Actor and broadcaster Stephen Fry and political media personality Sally Bercow are among those backing a big online campaign to raise awareness about the injustices wrought by the flawed Work Capability Assessment (WCA), which is being used to block vitally needed benefits for many sick and disabled people.
They have joined other activists in endorsing a Twitter and Facebook 'crowdsourcing' initiative to publicise The People's Review of the WCA - a 70-page report written by disabled people which exposes the unfairness, indignity and suffering the current system is inflicting on thousands of vulnerable people.
The chosen mechanism is the fast-growing 'Thunderclap' site. Thunderclap describes itself as "the first-ever crowdspeaking platform that helps users be heard by saying something together. It allows a single message to be mass-shared, flash mob-style," so that it rises above the background noise of online social networks by 'boosting the signal' of a specific message.
The message that will go out to over 150,000 people through social media on Sunday 18 November will declare: “Tell your friends, MP, GP and everyone else what really happens when sick & disabled people need out of work benefits http://thndr.it/SOCLmU .”
To make it work, people need to sign up straight away.
Disabled people are at risk because of the government’s refusal to consider a ‘real world’ test of actual barriers to employment, says the We Are Spartcus network of disabled people which is promoting the report with friends and allies, including Ekklesia.
The People's Review of the Work Capability Assessment comes ahead of Professor Malcolm Harrington’s third and final official review of the WCA, and includes harrowing examples of people who have wrongly been told they are fit for work, including someone with no short term memory mechanism, a man with a terminal brain tumour, and an incontinent disabled man who is both blind and deaf.
The messages retweeted by Fry and Bercow, among others, and duplicated thousands of times, read: "Truly shocking How the #UKGov treats sick/disabled ppl. Read the damning Review of #realWCA and support the Thunderclap http://bit.ly/SYW8Ny ."
Other examples of claimants’ experiences cited in the report include a man whose benefits were stopped for failing to return the necessary forms, despite his wife confirming with the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) that he was in a coma; and a man who died 48 hours after filling in his questionnaire. After informing everyone of his death his wife received a call three months later asking him to come in for his assessment.
These examples cannot be discounted as exceptional, say campaigners. Overall the report highlights the stories and experiences of more than 70 people who have been inappropriately assessed, forced to go to tribunal, felt humiliated or treated inappropriately.
The aim of the social media initiative is to raise awareness among hundreds of thousands of people, and to get the report circulated as widely as possible.
The original 'Spartacus Report' (January 2012) on the abolition of Disability Living Allowance reached millions of people on Twitter, helped to engineer seven defeats for the government on its controversial Welfare Reform legislation, and has been regarded as one of the most successful social media campaigns to date.
The promoters of the People's Review of the WCA hope that they can build on this success.
Stephen Fry is also a screenwriter, author, playwright, journalist, poet, comedian, television presenter, film director and a director of Norwich City Football Club.
Sally Bercow is a patron of the charity Ambitious about Autism and is on the approved list of candidates for members of Parliament for the Labour Party.
* Click here to support the WCA review 'thunderclap': https://www.thunderclap.it/projects/632-the-people-s-review-of-the-wca
* Thunderclap FAQ: https://www.thunderclap.it/faq
* The People's Review of the WCA: http://thndr.it/SOCLmU
* More on Spartacus: http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/spartacusreport
* 'Official policy on disability work tests is to deny reality', Simon Barrow: http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/17378
* Follow the campaign on Twitter through the hashtag #realWCA