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Iain Duncan Smith says no "normal" people oppose the disability living allowance changes. I haven't heard him make a clearer statement of intent. #mutants


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A man who stripped naked and super glued himself to a desk at the JobCentre has been ordered to pay £400 compensation.

Ian John Robinson walked into the JobCentre in Quay Road, Bridlington, in October last year before taking off his clothes and super gluing his arms to a desk in protest against the Department of Work and Pensions. Robinson, of Hornsea, said his actions were borne out of frustration that he had not been awarded Disability Living Allowance or motability benefit despite suffering from “chronic pain” from arthritis.

During the incident, police and an ambulance were called but Robinson managed to prise himself off the desk without injury before he was arrested.

During the hearing, presiding magistrate Mike Bowman told Robinson: “A lot of us have had difficulties with public services, but you do not go around and treat people in that way. There are ways and means of protesting, but not the way you did it. I am pleased you have now got your benefits sorted out, but what this conditional discharge means is that you must keep your nose clean for the next two years.”

Robinson was ordered to pay the compensation and [£100] costs at £5 a week. [Scarborough Evening News]
I'm sure we're meant to take away from this the lesson that we shouldn't transgress, the law will prevail etc etc, but I've highlighted what strikes me as the most important element in this story. You'll note that at the end of this debâcle, despite his having to pay a fine, it all actually led to his benefits getting sorted out. Far from being a cautionary tale, this serves as a template for everyone who will be wrongly labelled "fit to work" or even just "healthy" over the next few years. I suspect that a campaign of nationwide nudity would force the government's hand in a way that blogging and lobbying could never match.
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And the day began so politely. The third day of the Report stage of the Welfare Reform Bill started with a government amendment—that is, the government themselves had seen the virtue of a specific criticism of their bill and decided to make improvements in the light of it. In fact a smiling Lord Patel, who had spotted in the amendment elements of suggestions he had made in Committee, was the first to thank the minister, Lord Freud.
Lord Patel: My Lords, I speak to Amendment 42, to which the Minister has just referred. Before I start, perhaps I might wish him a happy new year and, in doing so, thank him enormously for his Amendment 43. It may be claimed that it was in response to my amendment in Grand Committee; if so, I am very grateful for it.
Everyone knew, though, that the day's real sport hadn't yet begun. Opposition and independent Cross-Bench amendments were coming up that went against some fundamental money-saving propositions by the government: cutting contributory employment and support allowance from people who had been unable to work since childhood due to disability, time-limiting ESA to 12 months and means-testing cancer patients after one year instead of two.

The government knew these measures were contentious enough for there to be votes on them, and knew those votes might be close. The Tories were under strict instructions about how to vote on these questions. It had been reported that the Lib Dems, who had been making it clear behind the scenes to their own whips that one or two aspects of this legislation were too unpalatable even for them, had been given a looser leash than they have been used to under the coalition, allowing some of them them to abstain without provoking... whatever a whip could possibly threaten a life peer with. A Chinese burn?

However, the government hadn't been expecting to lose the first vote—on contributory ESA for people who had never been able to contribute national insurance—by 260 to 216. There's no way a government can gloss those numbers as the work of one or two usual suspects or professional contrarians; when one side is being heavily whipped to vote against but a hefty majority acting on its conscience votes for, that can confidently be taken as the will of the House.

The next amendment, on the time-limiting of ESA and all the implications that would have for people with long-term conditions, was Lord Patel's. He argued his case passionately, went into great detail about cases where individuals would suffer and was neither the first nor the last to appeal to Lord Freud's compassionate Conservatism by pointing out that sufferers of terminal cancer would save the Treasury money by not living long enough to collect their pensions.

Various Lords chipped in to this particular debate, including the Conservative Lord Blencathra, a Commons whip under Thatcher and the only disabled peer the coalition can remotely rely on to wheel the party line[1]:
Lord Blencathra: I am informed that his amendment as it stands has serious cost implications. I believe that it would cost up to £200 million next year, maybe £400 million the year after and again the year after that… it is incumbent on the Opposition or on those who are arguing for this amendment to say where the £1 billion, if indeed it is £1 billion, is to come from... It is easy to feel morally good because we have done something to help those who will be affected, but we have to bear in mind the others who will lose £1 billion of expenditure, or wherever that £1 billion will come from. [Hansard]
Lord Patel's manner in response was courteous as ever but implacable:
Lord Patel: We are talking here about not taking money away over five years even to the level of £1.3 billion from the most vulnerable in society. As I pointed out, they are those on the lowest third centile of income, to whom, as the noble Lord, Lord Wigley, said, it is £94 a week. If we are going to rob the poor to pay the rich, we are entering into a different form of morality. [Lord Blencathra] asked the question whether it is moral. I say that it is moral to look after those that are sick, vulnerable and poor. If that is immoral, what is moral is to pay the rich—and we are on a different planet altogether... They are not skivers or benefit cheats. They are the last people who cheat. Are we going to make savings there? I was honest in accepting that what I proposed was costly, but I am not going to be dishonest and say that therefore we should let those people suffer. I ask the House to determine who should be supported. [Hansard]
The debate was being followed live by many people who normally might hesitate even to point to the location of the House of Lords on a map of Parliament but, for this one important day, found themselves riveted to its proceedings. People who previously had never had any reason to hear of this eminent doctor, peer and member of the Order of the Thistle were getting carried away:
@DocHackenbush I've been teetotal my whole life, but I've been seized by an overwhelming urge to get drunk and snog Lord Patel.
The House duly determined who should be supported by another convincing margin, 234 to 186. That was on the time-limiting of ESA but immediately afterwards they voted again, this time specifically on Lord Patel's other amendment about means-testing cancer patients, which was carried by 222 to 166.

No minister wants to lose a vote on Report. The hope is that, by a combination of pressure applied to the arms of your own colleagues and a deft and persuasive performance in the Chamber, you'll storm any vote or perhaps even convince the opposition not to go ahead in the first place. Still, it's accepted that losing is an occupational hazard. To lose badly twice in one day, though, is an exceptionally bad day for a minister. To do so three times is all but unheard of.

Lord Freud was visibly stung. He had seemed unflappable all through Committee, but then he had known that the rules meant that at that stage no-one could actually vote against him. On Report, though, his attempts to persuade the House by sheer force of argument had been at least futile and possibly even counterproductive—after all, repeatedly telling the House of Lords that you're explaining something to them slowly so that perhaps this time they'll understand you is unlikely to win you a sympathetic hearing.

(Lord Freud, like his Commons counterpart Chris Grayling, says that whole swathes of the population are too well off to need or deserve benefits, and that therefore his schemes are fair. As with virtually every other coalition policy, though, they can't produce a shred of evidence to justify the numbers they—vaguely—refer to, and in fact appear to have based their assumptions of large incomes and sizeable inheritances purely on what they know of their immediate friends and families. It's a shame for posterity that these Conservative ministers never minuted the delightful dinner parties where they presumably arrived at their conclusions about everyone else's finances.)



A relaxed Lord Freud shows us around his beautiful home.

But he had a plan. It was a simple one: to wait until later in the evening and then insist on other government amendments later on in the bill that would reverse what the House had voted on. It is a convention that if the House has made its will expressly clear on a matter, then any related amendments that day will be dropped. Conventions, though, are no match for a minister scorned, and he went ahead and forced a vote on just such an amendment, which would restore Clause 52, which the House had earlier voted to remove. Most of the Cross-Benchers and Opposition members who had supported Lord Patel in the division lobbies had long since gone home satisfied that their fight was won, and the government won this unexpected vote comfortably by 132 to 49. Lord Freud's blood was up and he wanted to press more amendments that would annul all of the day's painful reverses for the government, but at this point the opposition made it clear that there would be all hell to pay if he tried it. He backed down, glowering (or smiling delightedly, or possibly heavily constipated—it's quite difficult to tell with him), but safe in the knowledge that he had clawed one back for the team.

Not, in the end, that any of this matters. I hate to say it but the “victory” the other day in the Lords was purely illusory, and gave false hope to the very people to whom that spiteful gift should never be given. Even without Lord Freud's inventive manoeuvres that evening, it was a given that the government would immediately start planning how to reverse the Lords' decisions once the bill returned to the Commons. This coalition will not be deflected from its core agenda, which seems as ever to be to redefine once and for all, and at any cost, the relationship between the vulnerable and their betters.

Ever keen to leave behind the “nasty party” tag that dogged them for so long, the Conservatives can be confident that with their behaviour over this bill they have done exactly that, although whether they were wise to do so by eagerly embracing the label of the “unbelievable cunt party” remains to be seen.[2]


[1] The noble Lord is the closest thing the coalition has to the coalition cheerleader in the Chamber that I recently helpfully suggestedBack

[2] It would be hard for the Lib Dems to trash their reputation any more than it already has been, but those who are still dutifully filing through the lobbies in support of these particular measures are having a stab at it anyway.  Back
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Once again, the government outflanks me. Once again, if I’d said that this was what the Tories would oversee once in office, I’d have been shouted down as hysterical, grotesquely distorting the motives and intentions of those I didn’t agree with like some mirror-image Jeremy Clarkson. From the Diary of a Benefit Scrounger last Saturday:
I have severe Crohn's disease. Probably one of the most severe cases in the country.

I have had 7 major life saving operations to remove over 30 obstructions (blockages) from my bowel.

I take chemo-shots every two weeks that suppress my immune system, ensuring that I regularly have to fight infections. Exhaustion, pain and nausea plague every single day of my life.

I have osteoporosis and malnutrition.

I have had major seizures and a stroke.

Nonetheless, I have just heard from my own Disability Living Allowance application, that it has been rejected. Completely. I will receive no support at all from DLA. Despite claiming successfully in the past, despite only getting weaker and more frail and less able to live independently, my reconsideration was rejected.

The only option now is to appeal. I will have to fill in a horribly complicated appeal form over the Xmas period, wait up to one year to go to tribunal, and probably go bankrupt in the mean time.

The state will pay thousands to hear my appeal.

The only conclusion I can come to is that if I don't qualify for DLA, no-one with bowel disease can. [Diary of a Benefit Scrounger]
This is not an error by a rogue assessor—in fact it's firmly in line with what the assessors are tasked with doing. Equally, it’s no error by the DWP, which has been steadily churning out publicity discrediting any and all welfare recipients, releasing a steady stream of tales of cheating and riotously implausible excuses—though, when questioned about those examples or indeed about flagrant mistreatment of claimants like Sue Marsh, it claims with almost touchingly childlike dishonesty that it “cannot comment on individual cases”. (You’ll recognise the phrase from when other government departments or the police have also ballsed up or lied.)

No, this is straightforward coalition policy. It’s austerity logic: if she is no longer classified as disabled, the state will not have to waste any more of its precious resources on her. People like her are being “cured” up and down the country. Seriously, it’s like fucking Lourdes out there.

The coalition faces a challenge, though. Distasteful though the idea might be, disability can affect decent sorts too—even right-wingers. And the more of them who find themselves turned down for benefit claims they were previously and legitimately entitled to, or are found “fit for work” against all the evidence, the more resistance the coalition might encounter to its arbitrary benefit-slashing wheeze.

The trouble is, the government can’t rely on anyone useful in Parliament to stick up for it. The only people prepared to defend its targeting of disability benefits are, by definition, able-bodied affluent types, and even then there aren’t many prepared to stick their heads over that particular parapet (it’s political correctness gone mad, etc). What the coalition needs is a disabled Uncle Tom, a Quisling on wheels—someone who’s prepared, from a wheelchair or maybe even a dialysis machine, to cheer it on in the Chamber. “Won’t someone free us from the tyranny of benefit payments?” they could weakly cry. “I’d have been on my feet years ago if the state hadn’t been paying me to stay supine!” They could be wheeled out to amp up the DWP’s mood music in interviews, on discussion shows, even on—apologies—the stump.

But who could the coalition find to play this role? All the candidates with suitably disabling or debilitating conditions are pro-disability zealots, ideologically opposed to being stripped of their slush funds and thrown off the gravy train. There’s only one sensible answer—someone will have to take one for the team. Maybe a deal can be done with a couple of the Lib Dem peers so keen to reform the Lords, a quid pro quo: we’ll railroad through the elected Chamber you favour, and in return we get to break your legs. Finally, after the setbacks of tuition fees, Europe and voting reform, you get to proclaim an unequivocal Lib Dem win, and all you have to do is give up the use of your kidneys. You’ll be saving your party, your government and your parliament—and helping to plug one of society’s biggest financial drains into the bargain. Now, has your Lordship ever seen the film Misery?

For some reason, the following never seems to be mentioned in this context—the elephant in the Chamber—but surely nothing could be more pertinent. Before he became Prime Minister, David Cameron suffered the terrible loss of a son who had severe epilepsy and cerebral palsy. If that son had lived, he would have required intensive day-to-day caring. How would the PM have reacted to him being turned down for benefit or even generally treated as workshy? Or is it just brutally simple for millionaires—the issue of benefits never even arises because their family will always provide?
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More special-interest whining from smug scroungers:
Rt Hon Iain Duncan Smith MP
Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

Dear Secretary of State,

It is with grave concern that we are forced to write to you again about the impact the Welfare Reform Bill proposals will have on cancer patients.

As representatives and supporters for the whole cancer community, we are speaking on behalf of many cancer patients and their families whom we believe the Welfare Reform Bill will push into poverty.

Cancer patients want to work. They haven’t chosen to give up the safety of employment. The assertion that providing hard earned benefits at a time of greatest need encourages a dependency by seriously ill cancer patients on benefits is utterly
without foundation.

The UK’s leading cancer charities have repeatedly asked for vital changes to the Bill. However, not only has the Government failed to address their concerns but instead you are proposing to make it even harder for many patients undergoing gruelling chemotherapy to claim the financial support they desperately need.

In our experience of treating, supporting, or being cancer patients, one year is simply not long enough for many people to recover from cancer treatment. Chemotherapy and radiotherapy can be highly debilitating. The ongoing and severe side-effects can leave patients struggling for years. Although there is clear evidence that one year is not long enough for patients to recover, the Government has shown no willingness to find a compromise....

- 89 signatories including the usual suspects—heads of cancer charities, etc -

[Full letter (PDF)]
A tip for the Secretary of State: quite a few of the signatories are themselves cancer patients. Leave it a few months before you reply and, statistically, there'll be at least one or two fewer replies to send out. Never hurts to save the department the price of a stamp. Keep up the good work!
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“You're all too cynical,” politicians routinely complain to the public. “And who started it?” the public retort. Look, I wouldn't normally quote myself but, damn it, it's pertinent:


… watching the Conservative party trying to care [is] almost as stressful for me as it must be for them. Education! The NHS! Social reform! The environment! … The sooner they stop having to harp on about the plight of the disadvantaged as if they think it’s a fit topic for conversation, the less likely the disadvantaged are to be fooled into thinking they have new friends. Also—admittedly less important but still a burning issue for this voter—I will be significantly less creeped out.

… it’s a depressing prospect: basically, about the same level of competence as the current incarnation of this administration but with even more tax-dodging and no public services. [The Web of Evil, 2 October 2008]


And so on. Still, however full of resigned foreboding (foreboreding?) I was then, I can safely say that even I was unprepared for this government's onslaught against—seriously, not even in my bitterest projections—the terminally ill. The disabled, sure, I had a fiver riding on them, but cancer patients? Trying to bounce them back to work with work assessments while sick, and then benefit cuts if they're still off work a year later?[1] Trying to quietly redefine "terminal illness" to cover only those given 12 months or less to live? If I had suggested that they would do a fraction of this, I'd have been shouted down for being hysterical.[2]

As some of you will know, my mother both works for the NHS and has had cancer, making her doubly suspect in coalition eyes. It's just over two years since she emerged from her operation, after which she had six months of chemotherapy that utterly laid waste to her, leaving her far more reduced than the disease and the surgery combined. The NHS kept her job open for her and she had a phased return to work as she slowly recovered from her treatment. (This was entirely thanks to European employment law, and I'm sure that plans have been drawn up to put a stop to that nonsense at the earliest possible opportunity.) Still, she says that only now could she say with confidence that she is back to being the person she was before she went into hospital for her initial operation.

I'm trying to consider dispassionately the possibility of her being dragged, mid-treatment and barely conscious, into a work assessment hearing with an unqualified idiot under intense (though officially denied) pressure to find her fit to work.[3] It's not important that that scenario defies all compassion; after all, any coalition member will tell you that we're dealing with a structural deficit and hard choices have to be made. It doesn't even matter that it defies all sense; like many coalition policies in this area—rehousing the poor, slashing incapacity benefit—the net result will end up costing even more than the current system, but what's important is that we're doing things differently around here. We're managing attitudes. No more of this “rights” shit. That's Mister Cameron to you.[4] No, what's important here is that it's beyond all parody. When your position can't be caricatured by exaggeration, something has gone horribly wrong.

Seriously, it's impossible at this point to cartoon the right wing's approach to anyone remotely vulnerable. Even those who think they're quite enlightened can't help but inadvertently display their baser attitudes; there's a reason why I keep on harping on about Lord Freud's incredibly revealing response about how “disabled” the disabled actually are. And the rage of the openly angry right wing does not stop at the poor and what they see as the workshy but roars onwards to encompass even the not entirely able-bodied and the sick.[5] The only time I have noticed a Conservative give even the semblance of a fuck is when their family or, more gratifyingly, they themselves are afflicted. Suddenly they're making speeches about the condition, publicly fundraising and determinedly defying the party whip when it demands they vote for charging for wheelchairs by the mile or whatever the hell fresh wheeze the DWP is brewing this week. Statistically, though, most of them are going to stay pretty healthy, so this is pretty much the course we're committed to for at least the next three years. And remember, if you are one of those with the bad taste to be affected, the government's relying on you to take heart and stay focused on the part where we're all in this together.


[1] In that article, Zoe Williams is fervently hoping that some of the more outrageous aspects of the reforms are actually a kind of departmental psyops, designed to soften us up for changes that are still bad but not as outright offensive and therefore will come as a positive relief. I used to hope the exact same thing about some of the bigger plans of the Blair administration. I was wrong. I'm just saying. Back

[2] Touchingly, it looks as if they will at least restore the mobility component of the disability living allowance. This may resemble another Lib Dem-friendly coalition U-turn, but there's a strong chance it's based on a wonk's canny calculation that people will then have no excuse not to travel to their appointment to be found “fit to work”.  Back

[3]The thinking behind this is that chemo affects people differently. While that is true, I'm not sure it has been seriously suggested that the number of people so unaffected that they could also hold down a job is high enough to warrant any blanket “work assessment”. Plus, it's not as if right now there's any bar to the lucky few who feel well enough to be able to contemplate working.  Back

[4] Until he's made an earl.  Back

[5] Extra points go to Jeremy Clarkson for his recent polemic about selfish suicides who throw themselves in front of trains: “Get the train moving as soon as possible and let foxy woxy and the birds nibble away at the smaller, gooey parts that are far away and hard to find.” At last someone has struck a blow against our ruthless oppressors: families of suicide victims! Now that's talking truth to power! He's the people's prince! I hope he does more of this stuff on his new DVD!  Back
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Baroness Thomas of Winchester: [I was] at a Jobcentre Plus office where I had to tell a disability employment adviser that the person in front of him had rheumatoid arthritis, when they were not an English speaker and they were describing their symptoms, and he had never heard of the condition.
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It's a measure of what the Mail group has done to journalism that it's worthy of remark and jubilation when the Mail on Sunday retracts a story that was so obviously untruthful and skewed. This is the first entry in the paper's brand new “Corrections and Clarifications” column, raising the tantalising possibility that it was only the absence of anywhere to print the requisite apologies that the paper has not “clarified” its many previous deliberate errors on asylum seekers, benefit claimants, the disabled, climate change, etc etc.
Last Sunday we said some 3,200 families of children with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder were believed to have been given cars under the Motability scheme. In fact that total is the combined figure for two categories of recipients of the Higher Mobility component of the Disability Living Allowance and includes other behavioural disorders. Recipients choose whether or not to spend their allowance on a Motability car; generally about 30 per cent do so. Also, we described the qualification for the Lower Mobility component, rather than the Higher Mobility component required to claim a car, for which individuals must be declared virtually unable to walk. [Daily Mail]
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This week's fake story in the Mail on Sunday about thousands of parents of ADHD children being eligible for free cars—churned into a typically unpleasant Taxpayer's Alliance press release—marked another step towards the campaign that the nation's newspapers are truly champing at the bit to run. Obviously, though, with a progressive government in power that doesn't hold with scapegoats and a newly invigorated Press Complaints Commission, this will never happen... [Harp music, vision goes wobbly]






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On the plus side, last week the education committee did finally finish scrutinising the education bill. They took two hours rather than the one they had been allocated but taking twice as long as planned is par for the course for them, so no-one cavilled too much over that. Also on the plus side, the committee room, specially chosen to accommodate participants and observers with mobility issues, was not impractically full, so everyone was catered for.

Rather heavily on the minus side, though, this:
Baroness Campbell of Surbiton: … the Committee will know that I was one of the people who complained bitterly about coming into this Room. I am afraid that I am not happy that we are here. Yes, I love this lovely desk and the fact that my PA is able to help me to drink, but... no one asked me what it was going to be like for me to participate in this Room. No one came to us, and that is the lack of consultation that we often complain about outside this building to local authorities. In the Disability Discrimination Act, the number one rule is that you must consult, but no one consulted me personally... (T)he reason why I have that office on the Principal Floor, probably three minutes away from the Chamber, is that at any moment I may have to leave the Chamber and go to my room where I might be assisted to breathe properly. It is dangerous in this Room. I wanted Members to think about that and remember that consulting the person who experiences impairment is the number one rule. [Hansard]
Just to be clear, then, the government made great play of the fact that—for the sake of, let's face it, the disabled—the committee would be relocated at some inconvenience and expense to a more suitable location, but then airily overlooked some of the people they were accommodating. Some were consulted; Baroness “Oh for God's sake just call me Tanni” Grey-Thompson was certainly asked whether the room would suit but, for example, no-one ran it by the almost entirely paralysed woman with spinal muscular atrophy. It's almost as if attitudes and practices inside the building are as shit and thoughtless as they are outside it.

To be fair to the government, though, there's only so much faux politeness you should be expected to dish out to the very people you're busy demonising. Smiling and being solicitous to them while choosing your words carefully to put paid to any quaint 20th-century notions of “disability rights”, let alone having them in the room watching you beadily as you parade your ignorance about how easy it must be for them all just to go out to work, is something I think we'd all find pretty wearying and unrewarding—and there are at the very least 10 more days of this committee to go.
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Today the Lords begin the committee stage—that is, actual scrutiny instead of generally debating the principles—of the welfare reform bill. This marks the point where one of the coalition government's most contentious pieces of legislation reaches the parliamentary stage that will probably have the least effect on its final outcome. Not by coincidence, this is also the parliamentary stage that will have the largest public audience in the room. (You really don't want them there later on, when the government uses its control of the Commons to reverse any important mitigating changes the Lords might have made.)

Normally this stage would take place in the Moses Room[1]. Until about a decade ago this was a small courtroom[2] but then it was adapted for use as an inconveniently small subsidiary debating chamber, which it has been ever since.



Not pictured: Enough room to swing an ermine

Usually its size is adequate for the small number of people occupying it[3] but because of interest among the public, lobbying groups and Members themselves, particularly those who may have extravagant mobility issues of precisely the sort that the coalition are no longer willing to subsidise, it was decided that the Moses Room would be inappropriate and a larger venue would have to be found—in the event, Committee Room 4A, normally reserved for select committees (where Members of Parliament meet members of the public, often to the confusion of both). This is a very considerate move by the government. In fact it's tremendously British to be so polite, smiling and magnanimous to the face of the very people you're about to disenfranchise. There's a reason why the rest of the world never uses the English phrase “fair play” without raised eyebrows and finger quotes.

Proceedings should be interesting, as the first hour of the committee will actually be the tail end of business that should have been concluded months ago. Several times a “final day” has been scheduled for the Education Bill committee stage, and several times the Lords on that heavily populated committee have sailed blithely past their deadline. This would be less galling if they weren't prone to interrupting proceedings, and often their own trains of thought, to share with everyone the exciting news that “I am sure that all of us in this room wish to ensure that all the children in this country get the best possible educational experience and chance in life that it is possible to provide them with, and we must work hard to make sure that that is exactly what they get” and similar pleasing noises, none of which gets parsnips buttered or indeed bills scrutinised. In the Commons, committee chairs actually have some clout and are able to interrupt such soliloquies with the parliamentary equivalent of “get to the fucking point”, but no such luck in the self-regulating Lords. In fact, a meek attempt on day seven by the Lib Dem whip on duty, Lady Garden, to get them to rein it in a bit and at least finish on schedule was met with fury by Labour's Lord Touhig, who castigated the government for intervening and trying to “control the timetable of this Committee”. She retreated and the platitudes continued to swarm. Today the government whips have optimistically scheduled for the remainder of the bill to be wrapped up in one hour, which on past form is just about how long it takes the committee membership to remind everyone how much they care about children.

Assume for now, though, that at some point the Education Bill committee does actually stop; it's then on to the main course, welfare reform, with a brief interval in proceedings to allow the first committee to leave and the next to settle in. As I mentioned, special provision has been made for the number of wheelchair users and other mobility-impaired people who are going to want in on these sessions, but if there are just too many people to fit in the room then some public and lobbyists will find themselves located in a nearby “overflow room”. The intention is for this room to contain live coverage of the committee session going on next door, and I have absolutely no reason to doubt that this will be set up in time. Although if, say, it isn't, you have to allow that everyone sitting in there will still have had an exciting day out to the Palace of Westminster and seen a lovely room.

I look forward to Lord Freud trying out his material in front of a less polite audience than noble Lords have generally been. It will be particularly interesting to see if he repeats some old favourites in front of disabled and critically ill people whose quality of life he is in the process of dispassionately shredding. (No apologies for reminding us all of this impressive exchange. I'm sure the Minister himself is very proud of it.)
Lord Low of Dalston [Cross-Bench]: [Does the Minister agree] that reduction of benefit for those who have adapted to their disability may, in fact, be self-defeating and undermine the integration into the community of the very people the benefit was designed to help?

Lord Freud [Conservative; Minister, DWP]: My Lords, this is clearly a quite nuanced issue. There are people who are climbing Mount Kenya on prosthetic limbs who are, I suspect, less challenged than many of us would be in doing that. It does not make sense to go on treating them as disabled in any way, although they may need ongoing support to keep that particular disability support going. [Hansard]
Click for legible version

So today might be quite interesting, one way or another.


[1] So called because of the sizeable fresco at the end of the room depicting Moses shlepping the stone tablets down the mountain (almost discernible in the photo above). Here's a tip for those who are thinking of painting magnificent colourful frescoes: don't paint frescoes. There are a few around Parliament and they all look pretty rubbish, as the paint instantly sinks into the stone and almost before you've even finished painting you're left with a pallid, sickly image that looks as if it has sat bleached, unloved and undusted in a bookseller's front window for 20 years.  Back

[2] It had all but fallen into disuse. When the House of Lords was the highest court of appeal in the land, the Lords in question would give their judgments in the main chamber. In order to retain court status for the Moses Room at all, though, it had to be used at least once a year. I have been told that the final case to be heard there involved Kate Moss (although I'm having trouble verifying this). It has been suggested that for this reason the Moses Room should be renamed the Moss Room in her honour; it would, after all, require only the most minor act of vandalism.  Back

[3] Exception: the one-hour debate on Lord Joffe's private Assisted Dying Bill. Lest you think insufficient attention was being paid to such a controversial subject, I should point out that this was the 406th debate (oh all right, not quite that, but it felt like it) on the topic in the space of only a few years. They had recently spent a whole Friday debating the bill where, in order to accommodate all the 80-odd who wanted to speak, a strict limit was enforced on their speaking time of two minutes. This time, most of the Lords who had spoken before wanted to shove their oar in again, but in the Moses Room they only had an hour so this time they were forced to speak for one minute each. It was intriguing to note that those debates saw some of their Lordships' best contributions. Forced to jettison absolutely anything that wasn't relevant, useful or interesting, they stood up, said what they thought, gave a good idea of why they thought it, and sat the hell down. Many observers were startled by how good some of the peers could be under pressure, and several of their debates since would have benefited strongly from this hawkish approach.  Back
webofevil: (Default)
Over the past year and a half I may have given the impression that the Conservative party was in an unseemly rush to reform the welfare system to swiftly disadvantage a majority of disabled people with a focused ruthlessness you might reserve for a mortal enemy, acting purely on prejudices that have accumulated among their ranks due to stultifying affluence.

It is shaming to have to admit that I have misunderstood their motives. In the light of the recent Equality and Human Rights Commission report demonstrating that harassment and bullying of disabled people is more common nationally than had previously been thought, it is now clear that the welfare of the vulnerable in society is in fact a top Tory priority.

Reclassifying as many disabled people as possible so that they are no longer considered to be disabled turns out not to be some callous cost-cutting measure but a brilliant method to move them out of harm's way. Society will attack you if it thinks you are handicapped, the Cabinet is saying, but look! We have stripped you of your benefits and told the media that you are fit to work if only you could be bothered, for one reason only—so that no-one will hassle you! Not that you should really try to find work anywhere, obviously; asking companies to accommodate your special needs will only draw attention to yourself and provoke exactly the harassment we're trying to prevent. Just stay at home quietly and try to cost less.

In the wake of detailed reports of serious harassment and even occasionally murder of a vulnerable section of society, it takes a certain kind of bravery and dedication to persist with a policy that on the face of it might appear to incite more of the same. I thought I had the measure of the Conservative party when it came to welfare reform. It turns out that I did not, and indeed that I have entirely underestimated them. For that, I apologise.



(NB - Obviously the Liberal Democrats are also playing their part in this heroic effort but, as others have pointed out, this may well prove an irrelevance in the long term if their “wheeze of delivering cuts in government and campaigning against them at the next election fails to persuade”.)

Wei out

May. 25th, 2011 04:04 pm
webofevil: (Default)
Now that society is officially big, Lord Wei's work in the Lords is done and he is leaving. This will be a huge relief for the noble Lord, whose parliamentary role was proving an encumbrance to the important work of making a ton of money from the charitable sector.

He has no need to worry, though; the changes in attitude necessary for the big society to function are gaining ground in Parliament as much as they are in the rest of the country. At yesterday’s public session for the Joint Committee on Human Rights, talking about independent living for the disabled, all the witnesses gave evidence that a wide range of disabled people will suffer from the impact of cuts in funding, from outright loss of money, through cuts that will leave them with enough to stay live but not to leave the house, to subtle disincentives to use the aids and facilities that would alleviate their condition.

A woman from the National Centre for Independent Living pointed out that many disabled people will suffer from the closure of the Independent Living Fund. It’s already to closed to new claimants, and will close for good in 2015, affecting 21,000 disabled people. When this was announced, there was a vague statement from the government that the shortfall would probably be made up by local authorities or maybe the Arts Council, or had they considered going door-to-door selling jaycloths? (Not the actual wording.) Rehman Chisli, a Tory disable-sceptic* who appears to be on the human rights committee only sarcastically, was dismissive of this evidence, particularly of the two specific illustrations that she had given.
Rehman Chishti: Can I clarify one thing? You said 21,000, and you said you had the example of two who would be affected by the changes. Am I right in thinking—correct me if I am wrong—that out of 21,000 people who are claimants, that is the figure at which the Government stop? You have only two examples.
This is a level of scepticism rarely seen in Parliament, or indeed outside conspiracy forums:“You have said that 21,000 people will be affected but you can only give us two names. You must be lying”. But which was he—malicious or really stupid? His respondent gently assumed the latter.
Sue Bott: I think there is a misunderstanding here. I have presented two examples to you. I could present a number of other examples and I would be happy to do so, but I am mindful of how much reading matter you have to have. But the point is that those are examples of people who have been affected by closure of the fund since October last year, so they are people who would have been able to apply for the fund had it continued. It is closed to new applicants; that is probably where we are getting confused. A decision has been taken that the fund will close in its entirety. It is at that point that the 21,000 people who currently rely on that fund will find that they do not have that funding any longer, and to date we have no clear indication of where that funding will be made up from.
Mr Chishti looked scornful and left the session shortly afterwards, pausing only to [THIS IS NOT TRUE] punch a row of disabled children full in the face [THAT WAS NOT TRUE].


* He does not go as far as professing that disabled people are not actually impaired, but does make it clear that he believes that any financial help for disabilities is a personal affront to, and probable direct theft from, himself. This makes him a strong contender for a ministerial position at the DWP.
webofevil: (Default)
Baroness King of Bow: Not only do [the legal aid cuts] restrict access to justice but, as we have heard, they specifically remove legal aid from children who are victims of medical accidents or negligence. I find this almost unbelievable. Who in their right mind would think that it was an acceptable idea to remove legal aid from a child who has been disabled for life due to a medical accident or, still worse, negligence?
Apparently Baroness King has not been paying attention. Thanks to the sterling work of the DWP it’s now common knowledge that “disability” is in fact a euphemism for “magic powers”. Would you expect the taxpayer to give you money for having magic powers? It’s time to put a stop to the magic-power gravy train, and by God this government is going to do it.



“I’m not saying that if your crops fail it’s because that kid in the wheelchair who lives nearby has been
giving you the evil eye and you should sacrifice them, but in fact that is exactly what I’m saying.”
webofevil: (all hail)
The DWP’s hard work is paying off. Months of dripfeeding negative stories about disabled welfare recipients is translating into a healthy rebalancing of society’s attitudes towards disabilities. It’s time to condemn innocent people a little more and understand medicine a little less:
[In the past year] 37% of people with disabilities claimed they were increasingly being abused in the streets, erroneously reported to the benefits fraud hotline and accosted when trying to use parking spaces for the disabled. Nearly two- thirds thought others did not believe they were disabled and half of respondents said they felt others presumed they did not work. [Guardian]
As with almost all coalition policies, the disability benefit cut and back-to-work efforts are not even remotely designed to save money: as Scope has pointed out, this general atmosphere of hostility towards people with medical conditions means that they will face increased suspicion and outright discrimination when trying to find work, meaning that they are less likely to get it and therefore more likely to become or remain unemployed. But clearly, for the coalition, that’s a small financial price to pay if society finally gets the message about the “disabled”.
webofevil: (Default)
Suddenly it makes sense. Lord Freud’s self-parodic comment about disabled people yesterday turns out to have been made specifically for the Daily Mail, an apparently longstanding arrangement that the paper has with the DWP in case of slow news days. In the event, it landed its own world exclusives about the eventual probability of UK interest rate rises and Princess Beatrice’s hat, but a contact at the Mail has let me have the original front page that it was going to run with until late last night.


webofevil: (Default)
Really, honestly, this is what is going on in Conservatives’ heads. From Lords Question Time today:
Lord Low of Dalston [Cross-Bench]:* It appears that [the new disability] assessments will seek to distinguish between those who have not adapted to their disability and those who have and who will be at risk of having their benefit reduced or losing it altogether. Does he not agree that people may have adapted to their disability by reason of the very help that they have received from disability living allowance... and that reduction of benefit for those who have adapted to their disability may, in fact, be self-defeating and undermine the integration into the community of the very people the benefit was designed to help?

Lord Freud [Conservative; Minister, DWP]: My Lords, this is clearly a quite nuanced issue. There are people who are climbing Mount Kenya on prosthetic limbs who are, I suspect, less challenged than many of us would be in doing that. It does not make sense to go on treating them as disabled in any way, although they may need ongoing support to keep that particular disability support going.
I’m so glad I never have to mix with these people. You can just imagine the dinner party conversations: “... and of course they’re all fit to work; half of them spend their time running up bloody Kilimanjaro, while I get tired out just climbing all the stairs in Daddy’s house. And no-one’s paying me to do that, are they?"

* The only blind peer in the House.
webofevil: (Default)
Lord Taylor of Holbeach: We have a special disregard for disabled households [Hansard]
Lord Taylor was reading from Lord Freud's brief. Lord Freud, the minister, was unable to attend the debate that day for medical reasons, so I trust that in line with his own policies he was both docked a day's pay and called a filthy liar by the DWP.
webofevil: (Default)
Much as I admire the spirit of today's demonstration by disabled people outside the Daily Mail offices over its recent disability benefit smear campaign (in collaboration with the Department for Work and Pensions), I can’t help feeling that the paper will simply use it as ammunition: “While decent people were out earning their living, these scroungers with nothing better to do were paid to whinge” etc etc. Remember, after all:


webofevil: (Default)
Lord Freud: We need to make sure that we do not have too many tribunal cases. At the moment, under DLA, tribunal cases are at 11 per cent, which is too high. One of the attractions of going to a consistent, coherent new personal independence payment is that we can have criteria which make it much less obvious that people need to go to tribunal. [Hansard]
Unfortunate phrasing or true reflection of his intent? Doubtless the noble Lord wouldn't give the slightest fuck either way.

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