Several nights ago, a young disabled woman was at home on her own when a knock at the door heralded the arrival of police officers from the local constabulary. She claims that there aim was to intimidate her into stopping posting comments on Facebook critical of government cuts and specifically the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) and their attacks on the rights of disabled claimants!
Several other reports have now filtered in of similiar tactics by police in other areas. It's alledged that they're acting on complaints from the DWP who say that disabled activists are distorting the truth and making unfounded claims against them.
If they're refering to unfounded claims as being the number of people who are dying under the new welfare reforms (10,600 between Jan to Nov 2011) then I'm afraid that these figures were released by their own department (see my earlier blog with links to DWP documents released under a freedom of information order).
If they're refering to the actual number of people who have committed suicide as a result of the welfare reforms then I'm afraid that this has also been substantiated by a recent survey amongst GPs in the UK (also see my earlier blog with links to this survey and it's results).
And if they're claiming that disabled people are not being effected by the changes to benefits, the closing down of the Independent Living Fund, and the other draconian measures being introduced by the government then I invite them to log onto Face Book and read some of the heart breaking comments from disabled people that are on there.
Whatever the DWP's reasons for complaint, I would think that employing the boys in blue to make intimidating night calls on disabled people was totally the wrong way to go ... although having seen the increase in feelings of anger and outrage being expressed by disabled people across the country, perhaps it was the right way to go!
You can read the full account on Tom Pride's blog by clicking here.
The young woman in question has just posted a comment on her Face Book wall which says:
"Thank you to everyone (in the disability community) for the many wonderful private messages of support, means a great deal. I'm ok, feeling much better than a few nights ago. Been in the care of some great friends ... Thank you everyone for your kindness, means more than I can possibly say."
It is being stated that physical and sexual abuse has been prevalent within mental hospitals, disability institutions and care establishments throughout the UK for the past 50 years. Many of the incidents that were reported were allegedly ignored, either because the resident or patient was not believed or because it was not considered in the 'best interest' of the care community to make such allegations public.
Now we have a growing list of statements made by people who were institutionalised during this time who claim that they were also abused, not just by staff, but also by well know public figures, including the late TV celebrity Jimmy Saville.
Lynn Harrison who facilitates a FaceBook group of people with experience as a user of the mental health system told me: "Speaking with many other disabled people who have come up through the care system, they tell me that this represents the tip of a very large iceberg which has seen vulnerable people, particularly those with mental health diagnoses, learning difficulties and other impairments, being abused in many ways for far too long by organisations that have professed to protect them.
"This scandal has also highlighted the prevalence of vulnerable people being disbelieved and ignored in the past when they have been brave enough to try to speak out."
For too long the establishment has worked hard at maintaining the status quo that disabled people should be seen and not heard. They tell us through their words and actions that our complaints are not valid and we should be grateful to those organisations who have taken it on themselves to offer us both a home and the care which we need; we should be grateful, even when the people involved in these organisations physically and sexually abuse us.
In a climate where this government seem determined to push us all back into care, we say ENOUGH!
Someone in Parliament has finally found the guts to stand up and accuse the DWP of being totally inept in its dealings with ATOS.
I didn't have much time for Margaret Hodge MP, especially when she was Minister for Disabled People, but her recent statement in the House of Commons as Chair of the Public Accounts Committe will have redeemed her in the eyes of many of us Crips.
Pulling no punches, she told MPs: "The DWP's management of this contract has been unacceptably loose and permits loopholes that can all too easily be exploited by contractors. I am stunned to discover that the department does not check and challenge the key performance data that supports invoices. The financial model that informs contract charges was designed by ATOS and the department lacks an understanding of how it even works." She added: "The Department's inaccurate forecasting of demand for services has undermined its ability to hold ATOS to the terms of its contract."
Ms Hodge then went on to tell her colleagues that People with disabilities (sic) must be able to access the benefits to which they are entitled. She said: "The DWP relies on medical assessments to make sure it awards the right benefits to the right people. Getting this wrong can have devastating impacts on individuals and their families."
It is public record that Atos Healthcare billed the DWP for over £110 million to conduct the medical assessment of some 740,000 people in 2011-12. Over the same period, around 20,000 people received substandard assessments. In March this year, 1 in 4 cases was taking Atos more than 56 days to deal with.
Ms Hodge informed fellow MPs that this has resulted in distress, uncertainty and financial hardship for those people who are genuinely in need of and entitled to disability allowance. Indeed, she commented, it is a mark of this process's shortcomings that 38 per cent of appeals against the department's decisions on Employment and Support Allowance entitlement have been upheld.
She told MPs: "The number of substandard assessments must be slashed and the department needs to understand why so many appeals are successful.
Advising the DWP to "take immediate steps to get a tighter grip on this contract" she added that government wanted to see ATOS's performance improve dramatically
Concluding her statement, Ms Hodge said: "ATOS's performance must improve dramatically, and it is crucial that the department improves the accuracy of its forecasting so that it can take a much more robust line when contractors underperform rather than allowing them to hide behind unexpected demand."
Good on you Margaret ... better late than never!
PS. I do apologise for the poor caricature of Margaret Hodge, my only excuse is that it was drawn in a bit of a hurry ... I'll work on it though!
It's like a feeding frenzy out there.
All the funding that was originally allocated to us Crips to enable us to live and work out in the community seems to be slowly but surely eaten away by the vultures of private enterprise.
You'll know about the biggest vulture, I take it? The French company ATOS who've had the contract to get as many disabled people off Benefit as they can. As an added incentive, the ConDems also gave ATOS a bonus for every Benefit payment that they stop.
And of course, ATOS are failing thousands of disabled people every day, whether they fit the work capability criteria or not, and claiming their bonus for a job well done. Regardless of the fact that most disabled people actually had their benefits reinstated after appealing, ATOS still get to keep their bonus!
Of course we know that many other profit motivated, private companies have also got their fingers in other pies and receive vast payments for doing what a lot of disabled people led organisations used to do for a hell of a lot less and more efficiently.
It doesn't end there ... ATOS is now sub contracting out some of its work to other vultures like SALUS (part of NHS Lanarkshire), who have been carrying out PIP consultations on their behalf. So ATOS doesn't even have to work for all it's money - it just creams off the profits whilst sub-contractors do the work - all jostling to make large profits from their involvement. Profits which surely come out of funding originally allocated for disabled people!
I haven't actually worked it out, but wouldn't it be cheaper for the government to give every disabled person a respectable payment each month without them having to jump through all these hoops, rather than pay billions to these vultures whose only motive seems to be making a profit for their shareholders?
Or perhaps I'm missing something here?!
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.
Following the sad demise of yet another Disability Arts organisation due to funding cuts, I'm letting my cartoon speak for itself this week ...
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!