Mark Harrison and Julie Kemmy, both of whom work for Equal Lives, a user-led disabled people’s organisation (DPO) supporting people who face disabling barriers in Norfolk and Suffolk, explain the crisis facing Universal Credit

 

Universal Credit (UC) is potentially May’s Poll Tax. It could be her Thatcher moment. This pernicious assault on the rights of UK citizens to welfare benefits has, during its pilot phases, caused huge poverty, rent arrears and hunger for claimants, their children and families. The people affected have to rely on food banks and go into debt just to survive while waiting for their rightful benefit. This affects poor and disabled people who are being deliberately made vulnerable by this ideologically driven assault.

The groundswell of opposition is growing rapidly in the country at large and within Parliament. The cross-party DWP select committee has called for a halt to the roll out. The introduction of UC in North Kensington has been postponed. The potential for conflict, not seen since the Poll Tax and inner city uprisings, in the Grenfell area has caused a political retreat. However at Tory Party conference the DWP Minister David Gauke confirmed that UC will continue to be rolled out without any pause or reform.

Where does it come from? In 2003, Iain Duncan Smith said: “I want to be the party for the poor.” He spoke at a 2005 Labour Party conference fringe meeting, saying Labour’s definition of poverty was too limited: it is “not just about a lack of basics but a lack of sufficient resources to participate in the life of the community”. After losing the party leadership he founded the Centre for Social Justice, which published reports on poverty and welfare reform. However when he became Work and Pensions Secretary in 2010 he reverted to Tory type. He announced the plan for UC at the Conservative conference in the same year.

The philosophy that drives UC is to make work pay (to allow people to keep a bit more money if they do some work), and to make the benefits system mirror the world of work for most people  – so you get one monthly payment, from which everything, including rent, has to be paid. That way you can easily move into work; you have already learned how to manage your money. Every time someone has a change in income, UC can adjust the payments made within the next month – unlike the yearly assessments made with tax credits. It has been designed to be claimed and managed online, with all communication with a work coach taking place through an online journal and ‘to do’ list, which requires use of a PIN number. The insistence on using a digital process is difficult in rural areas, and if you can’t afford phone credit, have no broadband or access to a computer, and have no money to travel anywhere. For disabled people who can’t learn how to use a computer or remember a PIN number, the process is even more of a barrier.

The design looks good on paper for roughly 50-60% of claimants who can learn (with help) to budget their money, and will try to take on some work. IDS’s grand idea was that people would keep 65% of all extra money they earned (65p in every pound), and the government would take 35% of it. This would have been a serious incentive for anyone on benefits to work, and would have lifted many people out of what was known as the ‘benefits trap’, where it was hard to leave the benefits system as it could leave you worse off. Osborne insisted that these sums should be turned on their head, so the actual rule ended up that people only kept an extra 35p in every pound they earned, and the government took 65p.  Last year they made a big fuss about increasing this, so that people now get to keep 37p, and the government only takes 63p. So yes, it does make work pay, but not by very much.

It’s not so good for the 30-40% of people who cannot manage the demands of the process, and can’t manage to budget their income over a monthly period. At the moment they don’t always cope with fortnightly payments, but at least their rent is taken care of because it is paid direct to the landlord. UC replaces five means-tested benefits/tax credits for working age claimants, which was supposed to lead to a simpler system of benefit rules. But people’s lives are very complex – and they don’t always fit easily within so-called simple rules.

By far the biggest general complaints about UC are:

  • the time it takes to make a claim (often due to problems in verifying the claimant’s identity, setting up a suitable bank account and providing evidence of housing costs, which have to be correct to the penny), and
  • the long delays involved in getting benefit payments, at least six weeks even when everything works well.

Some of the loudest cries about delays have been from local authorities, housing associations and private landlords, who are finding that rent isn’t paid on time. Some housing associations have been issuing automatic notices to their tenants, telling them that if they become a UC claimant they must have two months’ credit on their rent account or they will face eviction proceedings. The delays have also caused a big increase in claimant debt – some of which involve payday loans at extortionate rates of interest. More recently, food banks in rollout areas have reported struggling to meet demand since UC was introduced.

The all-party Work & Pensions Select Committee (W&PC) has been hearing evidence about all of the problems caused by UC since April 2017. It is now considering whether the rollout of UC should be halted because of the problems caused by delays in people getting their benefit payments, and the likelihood that this will be made worse if the DWP continues with the planned accelerated national rollout from October 2017.

On 15th September the DWP released UC statistics showing that 77% of people are getting their payments on time (i.e. after a wait of 6 weeks).  Frank Field, Chair of the W&PC, said “77% on time may look good on an exam paper or from an office on Whitehall but even those payments mean a wait of six weeks for money for food and housing, and nearly one in four households are waiting even longer. Everything I have seen so far …. points to fundamental flaws in the operation of UC which must be resolved before the full service rollout proceeds. As things stand, the government is on a Christmas collision course which will leave families destitute.”

At the Conservative Party Conference David Gauke said the UC rollout will continue as planned.  He said “people needed to be more aware that they could claim emergency advance payments instead of waiting for six weeks….almost half of all new claimants were now asking for payments in advance because they were unable to wait six weeks, up from just under 40% in April.”

There may have been an increase in uptake of advance payments (which are a loan against future benefit income), but they are the equivalent of 50% of what you expect to get in the future and have to be paid back over a six month period.  If you have no money, and you are given only 50% of what the government says you need to survive for the month (which includes your rent), many people are forced into a situation of not paying their rent so that they can feed their family. It can cause serious problems with rent arrears and threats of homelessness. Repayment rates are considerable, causing extended periods of hardship.

Disabled people face additional problems:

  • They get paid less money than on previous benefits – the Enhanced and Severe Disability Premiums available to some people on ESA have been removed.
  • They have to jump through more unnecessary hoops – you can only get a disability addition to your UC payment if you go through a Work Capability Assessment, which assesses whether you are fit for work. If you have already been assessed for Personal Independence Payment, that doesn’t count.  If you are also a carer, you cannot get both a carer addition and a disability addition – you can only get one of them.

In response to a torrent of complaints from advice services over the last few years, the DWP have tweaked around the edges, appointing people in Jobcentres to help vulnerable customers, but they expect the Third Sector to fulfil all the other support needs of claimants at a time of cuts in funding which have decimated services. Landlords have been told to make adjustments to allow for the delay in first rent payments. Some local authorities are being creative: Norwich City Council is looking to see whether it can set up rent agreements that specify the date that a Direct Debt has to be made for UC, and will only classify someone as being in arrears if the DD bounces – the only way to start someone off on UC without automatic arrears on their rent account when they transfer from Housing Benefit to UC.

The local test areas of Great Yarmouth and Lowestoft have experienced substantial difficulties – one local organisation has reported a 70% increase of referrals being made to help avoid evictions. Frontline staff in the Jobcentre are expected to learn on the job and don’t know answers to simple questions. They are treating extremely vulnerable people as guinea-pigs. A final nail in the coffin for anyone who misses an appointment or doesn’t do every task that their work coach has set them, is that they will be sanctioned – and potentially lose a large chunk of their money anyway.

So how can this be defeated? The government is weak. The labour and trade union movement needs to mobilise and make this May’s Poll Tax. UC can be defeated if a grassroots social movement can be created in opposition to this attack on the poorest and most vulnerable in our society. The fact that the government has had to cancel implementation in the Grenfell area shows its weakness. The opportunity to defeat this is now, in the run up to Christmas, when thousands of families are going to be left without food and money.

It has to become a key part of Labour’s campaign to elect a Corbyn-led government for the many not the few. However, the people affected cannot wait another four years. A national campaign rolled out locally, mobilising the 600,000 party members, both old and new, can sweep away UC and this weak and wounded government in the process.

Download word version by following the link below:

Universal Credit final draft 4

Ind Liv art final

 

A RIGHT TO INDEPENDENT LIVING and a universal national independent living service paid for from direct taxation and free at the point of delivery, alongside the NHS, is the only way to solve the social care catastrophe that faces people of all ages in England and Wales.

The government has no credible proposals to offer following the dementia tax debacle during the election campaign. The long awaited Green Paper on social care has been delayed   again   until next May. The panel of expert advisers appointed by government includes no disabled people or disabled people’s user-led organisations in open defiance of the UN disability committee and the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Meanwhile local authorities (LAs) who are responsible for delivering social care face hundreds of £millions more cuts to their budgets over the next four years. This is on top of the near 50% cut already made since 2010. New research from the University of Oxford has linked government cuts in adult social care and health spending to nearly 120,000 ‘excess’ deaths in England since 2010. Most of the deaths were among the over-60s and care home residents.

The situation is so bad LAs are now putting poor people’s personal contributions up so high that they are giving up their social care because they can’t afford it. So, we have the dangerous situation where people who have been assessed as needing care under the mis-named Care Act are losing it because it is too expensive. They are having to make appalling choices like: do I eat and pay my rent, or do I give up my care and independence? How can this be justified in a 21st century advanced western society with any claim to being civilised?

This is happening in Labour-controlled authorities as well as Tory ones. They are choosing to obey Tory austerity policy and financial legislation over their legal duties to disabled and older people under the Care Act. The political choice for elected councillors in austerity Britain in 2017 is whether to break the law. At present the penalties for not meeting legal duties under social care legislation are non-existent while for passing ‘illegal budgets’ they are high.

So LAs pass balanced budgets which result in disabled people becoming prisoners in their own homes, being told to wear nappies overnight because night care is too expensive, or going for days without human contact and ending up in hospital or dying.

We currently have a social care system based on the Poor Law principles of means and needs testing. The bottom line trumps everything. As council budgets are cut, so needs are no longer recognised or met. It is currently estimated that about one million people with social care needs don’t get any support.

Disabled people of all ages are in the process of designing a new vision based on rights and the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD). We, the users of social care, are planning a service that will be led by us, not service providers whose main focus has become to meet budget targets (cuts) and ration the care based on neo-liberal ideology – not rights or need. Personalisation policy is dead. The Care Act is as useful as a wet paper bag.

Of an ageing and increasingly disabled population, with a complex mix of health, social care and poverty issues?

We start with the notion that we are disabled not by our impairments or long term health conditions, but by the barriers created in society that prevent us leading full and equal independent lives. This is called the social model of disability.  We are committed   to an inclusive definition of disabled people that includes people experiencing distress, with learning difficulties, long term and life-limiting conditions as well as physical and sensory impairments.

It also recognises the rights and interests of disabled children and disabled parents. From this follows the philosophy of independent living, based not on compensating for people’s ‘dependence’ but instead on making it possible for disabled people to live lives as equal as possible to non-disabled people.

Increasingly the biggest barrier is the rationed, privatised and failing social care system which is being starved of funds. We start from our lived experience – we know what works best for us.

So we are proposing to co-create a new universal right to independent living, enshrined in law and delivered through a new national independent living service managed by central government, led by disabled people, but delivered locally. This local service will be shaped and delivered by user-led disabled people’s organisations, co-operatives and social

enterprises. It will be for need not profit and will not be means tested. It will be independent of, but sit alongside, the NHS and will be funded from direct taxation. There is a much bigger job to do in helping the NHS move to adopting a social model of disability,  distress and ageing. It will also demand an end to current discriminatory and cruel approaches to ‘welfare reform’ and instead a new independent living based approach.

It will be about independent living in the broadest sense, not just social care and health. It will therefore need to  be located in a cross-government body which can oversee implementation plans, whether it be in transport, education, housing, or social security. This will ensure that independent living is mainstreamed in  every  area of activity, not just ghettoised in the DWP as the Office for Disability Issues is at the moment.

The social care element will need to have its own identity in a national independent living service. This will build on and learn the lessons from the

Independent Living Fund, closed by the coalition government in 2015. It will also learn from the experiences of user-led disabled people’s organisations (DPOs), user-led social enterprises and co-ops which have innovated and developed exciting models of self-organised and self-directed care through personal budgets and peer support. It will work with non-disabled allies who share the critique of the existing system and who work to the social models of disability and distress.

It’s also time we stopped thinking of supporting people to live independent lives as a ‘burden’ and instead as a wealth creator. This was the basis on which the NHS  was  created and   it has  been  shown to  work,  improving the nation’s health, well-being and productivity. We know that a penny- pinching approach to social care funding has disastrously perverse results: it undermines policies for prevention, leaving people’s health and wellbeing to deteriorate at even greater cost to the exchequer (even if we discount the costs to human happiness). We are also seeing its wasteful effects on the NHS, on accident and emergency departments and in so-called bed blocking.

Instead we can see social care as a social and economic generator. Rather than treat its 1.5 million workforce as a marginal pool of low grade, low skilled and low paid workers, we can begin to grow it as jewel in the service industry crown. Such support work could take its place as a source of valued jobs, skills and opportunities. Such employment would create wealth directly as well as indirectly, by providing support to enable people to maximise the quality of their lives and contribution to their communities.

Reconceiving social care in this way – with the primary concern being people’s wellbeing and independent living – also offers the prospect of an economy that is no longer reliant on jobs which robots will be able to do in the future or based on consumerist growth, with all the environmental and social problems these bring in its wake. It would take account of changing demographics and our increasing requirements for support during life’s course. Supporting, maintaining and improving people’s wellbeing would become a central aim of economic activity. Such a needs-based and person-centred approach would value us equally and be concerned with our needs whatever our role – worker, service user or citizen. It would offer the prospect of a truly sustainable and rights- based economy and society.

These early ideas are being developed in conversations initiated by Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC) and the DPOs in the Reclaiming Our Futures Alliance (ROFA), including Shaping Our Lives. Our demand is that going forward, the dual principles of the disability movement are applied – Nothing About Us, Without

Us and Professionals On Tap, Not On Top!

» Peter Beresford is co-chair of Shaping

Our Lives, the disabled people’s and service users’ organisation and network, and Professor of Citizen Participation at the

University of Essex.

 

» Mark Harrison is CEO of Equal Lives,

a user-led disabled people’s organisation in the East of England, and senior research fellow of Social Action at the University

of Suffolk.

 

 

 

You can download a PDF version of this post here 

Jeremy Corbyn has swept to victory in the Labour leadership election by a huge movement for social change. Since his election victory over 65,000 people have joined the Labour Party. It is essential this hunger for change is allowed to express itself and is organised to deliver an election victory in 2020 which can truly transform our society to one which delivers for the majority and not the few.

When I heard Jeremy speak at the Burston School Strike rally, a week before his landslide victory, he put building a social movement to carry forward his vision at the centre of his speech.

The Corbyn victory has come under attack from the right within the Labour Party, the media and the traditional enemies of democratic socialism.   The old guard within the Labour Party are standing over the Blaireite Humpty Dumpty with their rule book in one hand and a tube of glue in the other. What they are not doing is trying to activate and organise the new membership and supporters who have been attracted to the Corbyn vision of how things can be different and change.   There is also an issue where New Labour are in control or leading coalitions within local councils. Part of the disaffection of Labour supporters is due to their collaboration with the Tories and Coalition Government, imposing austerity cuts on poor and disabled people. People don’t understand why you vote Labour and you get the Bedroom Tax, cuts to children’s services and adult social care, closing youth services and not building council houses. Their ‘new realist’ policies need to be killed off and the ‘dented shield’ philosophy buried once and for all.

We have also seen veiled and not so veiled threats from the establishment to move against this movement for social democratic change, stirring memories of the Allende Government in Chile.

It is for these reasons that Corbyn needs to build a sustainable and broad based mass social movement to carry through what has been started. To allow this emerging energy and support to wither would be a huge political mistake and a crime as it would allow the forces against social transformation both within and outside the Labour Party to regain the ascendency.

To build a truly sustainable social movement, cannot be done solely by the existing Labour Party machine. It is important the Party galvanises the new and returning membership to kill off the New Labour project once and for all and re-establish the links with progressive forces in the wider community and the Trade Unions. To build a social movement that can reach out and engage young people, ethnic minorities, the poor, oppressed and marginalised requires a complimentary but different approach.

The challenge is twofold. Firstly it is to activate the new membership and supporters, alongside existing members, so they can truly contribute to informing policy development and can also organise in their communities on the issues that matter to them. This will build a powerful political force to challenge the Tory Government on the privatisation of the NHS, schools, public services, housing, poverty and austerity. It can be proactive in campaigning for the environment, social housing, and a future for our young people, for refugees and migrants, against sexual violence and racism. Secondly it needs to turn out to the communities that are excluded from the political process. These are the sections of the population who were abandoned through the Thatcher, Major, Blair and Brown years and hammered by the Coalition and Tory Governments. Young people, ethnic minorities in inner city areas, white working class communities on public housing estates and disabled people, their families and carers have all been abandoned and vilified by successive governments. They need to be won back to the principles and cause of equality, social justice, peace and human rights.

To build a social movement it will need a clear set of ideas, principles and methodology to develop and shape it.

Social Action is an approach that embraces this optimism and captures the possibilities for social change. It is a powerful tool for social change because it facilitates people to empower themselves and take action to address common issues, problems and concerns. Social Action has been influenced by social movements and people taking action against injustice across the globe. It draws its ideas and methodology from Marx, Chomsky, Freire, Biko, Allinsky, Klein and the feminist, black liberation, LGBT, disability movements and the Venezuelan Bolivarian Circles. It is inspired by the power and energy generated by people taking collective action on things they feel strongly about to achieve progress and social change. The powerful critiques of injustice and oppression offered by self-directed groups and user led organisations has helped us understand, articulate and develop our principles and methodologies. These are outlined in the Social Action website www.socialaction.info where all the resource materials are free to access.

 

There is a real connection however between the situation now and the early 1980s when Social Action was developing and that is a crisis in the economy and a mistrust of leadership in all areas of society. There is no part of the establishment that has not been hit by scandal and corruption. The economic and social problems we have today have their roots in Thatcher and Reagan’s attempts to re-balance the economies away from equity and social cohesion in favour of big business, profits and the wealth of the super-rich. This continued through the Blair/Brown years and has accelerated under the Coalition and now Tory Governments.   This has led to a cynicism and division on the one hand and a search for new meanings and leadership to address this pervasive malaise on the other. What has not changed over the last 30 years is an anger and frustration in communities that so much is still rooted in negative assumptions and labelling. It seems that there is still so much investment in seeing poor and disabled people and communities as ‘the other’, with all the implied notions of superiority and inferiority. These notions are deeply rooted in our history and culture and have to be understood, deconstructed and addressed if we are to build a social movement that is to truly connect with the lived experience of the people and communities across the UK. If we are to unlock and unleash all that energy and creativity in working class communities which built the Labour and Trade Union movement then we need to make common cause and win back trust. If the ‘old guard’ is allowed to strangle and grind the new membership down with boring meetings, rule books and collaborationist outlook there is no chance of an election victory in 2020.

The task is to build a social movement which begins with issues and concerns in communities and localities. It means building from the bottom up and the inside out. It needs to start from neighbourhood and identity and build outwards. It challenges us not to lecture and hector with a top down programme but to really capture the anger and disaffection and channel it into a movement that can lead social change. It needs to draw inspiration from campaigns which have challenged austerity over the last five and a half years like Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC), save our mental health services and NHS campaigns, the People’s Assembly and groups opposing the privatisation of our schools. It will need to be focused not just on defending our rights and services but also on providing new ideas and solutions that can drive the policy development process and the writing of election manifestos.

The returning and new Labour Party membership, inspired by Jeremy’s campaign and election, alongside those members who have stayed for the duration can be mobilised to facilitate this movement but they will need to be trained, organised, resourced and supported to do this. It is their new ideas, skills, energy and enthusiasm that needs to captured and channelled into challenging the Tories. This is so important to the election of a Corbyn/McDonnell led Labour Government in 2020 it must be right at the heart of the Opposition Leaders Office and the Shadow Cabinet mission to reconnect with the electorate. It must be present when Jeremy goes out on the road again after the conference season and at the heart of democratising the policy development process. It needs to be an item and priority on the agenda of every constituency meeting to co-produce and shape it. In Scotland, Wales and N. Ireland a conversation will need to take place about appropriate models for developing the social movement based on local circumstances.

The challenge is to use the collective experience of Social Action over the last thirty five years to co-create this social movement.

So how can this be achieved?

Each Constituency Party will be charged with setting up a Social Action Movement (SAM) as a way of drawing all the new members and supporters into the Party. Each SAM will be organised around thematic groups. These could include: Education, Environment/Climate Change, Health and Social Care, Mental Health, Housing, Refugees, Welfare Benefits, Justice, International Development, Youth Futures, Economic and Social Development and others based on local priorities/issues. It will be up to local memberships as to how many groups they set up but each constituency will be expected to organise new members SAM meetings to engage with them and supporters.

The social movement will also need to engage with the communities that are excluded from the political process. It will need to re-engage with those in the white working class who have defected to UKIP because the Blair/Brown project ignored them and they see their children and grandchildren with little hope of jobs, housing or a better life than they have. This group have not joined or become supporters of the Corbyn project yet but they do feel strongly about issues and are hungry for change. Many of them are there to be won back. The SAM will need to engage and activate them around local social justice issues and priorities.

A SAM resource unit will need to be established to provide resources and materials to help facilitate the SAM groups. Each Shadow Minister will need to engage with their SAM groups and encourage two way communication/engagement and co-production around policy development. There will be SAM organisers appointed, trained and supported to provide specialist resource material for groups to use to turn out to the community in their areas and activate people in their local campaigning priorities. Each constituency party can apply to appoint their own local SAM organiser which will be funded nationally with a contribution from the local Party. The SAM’s will need to be launched as the leadership of the Labour Party re-engages with the membership in the post-conference period. There will need to be a social media resource to facilitate and spread the message far and wide. It will connect people up as social media will be key to the spreading and sustainability of the social movement.

A training programme will be established and delivered regionally. Constituency Parties will bid to have their own SAM facilitator/s. They will be recruited locally but trained and supported through the SAM resource unit. They will be engaged in phases based on the demand and funding. The resource unit will develop an infrastructure to facilitate the establishment and development of the SAM. A range of education, training, facilitation, social media, and campaigning materials will be developed to support the development of SAM.

The vision of the future can be seen in Greece. Pasok, the equivalent of New Labour, which was once the ruling party is now defeated and in ruins. It was a mass movement that brought Syriza to power on an anti-austerity platform. We have seen the consequences of appeasement with Tsipris capitulating under extreme pressure from within and without. We need to learn from the Greek experience to ensure it doesn’t happen here. The UK equivalent of the Troika, inside and outwith the Labour Party are already putting the Corbyn/McDonell leadership under extreme pressure to appease. These two leaders have a huge popular mandate from within to drive through this transformation. They now need to sponsor and lead a social movement that can keep them real and the project on course. The work to build a social movement has to begin immediately to carry forward the hope and optimism that has inspired millions.

Mark Harrison

CEO Equal Lives, DPAC member and Social Action Solutions

mark@socialaction.info

 

Mobile: 07979 400564

 

September 2015

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Social care – disaster waiting to happen

The spectre of Baby P hangs over Children’s Services. Here in Norfolk the spotlight has been on this service exempting them from taking their share of the latest round of Coalition Government imposed austerity cuts. This has meant that adult social care has been cut disproportionately. This is not without consequences. I have warned before and I repeat it – this is a disaster waiting to happen.

People who face disabling barriers whether that be physical, mental, learning, ageing are complex human beings. They also have complex lives. When people go into crisis and need health and social care support it often is also related to housing, poverty, employment, unemployment, changes in personal relationships, family circumstances and other issues. This complex web needs joined up professional solutions.

The mental health trust has experienced huge cuts to its funding and is consequently failing. We see the human consequences in unnecessary suicides and people in crisis being sent all over the country at personally to them and their families and the public purse. We see people with mental health needs unable to get an assessment because the bar is set too high and we see people discharged from the services prematurely because they show the slightest sign of recovery. We see people with mental health problems criminalised as they end up in police custody and the courts for offences related to their untreated mental health. Professional staff in health and social care are put under intolerable pressure to ‘manage’ this crisis of scarce resources. Instead of taking responsibility for dealing with this complexity they are passing the buck and retreating to statutory duty and saying ‘not my services responsibility’. This takes its sharpest form in the custody suites of our police stations, A&E and mental health wards when people are to be discharged with nowhere to go and nobody will take responsibility.

The deaths that occur as a result are clearly a tragedy for the people concerned and their families. It is not good enough for public officials regulatory bodies and politicians to point fingers and blame others or to say ‘lessons will be learned’. They won’t and they haven’t as the repeated tired and worn out phrases lose all meaning.

It is worth recalling the case of Christopher James, which was covered by the EDP at the time. Christopher suffered from schizophrenia and a drug addiction. Christopher was discharged from the Norfolk & Norwich Hospital on a Saturday after a detox course. The hospital knew that Christopher was homeless and that the addiction service, Norfolk Recovery Partnership (NRP), is closed at weekends. Of course, the NSFT team which looked after homeless people with mental health issues had been closed as part of the ‘radical redesign’.

The day after his discharge on October 27, 2013, police were called to the Sugar and Spice, a table dancing club, after a worker saw a body in a loading bay near Prince of Wales Road, Norwich. Christopher James was dead in the street following an overdose but as he was homeless, mentally ill and a drug addict, his death did not attract much sympathy. He was 27 years old.

The impoverishment of public health and social care combined with a housing crisis due to the lack of suitable and affordable social housing is a poisonous mix. The subsequent failings lead to tragedy and this is used by all the mainstream political parties cynically to justify further privatisation of our public services. This exacerbates the crisis even more.

It is bad enough when the person who is in crisis dies or commits suicide. Life is cheap in Food Bank Britain for poor, disabled people and people with mental health issues. But when they kill innocent members of the public then it takes it to a new level. Let’s hope the Ministers, politicians and senior managers who are responsible for this situation are held to account and the headlines don’t just become tomorrow’s chip wrappers. Let’s stop giving them air time to denounce others whilst taking no responsibility themselves for a crisis that is of their making.

The collective failure of our politicians and health and social care leaders is their responsibility and theirs alone. It is our responsibility to hold them to account for their collective failure. We have to demand better.

 

 

 

 

Anger as a disabled assessment centre has no wheelchair access

 

EDP Maximus protest - anger as a disabled assessment centre has no wheelchair access

EDP Maximus protest – anger as a disabled assessment centre has no wheelchair access

Accessible Britain Challenge a Sick Joke

 He did this 4 months after his Department had committed to closing the inaccessible disability assessment centre in Norwich and re-locating to suitable premises.  That centre is still open, still inaccessible and is still turning away disabled people 8 months after the decision to close it was made.

The Department for Work and Pensions publicity states:

The Accessible Britain Challenge encourages communities to be inclusive and accessible. That means working with disabled people to remove the barriers that stop them participating fully in their community.

Far from working with disabled people Mr Harper has ignored us and refused to enter into a dialogue or even answer our letters.

What makes it more perverse is that a new provider Maximus, an American outsourcing firm takes over the multi million pound Work Capability Assessment (WCA) contract from Atos next Monday and will continue to operate from St Mary’s House, 3 years after the DWP was made aware of the access issues.

Disabled campaigners and our supporters will be demonstrating between 12.30 – 1.30pm on Monday 2nd March outside St Mary’s House against this injustice.

Mark Harrison, CEO of Equal Lives said “This shows that the Accessible Britain Challenge is just a publicity stunt.  We have been campaigning for 3 years outside St Mary’s House.  They are even presenting awards in conjunction with the British Institute for Facilities Management and one of the categories is ‘innovative use of buildings, spaces and places’.  The winners are to be announced on 15 March.  I am sure the irony of this is not lost on the thousands of disabled people who have been forced to travel hundreds of miles for their assessments because the DWP won’t lease a suitable premises.”

“It also demonstrates the contempt this Government has for disabled people.  How can you appoint a new provider for the hated assessments and force them to use an inaccessible building which the DWP leases through another private sector provider Telereal Trillium?  This clearly demonstrated that we are not all in this together.  There is one rule for disabled people and another for the private sector, bankers and Ministers who see themselves as being unaccountable and above the law”.

The scandal continues same old flawed assessment process in the same inaccessible building

The disgraceful and embarrassing situation regarding St Mary’s House, Norwich continues with a new company taking over disability assessments. On 1st March Maximus, a foreign owned outsourcing company take over the contract for carrying out the notorious Work Capability Assessment (WCA). They take over this failed service from Atos in the same inaccessible building in Duke St, Norwich.

Disabled campaigners and our supporters will be demonstrating between 12.30 – 1.30pm on Monday 2nd March outside St Mary’s House against this double gross injustice.

Maximus, a company with a history of disability discrimination and improper practices, will be paid more than double what Atos was for the contract. Meanwhile very little will have changed: Maximus will be using the same building which is not accessible to disabled people. Many staff will remain the same as they move across from Atos and, most significantly, the fundamental flaws of the assessment which tests functionality as opposed to employability will continue.

Mark Harrison, CEO of Equal Lives said “What a great way to start a new contract with a significant proportion of your customers unable to access your service because they can’t get in your building for their disability assessment! The only way to ensure a fair and just social security system is to scrap the Work Capability Assessment and bring benefit tests back within the public sector in a building which disabled people can access. Changing one private sector provider for another does nothing to address the core problems. The jobs market is completely inaccessible to most disabled people for a variety of reasons – lack of support, inaccessible work environments and discrimination; these are the things that need to be addressed.”

Press/TV/Radio: Interviews are available

Mark Harrison, CEO Equal Lives: 07825 600195 or 07979 400564

Press Release

About Equal Lives

Equal Lives is a user-led human rights organisation supporting all disabled people in Norfolk. It was formed in 1996 by groups of disabled people in Norfolk. The organisation is led by a Board of Trustees all of whom are disabled people and elected by and from its membership. The organisation undertakes a wide range of services including:

Comprehensive advice that covers all Department of Work and Pensions benefits relating to illness and disability. We offer support, advice and information to families and carers of disabled people

Providing advice and support to people considering or using Personal Budgets or Direct payments in Norfolk

Support for vulnerable adults and juveniles detained in police custody

Advocacy support for users of mental health services to make sure that their views and concerns are heard by others

Advice and support to people considering or using Direct Payments in Suffolk with our Suffolk Independent Living service

Projects and activities with our membership and others to work towards achieving Equal Lives

http://equallives.org.uk/

More details Maximus

What a Waste!

 

In the words of Ian Drury – What a waste! I am referring to the exclusion of disabled people in society and the attitudes and behaviours of Government, both local and national, towards us. As a society we need to turn our approach to disability in its head.

This Government has initiated a poisonous discourse in order to justify targeting disabled people through austerity. By the 2015 election, more than £28bn in benefits and entitlements will have been taken away from disabled people. At the same time, disabled people are twice as likely to live in poverty as non-disabled people. In Austerity Britain, where the Prime Minister and Chancellor of the Exchequer continue to claim “We are all in this together”, disabled people will pay 9 times more towards reducing the budget deficit than the average citizen. Those who are severely disabled will pay nineteen times more.

We are not benefit scroungers or burdens, we are not too expensive or units of costs that we as a society cannot afford, we are not brave, courageous or ‘special needs’. We are human beings like everybody else. If you cut us we bleed. You call us names and bully us, we hurt. You pity us and stick us in the charity box, we behave like charity cases. You segregate us in separate institutions and we become institutionalised. You do everything for us and wrap us in cotton wool then we become dependent. You have low expectations of our abilities and you damage our growth and development.

Disabled people don’t want this; we just want to be treated equally. We don’t want to be labelled as ‘special needs’ and charity cases. We want to live in the mainstream like everyone else. We want the barriers to us leading equal lives removed. If you label us as charity cases then what happens when you lose interest and move on to the next ‘good cause’? Labels are for tins not disabled people

So what is to be done to address this waste? It is our responsibility – all of us – to remove these barriers. The barriers are ‘man made’ so it is our responsibility to break them down and consign them to history together. Disabled people can’t do this by ourselves we need allies. We need non-disabled people to get along side us and not accept the apartheid lives many disabled people are forced to live. We need disabled and non-disabled to be passionate about disability equality just like we are about women’s, racial and sexuality equality.

Disabled people have enormous amounts to give if afforded the opportunity and responsibility. Let’s end this waste and call time on out of date 20th Century attitudes and behaviours. Together we can consign them to the dustbin of history where they belong. Let’s get passionate together about disability equality and removing those barriers, wherever they are. Our Government has signed and ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities http://www.un.org/disabilities/

This provides a comprehensive road map for achieving disability equality – let’s implement it.

Mark Harrison

CEO Equal Lives

January 2015

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