Government 'must be held to account' for changes hitting disabled and sick

By staff writers
4 Dec 2013

The Government is being asked urgently to examine all cuts affecting sick and disabled people after a landmark petition which passed 100,000 signatures triggered a Parliamentary debate.

The War on Welfare (WOW) Petition to the Department for Work and Pensions (http://epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/43154), which remains open until 12 December 2013, calls for a Cumulative Impact Assessment of welfare reform, and a New Deal for sick and disabled people based on their needs, abilities and ambitions.

Led by sick and disabled people, it has received support across the political spectrum, and backing from civic and faith groups, community organisations, action groups, charities, bloggers, think-tanks (including Ekklesia), celebrities and thousands of ordinary people.

Labour MPs John McDonnell and Ian Mearns have been instrumental in securing a back-bench debate, and the campaign is now seeking to ensure by next Tuesday, when the location decision is made, that it takes place in the parliamentary chamber, not in a sidelined Westminster annex. This requires more cross-party support.

The Government has already ignored calls from the medical profession to scrap the Work Capability Assessments (WCA) used to decide whether someone can receive Employment Support Allowance (ESA).

Disability charities have called for major change after finding that 45 per cent of people who put in a claim for ESA, and had a degenerative illness, were placed in the Work Related Activity Group (WRAG) being told they would recover.

A Freedom of Information Request has revealed that over 1,100 people died within a few months of being placed in the same group for claimants who the DWP consider will be capable of work at some time in the future.

Caroline Lucas, the Green MP for Brighton Pavilion, supporting the petition and debate, said yesterday: “The coalition’s cruel assault on welfare is hurting some of the most vulnerable in our society. People have made clear that they’ve had enough. The strength of feeling is obvious. It’s time for a parliamentary debate, and I’ll be doing everything I can to make it happen.”

Green Party of England and Wales Work and Pensions spokesperson Jonathan Bartley, who is also a carer, added: “It is a scandal that for the people most affected by welfare changes, sick and disabled people and carers, no cumulative impact assessment was carried out. The Secretary of State Iain Duncan Smith had no knowledge or understanding of how lives would be turned upside down. The devastating impact is now becoming clear and a full assessment must be made.

“The calls of medical professionals, charities, disabled people and carers for urgent action must also be heeded. Now that the WOW petition has reached 100,000 signatures Parliament should urgently debate these issues and there should be a free vote on the repeal of the Work Capability Assessment.

"The threat of sanction for those on disability benefits who do not work should be removed while there is a committee-based independent inquiry into Welfare Reform.”

The WoW campaign has launched an emergency petition on Change.org to get MPs to make sure the welfare debate takes place in the parliamentary chamber. It can be signed and shared here: http://www.change.org/en-GB/petitions/house-of-commons-back-bench-busine...

Ekklesia, the Christian political think tank, is urging churches, faith organisations and religious leaders to press the government on the issues raised by the WoW petition.

Simon Barrow, Ekklesia co-director, commenting on the United Nations International Day of Persons with Disabilities 2013, said: "The Welfare Reform Act and associated provisions in national and local government, as well as contracted-out assessment processes, have hit disabled and sick people with a raft of changes primarily aimed at reducing support and saving money.

But concrete evidence of the real harm being caused to the most vulnerable people in society is building by the day. This is a serious human rights issue. Government must be held to account for the consequences of its welfare and care decisions.

'Our view is that a new framework of reform is needed, driven by the needs and expertise of disabled and sick people themselves. We will continue to resource and support initiatives to achieve just such a policy overhaul, and to remind the churches and faith communities in particular of their responsibility to act and speak out on the range of issues raised by the WoW petition."

Support for a proper assessment is growing. "The case for an assessment of the cuts cumulative impact is compelling," says Tim Hancock, Campaigns Director at Amnesty International UK.

Public figures including Stephen Fry, Russell Brand, Yoko Ono and Bianco Jagger have endorsed the War on Welfare campaign, which has been galvanised by comedian and activist Francesca Martinez. The Daily Mirror newspaper has also backed it.

* Urgent action: letter to MPs asking parliament to listen to disabled and sick people - http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/19587

* Who is WoW? http://wowpetition.com/who-is-wow/

[Ekk/3]

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