Currently running on Facebook is a campaign lambasting the Comic Relief 'Red Nose' day because, they say: "(We) are annoyed and distressed at Comic Relief's decision to include David Cameron in the video to this year's charity single by One Direction. They then go on to list all of the atrocities committed by Cameron, aimed at sick and disabled people, and those on benefits or on a low income.
Firstly, let me make it clear that I agree wholeheartedly with this group's stance against Cameron and the present government. What the ConDems are doing to certain sections of our society beggars belief. I have, along with other disabled activists, been in the thick of the fight against them and will continue to take my place alongside those who challenge the government.
However, to boycott an organisation that is the very antithesis of Tory policy, just because of Cameron's appearance in the video is, in my humble opinion, not exactly constructive.
Many years ago, when Comic Relief, Children in Need et al first appeared on the scene, disabled activists throughout the country were appalled at the patronising crap which oozed from our TV screens. Not only did we boycott these appeals but we also tried to make sure that everyone knew why. We chained ourselves to the railings outside TV stations, we leafleted and a few intrepid souls even managed to gate-crash televised events to publicise our cause. "Piss on pity", "Rights not charity", "Nothing about us without us" were bold new statements way back then.
We all know what Mr Wogan and his cronies did. They ignored us and have pretty much continued as if nothing had happened. Lenny Henry and the other, original Comic Relief organisers, however, started up a dialogue with us and asked what they were doing wrong. They listened when we explained and took our criticisms on the chin.
From this small step many of us began working with Comic Relief (arguably the ONLY such charity to have agreed to work with disabled people on our own terms). Some of the results have been the increased involvement of disabled people in the organisation, funding being directed towards organisations "of" rather than "for" disabled people and changing the "tragic but brave" stereotype that so damages our struggle for equality and full citizenship. (And it became an approach they've used with other groups they support, too.)
Those of us who are really long in the tooth will remember that landmark training resource "Altogether Better" which was so vital to disability equality/disability action training throughout the 1990s and beyond. Perhaps for the first time, it enabled Deaf and disabled people of all ages to tell our own story through the video clips and materials it brought together and it tackled some highly controversial issues head on. Who funded it? Well, Comic Relief actually.
So please guys, hammer Cameron and his cowboys as much as you can. I'm with you on that. But don't risk sabotaging probably the only organisation of this type which, in my opinion, has worked hard to take our issues on board and provided a level playing field for us all to operate together on.
Thanks for listening. Rant over (for now!).
Living on an island we could be forgiven for thinking that the harsh cuts that are being inflicted on us Crips in the UK are unique and out of step with the rest of Europe.
Listening to disabled people in France, Greece and especially Spain, we hear that the exact same policies of cuts to benefits and services, along with an orchestrated move to get us all back into institutions, is taking place throughout Europe.
Thousands of disabled people rallied in Madrid last week to protest against a €60 billion cut in spending. Similiarly to the UK, many of these cuts have been targeted at the disability community.
Speaking on Spanish television, Luis Cayo, president of Spain's Committee of Representatives of People with Disabilities who have over 4 million members, said:
"This is an historic day. Disabled people [in Spain] have never taken to the streets before!"
Another protester Ricardo de Lugo told a BBC reporter:
"This is our cry for help. They are taking away our aid which has taken us many years to achieve ... why are they doing this to us?"
Alberto Alvarez, a disabled activist from Barcelona told reporters:
"It is as if this is part of a big move to get us all off the streets and back into the institutions that many of us were forced to live in. They think that by allowing the blind to work on the streets with their lottery that this is sufficient. We are here to tell them that it is not!"
With this amount of concentrated activity across Europe aimed at disabled people one wonders why there's not a pan European disabled people's organisation taking the lead in these protests. Why are we not sharing our resources and our expertise with other disabled people across the length and breadth of Europe, people who are being threatened by their governments in the same way that we are?
The right wing strategy of 'divide and conquer' has never needed to be challenged more than now.
We can only do this effectively by working in solidarity together.
Solidarity - Solidaridad - Solidarité - Solidarität - Solidariedade - αλληλεγγύη - Solidarność - Solidaritat
I read a letter in a local newspaper the other day. The writer was praising David Cameron for reducing the number of people who were on benefits and for making them work for a living instead of scrounging off the state. He seemed to think that some 60% of those people on benefits had now been found work by the government, freeing up a considerable amount of money from the welfare fund.
Where on earth had he got this evidence from? Surely he didn't just rely on the government or the right wing newspapers for his information? Surely he realised that the "facts" supplied from these sources would be biased?
Why didn't he know that the Department of Work and pensions (DWP) has subcontracted out this benefits reduction work to the French-based company ATOS, which has cost the country over £110 million to date. Or that some 20,000 of this year's assessments had been declared sub-standard, resulting in 37% of those disabled people who'd had their benefits stopped having them reinstated under appeal?
Why didn't he know about the estimated 25,000 people who have died whilst participating in this so-called welfare reform, many of them undergoing the Work Capability Assessment managed by ATOS? (The figure of 10,600 people who died during the period between January and November 20011 was recently substantiated by the DWP's own records.) Or that this 'fitness for work' test continues to kill, on average, 32 people each week, due to stress induced by the process or by suicide as a result of their benefits being stopped? (The actual death toll is estimated at just under 72 people per week, but this includes people who have died of impairment/illness related causes.)
Why didn't he know that Margaret Hodge, as Chair of the Public Accounts committee, has recently issued a statement to the effect that ATOS, during the period 2011 - 12, have been taking the DWP (and this country) to the cleaners and are still exploiting many loopholes created in the process?
The letter-writer could research the figures for himself. They're all in the public domain - though admittedly not published by the likes of the Daily Mail or the Telegraph - but available to everyone who has access to the internet. I've even made it easy for him by putting links to these various sources in my blogs!
The real problem with our letter writing friend is the true facts do not support his predudices. It's more comfortable for him to accept the pap he is fed, without analysis. He's been told that we're either super hero Olympians or despicable scoungers and he's bought it! He's lazily accepted the version that slots into his existing pre-conceptions.
Of course, he'll rationalise, there are bound to be a few genuine disabled people who get caught up amongst the fakes, but that's inevitable. You can't make an omelette without breaking a few eggs can you?!
But at its core, our letter writer's perspective is one without compassion, without understanding, without generosity of spirit and certainly without intelligence.
There's a phrase for what's happening to disabled people you know. It's called colateral damage ... and that's what we've become. The colateral damage in Cameron's callous financial missile-firing.
Oh and by-the-way, welcome to the Big Society!
Disabled people across the country are furious following the Prime Minister's comments at the Tory party conference about his own experiences based on his late disabled son and father.
He painted a rosy picture of the lives of disabled people in the UK following the recent Paralympics and that people were now "seeing the person and not the wheelchair". Although as one pundit commented, thanks to his policies people saw neither the person or the wheelchair, but instead saw a welfare scrounger!
His speech came at the same time as the results of a survey about the true cost of the government's welfare reforms were being circulated.
The survey, highlighted by Exaro, the investigative website and targeted at GPs, confirmed that many disabled patients have been driven to suicide due to the Government's fitness to work test.
Six per cent of doctors have experienced a patient who has attempted - or committed - suicide as a result of “undergoing, or fear of undergoing” the Government's fitness to work test.
The survey also found that 14 per cent had patients who had self-harmed as a result of the test and that a further 20 per cent of GPs had at least one disabled patient who had thought about suicide because of the test.
Alongside of these alarming statistics are the figures released by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) confirming that 10,600 people participating in the welfare reforms had died during the period January to November 2011.
These figures are derived from administrative data held by the Department for Work and
Pensions and assessment data provided by Atos Healthcare and confirm that upwards of 72 people a week involved in the government's welfare changes have died and that 32 deaths per week are linked directly to people having undergone the ATOS Healthcare fitness to work assessments.
You can see more of Crippen on his alternataive cartoon blog. Please click here for a link to the site.
For those of you too young to have seen the 1973 film Soylent Green with Charlton Heston this cartoon won't have the same impact on you that it will to us oldies.
It was basically about a futuristic government getting rid of its dissidents and solving a world wide food crisis by turning them into food - Soylent Green!
We're being such a pain in the arse to the present Tory government that it's a wonder they haven't thought of this as a solution for us!
Remember ... you are what you eat!
Like hundreds of other disabled people in the UK today, Adam Lotun has experienced verbal and physical abuse, has been spat at, pushed off the pavement in his wheelchair into oncoming traffic and accused of single handedly bringing this Country to the brink of bankruptcy by claiming disability benefits.
Now on top of this, like thousands of other disabled people in the UK, Adam has been subjected to the ATOS work capability process and as a result has had his benefits cut and his accessible Motability vehicle taken away.
However, unlike most of his disabled peers who have been left feeling disempowered by the heartless actions of the coalition government, Adam Lotun has decided to make a public statement and say "no more".
Taking his fight straight into the enemy camp, Adam is standing as a Prospective Parliamentary Candidate for the Corby By-Election on Nov 15th 2012. His aim is to show that the age of the career politician with their selfish, self promoting attitudes has ended and that the caring and compassionate society that he was brought up to believe in still exists.
Speaking in his Blog, Adam argues that today's politicians have lost their way and no longer care about those very people that they are supposed to represent.
"I'm arguing against injustices by those in power ... it is no longer acceptable that the 1% should be ruling over the 99% ... that Parliament needs to be reformed so that we can secure a future for my children and future generations."
Adam has been working with other disabled people to achieve disabled people's rights and equality for over 20 years. He has played a leading role in recent direct action initiatives, chaining himself to other wheelchair users in attempts to block roads and raise awareness of the damage resulting from cuts to disability benefits.
During this time he has heard many examples of discrimination and injustice, but the stories that are emerging from those disabled people who are being abused by the ATOS work capability process are causing him the most concern.
In his latest blog Adam comments on a recent CH4 television news item that focussed on one example of just how badly disabled people are being treated by this system.
"I have heard of a great many injustices to disabled people and have often taken up the fight with them to redress their wrongs ... but I have never witnessed anything so deliberate as to lead to the tragic and needless death of the disabled person upon who the CH4 news item was based ... it left me feeling sick to my stomach."
This particular news item has become a clarion call for Adam and those other disabled people who are working with him towards winning the Corby By-Election. Adam feels confident that the people of Corby will turn out in force to elect him as their parliamentary candidate, influenced by the support that he is receiving from across the country by the disabled community.
He added: "I know that the people of Corby believe that all of my supporters from around the UK who have offered their time, support and resources to enable me to represent them, will continue to assist us in our fight for true democracy.
"That they now have friends from as far afield as John O'Groats to Lands End who will have their hopes pinned on the people of Corby to make a stand against those outdates ideas that have led this country into the state it is."
They will do this by putting Adam forward as their choice to represent their community on the 15th November 2012.
If you feel able to spare time to assist Adam in his fight for parliamentary recognition then please contact him by clicking on this link to his blog. Any and all offers of help will be gratefully recieved, not just by him but by the people of Corby.
When these latest figures hit my in tray this week I couldn't help wondering if this was further evidence of the effect of the government's targeting of disabled people?
Police figures for England, Wales and Northern Ireland show that there has been a rise in hate crimes against disabled people during the past two years.
Although some of this could be attributed to an increased willingness to report such crimes, more than 2,000 such offences were recorded in 2011, which is up a third on 2010. This year's figures are proving to be even higher.
Hate crime monitoring began in 2008 to raise awareness of the problem. Perversely, hate crimes linked to race, religion and sexual orientation have fallen.
An offence is considered a hate crime if the victim, or any other person, considers it was motivated by hostility based on a person's race, religious belief, sexual orientation, disability or where the victim was perceived to be transgender.
Assistant Chief Constable Drew Harris, who heads the Association of Chief Police Officers' (Acpo) online reporting facility, True Vision, commented:
"The 2011 data importantly shows a further increase in disability hate crime.
"While we would obviously want to see reductions in the incidence of all hate crime, we suspect that disability hate crimes have been significantly under-reported in the past."
The Association for Real Change (ARC UK) launched a Safety Net campaign in 2009 - running for three years. They targeted 'Mate Crime' in which people would befriend someone with learning difficulties in order to rob or abuse them.
ARC UK is concerned that, without a sustained national campaign, more vulnerable adults with learning difficulties will be abused by people pretending to be their friends.
Rod Landman speaking for ARK UK said: "Identifying and tackling 'mate crime' is complicated. Victims often do not understand what is happening to them or are too afraid to tell anyone."
Mr Landman says that from his experience almost all of this type of crime goes unreported.
I found this article in the Guardian archives which may have some relevance to the forthcoming Paralympics and the proposed ATOS protests.
Back in 2008 the British Olympic Association (BOA) said it would review its athletes' contract for the Beijing Games after criticism of a clause which had prevented competitors from making political statements in China.
The clause, which appeared to go beyond the requirements of the Olympic charter, will be softened although athletes who engage in overt political demonstrations or statements could still risk being sent home.
Simon Clegg, the BOA's chief executive, said: "I accept that the interpretation of one part of the draft BOA team members' agreement appears to have gone beyond the provision of the Olympic charter; this is not our intention, nor is it our desire to restrict athletes' freedom of speech ..."
"This clause is intended to stop overt statements such as wearing a Free Tibet shirt," said a BOA spokesman.
The games have long provided a political stage, from the Nazis' appropriation of the 1936 games to Tommie Smith's Human Right's salute in Mexico in 1968.
The then shadow culture secretary, Jeremy Hunt, said Britain's athletes should be allowed to "say what they want". The Lib Dem leader, Nick Clegg, said: "[It is] our moral responsibility to push for human rights wherever they are being abused."
I understand that this clause still stands, which means that any disabled athlete joining in the ATOS protests may face censure.
But think of the publicity that this would generate for the cause of Human Rights for disabled people in this country. Worth a slap on the wrist I would have thought.
So, are their any Paralympians out there willing to make such a statement on behalf of their disabled brothers and sisters ... ?
I didn't think so!
You can read the full Guardian article by clicking here
So, let's take the suggestion a little further shall we?
We've already decided if disabled athletes AND disabled artists work together then we have a real chance of putting a spanner in the works of this divisive government, even if it's a small one.
Because let's face it, some of those disabled athletes out there are only a hair's breadth away from falling into the benefits trap that many of us currently find ourselves in.
Disabled athletes are currently the flavour of the month, especially with all of the Paralympic hype that's going on. But what happens afterwards? When their 'special' status changes and they become just another disabled person, ripe for attack by the ConDems and subject to the brutal fall of the cutting blade.
We all have our moments. Currently for disabled athletes it's the 2012 Paralympics. For the rest of us Crips it's the workhouse.
So come on you Super Crips. How about directing a bit of that limelight onto the rest of the disability stage. We need your help to highlight the reality for thousands of fellow disabled people who are being put through the ATOS wringer - with some failing to come out the other side.
Together we can make changes and have this unique opportunity to do just that. By all means compete and get your medals, but also, when the members of thepress want to interview you, talk to them about the real plight of disabled people in this country!
Thanks for listening.
Crippen's strip cartoon
And don't forget that you can visit Crippen's latest strip cartoon episode of the O'Crype family and their involvement with the Cultural Olympiad.
Why is it that the companies that Cameron and his cronies pay to handle such diverse matters as the Direct Payments Scheme (A4E) and now the stewarding of the Olympic Games (G4S), when they foul up, they get let off with little more than a slapped wrist?
Nothing about Breach of Contract, Penalty Clauses, or being made to give back the millions that they've been paid! No, the British tax payer coughs up yet again and we bail out yet another balls-up!
But what about all of the pieces that are left laying around after each 'jobs for the boys' project fouls up? Here we have the biggest corporate ... sorry I mean 'sports' event ever to take place within the UK and we're now told that there's insufficient people to actually steward it.
Rest assurred, Cameron is sure to have something up his sleeve to overcome this slight set-back ...
Last week at the Shape media conference I had the pleasure of meeting Kristina Veasey. She has taken part in two Paralympics and talked about her own experiences competing as a disabled athlete.
For most of us non-athletic Crips, and in particular those of us involved in disability arts, the world of the Paralympian seems remote to say the least. We see them as single minded Super Crips with no interest or involvement in disability politics and protest. What we do hear about are those sporty wheelchair users with amazing upper body strength telling non-disabled people that they don't need ramps!
The media love them as well, providing photo opportunities of 'good' disabled people (as opposed to 'bad' disabled people who are scrounging on disability benefit and can't be arsed to find a job!).
All this media hype of course goes to reinforce the stereotypes of disability that Mr and Mrs Jo Public know and love. The acceptable face of disability versus the unacceptable.
But having chatted to Kristina after her talk, I learned a few things. For example did you know that all Paralympians have to sign a contract that specifically prohibits them from taking part in any political protest during the duration of the games?
This means that if they did protest for the duration of the games, (against ATOS for example) they would have sacrificed years of training and would have to return any medals that they had won.
But some paralympians find ways around the system. For example Kristina told me that was why, as a retired paralympian, she became Amnesty International's paralympic ambassador during the Beijing games - "so I could give voice to protest."
Perhaps between us all - paralympians, activists, disabled artists - we could start to tear down the wall that the media & society have erected and start working together.
As ever the challenge is to be able to communicate more openly with each other and to be prepared to let go of those unhelpful stereotypes. I include myself in this as a veteran of creating and maintaining some of these stereotypes. My exchange with Kristina was a kick in my assumptions which I found very helpful and thought provoking.
Perhaps all disabled people, all working together could create a power base strong enough to bring this government and their draconian measures to a shuddering halt.
We can but hope.
BTW if you do have tickets for Paralympic events you may be asked to participate in an on-line survey. Why not use this opportunity to voice some of our concerns about the dichotomy between the experiences of paralympians and many other disabled people. Here's your chance to comment on the gap between the portrayal of paralympic athletes and the daily struggle against barriers that most disabled people face.
Why we need a NEW 'Disabled People's Resistance Movement' by Bob Williams-Findley.
"We have campaign groups like Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC) and Black Triangle (BT), and I'm aware of the effort that is going into what disabled people are doing right now, but I believe we need to have a visible "resistance movement" which brings all the strands together in a 'Rock Against Racism' style approach.
"This doesn't need to be organised in the traditional Disabled People's Organisations style; our central drive has to be to gather support for disabled people in face of the savage attacks that are falling upon us.
"This 'movement' needs to be militant, visible, and extremely challenging - I agree with linking with UK Uncut and employing direct action methods to get our message across - we also need to use other media and alternative forms of protest too. Working with non-disabled people will be essential.
"Duncan Smith has demonstrated that the Government has a 'kill or exploit' policy which is creeping nearer and nearer to the Nazis' T4 programme. Our lives ARE at risk; it's no longer about being excluded or marginalised and offered inadequate services - the fact IDS used the word "fester" transforms the landscape - people with impairments are now viewed as "a sickness" - the same type of landscape the Nazis created for the Jews and other 'unacceptable groups'.
"No doubt he'll claim he used "fester" to mean 'left without support', but we know that this is bollocks because the Government like all of those before them maintain our social oppression. The mask has slipped, finally the ruling elite reveal their resentment and contempt for the "ABNORMAL, CRIPPLES and FREAKS" who have been burdensome due to the Welfare State. The knives are out; they ARE out to get us!
"We MUST mount a resistance, fighting cuts and oppressive policies, is not enough in relation to this ideological onslaught - it is a State run 'hate campaign' and more and more disabled people will die.
"I'm not going over the top or being alarmist, this is a measured political analysis of our current situation. Me simply putting out a "call to arms" will achieve nothing in itself; what is required is for disabled people, especially activists, to come together to shape our destiny - unless there is a genuine effort made to build a resistance movement, many of us will not have a future."
Bob Williams-Findley is well known within the disabled people's movement both as an academic and an activist. Please leave your responses to Bob's article within the comments section of this blog. Thankyou.
The present government, seemingly run and controlled by a small clique of ex Public schoolboys, seem intent on taking us back to the 1950s where people did what they were told, without question. And the alarming thing is that this tactic seems to be working!
Let's just look at what has been happening with regard to Disabled people. Seemingly overnight the ConDems have managed to reverse the process in which society was begining to view us in a more positive framework.
People were beginning to accept and support our right to accessible housing, accessible transport, access to mainstream education, etc., and also the right to represent ourselves, rather than be beholden to the big charities whose main preoccupation seemed to be to keep a lot of non-disabled 'disability professionals' in work.
The view that we were helpless, pathetic creatures who needed to be cared for and detained within 'special' institutions - basically kept off the streets - was also slowly changing thanks to the pioneering work undertaken by disabled activists and academics over the past 60 years or so.
We'd started to succesfully challenge the negative stereotypes of disability that were portrayed on television and in the cinema and also encouraged some of the media to write about us in a more positive framework. Slow work and constant hard graft, but we were getting there.
But, in the short time that this lot have been in power, they've managed to reverse much of the progess we've been making. They have been sabotaging many of the tools we had aquired for creating our independence, encouraged the press to portray us as benefits scroungers and a drain upon society, and effectively set us back some 50 years. And what's even worse, is that the general public are falling for it all!
But are we down hearted? Too blooming right we are! So what are we doing about it?
I'd be interested to hear ...
I realise that it might appear to be a 'closing the stable gate after the horse has bolted' type of scenario, especially as the government's health changes have survived their final parliamentary test and are set to become law. But I can't help feeling that there's something we can all still do to forestall the seemingly inevitable conclusion.
I suppose, having received treatment through the National Health System (NHS) several times over recent years, I can be forgiven for appearing more focussed on its imminent demise than on other 'cuts' issues.
Most people would agree that the NHS certainly needs a good sort out, but I fail to see how by sending in the Tory bovver boys who's only experience has been based upon private health care (along with their private education) anything good can come out of this. It would be, for example, something like making Boris Johnson Mayor of London; unthinkable and utterly unworkable! (Ed: Er Dave ....)
As many of you will be aware, over the past year or so I've been working with the Socialist Health Association to raise public awareness about the proposed changes to the NHS. Along with other protest groups, such as 38 degrees, they put up a stiff resistance to the proposed changes and hopefully made a few MPs stop and think before they voted earlier this week.
Both of these groups are still fighting and I still intend creating cartoons for them in order to hammer home the valid points that they are continuing to make. Please click on the following links for more information.
I have also reopened my Crippen Cartooning Blog in conjunction with this blog on DisabilityArtsOnline web journal.
Non-disabled people are warned not to visit this other blog if they are of a delicate and sensitive disposition.
Like my work on this blog, all my cartoons have text description inbuilt. Just click on the cartoon to bring it up.
You can view Crippen's Cartoon Blog by clicking here
One of the main problems affecting many disabled people at the moment is a lack of income. And, as a result, a reduction in the ability to make those choices that affect the quality of our lives.
Until recently, many disabled people earned a reasonable income from providing professional services to organisations which provided disability equality training for their workforce, as part of complying with their legal obligations in relation to employment and providing services. But recently this, and other equality training, seems to have slid right down to the bottom of the agenda - if not off the agenda completely.
Crippen the cynic believes that this is all part and parcel of the present government's efforts to undermine our status as equal citizens in society. First, they labelled us all benefit scroungers and a burden on society. Then this gave them licence to go ahead with their cuts in support services, giving a bit of encouragement along the way to those charities that claim to represent disabled people. So this - among their many other evil acts - has resulted in a reduction in funding everywhere and signposts a one-way route into residential care for many of us.
Many disabled people spent several decades wrestling disability action and equality training away from the "simulationists". Those were (and alas still are) largely non-disabled people, who think that making people wear a blindfold for 5 minutes enables trainees to understand what it is like to have a visual impairment or sending people out into the high street in a wheelchair shows trainees just how brave it is to tackle life on wheels. Having slogged to make disability equality training more meaningful, apparently now our skills are no longer recognised as valid or having any value.
Apart, that is, in those organisations which seem to have revived the old tradition of inviting a disabled people to come in and talk about their own experiences, providing them with a cup of tea and a sticky bun for their trouble.
So if you are one of those crips providing your services for free, could I just remind you that it took years of hard graft to establish our role as professional disabled people in the field of equality training. The last thing that we need is for our disabled brothers and sisters to undermine us in this role and to devalue the importance of this work.
It also goes without saying that we need to earn a living and be in a position to fight against those right wing bigots who don't want us to have any part in their Big Society!
Well, it's all been happening whilst I've been away. Apart from such regulars as young Dolly, Joe Mc, Tanya and Ms. Pepper, a quick glance at the DAO blog lists brings up a host of fresh names. But are they what they appear to be?
Take for example Rich Downes. Obviously a pseudonym (and I see he's done the reverse of what I do and has used a picture of a much older man in order to establish more credibility). I actually have it on good authority that he's only allowed out after 7pm with a note from his mum!
But he is a good writer. Take for example his latest blog. I don't know if Rich invented the term 'chugger' but it fits so well doesn't it? Those muppets who dress up like idiots and solicit money from punters outside of shops and supermarkets.
Their collecting bucket usually has some vague reference to 'the handicapped' or one of the big charities like Scope, or Blind Dogs for the Guides! (Read Rich's blog - he puts it far more eloquantly than I can).
So, as my re-entry into DAO blog land, and in support of those young contributers like Rich, I thought I'd resurrect and old favourite, the ultimates chugger 'Captain Pratt', getting it wrong yet again!
It also ties in quite nicely with my last blog about the A4e debacle (see Sept 2011) which is still going on. Apparently Margaret Hodge (Ed: Bless her!) has told the coalition that they got it wrong when they took away the Direct payments contracts from disabled people led groups and gave it all to A4e. Not the only thing they've got wrong eh!?
According to documents obtained by the Guardian newspaper, Cameron’s senior adviser on troubled families has set up a new partnership to bid for work under a programme to get 120,000 households into work. A programme that she helped create!
Emma Harrison, the multimillionaire founder of private welfare company A4e, was appointed the “families champion” last December. The prime minister singled her out in a key post-riot speech last month, saying she had “develop[ed] a plan to help get these families on track”.
She's already on public record as having stated that, for her to make any money from the scheme would be at the least a “conflict of interest”.
Harrison told the Guardian she withdrew from bidding when the government announced the first tranche of contracts, worth £200m, in February. She said she had accepted the unpaid role but had been “shocked” to learn there would be hundreds of millions of pounds in funding.
“Chris Grayling [the welfare minister] told me he had got £200m. It was a bit of a shock … I thought: ‘Oh crikey, that makes me feel a bit awkward. We will have to withdraw [from the bidding].’”
But documents sent to private firms who did bid for the work reveal that Harrison’s company had set up in January a “partnership” called Families Unlimited, with (wait for it) a former civil servant who until this year was running the Department for Education’s “support services for families with multiple needs”, to pitch for the cash ... so apparently she wasn't really feeling THAT awkward!
Families Unlimited offered to execute the work won by “prime contractors” for a fee. In blunt language, the documents say that “A4e will not bid as a prime contractor … due to a conflict of interest arising from the work of its founder and chairman, Emma Harrison, through the Working Families Everywhere initiative. However, DWP [the Department for Work and Pensions] have advised that no conflict arises where A4e is acting as a subcontractor.”
If I remember right, wasn't A4e the company that took the 'direct payments' contract away from the East Sussex Disability Association (ESDA)?!
Talk about jobs for the boys ... and girls!
Recent legal advice given to 38 Degrees, the 'Save our NHS' campaign group, makes sobering reading. It states that the government’s changes to the NHS plans could pave the way for a shift towards a US-style health system, where private companies profit at the expense of patient care and those without money go untreated.
Barrister Rebecca Haynes found that the government's plans could pave the way for private healthcare companies and their lawyers to benefit most from changes, not patients. Another barrister, Stephen Cragg, found that we were right to be worried that Andrew Lansley was planning to remove his duty to provide our NHS.
Conservative MPs are being told by their bosses these changes fit with party ideology. But many would be horrified to know that the NHS would be subject to European competition laws and front-line services could be held up with procurement red tape. 38 Degrees are urging people to lobby these MPs who are due to vote on massive changes to our NHS in a few days time.
They state that if enough people email now, it could tip the balance. To find out how to do this, click on this link.
38 Degrees' independent lawyers have identified two major problems in the new legislation:
- The Secretary of State’s legal duty to provide a health service will be scrapped. On top of that, a new “hands-off clause” removes the government's powers to oversee local consortia and guarantee the level of service wherever we live. We can expect increases in postcode lotteries – and less ways to hold the government to account if the service deteriorates.
- The NHS will almost certainly be subject to UK and EU competition law and the reach of procurement law rules will extend across all NHS commissioners. Private health companies will be able to take new NHS commissioning groups to court if they don’t win contracts. Scarce public money could be tied up in legal wrangles instead of hospital beds. Meanwhile, the legislation lifts the cap on NHS hospitals filling beds with private patients.
So who are MPs going to listen to when casting their vote – you, or lobbyists from private health companies? This is our NHS, and it’s up to us to defend it. Email your MP now by clicking on this link.
Now you see him, now you don't ...
The CONDEM Coalition has replaced the disabled director of its Office for Disability Issues (ODI), Tim Cooper, with a non-disabled civil servant.
Rumour has it that the switch, which wasn't even advertised, was due to problems around Cooper being forced to give a public defence of the government’s record after disabled activists criticised its programme of spending cuts and attitude to human rights.
Cooper, who has refused to discuss the reasons for his departure, is moving to a new job as chief executive of Advance, a supported housing and employment charity, after two years as ODI’s director.
You\'ll recall that the ODI was set up in 2005 by the Labour government to help deliver equality for disabled people by 2025 and act as a champion for disabled people across government.
The person replacing him is civil servant Jeremy Moore, who is NOT disabled and will also be taking on the role of director of independent living. He was actually appointed before many ODI staff were told Cooper was leaving. He will now be responsible for all disability issues across the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), including employment, benefits and the ODI.
A DWP spokesman said Moore was appointed because he “has a lot of experience working on disability issues and was the best candidate for the job”.
Oh yes?! Apart from having held "various roles in the Department, most recently as director of the departmental transformation programme" (whatever that is?!) I haven't met one Crip who knows anything about him. In fact, apart from his resemblance to the late Eric Morecombe, he appears to be just another Tory clone in a grey suit.
He certainly seems to be Maria Miller's (minister for disabled people) blue eyed boy though. Here's what she had to say about his promotion: “Jeremy brings with him a wealth of experience and expertise and I look forward to working with him in engaging with disabled people and disability organisations to ensure they are fully involved in the decisions which affect their lives."
She added: "Bringing all disability issues together under one director reflects our commitment to a more joined up approach in ensuring disability issues are given the attention they deserve.”
And we all know what attention she feels we deserve ... bugger all!
It strikes me as strange that this government haven't safe-guarded themselves by keeping the police forces around the country happy.
As more and more people take to the streets in protest against the ConDem's slash and burn tactics, I would have thought that they are going to need the boys and girls in blue to maintain public order and keep party members safe. But with the various police forces up and down the country being faced with their own cuts, there's now a strong possiblity that some police officers will be joining in the protests.
I suspect that this government would initially react by playing one force off against another - having the Met control a protest march by the Yorkshire Constabulary for example. Although apart from adding further to the North-South divide if they did do this, I think it would allow for the more anarchistic elements of protest to exploit this and capitalise on the divisions created. Not something that Mr C and his cronies would want I suspect!
History has shown us that in this sort of situation governments start to manipulate information, creating an atmosphere of fear that allows for new 'emergency' measurers to be implemented. New laws are rushed through that allow for people's civil rights to be ignored or crushed under foot by those seeking to establish scapegoats for the situation that the country finds itself in ... seem familiar?!
Let's hope that there's a whistle blower in government who is keeping watch for those signs of yet more political control appearing. Bulk orders for jack boots and black uniform material, the building of accessible internment camps to house those of us who are deemed too dangerous to be at large. It wouldn't really suprise me as to what lengths the present government will go in order to recreate society in its own distorted image.
Keep a careful watch brothers and sisters. It's not a big step for us to be branded tomorrow's terrorists if this government has its way.
Due to ill health Crippen has had to cut down his workload for the moment, including his regular postings on this blog. He's hoping to be back soon however and is looking forward to continuing the arts protest debate that was started on an earlier posting.
In the meantime you can visit his alternative political blog by clicking here and leave your comments as usual.
A little while ago I did a round robin email to specific folks that I know who are concerned or who are involved in the cuts protests going on around the country.
It seemed to me that we needed to think of a way that we can protest without switching people off and being associated with violent confrontation, whilst at the same time getting in people's faces and making an impact. In effect cutting through the stereotypical perception that the general public have of us crips and putting an end to the apathy that seems to grip people in times of crisis, including many disabled people.
We have a huge resource in the shape of a large disabled artists community. We should be able to utilise this talented group and come up with some pretty unusual ideas with which to attract the general public to our cause. At the same time we should be able to provide a vehicle that those disabled people who haven't yet become involved could identify and join in with.
One of the best demos I've seen involved environmental protesters dressed in black, moving slowly through the streets one evening carrying large canisters. They all eventually converged on one of the large oil companies HQ's and proceeded to dump the oil they had in the canisters on the doorstep of the building. Nothing was said and the protesters remained expressionless. Then they all turned around and walked slowly away in all directions. This had such an impact and was covered by the press and television in full the next day.
Imagine several hundred (dare I say thousand) disabled people all gathering at one point and all doing something so imaginative that it would make the whole country sit up and take notice. It doesn't have to be elaborate; just different enough to grab people's attention.
I then gave a few examples of different ideas and waited for the responses ...
Well, I wasn't disappointed. My inbox is still gets several responses in it every day and they are still coming in. So the time has come to try and get all of these ideas out for further discussion; which is why I've created this blog.
The plan is to winnow out the main ideas and put them up on a further blog here for further discussion. We'll eventually end up with a group of ideas that we all feel confident with and that we can start to recruit crips to implement up and down the country.
The cartoon, by the way depicts fellow disabled artist Liz Crow appearing on the Anthony Gormley plinth in Trafalgar Square on Saturday 8th August 2009. She presented a dignified but powerful statement against extreme right wing politics in its worse manifestation. This was also an example of how disability art and disabled people's protest could come together and send a strong, clear message to the rest of society.
Do government ministers need disability equality training?
"Do government ministers need disability equality training?" That was the question asked by a member of the public at an all party parliamentary group on disability earlier this week. It's surely a sign of how disabled people's trust in the government agenda around this issue has broken down that someone even felt it appropriate to ask this question - even if it was slightly facetious!
Lord Freud, minister for state for welfare reform, was present to discuss the government's benefit reform agenda with MPs and members of the public. Apparently, according to people at the meeting Lord Freud didn't seem to appreciate that ESA was aimed almost solely at disabled people and that Contributory ESA is only open to disabled people when he insisted that disabled people would be protected against these changes. This apparently caused several people to ask if he fully understood the issues?!
Vern Pitt, equalities journalist commented: "There are elements of disability benefit reforms which are sensible and easy for disabled people and the sector to get behind. No one would argue the form for disability living allowance should remain huge and complex, or that there needs to be better employment support for disabled people.
"But the way the government has handled it, in a rather blunt manner (often pandering to the right wing press' depiction of those on benefits as scroungers), has made it untenable for most to get behind these aims."
Disability Alliance, the disability organisation which focuses on benefits, was quick to point out that the consultation on disability living allowance reform is only running for nine weeks, not the usual 12. It is measures like this that make disabled people rightly suspicious of the motives for change.
Vern added: "All the little things add up. The lack of information, the lack of consultation and the subsequent lack of clarity are making it hard to find a solution that both the government and service users can support. Worse still it's clearly beginning to make disabled people question if the government even know what disabled peoples lives are really like!"
Commenting to me by email, disabled activist Alan Wheatley told me: " As a lifelong disabled person, I have long suspected that those who give the order have no idea what my life (as a disabled person)is like."
You're not the only one Alan!
The following letter was received by Caroline Lucas MP (Green Partry - Brighton Pavilion) when she wrote to the Minister of Disabled People on behalf of one of her disabled constituents.
From Maria Miller MP "Thank you for your letter of 19 November to the Secretary of State on behalf of a number of your constituents about the effects of the Comprehensive Spending Review on disabled people. I am replying as the Minister for Disabled People.
As you know, the Coalition Government is absolutely committed to supporting disabled people, to improving the quality of life of those facing disadvantage, and to tackling poverty by addressing the causes driving it. The fiscal legacy we inherited has forced us to make some tough decisions about how we target our resources ' the Budget deficit is costing this country £43 billion a year in interest payments alone, and getting debt under control is critical in ensuring that we can put the country back onto the right track, and so safeguard the support we are able to provide to the most vulnerable in society in the future.
Throughout the Spending Review process, HM Treasury has looked closely at the impact that decisions may have on different groups in society, and published a high-level overview of the impact of the Spending Review.
Throughout there have been clear and focussed measures to protect disabled people and help ensure support is there for those who need it most. For example:
- all households where someone claims Disability Living Allowance will be exempt from the cap on the total amount of benefit a household can receive;
- we will use an extra £60 million by 2015 to help fund an additional room for disabled people who have live-in but non-resident carers;
- people aged between 25 and 34 who need additional care will not be affected by the extension of the shared room rate in Housing Benefit;
- additional investment is now in place to support social care reaching around £2 billion per year by 2014/15. £1 billion of this will be available through local government, and £1 billion will be made available within the NHS to break down the barriers between health and social care provision;
- there will be continued support, worth £6.5 billion over the next 4 years, for elderly, disabled and vulnerable people through the Supporting People programme;
- the Disabled Facilities Grant has been protected within the Spending Review and increased in line with inflation;
- and the current complex system of means tested working-age benefits and tax credits will be replaced with the Universal Credit, encouraging people to move into work. We are committed to simplifying the benefit system to ensure it is fair and supports disabled people in their day-to-day activities. To recognise the role of Disability Living Allowance it will not be included in the Universal Credit.
A full summary of the changes that affect disabled people has been published on this Department's website at www.dwp.gov.uk/adviser/updates/spending-review-2OIO, where people are able to register for updates to help keep them fully informed.
Theresa May, the Minister for Women and Equalities, and I wrote to Ministers across Government in advance of the Spending Review to remind colleagues of the need to consider the impact of policy and financial decisions on different groups of people.
Within this Department, all Budget and Spending Review measures will be equality impact assessed. Where the detail of policies is still being developed, we will publish Equality Impact Assessments at the most appropriate time, for example alongside the Welfare Reform Bill or to accompany the Uprating Order. Some policies, such as changes to the Disability Living Allowance assessment, will be subject to consultation and, therefore, the Equality Impact Assessment will be published at a later date, when policies are finalised. The equality impacts of Budget changes have been published where detail of the policy has been finalised, and can be found on this Department's website.
I recognise that disabled people may be concerned about some of the policy changes, and that a great deal of speculation about certain benefits has caused undue anxiety. I want to continue working with disabled people and organisations that have an interest in disability policy, to make sure that people have the right information about these changes, and to allay some concerns
I believe it is key to work with disabled people, who can tell us about the overall effect of public policy and services on their lives, in order that this can inform how we develop our policy and strategy. The role of EQ2025, the Government's disability advisory group, is therefore invaluable I support a co-productive approach and 1 will continue to talk as widely as possible with disabled people about how we can make reforms that enable economic recovery, while ensuring that the impact on disabled people and other disadvantaged groups remains proportionate.
With regard to the report mentioned by your constituents, "Destination Unknown", I have read the report with interest and have asked officials from the Office for Disability Issues to consider the findings. I plan to meet with Demos to discuss this further.
Your constituents raised specific policy issues, which I have addressed
Removal of the mobility component of Disability Living Allowance
The proposed measure will end payment of the mobility component of Disability Living Allowance for all state funded residents in care homes after 28 days While these residents will not be paid Disability Living Allowance, they will retain an underlying entitlement so that when they leave the care home they will not need to re-apply for the benefit.
Local authorities' contracts with care homes will cover services to meet a resident's assessed needs. These will cover activities of daily living, which may include providing access to doctors, dentists and local services such as libraries and banks. In addition, care homes should help residents pursue their individual religious beliefs. Our commitment to increasing the take up of personal budgets in Adult Social Care will give disabled people more choice and control over their care – including accessing transport that suits them.
This measure will end the anomaly whereby two State funded residents with similar needs who are placed in the same care home can be treated differently according to whether they are funded through the NHS or local authority. This measure will not apply to residents who meet the full costs of the care home themselves and they will continue to be paid both the care and mobility components of Disability Living Allowance to which they are entitled.
Time Limiting contributory Employment and Support Allowance
Employment and Support Allowance for those in the Work Related Activity Group was never intended to be a benefit for the long term. A system where people can pay National Insurance contributions for as little as two months and then potentially receive Employment and Support Allowance for the rest of their lives is not sustainable, and is unlikely to be viewed as fair by the wider public
It is important that people who are capable of moving towards employment are not left to spend years on benefits. People in the Employment and Support Allowance Support Group, for whom work is not a viable option, will be unaffected by the change, as will those receiving income-related Employment and Support Allowance. After a year, those people who have no other means of supporting themselves will qualify for income-related benefits - there will always be a safety net for those who need it.
We know that disabled people want the chance to compete in the labour market and over the course of this Parliament, we are investing very substantially in back to work support, including the new Work Choice programme, which is expected to support more disabled people into employment each year than any of its predecessor Government programmes.
Funding for social care not being ring fenced
Funding for social care has never been ring fenced at local government level. Personal Social Services grants, which were previously un-ring fenced grants from the Department of Health to local government, have been increased by £l billion in real terms. They have now been rolled into the local government formula grant to help support social care, while giving local authorities maximum flexibility to use resources in a way that best meets local priorities. This is part of an additional £2 billion that the Spending Review allocated to support social care, which together with e programme of efficiency savings, will mean that local authorities need not restrict access to care.
I do hope that this helps to reassure your constituents that the Coalition Government is fully committed to enabling disabled people to have the same opportunities and choices as non-disabled people.
Maria Miller MP
Parliamentary Under Secretary of State and Minister for Disabled People"