22 August 2012

Ed Miliband's reply To Sonia Poulton.

I'm reading that lot of people seem to have taken a lot of negative things from Ed Miliband's reply to Sonia Poulton's letter regarding welfare reform and the new Work Capability Assessment that was signed by thousands of people including myself. I'm actually quite surprised by this as I thought for a letter from a Politician it was very positive and actually addressed what it said in the original letter directly, which is quite rare. Lets look at it again for a moment.

Dear Ms Poulton,
Thank you for your correspondence regarding the Work Capability Assessment, and my apologies for the delay in replying. Disabled people need support and compassion, and the Labour Party believes in a welfare state that fulfils this principle. The previous Conservative Government took the opposite approach and left many disabled people on Incapacity Benefit with little support to return to work where possible. It is also important to separate out ill health and disability from the decision not to work, which is taken by a distinct minority. For these reasons, the previous Labour Government introduced the Work Capability Assessment, and I am supportive of the principles behind this test.
However, I share some of the concerns that have been expressed about the test by you, along with many charities, disability groups and healthcare professionals.
These concerns, the high percentage of appeals, and Professor Malcolm Harrington’s expert reviews have shown that the test must be improved. The Government needs to listen to Professor Harrington’s advice, especially when his third review for 2012 comes out. 
We have also forced a vote in Parliament on the need to reduce the human cost of the wrong decisions that result from the WCA in its current form. Given the importance of this issue, I am keen that you discuss this further with the Labour Party and share with us some of the experiences of people going through the WCA that you have collected. Anne McGuire, my Shadow Minister for Disabled People, would be happy to arrange a meeting in order to do so. Please contact her on ********** to arrange a convenient time.
Thank you again for taking the time to get in touch on this issue.
Yours sincerely, Rt Hon Ed Miliband MP
I can see it's going to have been the first paragraph that has angered people so much, he is stating what the new WCA was meant to achieve there. I agree with the points he makes, there was little or no support for people wanting to return to work from incapacity benefit under the old system. I have always wanted to work and said that in every medical I ever had under the old system. The problem is that I have to have a job I can reliably do, and mental illness prevents me doing a lot of jobs.

The new system was supposed to support me to get back into work which I was pleased to hear, but when I finally had my assessment I was horrified to find they were trying to deny me ESA altogether. I was confident I would get into the work related activity group where I would still receive ESA for 1 year and attend groups and activities designed to help get back into work. I am now having to go through the stressful and uncertain process of appealing their decision, and I daily read about people who have severe physical disabilities or are even dying being declared fit to work.

If we lived in a Utopian society where every employer would pay for adaptations and carers for disabled people from their own profits to enable them to work, and every employer was trained in mental health issues and was sympathetic towards employees who suffer from them. If businesses could afford to employ people who may be absent because they are receiving medical treatment  or just too ill that day to show up, then it would work. Every disabled and mentally ill person would have a job and we'd all stand in a big circle with the able bodied and mentally well holding hands and sing "I'd like to teach the world to sing".

But here's the problem Ed, society is not like that, hate crimes against the disabled are being committed every day, employers can't afford to adapt buildings and employ carers without any funding available. And where are all these jobs we are supposed to be applying for anyway? There aren't even jobs for the able bodied who have just been made unemployed, let alone jobs for a woman like me who hasn't worked for 10 years because I'm mentally ill and prone to nervous breakdowns. And all the thousands of others who have even more severe metal illness's and physical disabilities, who is going to employ them Ed?

Even if I do make it to the Work Related Activity group, what will the people there actually be able to do for me to remedy these problems? Are the department for work and pensions even the best people to be in charge of such a thing? How are we going to change society enough in the one year I have to get me a job? There are thousands like me, nothing the DWP alone will be able to do will find us all suitable jobs. Money needs to be available to employers to enable them to employ us, and they need to be educated in the many and complicated needs of people who have mental illness and disabilities. More jobs need to be created to meet the demand for them, as we want to work Ed we really do, this minority of people who don't want to work are non existent Ed. Only someone who's never had to live on benefits would say something like that, it is a soul destroying experience and everything rests on the words of an anonymous decision maker who you will never meet.

So that's the bit that makes us angry fair enough, but he does go on to talk about the human cost of what is happening, so he's admitting things aren't right there in a veiled way. And he says that he has concerns about the high number of appeals, that's all we can really hope for, he's a politician after all. He's never going to turn around and just say "sorry everyone it's not working like it should have, we didn't think it through we'll go back to the drawing board", Politicians just don't do that. But there is hope that behind closed doors they are frantically reassessing what they've done and realising it is going horribly wrong. Bills have gone through parliament now though and thousands of people are suffering, if they admit they were wrong they will have to compensate everyone who has suffered, I can't see that ever happening. It will take years to undo the damage that has been done, the human cost has already been too great and will only get worse is the horrible truth.

It's not only the benefits system that has to change for this to work it's the very nature of employment and societies attitude to disabled people that has to change too, and that will take more than a year.   

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