Open Letter to Liam Byrne - Will Labour Protect Disabled People?

Pat's Petition is going to Westminster on the 6th February to meet with Shadow Work and Pensions Liam Byrne to find out what Labour will do to support sick and disabled people. WOW Petition was created to ensure that the work done by Pat's Petition will continue into the future and we have some points and questions for Labour to answer too.

An Open Letter to the Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary

Dear Rt Hon Liam Byrne MP

The WOW Petition is a crowd-sourced grass roots campaign created and supported by disabled people, people with physical and mental health illness, care workers, carers and family members. We have come together because we are frightened. We have each been affected by the devastating consequences of the Welfare Reform Act and feel we are fighting for our lives.

We are determined to continue and build upon the achievements of Pat’s Petition. We are not satisfied that the government will understand or care about the consequences of the cuts and changes to benefits and services until a comprehensive impact assessment has been completed. We are aware of the Prime Minister’s intention to scrap impact and equality assessments. It is vital therefore, that a cumulative impact assessment is carried out with urgency.

Since the WOW Petition was launched on December 18th 2012, at the time of writing almost 18,000 people have supported us. We expect to reach the 100,000 target as we expand into new initiatives and the campaign grows.

Our petition has been championed by disabled actress and comedian Francesca Martinez. Francesca has spoken out publicly against the arbitrary cuts and the unfairness of disproportionately targeting the benefits sick and disabled people rely on. She has appeared on Newsnight and BBC This Week Programmes to voice her concerns. Baroness Grey-Thompson has also supported our campaign.

Sick and disabled people do not understand why the government wishes to wage a “war on welfare” against them. People who are genuinely too sick to work have been cruelly labelled as “feckless” and “scroungers” by government ministers. Welfare statistics have, we believe, been purposefully misrepresented, and the tabloid media has chosen to wage a campaign of misinformation and misleading stories about the level of welfare fraud. This in turn has altered public perceptions of disabled people and hardened attitudes towards benefit claimants.

Where is the sense in forcing people suffering with long-term and chronic conditions onto a depressed employment market where eight people on average are fighting for every job? People with mental health problems find it especially difficult to overcome employment discrimination and to establish themselves in work even when the economy is buoyant. The greater cruelty is that many of these people will not have access to treatment or therapy.

Sick and disabled people do want to work, but the Work Capability Assessment completely fails to recognise their limitations or how they can realistically function in the workplace. The consequences of forcing people to look for work and mandatory Work Related Activity under threat of losing income could cause illness to deteriorate and place a further burden on stretched NHS and mental health services. Sick and disabled people can and do make huge contributions to society. This does not have to be purely based on their ability to make money. Voluntary work and caring is vital for the economy but isn’t paid. For some “making work pay” will not improve their life chances, opportunities and finances. These people deserve to be better supported.

The third ‘Harrington Report’ revealed that just 9% of people expected to recover within twelve months had found work eighteen months later. The support to get people back to work isn’t working. Less than 1.5% of disabled people referred to the Work Programme had found employment.

We are certain that you are already aware of the failings of the fitness to work test, and the increasing numbers of recorded deaths resulting from the loss of income and stress. The fear of the Atos envelope landing on the doorstep is real. When people know that they are not going to have a fair and honest assessment that takes the opinions of their doctors and consultants into account they feel frustrated, helpless and terrified.

Over 330,000 people have been forced to appeal a decision they believe to be wrong. 40% of these are overturned, rising to 70-80% with specialist advice. The government is removing legal aid to make obtaining legal advice at the tribunal stage even more difficult, and we can only presume that it is a cynical attempt to deter people from appealing rather than fixing a broken system.

Under clause 99 of the Welfare Reform Act sick people could be forced onto Jobseekers Allowance whilst potentially waiting many months for the DWP to reconsider a challenge to a decision. These changes are going to have a huge impact on people’s lives. It is insufficient and dismissive of government ministers to blame Labour for introducing Employment and Support Allowance and to complain that they have inherited a flawed assessment process. This is an unacceptable defence for a serious failure.

We want a reassurance that the current fitness to work test will be scrapped and replaced with a credible medical assessment carried out by medical professionals who are allowed to apply their discretionary judgement based on their medical expertise. People feel they are being ‘tricked’ by confusing forms, tick box assessments and an impossibly narrow set of descriptors which excludes severe and enduring illness from the support group. Assessment recordings should be made available to all who request them to reassure people that the face to face tests are above-board.

People will and do work when they are well and able and appropriately supported. Battling illness and battling the current benefits system for some, unfortunately, is simply too much to cope with.

Universal Credit is yet an untested system of delivering benefits but the uncertainty surrounding it is causing a great deal of worry and confusion. Contributory ESA is excluded but the means tested component is not. Some people receive an element of both.

Hundreds of thousands of sick people have lost and will lose all of their Employment and Support Allowance after 365 days because they have a working partner, regardless of whether they are recovered or not. This arbitrary cut is penalising working families and proves that the government’s aim was to cut the budget and not to support sick people back to work. Without access to specialist employment advice they will be further excluded and isolated from the workplace.

We learn that in Merseyside alone the cost of the new “bedroom tax” to social tenants will be £16 million annually. What is most disturbing is that three-quarters of the households include a disabled person. Depending on the locality some people will be asked to pay council tax from their disability benefit incomes.

The government promised vulnerable people that “they had nothing to fear” and that “disability benefits are being protected” but Coalition MPs voted to cap the annual benefit rise of Employment and Support Allowance at 1%. This also includes the support group as only the disability premium is excluded from the cap. With food prices expected to rise above 5% this year sick and disabled people will struggle to buy the basic necessities. Many, including households with disabled children, are already having to cancel hospital appointments due to transport costs, take out loans to buy essentials and are choosing whether to heat their homes or buy groceries.

Local authorities are being forced to cut back massively on the care and support services they deliver to vulnerable people. The charity Scope report a funding gap of £1.2billion for adult social care. 40% of disabled people who require care are saying that their basic needs are not being met.

Disability living allowance is being replaced by the personal independence payment and the ‘goalposts’ are being moved so that by 2018, 600,000 fewer disabled people will be entitled to the benefit as would have received DLA. This is another arbitrary cut as changing the eligibility will not change the disability. Just because someone is ‘less disabled’ than another doesn’t mean that they don’t require the additional support to allow them to stay in work, maintain their dignity, be independent and have an equal chance in life as their peers. 100,000 disabled people are expecting to lose their mobility vehicles because they can move a mere 20 metres. Not even the length of the Commons floor. How is this “supporting disabled people”?

The cumulative impact of these cuts and changes, inadequate social care, along with many others such as the cuts to Children’s Disability Premiums under Universal Credit, the scrapping of Independent Living Fund for disabled adults who live alone, closure of day-care centres, degradation of mental health services, NHS services, amongst others, is too much to bear.

  • We would like to know how Labour intends to correct the injustices sick and disabled people are currently having to cope with under the policies implemented by the Coalition government?
  • What reforms to the welfare system does Labour have planned?
  • Will Labour scrap and replace the Work Capability Assessment with an objective and trustworthy medical test?
  • How do you plan to support those disabled people who have lost work through the Remploy closures?

We would like to thank you for considering our concerns and we look forward to your response. Our hope is that we can co-operate together for a better and fairer future for all sick and disabled people in the UK.

The WOW petition team

email info@wowpetition.com
website www.wowpetition.com

The Petition

We call for a Cumulative Impact Assessment of Welfare Reform, and a New Deal for sick & disabled people based on their needs, abilities and ambitions
Responsible department: Department for Work and Pensions
We call for:

A Cumulative Impact Assessment of all cuts and changes affecting sick & disabled people, their families and carers, and a free vote on repeal of the Welfare Reform Act.

An immediate end to the Work Capability Assessment, as voted for by the British Medical Association.

Consultation between the Depts of Health & Education to improve support into work for sick & disabled people, and an end to forced work under threat of sanctions for people on disability benefits.

An Independent, Committee-Based Inquiry into Welfare Reform, covering but not limited to: (1) Care home admission rises, daycare centres, access to education for people with learning difficulties, universal mental health treatments, Remploy closures; (2) DWP media links, the ATOS contract, IT implementation of Universal Credit; (3) Human rights abuses against disabled people, excess claimant deaths & the disregard of medical evidence in decision making by ATOS, DWP & the Tribunal Service.


Pat's Petition Goes to Westminster - How You Can Help

Will Labour Offer Any Protection to Disabled People?

Pat’s Petition is going to Westminster to find out.

After weeks of waiting - sorting out the logistics of travel to London - Pat's Petition finally has a date for meeting with Liam Byrne MP, Labour's Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary. Wednesday 6th February will see five of us at Westminster.

This meeting could not be happening at a more crucial moment in the long, sad history of this persecution. Because there is so much visible distress and so much suffering is now happening in real time in the public arena – before the eyes of the nation – people are beginning to see through the spin and myths – and see the truth.

There were two very serious debates in Parliament last week. In the debate called by Michael Meacher on WCA and ATOS - MP after MP queued up to recite the litany of appalling cases that they had seen in their surgeries. Thank you Michael.

In the debate in the House of Lords, motion proposed by Baroness Hollis, Lord Freud showed once again that he does not care.

The Centre of Welfare reform also released a report this week, How the cuts affect disabled people PDF.

So Pat’s Petition is going to Westminster to talk to Labour. We are hopefully going to finalise arrangements for an Opposition Day debate calling for a Cumulative Impact Assessment. Someone has to measure and record this persecution. Looking the other way and saying it is all too difficult is no longer an option.

This night of a thousand cuts cannot carry on unchallenged. Disabled people, their carers, families and friends cannot take any more. The financial stress is overwhelming and the emotional stress is more than we can bear. The public are on our side now that the myths are exploding and they can actually see what is being done in their name.

So we are going to ask Liam what Labour will do to help us.

What will Labour promise us to protect us?

How you can help

It is vital you lobby your contacts across all Parties; stress how much you/your members need a Cumulative Impact Assessment undertaken.

Send us a supporting statement a.s.a.p. no later than February 1st of why you think so. 

This will be shared across social media platforms so more people can see your concerns.

We will also print them to take with us when we meet with Liam.

We look forward to your response.



15,000 People Have Now Supported the WOW Petition

Since it was launched just five weeks ago, the WOW Petition has now exceeded...

 15,000 signatures!

Thank you so much for supporting this vitally important petition. Please sign and share widely with everyone you know.

We need to reach 100,000 signatures urgently to call for a cumulative impact assessment of all the cuts and changes affecting sick and disabled people, their families and carers.


Pat's Petition Taking WOW Signatures To Meeting With Liam Byrne

From CarerWatch:-

Before Christmas we mentioned that Liam Byrne had suggested meeting with him to talk about an Opposition Day debate to request a cumulative impact assessment. Arranging diaries hasn’t been the easiest of tasks, especially with the christmas holidays in the way. But we now have a date.

Five of us will be heading for Westminster on 6th February to meet with Liam Byrne 

We can feel the start of a change of mood as people awaken to the individual impacts of the changes. More groups are protesting, more people are using social media sites to air their fears and concerns. There has been an unanticipated emphasis on Welfare Reform as tbe Benefits Uprating Bill makes its way through Parliament.
The Bedroom Tax is beginning to worry tenants as their landlords get in touch with them.

People are more familiar with terms like ‘Personal Independence Payment’ and ‘Universal Credit’ if not with ‘Employment Support Allowance’ and its two groups. Their sponsorship of the Paralympics means that everyone has now heard of Atos. Local authorities are making public decisions and we are hearing about the difficult decisions to cut vital services.

We are seeing language change to include ‘strivers’ as well as ‘scroungers’ but we’re still not convinced that the media gets the full picture for disabled people, their carers and families. This is why we need a Cumulative Impact Assessment, and it is what we will take to our talk with Liam: issues that are important to you, the 62,703 people who signed Pat’s Petition and all the people who have since said they would have signed it if they’d understood.
Please keep contacting your MPs, details here. Send them details of how the changes are impacting on you now.
Sign the new WoW petition by Francesca Martinez. You can read more about the WoW group here
We must all keep on keeping on.

Pat has also said she will be taking WOW petition's signatures with them to the meeting along with those of Pat's Petition. Showing how the strength of feeling is increasing.

WOW commends MP's for exposing WCA, Condemns government for rejecting democratic scrutiny

In the House of Commons on Thursday the Back Bench Business Committee called for the Department of Work and Pensions to “park” Work Capability Assessments and the company that administers them, ATOS, “on one side and to move off in a different direction”. Full transcript here. Michael Meacher MP (Oldham West) who secured this debate, summed it up as following:

Mr Michael Meacher (Oldham West and Royton) (Lab):
I cannot remember attending such a compelling and powerful debate, combining passion, analysis and a very powerful demand for radical reform. It is absolutely clear that the consensus of the whole House is that the current Atos system has failed irretrievably and needs to be replaced by a wholly new and fair system.

During the course of the debate many comments were made by MP’s which highlighted the many issues constituents had faced when negotiating this process, including the following.

Natascha Engel (North East Derbyshire) (Lab):
The fault lies not with Atos, but with its employer, which, in this case, is the Department for Work and Pensions. When we look at the other employers for which Atos works, such as Royal Mail and the NHS, we see numerous cases of people who have been signed off work—not just their current work, but for any work ever again, with a recommendation that they be retired from all kinds of work—going back to Atos, but this time when it is employed by the DWP, and being assessed as entirely fit for work. They get no points and are deemed fit for work. As my right hon. Friend said, the number of people who are not just not fit for work but who die after being assessed as fit for work, is a reflection not of Atos but of the DWP. That is where the questions need to be asked.

Caroline Lucas (Brighton, Pavilion) (Green):
…the Atos assessment process is not only humiliating and demeaning for those involved—and often plain wrong—but counter-productive, in the sense that it adds to the stress they are under, making sick people even sicker?

Dr Eilidh Whiteford (Banff and Buchan) (SNP):
Finally, I want to say a quick word about the situation facing people with serious mental health problems and long-term fluctuating conditions. There is a world of difference between being potentially fit for work, given the right support, and being an attractive prospect to a potential employer. The elephant in the Chamber today is the fact that many employers will think very long and hard before taking on a member of staff with a serious long-term or fluctuating health condition.

Heather Wheeler (South Derbyshire) (Con):
One of my early letters to a previous Minister asked about the point when we say that the system is not working; frankly, I have not had an adequate reply. When someone drops down dead within three months of being assessed as being perfectly capable of going back to work, what is the review process for Atos?

Guto Bebb (Aberconwy) (Con):
I do not think it is necessarily wrong, harsh or unreasonable to say that people who could work should be supported into work, but we need to do that in a way which recognises the dignity of individuals going through the system. Despite my support for the welfare changes that this Government are making, the examples that I have seen in my own constituency surgery leave a lot to be desired. We should not throw out the baby with the bathwater, but we need to make sure that the recommendations that have been made time after time are implemented as soon as possible. We owe that to the constituents we represent.

John McDonnell (Hayes and Harlington) (Lab):
Someone said that what we are debating is a party political issue. Let me be clear: I opposed the system when it was introduced by the last Government and I oppose it now—for the same reason. I see it as a brutal attack on the weakest and most vulnerable individuals in our society and an exercise by private companies to profiteer at those individuals’ expense.

Stephen Gilbert (St Austell and Newquay) (LD):
None of us can underestimate or undervalue the human effect that some of these assessments are having. I would like to read into the record an e-mail I received from a constituent. It is probably similar to e-mails that all hon. Members have received. It reads:
“They never asked about the amount of pain I have to contend with or how tired I get from coping with it. After the interview I was told I was to be disallowed ESA benefit. I could probably go down the route of appeal but I really don’t feel like fighting for a benefit that I have already been made to feel that I do not deserve, neither do I have the energy”
to appeal. If we in this House cannot give voice to these people, who are some of the most vulnerable in our society, I really do not know what we are for.

In Summing the debate up Michael Meacher concluded:

Mr Michael Meacher (Oldham West and Royton) (Lab):
This issue is a test of the Government’s accountability to the House. In my opinion, the incontrovertible message conveyed by today’s debate is that until the Government and the DWP listen to, and act on, the unanimous view that has been expressed today—I have never seen such unanimity across the Benches—and introduce a wholly different system, the House will not let the matter go.

The WOWpetition(wowpetition.com) supports these statements and calls for:

'An immediate end to the Work Capability Assessment, as voted for by the British Medical Association'

Our position can be summarised by the following:

The government doesn’t have to beat us up to get us to work. We all want full lives, but it is critical to our health to respect our limitations.

The government not only fails to respect limitations confirmed by the NHS it forces us onto a job market where millions already cannot find work.

The DWP & ATOS together with for-profit ‘training’ companies force us into work without any medical exam to determine what we can realistically do without worsening our condition or what reasonable accommodations we need in order to be able to do it, endangering our health without realistic prospect of improving our job chances.

The current ATOS administered Work Capability Assessment system was developed in consultation with private health corporations at the same time some were being fined for fraud in disallowing medical treatment in the US. The government is demonising sick and disabled people, imposing unreasonable expectations on them, starving them by denial of benefits and driving them to suicide by removing all hope, self-respect and self-esteem.

We do not believe the current system is fair and cannot believe it is beyond the imagination and ability of the UK Government to replace it with a system that is both fair and fit for purpose.


Emotional MPs Discuss Anxiety and Hardship Caused by Work Capability Assessments

Atos told incontinent woman to ‘wear nappy’

Thousands of sick or disabled people have died after undergoing assessments to find out whether they were fit to work, the House of Commons was told today.

Atos, the firm contracted to conduct work capability assessment (WCA) tests for the Government, was condemned by MPs for “ruthlessly” pressurising sick and disabled people into returning to their jobs.

The debate was told of cases of people who had committed suicide after being stripped of their benefits under the process and of an incontinence sufferer who was told she could return to work wearing a nappy.

Former Labour minister Michael Meacher opened the debate saying that 1,300 people had died after being placed in the “work-related activity group”, for those currently too ill to be employed but expected to start preparing for an eventual return to work...

...Kevan Jones, a former Labour minister, said suicides of claimants who were found fit to work by Atos had been reported. “There are...a number of well-publicised cases where people have taken their own lives because of this system,” he said. “It is not too strong to say that this Coalition Government has blood on their hands for the deaths of those individuals.”


The WOW Petition Passes 14,000 Signatures!

Progress update - WOW petition reaches 14,000 signatures.

The total number of people who have now supported is 14,214!

Since the petition was submitted to the e-petition website by Francesca Martinez, sick and disabled people have been hit by further cuts. Coalition MPs voted to cap ESA so that it no longer rises with inflation. This means that some of the most vulnerable people will not be able to keep pace with rises in food and fuel costs.

The bad news continues. Today we have learned that the government is trying to 'sneak' a change to the way people's conditions are assessed, based on nothing more than a hypothetical series of assumptions which will mean even more genuinely sick and disabled people will be found fit to work and lose the benefits they rely upon to survive.

* Withdrawal of benefit if an assessor believes that medication would reduce the risks posed by a claimant's condition, seemingly without regard for whether it would be appropriate in a work context.

* Withdrawal of benefit if an assessor believes that a reasonable adjustment could be made in a workplace to reduce the risks posed by a claimant's condition, without explicit assessment of whether that adjustment is likely to be available.

* The imaginary wheelchair test, where assessors considers the effect on a claimant’s mobility were they to use a wheelchair and bases their decisions on these assumptions, is to be extended to other aids and adaptions such as guide dogs, walking sticks and even prosthetic limbs, without discussing the prospect of such aids with the claimant.

* Dealing with the claimant's physical and mental health conditions separately, rather than looking at the combined effects that physical and mental health has on a person’s ability to work. This would include ignoring the mental and cognitive side effects of treatments for physical conditions, and the physical side effects of treatments for mental health conditions.


Please sign and share the WOW petition!



WOW Campaign wholeheartedly supports this call to arms!

By Sue Marsh @suey2y

On January 28th 2013 the UK government is due to make a set of changes to the Work Capability Assessment (WCA). The WCA is the flawed ‘fitness to work’ test which assesses whether sick and disabled people can get Employment and Support Allowance (ESA): a benefit designed to help and support very unwell or profoundly disabled people into work.

Although these changes have been advertised as small ‘amendments’, they will in fact have a huge impact on the way people’s illnesses and disabilities are assessed. Many vulnerable people’s needs will suddenly be able to be overlooked or ignored, meaning they could end up losing the support they desperately need to manage their conditions.

Hundreds of thousands of sick and disabled people across Britain need your help to fight these changes!


In the fitness to work test, your needs are assessed by a ‘healthcare professional’ employed by the French private company ATOS. This assessor doesn’t just need to look at your current difficulties. For example, they can also imagine how using an aid (e.g. a wheelchair) might improve your ability to work and make a judgement based on that – without even asking your opinion!

However, soon this “imaginary test” will be able to be used for many more aids (including guide dogs and false limbs!). This means that soon thousands more people could be judged as fit to work, without being asked about why the assessor’s “imaginary aid” might not be appropriate for them.

It gets worse. Even if returning to work may clearly put you at risk, these changes will mean you can still lose your disability benefit – as long as the assessor believes that trying a new therapy or treatment might reduce that risk. In other words: yet another guessing game, with your health at stake!

>>> Imagine Bert, who suffers from severe schizophrenia, but is found fit to work because a behavioural therapy may help improve his condition. Yet, in making that decision, the assessor would not have to look at several vital questions: how hard it would be for Bert to get that therapy? How long would an NHS appointment take to organize? Are there private options in his area – and could he afford them if so? What if the therapy doesn’t work, or takes a long time to adjust to? <<<

If the government’s rule changes go through, people like Bert who are desperate to work will find it nearly impossible to get an accurate assessment, affecting the quality of their support and even preventing their efforts to get back into work.


The government is also trying to change the way people’s conditions are assessed by dividing health problems into two separate boxes: ‘physical’ and ‘mental’. When looking at what tasks people can do, only the ‘physical half’ of the test will apply to those with physical disabilities. The same goes for the effects of treatment: for e.g., if you’re taking mental health medication, only mental health side-effects will be looked at.

This completely fails to understand the way that many disabilities and illnesses can lead to both physical and mental effects. This is also the case for many common treatments: such as those for schizophrenia, Parkinson’s disease and multiple sclerosis.

>>> Think of Emily, who suffers severe, chronic pain because of nerve damage to her leg. Emily is among the 49% of chronic pain sufferers who also suffer depression as a result of continuous pain. An assessor may see Emily as able to do some work as long as she takes strong painkillers for the rest of her life, meaning she could pass the ‘fitness’ test. Yet the painkillers may not deal with the depression caused by her condition. Painkillers have also often been shown to affect people’s wakefulness and decision-making. So taking the medication may affect Emily’s ability to do a job in a completely new way – yet these new problems would not need to be looked at by the assessor when making their decision! <<<

Pretending the effects of illnesses and disabilities can be separated in this way goes against all medical practice. Going even further, and using this method to ignore sick and disabled people’s needs, is at best hopeless policy, and at worst deliberate crueltyWe cannot let the government treat some of the most vulnerable people in British society in this way.


The main way you can help is by spreading the message about these changes to ESA. The government have tried to sneak them under the radar – the last thing they will want is people talking about them!
Here are some great ways you can raise awareness:

1) Email your MP (you can search by name or constituency at http://www.parliament.uk/mps-lords-and-offices/mps/);

2) Share this blog post on twitter (using the hashtag #esaSOS), Facebook and other social media; CLICK ON THE BUTTONS BELOW THIS POST TO SHARE ON TWITTER AND FACEBOOK

3) Email your friends and family a link to this post – or simply talk to them about it!
Again, the main way we can get the government to reconsider is by getting people to talk about the injustice of these changes. So please spread the word as far and wide as you can!

Thank you so much for reading this far. Now let’s make sure these unwanted, damaging benefit changes never see the light of day!

If you want to do more, please sign WOW petition and call on the government to think again. 
Sign here http://wowpetition.com and ask all of your friends to sign too


Wayne Blackburn: Why I Support The WOWpetition

By Wayne Blackburn @crazybladeuk