'Spartacus report' on disability takes Internet by storm

By staff writers
10 Jan 2012

The 'Responsible Reform' report by disabled people critiquing the government's efforts to slash their benefits and support has attracted huge attention.

The report, which shows that the government has misled the public over the results of its consultation on Disability Living Allowance, was pitched on social media and the web yesterday - producing millions of hits and tens of thousands of downloads - as the mainstream media largely continued to ignore the voices of disabled people on welfare reform.

"Sue Marsh's #spartacusreport is proof that social media can transform a campaign. Publicity worth millions I suspect," commented PoliticsHome editor Paul Waugh later in the day.

The #spartacus report hashtag was a top 'trender' on Twitter for much of 9 January 2012, the launch date of the report, which used the Freedom of Information Act to reveal overwhelming opposition in the consultation responses to nearly all of the government's proposals for DLA reform. In addition, Only seven per cent of organisations that took part were fully in support of plans to replace DLA with a Personal Independence Payment (PIP). Up to 98 per cent disagreed with key proposals.

'Responsible Reform' also shows that the government has consistently used inaccurate figures to exaggerate the rise in DLA claimants, has broken its own guidelines on consultation (starting the legislative process two days before its conclusion), and has repeatedly ignored warnings that the its plans could breach the Equality Act, the Human Rights Act and the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

Prominent figures across the political spectrum, including Conservative London Mayor Boris Johnson, former Blair aide Alastair Campbell, former deputy Prime Minister John Prescott, numerous Liberal Democrats, Peers from all parties, Green Party leader Caroline Lucas and Tory doyenne Christine Hamiliton have expressed their opposition to the DLA reforms and and/or support for the 'Spartacus Report', as it has become known.

The report is backed by Disability Alliance, representing over 380 charities. Scope, Mind, RNIB, Sense, the National Autistic Society, ME Action and the Papworth Trust are among those who have specifically promoted it, alongside community groups and the beliefs and values thinktank Ekklesia.

Also giving it the thumbs-up have been the Trades Union Congress, Church Action on poverty and many NGOs.

Backing was also forthcoming from celebrities and public figures, including Stephen Fry (whose initial linking tweet crashed at least one website associated with the publication of the report), singer Billy Bragg, comedian and activist Mark Thomas, TV personality Sue Perkins, writers Val McDermid and Kate Long, Coronation Street actor Julie Hesmondhalgh, satirist Tim Minchin and many others.

Particular attention is being paid to members of the House of Lords who discuss the Welfare Reform Bill again tomorrow (11 January), and who have it in their power to block the controversial legislation, which campaigners, charities and disabled people themselves say will be "a disaster". There are now strong calls for a six-month pause and rethink on the government's part.

MPs are also receiving a hard copy of the report. However, there was astonishment when the House of Commons demanded £290 from the producers of 'Responsible Reform', most of whom are low-waged or on benefits, to deliver it to those who will decide their fate.

The Department of Work and Pensions, who have ignored the lobbying of disabled people, finally responded yesterday, using the 'Responsible Reform' Twitter hashtag. Their attempts at justifying cuts and changes to benefits and allowances were soon swamped by critics.

The one disappointment, say campaigners, is that the major television news outlets continued to ignore the report, despite a massive surge of popular, political and public opinion.

Channel 4 News presenter Jon Snow was the unfortunate butt of a small minority of abusive messages after his programme declined to give coverage. Those officially connected with 'Responsible Reform' have spoken to him to apologise and make it plain that this was not of their doing.

But it does indicate, say commentators, the rising tide of anger about the way the mainstream media and political systems continue to ignore, marginalise and patronise disabled people.

The Daily Mail newspaper led the backlash this morning, with a smear story about 'scroungers'. In fact, the report points out, only 0.5 per cent of claims are fraudulent, while £15 billion worth of legitimate benefits go unclaimed.

However, another Mail contributor, Sonia Poulton, struck a notably different tone this afternoon with a piece entitled, 'We're all desperate for welfare reform, Mr. Cameron, but hiding the truth is not the way to achieve it."

"£14 billion spent on bankers bonuses, £9 billion disability cuts", declared New Internationalist magazine. "Greed before need?"

* The full report, 'Responsible Reform' is being made available online at Ekklesia and elsewhere. See: http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/responsiblereformDLA

* An easy-read version has been made available by United Response here: http://bit.ly/xy0elw

* Please wear the Spartacus twibbon: http://twibbon.com/join/spartacusreport

* The Guardian article by Sue Marsh, 'Disabled people listened to on welfare plans? It's a goverernment sham' -
http://tinyurl.com/7skv7rc

* The Broken of Britain: http://thebrokenofbritain.blogspot.com/

* Diary of a Benefit Scrounger: http://diaryofabenefitscrounger.blogspot.com

* Press release here: http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/16008

* Show your support by tweeting with the hashtag #spartacusreport and use that tag to follow what is going on

* DLA coverage from Ekklesia: http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/disabilitylivingallowance

[Ekk/3]

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