The National Day of Protest Against Welfare & Housing Benefit Cuts on 15th December 2010 aims to be the first of many and this time will concentrate on the Housing Benefit cuts.
Facebook event page at: http://www.facebook.com/event.php?eid=181074851903167&
With this in mind, why not organise a sit in, protest or demonstration in your local Civic Centre, Housing Benefit Office or Town Hall.
Think Christmas party. Gather up some friends, take a ticket and bring cake, food to share, Christmas decorations, crackers, music and presents for the kids. Why not apply for Council Housing whilst you’re at it, ask for information about impending homelessness due to the cuts or clear up that nagging benefit issue. Then collect contact details to organise a bigger event in the New Year and spread some festive cheer.
Make sure to support people present who are in emergency need of help to access it and make sure they are treated properly. There’s no rush after all, you can easily stay late, or even all night. It’s Christmas after all.
Alternatively hold a public meeting, organise an info stall or even just leaflet your local Council offices. If you are organising an event please contact us asap to be added to the facebook page (and upcoming website).
London benefit claimants will be attending and supporting the Housing Emergency Demonstration at Downing Street, 12.30pm. Bring cardboard boxes, sleeping bags etc and create a cardboard city opposite Downing Street. then onto Trafalgar Square at 3pm for Christmas fun under the tree.
Local groups, individuals, ideas and support needed, please get in touch.
This is just the beginning, further actions and events are planned for the New Year.
London confirmed – 15th December
12.30 Downing Street, Housing Emergency Coalition protest, take cardboard boxes and sleeping bags
3pm Trafalgar Square, Disabled People Against Cuts – No Room at The Inn nativity under the tree.
Norwich confirmed – 15th December – Defend Council Housing And Fight The Welfare Cuts Public Meeting – Belvedere Centre, Belvoir Street, Norwich, 15th Dec 7.30pm – 9.30pm.
Plans afoot so far in Newcastle, Edinburgh, Brighton, Hastings, Stoke, Lewisham, Lydney and Nuneaton
Actions called for/enquired about in Bristol, Southampton, Cambridge, Hackney, Lincolnshire, Exeter & Ipswich
Called by autonomous benefit claimants around the UK.
National Day of Protest Against Welfare & Housing Benefit Cuts:http://www.facebook.com/pages/National-Day-of-Protest-Against-Welfare-Housing-Benefit-Cuts/106945382710717
Disabled People Against Cuts: http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=121196194603310
Black Triangle – Anti-Defamation Campaign In Defence of Disabled Claimants:http://www.facebook.com/blacktriangle1
Work Programme & Flexible New Deal Scandal: http://www.workprogramme.org.uk/
Benefit Claimants Fight Back: http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=116432071735566
A BBC investigation has heard claims of seriously ill patients being told they are fit enough to work and denied benefit payments.
Two former doctors for the private healthcare company Atos, which carries out the medical assessments have expressed concerns that the checks are being done too quickly and that the system is biased towards declaring people fit for work.
BBC Scotland’s Social Affairs Reporter, Fiona Walker, has been investigating why some of those who had high hopes for ESA say it has been a failure.
Employment Support Allowance, or ESA, is replacing Incapacity Benefit. It’s supposed to support the very sick, and as people get better, help them get back into the workplace.
The government said it wanted to get a million people back to work by 2015 but more that one year after introducing ESA, it says it can’t measure how many people the scheme has got back into the workplace.
During the investigation, we’ve heard claims that terminally ill patients are being told to attend back-to-work interviews while they apply for the new benefit.
We also heard concerns that the medicals are declaring seriously ill people as fit enough to go to work.
One of the patients we spoke to was Maureen Leitch. She says she was called in for a medical assessment just a few weeks after undergoing chemotherapy and radiotherapy for vulval cancer.
She was declared fit for work and told she wasn’t entitled to ESA.
She said: “I was struggling terribly with the whole cancer. I was in extreme pain… It was a whole load of hassle, and aggravation that I didn’t need at the time I was going through the journey of the cancer… I feel insulted and badly let down, with the system.”
Maureen appealed the decision and it was overturned, meaning she was eventually awarded the benefit.
Currently, there are 44, 000 people waiting for their appeals to be heard. More than a third of people are winning their appeals.
Charities and organisations including Citizens’ Advice Bureau, say they’re worried that thousands of pounds of taxpayers’ money is being wasted because of the number of people going to appeal.
Everyone we’ve interviewed for this investigation agrees that getting people back to work can be good for them.
What they’re concerned about is the way the system is working in practice.
Dr Chris Johnstone is a GP in Paisley. His work to help his patients back to work helped shape the ESA policy.
He said: “I have no problem with a rigorous medical assessment done in a supportive fashion.
“But I think if you have a slipshod one done, as it appears to be anecdotally, that’s unfair for the people going through the system. It feels like some of it is done inappropriately and it’s almost being done to save money rather than to look after people.”
Ultimately the decision on whether you get benefit or not is down to the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP), but they have contracted a private healthcare company called Atos to carry out the initial medical assessments.
I’ve spoken to two doctors who used to work for Atos. They say they are concerned about the way checks are being done. They both say they are worried that speaking out will affect their medical careers so we’ve agreed not to reveal their names.
This is what one of the doctors told me: “We would frequently have appraisals. They were all about how many clients you had seen and the average length of time it took to complete each assessment and write the reports.
“I wanted to know if they were happy with the quality of the reports I’d done but they hadn’t even looked at my reports, only at the time it had taken. It’s really tough to qualify for ESA.
“When doctors go in for the day’s assessments, they pretty much know the clients are going to be turned down.”
The other doctor I spoke to backed up those claims.
We asked to do an interview with Atos, but they refused.
Instead they gave us a statement saying: “We are continually monitored and audited by the government to ensure that it completes the highest standard of assessment and that medical advice is correct.
“Atos Healthcare and its employees are not advised of the result of the assessment and the outcome has no bearing on Atos Healthcare targets or remuneration.”
Helping people back to work is one of the key aims of ESA. But the government can’t tell us how many people this new scheme has got back into work.
The minister for Disabled People at Westminster is Jonathan Shaw, MP. I asked him why his department couldn’t tell us how many people ESA had successfully got back to work.
He said: “What’s essential is that we are providing a programme, across the board, not just for ESA claimants but for youngsters, for disabled people for elderly people, to try and gain the skills that they can to stay in the labour market and return to work.
“We’ve got the pathways to work programme, which as I say is helping thousands of people who I’ve met up and down the country… this is early days, for the Employment Support Allowance.”
Mr Shaw also said he would be looking into the way cancer patients are treated.
Ministers are to change the way disabled people are assessed for benefits amid uproar over a “draconian” testing regime that aims to cut the welfare bill and get more people into work.
The Department for Work and Pensions is to review the work capability assessment test – a key part of its welfare-to-work programme – after being warned that it was deeply flawed and would lead to many disabled people, and those with genuine health problems, being unfairly penalised.
The government wants to slash the number of people on incapacity benefit – to be replaced by a new benefit, the employment and support allowance (ESA) – by one million from its current total of 2.7 million.
Over the next three years, it intends to test all those on incapacity benefit to find out if they are genuinely unable to work, and then place them on ESA, where payments differ according to levels of disability or illness.
Those who fail the test altogether and are judged fit to seek work will be placed on jobseekers’ allowance, which will mean considerably lower income. Once all 2.7 million have been tested, incapacity benefit will cease to exist.
Over recent months, however, ministers have been bombarded with complaints from disability groups and others about the new tests, which are already being used to assess new claimants for employment and support allowance.
Work capability assessment places claimants into different categories depending on needs and abilities. A higher payment of up to £108.55 a week will be made to severely disabled people who are not expected to work and a lower one of £89.90 goes to those who need tailored support to find work. Other, non-disabled people are expected to find work without support and receive JSA of £65 a week.
Disability groups, which had supported the reforms in the belief that they would tackle “disability poverty”, say the assessment does not reflect how an impairment impacts on someone’s everyday life or ability to work.
Neil Coyle, director of policy at Disability Alliance, said the tests were too rigid. “They do not measure ability to perform work functions (eg, typing, packing or sweeping) but are based on someone describing their average day and simple tasks like picking up a coin from the floor (to test movement, for instance),” said Coyle.
Evidence from the first tests for ESA showed that many people who needed help were being wrongly judged as fit to seek work. As a result, they were being placed on jobseekers’ allowance and denied access to programmes to help them find suitable employment, such as Pathways to Work, specifically set up to help those on incapacity benefit.
Mark Serwotka, general secretary of the Public and Commercial Services Union, said: “The government’s draconian approach of forcing people off incapacity benefit when they clearly can’t work is having tragic consequences and robbing people of help when they are in most need. The government needs to urgently review the employment and support allowance capability test.”
Figures for new claimants for ESA showed that, of the 193,800 people who made a claim between October 2008 and February 2009, 36% were found to be fit for work and therefore not eligible for the higher benefit.
A spokesman for the Department for Work and Pensions said: “The work capability assessment looks at what people can do, rather than what they can’t, to give them the support they need to get back to work and avoid ending up on long-term sickness benefits. For those who cannot work, they will receive additional support and help.
“This is a relatively new process, but we were very grateful to have organisations such as Disability Alliance involved in the consultation process and the development of the programme from the very start.
“We will be reviewing it to see where improvements and changes need to be made to ensure that it is working as it should be.”
In October, Jonathan Shaw, minister for the disabled, said about 15% of those tested would be “disallowed employment and support allowance”.