Friday, October 14, 2011

The Call From Ed Miliband

After a question about the treatment of disabled people feisty enough to bring a wry smile to the face of seasoned political commentator Peter Snow at the recent Labour conference, yesterday, the Labour leader Ed Miliband honoured his public promise to discuss the issues facing sick and disabled people further.

Sue Marsh and myself spent a day spent carefully planning what to say and what we might be able to acheive from this conversation; the pressure was on. We knew that at most the conversation would be scheduled for around 10 minutes and that there was a huge expectation for answers from sick and/or disabled people. We needed two clear objectives we thought we might be able to suceed with in that space of time so we decided to concentrate on the way sick and/or disabled people are being spoken about by politicians and the consequences this has for our lives. We also decided to focus on the particular issues with the Work Capability Assessment as that is affecting so many people already. It was difficult to narrow it down to just two issues but we wanted to be able to acheive measurable results from this phone call and decided these were the initial priority in getting Labour to listen to us.

The first thing Ed had to say when he phoned was an apology for calling me Harriet in the conference hall. Then he said he was ready to listen and to his credit, listen is exactly what he did. I must have done 90% of the talking, with Ed asking questions to clarify. We talked in some depth about the damage the scrounger rhetoric, used by New Labour as well as the Coalition government, is doing to sick and/or disabled people. I was able to explain that disability hate crime has risen sharply and that as sick or disabled people we see a direct correlation between that and the scrounger label. Ed explained that he has concerns around worklessness and disincentives in the benefits system but that he understands now the need to separate out sick or disabled people from discussions about worklessness and welfare dependency.

We also talked about some of the problems with the Work Capability Assessment, acknowledging that the original idea to support disabled people into work was well intentioned but not working in practice. Ed asked for clarification about what was happening, and what we thought the most pressing issues were. I was able to explain that although there are all sorts of issues surrounding the competence of Atos who carry out the assessments, the real problems are being caused by the change in the descriptors intended to ensure less people qualify for the benefits. We discussed how inappropriate it is for sanctions or conditionality to be used against people in the Work Related Activity Group, all of whom have been recognised to be sick or disabled and I was able to explain to Ed how impossible it is, particularly for people with fluctuating conditions to engage with the work programmes as they are currently set up. We also covered the problem of people with long term health conditions being found 'fit for work' and put onto Job Seekers Allowance where they are not able to access the more specialist work support intended for them via the Work Related Activity Group.

We also talked about how for sick and/or disabled people it feels like we are round pegs being forced into square holes, and that for as long as that continues to happen we will fall straight through the holes in the system. I emphasised that sick and disabled people need unconditional support when we can work and for those of us who feel able to participate it isn't that we don't want to work or contribute, but unless we are able to do so on our terms we won't be able to acheive that. For many people contributing to the world of work financially simply isn't possible, but that does not mean they are not contributing to society. We talked about how inaccessible the country still is to us, despite laws surrounding access and that not being able to get onto public transport or into businesses means yet another barrier for people who might want to work. I was able to explain that unless the world of business is ready to offer more flexible working options, part time, from home, small amounts of hours etc any of these work programmes will fail, not because disabled people are lazy or work shy, but because we have to do things in a different way to the 'normal' working week and world. 

Ed promised to set up a meeting between Broken of Britain activists and the new shadow minister for disability Anne McGuire. He also promised that he and Liam Byrne will meet with us all after intial meetings with Anne. We would like to thank Ed Miliband for honouring his promise to speak to us in more depth about these issues, for listening to our views and for making a committment to improving the way Labour speak about sick people, disabled people and worklessness to be clear that we are NOT scroungers.

We could possibly speculate as to the connection between this conversation and the press release late yesterday evening from Anne McGuire, but we welcome this as a hugely positive first step on the long road to improving the Labour party's perception and treatment of people who are sick and/or disabled. 

“I’m delighted to have been appointed as Shadow Minister for Disabled People. There is a responsibility on all of us to care for those in need. However many disabled people feel that they are unfairly being portrayed as scroungers and are feeling very vulnerable"
“Labour will be the voice for those in genuine need, who need extra help live a full life. The introduction of the Universal Credit will see support for disabled children halved, while the Severe Disability Premium is to be scrapped with nothing appropriate put in its place. We believe there can be reforms made to the system, but this is the wrong way to do it, and we will do all we can to stop these changes.”




Thanks also to John Pring of the invaluable Disability News Service who provided us with the press release from Anne McGuire. John is the only full time investigative journalist working on disability issues and without his fantastic service all those involved in grassroots activism would find it much more difficult to source the information we require.

43 comments:

Anonymous said...

Good work, BendyGirl! Kudos!

Doctor Jest said...

Whatever comes of this (and it really sounds like you might have been heard- at last), bloody well done!

Anonymous said...

HARRIET, YOU ARE MY HEROINE!!

The fact she put out that statement is a direct result of your work, I have no doubt about that.

Thank you so much for what you do, I know it costs you dearly, but I hope you are lifted by knowing that those who are unable to speak out are eternally grateful for your voice on our behalf.

you are a light in the darkness

Helen King said...

Excellent stuff, thank you Kali. Let's hope that he does honour his promises, and that things are on the up! Well done to you and Sue, and thank you.

markinsutton said...

Well done, sounds like a good step in the right direction.

tinytim said...

many thanks kayla i hope edd really does do something,and also say this in the commons to the con-dems.

Botzarelli said...

Sounds like a really well planned call that got results. You could probably make a very good living as a professional lobbyist!

How have you got on with getting similar access to IDS and the ministers actually in a position to make the changes you need?

Skeptik. said...

Living in hope that you have started to get through to politicians the realities of life for us all Bendy Girl.

Well done on taking that small window of opportunity at the conference and opening it up to let Miliband see the wide view of what these Welfare reforms have actually done.

Power to ya girl xx

Anonymous said...

'Harriet' You ROCK!
I am so grateful to you and Sue for all you are doing on behalf of the disabled people of thiis country. There are not enough words to convey to you how grateful I am personally and how grateful all the disabled peopl eare in the UK.

If Labour can actulally atart to treat disabled people as humans - They will have my vote at the next election. And if they can fix all the problems of the WCA and ATOS and this DLA/PIP thing - They will have my vote for life.

Jan said...

I'm so impressed by the fact that you and Sue manage to get across the nature and scale of the problem while still keeping your cool. It must take a lot of energy and psychological strength. Thank you so much.

southygirl said...

well done you two at last I think eds got the message hopefully they will get stuck into IDS.

LoopyS said...

A huge achievement and all I can say is thank you. This is one of the first press releases in our favour I have seen in a very long time.

Anonymous said...

I'm feeling a little glimmer of hope now that Ed might actually manage to not be part of the abuse that seems to keep being heaped on to ill people by the last few governments.

Seriously ill and disabled people need respect and support, not "incentives" or "sanctions".

Nobody chooses to be seriously ill/disabled and nobody chooses to give up their life/career/etc. because they want to sit at home in bed watching TV.

George Potter said...

This is brilliant. Lets hope Ed M really takes on board what you said. Nothing would make me happier than if the opposition finally woke up to what was happening and stopped tacitly supporting what the government is doing to disabled people.

Vic said...

Sounds very positive, the press release is much more what we need from an opposition.

Thank you both so very much for your time/energy.

Vic said...

I know there are so many issues, but the closing of CABs and other advocacy services seems to me a insidious, cynical way of cutting the benefit bill. My friend in Ealing couldn't find a local one to support his appeal and I've just seen Cardiff CAB has shut.

Anonymous said...

BendyGirl your posts and endeavours give me the strength to keep going. This one in particular is encouraging. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.

Anonymous said...

Good work! Great to have some good news. Well done. Sue

Robert said...

OK well done, but sadly lets be honest it does not matter what Labour says now does it, they are out of power and may well be for many many years.

So three weeks ago Ed stated Labour had made an error in welfare, he stated we did not go far enough or fast enough, to me that's how he feels, and getting him to say anything different sadly is meaningless, one thing over my forty years within disability issues, never take a politician seriously when they are in opposition.

Ms Eagle was once disability minister, I was asked by a well known Charity to write to her explaining about the cost of heating gas and electricity, the snide email we had back stated get a job stop moaning and use your DLA.

This is Labour Ed is a politician to win he needs votes simply put if Labour get back in again, it will revert to New labour.

I would trust Ed about as far as I can throw my free mobility car.

And before anyone says I'm a Tory I joined Labour in 1963, I had my photograph taken when they arrested Scargill, on the miners strike spitting my front teeth onto the floor after a nice police officer hit me in the face with his baton.

So I'm a Socialist problem is I'm not the socialist Ed Miliband lot are.

And he should have invited you to his office in London sending a car for you, you can tell how interested he is really.

Anonymous said...

WOW!! Thanks for making us heard!!

Anonymous said...

Thankyou for your hard work.

Liane

Anonymous said...

Yeah yeah, like he cares. All he cares about is the profits of his investors.

Nothing will change. It's about time people stopped thinking they actually live in a democracy and that the behaviour of politicians is remotely sincere and not just a facade to get your votes.

Anonymous said...

Well done, I just hope that all you discussed really does make it in to their brains. I have lost a lot of faith in all politicians since the work-shy label was dumped on sick and disabled people and then the benefit reforms which mean we are just treated like robots and not humans.

I am very pleased you tackled the issue about how the sick and disabled are talked about, it has made life so much harder and scarier. It is time politicians and the newspapers recognized that people who are sick and disabled are not work shy scroungers, heck if they just had to work as hard as those who are sick and disabled have to to get through the day they'd not say such populist rubbish.

Once again well done and thank you!

Anonymous said...

In your next cnversation with Anne McGuire, you might like to ask her to explain the obviously important difference between 'need' and 'genuine need'.
Frank.

Damian said...

As a brother of a severely disabled person and a stepfather to a young adult with cerebral palsy. I say thank you from the bottom of my heart for getting the message out there and keeping on, keeping on.

Mr. Nighttime said...

Let's see if he lives up to his words. That will be the real test, but then again, I'm probably preaching to the choir on this idea.

Alan Bruce said...

At last somebody is listening, I hope some good comes from this. Well done!

Anonymous said...

i hope that, as exhausted as you must be, you are proud of yourself. this is a massive achievement & can only help all of us. well done.

Anonymous said...

Thank you. xx

triplecherry

cogidubnus said...

Kaliya...what can I say?

I've been one of your readers for a long time now...and as you know from our contacts, I'm of a generation older than yours...certainly I've step-children and children both older and younger than you are...

I don't always agree with everything you say, and certainly don't always agree with some of the politicians you have to deal with, (and this is not to say I'm a Tory...as you know I'm far from it)...

but...

Bugger it, if you were one of MY children, I'd be SO fucking proud of you, and what you stand for...

Go for it Bendy...

hossylass said...

Hey, MarkInSutton - long time no see, hope you are good!

I've put the whole thing up on Ouch mate ;)

Anonymous said...

Because of your efforts will dig out my employment history and go through it stage by stage, and try and get a blog written up. As with been through 33 employment positions and my struggles to maintain any of them. At one stage an employer that I worked for had myself placed in hospital due to a break down. There is that much of a history of struggle and throughout I did face sanction after sanction after sanction not realising that it was due to my fluctuating condition that I wasn't being able to control. Mostly being Clinical Depression/Anxiety. It does hurt when I watch people stop for their papers in the morning, it does hurt knowing I've lost out so much a desire to purchase my own home to have a vehicle on the road. So many things that I personally targeted to achieve only to see them drop away one by one. I never wished this illness upon anyone but for those politicians I hope one day they will have a taste of what it's like living with a fluctuating condition and the humilation at times that it brings with it. It has now become virtually impossible to even take a bus journey to get shopping in due to the stigma that's coming about from actual bus drivers.

Robert said...

mine no good then

Anonymous said...

Very well done indeed, you articulated everything I've been thinking and thankfully it seems someone is prepared to listen!

misspiggy said...

Just fantastic. The two of you should be being paid by the big disability charities on a consultancy basis - i.e. by results, not by hours put in. I know the current system doesn't work well to support this, but couldn't a couple of charities put the two of you on a retainer that would replace and enhance any JSA/ESA? I work for a big charity, and it usually takes teams of people lots of hours to achieve the kind of change you just have. You're far more cost effective!

Irishmist said...

Thank you so much Kaliya and Sue, and for getting so many important points across to Ed Miliband in such a short space of time. This is such a an achievement, well done, I think you're wonderful!

Sunny Clouds said...

Thank you, Kaliya and Sue. It won't change the world, but it's a start.

So often I feel like giving up and then I read stuff like this and remember that I'm not alone fighting the prejudice and stigma and scapegoating that the three main parties are engaging in.

Visually Impaired said...

You two played a blinder there. At last someone seems to be listening. I hope I don't put a downer on you but It has to be said actions speak louder than words.

The statement released by Shadow minister is a step in right direction as long as it's not lip service.

Sue Marsh said...

Have to comment here. Being a "leftie" there was much more cynicism about this on my own blog, so it's really cheered me up to see so many of you encouraged by the small breakthroughs that Kali and I work so very hard to achieve :))

Anonymous said...

We, the sick and disabled, desperately need the recognition and support of a political party and Labour deperately need the support of ten million more voters..
If they do what they should then it could be mutually beneficial!

Ed, we are watching to see how you respond to this...

Jemfmurphy said...

Thanks so much Kali & Sue on behalf of so many of us with mental health problems. I know so many people who are terrified to open their post because they're terrified they'll lose what little they have with no realistic chance of getting or keeping a job. They all need to know that there's someone out there fighting their corner.

I'm sure that you'll be the first to recognise, as pointed out by some commenters, that this is only a first step. But to me that doesn't take away from the tremendous achievement of getting this far - something that's only happened because of your resourcefulness, creativity, tenacity, bravery and sheer hard work. Respect! And keep up the good work and THANK YOU.

JayneL62 said...

Hope you both manage to keep fit enough to keep it up and can't say WELL DONE loud enough,

but,,, the rest of us need to do our bit to aid the fight. My local BBC radio has asked for an interview on my condition - Fibromyalgia following an email I sent; small success but little acorns!!

Thank you both

Robin said...

MASSIVE well done!

Whatever the outcome, you pair have planted a seed in that man's mind.

(hugs)