drug was withdrawn and a compensation settlement of £28m was reached with the UK victims.
But the compensation in the UK and world-wide, remains thoroughly inadequate and the battle for justice for all the victims, continues. As Evans notes in his Observer piece:
“[D]ecency requires me to identify some heroes in the struggle for justice – the thalidomide victims, now in middle age, who continue to fight for others: Freddie Astbury, president of Thalidomide UK, who describes the CG apology without compensation as a disgrace; the Lords Jack Ashley and Alf Morris, who fought so hard for the victims in their lifetimes, and Labour’s minister of health, Mike O’Brien.”
I will leave to one side, for now, why it is that Evans is writing in the Observer rather than the paper he edited at the time of the scandal and which played such an honourable role back then, the Sunday Times…
By Ben Macintyre (from The Times, July 13 2012)
My favourite Olympian was small, short-sighted and tubby. He could not run fast, swim or jump. He smoked a pipe, and everyone called him “Poppa.” There is no evidence he ever participated in any form of competative sport. But he profoundly understood and changed the meaning of the Olympic Games.
His name was Ludwig Guttman; he was a pioneering German-Jewish neurosurgeon and he invented the Paralympics, Guttman knew that sport is not just about “faster, higher, stronger”, but also about overcoming limitations, extending the physically possible, and the extraordianry psychological benefit of sporting aspiration. He applied that understanding to mthe bodies and minds of men broken on the battlefields of the Second World War, and in so doing he helped to revolutionise modern attitudes towards disability.
Poppa Guttmann knew all about overcoming adversity. Born in a mining town in Upper Silesia in 1899, he worked after school in a hospital where he encountered a coalminer who had fractured his spine in an accident. When Guttman began writing up notes on the young man, he was told: “Don’t bother, he’ll be dead in a few weeks.” And so he was.
That experience would fuse with another. As a medical student at Freidburg, Guttman noticed the way that Jewish fraternities dedicated to sport gave their members extraordinary confidence and self-esteem: “Nobody needed to be ashamed of being a Jew.”
In 1933 Guttman was fired from the medical faculty at Breslau University after Germany’s race laws prohibited Jews from treating Aryans. He became director of the neurological department of Breselau Jewish Hospital, but by 1939 the Gestapo was closing in. He managed to smuggle most of his patients out of the hospital before they were rounded up, and then fled himself. Guttman arrived at Harwich with his wife and children in March 1939.
The British medical establishment was quick to utilise his remarkable talents and in 1943 Guttman was made director of a new spinal injuries centre at Stoke Mandeville, a hospital created in preparation for the expected casualties from the opening of the Second Front. At the time, the life expectancy of spinal-injury patients was two years.
Over the next five years, Guttman treated hundreds of wounded and paralysed soldiers. His programme aimed to reintegrate these disabled men and women into normal British life and he placed particular emphasis on sport, both as a physical rehabilitation but also as a path to rediscovering self-discipline, self-respect and team spirit.
The London Olympics of 1948, the first Games since 1936, rehabilitated a competition that had been gravely and almost fatally damaged by the war. Rationing was still in force and London still bore the scars of battle, as did some competitors. Jim Halliday fought in the retreat from Dunkirk and was then captured by the Japanese. He emerged from a POW camp weighing four-and-a-half stone. Three years later he won bronze in the weightlifting competition. The Hungarian champion marksman Károly Takács injured his right hand in a grenade blast, so he learned to shoot with his left, and won the rapid-fire pistol gold.
But traditional attitudes to disability were still entrenched. Jack Dearlove, father of the future MI6 chief Richard Dearlove, was cox of the British rowing eight in the 1948 Olympics. Dearlove had lost a leg in a car accident and walked on crutches, and while that impediment was not enough to prevent him steering his team to a silver medal, it was not considered the sort of thing the public would like to see. He was told not to take part in the Olympic procession.
At the precise moment that Jack Dearlove was sitting out of sight in the stands on the first day of the Olympics, Ludwig Guttman was organising the first games for people with disabilities. On July 28, 1948, 16 former soldiers (including two women) with spinal injuries gathered in wheelchairs on the lawn outside the Stoke Mandeville wards for an archery competition.
By 1952 the “Stoke Mandeville Games” had 130 international competitors; in 1960 the first Paralympic Gmes (the name was applied retrospectively) were held in Rome.
Today a simple, brilliant, humane idea that started on a Buckinghamshire lawn is the second largest sporting event in the world, with seven different classification of athletes, in addition to the Special Olympics for athletes with intellectual disabilities and the Deaflympics.
Guttman (by then “Sir Ludwig”) died in 1980, but the selection of Oscar Pistorius, a double amputee, to compete in the Olympic 400m race may be the final realisation of his vision: a disabled athlete so entirely rehabilitated by medical science that his disability is no longer relevant.
Pistorius’s victory over the loss of his legs is the culmination of a battle started by the disabled veterans of the Second World War. For the Paralympics, like the Olympics of 1948, represent a conquest over war itself and the suffering it brings. That is still the case today: a significant number of military personnel injured in Afghanistan and Iraqw have been selected for the London 2012 Paralympics, including the cyclist Jon-Allen Butterworth, who lost his left arm in a rocket attack in Iraq, and the rower Nick Beighton, who lost his legs in an explosion in Afghanistan in 2009. It is estimated that, by 2016, as many as one in 20 Paralympians will be injured war veterans.
For Guttman, the Paralympics was also a victory over for real scientific research over Hitler’s perverted science. As Guttman himself remarked: “Since the Nazis drove out Jewish scientists, British science has got ahead of the Germans.”
Hitler not only wanted to eliminate Jews such as Guttman, but also the disabled people Guttman championed. In 1933 the Nazis had begun the forced sterilisation of the disabled, depicted as “useless eaters” with “lives unworthy of living.” Some 275,000 disabled people were murdered at “euthenasia centres” under the Nazis’ unspeakable T4 programme.
But history has a sense of irony. By driving out this Jewish doctor, Hitler unintentionally set in train a course of events that would eventually lead to the Paralympics, an institution that has done more than any other to undermine negative images of disability across the world. Poppa Guttman ran a long, hard race against prejudice, but he won in the end.
NB: almost unbelievably, ATOS, the firm employed by the government to drive disabled people off benefits, and making huge profits by doing so, is a sponsor of the Paralympics. Join Disabled People Against the Cuts and UK Uncut in their protests, next week -JD.
The ever-excellent Michael Steinman, over at Jazz Lives, writes:
We have all seen our share of documentaries, perhaps beginning in elementary school. The least successful are tedious although well-meaning, taking us year-by-year, serving up moral lessons. Although they strive to inform and move us, often they are unsatisfying and undramatic in their desire to present us with facts.
Jeff Kaufman’s brilliant feature-length portrait is a soaring antidote to every earnest, plodding, didactic documentary. It is full of feeling, insightful without being over-emphatic. It tells several stories in affecting, subtle ways.
Chick Webb was a great musician — a drummer other drummers still talk about with awe and love. He guided and lovingly protected the teenaged Ella Fitzgerald, helping her grow into a mature artist. Crippled from childhood — he would never grow taller than 4′; he was in constant pain; he died shortly after turning thirty — he was fiercely ambitious and ultimately triumphant in ways he did not live to see.
But this is far more than the story of one small yet great-hearted man. It is much larger than the chronicle of one jazz musician. It is the story of how Webb’s love, tenacity, and courage changed the world. That sounds hyperbolic, and I do not think that any American history textbook has yet made space for the little king from Baltimore, who deserves his place alongside Rosa Parks and Jackie Robinson. This film will go a long way towards correcting that omission. For Chick, tiny yet regal behind his drum set, helped create an environment where Black and White could forget those superficial differences and become equal in the blare of the music, the thrill of the dance.
Without Webb, would there have been a Savoy Ballroom where American men and women could have forgotten the bigotry so prevalent, lost in the joy of swing? I like to imagine someone, trained into attitudes of racism from birth, hearing HARLEM CONGO on the radio and feeling transformed as if by a bolt of lightning, not caring that the players were not Caucasian, making the shift in his / her thinking from cruel derision to admiration and love. How many people moved to an acceptance of racial equality because they were humming Ella’s recording of A TISKET, A TASKET? We will never know . . . but just as the sun (in the fable) encouraged the stubborn man to shed his heavy coat where the cold wind failed, I believe that jazz and swing did more than has ever been acknowledged to make White and Black see themselves as one.
And the film documents just how aware Webb was of the reforming power of his music. The idea of him as a subtle crusader for love, acceptance, and fairness is not something imposed on him by an ideologically-minded filmmaker: it is all there in the newspaper clippings and the words he spoke.
Here is Candace Brown’s superb essay on the film — with video clips from the film.
I must move from the larger story to a few smaller ones. Put bluntly, I think filmmaker Kaufman is a wonder-worker, his talents quiet but compelling — rather like the person in the tale who makes a delicious soup starting with only a stone. It took six years and a great deal of effort to make this film, and the result is gratifying throughout.
Making a documentary in this century about someone who died in 1939 has its own built-in difficulties. For one thing, the subject is no longer around to narrate, to sit still for hours of questions. And many of the subject’s friends and family are also gone. Chick Webb was a public figure, to be sure, but he wasn’t someone well-documented by sound film. Although his 1929 band can be heard in the rather lopsided film short AFTER SEBEN, the director of that film cut Chick out of the final product because he thought the little man looked too odd.
I don’t think so.
But back to Kaufman’s problem. Although there are many recordings of Chick’s band in the studios and even a radio broadcast or two, other figures of that period left behind more visual evidence: think of the photogenic / charismatic Ellington, Goodman, Louis. Of Webb and his band in their prime, the film footage extant lasts four seconds.
So Kaufman had to be ingenious. And he has been, far beyond even my hopes.
The film is a beautifully-crafted tapestry of sight and sound, avoiding the usual overexposed bits of stock film and (dare I say it) the expected talking heads, droning into the camera. The living people Kaufman has found to speak with love of Chick Webb are all singular: jazz musicians Roy Haynes (swaggering in his cowboy hat), Joe Wilder (a courtly knight without armor), Dr. Richard Gale (son of Moe, who ran the Savoy), dancers Frankie Manning and Norma Miller . . . their affection and enthusiasm lifts up every scene.
And Kaufman has made a virtue of necessity with an even more brilliant leap. Webb wasn’t quoted often, but his utterances were memorable — rather like rimshots. Ella, Gene Krupa, Ellington, Basie, Helen and Stanley Dance, Artie Shaw, Mezz Mezzrow, and twenty others have their words come to life — not because a serious dull voiceover reads them to us, but because Kaufman has arranged for some of the most famous people in the world to read a few passages. Do the names Bill Cosby and Janet Jackson suggest how seriously other people took this project?
THE SAVOY KING is a work of art and an act of love, and it deserves to be seen — not just by “jazz lovers” or “people who remember the Big Band Era.”
It has been selected to be shown at the 50th annual New York Film Festival, tentatively on September 29, which in itself is a great honor.
That’s the beautiful part. Now here comes four bars of gritty reality. In the ideal world, no one would ever have to ask for money, and a major studio would already have done a beautiful job of exploring Chick Webb’s heroism, generosity, and music by now. But it hasn’t happened, and we know what results when the stories we love go Hollywood.
Filmmaker Kaufman is looking for funding through INDIEGOGO to arrange a “proper launch” for this film — the goal being $5000 to cover the extra work of our PR team (media, publicity, sales, etc), and other key expenses that will help lead to a commercial release. All levels of support (ideally $75 and up) will make a real difference. Here is the link.
Think of a world made better by swing.
See and support this film.
May your happiness increase.
By Anne Begg MP
For a couple of years disabled people have been reporting increased levels of both verbal and physical abuse from members of the public. This has been confirmed this week in the results published by the charity Scope from a survey of 500 disabled people and their carers across the country. The research showed that 46% of those polled said that attitudes towards them had worsened over the past year.
Why should this be? With the London 2012 Olympics & Paralympics taking place, and particularly Channel 4 rebranded as Paralympics broadcaster, has been full of positive images of disabled people, some doing remarkable things. I think the Channel 4 advert for the Paralympics (below) is fantastic and get a lump in my throat every time I see it.
However, for a longer time there have been a large number of very different stories about people who receive disability and sickness benefits in the press. In the government’s attempt to show it is getting tough on benefit fraudsters and the work shy the print media have been very willing to run stories on every release of statistics which they say show that most people who claim sickness benefits are perfectly capable of work, statistics which in reality show no such thing.
A study “Bad News for Disabled People: How the newspapers are reporting disability” by Strathclyde Centre for Disability Research and Glasgow Media Unit found that there had been an increase in the number of disability related stories in the press with a decrease in those presenting a more sympathetic view. There had also been an increase in the use of words such as “scrounger”, “cheat” and “skiver” all adding to an impression that disabled people were “underserving”.
So who are the targets for this abuse? Is it the benefits cheats featured in the various stories about “sick note Britain”? Is it the man who claimed to be too ill to cut his own food caught on camera playing golf or the man who claimed to need a wheelchair filmed Jiving? Of course not. Their friends, far less passersby, will have no idea what income or benefits they receive and certainly won’t know what they said on an application form and pretended in an interview. Who would believe they would have such a brass neck? No it is not the real fraudsters, estimated to be less than 1% of benefit claimants, who are the target for the abuse, it is those with an obvious physical or learning disability. That’s why some of the irresponsible reporting has been so dangerous. It is the person who clearly has a disability, who may actually be in work, who is having to suffer the taunts, the name calling and being spat on.
Those with genuine disabilities were told there was nothing to fear from the new Work Capability Assessment for people who are unable to work due to sickness or disability. It was being introduced, we were told, to weed out the scroungers and work shy but those with the greatest disability would get more help and support. However, two television programmes this week, Channel 4’s Dispatches “Britain on the Sick” and BBC Panorama “Disabled or Faking It?” have given the lie to this. Something which many people who have been through the new system already knew.
Rather than showing that those with severe disabilities had nothing to fear from the new assessment, Panorama found a number who were being found fit for work, such as the man with severe emphysema who keeps having to take his case to appeal as he scores no points every time he goes through the assessment.
The Dispatches programme showed that the WCA was declaring people fit if they could work from a wheelchair even if they don’t use a wheelchair. Are wheelchair services across the country ready for the influx of applications? And what happens if the wheelchair assessment says the person doesn’t qualify for one on the NHS?
But most worrying was a woman who featured in the Panorama programme who, among other things, could not go to the toilet on her own. Yet she was put in the Work Related Activity Group. There must be something seriously wrong with a system which makes that kind of mistake. I wasn’t allowed home from hospital recently until I could safely toilet myself.
These were not isolated examples. I received an e-mail this week from a man who was highly anxious because he had just been called for this third WCA in three years. It is not surprising he was feeling persecuted as he had had to give up work as he has the particularly cruel degenerative Huntington’s disease.
Much of the misleading press coverage blames the victim of the system for the failings of the system. So someone who begins a claim for ESA because their Statutory Sick Pay has run out but returns to work before their ESA claim has been determined is counted as someone swinging the lead. Nor is the WCA very good at dealing with people with progressive diseases. It doesn’t make any acknowledgement that people with MS or Parkinson’s or Huntington’s have probably just lost their job precisely because they have a degenerative disease so their employability will not improve no matter how many reassessments they go through.
One thing about disability worth bearing in mind is that in a blink of an eye it could be you. An accident or a diagnosis can change your life for ever. At the very time you want to be wrapped in the care of the NHS and supported by the welfare state is the very time when a complete stranger in the street might spit the word “scrounger” at you.
Dame Anne Begg MP, Chair of Work and Pensions Select Committee, MP for Aberdeen South
H-t: David Kirkham, Sheffield Uncut
From Anna Wolmuth: