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As part of a new campaign to highlight the highly damaging impact of the government's welfare changes, particularly in relation to Employment and Support Allowance (ESA), activist Sue Marsh (http://diaryofabenefitscrounger.blogspot.co.uk/) launched #ESAendgame, the first of a range of mobilising activities, on Twitter and on her web page yesterday (6 March 2013).
The aim is to get people talking about the human impact of ESA, and of the WCA (Work Capability Assessment) overseen by the DWP and implemented by ATOS and others, which is what someone has to go through to qualify for ESA.
We have excerpted some of the comments and examples people tweeted below. They make harrowing reading. There are a few news and audio links included. These are the stories and experiences which politicians, civil servants, policy makers and media operatives need to see in order to understand the massive damage being occasioned by the government's assault on welfare.
Ekklesia believes that social, welfare and benefits policy should be shaped by human determinants, by an economics of sharing rather than hoarding, and above all by the expertise, experience and perspective of those living at the sharp-end - not by decision-makers living in remote comfort, protected by spin-doctors.
Here is what #ESAendgame revealed:
"The DWP sends very poorly terminally ill people like me into the Work Related Activity Group - we're not 'fit for work' any time soon, we're dying."
"Elaine's body was found in a drain. The Inquest heard she was worried about a benefit entitlement meeting."
"My terminal friend had to explain 'how terminal?' was her terminal cancer to the JSA office. She died four months later."
"If you became ill or disabled would you want to live in constant fear of becoming destitute?"
"A Freedom of Information document from the DWP has revealed that rather than an average of 32 deaths per week as a result of Welfare Reform that figure has now risen to an average of 73 deaths per week." http://welfarenewsservice.com/nothing-short-of-barbaric/
"I live in a crip's body, wracked with pain, high on drugs to dull pain receptors, have restricted movement but brain works fine."
"I was pushed into oncoming traffic whilst waiting at traffic lights in my wheelchair followed by shouts of 'scrounging scum'."
"Quote from ATOS Work Capability Assessment: 'And how long have you had Down’s Syndrome?'"
"According to the DWP's own research, 92 per cent of UK businesses will not consider employing a blind person. WCA [is] oblivious to this fact."
"Far from 'helping people back to work' the truth regarding ESA is [that] it causes additional suffering and makes sick people sicker."
"The DWP, with no medical experience, can declare you fit for work despite evidence from professionals. This is just wrong."
"Now too old for ESA, but hear about too many people with terminal cancer being told they should be in work."
"Fury as benefits bullies DWP force 50,000 disabled Scots to go back to work." tinyurl.com/b7fqneb
"I object to having my illness tested by a points scoring system. If doctors did this, hospitals would be virtually empty."
"New rules allow assessors to completely disregard symptoms."
"The One Year Time Limit totally undermines any contributory principle."
"Is it fair that ill/disabled have to justify said illness to someone who knows nothing about it? Justify it?"
"My WCA assessment stated I couldn't work. DWP overturned it and placed me in a WRAG. Took a year to overturn at tribunal."
"Claimants could be left without any income replacement benefit at all when challenging a decision that they are fit for work, the government has confirmed."
"My fight for my ESA is temporarily over, many more are still fighting."
"Why should someone who has to spend the bulk of their energy on dealing with pain, fatigue, and staying alive be forced to work?"
"Most people's impairments can be accommodated in the right job with the right support - but those jobs are few and far between."
"ESA is finding people fit for the dole queue, not fit for any kind of realistic and suitable employment."
"The worst thing about ESA is the constant reassessment of people who won't get better."
"The tragedy of Alice: How the Work Capability Assessment costs lives - its impact on people with mental health problems is more serious than ATOS have acknowledged." http://www.newstatesman.com/politics/2013/03/tragedy-alice
"One day I was a valued member of society, the next day I was a dirty, filthy scrounger who bankrupted the UK."
"All the people I tweeted about who died were real and their stories can be found here." http://t.co/ZRsZzVlkoO [*.PDF file]
"Seems saying I have frequent co-morbid tendencies at my ESA WCA means I'm OK to work. Who knew?"
"Full of rage for the contempt in which people are held. Human beings. Full of fear for the future when I'll need to apply."
"A man who doused himself with petrol and tried to set himself alight in a job centre after a dispute over benefits has been jailed for 20 months."
"April 2013 sees the end of contribution-based ESA. All claims will only last for a year even if you have paid 40+ years of National Insurance (NI)."
"ATOS incompetence: 'When did you catch autism?'"
"The claimant has no right to know the qualifications of the WCA assessors. You could have a physio assessing autism."
"One ATOS [assessor] was described, by my brief at my tribunal hearing, as 'certifying a chair fit for work'. Everyone knew him."
"I'd like to know how qualified these ESA 'advisors' actually are. More visibility, please."
"A person whose cousin was on disability benefit, dying of liver failure: the DWP stopped her benefit and she had to appeal against it, enduring eight weeks of 'worry, hopelessness and grief' before dying two days before her family received notification that her appeal had been granted."
"One of the most stressful events in life, is moving home - the government's bedroom tax is deliberately inflicting this on disabled."
"A man 63 dies of kidney failure and starvation after being cut off benefits and declared 'fit for work'."
"Please tell me, Government, what have I done to deserve this abuse and suffering from you?"
"The bullying tactics of DWP and ATOS." http://alonewewhisper.blogspot.co.uk/2012/11/the-bullying-tactics-of-dwp...
"Why are we spending millions of pounds finding sick people fit for jobs that don't exist?"
"ATOS: The world's silliest interview." http://loopys-rollingwiththepunches.blogspot.co.uk/2013/01/esa-sos-world...
"Worst thing about ESA is [that] they ignore long-term medical knowledge about people in favour of a 10-minute ATOS interview."
"Simon Hickmans ATOS assessment. This is how they treat people with mental health problems." https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tG9a22hbrcY
"This is very much like my assessment, but I felt couldn't walk out and I had no-one with me or any support of any kind, so I got trampled over by ATOS and got zero points."
"Government policy on disability assessment doesn't work and is wasting my taxes, and making the lives of the disabled even harder."
"We hope that you'll never understand what the fear of the brown envelope means, but just in case please sign the WOW petition: http://wowpetition.com/
PART TWO OF THIS SELECTION NOW ONLINE: The human cost of WCA and ESA: more #ESAendgame feedback | Ekklesia http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/18125
Ekklesia is honoured and pleased to be working with disability researchers and campaigners in helping to link analysis with advocacy, political lobbying and media awareness-building around welfare, benefits and disability policy.
* People's Review of the WCA (We Are Spartacus): http://wearespartacus.org.uk/wca-report/
* Briefing on Employment and Support Allowance (Amendment) Regulations 2012: http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/ESAbriefing
* Sue Marsh's blog on Ekklesia: http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/suemarsh
* Disability issues on Ekklesia: http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/disability
* Truth and lies about poverty, benefits and welfare (churches' report): http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/18086
* Thousands of disabled and sick people will be hit by new ESA/WCA changes: http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/17812Tweet