How and Why The WOW Petition Started

We are an ever increasing group of ordinary people who are sick, disabled, carers, and the parents of disabled children, who all feel driven to act against the extraordinary pressure placed upon us by the UK coalition government's ideologically driven Welfare Reform Act.

The petition was the result of a democratic process. It did not come from one person, rather it evolved from the desperation of many. Together we asked anyone who was concerned about the impact of welfare reform to share ideas and suggestions. Some of them created draft petitions and together we worked on and amended them until they satisfied the needs and wants of the majority as best we could within the limitations of the e-petitions website. There was a vote and a winner was chosen. Actress and comedian Francesca Martinez supported our campaign and submitted the petition on behalf of all UK sick and disabled people.

Another petition, called Pat's Petition after Pat Onions who is blind, and a carer, attempted to reach the 100,000 signatures required to potentially trigger a debate in the House of Commons. It was hugely successful and achieved just under 63,000 signatures with no funding or publicity. The deadline was drawing near and on social media an increasing sense of excitement. The target was in reach, but there was also a fear, that the pressing concerns of sick and disabled people would be fobbed off or flippantly dismissed. If Pat's Petition didn't succeed we had to do something to help ourselves and within our limited means. It mattered that ordinary members of the public cared and took notice. In fact the success of Pat's Petition has lead to an upcoming Opposition Day Debate and MPs will have to discuss the impact some the cuts to benefits and services are having on disabled people's daily lives.

We feel threatened by further welfare cuts since Pat's Petition ended. We dread the latest hate mongering headlines towards welfare claimants in the tabloid press, which invariably means the government is attempting to convince the public that it can target welfare claimants yet again for further cuts, conditions and sanctions to their essential social security. We again call for a Cumulative Impact Assessment of all of the changes and cuts to benefits and services before it is too late.

We are sharing our stories with other sick and disabled people who are finding their quality of life is being severely degraded. Sick and disabled people do want to work but the truth of the matter is, there is a woeful lack of real opportunity to fulfil our potential. People with illness and mental health problems are stigmatised and discriminated against by employers. When they do seek work that they feel they can cope with they discover the reality is that no one wants to employ them. Even during periods of economic growth employment opportunties are in short supply. To force these people into an overcrowded job market with the intention of 'helping them' is an ideological idea doomed to failure. The work programme is not a viable solution for sick and disabled people. It begs the question, if the government are prepared to pay private companies to find placements for disabled people, why are they shutting the Remploy factories down where disabled people had permanent jobs? Only recently, a law was introduced which allows jobcentre staff with no medical training to force sick people to sign up for the work programme under the threat of losing their benefits. These people have already undergone the harsh work capability assessment. Even Atos has determined that they are not fit to work. Can the government be so certain that their health will not deteriorate even further as a result of being made to work? Is this fair treatment for a sickness benefit? We are afraid that ESA is becoming too much like jobseekers allowance. We are sick, battling pain, exhaustion, chronic illness and mental distress on a daily basis. We feel we are now being vilified and punished too. We are not too lazy to work.

The majority of cuts have not yet been implemented. Sick and disabled people who cannot work to increase their incomes will not longer see their ESA rise with inflation when food and fuel costs will rise disproportionately higher than their benefits. The average wage according to the Daily Mail is £441 per week. That is quadruple the amount that sick and disabled people receive in benefit income. We are not "scroungers". No one would choose a life of poverty and illness if the choice was theirs to make.

Some people are now saying they have letters from their local councils. That they are having to pay council tax from their benefit income and they may also be hit by the charge for having an additional room. They cannot afford this extra payment but there is nowhere suitable for them to move to, and that to do so would move them away from family and carers and support networks.

The fitness to work test is not fit for purpose. The British Medical Association which represents GPs voted unanimously for it's immediate end because it is so detrimental to the health and well being of their patients. Those people who have worked and paid National Insurance contributions are having all of their benefits stopped after just 365 days because they have small savings or a partner who may only work part time. Many who have been through the flawed assessment process have long-term or debilitating conditions that will deteriorate and cannot be cured. They are being left high and dry without a penny in financial support and with no support to help them back to work. It's clear that the government has no intention of supporting those people towards re-employment. The result is that they are yet further isolated and removed from the work place. People are saying they feel like a burden on their families, that it's unfair when they've worked and paid their insurance contributions to support them in times of hardship, in some cases, for many decades.

People with mental health conditions find it especially difficult to endure the fitness to work test and many are being refused the benefit. We understand that three quarters of them will not have access to any form of treatment, and it's unsuccessful in three quarters of cases. To have to endure this harsh assessment year after year after year, only to be repeatedly found fit to work and go through the back logged appeals process cycle, is too stressful for some. People have committed suicide. There is a sense of fear from everyone. In April legal aid will be stopped. Even now it's exceedingly difficult to find a specialist welfare adviser. We know that professional advice helps people overturn wrongful decisions. This all coincides with the implementation of the new benefit Universal Credit and the change over from Disability Living Allowance to the new Personal Independence Payments. 500,000 are expected to lose their disability benefit, and with it their independence and dignity. People are saying that they will lose their mobility cars if they can move just 20 metres. Without their specially adapted cars they won't be able to leave their homes, attend hospital appointments and contribute to society at all. 

Too many cuts and changes are happening at once. Those mentioned are but a few of the better known benefit cuts. It is quite overwhelming and everybody is terrified. People on twitter are actually reporting deaths and suicides. It's heartbreaking. Some, that close members of their families are having to go into care homes because their care is said to be too expensive. These are people with wives and husbands, and children. 

Who will listen? Who will help us?

If we can reach a hundred thousand signatures it would signify powerful public dissent which the media should pay attention to and ask the government why they won't. We will continue to correspond with backbench committee MPs and media and hope to make it general knowledge that government policy was forced through and not based on evidence, not supported by sick and disabled people and is causing immense suffering. This is a moral and human rights issue at heart.

Anyone can become sick or disabled without a moment's notice, and they do. Turn away and one day, you may find that these cuts are falling not only on us, but on you and your family.
I've never felt so worried about my future or so completely insecure as I currently do. That's why I supported the petition. Will you?

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