Thursday, 18 May 2017

For The Many Not The Few - General Election (Week 5)

So this week we saw the launch of Labour's manifesto to a rapturous applause at Bradford University and what a great progressive one it's turned out to be. Jeremy Corbyn described it as a manifesto 'for the many not the few' and 'a programme of hope not fear'.

In order to put together the manifesto, Labour have consulted with loads of different people including experts, researchers, charities and of course ordinary members.

Just to recap on some of the proposals:

- Higher spending on the NHS (this must surely be one of the most important things to consider when casting your vote - the NHS is not safe in Tory hands and has been consistently underfunded as well as seeing creeping privatisation, especially as a result of the Health & Social Care Act 2012 which removed responsibility for the health of citizens from the Health Secretary and created Clinical Commissioning Groups, partly run by GPs but also private service providers.)

 - Reversal Of Welfare Cuts (this is equally as vital as the above because Labour voted against most if not all of the Welfare changes that have impoverished the lives - and worse - of many long term sick and disabled people since the Coalition in 2010).

 - Building of over a million new homes

 - Renationalization of the railways (when present franchises end), water, and Royal Mail

 - The creation of a National Education Service along the lines of the NHS to include free learning from the cradle to the grave and university fees will be scrapped making 'education a right and not a privilege'. Schools will be properly funded

 - There will be free child care for all 2 year olds

 - Voting age to be reduced to 16

 - A guaranteed triple-lock on pensions

 - A planned rise in Corporation Tax and a levy on firms paying very high salaries (this is a measure to reduce ridiculous inequality within society)

 -  No tax and national insurance rises except for the richest ie raising taxes to 45p for those earning over £80k and 50p for those earning over £123k

 - Scrapping exploitative zero hours contracts

 There were many more things in the manifesto including Brexit negotiations, helping the environment, making the country a more inclusive place and so on.

You will always get the naysayers who say the figures don't add up and the amount of borrowing but consider this: the Tories have borrowed more than all previous Labour parties!

At the launch of the manifesto, many of the media were present to pose questions and here is a flavour of some of Jeremy Corbyn's responses to their questions.

Somebody asked if anything could be done about 'the shockingly biassed media against the Labour Party.'  Jeremy Corbyn said he wanted to ensure there was diversity of all our media and that he thought freedom of speech in a democracy is important.

Then, when a journalist from some right-wing platform, posed a question on immigration he was immediately booed and heckled. But Jeremy Corbyn said 'Please, let's have respect for journalists - I'm a member of the NUJ.' But responding to the question on immigration, he went on to say that immigrants made 'an immense contribution' to our society and 'without immigration in the NHS, most of us would be far worse off in our health'.

Jeremy Corbyn likes to lead by example.  He quite rightly says that 'being strong doesn't mean shouting, dictating and insulting...I don't indulge in personal abuse.'  He just wants to 'debate the issues'.  But it is a sad reflection of affairs when so much of politics is about the 'cult of personality'.

Finally, there have been all those comments about 'taking us back to the 1970s'.  Corbyn's response was a comment in relation to the Conservative plans: 'fox-hunting and grammar schools...that's really forward-looking, isn't it?'

But whenever people make that comment I always say, better the 1970s than turn back the clock 100 years ago which the Tories seem to be doing - when inequality was rife and none of the rights that have been hard-won in the last few decades even existed.  For those of us old enough to remember the 1970s, great changes were made, such as The Sex Discrimination Act and The Race Relations Act which paved the way for a fairer kinder society.

So let us return to a fairer, kinder society.  We have had thirty years of Monetarism and it's failed.  Not everything that went before is bad and should never be revisited.   Let us learn from all that was good that went before. It is time to look back in order to move forward.

If you would like to read the Labour manifesto in full - please follow the link here:


Friday, 12 May 2017

A Picture Tells A Thousand Words (part 1) General Election 2017 (Week 4)

Well, what a week it's been, with the 'leaked' Labour manifesto which backfired! Backfired inasmuch as it will give Jeremy Corbyn double the publicity and double exposure for the manifesto.  But as I've had a bad week in terms of health I thought I would post many of the memes, satire and pictures which I have collected over the past few weeks and months (mainly from Facebook).

Here's just a small selection and they all include a few succinct words, too!

More memes to follow next week!

Friday, 5 May 2017

The 'Strong & Stable' Mantra - General Election 2017 (week 3)

    This week I thought I'd share a poem that came to my attention via 
    Disability Arts Online. It sums up for me the tactics the Tories employ to 
    get their message across. They use soundbites and mantras like a refrain 
    which sink into the public psyche. But they have little substance. 
    This wonderfully satirical poem sums it up perfectly and demonstrates 
    how hollow it all is and deflects from what's really going on. Do not be fooled.

      All Together Now - A poem by Judith Milburn 

      Theresa May has kitten heels 
      And legs like Betty Grable;
      Of COURSE that proves her leadership
      Is really strong and stable!
      Let's wheel on Boris for a laugh
      On Sky, Beeb, Mail or cable.
      His jibes are bound to make us look
      Big and strong and stable.

      Who cares about election fraud -
      Best swept under the table.
      (Just make sure no-one's charged 'til June,
      To keep us strong and stable!)

      Don't dig below the headlines, now,
      Don't question if we're able;
      Just repeat the same old riff:
      'We're very strong and stable!'

      Our strength is putting others down,
      Our sympathy's a fable;
      We bully, harm and isolate -
      And call it 'strong and stable'.

      We hate what we don't understand
      And box it with a label.
      So if you disagree, we'll say
      That you aren't strong and stable.

      Don't be 'foreign', poor, ill, old,
      Raped, unemployed, disabled -
      That doesn't fit with our idea
      Of being strong and stable.

      For God's sake don't be taken in
      By their 'strong and stable' lie;
      Value humanity when you vote -
      Or hope, and people, die.

      Poem shared courtesy of a member of Disability Arts Online

      Friday, 28 April 2017

      Why Disability Benefits are Political - General Election 2017 (week 2)

      I am amazed how some people claiming disability benefits like ESA and PIP can still be in ignorance as to why things are so bad for them, why they are being put through repeated tests, why they have been sanctioned and so forth.    For many they don't see the Welfare Reform Act brought about by the last Coalition government, consisting mainly of Tories (and propped up by the Lib Dems) as having any relevance to where they find themselves today.

      I am amazed but shouldn't be. It has all been carefully choreographed by the Tories and the largely Right Wing media that supports them: Daily Mail, Sun, Express, Channel 5, often the BBC. It is in their interests to have the poor set against the poor, the working poor vs the out of work poor, the 'genuinely' disabled vs 'all those other people faking it', the poor vs the immigrants, the 'deserving' vs the 'undeserving', the young vs the old. You name it.  What you will never see from the Right Wing media is the obscenely rich vs the obscenely poor.  Because if all the poor united against the rich, there would be no more rich. So, the slow drip drip of poverty porn piped through our TV screens and newspaper, month on month, year on year, has softened people up, has made people turn on 'the other'.  Divide and rule they have us.  United we stand, divided we fall. It's as simple as that. And the Tories know it and have exploited it. They have the power, the influence and the money to carry it off. 

      Many people are disengaged with politics and will come out with phrases such as 'They're all as bad as each other'. One person who said this recently in relation to disability benefits qualified it by saying that 'it was Labour that introduced Atos and Capita assessment'. While this is true to some extent, previous Conservative governments had paved the way long before under the likes of Peter Lilley. You only have to check Peter Lilley's name on Wikipedia if you're too young to remember (which I'm not) and you will find all the information you need, such as: "Shortly after his appointment, Lilley entertained the Conservative Party's annual conference by outlining his plan "to "close down the something for nothing for society" (I've previously written a blog on that myth too). Lilley also replaced Invalidity Benefit with Incapacity Benefit in 1995 "in the hope of checking the rise in sickness benefit claims. Unlike its predecessor, Invalidity Benefit, this new welfare payment came with a medical test that gauged claimants' ability to work."

      Whatever you may think of New Labour and the other scandalous horrors that occurred under their watch internationally, they introduced a raft of measures at home to reduce inequality.  In terms of benefits, they introduced Tax Credits, Tax Credits for the over 50s, the Minimum Wage,  an extra £28 for disabled people on JSA, free Legal Aid for people on benefits and other people on low incomes, voted against the Bedroom Tax, reduced homelessness, introduced the National OAPs and Disabled Bus Passes and voted against the worst of the Welfare Reform Bill to name a few.  Many of these measures helped the poorest in society and many of them have been scrapped. Many more people have been found wrongly fit for work under this and the last government and countless lives have been lost needlessly as a result. You get more true negatives when you set the bar too high - that is too many ill people being found fit for work - and yet the government have been prepared to sacrifice lives in this way. And yet benefit fraud is as low as it gets, especially among disabled people and in any event there are DWP fraud officers to deal with that tiny amount of fraud.  It's not for anybody else to make that judgment.

      Jeremy Corbyn has pledged to scrap the WCA and put benefits in line with inflation. He wants to bring back Legal Aid and get rid of punitive sanctions. He has promised the Waspi Women £155 a week, those women born in the 1950s and robbed of their pensions by a sudden hike in the pension age, denying them time to prepare for their retirement.  Of course, it's not going to happen the day after the day of the General Election. It takes time to pass new legislation and reverse existing legislation.  That is how democracy works.

      It will certainly take time because the Tories have continued their onslaught at lightning speed since being the 2015 election. 

      Since 2010, the Coalition and then the Tories, have made the WCA harder and harder to pass, they have replaced DLA with PIP, in order to cut benefits, they have denied people the immediate right to appeal against a wrong decision, not until they go though a Mandatory Consideration first. This was introduced as way of ostensibly cutting down the number of cases needing to go to appeal, but the cynical part of me knows that the real reason was so that fewer people would appeal.  Even before Mandatory Reconsideration, people dropped out before appeal stage.  Now with one more hoop to jump through, many more give up.  It is all too much when you are vulnerable, stressed, fatigued, in pain.  In a word, it is cruel to have added this extra hurdle.

      Not only this, the Tories have closed down the Independent Living Fund, they have introduced Council tax for the poorest and they have made legislation so that disabled people can be sanctioned - in fact, the more vulnerable you are, the more you are seen as an easy target by Job Centre staff who have to stick to their sanctioning targets. Several hundred disabled people are losing their motability scooters every week and 18-21 year old ones will not be routinely paid housing benefit.  The Tories have voted for disability benefits cuts in the ESA WRAG group by £30 for new claimants - £30 from a measly £100 a week or so!  People in the ESA WRAG group who have passed one of the most difficult tests in the world to pass - the flawed Work Capability Assessment (WCA) - and yet are still being punished because the government want to treat all out of work people the same (regardless of their limitations). And if you think you've been let off the hook because you're in the ESA Support Group, the New Health & Work Green Paper outlines plans to coerce this group too.  Food banks have rocketed since the Welfare Reform Act and yet the government denies there is any link between the rise in food banks and the change in legislation.

      The third child 'rape clause' in order to qualify for benefits for that child is perhaps one of the most pernicious of the Tories obsession with what they call 'welfare dependency" (again, I did a previous blog on this too) and shows them to have plumbed the depths.  Anyone who thinks this is an acceptable thing to do in a supposed humane society is completely morally bankrupt and 'the nasty party' are well and truly back. In Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon rightly called this measure 'obscene' and said Ruth Davidson had tried to shake off the toxic image of Westminster Tories but on this she had failed.

      But I fear that many people will either vote for a party who doesn't have their best interests at heart because of half-formed ideas that 'they are all as bad was each other'.

      A lot of myths abound, for example, the one about there not being enough money in the pot for everyone to have what they need but again people have been sold the politics of austerity for so long they believe it. But we are the sixth wealthiest nation in the world. We can afford to look after the sick and the vulnerable and let's not forget how many millions - if not billions - go unclaimed in benefits every year.  It is not about austerity but ideology.

      Therefore we have to share the facts as to how disability benefits and ergo people's quality of life  will be affected according to who they vote for. Because if they don't vote for the party or parties most likely to help the disabled then they can't complain when the Tories continue the rest of their brutal destruction of the welfare state.

      Friday, 21 April 2017

      Stand By Your Team - General Election 2017 (Week 1)

      OK, so here we go again...

      Even though we were promised fixed term parliaments of five years, to stop any incumbent government from calling an election any time and thereby gaining advantage when the polls were favourable, Teresa May has gone ahead and done it anyway.  All she needed was two thirds of parliament to vote for it and she knew she would get her wish.  Labour were caught between a rock and a hard place - if they voted against it, then they couldn't call the country's bluff and say 'bring it on'.

      So in the few days since the election has been called it is already being talked as a formality by many - and not all those on the Right either.  Many on the Left are just as gloomy and want Corbyn gone. 'He's not leader material' I hear so many say. 'He's not got that oomph, that a leader needs'.  And in these days of slick presidential-style politics, they might have a point, even though they should be voting on policies and not leadership style.

      But what they don't seem to realise is - if not Corbyn, then who? Who do they see in his place, these Labour naysayers who won't vote for Labour because of Corbyn?  Few of them can put forward a name of someone they'd prefer to Corbyn unless they are vehement supporters of New Labour.  But when New Labour became so indistinguishable from the Right, they moaned then too, didn't they?  They wanted someone more Left Wing. Many of them moaned about Ed Miliband not being Left Wing enough.

      But what I really don't get is this.  Why ever would a Labour supporter not support Labour just because of Corbyn?  His ideas are hardly radical: build more houses, more affordable housing, save the NHS, renationalise the railways, redistribute wealth, look after the vulnerable, pay carers and so on.  What's not to like?  It's not as if people are voting for Corbyn anyway, unless they happen to be living in Islington. If you support Labour, then you vote for your MP who represents you in parliament. He or she may be to the Left of the Party or they may be to the centre but they will support the Labour ethos by and large.  If this was football, you wouldn't abandon your team, would you, just because you don't think like the manager.  You would give a new manager a chance to prove himself, wouldn't you?  You'd see if he delivers and gets the results that you want from your team. This election is too important for people to exercise a protest vote against Corbyn.

      The media must be having a field day when those on the Left are doing their job for them.  What some people have quickly forgotten is that the Right Wing media nearly always attacks Labour leaders whoever they are - with one notable exception (more about that in a moment). The media attacked Miliband because of his father, because of his face.  The Tories run the media, they benefit from tax breaks and reduced corporation tax, and obscene salaries.  They don't want to redistribute wealth.  The odds are stacked against Corbyn, just as they were stacked against Miliband and against Neil Kinnock 25 years before. Here's a sobering thought - the only Labour government we've had since the 1970s is a New Labour government which had to cosy up to Murdoch and his cronies in order to be electable. So Corbyn has a nigh on impossible task.  He is perhaps canny to brand himself as the anti-establishment figure - seeing as such figures have done so well.  But usually these are Populist right wing figures and not on the Left.

      So what other criticisms are levelled at Corbyn? 

       'He whipped the party over the triggering of Article 50,' they say.  'He should have done more.'  Another fair criticism, maybe.  But if he'd opposed the triggering of Article 50 then he would have been seen as scuppering the will of the people.  He was in a no-win situation.

      But then we come onto the unfair and the downright ridiculous reasons not to vote Labour, filtered through the lens of a largely Right Wing media or the self-important on social media.

      'Cornyn's a terrorist sympathiser.'  Really?!  The man's a pacifist, ffs!  He knows, as anybody with a few brain cells knows, that you don't get world peace by war-war, you get it by jaw-jaw. Like it or not, history has showed you have to engage with the enemy.

      'He's anti-Semitic and most Jewish people don't like him'. Well, as someone with Jewish ancestry myself, that's another sweeping generalisation crushed by first-hand experience from family and Jewish friends who support Corbyn because they want a better world.  To criticise Israel isn't anti-Semitic, any more than criticising the Tories is anti-English.  

      The graphic above shows just how important it is to vote.  People are tired - they have voter fatigue, having had the referendum last year, a general election the year before, and that's just in England! But Labour have a mountain to climb because they need Scotland to get enough seats to make a difference. Far be it for me to tell people which way to vote (as long as it's not Tory!) but I would urge everyone who can vote to do so. It's been shown that most people vote on things that affect them personally: jobs, wages, schools, hospitals, the NHS, affordable housing and rents, the environment, looking after the disabled and their carers and this is Labour territory.  Teresa May pretended to care about those left behind when she came to do her speech on the steps after Cameron's demise.  But what has changed?  Same old same old as far as I can make out.

      Of course, it may be hard to get behind your preferred team, especially with our antiquated First Past The Post voting system which is outdated in a modern democracy.  This will mean that often people have to vote tactically, rather than with their conscience, to get the nasty party out. For instance, in the south west, Labour may do a deal with the Green Party so that instead of wasted tactical voting, the Green Party won't stand in those places where Labour are likely to win in exchange for areas where they stand a better chance. What matters at the end of the day in the FPTP system is to stop the Tories getting a working majority so that when they try and pass unpopular bills in parliament there will be enough opposition MPs to vote against.

      Next week, I shall be looking at who is more likely to have policies safeguarding the long term sick and disabled. It may seem obvious but it is surprising some of the myths that abound online every day.

      Sunday, 6 November 2016

      The Case For Unconditional and Universal Basic Income - A Disabled Artist's Perspective

      My submission for the case for Universal Unconditional Basic Income. OK, so they are actually looking for people to take part one the session in Birmingham which I cannot do, but these are my arguments anyway.  But if you can take part in the session then use the email at the bottom before 2nd December:

      I am a disabled member of the public with an interest in the Unconditional Basic Income - I have been for decades since it was first Green Party policy.  Thus I will be arguing for the Unconditional Basic Income from the perspective of disability. You may notice I have replaced the word ‘universal’ with ‘unconditional’. In fact, they both need to be there.  There needs to be ‘no strings attached’ (unconditional) and it needs to be ‘universal’ (available to everyone).

      I have entered into many a discussion: some argue against the idea of universal benefits because they don’t think those who are well off should also be in receipt of them e.g. the TV License, bus passes, winter fuel allowance etc. However, universal benefits are the most cost effective to administer, otherwise you get into the business of means-testing and that is costly and divisive.  That’s not to say there isn’t a place for some means-tested benefits as supplements or add-ons  e.g. disability and housing elements. But the universal aspect of it should be just that, and unconditional.  Universal Credit is a bastardisation of the universal principle. It’s not universal and it’s not unconditional which is why it’s a wasted opportunity.

      Obviously, the costs and the means-tested elements have to be thought through and worked out. Not everyone is going to agree at what constitutes a decent amount but something like the state pension figure is a good starting point for working age adults, certainly no lower than £100 per week for food, clothes and heat. Housing and extra costs for disability would need to be treated separately.  A fair and affordable figure could be arrived out by learning from other European countries and those further afield where it’s been pioneered previously e.g. Canada.

      But as it stands at the moment, we have the poorest people in society, being coerced and sanctioned if they can’t find work, even though everybody without exception, is entitled - yes entitled - to shelter, food and warmth.  It is outrageous in one of the world’s richest economies that it should be otherwise.  We quite rightly wouldn’t let a dog be cold and hungry on the streets and yet successive ministers seem to think it is quite OK to have people hungry and homeless. with their pernicious policies.

      We have now reached a stage with the global economy and the rise of digital economies, where there isn’t enough employment for all in the traditional sense of the word, and where’s there’s a lot of ‘free'.  The internet is full of free: free advice, free downloads, books, photos, videos and much more.  This is a good thing and to be welcomed for the consumer, though not so good for the creator or the adviser which is why the old model is no longer relevant in the 21st century. This is why it is time to separate ‘work' from ‘income’ and when I talk about work I am talking about it in the widest sense.  Successive governments have used many a mantra to get the public onside regarding welfare reform, but for me one of the most pernicious is the ‘something for nothing’ one. The language is designed to rubbish and dismiss those unable to earn enough to live on. In reality, the reverse of ‘something for nothing’ can be found in every nook and cranny in society. People volunteer, they parent, they care for the elderly and the sick, they care for animals, offer advice, be it legal or access to justice, or study to improve themselves.  E-books, photos, music downloads and instructive manuals are offered as free downloads daily on the internet.  People are happy to give and share their creations and knowledge on the internet for free or for little renumeration, because people are by nature altruistic and government ministers and rhetoric have been slow to acknowledge this, if they’ve acknowledged it at all. Sometimes they’ve corrupted it.  But all I see is the opposite.  I see the nothing for something society wherever I look: people giving something in return for ‘nothing’. The big society is alive and kicking.

      As an artist myself (in the wide sense), I also have a special interest in UBI from that perspective. Art is not only therapeutic but makes me feel valued and worth something. I can do it from home.  I am never going to make enough to live on firstly because of my precarious health and secondly because the arts are precarious.  But I see people giving and sharing their creative endeavours for free or for little renumeration.  The government only plays lip service to ‘the creative industries’ and the ‘talents of disabled people’ but a government that really cared about the creative talent of its people, especially disabled people, would subsidise those who are unable to be economically self-reliant. They would encourage creative (or educational or voluntary) pursuits of the long term sick and disabled, instead of seeing them as economic units to be bullied, coerced, sanctioned and erased. 

      This is why I feel passionately about an Unconditional and Universal Basic Income, as have been pioneered in other countries.  It would mean people like myself could take risks, instead of living in fear, knowing that they didn’t stand to lose all should they fail. Fear incapacitates. Bullying, coercion and sanctions also incapacitate. Let’s get rid of these barbaric notions once and for all.  The separation of living needs (warmth, shelter, food, clothing) from the higher pursuits in life i.e. how one spends one’s time is long overdue.  I don’t buy the argument either that ‘nobody would work’ if we had UBI. If work is such a good thing, then people will want and choose to do it, as they already do.  I am, once again, talking about work in the widest possible sense.  It is absurd that in the 21st century we still have an old-fashioned 20th century model of work, where people leave their houses to work for an employer for 35 hours a week. Yes, that is one form, but work has diversified greatly in the last few decades.  

      Surely it is time to value and celebrate that which is ‘given away’ for the benefit of all?  Isn’t it time we had a real and intelligent debate about work in the wider sense of using one’s time valuably and or for the benefit of the whole community instead of seeing how many more hoops the DWP are going to make the long term unemployed and disabled jump through just to get money to live on?  

      I hope you will take on board all these arguments which have also been made by many in my situation.

      Give evidence to the Committee

      If you are interested in taking part in this session, please send a brief overview of your background and interest in the topic, including any relevant work, to by Friday 2 December 2016.

      Committee members comments

      Frank Field MP, Chair of the Committee, said
      "The idea of a citizen’s income has recently garnered interest in several different countries. In this session the Committee will hope to explore arguments for and against implementing such an initiative in our country’s welfare system."
      Steve McCabe MP, Committee Member, said
      "As we consider the implications of Universal Credit and the wider argument for reform of our welfare system, particularly given the changes in our society since its introduction, we should also look at ideas which are not new but may have achieved a new significance in terms of universality as the government tries to reduce means testing and the administrative costs of delivering welfare. The concept of a citizen’s income is an idea which merits further consideration in this context."

      Saturday, 7 May 2016

      Right Wing ThinkTank Proposal to Cut ESA Support - Objection Email Ignored

      I wrote an email to the Right Wing ThinkTank Reform in February 2016 and followed it up in March in relation to their proposals and justifications for cutting the ESA Support Group Benefit down to the same level as Jobseekers' Allowance. You can read their full article available on their website at the following link.

      Below is my, as yet, unanswered email to Reform (their email is available on their website). My objections to their comments are in bold. Be aware that there have been a couple of changes since their proposals and my emails including the resignation of IDS.

      Dear Reform

      Re the above article on your website, I and countless other disabled people are under no illusion as to your agenda so we are not at all convinced and have no confidence in your barely concealed agenda in the above mentioned paper. But let's look at some of the statements contained in it:

      "In the quarter to May 2015, just 1 per cent of claimants in the ESA Work Related Activity Group (WRAG) – those deemed able to carry out activity to help them move towards work – left the benefit. The employment rate for disabled people in the UK is just 48 per cent, compared to 81 per cent for the rest of the working-age population."

      The reason that rates of employment are far lower among disabled people is because - er - they're disabled. The clue is in the name. Surely it's occurred to you that their rates of employment are largely due to the fact they cannot work in the sense you are talking about because of their disabilities and conditions, which may be physical, mental, both, invisible and/or fluctuating.

      You go onto say that "the evidence shows that work is good for people’s health and wellbeing and being out of work is detrimental to it, including for many people with mental and physical disabilities". 

      Please cite the evidence and research.  Indeed, research has shown that some work may be good for some disabled people some of the time.  And the evidence shows this needs to be good work, well-paid work and that people need to have control in their working environment. There is evidence to show that poorly paid, menial and inappropriate work is actually detrimental to health.  I will speak from my own experience here. I need to be at home most of the time (due to mental health and phobias as well as mental and physical fatigue and other physical disabilities).  If you really cared about supporting disabled people, why are there to be swingeing cuts to self-employment under Universal Credit?  Many disabled people, by virtue of the fact they are unable to put in the hours, will never be able to earn a living.  This is something the government and their think-tanks never address. You come out with soundbites such as 'be aspirational' and 'supporting the creative industries'. So where's the financial support for our disabled artists and writers and musicians?  The arts are precarious. Disability is precarious. The disabled artist is doubly clobbered. This is why disabled people rely on ESA. They need the finances just to exist and you must be fully aware of this.  There is no more wiggle room; disability incomes have been slashed to the bone. You mention the 21st Century constantly while still relying on a very outdated 20th century model of people going out of their houses to work and doing a 35 hour week.  That isn't 21st century thinking at all.  Oh...and there's always been Permitted Work for those disabled people who wish to work.

      You state: "Nonetheless, international evidence does show that the rate at which sickness benefits are set can have behavioural effects – particularly on claim duration. The Government should therefore set a single rate for out-of-work benefit."

      Where is the evidence for this?  This panders to the ludicrous and false idea that sick and disabled people aren't 'really' disabled and that if their already meagre income is cut 'they will soon get a job'. This is a very dangerous argument because this government haven't even collected follow up data regarding long term outcomes for disabled people who are no longer claiming disability benefits.  Governments can manipulate the figures all they like to demonstrate that lower numbers on disability benefits equate with successful job outcomes but until robust longitudinal follow up studies have been done to prove this your argument doesn't stand up. What evidence certainly does show is that the proposed cuts will disproportionately affect disabled people, widen inequalities and undermine the UK’s human rights obligations. (The Equalities and Human Rights Commission). A scathing letter by the head of the EHCR warns that official assessments of the cuts impact on disabled people “contain very little in the way of evidence” and “limited analysis” of the consequences for claimants.

      You argue: "The current WCA combines an assessment  of eligibility for benefits with an assessment of a claimant’s capacity for work. This much criticised model inadvertently encourages claimants to focus on demonstrating how sick they are, rather than engaging in an open conversation about what they might do with support."

      The WCA is already a very stringent unfair benefit and extremely difficult to 'pass'.  It was the last Coalition government who made it the monster that it is and 'unfit for purpose'.  But it was originally introduced to focus on what a disabled person could do, rather than what they couldn't do.  Now that the number of disabled people on this benefit doesn't suit your agenda, you suddenly decide the WCA isn't fit for purpose after all (although not for the same reasons that disabled people have been telling this government and the previous one all along). Forgive me, but when has this government or its overpaid health assessors from overpaid private companies ever 'engaged in an open conversation about what (a disabled person) might do with support'? This requires trust and faith in the system and the assessors. But faith and trust is at an all time low, this is why Atos had to be replaced with Maximus to carry out these assessments.  But faith and trust in Atos' replacement hasn't increased among disabled people because the system is rotten. Your think-tank and this government will never gain the trust of disabled people by just delivering more of the same.  You don't consult us. When disabled people have produced their own reports this government has ridden roughshod over them eg the Spartacus Report. 

      You state: "The Government should implement a single online application for the benefit, including a ‘Proximity to the Labour Market Diagnostic’ to determine a claimant’s distance from work and a health questionnaire."

      Forgive me, but 'proximity to the Labour Market Diagnostic' sounds like a lot of gobbledegook or a euphemism for the people you want to target to force into work and sanction with benefit cuts if they don't comply.  What on earth does 'proximity to the Labour Market Diagnostic' mean anyway?  I am agoraphobic which literally means 'fear of the market place' so I will always be far from it. For people like myself with phobias it is utterly terrifying to think that some very superficially trained clerk could possibly understand the terror of being trapped and controlled on a daily basis.  Surely you want something more humane and compassionate?  It is fear that incapacitates, fear that holds people back, it is fear that prevents people like me from taking risks.  You don't eradicate fear by bullying and coercing people, or by cutting their already meagre income. It is your own actions that will move people like me 'further from the market place' as you like to call it. If on the other hand you took a wide view of work, to include education, voluntary work, the arts, caring, parenting etc with carrots rather than sticks, you would see a very real change. 

      You state that: 'Unlike the ‘pass/fail’ WCA model, the assessment should take a broad view of a claimant’s multiple health-related barriers to work, including ‘biopsychosocial’ factors.'

      I would like to think by this you are meaning a more humane compassionate test but there has been absolutely nothing since the Coalition government in 2010 that has given disabled people confidence in the government's motives towards disabled people.  I can list just a few of the countless changes that have gone in the opposite direction: closure of the ILF, cuts to housing benefit in the form of the bedroom tax, cuts to DLA, sanctions introduced for people on ESA, closing of Remploy factories, cuts to Access To Work, cuts to Legal Aid and access to justice and now slashing 33% of the income of some of the poorest people in society - those in the ESA WRAG.  The latest proposals to change the qualifying criteria for PIP are just the latest in a long line.*

      We are also under no illusion about the use 'biopsychosocial factors' which hides a chilling reality.  Here are just a couple of the comments taken from the following blog but they are typical of a much wider rejection of this approach of the BPS model for the reasons listed below:

      #1 "The Bio-Pscyho-Social model was ... introduced by the American psychiatrist George Engel in the 1970s as a holistic and patient-centred alternative to the reductionist medical model. It has its roots in Parsons’ Sick Role theory, which in turn was influenced by the Freudian notion of ‘secondary gains’ of illness.

      Unfortunately the BPS model has provided a handy excuse for medical professionals, academics, private insurance companies and government welfare departments to deny the reality of illness or disability.

      For instance, some psychiatrists have proposed a BPS explanatory model for Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, Fibromyalgia, and other so-called ‘Functional Somatic Syndromes’, which they believe have no physical basis but are perpetuated by irrational illness beliefs.

      The Government’s benefit policy has indeed been shaped by research carried out at the UnumProvident Centre at Cardiff University. The researchers have, among other things, advised the DWP to adopt a BPS model of disability assessment. Apparently, the old system, which was based on the outdated medical model, ignored the psychosocial nature of many chronic conditions, hence encouraged ‘illness behaviour’, trapping people into benefit dependency."

      #2 "...The bio-psycho-social model is a very crude way of trying to apply the social model to chronic illnesses without changing society and making it more accommodating. 

      Rather, it's trying to marry the social model with a medical model with a resulting ideological monster, a social mess and a re-emerging culture of patronising disabled people. 

      In my mind, its a very cynical and disingenuous attempt to acknowledge the social model while twisting it to a political agenda of disability benefit cuts. This model also fits into the ideas of Lawrence Mead and his "new paternalism."

      The end result is that the DWP can look as if they are doing what disabled people want including recognising their wish to work and be seen to be equal, but then saying, if that is the case, then you are fit to work and be treated "normally" like all other unemployed people. 

      Moreover, the use of the bio-psycho-social model is able to then go on to blame the individual if they reject this notion of being fit to work. If the disabled person rejects this recognition of being equal and wanting to work, then they therefore they must be workshy - and they are viewing themselves as incapable. They therefore need help with their way of thinking...

      This model goes back to making disability a psychological and individual issue, while acknowledging ideas of disability rights. Its clever, but can only be argued if you ignore swathes of academic evidence and argument, and ignore the person's condition. 

      Changes to the working environment are completely ignored, and prejudice and a failure of employers to accommodate people's needs untackled. "

      You state that "those with mild or moderate health conditions that, with support, could be managed should be expected to take reasonable rehabilitative steps – some level of conditionality should therefore be applied".

      So what actually are 'mild to moderate conditions'?  All people who have passed the WCA which - as you very well know is one of the most stringent and difficult to pass in the world - have all got serious and/or chronic health conditions otherwise they would have failed the WCA. In fact, so stringent is the WCA that even those with serous conditions do fail it, because the bar has been set so high. That is the problem when you set the bar too high: you then get too many 'true negatives' rather than 'false positives'. But figures show that over half of appeals against ESA “fit to work” decisions are successful – and that thousands of people who are deemed “fit to work” are actually ill. But you seem quite prepared to risk hounding more and more sick and disabled people.  I really would like to know what health conditions you have in mind because the policy makers never ceased stressing how 'it wasn't the condition itself but the way it affects a person'.  But now you seek to class some conditions into one or other category.  

      Are you seriously trying to suggest that people with serious and chronic conditions don't already do what they can to make their health as good as possible? 

      I also think you will find you are on very dangerous ground with trying to make financial payments 'conditional' on medical treatment.  There are many examples but let me just give you a couple:  many people with anxiety may have tried  'talking treatments' in the past but to no avail and find what has helped them most is antidepressants.  However, the antidepressants themselves may have side effects such as fatigue or aggression.  The converse may also be true, a person with depression may have tried antidepressants but had to come off them because the side effects made them worse. It would be wrong and frankly dangerous for anybody other than a GP to prescribe treatment. 

      In fact, former GP Sarah Wollaston and now Tory MP for Totnes and chairman of the health select committee, claimed  in The Telegraph in 2014 that stripping benefit claimants of their allowances if they refuse to undergo treatment for depression would be "unethical and completely ridiculous". She said that forcing people into counselling would present "profound ethical issues". She said: Consent is a very important principle and to link some kind of compulsion to that treatment would be grossly unethical. There would be a serious risk of a doctor being challenged and taken to the GMC. "You would get people going to GPs having a prescription so they could demonstrate they have got treatment. Enormously wasteful of time. Far better to get on with parity of esteem. "This kind of thing is enormously damaging for the Conservatives. No 10 urgently need to squash this. Do they think this is ethical? Do they think there is any evidence this will work? I have long supported the principle of offering individual placement and support to help get people into work, but this needs to be immediately clarified."

      I don't suppose you will listen to me, I am just one of thousands of disabled people after all (though one of thousands who think the same as me).  Ignore me, and others like me, if you so choose, but you may find it will all come crashing about you sooner than you know in spectacular style.  I'll leave you with this thought. The culture and the system in the 1960s and 70s was very much against children who were being sexually abused at that time.  Years later and society can't believe they were ignored or not taken seriously. Now the same is happening with disabled people.  Policy, with the help of a long-serving campaign to undermine out-of-work disabled people in the media, is very much against the disabled person at the moment: a paternalistic, punitive and 'we-know-best' approach.  But you don't know best.  And the tide will surely turn.

      Yours sincerely

      * Since I wrote this email there have been retractions to the proposed changes to PIP after the Budget fiasco, causing the resignation of Iain Duncan Smith.