Sunday, 18 September 2011


I am typing this on the train home from Lib Dem conference - the conference doesn't finish until Wednesday but I have work on Monday. I am in a fairly ecstatic mood due to the incredible victory we won yesterday in passing the ESA motion along with an amendment to it which strengthened it significantly.

The full text of the version of the motion passed by conference, making it officially Liberal Democrat policy, is as follows:
Conference notes: 
i) That eligibility for the Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) benefit is determined by the Work Capability Assessments (WCAs) which are currently carried out by Atos Healthcare, a private company.
ii) That currently 70% of assessed rejections which go to appeal are subsequently overturned, though the appeal success rate is lower for claimants without representation.
iii) That the way in which WCAs are conducted has been criticised by Parliamentary Inquiries and by the Tribunal Judiciary.
iv) That the Liberal Democrat-Conservative Coalition Government has stated its aims to support people who are fit to work move off state benefits and into work and support those currently unable to work to prepare for work in the future.
v) The on-going reviews of Work Capability Assessments led by Professor Malcolm Harrington, which have made recommendations on how the WCA process can be improved.
vi) That the Government has so far implemented the vast majority of the recommendations made by Professor Malcolm Harrington.
vii) The Government’s Welfare Reform Bill proposals to simplify the appeals process for claimants. 
Conference believes that: 
A. It is the duty of a compassionate society and government to provide the necessary support for those who are unable to support themselves.
B. The old Assessment procedure, when claimants were assessed using a ‘tick box’ questionnaire, did not take into account the claimant’s medical history as provided by their GP and/or Consultant.
C. The new Assessment procedure must aim to reduce the number of cases which are overturned on appeal.
D.  That vulnerable cases like this, where a welfare recipient’s income is threatened, should qualify for free legal representation. 
Conference calls for: 
1. The Government to continue to implement Professor Harrington’s recommendations on
reforming the WCA as a priority, in addition to an emphasis on:
  • a) Clearer Assessment criteria and descriptors, to make it more apparent under what 
  • circumstances ESA is paid.
  • b) Ensuring greater accuracy in Assessment, particularly for those with fluctuating conditions.
  • c) A less stressful Assessment process.
  • d) People with disabilities getting the support they need.
2.  Liberal Democrats in Government to oppose an arbitrary time limit on how long claimants can claim contributory ESA.
3. All ESA claimants going to appeal to be given access to adequate representation and expert advice, and for Government to reconsider the exclusion of welfare benefits casework such as this from the scope of legal aid.
4.  A presumption that ESA claimants with serious and uncontrollable life-threatening conditions should be allocated to the support group rather than the work related activity group.
5.  A review of ATOS performance in delivering the Medical Services Agreement contract with DWP in respect of the quality of medical assessments.
6.  Effective contract compliance for contractors carrying out ESA eligibility assessments to avoid poor performance, and a presumption that in future ESA eligibility will be carried out by the public sector or non-profit organisations.
Just before I left conference to catch my train, I also attended a meeting between members of the Liberal Youth executive (who sponsored the motion) and representatives from the DBC, a disability organisation. The meeting was in order to work out how best to push the story of the ESA motion in the media and in parliament to ensure the necessary changes are made. Having sat in and contributed, I am positive that there really will be a strong drive to convince parliamentarians of all stripes to support the changes and I am fairly confident of the changes getting made.

Sarah Harding, who made the excellent speech proposing the motion (due to my replacement as the proposer at the start of the week), will be appearing on the BBC in the morning along with Steve Webb, the Lib Dem Pensions Secretary, and possibly a representative of the DBC, in order to discuss the motion as the start of our media campaign.

I also happen to know that 50 out of 57 Lib Dem MPs apparently indicated that they would back the changes in the Commons. This means the focus must now be on the Lords where the changes can be made to the Welfare Reform Bill before it gets passed back to Parliament. And that focus is what Liberal Youth will be working on ahead of the vote in the Lords in two weeks time.

I'd just like to say thank you to the brilliant Sue Marsh and her fellow campaigners. Without them fighting on this issue I would never have known about the dangers of the changes to ESA or been inspired to write a motion to change the situation. They are the real heroes of this and any credit that there may be should definitely go to them.

Finally, in case you're interested, my own speech in the debate on the motion can be found here:


  1. Bravo, Mr P. You are nothing short of brilliant there. Congratulations on your succeess.

  2. Good work!
    Here's hoping the party manage to push it into government policy.

  3. I am someone who has always suffered from mental health problems, but they never really kept me from working. Unfortunately, 5 years ago I was struck down with an at that time undiagnosed genetic neurological condition which causes me a great deal of pain. I take strong opiates several times a day (which leave me fighting to stay awake!), have other non-opiate but injectable medications and even use a high-flow oxygen tank when I am at my worst. I would, in a second, trade all my possessions, trade my benefits, gladly go back to work and even give up years of my life if I could get rid of this incurable affliction and live a normal life like I used to have.

    Mr. Potter, I watched your speech above and it gave me chills down my spine. Why? Because here was something we rarely see in British politics these days: a man in decent health (I assume) standing up for those less fortunate not because it is popular or personally beneficial, but because it is the right thing to do. You, sir, have proven yourself to be decent, good, and human man and you cast shame upon so many others in politics these days.

    Since the formation of the coalition, I have often been very critical of the LibDems. Often it is fair, but I'm sure I've occasionally, when upset, been unfair to your party as well. But you have done what your Westminster party should have been doing from the start. You have shown tenacity and dedication to people such as myself and I hope you know how much it means to people like me. If people such as yourself are the future of your party, then maybe the future is not going to be bleak after all.

    Thank you. Your fight for and representation of sick and disabled people will not be forgotten by any of us. Again, thank you. I cannot say those two words enough.

  4. d_incurable. Bravo and well said. It is rare, but imagine how much better life would be if there were more like him.

  5. I am a person with the chronic health condition, ME also known as Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and have been ill for 21+ years and have been unfortunately unable to work for 15 of those. I represent the members of a small local charity and have personally contacted all of our local MPs over many issues since the 2010 election. (The main one being over ESA and ATOS.) Our best response/support has been from local LD MPs and I applaud this motion and thank god for a "bit of commonsense".
    As we all know these benefit changes were first mooted by New Labour who lost power before they had time to implement them but sadly the coalition government have followed through with them in the belief that the majority of claimants are cheating the system. Our members are not workshy or malingerers who but are intelligent, conscientious individuals who have been dealt a rough blow in life and need and deserve support as do many other people with similar health conditions. Thank you

  6. "I also happen to know that 50 out of 57 Lib Dem MPs apparently indicated that they would back the changes in the Commons."

    One wonders why these 50 MPs didn't object when the bill was passed through their house.

    How many of these 50 suggested any changes be made at the commons report stage and how many voted for the unammended bill?

  7. Absolutely wonderful, George! This wheelie thanks you from the bottom of her heart

  8. Excellent speech George. I'd like to think some of the Debating Society sessions we've had over the last two years helped you in delivering your speech :o)

  9. You did very well George and full credit to you for taking this stance on getting the polices for the sick and disable on the right track in going forward
    I do believe your the only person in the country to have done so to date and that's a remarkable achievement the last time i witnessed someone like yourself was William Hague at the of 16 in 1977 with Mrs thatcher

    On going forward there are many who have died while waiting for their DWP appeal to heard and by the next election that number will have risen to many thousands and i do believe that the likes of you keeping a record of these deaths will and should be able to deliver a killer blow to the conservatives at the next election so i think nick clegg needs to bear that in mind and distance himself

    The DWP I'm sure do act unlawful at times and that's partly because they can get away with it and earn their bonus such is the sickness of their minds the scum of the earth but we are where we are and it's important that the sick and disabled get the right support while their alive as it's not a lot of good when your dead

  10. @Olly

    Thanks :) I only ever attended one debate soc session as I recall but it definitely helped.

    @Everyone else

    Thank you so much for your kind words. I wish I'd had more time to speak so I could have gone into greater detail about the challenges that disabled people face. It's disgraceful that a situation such as this was ever allowed to exist in the first place and it makes my blood boil that the people responsible will escape any sort of justice for their role in this. That said, I'm confident that the odds are now in our favour of getting this damaging system changed.

  11. Hi, this is the same anonymous from the earlier comment.

    As negative as I feel about the current state of the government (on all sides) it gives me hope to see younger people like Mr. Potter carefully considering the issues and fighting for improvement. Perhaps this is a sign that the next generation of MPs will be better than the last.

  12. George,Have you seen this.

  13. [QUOTE]Anonymous said...

    George,Have you seen this.[/QUOTE]

    I have seen it and have known about this for some time as i have said in my post above the death toll will run into thousands over the next few years i myself have lived a very brutal existence waged upon me by the DWP over the past 30 years hence today i look like i have come out of a prisoner of war camp and believe me i wish they had killed me with a bullet

    I know more then any conference speaker being retired from the establishment the capabilities of the likes of IDS and David Cameron they are in the same class as all of the middle east leaders who care absolutely nothing about the taking of lives of their own people and especially the sick and disabled through mental stress

    The pain and anguish which is to come about will be the darkest day for the UK since 9/11 it will even kill me off through the stress and strain of seeing so many of the sick and disabled dying through suicide

    The main problem also will be that the deaths of so many will not Get reported as so many wont know of this bog to get to talk about their horror and end up like i have been in which you are punished behind closed doors with no redress from anyone other then your mp who may say a few words as for coming to see you that probably wont happen as many mp's would just prefer your death and not get involved

    Over the past 50 years the standards of government have become more extreme and like Hitler they will pursue their ideology to the bitter end even if every single sick and disabled were to die they would say that "it's a price worth paying" and that would be their complete and honest truth of the situation

  14. Well nick clegg's speech is going down very well and a very solid performance at the liberal conference

    Having said that not one word about the sick and disabled which is a major blow as he addressed great things for everyone else in society but just left the sick and disabled out from any hope

    Truly tragic on what was an excellent speech

  15. Thankyou George! I have had ME for many years & now find myself laid off work with ill health, i have paid taxes for 28 years & now am on £67 p.w till the WCA, my doctor has said i am clearly unfit for work, though no doubt i'll be found 'fit for work' by ATOS & then will have to appeal, this process unless changed will cost the Govenment more money ironicaly, thanks again, you have the support of many disabled.

  16. May be if they can apply this Lib Dems will stop looking like Conservatives with a yellow badge (which since becoming part of the coalition they increasing have been looking like) and begin to keep their promise to ensure the cuts were fair (not something we can rely on David Cameron for).

  17. Many congrats on an outstanding speech at conference George. I refer you to my research report: Welfare Reform - Redress for the Disabled as now published on the Black Triangle website:

    Kind regards Mo Stewart

  18. @Mo Stewart

    Thanks very much for linking me to this. I'll probably do a blog post on this very issue before long. Sadly I don't think it's something that can be worked into the Liberal Youth campaign as the opposition could then label it a conspiracy theory, even though it's not, and in doing so damage the chances of getting the changes made to ESA.

  19. Just wanted to say that it was reading your motion before Conference that finally tipped me over into joining the party. Thank you for your hard work and good luck with your campaigning in future!

  20. @Emily

    That's brilliant news! Welcome to the party :)

    Just as a heads up though, if you ever find yourself getting hacked off with what the leadership is doing my advice is to remind yourself that the party is democratic and set about using it to change things. It's not very glamorous but most of the time it can be very effective :)

  21. Well done. I hope 'they' hear you and all of us who are currently falling victim to the current system. I am now having to face an appeal and work-focussed interviews even though I have extensive nerve damage and pain from throat to toes. I can do without this and the resultant stress is making me feel even more unwell. Thank you


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