Posts Tagged ‘benefits’

Sue Marsh, author of blog Diary of a Benefit Scrounger, stunned fellow disability campaigners by announcing on Friday the 9th of January via her blog that she has accepted a job with US firm Maximus.

Maximus was awarded the £500 million contract by the government to replace ATOS, administering the much-maligned Work Capability Assessment (WCA) for Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) claimants on behalf of the DWP.
The company brings it’s own fair share of controversy across the Atlantic, having been involved in several claims & scandals in the US – a few examples of which have been collated here by Tom Pride on Pride’s Purge.

So why is this such a shock? Marsh has been actively involved in the campaign scene for around 5 years with issues like the Spartacus Report and the unfit-for-purpose WCA, writing about them on her blog.
With such controversy surrounding the assessment and associated processes for many disability campaigners, it’s little wonder people are shocked with some left feeling betrayed.

Sue claims she has accepted the job as a ‘Head of Customer Experience’ to enable her to enact change from within the company itself – sort of a ‘if you can’t beat em, join em’ strategy. Whether she is able to encourage any form of change or not remains to be seen. Most likely the best possible outcome she could perhaps achieve would be a ‘more comfortable’ experience for ESA claimants undergoing assessment (Maximus call them ‘customers’ – giving the illusion of choice), it’s extremely unlikely she’ll be able to effect any change in the assessment process itself. A process which has been ruled as discriminating against mentally ill claimants.

Regardless of what Sue may or may not be able to achieve within the company however, is slightly irrelevant compared to the issue really riling up disabled people after hearing the news. Many people that read Sue’s blog and those that post to disability campaign groups on Facebook etc, are slightly more concerned by the fact that Sue has jumped straight from being in the support group of ESA into a full time, highly demanding job. This then presents worries that Iain Duncan Smith’s next move will be to place Sue on a podium as a shining example of how disability benefit claimants in the support group can all manage to work and should be doing the same.

It doesn’t matter to the government that each individual person claiming ESA & DLA have health problems unique to themselves, and that a pain level one person could tolerate may be unbearable to another. The only thing that matters to the heartless, callous party in power is that they can say they were right to impose sanctions on claimants, and that they’ve saved the taxpayer however many £millions. Never mind the fact that people are committing suicide because they can’t physically manage to get through the day. And their allowance has been stopped due to a civil servant working to targets (yes – ‘those’ targets that IDS claimed didn’t exist) giving no consideration as to their day-to-day life and how their condition affects them.

Life is already humiliating enough for those having to claim ESA, considering the number of hoops to be jumped through to prove disability and incapability of working. With it being renamed from Incapacity Benefit & Income Support to Employment Support Allowance, it rather gives the impression of a form of pocket money, handed out if you’ve been a good boy/girl this week. How patronising.

Many people with disabilities already live in fear of the dreaded brown envelope arriving with the morning post, summoning them to yet another horrendous WCA with the threat of a sanction looming. Many have withdrawn from social contact, other than communicating through the internet, as they’re petrified of being sanctioned for having the gall to enjoy themselves on one of their extremely rare good days. So many people partaking in the witchhunt devised by the government & media to hound disability claimants either have no idea, or care not that a lot of disabled people may have one good day, which can be followed by several days of being unable to get out of bed with levels of pain which make you wish you didn’t exist. Sadly, a large proportion of the public are blinkered to the truth that the majority of those receiving benefits are NOT doing so fraudulently, yet DWP policies enforced by ATOS – soon to be Maximus – work to governmental targets, rather than taking human suffering into account.

The last thing the section of society living with crippling conditions (be they mental, physical or both) needs, is yet another presumption/assumption about their lives. This situation, spun by the government and media, could be explosive, possibly creating far, far more casualties & fatalities in the months to come. I for one hope it turns out to be a dud, and that Sue Marsh is able to achieve some sort of improvement within Maximus…only time will tell.

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Having attended the Million Mask March again on Wednesday the 5th November, there were a few things I noticed…and not in a good way.

The turnout was once again larger than last year, as was the year before that – estimations vary regarding attendance, though popular consensus seems to put the figure at 5,000 – 6,000.  And once again, the vast majority of people I saw there were there with peaceful intentions.

 

The first mistake the London Metropolitan Police made was to set up a huge sound system at Trafalgar Square, making announcements every 5 minutes to waves of boos and shouts – it was of course ‘all for our own safety’…how patronising.  In essence what they were doing was insinuating that they were there to keep ourselves safe from ourselves, while working through a list of things we weren’t to do – no drinking, no fireworks, no climbing on buildings or monuments, and no sound systems.  All this, while we were watched over by mounted police, and armed units standing on the balcony of the museum, not forgetting the ever-present helicopter droning overhead.

 

The use of the mounted and armed units was a tactic to intimidate us into compliance, which had little or no effect.  We set off down Whitehall, a stream of people fed up with corrupt governmental tactics, scandals, fracking, surveillance, and austerity to name but a few.  Each individual had their own reasons for being there…that is excepting the minority that turned up with the simple intention of causing trouble, who probably had no idea what the protest was actually about.

The march towards Parliament Square was largely uneventful, with the customary stop outside Dave’s gaff at No. 10 to vent frustrations and give him an indication of how disgruntled the masses are with the way the establishment run the country, by hook or crook.

 

On arriving at Westminster however, things changed drastically.  The Met went all out on the intimidation front, the grass at Parliament Square was completely fenced off, and the Houses of Parliament surrounded with a double layer of barriers.  Peaceful protesters were met with police officers kitted out in full riot gear, balaclavas and helmets, dehumanised and acting as Westminster’s Personal Protection Service.  In my opinion this only served to inflame the situation, making us all feel like criminals for daring to exercise our right to democratic protest.  We were funnelled through the square like rats in a trap, with the Met making an obvious attempt to contain the march, trying to prevent a repeat of last year’s unpredictable swerve towards Buckingham Palace for a late dinner with Lizzie.

They failed.

 

Fireworks exploded overhead outside parliament to cheers and whistles, and in response the Met beefed up their front lines to 3 deep in some places.  Having created a veritable powder keg of a situation, it was inevitable that something would kick off at some point – bottles, stones and in one case a traffic sign were hurled across the barricades at the police…something that I in no way condone by the way.  The lines outside Westminster Cathedral were eventually broken, with the march seizing the opportunity and gathering pace to move towards Buckingham.  Small groups of police officers found themselves virtually kettled by protesters, and made panicked darts towards open space.

 

Once at the palace, more fireworks were sent into the air to cheers…however the Met had increased their presence there from last year, more beefed up squads of riot officers, forming up in squads and looking thoroughly miserable.  As they formed a line in front of the palace, looking like they were about to clear the fountain and monument, they hadn’t anticipated the protesters charging off across the grass to the side of The Mall, to head towards the BBC HQ up the road, sadly knocking over bins as they went & creating a hell of a mess on the streets.

 

On arrival, the Beeb was in full lockdown mode, with scores of officers standing between marchers and the main doors.

After visiting Auntie, it became a game of cat & mouse, with the group taking unpredictable turns in the streets, making it impossible for the police to pre-empt them…after bringing Regent Street to a standstill, a police line was formed at the entrance to Picadilly Circus, essentially cleaving the group of protesters in two.  What the police failed to notice however, was a side street a few yards back which led around the line and into Picadilly, then itself almost brought to a standstill by Obe-Wan Kenobe with a guy fawkes’ mask, as he made a peaceful stand in front of a bus, which he maintained for some time.

 

I left at this point, after watching 3 van loads of police officers turn up to deal with some Anons dancing in Picadilly Circus around a performer with music playing through a loudspeaker.  I believe the chase didn’t end there, and continued for another hour or so.

One upside of the growing attendance year after year, is that the media interest is also growing.  The MSM likes of the BBC can no longer ignore what is happening on their doorstep, and many more media outlets are attending and reporting…many in a bad light, but there are some decent journalists out there reporting in a fair manner.

 

Overall, I saw only a small amount of troublemakers for such a big crowd – but I was aghast at the tactics employed by the Met…they are becoming more and more militarised every year, and more and more dehumanised.  These people are human too, and I am not saying every single officer is just looking for an excuse to use their truncheon, but the time is coming to make a choice between what you’re told to do, and what is morally and ethically right to do.  The police are supposed to keep the peace, and ensure justice prevails, but right now the corrupt political establishment and corporations openly flouts that judicial system and use police officers like their own personal security detail.

If we behaved like our politicians, we’d be imprisoned. The political system is clearly broken, politicians are clearly using the system to grab every penny they can, regardless of how much it harms the very people they are elected to represent.  This much is clear.  Yes, there are decent MP’s who try their best to act in their electorates’ interests, but sadly they are ignored by their parties, and thus seldom manage to make much of a difference.

Humanity itself is creeping ever closer to a brink that we may not recover from.  The question is, what are we going to do about it?

More and more these days, I find myself making connections, feeling that little bit closer to understanding exactly what is going on around me, in both local government, and at a national level.

To try and relax the other day, I sat down to watch a film…wanting to switch my brain off and float about in a fictional world that had nothing to do with me.  Even doing that, there was no chance to achieve what I set out to do.

I’d decided on watching The Rainmaker.  Knowing very little about the storyline other than it involved a lawyer, I had no idea what I was about to watch.  As it began, I settled into getting to know the characters, and a bit about their backgrounds. 

As the story then progressed, I couldn’t help but start drawing comparisons between the ill young man being denied insurance cover, and the ill & disabled people all over the country.  Further comparisons were then drawn between the insurance company itself, with it’s team of big-shot lawyers, and the Department for Work and Pensions, with Iain Duncan Smith at the helm.

The young man in question had leukaemia, and was desperately needing medical treatment for which the insurance company refused to pay, despite his mother keeping up to date with the premium payments.

The insurance company itself was a dubious setup, specifically targetting impoverished and underprivilged families – with the intention of automatically denying claims made.  The claims were then shifted between departments, with each department knowingly kept in the dark independently of each other.  This resulted in a perpetual cycle of claims being made, denied, appealed, denied and so on and so forth…leaving the lad’s mother with a total of 8 letters of refusal for her son’s treatment.

This inhuman and immoral cycle was orchestrated by the CEO and his number 1 lawyer, with the knowledge that they could extort incredible amounts of money from the policyholders, with an extremely low payout margin, which = heaps of $$.

The reason this was possible was down to cleverly written manuals for the claims managers (where have we heard that one before??), and through the forced ignorance of the claims departments, leaving the CEO & lawyer as being the only two people with knowledge of the true statistics regarding claims & payouts.

You may be asking yourself how this can possibly compare to a government department & those that make claims through that specific department?

If you have ever had the wonderful experience of contacting the DWP regarding a claim for ESA, Income Support or DLA, you will be more than aware that these particular departments do not tend to exchange information with each other, other than the very bare bones of your claim.  Often it is the caller that has to prompt one dept to interact & share information with another.

IDS & the DWP awarded the (private) contract, worth £500 million, for the new ‘Work Capability Assessments’ to a company called ATOS.  A company which has declared cancer patients, stroke victims, amputees & the severely mentally ill, Fit For Work.  A company which have denied a record number of claims amongst the most ill and disabled in society, which in reality need support, empathy & care, not hounding to their graves.

Coincidentally, the government stopped recording the number of ill & disabled claimants who died after being declared fit for work by ATOS.  That figure stood at more than 10,000 when this information ceased to be recorded, and people didn’t stop dying simply because the people in a position of responsibility that set these wheels in motion began to deny it was happening.

Week after week, we see IDS on various television programmes in a state of complete denial, refuting every set of statistics placed in front of him that contradict his version of events.  The statistics presented to him are either out of date, wrongly collected, or just plain wrong.  The statistics that flow out of his mouth have little basis in reality, for example, putting people placed in the Work Related Activity Group (after being declared fit for work, regardless of ill health & disability) firmly in the bar graph under the heading ‘Employed’ – despite this group of people struggling with their illness, struggling to pay their bills, trying not to starve to death, and needing to visit foodbanks to ward off starvation.

People have already starved to death under these ‘reforms’.  Meanwhile IDS is throwing money down the drain attempting to develop a computer program which patently doesn’t work, and has lost £303 million, effectively chucking it down the drain – but never mind that.  His claims that benefit fraud costs the taxpayer £1.2bn, primed the general public to back the reforms by creating resentment.  No mention is made however, about the £35 BILLION lost to our economy through tax avoidance by high earners & multinational companies.  No, it’s not illegal, but I find it extremely hard to swallow the disabled & impoverished minority being smeared by those that are depriving the economy of an amount far, far greater than benefit fraud.

Just like the medical insurance denials in the film, disability claims are being rejected by people that have little or no medical training, and the system is designed in such a way that people become so dejected that they simply give up.  The have not the energy, nor the health to be able to constantly fight for what they need, what they’re entitled to.  The system is designed by those that profit from the very people they deny services to.

How bad has this mess got to get before things change?  The tragedies are mounting.

You look in your fruit bowl to retrieve a juicy apple you know you bought yesterday – to your horror you discover the whole lot has gone rotten overnight and are now decomposing with mouldy spots.  What do you do?  You throw the lot in the bin/compost bin and disinfect your fruit bowl with vigour.  Why then, is this entire nation festering like an entire barrel of rotten apples?  Not a day seems to go by without another scandal breaking involving ‘influential’ figures or politicians…the very people we are supposed to rely on, the people our children should look up to as role models.

I find myself increasingly disillusioned with this government – it appears you’re damned if you do, and damned if you don’t – between the proverbial devil and the deep blue sea.  Whatever your political alignment, it’s difficult to deny that any party manifesto is no more than spare toilet tissue to wipe your behind with in an emergency…every party makes promises they can’t, or won’t keep to secure votes and be ‘first past the post’, yet once seated in the House of Commons they pull more u-turns than a lost tourist in a rental car.  The elected government are put in power to work for us, to ensure our wellbeing – not to kick us to the ground and repeatedly stamp on our heads whilst stealing the money out of our bloodstained wallets.

Bankers’ bonuses amount to more than most people make in an entire year – their BONUS…the corporate CEO’s make in three hours what most people make in a month.  These obscene figures are ridiculous – ‘We’re all in this together’ our incredibly talented PM tells us…no, actually, we’re not.  Because when it comes down to it, with energy companies putting their prices up an average of 6-10%, we tell Dave we can either afford to heat our houses, or put food in our mouths.  The Tories tell us to put an extra jumper on.  Wow, thanks for that piece of advice, I hadn’t considered that…
Even worse is the information that N-Power pay little to no UK tax which, while not illegal is an absolute whopper of a case of moral compassitis…their profits go through the roof, we run the risk of hypothermia and our honourable leader has his heating payed for by, wait for it, bet you can’t guess…the taxpayer!

So, we get angry…we speak up, we tell a few home truths – the ‘Britain Isn’t Eating’ flyer managed to infuriate Ian Duncan Smith (IDS…more like IBS) yet he sits back and laughs, gloating, as the issue of a spiralling increase in foodbanks is brought up in the Commons.  How DARE you – who do you think pays your salary, your expenses, your bills?  Your benefit ‘reforms’ which are bringing misery to hundreds of thousands of people all over the country…people that have paid into the system their entire life being faced with disasterous poverty through being made redundant, or being diagnosed with a chronic illness which prevents them from working?  It is little wonder peoples’ distrust of a system that is no longer working for the people, but is burying them…either figuratively under mountains of debt, or literally.

Do not be fooled or frightened into apathy and try to ignore the numerous issues popping up like moles in your garden…like the moles, these issues are very real & threatening – perhaps not today, but tomorrow you could find yourself stunned by an announcement which affects your life to the point you can’t sleep at night, you become jobless, homeless, or worse.  The state is becoming increasingly controlling, sucking the life out of its’ inhabitants – for some, this is making life no longer worth living.  We are being monitored every step of the way…CCTV cameras on most street corners, who we contact and for how long being logged and stored, somewhat akin to Orwell’s 1984.  Restrictions on what we can or cannot do tightening like a boa constrictor around our liberties.  All in the name of ‘protection’.  ‘It’s all for your own good’ we are told, ‘we will keep you safer’ is drilled into us with propaganda and red tape.  Let me ask you, who watches the watchers?  Who ensures their moral and ethical integrity is kept intact?

Apathy is perhaps the worst sentiment to have in this day and age…there is a saying that goes somewhat like this – They came for someone in the town, I didn’t speak up for them.  They came for my neighbour, I didn’t speak up for them either.  They came for me, and nobody spoke up for me.

If nobody speaks up for anyone else, where does that leave us as a society, as human beings?

This diseased, corrupt and rotten to the core barrel needs to be dragged out into the garden and incinerated, before it taints the rest of the perishables.