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On 30 November 2013 government e-petition supported by Ekklesia and established by sick and disabled people passed the 100,000 signature mark. The organisers, most of whom are living with a serious illness or disability, were delighted and very grateful to all who signed.
The petition calls for a cumulative impact assessment of welfare reform as it affects sick and disabled people, and an end to the Work Capability Assessment, as called for by the British Medical Association. Getting 100,000 signatures means it must be considered by the Backbench Business Committee to be the subject of a debate in the House of Commons.
However, when supporters John McDonnell MP and Ian Mearns MP took the petition to the Committee, they were told that to secure a debate in the main chamber of the House of Commons they would need to attract cross-party support.
The organisers of the petition worked hard to get this far, and are now faced with this further challenge. They are asking supporters to write to their MP and ask them simply to agree to support their request for a debate in the main chamber of the House of Commons. They do not need to agree with what the petition is asking for; they simply need to support the right of sick and disabled people to be heard. In a democracy this surely should not be a problem for any MP.
Organisers have produced the following letter which people can send to their MP, though it is much better to write a personal letter if you have been affected by these issues:
I am writing as a constituent to ask you to represent my views in Parliament.
I signed and supported a government e-petition (dubbed the WOW petition) which recently passed the 100,000 signature mark, meaning that it must be considered for a debate in Parliament. I understand that cross-party support is required for the debate to happen in the main chamber of the House, and would like you, in the interests of democracy, to do whatever you can to make this happen. You do not need to support the petition’s demands to support the need for a debate.
The petition calls for a cumulative impact assessment of welfare reform as it affects sick and disabled people and carers, and an end to the Work Capability Assessment, as demanded by the British Medical Association.
Allow me to briefly present some evidence to support the need for these measures.
The Welfare Reform Act 2012 was promoted as the biggest shake up of welfare for 60 years, so it was extraordinary that no assessment was carried out on how it would cumulatively affect the most vulnerable people in society. I believe the government now needs to take stock, and face the fact that sick and disabled people have been caused great distress and hardship. The think tank Demos has calculated that disabled people, already more likely to be living in poverty, will lose around £28billion over five years. This hardly seems to be sharing the burden of austerity fairly.
As for the Work Capability Assessment, it has been a disaster both for the taxpayer and those who are subjected to it. The British Medical Association last year called for it to be scrapped with immediate effect as it was doing so much harm to their patients. Parkinson’s UK research has found that almost half of people with a progressive degenerative illness, when assessed, are told they will get better and placed in the Work Related Activity Group. This means they are required to prepare for work, and if they are unable to do what is required of them can be sanctioned, leaving them with little or no income. Please remember these are people with Parkinson’s disease and other degenerative illnesses.
I believe that if Parliament has any respect or consideration for sick and disabled people’s views, the least it can do is to debate these issues in the main chamber. I would be very grateful if you, as my MP, would ensure that such a debate takes place.
And please bear in mind this fact: eighty three per cent of disabled people acquire their disability, they are not born disabled, so these issues could affect any of your constituents, or even you, at any time.
With best wishes for Christmas and the New Year,
[signed / contact details]
Please send a letter to your MP as soon as possible. The Backbench Business Committee will meet on Tuesday 10 December 2013.
* More on WOW petition from Ekklesia: http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/tags/9697
© Bernadette Meaden has written about political, religious and social issues for some years, and is strongly influenced by Christian Socialism, liberation theology and the Catholic Worker movement. She is an Ekklesia associate and regular contributor. You can follow her on Twitter: @BernaMeadenTweet