Stevens comes out fighting in battle with anti-cuts activists


A disabled activist and consultant has attempted to explain the aggressive tactics he has used to attack the anti-cuts campaigners he blames for hijacking the disability agenda.

Simon Stevens has talked in depth to Disability News Service about his frustration at what he sees as a left-wing takeover of the disability rights movement.

He makes no apologies for his often controversial stance on many issues, because he says his views are “pure inclusionist”.

He believes that cuts to social care have been exaggerated… that there is “reason to be optimistic” about the imminent closure of the Independent Living Fund… and that the widespread protests over the much-criticised work capability assessment (WCA) and the broader cuts agenda are wrong-headed and damaging to disabled people.

Stevens knows that views like these – promoted heavily and often angrily on social media and through articles on the Huffington Post website – have made him many enemies among what he sees as “welfare-focused disabled activists”.

But he argues that the focus on welfare reform, government cuts to benefits, and the WCA has over-shadowed the fight for true inclusion.

“I am a purist,” he says. “There are no ifs and buts with inclusion. That comes from the countless times in my life where I was destined to sit on a bean bag all day. My first school, at the age of three, back in the 1970s, was in a mental hospital.”

Not only does he have no patience with the anti-cuts movement, he believes they – and many of the reports of their protests by Disability News Service (DNS) – have fundamentally damaged efforts to boost inclusion.

Campaign slogans such as “Atos kills”, which targeted the company carrying out the WCA on behalf of the government – which has now withdrawn from the contract, to be replaced by the US company Maximus – “suggest that disabled people cannot and should not work”, and replicate deeply-held institutional prejudices.

But more than that, he believes that, rather than supporting disabled people in their fight against oppression, these campaigns and reports actually fuel people’s mental distress.

He does not accept the suggestion that the distress caused by Atos and its application of the WCA, and the harsh, tick-box nature of the assessment, came first, while the protests and anger came later.

The grassroots organisation Black Triangle, for example, was founded by friends of the Scottish poet Paul Reekie after his suicide in 2010.

His decision to kill himself was believed to have been driven partly by the decision to stop his incapacity benefit and housing benefit. Instead of a suicide note, two letters informing him of these decisions were laid out on a table.

But even if this is so, Stevens says, “it does not give the protest group the right to angrily campaign for the exclusion of disabled people”.

Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC) was formed in response to the swingeing cuts announced by the coalition, at a march in Birmingham in October 2010.

The announcement of the cuts came first – although Stevens insists they have yet to be felt by many disabled people – and then came the march, then the formation of DPAC, and then its campaigns.

Stevens insists that these campaigns and others like them, such as the WOWcampaign, are arguing that many disabled people are incapable of work, when he believes that all disabled people are capable of making a meaningful contribution to society.

He is partly driven, he says, by the number of disabled people with high support needs who he has seen written off by professionals.

“If you think you can work, you will work, and for everyone you can show me in a specific situation who feels unable to work, I can show you someone able to work.

“If people are politically educated to think they have a right not to work, or even be assessed, when their actions show otherwise, and this is endorsed by the ‘PC police’, what hope do we have of true inclusion?”

Several days after Stevens’ face-to-face interview with DNS, and a subsequent lengthy email exchange, the website Benefits and Work published the results of a survey, which asked if there was a link between benefit sanctions and the deaths of claimants.

The site also published about 100 detailed comments from survey respondents, which included extensive anecdotal evidence of the damage caused by the current benefits system.

One respondent said: “I have been hospitalised due to the strain I was under when dealing with DWP I was without benefit for three months, when DWP lost my personal information twice.

“I was blatantly lied to on the phone on four occasions I now live in fear of the DWP, and am almost sick when a letter from them comes through the door.”

Another said: “My granddaughter was sanctioned for not attending the jobcentre after having a stroke the week before, she could not talk or move, the DWP were informed but still sanctioned her for not turning up.”

A third respondent said: “I believe this government is trying to kill me and take my home. I’m a disabled insulin dependent diabetic and forced to go without meals in order to pay bedroom tax and council tax.

“This time last year I was in credit with my landlord by over £600 but from 1/1/2015 I’m now in arrears. This government is inhuman!”

Despite scores of similar comments, Stevens insists that often it is not the government’s benefit rules that are wrong or unfair, but how they are implemented, communicated or interpreted by “people who have incompatible expectations, or are in an emotional, fragile or hostile state of mind”.

He said he was concerned that the media and activists take evidence like this “at face value” and “twist and shorten it” until it becomes “a shortened myth and then a fact that is unchallengeable”.

Stevens added: “And this leads to my second concern, that this is read by people applying for WCA and makes them believe this test is wrong before they start, framing how they see things, making it worse, and potentially leading to suicidal feelings.

“The leaders of protests groups have always used or abused people’s anger for their own agenda, rather than resolving people’s specific problems, because this is how collectivism works.”

Stevens accepts that he occasionally makes mistakes. “I know I have made every mistake going,” he says, “and I am proud that I had the opportunity to make those mistakes, as opposed to basket-weaving in a Remploy factory as I was destined to do.”

But he is unwilling to accept that he has made mistakes in his frequent aggressive outbursts on social media, particularly via Twitter, where he has frequently called opponents “murderers” and “terrorists”.

“Twitter is who I am and what I believe,” he says. “I take full responsibility for who I am and what I say.”

Many of his attacks have been targeted at DNS, and its reporting of the disabled people’s anti-cuts movement. He has accused DNS editor John Pring of being “paid to lie to disabled people in the hope they commit suicide”, and of a “neo-Nazi desire for disabled people to be murdered”.

In response to comments like these, Pring asked him on Twitter whether his social media activism was being funded by a political party or any other organisation.

“I am totally independent of anyone and I only get paid for the services I am paid to provide,” Stevens says. “Like many disabled people, the reality is I rely upon tax credits because many organisations expect me to work for free, and this is something I try to avoid.

“It is very concerning to suggest my viewpoint that all sick and disabled people have the ability and potential to participate in society is so alien that it has to be paid for.

“Disabled people are capable of their own viewpoint as individuals and not every activist has such an obvious political agenda as the anti-cuts activists seem to believe.”

In the last few months, he has been angered by DNS efforts to force the Department for Work and Pensions to publish secret reviews carried out following the deaths of benefit claimants.

These DNS articles push the idea, he says, that disabled people need “special treatment” and should not be encouraged to work.

He believes that DNS wants to publish the reviews because it assumes that the Department for Work and Pensions is alone responsible – rather than any other agencies – for the deaths of people who have had their benefits removed, denied, or sanctioned*.

He believes there is little point in DNS “claiming to pretend to believe in inclusion”, when such stories “promote disabled people as incapable of any meaningful existence and therefore being better off dead”.

Reporting such deaths merely adds to the fear, anxiety and stress of people waiting to be assessed for their eligibility for benefits, he says.

“When people read your articles, I worry that it makes them stressed, because it reads as though the government isn’t going to get your benefits right, so don’t even try.”

He insists that there are many disabled people who share his views, but that there is “no point in us putting our heads above water, because we are just going to be shot down at the moment”.

He adds: “What we see is outrage that disabled people are allowed to work. It is the public fear of including disabled people. Basically, people who believe in inclusion do not have a voice anymore.”

He says: “The last five years have been diabolical for disabled people, because of the way the left wing has hijacked disability as a welfare issue.

“It will be another five or 10 years before we can get inclusion back on the agenda in any meaningful way.”

The anti-cuts movement shouts loudly about rights, he says, but forgets that disabled people also have responsibilities. 

And he argues that the campaigns around the WCA, and the unfairness of the test, even fuel the arguments of the assisted suicide lobby.

“I do not like the assumption that it is OK to ‘socially warehouse’ disabled people, to stop them moving forward with their lives,” he says. “The desire not to reassess people, the failure to understand that we should all be moving forward in many ways, is a desire to exclude people, and exclusion makes debates about assisted suicide more possible.

“​If people are automatically forever incapable of work, why bother with an education? How far back do you declare people unfit for society? At birth? In the womb?”​

Stevens appears to stand almost alone among disabled activists – at least publicly – in insisting that the government’s cuts to social care are not as bad as they have often been described.

He believes that moves towards telecare and other new technology are largely compensating for reductions in council funding, and that any cuts that have been made have been to the administrative “back rooms” of local authorities.

“There are cuts, but they are not the major cuts there were in the 1990s,” he says. Where there are cuts, it is because some councils have failed to match the improvements made by those local authorities that have managed to cushion the impact of the loss in funding from central government.

He also believes that there is no need – at least not yet – to be concerned about the closure of the Independent Living Fund (ILF), another key campaign target of the anti-cuts movement, as many ILF-users with learning difficulties – the largest group of ILF recipients – will probably qualify instead for personal health budgets through the NHS.

Despite being an ILF-user himself, he believes its success in delivering independent living has been exaggerated, and that it often benefits families more than ILF-users themselves.

And when it comes to the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, he again appears to stand almost alone among disabled activists. For some countries where basic needs are not met, it is relevant, he says, but not the UK.

“My understanding is that this is one of the best countries to live in for attitudes, money, technology, and rights, if you are disabled. I am not saying it is perfect in this country, but we are now looking at putting the cream on the top.”

Stevens is keen to clarify one fact about his CV that is often used by opponents to attack him. In August 2013, he wrote a blog for the DNS website, which was headlined ‘Why I chose to work with Atos.’

In the blog, he describes meeting with Atos managers in a bid to secure paid consultancy work with the company on its new personal independence payment contract. “It is all about helping to make things better for disabled people,” he says in the blog, “whatever the supposed motives of the organisation.”

He has repeatedly made it clear, he says, that he did not end up working with Atos, because “the lead fizzled out”.

“They were thinking of asking me to help them write a report on how to use Twitter,” he adds.

His hope, he says, is to become an adviser to the government, for the Department of Health or the Department for Work and Pensions. He has already been a member of the Department of Health’s personal assistance steering group.

Although he has considered trying to become an MP, he has ruled that out. “It is impractical on many levels, because of my health, pain and energy, and my speech impairment. I also used to say that I never wanted to be hated by half the population, although I seem to already be in that position.”

*DNS is happy to make it clear that it wants the reviews published for the sake of transparency, and to determine if the DWP – and any other agencies involved – have learned any lessons from the deaths of benefit claimants.

  • User Ratings (12 Votes)
  • Leon Carter

    “Although he has considered trying
    to become an MP, he has ruled that out. “It is impractical on many
    levels, because of my health, pain and energy, and my speech impairment.
    I also used to say that I never wanted to be hated by half the
    population, although I seem to already be in that position.”

    So he admits even he has barriers into work?

    It is not that the disabled do not want to work, many do but is not possible due to the barriers put in place that causes the exclusion and this coalition Govt has not helped far from it and Id go as far as saying they have been very anti and do think that Simon Stevens needs to wake up as his views are also helping no one.

    Tell me how cutting disability benefits and other support as well as sanctioning the disabled will help them into work because it will not and all it does is pin them to 4 walls and behind curtains never to be seen again.

    You do not get people into work whether disabled or not by cutting the social security and I would like to know if he has ever been inside a Job Centre before as those place are very anti too and do NOTHING for ones job prospects

    In short Simon Stevens you too have lost the plot.

  • Some of the discourse from some parts of the campaigns in question have caused me, too, to worry about the message for inclusion. But not many, and it’s okay because it’s impossible for any clear message to be nuanced and do all you might want it to do.

    It’s not our place to remove the barriers we face, society must do that. We must tell them that they should, and we should help them know how to do so.

    And all the same, until there have been significant changes in society (which will take a while, but we must fight for), there are some people who cannot reasonably be expected to work. Not cannot work, but cannot reasonably be expected to do so.

  • Catherine Hale

    Simon Stevens isn’t inclusionist at all because he regularly tells me and others with impairments different to his own that we don’t have real problems and don’t deserve help. He is actually deeply judgmental

  • Kooljeff

    Not paid for his propaganda – Wasn’t he employed by Atos?

  • clivegsd

    Pring is an idiot for allowing that cretin any publicity. Stevens has no support from any disabled person I know of. He also has no qualifications to judge other medical conditions he considers does not make someone ‘disabled’. I very much doubt he has the qualifications to call himself a “consultant” either.

    The article allows Stevens to keep on his usual bullshit where he thinks all things relating to disabilities is actually about him.

    A disability denier helped by a parasite

  • Outcry

    You’re such a liar Stevens. How many pieces of silver can you stomach? How many dead disabled people’s graves will you be prepared to dance on? Just as long as it’s not your own and your glass is always full screw everyone else?

  • I burst out laughing at the claim we’re the ones excluding disabled people and Stephens isn’t, all it took was me saying the EA should be applied equally to all disabled people for Stephens to accuse me of wanting to kill him and supporting the Holocaust (we call that slander where I come from). He’s extensively on record as saying people with disabilities like Crohns, EDS and so forth, basicaly the whole spectrum of spoonies, are fake disabled who are conspiring to deprive him and ‘real disabled people’ of their rights.It’s quite simple, he’s a bully and a thug who doesn’t want disability rights to cover anyone but people like him.

  • lankou

    Simon Stevens is part of the problem not the solution. I am all in favour of as many disabled people working as is practically possible.

    But over 4.8 million WCAs later only 26000 disabled people have been found work with Iain Duncan Smith being responsible for putting more than 26000 disabled people into coffins.

    Simon Stevens is the disabled version of Katie Hopkins and just as obnoxious.

  • jaimelicious

    At the risk of seeming indelicate, bloody hell fire. Why is this crap even up here?

    Simon Stevens has repeatedly stated (more like paranoid ranting, but, y’know, whatever) that he does not accept that anyone without his own impairment (cerebral palsy, if I recall correctly) is disabled. Full stop, end of argument – as far as he’s concerned, anyway.

    In this article, he also appears to be conflating several concepts. Work, paid employment, contribution, ability, and many more along the same lines.

    His faulty and self-centred idea of disability aside, he’s both right and wrong. Right (and I feel sick agreeing with someone so vicious and hateful, arrogant and self-righteous) in that every disabled person, hell, every person of any description, has something to contribute to the world. Every person has worth, the right to be valued and respected. Every person also has responsibilities, to respect the rights of others, to make the best they can of themselves and to contribute what they can.

    Where he is sickeningly, terribly wrong, is in thinking that ‘contribute’ equals ‘work’ equals ‘paid employment’ in the traditional format.

    Volunteering is contributing. Parenting is contributing. Those are two of the commonest and most obvious ones, yet there are hundreds, thousands, more.

    Caring – in the social care sense, and also in the more general sense of loving someone and letting them know. Gardening, growing food, providing habitats for animals, preserving skills and biodiversity, creating beauty to give pleasure to oneself and others. Writing, reading, thinking; sharing thoughts and ideas and ideals, contributing to the sum of human thought and knowledge, inventing, discovering, improving or simply preserving knowledge and/or educating in dozens or hundreds of fields.

    Hell, it could be as easy and simple as smiling at someone who looks like they’re having a bad day, and asking if they’re OK. Of giving someone else hope, or care, or something to think about.

    Work – paid employment, self-employment, consultancy, franchising, running a business – is not the only way to contribute.

    The other factor Stevens ignores is the gap between theory and practice. In theory, someone whose only voluntary movement is her gaze can communicate, move herself around, control her environment, and complete work for which she can be paid.

    What’s missing between that and reality? An eye-movement operated computer system, fully customised to its user. A wheelchair, portable ventilator, with the necessary postural support. A heavily adapted house, with all possible environmental controls. Someone – family, friends, staff, whoever – to manage her nutrition, pressure care, personal care, transport, and all the assistive tech she relies on. Someone who is willing to submit work she can do, accept the pace she can do it at, and pay well enough for it. Occupational and physical therapists, specialised healthcare… I’m missing so much, I know. All this is technically possible.

    But what if her skills are as an artist? A seamstress? An athlete? A nurse? What if she isn’t gifted with the mental ability the nondisabled world sees as ‘worth’ the complications of enabling her to contribute? If she’s a good cook, loving mother, OK gardener, and a high school drop out, instead of the next Professor Stephen Hawking? The blunt answer is, that the world won’t care what she has to offer. That it won’t be ‘worth’ allowing her what she needs to contribute.

    That in all probability, she’ll never leave a hospital bed, and never be or do anything else.

    I know that’s an extreme example, but I don’t see it as reductio ad absurdum; it’s a way to make it very plain that if the resources and effort required to enable someone to give what they have to give are too great in comparison with the achievement, it won’t happen. Everything seems to be about cost/benefit ratios and the contributions of disabled people often do not make the grade. I don’t think that’s how it should be, but for the foreseeable future, that’s wht we’re dealing with.

    And where Stevens’ rantings fall down, from a logical and practical perspective, is where they fail to acknowledge reality in favour of whst should be and he wishes was the case.

    I know this is too long, but I just want to add that while I’ve tried to analyse this as best I can, I’m personally repulsed by Stevens’ attitudes and stated beliefs. I would say that he doesn’t speak for me – but he’s made it clear in the past that my Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome and the dozen or so other painful, disabling diagnoses that go with it don’t, in his eyes, ‘count’ as disabled. In a neat bit of symmetry, Stevens categorically fails to ‘count’ as human in my personal definition.

  • Bob Williams-Findlay

    Simon Stevens and Katie Hopkins have a lot common; both seek to profit by being outlandish and opinionated. Simon has an agenda – he is the Spastic Jesus – his life work being to “save” ‘dysabled people” (sic) by turning them to the light or whatever contra position he dreams up in relation to disabled activists.
    I will not personally lose any sleep over the allegations made by an individual who both oppresses and abuses other disabled people. He can sound off to heart’s content; it’ll not change the facts – the biggest one being – Simon is incapable of working with facts because he prefers slurs and slanders as a means of distancing himself from the REAL world.