Friday, 20 June 2014

28 Months Later...

In November 2010 just after the Coalition's white paper was published for what would become the Welfare Reform Act, the DWP started identifying by category what groupings ESA claimants were in. The stand-out figure was for the Assessment Phase; those who had started their claim and were receiving ESA payments(at a rate in parity to Jobseekers Allowance) and were having to regularly provide the DWP with medical certificates(or 'sick notes') from their doctor. ESA was introduced for new claims in 2008, yet two years on the Assessment Phase made up the majority of claims. Something smelled and the issue was one of the first things I wrote about when I started this blog. 

As time went on the percentage of the share taken up by the Assessment Phase barely shrunk- it remained at more than half of the total claimant count for about three more years and it's still ridiculously high now. Other welfare warriors who were able to do what I could not and actually deal with people(whilst I was being bogged down with goose-chasing the BBC into accepting some responsibility over the content of that John Humphrys programme). Requests were made under the Freedom Of Information Act which revealed that the DWP has been inconsistently producing figures. The best I could do was read through the publicly available information the DWP publishes, looking for inconsistencies such as the Tabulation Tool data showing high Assessment Phase numbers yet an Ad Hoc Analysis report claiming much less people waiting months(and years) to be assessed. Nick over at MyLegalForum has highlighted FOI material revealing that far more people have been winning appeals than the government have acknowledged in what should be quality-certified national statistics. 

This fits into a suspicion Spartacus, Black Triangle and friends have discussed but failed to get journalists interested in: that the ESA system is and always has been on the verge of collapse, that changes to the system serve only to delay the inevitable and politicians have no idea what to do about it. For all the platitudes they've given us about listening and 'working in consultation' with disabled people and groups; politics trump Reason and Evidence. What Britain's 'invalidity pension' needs is something so much against the political grain built up by an active campaign against social security that has been waged for two decades now that politicians can't consider it because it would be egg on their faces. They want a bigger market for private income insurance for when people fall ill or have an accident, but disabled people don't fit into it so it's constantly referred to as 'the main sickness benefit' whilst DLA is 'the main disability benefit' and they all seem puzzled whenever it is mentioned to them or their useful idiots in journalism that people claim both; they are not for entirely separate groups of people. They want to bring the overall claimant count down, but they don't want to consider that they will need to replace it with something, that in fact the benefit is meeting a real need that won't disappear just because the support is cut back. So they buy in to evidence-free stories about it being used to hide unemployment or it rising over thirty years rather than actually rising in a few short years in the early 90s because then they'd have to explain why then and why the sudden stop and stability that followed for almost two decades(Incapacity Benefit was introduced in 1995 and there has been almost no net rise since). They do not want to entertain the idea that benefits have plugged gaps as local residential and social care for people below retirement age has been cut back to save money, because then that would mean benefits like IB, ESA and DLA are all net cost savings to the public purse and if benefit expenditure can produce net savings, what other benefits will then be considered for full cost:benefit? We'd have to look at what is saved by spending, not just the superficial upfront cost. 

Labour, Conservative, Green, Liberals, UKIP: if they even think these things, they don't much like them as policy considerations. There's nothing in it for them. They don't talk about it, journalists don't report it and then when everything goes wrong they can make up ridiculous stories to explain it after the fact and the Truth be damned. It happened with the 'sickness benefits used to hide unemployment' lie, the 'girls getting pregnant to claim benefits and avoid work' lie and many more. Call them what they are: lies. The fact that those spouting them happen to also believe them doesn't mean they are not liars; just that they started lying to themselves first. They don't like being told they are wrong, so don't expect the news outlets finally reporting the ESA catastrophe to suddenly start listening to us, especially not if we're pointing out that it was flagrantly obvious years ago that the system couldn't work, wasn't working and was imploding and ministers were just buying time. 

They've been coasting for this whole session of Parliament, without any real plan and given Labour's performance this week, still trying to get votes from people who will never vote for them and appeasing newspapers which will never be nice to them- we can't expect them to be any different. 

Tuesday, 10 June 2014

Autistics VS Who?

I could not have said just two years ago that I was ideological or even sentimental about the welfare state, I simply made my contributions to the national debate on welfare reforms because I was affected by them. It didn't take long before I formed views that there is no ethical alternative to comprehensive welfarism in a developed modern nation. I dislike the thought of being an idealogue but I would fail at self-criticism if I didn't admit that I am and like all idealogues I see patterns in society which I try to explain through my idealist prism. One repeating pattern is that those of an ethical bent so out of the ordinary as to be indefensible in ordinary terms try to re-frame the standards that their ideas should be subjected to. In the case of the Coalition policy to save money through a under-occupancy penalty on social housing tenants with what are deemed spare bedrooms, the response to criticism that the policy was effectively a 'bedroom tax' was to aggressively brief the news media that the policy was to 'end the spare room subsidy'. It didn't matter that such a subsidy never existed to be removed, an insidious idea was disguised by placing it against an insidious background.

In the decade before the Coalition I'd struggled along in ad hoc employment, training programmes and futile attempts to get help as a person with a cognitive disability who was not learning disabled or mentally ill(yet). I made many tremendous mistakes and even learned from them. I'd tried to find some sense of belonging and support from online Autism groups but there was an astonishing Berlin-wall running right through them all: messageboards for parents and messageboards for Autistics, always on different websites. These two groups absolutely could not relate to each other and when they attempted to mix the results were explosive and bans were handed out. It did not go unremarked though that the parent boards were far more likely to ban anyone, way more likely to ban someone if they were Autistic and not a parent and to do so for even slight perceived infringements. Considering one group is thought to lack social skills and tolerate insults to their comfort zone, it was surprising that it was the other group that freaked out over even mild criticism and responded with abuse. 

Unfortunately it is that group who control the largest and most powerful Autism organisation in the world: Autism Speaks. This organisation is quick to respond with lawyers and I will not go on about them, but they too practice re-molding standards to suit their ethics. In one example a splinter-organsation was founded here; Autism Speaks UK. Unfortunately Autistics had successfully fed local organisations and the National Autistic Society with toxic disability propaganda like the social model and 'nothing about us without us' which meant that ASUK found itself in a hostile environment and without the usual option of simply excluding Autistics from every area they were wishing to influence. They went from describing themselves as 'the UK's leading Autism charity'(as long as you ignored the then 50-year old National Autistic Society) to 'the UK's leading Autism research charity' and changed their name to Autism Research UK. People still didn't buy it though so they got round to calling themselves 'Autistica'. 

If it sounds similar to 'Aspergia', an infamous Autistic community from 2000-2002(spin-offs and splinters continued to use the name afterwards), that's because this appears to be a deliberate attempt to make people think that the organisation is Autistic-friendly. Aspergia was one of the most fondly remembered communities, but also the closest you could get to an online 'Aspie Benevolent Militant Fascist Republic' planning supremacy and baked THC-based confectionary. 

Why bring them up? Because they are the only source for comment in reports featured in the news today about LSE research into the 'costs of Autism', you'd actually think that the press release the reports are based on were put out by 'Autistica'. If it shows anything, it's that they may have changed their name(twice) but not their crummy ethics. 

Now you know Who, next post I'll tell you Why.