Shedding light on Atos disability assessments…read more here…
5 things you need to know about welfare cuts and the economy – new TUC factsheet
TUC Disability Conference Report 2012
30/31 May 2012
Report by: David Lawrence as observer of Telford & Shropshire Trades Union Council
There is an atmosphere of fear in the workplace as far as disabled people are concerned; the Con Dem government is bent on stripping disabled people of decades of hard fought rights. The TUC General Council Disability Representative, Sean McGovern told the Congress ‘It is the worst time for disabled people in Britain since the formation of the TUC Disability Committee’. He said that a lot of employers just do not understand the term ‘reasonable adjustment’. Employers will take on a worker who does not need any adjustment to the workplace over a disabled person who requires reasonable adjustment. The Tories are trying to fool the electorate that they are getting disabled people off benefits and back to work. The closure of the Remploy factories has thrown 1,500 out of work. The government says that they will be absorbed by private enterprise – this is a lie. There are hundreds of disabled people who have been sacked because of past Remploy factory closures and are still unemployed years later.
Brendan Barber spoke of the late Jack Ashley and his fight for disabled rights who would be horrified by the current proposals. He said that the government is hell bent on ripping apart the Welfare State built up since 1945. The hypocrisy of the government stressing ‘fairness’ while reducing the taxes of the super-rich and stripping £17 million from the welfare budget was typical of the Tories. The stories of ex-service personnel reliant on charity abound but the rich man gets a tax cut. We are in a double-dip recession but this was not the making of ordinary people, it was caused by the crisis in capitalism caused by the greedy who spirit their ill-gotten gains to tax havens.
Sayce Report: The government announced in March that 36 of the 54 remaining Remploy factories across the UK would close by the end of 2012 with the loss of more than 2,800 disabled people’s jobs, while there would be further consultation over the future of the other 18 factories. The announcement is part of the government’s response to a consultation on last year’s review of employment support by Liz Sayce, chief executive of Disability Rights UK (DR UK). Sayce called in her report for funds currently used to subsidise the factories to be ploughed into more personalised forms of employment support for disabled people, including the Access to Work (AtW) scheme. RADAR was also used to confirm the government’s standpoint on the absorption of disabled people into the mainstream. The reduction of disability living allowance (DLA) will take £1 billion from those who most need it. The Independent Living Allowance is already closed leaving many in circumstances where they are dependent on others instead of being independent and making a contribution to society.
Press stories of disabled people as ‘scroungers’ and ‘benefit cheats’ abound in the right wing press despite the DLA taking only 0.5% on the national budget. The Congress moved a motion to make disability hate crime the same as race hate.
PCS called for an impact assessment on how the cuts are affecting individual unions as the full set of cuts have not yet been made. Bigger cuts are yet to come. ATOS assessments are still trying to send sick people back to work and being overturned on appeal – this is a waste of resources but the government is still funding ATOS.
Welfare to Work: Disabled people are being sent to work as cheap or even free labour to large companies who post large profits on the FTSE100 list of companies. This is an abuse of workers who do not even get the national minimum wage, only their job seekers allowance. DLA is being reduced by being changed to the ‘personal assistance allowance package’. There are instances of people who have had their packages cut to the extent that they are in serious distress due to lack of care provision. The DWP workers report that they are being made to achieve reduction targets for benefit payments and that performance improvement programmes (PIPs) are being used to bully staff into compliance with the benefit reduction plan. ATOS assessments are callously telling seriously ill people that they are capable of work. The decisions are not made on medical grounds but on the grounds of ‘I thought that he/she was capable of going back to work’. There are stories of doctors in Hampshire add Isle of Wight refusing to cooperate with ATOS. ATOS is a sponsor of the Paralympic Games along with Dow Chemicals who poisoned thousands in Bhopal in India and has left the poison in the ground in Bhopal. There is a call for a boycott of the Paralympic Games. Disabled People Against Cuts (DIPAC) will be picketing the Paralympic Games.
John McDonnell addressed the conference saying that his prime motive was to bring down this Tory led Con Dem government – (huge cheer from the delegates). He condemned the closure of the day centres and respite care. The country is now reduced to charities handing out food parcels to desperate people, housing benefits are being reduced so people are evicted from their homes. The worst affected are mental health patients. There is a class war, declared by the Tories via their newspapers to attack the poor and create tax breaks for the rich. He congratulated DPAC for their direct action – direct action works. He said that none of the people present at the conference were to blame for the crisis in capitalism but they were the ones who would pay for it.
Remploy: Les Woodward, the convenor for Remploy, addressed the conference. He said that Marie Miller MP, the minister for the disabled absolutely opposed supporting Remploy. (Maria Miller confirmed in Parliament that RADAR had been paid to do the report. The former CEO of Radar, Kate Nash is also on the Board of Remploy). We must wait for the crumbs from the rich man’s table to fall and show how grateful we all are. He was disgusted by the way that Liz Sayce was used to rubber stamp the government’s cuts agenda. ‘Direct action works’ he went on to describe how they hung a banner on the roof of the Disability Rights HQ. The campaign is being carried to every corner of the country and the use of all possible media to get the message to people who have possibly never heard of Remploy or what they make. This vandalism must stop, it is hitting the least fortunate the hardest. People who want the dignity of work, some with portable oxygen packs on their backs, a blind man who assembles the master brake cylinder for Aston Martins with 100% build quality – zero failure. They do not want to be pitied or patronised, they want honest employment with proper wages. The lowest wage in a Remploy factory is £19K, if they want to save money cut the directors and top heavy management not by closing factories and throwing people out of work.
Pensions: Work longer, pay more and get less. The conference rejected the government’s pension policy. The wealthy can afford early retirement but the rest of us have to rely on our pensions which are gradually being eroded by the government and the city capitalists. 40% of people between 65 and 74 have impairments or illnesses so why does the government want us to work to 68?
Mental Health: There is a need to tackle mental health discrimination; stress is still a major cause of sickness in the workplace. Employers are combining disability leave with the annual leave entitlement or combining disability leave with sickness to calculate sickness absence. There are new IT applications for management to oppress their workforce with absence programmes to track trends in sickness, rolling Bradford type illness tracking systems are used so employers can get rid of anyone who is sick or disabled. This causes stress which can lead to clinical depression and in extreme cases, suicide. Statistics show that these methods do not reduce sickness but do increase the atmosphere of fear in the workplace. There is also a stigma about mental health and anyone who has had treatment for depression in their lives dare not mention it to their employer.
Ethical Reporting: The NUJ moved that there must be an end to the depiction of disabled people as ‘scroungers’, ‘workshy’ and ‘social security cheats’. There is a drive on to unionise the national newspapers which includes News International. Journalists must stand up to scapegoating of minorities which is used as ammunition for the Tories to cut benefits. When creating websites and PR material journalists must be careful what sort of language is used – words can hurt. Journalists must stand up to being used to do the government’s dirty work of propaganda against the poor and disadvantaged.
Equality and Human Rights Commission: (EHRC) has had 60% of its funding cut by this government which was one of its first acts of spite. Due to the cuts the EHRC can no longer produce ACOPs for the treatment of minorities. The statistics are not encouraging: 50% of disabled people are unemployed, the pay gap for disabled people is: men 11%; women 22%, 41% of households of disadvantaged people report crimes committed against them. On the other hand, with the proper support given to disadvantaged children 17% gain 5 or more good GCSEs. Theresa May as Home Secretary and Lynne Feathertstone describe the equality law as ‘bureaucracy’, ‘red tape’ and ‘overburdening business’. The Equalities act of 2010 is in danger of being repealed if the Tories get in again
The conference wound up with a call to stop the cuts, stop the closure of Remploy, stop the stereotyping of disabled people and treat all people with respect. Remploy as a concept is in danger despite its origins as a disabled ex-servicemen’s employer. Challenge discrimination at all levels of society and stop the use of pejorative terms for the disabled. Conference believes that the enforcement of our legal rights is more important than ever. There was a call to support the TUC march on 20th October 2012. Be there, no excuses!