New campaign ruffles feathers as it takes aim at ESA ‘dead parrot’


A new user-led campaign has issued a controversial call to replace out-of-work disability benefits with a new system that recognises that many sick and disabled people cannot find work because of their “reduced productivity”.

The Dead Parrot campaign is the latest to call for the government to scrap employment and support allowance (ESA) and its eligibility test, the work capability assessment.

But its emphasis on “reduced productivity” and the argument that a replacement for ESA must recognise the “ruthless” nature of the labour market has led some disabled activists to brand the campaign as “dangerous”.

Pat’s Petition and CarerWatch, the two user-led groups that have launched the campaign, say the labour market allows only people who “can do the most work for the least money” to find employment.

They argue that this means that many sick and disabled people will never find work, because of their “reduced productivity”, even if employers make reasonable adjustments for them.

Because the government has made it so tough for people to claim unconditional support – through the ESA support group – many have been left in no-man’s land, not qualifying for the support group but with no chance of finding paid work.

Pat’s Petition and CarerWatch say the government could address this by easing the ESA support group eligibility criteria, amending equality laws and intervening in the jobs market.

They say: “Until this changes, people whose productivity is reduced won’t be able to gain employment and so need a safe secure income without threats and conditionality.”

So they argue that the replacement for ESA should be paid – without any conditionality – to anyone who cannot find work because of reduced productivity.

The idea has won support from some prominent disabled campaigners, including Professor Peter Beresford, Spartacus researcher Stef Benstead, union activist Sean McGovern, and Rick Burgess, formerly with the New Approach campaign and the WOW petition.

Pat’s Petition (PP) and CarerWatch are now encouraging other campaigners to discuss the idea on the PP Facebook page and website.

But their campaign has already divided disabled campaigners, particularly because of its focus on “reduced productivity”.

A statement from the national steering group of Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC) said this focus – with the phrase mentioned three times on the website – was “dangerous” because it implied that all disabled people have “reduced productivity”.

DPAC said the new campaign failed to focus on disabled people’s support needs, or attempt to challenge issues such as government cuts to Access to Work.

DPAC said: “We feel this has not been thought through properly in terms of negative implications.”

And it warned that the new campaign was “totally naïve” in suggesting that the government would consider signing up to its demands.

It also warned that the campaign could provide ammunition for work and pensions secretary Iain Duncan Smith, who has suggested that people in the ESA work-related activity group could work a few hours a week, and welfare reform minister Lord Freud, who has spoken approvingly of paying some disabled people a lower hourly rate because they are “less productive”.

DPAC also pointed to the controversy in 2011 when the right-wing Tory MP Philip Davies argued in a Commons debate on the minimum wage that employers should be allowed to pay people with mental health conditions less than the minimum wage because they were not “as productive in their work as someone who does not have a disability of that nature”.

The DPAC statement adds: “The DPAC national steering group feel there are too many problems and negative implications with [the campaign]to give our support to it.”

Frances Kelly, a founder member of PP and CarerWatch, accepted that their campaign risked entrenching employer discrimination, but said it was vital to find a new approach that “closely models reality in the job market and helps and protects everyone”.

She said they had been left with no option to their new model by the government’s insistence that “the only way out of poverty is work”, even though the job market was “ruthlessly competitive”.

Kelly said the system assumed a “cliff face” from the support group to everyone else, which made life intolerable for those who cannot compete on a level playing-field.

Pat Onions (pictured), founder of Pat’s Petition, said: “We hope that this campaign will put pressure on Iain Duncan Smith to ensure a safety net that supports all sick and disabled people into work at their own pace, without the sanctions that have been such a major part of the current system.”

She added: “We are aware that we are liable to being accused of siding with [ministers]and of suggesting that sick and disabled people are less productive and therefore of less value.”

But she added: “We want to acknowledge that some of us are indeed less productive: why are people so scared to say the obvious? But that does not make any of us less valuable for that.”

  • User Ratings (8 Votes)
  • Mark Wilson

    This will be hard for these campaigners to hear but even by any balanced, reasonable, considered, assessment this is simply not thought through. There is so much that is wrong here it’s hard to know where to start but, crucially, there remains an important concept to grasp, as set out by the campaign or Pats Petition I’m not sure which name to use….this is the discussion that a reasonable society can and should have about disabled people, employment, and so called “reduced productivity.”

    Please, please, think carefully before you help this despicable administration continue to paint all disabled people as useless unproductive scroungers. I understand your position, accept there is a debate and discussion to be had, but it is not about totally re writing the history here, which actually relates to three decades of huge efforts to promote the FACTS which tell us that the vast majority of disabled jobseekers will not have reduced productivity. Some may need a reasonable adjustment. Most will have superb attendance records. Most will add to a hopefully diverse and productive work force, pay tax as they should and some will become leaders in industry and the public sector. If ydisabled people are in any way described in a campaign as “less productive” not only are you insulting huge numbers of hard working and VERY productive people with an impairment, you are destroying years of work to persuade employers of the facts, that disabled people in their work force are a massive PLUS, not a negative, which inevitably is how this campaign will be used by a govt that has taken just seven years to wipe out many decades of progress for disabled people across the country.

    Please do not see these comments as reflecting a view that is ignorant of the impact of the very competitive labour market as you describe. Nor should you see this response as ignoring the very real need for a careful, studied, discussion about whether the disability lobby made a huge mistake when many supported the destruction of Remploy factories and other parts of sheltered industry. Me ? I’m a big fan of the work of the Disability Confidence development, which has its fierce critics without question, but the emphasis is on ability not disability, great attendance records, and that sense of a diverse workforce that adds massive value. There is no chance whatsoever that a campaign shouting about “unproductive” disabled people will do anything other than feed our new societies already destructive and hateful view of disabled people as useless and costly. You are not saying that here, I know, but it will not matter and the sound bytes will be horrendous.

    I feel there was always room for a recognition of the reality you rightly discuss. This is that no matter what reasonable adjustment might be put in place, some, but a minority, of disabled people should have the support they need beyond the much maligned and now under attack Access to Work scheme….which is a brilliant programme if honestly financed and supported. Did the lobby get it right with the destruction of sheltered industry ? I understand why “we” saw issues and much preferred the solution of, again, a much maligned DRUK etc which essentially wanted employers to be confident that they could consider and employ disabled jobseekers without fear of an “unknown” whatever that may be.

    But our much needed rush to integration for the vast majority may not quite have ever secured a future for those who deserve a dignified and decent consideration when the desire is to work, and work hard, but have accepted that there may be a “productivity” (not quality) deficit. Such a thought is meat and drink to a society with values and one not convinced that all its citizens are fit, athletic heroes who never fall ill, never acquire an impairment, never need a hospital visit but just earn a shedload of money which they do not wish to be diluted for anyone or any reason by a single “caring” thought. Sadly our new world is more close to the this “I’m all right so cast out the rest” ideology more in tune with Donald Trump and the hatred of anything that seems weaker than you.

    There is a reality here which cannot be ignored, but the thought that a campaign like this could, will, present those who care nought for disabled people with a massive PR present…..well it dismays me and tho there is clearly genuine intent here, the result will be devastating unless countered by voices which shout loudly about the vast majority of experience, which is of amazing productivity and quality from millions of people with impairments of all types, hidden and visible. Please rethink the approach.