So… six days after chemical weapons were unleashed in Syria prompting world leaders to think about launching attacks on Assad the Prime Minister finally dragged himself away from the beach in Cornwall where he’s been enjoying his FOURTH holiday this year to do the job we pay him for. What was he waiting for? Did he hope the crisis would go away if he buried his head deep enough in the Cornish sand?
Sadly, ‘bucket and spade’ Dave doesn’t give the impression of a man dedicated to hard work despite being the leader of a party that claims to ‘be on the side of hard working people’. He has the most responsible job in the country, one that requires him to be ‘on call’ 24/7, and whilst this can obviously be pretty gruelling and hard on his family, the remuneration he gets more than reflects that. This isn’t the first time he’s been slow to return from holiday in a crisis.
He did the same back in August of 2011 when the London riots kicked off, claiming he could handle things just as well from his deckchair over the phone. He doesn’t seem to get it. He doesn’t seem to understand that when you’re Prime Minister of a country that’s suffering the pain of a dire economic recession you need to be there for your citizens; you need to show some solidarity with them and at least give the impression that you’re prepared to suffer alongside them. When you introduce the most stringent austerity package in recent history , claiming (falsely) there is no alternative because the country’s practically bankrupt and even the rich have to make sacrifices because ‘ we’re all in it together’ and when some of those who are worst affected by your actions go off the rails as a result, you don’t stay put on a foreign beach and order another cold lager – you get your pampered arse back to Downing Street right away and you bloody well deal with it.
Lots of other professions require being ‘on call’ round the clock yet pay nowhere near as much as the PM’s salary. My father was a detective sergeant and we hardly saw him. Many’s the time we’d be sitting down to Christmas dinner on what should have been his day off, and the phone would ring and off he’d have to go. It goes with the job, you get used to it. Junior doctors work a ridiculously punitive schedule for a fraction of the wages Cameron takes home. And don’t get me started on the injustice of zero hours contracts…
Truth is Cameron hasn’t got what it takes to be a serious statesman. Back in 2008 Obama called him an intellectual ‘lightweight’, a criticism also echoed by Rupert Murdoch more recently. He got away with this in opposition because the job really only required him to be a PR man, a man who projected the image of modern conservatism that the party wanted to sell a gullible public; a public long conditioned to look no deeper than the surface, the packaging. So someone wrote his speeches, he delivered them and did the photo opportunities, selling the party ideology. He hugged hoodies and huskies, rode his bike (followed by his chauffeur driven car for when the cameras had buggered off) went for the odd fun run and learnt the manifesto off by heart so he could blindly repeat bits of it when asked questions. He hosted a few country suppers and wined and dined and arse-licked Murdoch and potential rich party donors; then every three months or so he jetted off to a posh beach somewhere to ‘chillaxe’. He was, and still is, a mannequin with a mouth through which the Tories broadcast their empty sound-bites, a vacuous, expensively suited cipher of so-called ‘caring conservatism’.
Three years on, the stark truth of what that oxymoronic slogan actually means is literally embodied by the public who’ve lived with its pernicious consequences – as it is by a Prime Minister who’s cold-bloodedly imposed it with aloof indifference to any responsibility for the damage he’s caused.
Whilst the PM’s body has grown fat and brown on his many holidays from inconvenient duty so the bodies of his citizens are being reshaped by the malnourishment he’s decreed for the likes of them. Diseases once eradicated by social policies that improved diets and damp and squalid housing conditions are returning to Britain with a vengeance at a time when the NHS that could alleviate them is being ruthlessly dismantled to puff up the profits of the Prime Minister’s cronies. Diseases such as scurvy and rickets which deform bodies are back with us. Asthma and other respiratory illnesses exacerbated by damp and mouldy houses are on the rise. And Cameron’s ‘caring conservatives’ who will never suffer this fate, and know it, don’t give a monkeys.
His holiday photographs, which he no doubt thinks of as photo opportunities, that sell him as a ’family man’ devoted to his wife and kids, when put into perspective and contrasted with the lives of the families he’s destroying, instead bear witness to the truth of Cameron’s upper class essence: a weak,egotistical wealthy man who likes the lifestyle of the idle rich.
Cameron is a man who is either totally oblivious to the irony of his throw away words when he said his wife had an ‘unconventional’ childhood because she went to a day school – or is totally dismissive of the millions to whom he owes a duty of care and for whom this is the norm, because we are of no consequence in his world except as ‘human resources’ judged merely by our use value and thus can be discarded like used tissues when we’re all used up.
Cameron is a millionaire who claimed DLA for his disabled son because , like Tesco and all good capitalists he knows that ‘every little helps’ in the ‘global race’ for bigger profits in which the real effort is never theirs and the real risks are borne by those with least to lose.
Cameron is a vain, elitist man who secretly believes that hard work is something that the servants should do. whilst, purely in the interests of political expediency, publicly pretending to ‘care’ about a class of people he really thinks of as nothing better than livestock.
And sadly, he is the man we call ‘Prime Minister’.
On 20th August this year Dr Greg Wood, the former naval doctor who resigned from his post as an Atos disability assessor and subsequently became a whistleblower by going to the press to expose the cruelty of the Work Capability Assessments, published the following article in the British Medical Journal (BMJ):-
I blew the whistle on the government’s disability assessments
Greg Wood former naval doctor and Atos disability analyst.
Greg Wood went to the media with concerns about the ethics surrounding tests for fitness to work—and eligibility for benefits—that the UK government outsourced to Atos
Actually, two whistleblowers went public before me, and several other doctors have raised concerns anonymously. I am a former general practitioner in the Royal Navy, where work related
assessments are bread and butter stuff. The UK Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) devised the work capability assessment (WCA) to judge whether people who receive out of
work sickness benefits could, in fact, cope with most forms of work. A more stringent test came into use in 2011, and the government made no secret of the fact that it hoped this would boost the labour market, improve people’s self esteem and personal income, and, of course, reduce government debt.
For many years the information technology and “business process outsourcing” company Atos has had a contract, now worth £100m (€116m; $155.4m) a year, to carry out several
social security benefit assessments, including the WCA, for the Department for Work and Pensions. In my view this risks tension between doctors’ professional concerns on the one hand and business imperatives on the other.
The WCA had a troubled childhood. From early on, claimants and disability groups were reporting problems. They felt the assessment was a box ticking process, where medical assessors spent most of their time punching superfluous lifestyle data into the computer. And the likely outcome as they saw it? Computer says no. In fact, the test, on paper at least, isn’t too bad, though it isn’t going to win anyone a Nobel prize. But it cannot adequately
take into account health conditions that fluctuate unpredictably, and it tries to include too broad a range of jobs. Driving, call handling, shelf stacking, data entry, and cleaning, for example, are all theoretically covered. And although the test is nominally a pre-employment medical test of sorts, it is really still about measuring the person’s level of disability.
In early 2013 the WCA was still causing a rumpus in public, despite a series of external reviews.
One problem that dawned on me over time was the widespread use of five ill conceived so called rules of thumb that were promulgated during the training of new assessors. On one,
manual dexterity, the guidance was just plain wrong. The training said that this all boiled down to an inability to press a button, whereas the regulations allow points to be awarded when there are difficulties forming a pinch grip, holding a pen, or operating a computer. The other “rules of thumb” showed a combination of discrepancies and questionable interpretations of medical knowledge—for example, moving from one room to another at home was supposed to be equivalent to moving 200 metres. The effect was to reduce a claimant’s likelihood of entitlement to financial help. Another concern was the absence of documentary evidence, which, in my experience, occurred in about a fifth of assessments. This was a simple failure to move important pieces of paper from one building to another but the assessment was expected to go ahead regardless. And my third concern was that there was an implicit assumption that the most likely outcome of an individual face to face
assessment was that the person would be found fit for work. Ihave no reason to believe that this was deliberate; it was probably more a question of wishful thinking and a misunderstanding of basic statistical principles. You can’t expect the proportions of claimants who are fit to work who are seen by an individual doctor to correspond to national trends. The general culture was one where, at the point when their file was
being opened for the first time by the assessor, it was broadly assumed that an individual claimant was more likely than not to be found fit for work.
My fourth concern was that Atos auditors, for quality assurance purposes, were in the habit of demanding that healthcare professionals change their reports without seeing the patients themselves. This seemed fairly reasonable if the amendment could be justified, but not so reasonable when the doctor who had seen the patient thought otherwise. For instance, auditors supposed that they could tell that a patient with a chronic and only part treated psychotic illness had adequate mental focus, despite not assessing the patient for themselves, and using solely a report.
The position of the General Medical Council is that doctors should not alter such reports if they think that it would make a report less accurate, or would render it misleading to the body commissioning it—that is, the DWP. I resigned from Atos primarily over this widespread interference with reports, which I felt encroached on my professional autonomy and crossed ethical boundaries. So I blew the whistle and found myself talking to
parliamentarians and journalists, and then making an appearance on BBC news. It was nerve wracking trying to choose my words carefully while keeping the message clear and simple. Obviously I worried about the repercussions, but what had tipped it for me was that the DWP had stonewalled on this for more than two years; medical knowledge was being twisted; misery was being heaped on people with real disabilities; and the cost to the
taxpayer of these flawed assessments and the subsequent successful tribunal appeals was going up and up. Three months after I blew the whistle, the DWP announced that all Atos assessors were to be retrained and that external auditors had been called in to improve the quality of the WCA. To others considering blowing the whistle, I would say this: if
it is important enough to you and you do not believe that the problem can be fixed by more conventional means; if you can back up your assertions with evidence; if you are prepared to risk alienating your colleagues; and if you are robust enough to deal with the slings and arrows that might come your way; then blow your whistle loud and blow it proud.
Competing interests: I have read and understood the BMJ Group policy on declaration of interests and have no relevant interests to declare. Provenance and peer review: Not commissioned; not externally peer reviewed.
© BMJ Publishing Group Ltd 2013
Yesterday, 24th August, the BMJ published another article by GP Dr Glyn Phillips, written in response to Dr Woods’ piece. Dr Phillips helps claimants who are going to a Tribunal to appeal against the outcomes of their WCA and fully supports Dr Woods. Here’s what he had to say:-
Re: I blew the whistle on the government’s disability assessments
Glyn Phillips, GP
Greenhills Medical Practice, Greenhills Health Centre, East Kilbride,
24 August 2013
Dr Wood deserves to be thanked for his publicising of what lies behind the seemingly dark and at times Kafkaesque outcomes of Atos WCAs. Over the past few years I (and many others) have seen a growing number of patients becoming victims of mind-boggingly cruel and unfair assessments which have led to stoppage of their ESA payments.
How can a patient with a quite profound depressive illness somehow manage to score zero points at an Atos WCA but 27 in a PHQ-9 assessment in the same week? In their defence they would cite that they do not actually make that final decision, it is made by an adjudication officer, a clerical worker, back at the DWP. Thus they can sanitise their tainted and increasingly cruel and unfair judgements. Atos and the DWP seem to deny the existence of a target driven culture. However, their methods and tactics cannot be explained by any other logical reason.
In 1996 I spent 6 months doing two sessions per week with the then Benefits Advisory Medical Service. The assessment tool was the All Work Test, not totally dissimilar to the WCA. Available to assessors were two exclusion clauses for those occasions where a ‘client’ clearly would not achieve the magic score of descriptor points to retain their benefit but equally clearly was not fit for work. This facility remains present in the WCA assessment. This option to apply exceptions, without restriction from management, was what allowed latitude for commonsense, experience, empathy and compassion.
The recent marked increase in grossly unfair decisions by Atos/DWP is, in my view, solely due into the fact that doctors and nurses performing the assessments have had those four safety valve qualities blocked in an over-bearing and bullying fashion by their employer Atos. The DWP, as the commissioning public body, carries equal responsibility for this.
Atos employed doctors and nurses (especially those in managerial roles) should be examining their consciences in these matters. They should be reminded that the decision will be based largely, if not entirely, on their assessment. They are answerable to their governing body. They are also answerable to their ‘client’ who is our patient and therefore answerable to us. When they see somebody who has not scored enough descriptor points, but who they must know is not fit, it is their duty to apply an exception clause. It is their duty not only to our patient but also to their governing body.
This past year I have been involved with supporting appeals for increasing numbers of patients who have had their ESA stopped. One example is a significantly unwell man with complex multiple medical conditions including SLE and ‘shrinking lung syndrome’. He walks very slowly with difficulty and is significantly short of breath after just a few metres. I am convinced that a child would have come up with a more appropriate decision regarding his fitness.
Working with a like-minded local lawyer our success rate is currently 100%. There are more to come. This is a frustrating waste of time for me as it is so unnecessary. What is more frustrating is the total lack of transparency following such a successful appeal. The appeal is successful, the ESA is restored but there appears to be no other outcome. No acknowledgement of accountability on the part of Atos or its employee. The misery and extra unwelcome stress put upon our patient seem not to matter. Apologies do not exist. The tremendous waste of public money expended in dealing with the dramatic increase in levels of appeals is a disgrace.
Making unwell patients more unwell is a disgrace too
Competing interests: None declared
With the recent disturbing news that GPs are being urged by professional bodies to refuse to provide benefit claimants with the medical evidence they desperately need for their WCAs whilst the DWP and Atos refuse to do the job themselves, leaving disabled people in an impossible position, its good to read stories like these by doctors who put their principles and humanity before anything else.
We desperately need more health professionals who are or who have previously worked for Atos to come forward and speak out and put the powerful weight of their professions behind the people being criminally treated by Atos with the approval of their own government.
Thanks to the Child Poverty Act 2010 – legislation brought in by the last Labour government – the Coalition is legally committed to working towards meeting targets for eradicating child poverty in Britain by 2020. Given their current performance this has now become a tragic joke. Nonetheless, it is a statutory duty and we should do all we can to hold them accountable for it.
The Act sets the ‘poverty line’ at an income that is 60% or less than the average net household income, adjusted for inflation. The Act also defines persistent poverty to be having an income that is 60% or less than the average for three consecutive years after 5th April 2010. The target is for there to be 5% or less of children living in families with such an income by 2020.
According to the latest available figures for 2010/11, when housing costs are included there were 13 million families in Britain living beneath the poverty line. This was before the full impact of welfare reform began to bite. That figure is now likely to have shot up sharply as an inevitable result of benefit cuts , rising rents and food prices.
However, the Child Poverty Act contains clauses that allow the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions the freedom to alter the targets for poverty reduction by redefining the legal meaning of persistent poverty. He can do this provided he does so before 2015 and, more importantly, provided he has the consent of the Children’s Commissioner.
In effect, before the next election, Iain Duncan Smith has the power to redefine the ‘poverty line’ in Britain so long as he can persuade or browbeat the Children’s Commissioner into agreeing with him.
Back in June of last year Mr Duncan Smith provoked a row by suggesting he was going to do just that although he was vague about the detail and made no mention of his statutory duty to secure the consent of the Children’s Commissioner. The Independent reported that:-
“Mr Duncan Smith announced plans to scrap the way poverty has been defined since the 1970s – below 60 per cent of the median income. He argued that it would be better to tackle poverty “at source” and to take account of other factors such as drug addiction, worklessness, welfare dependency, debt and family breakdown.”
Then in November 2012 IDS announced he was launching a consultation exercise to look into how poverty could better be defined other than just by income. This consultation closed on 15th February this year. Based on the Tory’s ideological view of poverty as mainly the result of ‘chaotic’ lifestyle the government proposed that there should be eight dimensions of poverty measurement but it seems the academics and organisations taking part in the consultation almost without exception disagreed with their proposals, saying it would be conceptually impossible to devise a credible measurement tool to accurately measure child poverty based on the categories suggested by IDS .
More significantly for the Secretary of State though is the response of the Children’s Commissioner whose report was based on a consultation with children themselves and stated in no uncertain terms that for them poverty meant having little money and living in bad housing. It would seem that the consent he needs to proceed with his plans is unlikely to be forthcoming.
So far as I can discover, six months on the government have not yet published the outcome of this consultation. But as the election creeps closer and as the devastating impact of their welfare reforms bites deeper and deeper, its not hard to imagine that the government will be desperate to do all they can to portray their performance in the best possible light. Given how central to their deficit reduction platform welfare cuts have been its vitally important to them to be able to claim that child poverty has reduced and that if any still exists its not their fault.
IDS needs another cunning plan.
The current Children’s Commissioner. who stands in his way, is Dr Maggie Atkinson who was appointed in 2009 by Ed Balls from her position as director of children’s services at Gateshead council which she’d held since 2005.
Last November Dr Atkinson came in for some highly unusual criticism regarding another report she produced about the sexual exploitation of children by predatory gangs of men. According to one news report:-
“An unnamed government source is widely reported to have questioned the report’s methodology and calls some of the language used in it “hysterical”. That highly unusual intervention prompted an exchange today in the House of Commons at Prime Minister’s question time.”
In response to that question David Cameron said a strange thing, considering that the contentious report had already been published in full:-
“We need to give every encouragement to the Children’s Commissioner to make sure that the final version of the report is produced.”
Is Cameron implying that the government would be putting pressure on Dr Atkinson to alter her report? Is this why a link to the ‘FULL REPORT’ published online here in November doesn’t work? Is that why the report published on the Commission website is now entitled ‘INTERIM REPORT’ ?
And doesn’t it seem strange that there is also a version of the report published on the same Commission website in JULY 2012 with the odd title of ‘ACCELERATED REPORT FOR THE SECRETARY OF STATE FOR EDUCATION’?
What could the difference be between an ‘accelerated report’ and an ‘interim’ one? Its not possible to examine the version posted as ‘FINAL’ because the link doesn’t work but the version now calling itself ‘INTERIM’ looks awfully like a complete, fully referenced report to me whereas the so-called ‘ACCELERATED’ version has the look of an interim report produced for briefing purposes.
My instincts tell me there’s something fishy about all these versions and I’m inclined to think that Dr Atkinson and her team have been told in no uncertain terms to doctor their research to suit the government’s agenda. In other words pressure has been applied and it looks like she has given in to it.
I’m not concerned here with delving into the details of this particular report and the possible objections that might have been made which led to the apparent correction of the ‘hysterical’ content. That will only be possible when the final (doctored?) version appears and comparisons can be made.
What was the nature of the pressure put on Dr Atkinson to alter a research report to suit the government’s sensibilities? And if she can be made to bend to such pressure once, will she be equally obedient if put under similar pressure from our Fuhrer-like Secretary of State for Work and Pensions should he decide to persist with his plan to change the legal definition of poverty in order to be able to deny the misery he’s brought to millions of children and possibly even claim it no longer exists?
Or will the Children’s Commission suffer the same fate as the CQC where reputations were very publicly destroyed forcing resignations followed by the politically convenient appointment of Tory-friendly Board members and a Chief Executive who was once a Tory MP?
There have recently been a number of reports in local newspapers up and down the country of sick or disabled people being taken ill while attending Job Centres. Given the fact that the Work Capability Assessment is seriously flawed and some very seriously and even terminally ill people are being passed as ‘fit for work’ and being forced to attend Job Centres under threat of losing benefits, this is a budding trend that could potentially become an every day occurrence.
Job Centre staff have already been given training in dealing with suicidal claimants, a tacit admission by the DWP that its policies are having a devastating effect on many people’s mental health. Is it now time for staff in Job Centres to be trained in basic life support and resuscitation techniques and for all Job Centres to be equipped with defibrillators, to deal with the growing likelihood that very sick claimants could need urgent medical attention whilst under their roof?
If you think this sounds ludicrous consider the following news reports. For instance back in March of this year an ambulance was called to a Job Centre in Grays, Hertfordshire when a man collapsed. By the time the paramedics arrived, despite attempts to resuscitate him, the man had died. Had the staff been properly trained in basic CPR its possible his life could have been saved.
In July this year an ambulance was called to a Scunthorpe Job Centre when a man complained of chest pains. He was later diagnosed as having had a panic attack which when severe enough can give rise to chest pain, pallor and a feeling of shortness of breath – symptoms very like those of a heart attack and just as unpleasant. Had staff been trained in First Aid techniques,whilst they may not have been able to accurately diagnose his problem they would at least have felt more confident in supporting him and calming him down until the paramedics arrived.
The following story which is reproduced in full below was published in yesterday’s Watford Observer and highlights the absolute madness of Iain Duncan Smith’s assault on the chronically sick. I leave you to draw your own conclusions.
Disabled man suffers ‘mini stroke’ during Watford Job Centre interview
James has to endure unexplained episodes – thought by some doctors to be transient ischaemic attacks (TIAs), or ‘mini strokes’ – which leave him temporarily paralysed.
A brain damaged disabled man who regularly suffers seizures thought to be possibly ‘mini strokes’ was struck down by one – midway through a Watford Job Centre interview, geared towards getting him back into work.
James Laver, 46, has to endure unexplained episodes – thought by some doctors to be transient ischaemic attacks (TIAs), or ‘mini strokes’ – which leave him temporarily paralysed.
Despite the fact his GP said he is ‘completely unable to work at present’, Mr Laver was still called into the Job Centre, in Exchange Road, on Tuesday afternoon for an appointment as he had been placed into the Work Related Activity Group (WRAG), which is aimed at ‘preparing him for work in the future’.
Since having a full stroke in 2008, in which he suffered minor brain damage and nerve damage to his left side, Mr Laver has suffered seizures which paralyse him for an hour and cause him to feel dizzy and to slur his speech.
The exact nature and cause of the seizures have divided opinion among doctors, with some believing they are TIAs, which are caused by a temporary disruption in the blood supply to part of the brain resulting in a lack of oxygen to it.
This can cause symptoms similar to those of a stroke, such as speech and visual disturbance and numbness or weakness in the arms and legs.
However, a TIA does not last as long as a stroke. The effects only last for a few minutes and are usually fully resolved within 24 hours.
Nevertheless, Mr Laver has still been classed as someone who can prepare to go back to work and attended a Job Centre interview on Tuesday.
Mr Laver, who claims disability living allowance, said: “I was put on the floor and was swallowing my tongue, and began to choke. I managed to get myself into the recovery position, but staff then put me back on my back. I quite possibly could have died.
“The attacks are getting worse and are becoming more frequent. Whenever I’m in A&E I’m told it’s a TIA, or possibly a TIA, or not a TIA or stroke, or possibly epilepsy. I think it’s a TIA.
“When I visited my partner in Australia two years ago I was having fits and the Royal Melbourne Hospital said they were TIAs.
“I’ve had five attacks this week in the space of a few days. Nobody this week has told me what they were.
“The woman in the Job Centre was mainly going on about why was I there when I was obviously not fit to work.
“She was just reading stuff on the screen, saying they couldn’t overturn the decision made that I should be in a WRAG.”
An Atos Healthcare spokeswoman said: “We were able to advise Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) that Mr Laver was not fit for work without the need for a face-to-face assessment.
“DWP makes all benefit decisions and has found that he should continue to receive sickness benefit.”
Regarding Mr Laver’s seizure at the Job Centre this week, ambulance service spokesman Gary Sanderson said: “We were called at 2.19pm and we conveyed a male to Watford General Hospital for further assessments.”
When asked what the nature of the illness, Mr Sanderson added: “We cannot comment on that as it is unknown.”
On the same morning I’m hearing Tory William Hague expressing moral outrage at the way Bashir Assad’s government is mistreating its own people I read the following story which demonstrates how HIS government is prepared to mistreat theirs. The hypocrisy was deafening.
Lorraine Fraser,pictured above along with a photograph of her specially adapted bathroom, is a severely disabled mother of two children about to be evicted from her council home in North Lanarkshire because she’s been unable to pay the bedroom tax and is now in arrears that amount to less than Mr Hague is likely to spend on food in a week. Here’s the full story from the Daily Record.
Bedroom tax: Disabled mum-of-two Lorraine set to become first person in Scotland to be kicked out of their home
THE 46-year-old who suffers from scoliosis and arthritis has had court action taken against her to force her to leave her flat.
A SEVERELY disabled single mum is to become the first council tenant in Scotland to be evicted because of the bedroom tax.
Lorraine Fraser is being kicked on to the street after her Labour-run council took court action to force her out her specially adapted flat.
She has scoliosis – curvature of the spine – and arthritis and she is wheelchair-bound.
The council moved Lorraine into a specially adapted flat with a wheelchair ramp, wet room and handrails two years ago.
Now they want to turf her out for failing to pay just £248 in bedroom tax arrears.
Lorraine, 46, said: “Where will I go? I need a specially adapted home just to survive.
“What kind of people would throw a disabled woman and her kids out on the street?
“They have no compassion or conscience.”
North Lanarkshire Council have sent Lorraine a series of hard-hitting letters, warning her that eviction proceedings are under way.
The latest letter, dated August 8, states: “I can advise you that North Lanarkshire Council has commenced court action to evict you from your home.”
She has also been told she faces paying for the authority’s “considerable” legal costs.
Lorraine receives disability living allowance. And even before the bedroom tax, she struggled to pay her bills and feed her family.
When the hated tax was introduced in April, she was told she would have to pay an extra £62 in rent every month.
She was informed she was being targeted because she has two spare rooms.
But Lorraine is baffled because she shares her three-bedroom flat with her daughter Collette, 19, and son Mark, 17.
They are both students who live at home, although they also spend time living with their dad, who is divorced from Lorraine.
Lorraine thought she still had a month left to fight her case because she was told in a letter that legal proceedings to evict her wouldn’t begin until September 2.
But she was devastated when the council’s letter on August 8 said they had already started court action.
Council housing officers visited her at her home in Uddingston, near Glasgow, yesterday to go through the eviction process.
Lorraine said: “I can’t believe I am going to be thrown on the street.
“My condition is getting worse every day. This has caused me so much stress and anxiety it’s making me really ill.
“I feel at the end of my tether. I have tried to explain to them that my children still live here.
“My son sometimes stays at his dad’s house because we are divorced but this is still his home.
“I feel angry, upset and totally helpless.
“I thought I still had a month to sort this mess out but then I got a letter to say they had already started the legal process.
“I feel like my life is falling apart. I have been in this house for two years and it was the council who put me here because they knew I needed a specially adapted home for my disability.
“Now they want to throw me out on the street like a piece of old rubbish.
“They are targeting the most vulnerable in our community.
“It’s a disgrace they are allowed to get away with it.”
North Lanarkshire Council are one of the few local authorities in Scotland who have refused to adopt a no-evictions policy.
In April, First Minister Alex Salmond pledged that no SNP-run council would throw out tenants who had fallen into arrears because of the bedroom tax.
North Lanarkshire Council leader Jim McCabe called the bedroom tax “the single worst piece of legislation I have ever seen”.
But that hasn’t stopped the authority from starting eviction action against their tenants.
Lorraine called on the All Scotland Anti-Bedroom Tax Federation and Glasgow lawyer Gordon Dangerfield to help save her from eviction.
Federation chairman Tommy Sheridan said: “North Lanarkshire Council’s treatment of a disabled bedroom tax victim is shocking and shameful.
“How do these councillors and highly paid council officials sleep at night? They should be ashamed of themselves.
“They told this disabled bedroom tax victim she had until September 2 to find the money or else.
“Then they started eviction proceedings anyway. They know this woman is on the breadline yet they have harassed her.”
A North Lanarkshire Council spokesman said: “We have offered every tenant potentially affected by the bedroom tax an opportunity to have a visit or advice by phone.
“The tenant in question has consistently refused to fully engage with us and has repeatedly refused to apply for a discretionary housing payment which may help to alleviate her situation.
“We are committed to helping all tenants hit by this UK Government legislation.”
Lorraine reacted with anger to the council’s claims that she refused to cooperate with them.
She said: “It is an outright lie. I have tried to convince them that I am not eligible for the bedroom tax but they are not interested.”
Back in 1982 after 3 years of Thatcher government policies unemployment soared. Apart from the names, this news item from the BBC sounds remarkably like its describing today’s situation after 3 years of Cameron’s rule:-
1982: UK unemployment tops three million
The number of people out of work in Britain has risen above three million for the first time since the 1930s. The official jobless total, announced today, is 3,070,621. It means one in eight people is out of work.
Rates of unemployment vary across the country – in Northern Ireland it is nearly 20% and 15 or 16% in most parts of Scotland the North East and North West – only in the South East does it drop below 10%.
Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher was given a rough ride when she tried to defend the government’s record on employment in the Commons this afternoon.
Mrs Thatcher was frequently heckled as she insisted there were “encouraging signs” the economy was improving. The Speaker was forced to intervene and call for order.
“There are 32 people chasing every vacancy” said Labour leader Michael Foot
Afterwards, Labour leader, Michael Foot, said: “When Mrs Thatcher came into office there were five people chasing each job and that was bad enough. Today there are 32 people chasing every vacancy and in some parts of the country, it’s double that.”
More than 750,000 people are now classed as longterm unemployed.
Employment Secretary Norman Tebbit did not appear to be offering any quick fixes when he said: “We are gradually fighting back in competitive terms against our rivals. As we can expand the economy so there will be more jobs available in the future.”
The level of unemployment in Britain is almost the highest in Europe – second only to Belgium.
The two main factors behind the rise in the jobless total are the economic recession and the restructuring of industry.
In cities like Coventry, workers are being made redundant by the closure of traditional manufacturing industries. The British Leyland factory making MGs closed 15 months ago, putting 700 people out of work.
After 21 years working for MG, Eddie McAvinue is now looking after his grandchildren. He says he felt bitter to start with – but not any more: “When I look round and there’s young people with A and O levels and they can’t get jobs, I just accept it now. I can’t do anything else”
The British Film Institute described it as a “seminal drama series… a warm, humorous but ultimately tragic look at the way economics affect ordinary people… TV’s most complete dramatic response to the Thatcher era and as a lament to the end of a male, working class British culture.”
Set in Bleasdale’s home city of Liverpool, and reflecting many of his own experiences of life in the city, each episode focuses on a different member of the group. The series was highly acclaimed for its powerful and emotional depiction of the desperation wrought by high unemployment and a subsequent lack of social support. Although the series is and was noted by many reviewers as a critique of the Margaret Thatcher era, which was seen as being responsible for the fate of many of the unemployed lower and working classes, particularly in the North of England (and in fact fuelling the North-South divide), most of the series had actually been written in 1978 during Labour’s James Callaghan’s prime ministership, therefore preceding Thatcher’s Britain by a year. Unemployment stood at a 40-year high of more 1.5million by the summer of 1978, compared to some 600,000 just four years earlier, but by early 1982 had reached 3 million (some one in eight of the workforce) as a result of economic recession and Thatcher’s restructuring of industry.
This episode “Shop Thy Neighbour” starring a very young Julie Walters brings home the trauma suffered by the unemployed brilliantly. The fact that it applies just as much today as it did then hammers home the message Labour should now be shouting from the rooftops: Never trust the Tories with the welfare state.
For the last terrible three years we’ve heard David Cameron and George Osborne and every other Tory MP who’s given a chance to speak on TV blame the suffering they’ve brought to millions of us on ‘Labour’s legacy’ of profligate public spending. Even the lily-livered LibDems have echoed this mantra with enthusiasm. Even now, when the evidence against this ridiculous claim has been featured in the more enlightened press and even that neoliberal stalwart, the IMF, has warned Osborne to go easy on austerity, they persist with the myth. And sections of the British public, having heard the lie repeated so often, now believe its true. Meanwhile, instead of defending themselves, the Labour party , particularly Ed Milliband and Ed Balls, have preferred to hang their head in unnecessary shame whenever its hurled their way in Parliament, instead of nailing Cameron and his crew through the heart with the lie. It makes my blood boil!
Osborne’s priggish stubbornness in refusing to be diverted from his great Austerity Scam, however, has some very chilling echoes from the not so distant past. Margaret Thatcher was infamous for declaring that ‘there is no alternative’ when challenged about the cruel cuts she presided over when in power. And her words issued forth from the same moral high ground as Osborne’s, blaming the ‘immoral’ behaviour of the working classes for Britain’s failing economic performance. Just as she waged war on the workers by demonising trade unions and destroying the livelihoods of whole communities, so equally does Osborne. aided and abetted by Duncan Smith, whip up hatred for those whose only ‘sin’ is to have inherited the poverty she created, or to be sick and disabled, sometimes as a result of her social destruction.
We’re encouraged to have short memories by those currently in power over us. We’re encouraged to look no farther than the last few years before that power dropped into their pampered laps by a cruel fluke of a flawed electoral system that has allowed a party with only 37% of a diminished vote (how many stayed at home and refused to vote?) to dictate our non-futures. But there is a much longer history to this dire situation we find ourselves in now and its time we remembered it. Watch this video filmed in 1996, before the country elected New Labour in a desperate hope that things would or could change for the better. It will remind you of the real legacy we live with today. This Tory led-by-the-nose government is merely taking up where the last Tory governments were forced to leave off…
With each passing day, as I read and see more and more injustice and cruelty from this feeble excuse of a government, I wonder just what the hell is going on here?
Here’s a selection of video interviews by the amazing Artist Taxi Driver to make my point for me. The last one made me so angry and frankly, ashamed to be British and it reminded me of a documentary I saw online recently exposing the truth about the British monarchy. Its called Royal Babylon and I’ve included that too. Prepare to be shocked if you’re the kind of person who thinks the Queen is just a sweet old lady and Winston Churchill etc were ‘great’ British leaders…this is definitely NOT the version of British history that Michael Gove wants to ram down our kid’s throats.
If, after you’ve read this, you feel moved to do something about it, please start by signing the WOWPetition, by clicking here
I’ll tell you upfront what one of the worst things about this story is. It’s that I don’t feel comfortable naming the time or place of my first encounter with an ATOS Medical Assessment Centre. Certainly, I’ll be clear about it in a letter to the relevant MP, and to the organisation itself, and with no hope of being heard, to the Department for Work and Pensions, whom I hold solely accountable for what I witnessed today.
Also, the actual assessment I witnessed, by two sympathetic, understanding, quiet, professional, helpful Eastern European Doctors seemed fine. It was the only bit of sanity in an experience that has left me with the impression of an enormous, industrialised processing of sick people by one organisation; ATOS, doing the bidding of a dangerously distant government department, the DWP, pursuing a dispassionate ideology incapable of engaging with the individual needs of those being palpably dragged through assessment.
A little background; I attended as a ‘plus one’ for a friend of mine who has been in receipt of a benefit for many years that is being subsumed into the Employment and Support Allowance. I went along because some of the drugs my friend is on prevent them from driving, or staying awake, and my friend often suffers from a terrible memory, so I planned to prompt when my friend got stuck, and take in as much of what happened today so that I could remind them of it afterwards.
I wasn’t really looking forward to the Work Capability Assessment (WCA) and I know my friend wasn’t either, as it has been hanging over them like a weight for a number of weeks. Without drilling down into all the detail, my friend relies on this benefit to survive with their children, and although my friend is probably eligible for Disabled Living Allowance, or Personal Independence Payments as they are set to become, I have not been successful at pressuring my friend to apply for them. A lot of people are reluctant to label themselves, or to be judged by others, given the stigma that is increasingly attached to recipients of disability benefits by an ignorant public.
So, this story has had all the names, some sexes, and some other details changed for public consumption, but I’m leaving in the facts as I witnessed them. It was horrific, and I’ve been seething with a dark anger about the events, kicking myself about not taking the phone numbers of the other witnesses, or the names of the staff involved. If only I hadn’t been so wrapped up in looking after my friend and their concerns about today, I could’ve acted like a better citizen, although after today I’m not even really sure what that means, and whose standards that could possibly be judged by.
The story starts in the waiting room of an ATOS assessment centre. Present are A lady and her daughter, who I shall call Mrs and Ms. Nice. They are a quiet couple, apprehensive. The mother cares for the daughter and had helped her crutch her way into the barren, industrial waiting room, and was sat trying to reassure her daughter that it was going to be ok. After later conversation, it turned out Mrs Nice has been to three tribunals for members of her family and friends, all of which have been successful in overturning incorrect DWP decisions on DLA awards, so she is no stranger to the system.
Also present is Builder John, a man who comes to play a pivotal role and who doesn’t even want to be there. John is self-employed and is used to earning lots of money every week through contracting his services out. Unfortunately John is awaiting surgery for an injury that is preventing him from engaging with the very physical nature of his job. John doesn’t want to be there, but has no choice but to do so to carry on qualifying for the measly £140 a fortnight in benefits that he will lose if he doesn’t, metaphorically speaking, jump through hoops. John cannot understand why there is a procession of sick and disabled people being dragged through assessments. He speaks of a happier time, before he was forced to claim benefits for those pesky asides like eating food, when he was blissfully ignorant of just how unfair the system is.
Also waiting are Mr Shirt and Ms. Shirt. Ms. Shirt enters unsteadily on one crutch with Mr Shirt’s support, and after discovering that she is half an hour late, having got the time of the appointment wrong and with one arm shaking uncontrollably as a result of her disability, Ms. Shirt bursts into tears and nearly stumbles over in the waiting room, setting off a chain of events that lead me to witness something unsavoury, cynical, corrupt and distressing.
Mr and Ms. Shirt are sent away for being late, but shortly afterwards, one of the other actors in this piece, “ATOS Receptionist” makes a phonecall to try and accommodate Ms Shirt getting an appointment later that afternoon. With good intentions, Receptionist calls another person who has an appointment that afternoon to cancel their appointment, and sends another player, “Security Man” to intercept Ms. Shirt as she struggles back into her car, apparently to let her know that if she can hang around for half an hour or so, she can stay and see the Doctor after the next appointment has finished.
The time of the appointment Ms Shirt is given turns out to be exactly the same time that John Builder and Ms Nice have been given as *their* appointment time, too. Mr Shirt looks gravely concerned when he learns this fact, he’s clearly been trying to reassure Ms. Shirt that everything’s going to be ok, but he no longer looks like he believes it, and Ms Shirt sits on her hand in an effort to control the obvious, wild tremor in her arm.
The catalyst characters arrive next. Mr and Mrs Cancelled. Mrs Cancelled answered the phone when Receptionist called to make room for Ms. Shirt in the already triple-booked afternoon slot. Mrs Cancelled is apparently no stranger to this assessment centre. She’s already had some of her benefits stopped, and has had to get Mr Cancelled to start and finish work early to accompany her to this re-assessment. She failed to convey to Mr Cancelled that she’d been told not to come in this afternoon, because one gets the sense she hadn’t fully understood how long the wait would be if she did choose to attend, despite being told not to. She attends, out of a fear you can see in her face of continuing to have no money at all, stretching the resources of Mr Cancelled, who is philosophical about the burden placed on his wages, but who chooses to express a perfectly reasonable opinion that his wife is being messed around with when her appointments are being scheduled and rescheduled, with knock-on effects for his employment and pay and convenience. Mr Cancelled makes it perfectly clear that he does not think the ATOS staff are to blame for this, but that it is the stupid DWP system that is causing this upset, pressure and hardship.
Unfortunately, Receptionist chooses to interpret the valid concerns of Mr Cancelled as a personal attack. Nobody else in the room understands why, and the surly, abrasive, combative face that Receptionist presents changes the course of the rest of the day. It’s probably a face that has become necessary to present to difficult clients. It’s a face that, reassures Receptionist, is not for the genuine claimants – she thinks it’s a massive waste of time and effort that the deserving poor are subjected to these humiliating, inconvenient, and often painful assessments, too. Receptionist’s true views, however, are informed by DWP rhetoric about statistics. The same statistics that are so clearly unsafe in the hands of the Iain Duncan Smith, the man who has constructed a House of misinformation, and not yet taken to task over it by the Department for Work and Pension Committee, though they have asked him to answer for his misinformation on repeated occasions.
Mr Cancelled is asked, in no uncertain terms, to leave with his wife, who seems distressed and confused and willing to leave to avoid causing more conflict, and to avoid upsetting her husband further. Her husband loudly proclaims that they will leave, his language may now be peppered by distressed obscenity but all he really wants is some clarity about when his wife’s next appointment will be. Receptionist can not give a date, nor reassurance that that appointment will not also be cancelled. Ms. Shirt realises that her assignment to an appointment is what has caused this mess, and starts to cry again. Ms Nice starts to cry too, and John the Builder stares on in disbelief. Mr Shirt is banging his head quietly against the wall behind his chair, and is heard to say “How did we come to this?”.
Mr and Mrs Cancelled close the door behind them from the waiting room, but they are pursued down the corridor by Security Man. He says “AND I’LL TELL YOU ANOTHER THING”, for some inexplicable reason, he has chosen not to just let them leave, but to take issue with the fact that Mr Cancelled is upset that his wife keeps having her appointments change. Even though Mr Cancelled specifically said he knows it isn’t the personal fault of Receptionist and Security Man, they both seem to have taken it so. There is shouting from the corridor outside, and then the sickening sound of a scuffle, as Mrs Cancelled’s carer and husband is apparently tackled by Security Man, simply for having the audacity to speak out. John the Builder joins them in the corridor, quick to his telephone, where he films the ensuing, angry shouting and the insane exchange of angry words between a man upset about his wife being caused more pain, and a man, acting unprofessionally and physically, upset that his organisation might be deemed to be responsible for this. Mr Shirt checks through the window of the door. Ms Nice is now inhaling heavily, clearly in the throes of a panic attack, while Mrs Nice, also close to tears now desperately tries to calm her down. Ms Shirt is crying, shaking, uncertain. John the Builder tries to remonstrate with both parties in the corridor to diffuse the situation.
It’s simply insane. In Britain, in 2013, there is an industrial, machinated subjugation of ill people to demeaning, degrading, invasive medical assessments being enforced at the behest of a pathological DWP and implemented by an arrogant, uncertain ATOS.
John Builder returns to the reception room, an angry but drawn expression on his face. He expresses his frustration that neither Receptionist nor Security are to blame for this crazy mess, but as he is defending the difficult situation they are in, they return to the room.
“STOP TALKING!” Mandates Reception. There is a pause in the room, a little confused. Mr Shirt points out that John Builder was just trying to defend the position of Receptionist, but John’s temper is blown. In an emotive outburst, John tells Receptionist he won’t be told to shut up. Rightly, he gives what-for, in that most British of manners he explains he is perfectly entitled to talk to other people, to Mrs Nice and Mr Shirt in the waiting room, that this is not a fucking concentration camp. The words hang, pregnant, because that is exactly what it fucking feels like.
Receptionist explains that it isn’t her fault, that the huge number of false claimants are the reason that the DWP has to test everybody to make sure the system isn’t being sucked dry. Mr Shirt looks crestfallen, and after Receptionist and Security simmer down, he explains to everyone else in the room that DLA fraud rates are 0.5% and that ESA fraud rates are 0.3%. This seems like a tired, rehearsed skit from him, and he borrows a pen from Mrs Nice, and a couple of post-it notes, on which he scribbles “wowpetition.com”.
John Builder, Mr Shirt and Mrs Nice express their utter disgust at the government, both Conservative and Liberal Democrat bits of it, although they all agree that they can’t understand how looking after vulnerable people became so distasteful to government, and how people who’ve paid into the social security system are now being subjected to this cynical, judgemental, prejudiced, ignorant DWP system, administered by an inappropriate, unprofessional, reactive and dangerously ignorant private company that keeps getting it wrong.
It’s a disgrace, it’s the most depressing scene I think I’ve ever witnessed, and the dehumanisation of all involved has left me with a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach.
Is this really what we have come to?