Let’s talk about inequality: join Blog Action Day 2014

We’ve partnered up with Blog Action Day to start a global discussion about inequality, and we need you to be part of it. On the 16th October, people from around the world will be raising their voices to make inequality go viral! Join Blog Action Day and register to take part today.

Why inequality?

Earlier this year, Oxfam revealed that 85 people have as much wealth as half of the people on the planet combined. This growing gap between the rich and the rest is preventing millions of people from lifting themselves out of poverty. But extreme inequality is not inevitable – it is the result of years of deliberate policies and rules that have been rigged in favour of the few. We know that these rules can be changed to benefit everyone, and that together, we can tackle inequality.

What is Blog Action Day?

Blog Action Day is a free event for bloggers, social media users, vloggers, podcasters, designers, infographic and data bods and web producers from all over the world. Blog Action Day is the one day of the year where thousands of people from all over the world come together to discuss one important global topic, and help raise awareness for social causes. Join Blog Action Day 2014 now:

  1. Register your blog with Blog Action Day.
  2. Write a blog post about inequality. What you write about is up to you! You could explain what inequality means to you, your experience of inequality, and why you think the world needs to tackle the gap between the rich and poor. Or you could promote our Thunderclap, to be released on the 30th October, to help us make a massive splash about inequality at the launch of our new global campaign.
  3. On the 16th October, post your blog and join the global inequality discussion. It’s as simple as that!

Not a blogger? Don’t worry! There’s lots of other ways you can get involved. You could create a video, capture some photos, or simply write a Facebook or Twitter post. All you need to do is register the account you will be posting from on the Blog Action Day site, and post it on the day.

Competition

We’re running a competition for the best blog submitted for Blog Action Day. Everyone that submits a blog will be entered. The winner will have their blog translated into English, French and Spanish and posted as a guest blog on the Oxfam website! So get blogging!

Get inspired

Want to learn more about inequality and get inspired to write your blog? Check out our range of materials below. And don’t forget to keep checking back to this page as we upload more content that you can use in your blog:

5 benefit changes the government don’t want you to know about

 

It used to be that when politicians wanted to bury bad news they’d orchestrate its release to time with a distracting event. Seeing Iain Duncan Smith publicly criticized for wasting at least £140 million of public money over Universal Credit at the start of this month, it struck me how we’ve slowly reached another level. “Unmitigated disaster”? “Alarmingly weak”? These words were used to describe Universal Credit but could easily have been levelled at a number of largely unreported changes to the benefit system. Nowadays, bad news is buried by even worse news. The sheer volume of inefficient and unethical changes to social security this Government has enacted means some of it doesn’t even get noticed. Which, for a set of politicians hacking at vulnerable people’s support systems, is worryingly convenient.

So, here’s five benefit changes the government doesn’t want you to know about.

1. Disabled people denied a key benefit have had their right to appeal reduced 

On 28 October the Department of Work and Pensions introduced a major change to the appeal process to the main disability benefit for people who are too ill to work, Employment and Support Allowance (ESA). If a claimant wishes to appeal against a decision that they are not entitled to ESA, they must now ask the DWP to reconsider the decision before lodging an official appeal – and receive no money in the meantime.

Dubbed the ‘mandatory reconsideration’ stage, not only will the claimant not receive ESA income during this period, there will be no time limit on how long it will take. People with disabilities and illness are being left with no income for an indefinite period of time. This would be bad enough for a system that works. It’s particularly alarming for a system where 40 per cent of appeals overturn the original decision. 

The DWP response is the claimant can claim Job Seekers Allowance (JSA) during this appeal stage. Campaigners tell me, however, many disabled people say they won’t apply for JSA due to the fear that doing so will be interpreted by the DWP as evidence they are indeed fit for work.

There’s also concern that the disabled and long-term sick having to enter a system not designed to cope with claimants with poor health will leave them vulnerable to sanctions. As Sharon Brennan points out on her blog ‘Diary of a NHS buff’, statistics of sanctions against JSA claimants show that every month 12% of job seekers are referred for sanction. These are sanctions given if Job Centre Plus feels claimants “are not making themselves available for work” – an accusation easily targeted at people who find it a physical struggle to make appointments, let alone look for work. Which brings us to number two.

2. Long-term sick people are having their benefits sanctioned … for being sick

The increase in sanctions placed on claimants of jobseeker’s allowance has been widely publicised, with most headlines on the issue last month dedicated to statistics revealing that nearly 600,000 have had adverse benefit sanctions taken against them.

Less publicized is the fact 45,000 sanction decisions have been made against sick and disabled people. This means the number is set to have doubled from the year before

11, 000 sick and disabled people had their ESA penalized in just seven months – either for not participating in work related activity or missing a meeting with the Job Centre. 120 disabled people receiving JSA have had their benefits stopped for three years.

I reported in October the Work Programme’s failure to help disabled people gain employment; things as basic as making an effort to find them suitable work or understand that, when you’re dealing with claimants with health conditions, some days an appointment will be missed as they will be too ill to get up. Put this together with an increase in sanctions, and the system’s failings are now seeing sick and disabled people losing parts of their benefits.

Sarah Davidson*, 43, was threatened with a sanction for being physically unable to do her assigned work activity. Sarah has ME and was awarded ESA on the basis of limited mobility and her inability to sit for more than an hour.

Despite having a meeting with a personal advisor at Seetec, her Work Programme provider, where her inability to sit and concentrate for long periods were noted, Sarah’s now received a summons to an ‘employability programme’ that requires her to have four weeks of twice weekly work related activity lasting over three hours.

My support worker called and explained I could not do this programme because of my disability,” she tells me. “They were very rude apparently, refused to take my health condition into consideration, and said they would be reporting me to DWP for failing to participate.”

In fact, when the programme was due to start two weeks ago Sarah had a flare up of her condition and was physically unable to leave her home all week. Job Centre Plus is currently considering whether to sanction her for non-attendance.

Sarah tells me she’s tried to discuss this with both JCB and Seetec but neither has responded.

“My support worker called JCP and was passed to at least 3 different people … it turns out my adviser has left. We were given the name of a new adviser, who wasn’t available to speak to us. We asked if she could give us a call to explain the situation but I’m not hopeful” she says. “Seetec has rarely if ever returned my support worker’s call or emails.”

She adds she’s normally able to use the phone herself but due to the stress of sanctions and inappropriate work activity, she now needs her support worker to make contact for her.

“I developed an anxiety disorder because of the treatment I’ve received at JCP and Seetec,” she says. “I’m not able to call them or deal with them without experiencing symptoms of panic.”

That Sarah is now physically unable to even get to her work programme provider’s offices due to Seetac moving to an area that’s inaccessible to her by public transport is only adding to that stress. She knows she could well be penalized for this as well.

“They’re 0.7 miles from a station, and it involves a combination of trains and buses with between 17 and 25 minutes walking involved. I can’t walk more than 200m. My Work Capability Assessment report states this,” she says. “I’ve asked if they would pay cab fares but I’ve had no reply.”

3. 50,000 disabled people are being cut out of work

The cocktail of cuts being made to benefits mean the DWP are managing to simultaneously penalize disabled people for not working and stopping them from having a job. 

50,000 disabled people could lose their jobs due to the Government removing Disability Living Allowance (DLA), the Disability Benefits Consortium (DBC), an organisation of over fifty leading charities, has found

One in five disabled people who receive the now scrapped DLA are in work and use the benefit to cover the additional costs that come with that – be it help showering in the morning or a motability vehicle to get to the office. 

But as DLA is phased out and replaced by Personal Independence Payments (PIP) – and half a million people lose their support – it’s been projected 50,000 disabled people will no longer be able to hold onto their jobs. (If a tenth of this number of people were due to lose their jobs at a company, this would be headline news. Tens of thousands of disabled people scattered around the country trapped in their house and unable to get to work receives a strange silence.)

Reflective of the general incompetence of new social security policies, the switch from DLA to PIP doesn’t even make sense financially. At best, it’s hoped to save the Government £145 million. Disabled people no longer being able to get to work, however, will lose the Government £278 million in lost National Insurance and Income tax, as well as £178 million in unemployment benefits it will have to pay out. 

Still, they can probably make some savings by cutting other vulnerable people’s safety net elsewhere.   

4. There’s now a one-year limit on hundreds of thousands of people’s sickness benefit

In fact, the government is way ahead of us. They have now ‘time limited’ Employment and Support Allowance – meaning many people who have been found too ill to find work without support can only get the benefit for a year.

700,000 people with long-term sickness or disability have had their benefit taken as a result. The means test is only £7,500 for this change, leaving someone earning barely £8,000 per year having to support themselves and their ill partner.

Gayle Lewis, 47, has fibromyalgia, endometriosis, and depression but had her ESA stopped last month. In addition to severe pain, Gayle’s conditions leaves her with muscle weakness, fatigue, and a lack of co-ordination that leads her to fall over her feet. She has memory problems that mean she forgets the words she’s looking for when talking and is sometimes unable to speak. Like hundreds of thousands of others, she has had her benefit stopped despite her health meaning she has little hope of finding long-term work.

“My illnesses have not got any better,” Gayle says to me. “In fact, my conditions have [gotten worse]… I’m in terrific pain and I’m on the waiting list to go back for yet another laparoscopy.”

Gayle’s lost £400 per month after having her ESA stopped. Due to the fact her husband earns more than the allowed £7500 a year, the two of them are left to get by on his wage alone.

As Sue Marsh, disability campaigner with We Are Spartacus, points out, “Families already overwhelmingly living in poverty will lose £4661 per year [due to ESA ‘time limiting’]. This is three times as much as higher rate taxpayers … lose in child benefit.”

Gayle tells me she’s found some part-time writing work she can do from home but would have to write six articles a day to make up the money she’s lost from ESA. “I worry that there will be days when I am completely unable to work, even from home,” she says. 

The effective large-scale withdrawal of ESA comes with an extra layer of distress for those relying on the payments due to the fact the removal is done retrospectively.

As Sue Marsh says to me, “The government … backdated [the change] retrospectively … to the previous April, so April 2011 sending letters out to warn people even before the bill passed. So effectively, once it did pass, some people lost their entitlement immediately, just like that.”  

The damage of backdating the withdrawal of support is worsened when poor testing sees claimants having to embark on lengthy benefit decision appeals. Gayle was incorrectly found ‘fit for work’ last year and it took her six months to even be placed in the group receiving a benefit with the ‘365 day limit’. She then had the time limit on her benefit backdated to the date of her request for an appeal.

In the system the DWP have created, sudden, arbitrary, unplanned removal of support for ill and disabled people seems almost common. 

Gayle tells me she’s in a “vicious circle” as the removal of her sickness benefit makes her more ill. “That fact that our income [has quickly dropped] substantially does nothing to help the depression or the anxiety and both of these have a direct effect on the levels of pain, which are made worse by stress,” she says.

“I fear that, like many others, I will simply slip down the cracks now and disappear,” she tells me. “Which is what the DWP seems to be aiming for with this time limit.”

5. Eviction letters are now including veiled threats to remove people’s children

Depressingly, even the cuts that do gain media attention seem to have certain aspects that remain hidden. It’s well highlighted that policies like the bedroom tax are leaving people unable to pay the rent. Less well publicized is the scale of rent arrears social tenants are finding themselves in – or the tacit threats being used to get monetary blood from the stones.

Nearly three quarters of housing association staff say their tenants are falling behind on rent this year, according to a recent Unison survey. Over a third report the main cause is the bedroom tax.

Half of the housing association staff surveyed had seen an increase in tenants being evicted or forced to move out due to financial pressures, Inside Housing reported.

Stuart Hughes was one of the first to receive an eviction notice after being unable to pay the extra rent the bedroom tax had left his family with. I spoke to him back in June and looked at the eviction letters that had been repeatedly sent to his home; bold, black words of ‘possession’ and ‘legal proceedings’. It’s now emerged some housing associations are sending out letters that include the threat eviction proceedings may lead to the tenant’s children being taken into care.

“If you have children in your household we may also inform Social Services,” reads one such letter.

Or the mildly more subtle: “…we must make you aware that if there are children at your property, a referral has now been made to Children’s Social Care (Social Services) as the children at your home are now at risk of becoming homeless.”

As housing solicitor Giles Peaker says on the blog ‘Nearly legal’, these are threats that are “unsustainable and unjustified in both law and practice.” “Most, if not all, people evicted solely on bedroom tax derived arrears would most certainly have an argument that they were not intentionally homeless. The Council would therefore owe a household with children the full homeless duty as being homeless, in priority need and not intentionally homeless,” he says. “Even if Children Services were to accept a s17/s.20 Children Act duty (or Children (Scotland) Act 1995 equivalent) to the children of the household, there is a very strong Article 8 human rights case for the family being kept together, so the proper response would be provision or securing of accommodation for the family…”

Empty threats concerning people’s children may be a new low. Then again, against the recent actions of this Government – be it imposing sanctions on the disabled or removing the benefits of the sick – ‘a new low’ seems to come weekly.

* Sarah Davidson’s name has been changed

Tags:Welfare

Disabled People Are Being Victimised, Vilified And Pushed Out Of Society – Part Two

 

By Helen Sims

At the moment, I don’t really need to write new stuff. The old pieces are doing more (when I share them), than I EVER thought possible. I think that’s what I’m going to keep doing for a while.

I didn’t realise that the poems, and other pieces would have the impact that they seem to be having. I can’t really believe it!

Thank you so much to everyone who shared and tweeted ‘Part One’ of this article. You gave a very tired person hope that people were listening. It meant so much.

People have been messaging to say, ‘I understand better now’, or ‘I didn’t realise, now I do’.

I got a bit teary! Every time something gets shared or re-tweeted, I just have to be confident. Confident that it’s getting our message, a little further each time.

Even though the poems might not all be about the government’s antics, they seem to be opening people’s eyes to what it is like to live with a disability or illness.

If we can make people understand the reality of that better, and make people remember that we are human beings, with feelings, and not just a number on a page, or a nameless ‘scrounger’, then maybe that will help.

That’s what I’m trying to do by sharing the poems, and pieces. If I change one person’s mind, or make one person think, (before they judge us, in the way that the government WANT them to), then I have done what I set out to do twenty-five years ago.

I don’t want people to think I am ‘in this for my ego’. If you could ask the tiny eight year old girl I was when I started this, if she was ‘in it for her ego,’ she wouldn’t have had a clue what you were talking about, and twenty-five years later, I wish I still didn’t!

Unfortunately, there are people doing this that (might) have other motives, and there are people out there, who might lead the cause in (what many consider to be), the wrong direction. It’s not up to me to say, one way or other.

Everyone goes about things the best way they know how, and we have a fight on our hands, more now, than ever before.

There IS an attempt to vilify and de-humanise disabled, and ill people. There IS an attempt to make us seem like ‘scroungers’ and leeches, bleeding a struggling country dry!

There is doctoring of figures, and blatant lies being spread, but the fact is, the most vulnerable people in society, are not the ones at fault. We didn’t choose to be ill, disabled, unemployed.

Nobody would choose to live with such heartbreaking limitations placed on our lives, and we didn’t choose to vilified, victimised, and made scapegoats!

The economic crisis is the fault of bankers, corporate tax avoiders, and people who decide to hide their wealth, rather than pay what is fair. It is not the fault of those who can least afford to live, and who struggle (already), through everyday life!

It’s hard, and it’s heartbreaking enough to be in our situations. Now we are told (on a daily basis) that we are worthless ‘scroungers’, and we cost too much to keep. How is that supposed to make us feel?!

Twenty five years ago, I would have never have thought that in the future, I would be opening newspapers, and reading headlines, that made me hate myself – just for being disabled!

I would give anything to go back to focussing all my energies on fighting access issues, level pavements, accessible buses, and all those things.

I want to go back, and focus on the ‘little decision’ I made as an eight year old, to try to change the way disabled people were perceived.

All I wanted was to help people understand what it’s like to be us, and to make people aware that we can do good things. Now, I’m part of the fight to help us SURVIVE!

I can’t believe how things have changed. I don’t want to believe it. Everything I did before, for all those years, seems so easy compared to now, and I want those days back!

I thought it was a fight, then. Ha! I didn’t know when I was well off!

Then, it was a fight for equality, and access. Now it’s a fight for compassion and understanding. It’s a fight, for basics, and rights, but more than that. it’s a fight to LIVE!

As I said before, I dread to think where the ’cause’ will be in twenty-five years time! Sometimes I see things, read things, and feel things that make me dread the next twenty-five minutes, as a disabled person!

They’re taking vital benefits, cutting much-needed services, closing the Independent Living Fund! All these things aren’t luxuries, they are necessities!

If I have to fight and this level, after the 2015 General Election, I don’t think I can do it. I don’t think I have the strength! It feels like they want us, to give up, turn our faces to the wall, and die.

That’s what’s happened in so many cases, already. People being found fit for work when they aren’t, people committing suicide after the loss of benefits. People feeling so desperate, and isolated, and unwanted, that they see no option, but to end their own lives!

What sort of country is this, where that is even considered OK? It should be all over the media. Maybe (if it was happening in another country), it would be. To me, it seems like WE have been forgotten, and already pushed to one side.

This should not be happening, and the damage will take years to repair – if we ever can! I dread it, I fear it!

If the little eight year old girl who was me when I started had known what would happen she would’ve been terrified.

Anyone can become disabled at anytime through accident or illness, or have a disabled child, joining the many thousands of people who are already terrified of what their future may hold.

Atos Deaths

 

 

Atos deaths
 
2012: Official DWP research shows that in the space of just 10 months, 10,600 people died within six weeks of enduring an Atos Work Capacity Assessment. This figure didn’t even include the potentially thousands of people to have died in the aftermath of being found completely “fit for work” by Atos and stripped of all of their disability benefits entirely (such as Brian McArdle). No data on their fate was collected at all, so it is pretty difficult to estimate how many people have died within weeks of being declared completely “fit for work” by Atos, but I have tried to work roughly how many might have died under these utterly appalling circumstances to add to the 10,600 proven deaths.

http://anotherangryvoice.blogspot.com/2013/09/iain-duncan-smith-problem-solving-ids.html

No justice for Amazon massacre in Peru


No Justice for Amazon Massacre in Peru

Trial marks five-year anniversary of Bagua tragedy

Five years ago yesterday the Devil’s Curve earned its name. This wild stretch of highway outside the Peruvian town of Bagua was transformed from a peaceful protest site into a national tragedy now known as the Baguazo. Though the multi-week roadblock was due to disband that same day, militarized riot police entered by force in the early dawn and a deadly melee ensued. When the teargas and gunsmoke cleared, 34 people were dead and hundreds more wounded, including protesters and police officers.

Today, 54 protesters and ostensible instigators are on trial for the infamous Baguazo. Government prosecutors have accused high-profile indigenous leaders of inciting their people to violence. Several indigenous representatives like Alberto Pizango, president of the Amazon-wide indigenous organization AIDESEP, face sentences of 35 years to life. Read more here – http://amazonwatch.org/?utm_source=Amazon+Watch+Newsletter+and+Updates&utm_campaign=070b018de3-

Read the rest on Eye on the Amazon »