Tuesday, 1 November 2011

Jenny Willot needs to do more

What prompts the title of this post is a recent and disappointingly brief statement by Jenny Willot in her capacity as Co-Chair of the Lib Dem parliamentary committee on the Department of Work and Pensions.

In it she says the following:
"The Government, assisted by Professor Harrington, have made great strides towards improving the WCA but it's important that we go even further.
"The WCA has been so poor for so long and many sick and disabled people have been terrified by horror stories about the way Atos work and some of the ludicrous decisions they have made. We need not only to improve the system, but also to restore the faith of people that the system will treat them fairly.
"This means ensuring that the assessment process is fit for purpose, but also providing better training for DWP decision makers and Atos assessors so that claimants and the public can trust that decisions are sound and everyone gets a fair hearing."
The system which she is talking about is one which the government is forcing 1.8 million people through. But it is an inhumane system. A system which bullies disabled people and leaves them living in fear. One which makes them feel guilty for being forced to claim and which denies them dignity, hope and self-respect. which denies them dignity, hope and self-respect. A system which has caused mental health problems and suicides amongst people going through it - purely due to the fear and the stress.

When we opposed child detention it was because of maybe a few hundred cases of inhumane treatment, trauma, both mental and physical and suicides in vulnerable people at the mercy of the state. That was a brilliant thing for us to do and I cannot describe how proud I am that we spoke out against it and put an end to it.

But what is happening with the sickness and disability benefits system is far worse. In this case we are not talking about a few hundreds of cases of inhumane treatment, trauma or suicide. We are talking about thousands.

The fact that vulnerable people are even considering suicide because of the way they are treated is a national disgrace. These people deserve support. They deserve compassion. They deserve far better than a few mildly critical remarks about the system by Jenny Willot where she says that disabled people have been terrified by "horror stories" rather than the acknowledging that most of them are justly terrified by their own experiences.

I don't have anything against Jenny Willot in particular, but she knows full well what the situation is really like. She knows full well the problems with it and she knows that party policy on this is far stronger than merely saying that "more training" is needed. And, above all, she must know that the system is so flawed that the government's reforms will only make things worse.

Now, sooner or later a story about inhumane treatment of disabled people at the hands of the welfare system will make headline news. When it does we will rightly be blamed for allowing it to happen.

I say rightly because, if people like Jenny don't attack this with the same vigour they did child detention, then we will be condoning it through our silence. I don't know if Jenny's working behind the scenes on this, but if this brief statement is the best she can manage publicly then it doesn't matter. The only think that can really create the momentum for real change is top politicians speaking out about this appalling issue.

Staying silent about this is shameful. We have to speak out on this issue. When people are dying, silence and cowardice cannot be alllowed to be an option.


  1. I'm disabled, and to be honest do fear going through the WCA, the old PCA picked up on pain, it picked up on my use of a wheelchair , and that I have to use a Catheter, none of this is now picked up at all. just that your fit to work...

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  3. I'm sorry, George, but I find it hard to justify my anonymous comment with constructive criticism, as you request. You've worked damn hard for us, but recent weeks have seen the 'progressive' parties voting through all sorts of right-wing horrors. They are feathering their own nests. We are goners.

    Off topic: by genuine coincidence, I read this piece with issue of Private Eye no 1299 open at page 29. Child detention has *not* ended. G4S is to lock them up at Pease Pottage, if the Eye is accurate. And isn't G4S in the bidding to screw over the disabled on PIP?


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