‘Devastating’, ‘unethical’, ‘cruel’… disabled people react to green paper

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Disabled people and other campaigners have reacted with shock, anger and concern to government proposals to consider forcing all sick and disabled people on out-of-work disability benefits to take part in “mandatory” activity.

Disability News Service (DNS) revealed last week that the new work, health and disability green paper suggests that all claimants of employment and support allowance (ESA) with the highest support needs could be told to stay in regular touch with their local jobcentre, or risk having their benefits sanctioned.

The green paper, Improving Lives, says ministers “could consider implementing a ‘keep-in-touch’ discussion with work coaches” for all people in the ESA support group, which “could provide an opportunity for work coaches to offer appropriate support tailored to the individual’s current circumstances” and “could be explored as a voluntary or mandatory requirement”.

Paragraph 114 of the green paper goes on to say that such contact could use “digital and telephone channels in addition to face-to-face contact, depending on which was more appropriate for the individual and their circumstances”.

Penny Mordaunt (pictured), minister for disabled people, appeared to confirm the proposal in the Commons this week, after she was asked about the future provision of employment advice for people in the support group.

She told MPs the government was “consulting to establish if a ‘keep in touch’ discussion would be of benefit for this group, and if so, how and by whom should it be delivered, to ensure it meets the needs of individuals in this group”.

Many disabled people reacted with horror to the story on the DNS website.

Guy Stewart said: “Sanctions! Making us believe that our inability to gain work is our fault, when it absolutely is not, is cruel, but neatly fits into a government that constantly initiates dogma driven policy, rather then evidence driven policy.”

“Sparkz_” said: “Will people have to phone from their hospital bed to keep in touch?”

In response to Sparkz_, Jeffrey Davies said: “Been there done that, Atos at its best, in the high [dependency]unit. Ouch.”

Rowan Farmer said: “I’m now wishing my life away, I’m 61 and thanks to the government I have another five years of stress and worry about assessments, appeals, benefits sanctions, poverty and homelessness, so much so that I’m actually looking forward to reaching 66 just to get rid of the added stress on top of several chronic, deteriorating and very painful illnesses!”

Brian Mcardle added: “Now you know why [Theresa] May wants rid of the Human Rights Act.”

Among those to comment on the story on Facebook was Erika Garratt, who encouraged other disabled people to take part in the consultation*.

She said: “Filled in the form to tell them how ridiculous this idea is. We should all do this. 

“I am in the support group and this scares me so much.”

Keith Evans, who is also in the ESA support group, said: “I’d rather jack ESA in than be forced to work that surely would kill me.”

Beth Von Black replied to Evans: “That’s what they want. They want to scare us so much that we stop claiming what we’re entitled to!”

She added later: “I’ve answered a few questions in the consultation and sent it off; angry that us long term disabled are being hounded into employment regardless of the fact that we cannot work!”

There was also strong opposition to the proposal on Twitter.

Professor Susan L Parish, professor of disability policy at Brandeis University in Massachusetts, in the United States, said: “This failed miserably in the #USA, so they’ll try it in the #UK.”

Tracey Herrington said: “What a surprise – another unethical u turn. Who are they actually kidding when talking about personalised support… This is a direct attack.”

Rick Meister tweeted: “Are the Tories about 2 sink 2 yet another low re chronically ill/disabled? Any such scheme must be voluntary… help, not threats!”

Warren Belcher said: “This is so devastating, I can’t begin to think of the consequences and I’m dreading the impact this will have for so many people I care about.”

And Hannah Smith tweeted: “How is this even ethical? Surely defeats the whole point [of]ESA in the first place.”

Disability Rights UK (DR UK) said the green paper would “pave the way for success only if it leads to a complete overhaul” of the work capability assessment, one which produces “a system that encourages and supports people to try work where they feel they can, rather than threatening people with sanctions if they do not comply with (sometimes meaningless) activities”.

It said the government would only be able to halve the disability employment gap if employers changed their behaviour, but it pointed to the green paper’s failure to announce any new incentives or requirements on employers, such as requiring the public sector to award contracts to companies with a good track record in employing disabled people, or providing a “comprehensive” helpline for small employers.

It called for “more enforcement of the Equality Act in relation to those employers who simply continue to discriminate”, and said that the government’s strategy “will only work if employers are nudged and required to employ disabled people in greater numbers”.

It welcome proposals such as expanding employment-related peer support, more tailored job support and work experience for young disabled people.

But DR UK warned that research by the Employment Related Service Association (ERSA) suggested a cut in funding – in the move from the current Work Programme and Work Choice to the new Work and Health Programme – from £750 million in 2013-14 to less than £130 million in 2017-18.

The ERSA research suggests this will lead to a drop in the number of disabled people accessing such support from 300,000 from 2012-15 to 160,000 from 2017-20.

Although DR UK said it was “absolutely opposed” to plans to cut payments to new claimants in the ESA work-related activity group from next April, it said that investing all of the savings from this policy into employment support “could help strengthen the support offer to disabled people”.

Philip Connolly, DR UK’s policy and development manager, said: “We have waited almost three years for this green paper and disabled people deserve a plan as ambitious as the government’s manifesto commitment [on halving the disability employment gap]; the green paper isn’t that plan.

“The government’s response to its consultation on the green paper is the chance to really deliver on a plan.”

Jonathan Bartley, co-leader of the Green party, and the father of a disabled son, was highly critical of the green paper.

He said: “It is extremely concerning that the DWP is considering forcing ‘mandatory activity’ on all sick and disabled people.

“It is barbaric to expect someone with a terminal illness, or who has no chance of getting better, to maintain contact with a ‘work coach’.

“The Green party believes society should care for those who are most in need, not place damaging and unnecessary demands on them.

“We call on the Labour party and the Lib Dems to join us in opposing these proposals.”

A DWP spokesman repeatedly refused to clarify the meaning of paragraph 114, but said: “People in the support group have limited capability for work-related activity, but this does not mean that they should be left without any support at all.

“And we want to hear views from as broad a range of disabled people, disability charities, and anyone else with something to contribute, on what more can be done to support this group.”

*A consultation on the green paper will run until 17 February 2017, and among the ways to comment are via an online survey and by emailing workandhealth@dwp.gsi.gov.uk

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  • As I have been suggesting – the return of the workhouse! Get these arses out of parliament before they team up with the Trump!

  • Kathleen Kennedy

    There are very few people on ESA that could not do something other than sitting at home doing nothing, nobody now will be on this benefit for longer than three years so what happens then, this person has to return to work after a three year break that is difficult.

    • Leda

      You don’t seem to grasp what’s being proposed here. The people you’re talking about are those in the work-related activity group, i.e. those who are fully expected to recover and return to work. This new proposal is to harass the people in the support group, namely anyone who has an incurable, degenerative and/or terminal illness. They are people who ****EVEN THE DWP THEMSELVES**** admit are never, ever going to be physically fit for work again. What is to be gained by making them visit the job centre or attend interviews with “work coaches”? Who benefits from this?

      • Msw3681 sw

        But most of them in the WRAG will not recover, as they should be in the support group. Very few will recover like those with cancer, MS……

        • Bob

          It seems like another pointless exercise to cause more pain and anger!! why don’t this incompetent Government just stop with making stupid and dangerous decisions on the sick and disabled?.

          • Msw3681 sw

            The fact is, they are not incompetent since they know what they are doing. The fact is, they do not give a damn! If you are not rich, not paying for their rich friends, and you are on any sort of benefits, you are a nothing and a nobody.

        • Jane Harding

          They want to kill as many of us off as possible.

          • Msw3681 sw

            I know. The UN have ruled the tories are cruel, but have done nothing about it.

      • Bob

        I totally agree, it looks like the Tories really enjoy kicking the disabled down even more, i think every disabled person have had just about enough with the Tories conscious cruelty being done to them!!!.

    • RGN007

      It’s the few who are being dragged into something they cannot cope with. Also, IF the current system was fair and reliable it could make sense, but my son is never going to be cured from Asperger Syndrome and he’s in the work group but no employer offers part time work he would be safe and supported in. Only 15% of people in my son’s position find work. Doing one job inappropriately caused him great harm and made him so anxious it set him back. I also have a daughter with ME and the nature of that illness is its unpredictability and this is already not acknowledged in the assessment. It’s horrendous. Had I not been around to financially support them I dread to think my own kids would be vulnerable and sick out in some shop doorway. Believe me, this system is not working and is dragging in far more genuine disabled than we ever had scroungers.

    • Msw3681 sw

      Rubbish, those in the support group and many wrongly placed in the WRAG group, at not fit for work, period.

    • jake green

      Kathleen Kennedy doesn’t she work for the DWP?

      • Mason Dixon, Autistic

        Click on it. It’s an astro-turf account. This ‘person’ has absolutely no interest in anything besides benefit claimants, but not enough interest to show any knowledge beyond tabloid memes.

    • mindovermatter

      I’ve worked for the DWP too, most of those I met were struggling very badly indeed. Only a few were “scammers” – most were looking for work and trying hard to make ends meet. Of course I couldn’t continue in the job as I’m a customer service rep – I work in the best interests of whoever I serve. You hate the poor, going by your posts, so working in a prison might suit you best. The unemployed, esp the terminally sick and forever disabled, haven’t committed a crime by being poor, they are human beings worthy of respect. What of those with terminal illness? no oncologist can say the cancer won’t return, many disabled claimants have missing limbs that will not grow back, sanctions kill – many have died as a consequence of barbaric DWP policy, it is murder.

  • Keith Francis Farrell

    Remember if you can fill in the consultation the DWP will consider you fit for work.
    This is to Harris disabled people to death. If we die they save the pension. If we live they will keeppunishing us until we die

  • Rose

    This is totally wrong for long term disabled users.

    I’m my opinion most of the esa/pip/dla is made up of people who are overweight and do not want to do anything about it. (This does not invlude medical conditions). A few people I know claiming everything just because they weigh 30+stone just to get free car and can’t be bothered to work due to they can’t walk that far.

    I think in this case there should be a separate program for them to get support to help with exercise, eating habits and get them interacting for them to claim the money. Set goals then get extra money as an reward. This would solve nhs and dwp problems. If they don’t want to do this they lose there money.

    • jake green

      That’ll be Rose West^

    • Tony Turtle

      Ah, a callous Tory supporter! Cause and effect applies here, problems walking leads to lack of exercise which can lead to weight problems.

      At my last WCA, I walked into the waiting room to find the largest person waiting was me, at 22 stones at 6′! The receptionist was about 5’6″ and the same weight!

      Try going to a job interview to be told “We can’t employ you as the job is on the third floor and you would be a hazard during a fire!”. All because of arthritis in my legs, can you remind me when I chose to have this agony in my body?

      Rose, remember you are only a millisecond away from becoming disabled, it can be a slip in the home or a car in the street.

    • mindovermatter

      It’s “their” money! Yes there are some very overweight folks who need to lose weight but to harass them to death is surely unethical? You state your opinion here but what facts/research/experience can you cite to back up your claims? Having worked for the DWP I fear you are one of the Kapos who goes along with the eungenics programme. Do you ever consider the “perks” (for example mortgage flipping) ON THE TAXPAYER – afforded to MPs like Damien Green?, how many homes with how many bedrooms does he have? I consider MPs at the H of C should set an example by not claiming tax payer funded benefits on top of very good public sector salaries. So let’s look at the sense of entitlement at the top first, the trickle down effect of opportunism starts there.