By Daniel Margrain
An article from April 13, 2010, highlights that while in office as Labour’s Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, Yvette Cooper had drawn up plans that would almost certainly have met with the approval of Iain Duncan-Smith and the current Secretary of State for Work a Pensions, David Gauke. Indeed, the policy plans outlined by Cooper were subsequently adopted by the Tory/Lib-Dem Coalition government under the tutelage of the former Tory Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, Esther McVey.
The plan agreed by the Tories and Labour was to cut the benefits of more than 300,000 disabled people. That Cooper rushed to the defence of McVey, who presided over some of the most wicked policies of arguably the most reactionary and brutal right-wing government in living memory, is extremely revealing. What was also revealing were Cooper’s attacks on Shadow Chancellor, John McDonnell, for his “sexist” attack on McVey’.
The media’s double standards in response to Cooper’s setting in motion the Tories regime of welfare cuts and system of testing to the sick and disabled, many of whom would have been Labour voters, was extraordinary. A few days prior to the media’s onslaught against Corbyn’s close ally, McDonnell, Guardian journalist Nicholas Lezard called for the crowdfunded assassination of the Labour leader. Needless to say, there was no media outrage at this latter suggestion, nor at Cooper and McVey’s connivance.
The media’s double standards continued last year, after Channel 4 engaged in an undercover smear campaign against the pro-Corbyn grass roots organisation, Momentum. No similar campaign has been undertaken against, their right-wing Tory counterparts, Activate, whose young members have explained how they would like to gas “spice homo chavs”, “introduce compulsory birth control” and “run some medical experiments on them.” These are the kind of perverse neo-fascist sentiments that reflect the mentality of the Tory establishment and many of their voters.
Shortly before the last General Election, the Daily Mirror availed their readers of the attempts by the Tories to cover-up rates of suicide among Britain’s sick and disabled people who the government deem “fit for work.” The Mirror revealed that the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) refused to release figures highlighting the number of Incapacity Benefit and Employment Support (ESA) claimants who have died. It was only after concerted political pressure from below that the government was forced to admit that nearly 100,000 sickness benefit claimants died between January 2011 and February 2014.
The then DWP Secretary, Iain Duncan Smith, who admitted that his department have a “duty of care” to benefit claimants, disingenuously insisted that there was no evidence of a ‘causal link’ between the governments work capability assessment (WCA) and the subsequent 590 recorded deaths from suicide. This was contradicted by the coroners findings which stated that all of the deaths “certainly aren’t linked to any other cause”.
It was subsequently revealed that the “conscious cruelty” adopted by the WCA assessors included the “use of psychological ‘nudge’ techniques to push the mentally-ill and those with disabilities towards suicide in order to reduce the ‘burden on society’ caused by these ‘useless eaters’.”
The recorded figures of avoidable deaths resulting from this technique, almost certainly represents the tip of an enormous ice berg. Using ESA figures, independent investigative journalist and campaigner, Mike Sivier compared the number of deaths per year with the number of governments sanctions.
Sivier states that:
“In 2011, the number of people on ESA who were adversely sanctioned totalled 4,462 – 33 per cent of the 13,490 who died that year. In 2012, there were 12,710 adverse sanctions – 64 per cent of the 19,940 who died that year. And in 2013, there were 22,560 adverse sanctions – 82 per cent of the 27,370 who died that year.”
Frances Ryan in the Guardian reported:
“More than 70,000 people on the out-of-work sickness benefit (employment and support allowance) ESA had their benefits stopped between December 2012 and December 2016. More than 5,000 had them stopped for at least six months. That’s wheelchair users and people with learning difficulties left with bare cupboards and cold homes.
The vast majority of recent ESA sanctions – more than 90% since December 2015 – have been a punishment for people failing to take part in “work-related activity”: anything from skills training or drawing up a CV to community work placements. Disabled people going through the system repeatedly report this can mean being sanctioned for not going to a meeting despite being in too much pain to get out of bed.
This is not a coincidence but, rather, reflective of a political culture that has fetishised getting disabled people into work at any cost.
It’s the same thinking that from April resulted in many people on ESA permanently losing £30 a week under the guise that it would give them an “incentive to work”.
Two years ago, there were warnings sanctions were unfair, excessively punitive, and causing destitution. Whitehall’s official spending watchdog has found there is no evidence sanctions actually work. Yet barely any modification has been made. In July, the Department for Work and Pensions announced that people with mental health conditions who have their jobseeker’s allowance sanctioned will now be eligible for immediate access to hardship payments – as if not leaving a young mum with depression without food for two weeks is vast progress.
Social policy reform based on the premise of removing the money people need in order to live is always shameful. But to do this to disabled people – who are receiving benefits because they are not well enough to work – is a stain on the national conscience.”
With thirty-thousand ‘excess deaths’ in 2015 linked to cuts in health and social care, in addition to the preventable Grenfell Tower tragedy, it is clear that the Tories are actively engaged in the killing by stealth of the poor, disabled and weak.
In an an attempt to humanize some of those who have been socially murdered by the Tories, concerned citizens have recorded the personal details of a select few of the individuals and the circumstances that led to their untimely deaths. This information can be viewed here, here, here and here. It’s particularly shocking to this writer that in Britain in 2017 many of those listed died of starvation.
The personal testimony of commentator Stewart Bailey provides a graphic insight into how assessors are encouraged to push claimants off-benefits towards serious hardship. Mr Bailey’s account which highlights a series of misrepresentations and falsehoods made by assessors in relation to his health condition, is supported by the findings of the Disability News Service (DNS) who have collected evidence as part of a lengthy investigation.
The DNS allege widespread dishonesty by assessors working for the outsourcing giants Capita and Atos. Claimants repeatedly cite dishonesty, “fraudulent conduct” and “lie after lie after lie” told by assessors in their reports, on which DWP decision-makers base their decisions on their eligibility for Personal Independence payments (PIPs).
The DNS point out that nearly half (45%) of PIP claimants who had a planned review of their award in 2016 either saw it cut or lost it entirely based on the absurd pretext that cutting benefits to the long-term disabled will help them into work.
Joe Whittaker, chair of Greater Manchester Coalition of Disabled People, said:
“The imposition of yet another stage in the already oppressive process to ‘support disabled people into employment’, cynically named a ‘health and work conversation’, is another pernicious attempt to weaken the rights of disabled people.”
“The plans show a total ignorance of the level of sickness or disability that the claimant may be experiencing, and will subsequently lead to huge stress and deprivation at what may be a crisis point in people’s lives”.
The Spartacus report accused ministers of using the green paper as a “smokescreen” to disguise their intention to cut support and force sick and disabled people into inappropriate work.
The DNS findings came a few days after they revealed new plans which indicate that the Tory genocide against the sick and disabled is set to accelerate. Recent government reviews into PIPs mean that disabled people are constantly in fear of having their payments cuts or, worse, halted.
I, myself, as well as some of my close relatives, can personally attest to the veracity of the DNS findings. We have all had similar experiences in which non-specialized Capita or Atos staff during the interview process have asked irrelevant questions, have failed to refer to any of the medical evidence supplied and requested that we engage in inappropriate movements of feet and hands.
We were all left with the distinct impression that the system has been deliberately set up to fail those who rely on it for financial support and the relative peace of mind that comes with it. One of my disabled relatives has a proven degenerative condition and yet the DWP insisted that one year after granting him his PIP award, he undertake a second WCA “interview”.
We are currently waiting for the result of the “interview”, but judging by what can only be described a farce, we are not confident that the outcome will be a satisfactory one. It is obvious that unqualified private assessors are being financially incentivized to meet targets. The decisions that are made, in other words, are arbitrary and biased, predicated on the fulfillment of quotas. They do not accurately reflect the medical conditions of the individuals being accessed.
The system is inherently flawed because the default position of the DWP is that the sick and disabled are assumed to be deceitful and need to prove the extent of their illness by satisfactorily addressing completely irrelevant straw man points.
One author in the Independent comments section stated:
“My wife is in tears of pain and emotional distress most days and has overdosed once already due to an extreme pain condition which is commonly called suicide disease. She gets nothing and was basically called a liar by Capita and the DWP.”
“My brother in law, now about 60yrs has some form of extremely painful joint issues. He has now contested findings of a lady physio who declared him perfectly fit – giving him about 30 points out of a much higher required number. Can hardly walk, has injections. One specialist wants him to have an operation to fuse his wrists, basically to create two paddles instead of hands.
His house has been fitted with numerous things like bath lifts, handles etc etc. She specified that no adjustments by Social Services had been carried out, ignored specialists notification of this impending operation, (and she was supposed to be a Physio?? ). He has submitted about 10 letters now from the various surgeons and specialists. Absolute stupidity on board assessments part and this person who is supposed to be qualified should be struck off.
Sorry I am not aware of correct illness but do know – have you ever seen a grown man cry etc and he on most days can hardly walk due to the pain, cannot drive now as he cannot grip the wheel or gear stick etc. Shameful.”
Many sick and disabled claimants appeal these kinds of injustices and, as Mike Sivier points out, the government lose the vast majority of these appeals. When claimants go to independent tribunals, 58% of appeals succeed for ESA, and 63% for PIP. Extremely conservative estimates put the cost to the tax payer at £39m to enable the Tories to defend its decision to stop benefits to the most vulnerable.
Last year, the UN slammed the government for their “grave and systematic violations of the rights of disabled people”. Moreover, the current situation is creating what the UN described in their latest report as a “human catastrophe” for disabled people.
Tracey Lazard, CEO of Inclusion London, described the UN report as “a damning verdict….on the UK governments failure to protect and uphold disabled people’s rights.”
Three of the governments flagship welfare policies are illegal because of the impact they are having on disabled people, but the Tories continue with these policies regardless. This is the politics of punishment, vindictiveness, cruelty and hate.
All this comes on top of the introduction in April 6, 2017, of the governments policy to reduce tax credits to families with two children meaning 116,000 households will be affected, pushing an additional 387,000 children into poverty. Levels of welfare payments in the UK are so low that they have been described by the Council of Europe as “manifestly inadequate“.
Life unworthy of life
While all decent people rightly regard the Tories ‘involuntary euthanasia’ strategy to be deeply shocking, it should be noted that it is far from being a new one. Years before moving towards explicit racial genocide, the Nazis developed the notion of ‘useless mouths’ or ‘life unworthy of life’ to justify their killing of ‘undesirables’ who like the Tories they regarded as a ‘drain on society’ and whose value was measured solely in terms of their perceived negative impact on the ‘taxpayer’.
These and similar ideas of the kind articulated by the members of Activate, who posit that the weak and poor are vermin to be tested on, are a variant of nineteenth century ‘Social Darwinism’ and eugenicist theories, which adapted Darwin’s notion of the survival of the fittest. This describes relationships within society or between nations and races as a perpetual evolutionary struggle in which the supposedly weaker or defective elements were weeded out by the strongest and the ‘fittest’ by natural selection.
Off benefits into coffins
Following Iain Duncan Smith’s resignation over a scandal in which the Tories were initially exposed for pushing people off benefits into coffins, many people were hopeful of a change in policy direction under his successor, Stephen Crabb. But these hopes were dashed after the latter announced a further six years of “welfare reforms” (euphemism for £12 billion of cuts to the most in need).
What Mike Sivier correctly described as a preventable “war of attrition” amounts to an ideological attack on those who are least able to defend themselves. This war continued under Duncan Smith’s successor, Damian Green, after it was revealed that under his auspices the government reversed Tribunal rulings that would have extended financial support to 160,000 people with disabilities.
The systematic killing of the weakest and most vulnerable in our society by stealth is being legally sanctioned by government policies that display many of the characteristics of fascist ideology. With a mainstream corporate media that has been virtually silent in their criticism, or have failed to acknowledge that government policies are killing the sick and disabled, its incumbent on people to search out information for themselves.
It’s no longer acceptable for the public to claim ignorance of the cleansing among the weakest and most vulnerable of our fellow citizens happening around them. Let me be clear about this. Anybody who votes for the Conservatives at the next General Election will be complicit in the social murder of sick and disabled people.
But as Blairites like Yvette Cooper have shown, evil is not restricted to the Tories. With Jeremy Corbyn in the ascendancy, now is the ideal opportunity to force through the compulsory re-submission of candidates to members who are energized by a very different set of priorities to self-serving politicians like Cooper.
Those motivated primarily by money will disappear by stealth into the ether. But in order for this to happen, Corbyn needs to grab the bull by the horns by cleverly negotiating the tide of optimism sweeping throughout the grass roots of the party. The Blairites are currently on the defensive and Corbyn should exploit this situation to the maximum by taking control of the hierarchy of the party.
The contradiction between Cooper’s deeds and words outlined in the introduction of this article, highlight the extent to which the ideological consensus between the New Labour hierarchy and the ruling Tory establishment, is structurally embedded within a dysfunctional system of state power that is no longer fit for purpose. Corbyn’s task in changing this situation around is difficult but not impossible. He should resist all calls to bring ‘heavyweights’ like Cooper back into the fore. The sick and disabled depend on it.
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