Has the Labour party’s approach to sick and disabled people shifted?

17th May, 2012 4:09 pm

Liam Byrne’s Beveridge2 speech yesterday has attracted a lot of attention. Here, three writers on disbility and social security issues give their reponses:

Kaliya Franklin: Yesterday’s speech on disability and benefits from Liam Byrne was a bit like travelling back in time. Had it been given in 2006 it would have passed quietly and unremarked, but after two years of politicians of all parties using  ‘dis a disabled’ rhetoric it was so surprising to hear talk of actual rights for disabled people that many weren’t sure what to think (see some of the reactions here). Some strongly criticised the lack of concrete policy ideas, others were understandably suspicious that it was all just talk, but it was the language of that talk which was so important – it signifies the start of a shift within the Labour party’s approach to sick and disabled people and the welfare issues we face.

The language choices of politicians and media since 2010 have been very deliberate:  to push through such devastating changes to the welfare system would have attracted far more public opposition had the explanations been couched in terms of blind people, or those with cancer not qualifying for benefits.  But with the public convinced that it was ‘all just scroungers’ the coalition could claim massive public support. The welfare reform bill is now an act, and the contentious work capability assessment demonising people the public would usually perceive as ‘genuinely deserving’ provides near daily fodder for the local press. The continued use of derogatory language grates against increasing awareness of the human misery and cost of these ‘reforms’. By simply changing the way they describe and speak about sick and disabled people, Labour can position themselves to make it much more difficult for anyone else to continue doing so. This won’t mean any rapid change, all that Labour are promising is to consult properly with people and formulate policy upon that basis, but that in itself is a major step forwards for disability rights.

Kaliya is the author of the Orwell Prize nominated Benefit Scrounging Scum blog.

Ben Baumberg: Sweet nothings, or the promise of a real relationship?  This is the challenge in interpreting Liam Byrne’s speech yesterday.  Byrne has made positive noises before, and yesterday went onto the front foot in attacking ‘contemptuous Conservatism’. But where is the recognition of the barriers disabled people face, in an impatient and intensified world of work?  Where is the recognition that disability impacts differently on already-disadvantaged people?  These are the words that could lay the foundation for a radical strategy. Instead, Byrne spends much of his time attacking the Tories and red tape. More excitingly, his views chime with leftwing wonk circles that are abuzz with talk about job guarantees and the contributory principle – and these are clearly the foundations of a revitalised welfare state.  Yet as I previously argued on LFF, these often offer little in transforming the situation for disabled people, and rarely present a convincing narrative on the barriers that disabled people face. What makes this worse is the paucity of ideas on the left about disability. What we need but don’t have are thought-out, radical proposals, like a commitment to delivering the right to work for disabled people, and a real-world incapacity test that recognises disadvantage.  Without policies to seize on, the danger is that Byrne never goes beyond good intentions. So these are some of the right words.  But we need much more than this.

Ben co-edits the Inequalities blog and lectures at the University of Kent

Declan Gaffney: You would never know from most media coverage, but disability and caring now account for two thirds of long term benefit receipt. So when Liam Byrne said yesterday ‘we on the left believe this is a mainstream not marginal issue’  that can be read as simple realism as much as an expression of solidarity.

Does this shift in language, if that’s what’s happening, matter? For me, the answer is ‘yes’, the political language around welfare is important, and not just as a vehicle for values and ideas.

In a recent report commissioned by the TUC Kate Bell and I argue that the words of politicians also play a key role in shaping the public understanding of social security. Most people do not claim out-of-work benefits and most people live in areas where claimants are a small minority of the population. Non-claimants also have limited knowledge of the reasons people are claiming. Kate and I argue that under these circumstances, the statements of politicans can be as important a source of information as people’s own personal experience – not because people take what politicians say as gospel but because what politicians say has a big impact on media coverage, including on the language that is used.

Governments’ endless announcements of ‘crackdowns on benefit fraud’  trigger waves of newspaper headlines about ‘cheats’ and ‘scroungers’, reinforcing  the distorted perception that benefits are subject to massive abuse. This plays out not just in reduced support for social security but in public attitudes towards claimants that take suspicion and grievance as default settings.The coalition’s strategy in pushing through its ‘reforms’ (in fact cuts, as Liam noted) has been premised on influencing the language in which people discuss welfare.  A Yougov survey for Prospect showed recently, if you ask people whether ‘welfare levels should be reduced’, 74% agree. But if you ask whether disability benefits should be reduced, only 11% agree.

To date, Labour’s response has been extraordinarily weak, driven by a fear of being on ‘the wrong side of the debate’ rather than any ambition to change that debate. If Liam’s speech is the first step in moving the debate on to territory where real issues get discussed, it is to be warmly welcomed. There are disagreements to come as Labour develops its position, but if those disagreements are on substantive issues about how we support disabled people and rebuild social security – rather than on how to outflank the right on territory that belongs to them –  that alone will be a major step forward.

Declan Gaffney blogs here.

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  • AlanGiles

    ” Liam Byrne said yesterday ‘we on the left …….”
    So you’re on the left now, Byrne?.

    Yeah – if you say so.

    Either he said this because

    1) He was told to
    2) He has been humbled by losing one of his jobs
    3) He had been drinking
    4) He was just pretending 

    I know which I would choose. Leopards don’t change their spots, and to have this overnight change of heart is unbelievable.

    *Ken Moule (1925-1986)

    • John Reid

      Maybe he didn’t reallybelieve what he use to say, he was just trying to Appeal to His Old Boss Ed Milibnads view that the Changes the Tories are doing in welfare are right.

    • Atilla The Hun

      I think you should all know that, politically, I’m to the left of Liam Byrne.

    • Bill Lockhart

      Funny how you were very recently wailing about Labour internal disloyalty to the odious and (as it turned out) unelectable Livingstone- yet here you are stabbing newly-confirmed Shadow ministers in the back. Which is  it to be?

      • Daniel Speight

        I guess Bill that no matter how odious a Labour person is, (you are very welcome to pick your own), when it comes to an election you do not go out and and cause damage to their election chances, even if you can’t bring yourself to campaign for them.

        Now the charge of not doing that could possibly be laid at Livingstone’s feet over  Tower Hamlets and it can most definitely laid on Hodges and the uber-Blairites over the London mayoral election.

        Now criticizing Liam Byrne for being a piece of excrement in my mind is perfectly allowable as long as he isn’t fighting for a seat under the Labour banner. In this case it would be better to ignore him.

        • Leon

          As odious, dishonest and repellent as Liam Byrne undoubtedly is he is still head and shoulders a better man than any Conservative MP fathered by man and born of woman.

          • AlanGiles

            Leon, Lets not get down to Animal Farm mantras: “four legs good, two legs bad”.

            Byrne has shown no compassion towards the sick and disabled until this week. He is no better than a lot of Conservatives, and frankly, in some ways he is a damned sight worse than some. Even some Conservative Mps at the time of the Purnell bill felt they were being too harsh.

            Let’s not pretend that Byrne has to be “better” because he wears a red rosette

            * Red Norvo (1908-1999)

        • John Reid

          who were these other Blairites who campaigned for any one other than ken or who didn’t vote at all, daniel?

          • Daniel Speight

             Without even checking where some of our resident Blairites ended up, I will just give a few who share a first name with you.

            How about the two Jonathans, Freedland and Roberts. (My condolences to the former if he reads this.) Of course there’s another John over at the Independent who called for a Johnson vote, that’s Rentoul.

            Is that enough John?

          • Daniel Speight

             Is that enough John?

            In case not John, where did Marchant and Painter end up the election? Wasn’t one of them going to vote  for Johnson?

          • john P Reid

            not as far as I know,spoiling your ballot paper or staying at home is a right in the labour party, from the parachuting of shaun woodward or andy slaughter in fact bernie grants widow said none of their family would vote  for david lammy when he first stood, as she wanted to replace,him but it was in the rules that Grants sucsessor had to be black.

          • Daniel Speight

             Well I gave you a few names John. I’m not sure why you wanted them. I also don’t really understand the point you are making above, but then again that’s not unusual.

      • AlanGiles

        Bill:I am stabbing Byrne in the front. To quote Joey Barton this week, the man is an odious little toad.

        He is inconsistent and frankly a liar: while pretending outrage over the Coalition Welfare Reform Bill (which after all is only a continuation of James Purnell’s embracing of Freud), he himself told a conference that he “agreed with three quarters of it”. Now for the sake of expedience, he doesn’t agree with that three quarters either. Yet up until this week he did.

        Byrne has either been got at (perhaps Jon Cruddas has had a word?) or he is capable of a complete U-turn or – and I think this is more likely – his new stance is a pack of lies, as genuine as his own “expenses” claims, and he doesn’t mean a word of it. If Labour win in 2015 it will be “business as usual” for Byrne, and even that quarter he allegedly doesn;t agree with, will stay in situ.

        Byrne is the epitome of the modern politician – unprincipled, dishonest, oleaginous, dissembling, and untrustworthy. 

        I hope nobody in the party is taken in by his pretence. Him and his sort (Purnell, Hutton et al) have caused no end of damage and suffering to vulnerable people, in their attempts to grovel to the tabloid press and those sad individuals who believe every word those rags say. I am ashamed and embarrassed that these people are in the same party I have been supporting for 50 years.

        Livingstone, as I said so often, wasn’t my favourite politician, but he was a Labour man through and through: Byrne should go off and join you in the Conservative party where he belongs, and take some of his camp followers with him.

        * Bill Le Sage (1927-2001)

        • “perhaps Jon Cruddas has had a word [with Byrne]?”

          Let’s hope so – and put the boot in also, for good measure.

          Byrne is an exemplar of Blairism at it’s worst, where ‘aspiration’ is rendered sordid and reduced to bleak, vindictive self-interest – accumulation and consumption without regard to the consequences for others or any sense of responsibility to society as a whole (to paraphrase Cruddas’s perceptive analysis*).

          It’s time for the indecent Byrne to haul his sorry self over the horizon.


  • Mark

    Let’s be honest: if Byrne believed that helping a elderly disabled lady to cross the road would help return Labour to office, he would undoubtedly assist her to cross said road grinning at her like a crocodile all the while. On the other hand if Byrne was convinced that a diametrically contrary response was more advantageous to Labour’s goal in respect to regaining power I’m fairly sure that little Liam would quite happily push said elderly disabled lady under the wheels of a passing bus himself without so much as a momentary flicker of conscience.

    “…  we on the left… ”

    Could Byrne have been more insulting to those of us who are on the left by claiming some sort of kinship or association with us? For goodness sake, Liam, we on the left are a tad more particular about the company we keep than that!

  • soiniciulacht

    Have the DLA/ESA assessments finally been recognised as the political constructs they are? 

    WOUNDED war heroes are to keep their disability benefits for life after the PM stepped in to halt a bid to cut them.

    If an exception can be made for one group of people why not others? If I
    lose a limb in a car crash and a soldier has an identical injury from a
    car crash whilst driving in Aldershot and both of us have identical
    problems and difficulties the fact the soldier has their benefit
    guaranted for life surely destroys any idea that the only criteria being
    used is a ‘fair and rigorous’ assessment.

    Why is it only the military who have this guarantee? Why not a police officer injured in the line of duty? How about firemen, coastguards, RNLI?

    It seems that disability, as those of us on the receiving end of the lies knew all along, is a political decision based on the prejudices and ideology  of those in power.

    • Why? Because its popular.Personally i think its morally the right thing to do but then i think if they respected the military covenant in the first place and sent our troups to war with full kit and armoury, then maybe there’d be less lost limbs in the first place.

      • Plod

        If it’s right for soldiers to keep their benefits after losing limbs shouldn’t police officers, firemen, lifeboat men, fishermen, construction site workers – in fact ALL amputees! – be treated similarly? Why should a limbless ex-police constable  be considered as more “work capable” than a soldier suffering the same injury?

    • treborc1


      Amputees, including wounded soldiers, could be among half a million
      people to lose their disability benefits under government reforms, the
      Work and Pensions Secretary has warned.

      Iain Duncan Smith, who wants to cut the benefits bill and encourage
      more disabled people to return to work, said losing a limb should not
      mean automatic entitlement to state allowances if prosthetic
      replacements mean they are not hindered in their mobility. But some
      amputees have raised concerns about the way claims are being assessed.
      that the new system would be based on how claimants are affected by
      their condition rather than on the condition itself, Mr Duncan Smith
      told The Daily Telegraph: “It’s not like incapacity benefit, it’s not a
      statement of sickness. It is a gauge of your capability. In other words,
      do you need care, do you need support to get around. Those are the two
      things that are measured. Not, you have lost a limb…”
      The Government believes up to 80 per cent of incapacity-benefit claimants could go back to work.
      But Mr Duncan Smith said the Coalition had, “to be careful because these are vulnerable people”.

    • treborc1


      Amputees, including wounded soldiers, could be among half a million
      people to lose their disability benefits under government reforms, the
      Work and Pensions Secretary has warned.

      Iain Duncan Smith, who wants to cut the benefits bill and encourage
      more disabled people to return to work, said losing a limb should not
      mean automatic entitlement to state allowances if prosthetic
      replacements mean they are not hindered in their mobility. But some
      amputees have raised concerns about the way claims are being assessed.
      that the new system would be based on how claimants are affected by
      their condition rather than on the condition itself, Mr Duncan Smith
      told The Daily Telegraph: “It’s not like incapacity benefit, it’s not a
      statement of sickness. It is a gauge of your capability. In other words,
      do you need care, do you need support to get around. Those are the two
      things that are measured. Not, you have lost a limb…”
      The Government believes up to 80 per cent of incapacity-benefit claimants could go back to work.
      But Mr Duncan Smith said the Coalition had, “to be careful because these are vulnerable people”.

  • Don’t forget it was the Labour Party that originally introduced privatisation to Welfare system by contracting out assessment for disabled benefit to Atos.  LabourTories, Ed & Co are quite happy to stand by and let the Coalition carry their plans forward for them.  If they ever get back into power they can blame the Coalition and say it’s too costly/difficult to change system back.  Don’t trust any LabourTory pre-election sympathy for disabled, their crocodile tears are temporary.

  • The words sound good, and the speech contains perhaps the clearest acknowledgement by any Labour figure to date of the deliberate demonization of disabled people under the current regime, but ultimately it takes more than just words.

    Disabled people have very real reasons to distrust Labour as having their best interests at heart. When they were in power Labour allowed themselves to be seduced by Unum into the belief that ongoing disability is simply lazy people not willing to put the effort in to overcome their disability. They turned that cod-scientific theory into the abusive horror of the Work Capability Assessment (been there, done that, got the psychological damage to show for it), and started to push the perniciously damaging line that all disabled people could work if they really wanted to.

    Move on to 2011 and Labour are out of power, but the ConDems are going great guns with Labour’s own spin on disabled scroungers, and Labour’s own plan for an even harsher version of the WCA. Meanwhile Ed Miliband stages a major policy speech, announces ‘I met a man’, and proceeds to tell us that disabled benefit claimants are just as responsible for the financial meltdown as the most irresponsible of bankers – since when has IDS been writing his speeches? Challenged on that at the party conference, by Kaliya Franklin as it happens, and he tells us that the man’s neighbours were angry with him, as though ignorance of disability justifies the antagonism we face on the street, and setting party policy to pander to it.

    2012 and the ConDems are planning the greatest assault on the Welfare State since Beveridge, what’s the best Labour can come up with to oppose the Welfare Reform Bill? Time-Limiting ESA after 2 years instead of 12 months – I’m 23 years into my disability, expecting miracle cures at 24 months isn’t going to impress.

    If Labour are genuine in wanting to be seen as the defenders of disabled people, not just a slightly wetter version of IDS, then we need them in the trenches, fighting on our behalf. We need an acknowledgement that the benefit system is flawed to the point that it is damaging disabled people, even driving some to suicide, we need them to recognise that an adversarial approach to benefits eligibility, run by the institutionally disablist DWP and hired guns who specialise in anything but disability, is simply not fit for purpose when many disabled people are unable to deal with confrontation, and above all, we need them to take a stand against the people who are demonising us, whether they be politicians like IDS, papers like the Mail and the Express, or, and this is the real test of their commitment to protecting us,  the voters themselves.

  • treborc1

     Labour have marked a step-change in their attitude to welfare, with
    shadow cabinet minister Liam Byrne saying it is time for his party to
    become “radical reformers” again.

    In an article for the Guardian to mark the 70th anniversary of the Beveridge report,
    the document that became the basis for the founding of the welfare
    state, Byrne says Beveridge considered “idleness” ” every bit as
    insidious as disease or squalor”.

    The shadow work and pensions secretary says it is time for his party
    to think again about the welfare state, adding “one more heave behind
    our old agenda won’t do”.

    Byrne says while Labour do not support certain government benefit
    cuts such as to cancer patients, the welfare state needs to change to be
    more like the system imagined by Beveridge. And Byrne argues that the
    £20bn bill for housing benefit is simply “too high.”

    “He [Beveridge] would have worried about the ways that his system had
    skewed social behaviour because he intended benefits to help people who
    had their earning power interrupted because of illness, industrial
    injury or the capriciousness of the trade cycle. He never foresaw
    unearned support as desirable”, the MP writes.

    Instead Byrne calls for a return to the “something for something” culture, a move outlined by Labour leader Ed Miliband in a speech last year.

    Ok a child is born within the UK every twenty five minutes with a life changing illness or disability, my wife was born with spina bifida she was oh so lucky that a shop owner decided to give her a job in the valleys, she worked in that shop until doctors told her she would need urgent operation on her spinal cord .

    But I was at an SEN school last year before I had to give up helping out, my task was to sit and listen to children getting ready to go out into the world, one child at nineteen was going to join the army, what was wrong with him well his father came home so drunk picked him up because he was crying and threw  him across the floor damaging his brain , his mother gave him up as she could not look after him she was to drunk, he would never be allowed to work, because he has a serious temper, and he’s got the brain of a four year old.

    So no good giving him any benefits he will not add to the state to the community.

    I’m sorry seriously sorry Labour is not the party it was once, it’s become a Tory party of the middle class.

    Do not forget a child is born every twenty five minutes in the UK seriously ill or disabled, and if we cannot look after these children sadly socialism had died  I know labour has

  • “YIZKOR!”

    New Labour, the market state, and the end of welfare
    Jonathan Rutherford
    Jonathan Rutherford looks at the connections between government and the insurance business in their joint project to reduce eligibility for sickness benefits.
    © Soundings 2007
    In November 2001 a conference assembled at Woodstock, near Oxford. Its subject was ‘Malingering and Illness Deception’. The topic was a familiar one to the insurance industry, but it was now becoming a major political issue as New Labour committed itself to reducing the 2.6 million who were claiming Incapacity Benefit (IB). Amongst the 39 participants was Malcolm Wicks, then Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Work, and Mansel Aylward, his Chief Medical Officer at the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP). Fraud – which amounts to less than 0.4 per cent of IB claims – was not the issue. The experts and academics present were the theorists and ideologues of welfare to work. What linked many of them together, including Aylward, was their association with the giant US income protection company UnumProvident, represented at the conference by John LoCascio. The goal was the transformation of the welfare system. The cultural meaning of illness would be redefined; growing numbers of claimants would be declared capable of work and ‘motivated’ into jobs. A new work ethic would transform IB recipients into entrepreneurs helping themselves out of poverty and into self-reliance. Five years later these goals would take a tangible form in New Labour’s 2006 Welfare Reform Bill.
    Between 1979 and 2005 the numbers of working age individuals claiming IB increased from 0.7m to 2.7m. In 1995, 21 per cent were recorded as having a mental health problem; by 2005 the proportion had risen to 39 per cent, or just under 1 million people. The 2000 Psychiatric Morbidity Survey identified one in six adults as suffering from a mental health problem: of these only 9 per cent were receiving some form of talking therapy. The Health and Safety Executive estimate that 10 million working days are lost each year due to stress, depression and anxiety, the biggest loss occurring in what was once the heartland of New Labour’s electoral support, the professional occupations and the public sector. Despite these statistics, Britain has one of the highest work participation rates of OECD countries; while benefit levels are amongst the lowest in Western Europe and benefit claims are on a par with other countries.1 The system is not in crisis, and this is not the motivation for the proposed changes. New Labour’s politics of welfare reform has subordinated concern for the sick and disabled to the creation of a new kind of market state: claimants will become customers exercising their free rational choice, government services will be outsourced to the private sector, and the welfare system will become a new source of revenue, profitability and economic growth.
    The road to welfare reform In 1993 Richard Berthaud of the Policy Studies Institute identified the causes of the continuing rise in IB claimants.2 In the period of growing unemployment under the Conservative government a fairly constant number of people left work because of ill health, only to find it increasingly difficult to re-enter the labour market. As unemployment began to fall the numbers on IB continued to accumulate. The problem lay not, as the right-wing press insisted, with malingering claimants and collusive GPs, but with the economy and with the hiring and firing practices of employers. Berthaud concluded: ‘The increase has not been caused by excessive ease of entry to the system, but by difficulty of exit.’ The Conservative government had its own agenda, however, and Peter Lilley, Secretary of State for Social Security in the 1992 administration, pointed the finger at claimants and the way their illnesses were diagnosed by GPs. According to Lilley: ‘sickness and invalidity benefits were originally intended for those people who, “by reason of some specific disease or bodily or mental disablement” were unable to undertake work.’ Social and psychological causes of illness were now being taken into account and as a result, ‘the rules have been progressively widened and complicated’. The definition of incapacity had become ‘fuzzy’ (quoted in Kennedy & Wilson).
    The 1994 Social Security (Incapacity for Work) Act was designed to end the ‘fuzziness’. The Act introduced Incapacity Benefit and a number of key reforms to reduce the inflow of new claimants. Lilley hired John LoCascio to advise on ‘claims management’. LoCascio was at that time second vice president of Unum, the leading US disability insurance company. He joined the ‘medical evaluation group’ that was set up to design more stringent medical tests. Another key figure in the group was Mansel Aylward. A new All Work Test was introduced in 1997. Instead of focusing on whether or not an individual was able to do their job, it would assess their general ‘capacity to work’ through a series of descriptors, for example ‘Is unable to cope with changes in daily routine’, ‘Is frightened to go out alone’. Decisions on eligibility for benefit would be decided by Department of Social Security (DSS) non-medical adjudication officers advised by a newly recruited corps of DSS doctors trained by LoCascio. The new test, and the marginalising of claimants’ own doctors, brought the rise in IB claimants to a halt.
    Unum’s influence was now at the heart of the system of managing disability claims. In April 1997, when the new All Work Test was introduced, the company launched an expensive campaign. One ad ran:

    April 13, unlucky for some. Because tomorrow the new rules on state incapacity benefit announced in the 1993 autumn budget come into effect. Which means that if you fall ill and have to rely on state incapacity benefit, you could be in serious trouble.

    LoCascio replied in the negative when Private Eye asked if he was not concerned about the conflict of interest involved in his company’s advertising campaign, which sought to gain from benefit cuts that he had helped to institute. However Unum Chairman Ward E. Graffam did acknowledge the ‘exciting developments’ in Britain. Unum’s influence in government was helping to boost the private insurance market: ‘The impending changes to the State ill-health benefits system will create unique sales opportunities across the entire disability market and we will be launching a concerted effort to harness the potential in these.’ 3
    Despite Graffam’s upbeat comments, however, the company was in financial difficulties. In the 1980s Unum – along with the two other major life and accident insurance companies, Provident and Paul Revere – had been doing well from providing ‘own occupation’ income protection schemes for mainly upper income professionals. Insurance against loss of earnings caused by accident or sickness was seen as a lucrative market with strong growth potential. Profit for insurance companies mainly lies in the revenue generated by investing the monthly insurance premiums, and interest rates were high so the companies enjoyed high levels of profitability; they monopolised the sector by sharing a similar disability income policy that offered liberal terms. Two factors threatened future profits however. The first was falling interest rates, and the second was the growth in new kinds of ‘subjective illnesses’, for which diagnostic tests were disputable. The old industrial injuries were giving way to illnesses with no clear biological markers – Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (ME) or Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS), Fibromyalgia, Chronic Pain, Multiple Sclerosis, Lyme Disease. In the early 1990s the new kinds of claims began to rise just as interest rates fell: profits were threatened. Unum’s 1995 ‘Chronic Fatigue Syndrome Management Plan’ sounded the alarm: ‘Unum stands to lose millions if we do not move quickly to address this increasing problem’.4
    It was actually Provident that was quickest off the mark, introducing an aggressive system of ‘claims management’ that would become the industry norm. It could not influence interest rates, but it could reduce the number of successful claims it paid out. Its Independent Medical Examination (IME) was skewed in favour of the company through the work undertaken by its claims adjusters and in-house doctors. Illnesses were characterised as ‘self-reported’ and so thrown into question. Only ‘objective’ test results were accepted. Some disabling conditions were labelled as ‘psychological’, which made them ineligible for insurance cover beyond 24 months. Doctors were pressured to use the ‘subjective nature’ of ‘mental’ and ‘nervous’ claims to the company’s advantage.5 Specific illnesses were targeted in order to discredit the legitimacy of claims. The industry drew on the work of two of the Woodstock conference participants, Professor Simon Wessely of King’s College and Professor Michael Sharpe of Edinburgh University, in an attempt to reclassify ME/CFS as a psychiatric disorder.6 Success would allow payouts to be restricted to the 24 month limit for psychological claims and save millions of dollars. By 1997 Provident had restructured its organisation to focus on disability income insurance as its main business. It acquired Paul Revere, and then in 1999 merged with Unum under the name UnumProvident.
    That year New Labour introduced the Welfare Reform Act. It was heralded as an answer to Frank Field’s call for an end to a culture of welfare dependency, and to Tony Blair’s misleading anxieties about levels of spending on social security. All new claimants now had to attend a compulsory work-focused interview. This was partly because the All Work Test introduced by the Tories had failed to reduce the inflow of claimants with mental health disorders. The gateway to benefits therefore needed tightening up. Mansel Aylward, now Chief Medical Officer of the DWP, thus replaced the All Work Test with the Personal Capability Assessment (PCA). The emphasis would no longer be on benefit entitlement but on what a person was able to do and the action needed to support them in work. The task of administrating the PCA was contracted out to SchlumbergerSema, which was then taken over (along with its DWP assets) by the US corporation Atos Origin; and in 2005 Atos Origin won a further £500m contract. Claims for benefit were assessed by Atos employees with no medical training, using a computer system called Logical Integrated Medical Assessment (LIMA). Unsurprisingly, these computerised evaluations, coupled with clearance time targets for Atos staff, made the PCA unreliable, particularly for those suffering mental health problems. Fifty per cent of IB appeals against the refusal of claims found in favour of the claimant. In 80 per cent of these the problem was poor assessment of mental health problems.7 While the new Act had succeeded in further restricting the gateway to benefits, it had failed to deliver Blair’s promised revolution in welfare. The reform process would go on.

  • “YIZKOR!”


    ‘Active Welfare’In 2003 the DWP launched its Pathways to Work pilot projects. These were forerunners of the kind of ‘active welfare’ system that had been promoted by UnumProvident and the Woodstock academics. In the pilot projects all new ‘customers’ to IB undertake a work-focused interview (WFI) with an IB Personal Adviser (IBPA). The Personal Capability Assessments of the 70 per cent who are not screened out by the WFI are fast-tracked, and these claimants (who are deemed not to have severe functional limitations), go on to attend a further series of mandatory, monthly interviews. The role of the IBPAs is to actively encourage customers to consider a return to work, as well as discussing work-focused activity. Customers are offered a ‘Choices’ package of interventions to support a return to work. For claimants suffering mental illness, a Condition Management Programme is available, developed jointly between Jobcentre Plus and the NHS. A Return to Work credit of £40 per week is payable for twelve months to customers if their new job is not less than sixteen hours, and earns less than £16000. At the Labour Party conference in this same year UnumProvident organised a fringe meeting with employment minister Andrew Smith and health minister Rosie Winterton. Joanne Hindle, corporate services director for UnumProvident, spelt out the future direction of Pathways to Work:

    Although we can say that we are 90 per cent of the way there in policy terms, the real challenge is delivery – in particular the role of the intermediary. We believe that it is absolutely vital that all employment brokers are properly incentivised to move disabled people along the journey into work and that there are enough of them to do the job. The next step therefore is for private sector to work alongside government to achieve delivery, focus and capacity building within the system.8

    UnumProvident was building its influence. In 2001 it had launched New Beginnings, a public private partnership that acted as a pressure group, drawing in charities and NGOs and enabling the extension of the company’s influence in shaping the policy making environment, particularly in relation to Pathways to Work. Its annual symposium had been attended by government ministers, with Woodstock academics providing intellectual input. Then in July 2004,it opened its £1.6m UnumProvident Centre for Psychosocial and Disability Research at Cardiff University. The company appointed Mansel Aylward as Director following his retirement from the DWP in April. Professor Peter Halligan, who had forged the partnership with UnumProvident, was ambitious: ‘Within the next five years, the work will hopefully facilitate a significant re-orientation in current medical practice in the UK’.9 The two men were joined at the centre by Gordon Waddell, an orthopaedic surgeon turned academic and another Woodstock participant. The launch event was attended by Liberal MP Archie Kirkwood, recently appointed Chair of the House of Commons Select Committee on Work and Pensions. Malcolm Wicks, Minister of State in the DWP, gave a speech praising the partnership between industry and the university.10 UnumProvident could now capitalise on its academic respectability as well as its close government connections. It understood the importance of ideas. Words do not merely describe the world, they enact it. To transform welfare into workfare would involve an ideological battle around language and culture.
    Culture of sickness In 2005 the centre produced a monograph, The Scientific & Conceptual Basis of Incapacity Benefits (TSO, 2005), written by Waddell and Aylward and published by the DWP. In their declarations of interest at the beginning of the text neither man cites their association with UnumProvident. This matters, because the monograph provides the unacknowledged intellectual framework for the 2006 Welfare Reform Bill. And the methodology used by Waddell and Aylward is the same one that informs the work of UnumProvident.
    In a memorandum submitted to the House of Commons Select Committee on Work and Pensions, UnumProvident define their method of working: ‘Our extended experience … has shown us that the correct model to apply when helping people to return to work is a bio-psychosocial one’.11 The bio-psychosocial model is explained by Peter Halligan, and Derek Wade of Oxford University (another Woodstock academic), in the British Medical Journal: ‘The old biomedical model of illness, which has dominated health care for the past century, cannot fully explain many forms of illness.’12 This old model assumes a causal relation between disease and illness, and fails to take into account how cultural attitudes and psychological and social factors shape illness behaviour. In other words it allows someone to report symptoms of illness, and for society to accept him or her as sick, without their having a pathology. Waddell and Aylward adopt the same argument in their monograph: disease is the only objective, medically diagnosable pathology. Sickness is a temporary phenomenon. Illness is a behaviour – ‘all the things people say and do that express and communicate their feelings of being unwell’ (p39). The degree of illness behaviour is dependent not upon an underlying pathology but on ‘individual attitudes and beliefs’, as well as ‘the social context and culture in which it occurs’. Halligan and Wade are more explicit: ‘Personal choice plays an important part in the genesis or maintenance of illness’.
    Waddell and Aylward are exercised by the paradox of a society in which ‘objective measures of health are improving’ but in which numbers on IB remain ‘stubbornly high’. They argue that this can be explained by adopting a bio-psychosocial model. IB trends are a social and cultural phenomenon rather than a health problem: ‘Severe medical conditions only account for about a quarter of the current IB caseload. Most IB recipients now have less severe “common health problems”‘ (p172). The solution is not to cure the sick, but to transform the culture of welfare and tackle the ‘personal and social/occupational factors [that] aggravate and perpetuate incapacity’. Adopting this model will lead to a ‘fundamental transformation in the way society deals with sickness and disabilities’ (p123). The goal and outcome of treatment is work: ‘work itself is therapeutic, aids recovery and is the best form of rehabilitation’. For Waddell and Aylward, work is a virtue. But to make it so, they first abstract it from the material conditions of paid employment. Work becomes an idealised practice shorn of class and inequality and the reality of the large swathes of mundane and boring jobs people must endure. In contrast to their idealisation of work, the authors view worklessness as a serious risk to life. It is ‘one of the greatest known risks to public health: the risk is equivalent to smoking 10 packets of cigarettes per day’ (p17). No-one who is ill should have a straightforward right to Incapacity Benefit:

    A person who is unwell may ‘feel too ill’ at present to consider returning to work, but that is not a valid basis for future, permanent incapacity. The argument that, even if they recovered, they could not ‘risk’ work because it might be ‘harmful’ to their health is invalid because of the generally beneficial effects of work and the ill effects of long term worklessness’ (p91).

    UnumProvident, in its memorandum to the Select Committee, pursued the same logic, arguing that even the most functionally disabled could be expected to work at some future point.
    The Waddell and Aylward monograph draws on the considerable knowledge of the authors, but employs a methodology that skews it towards moral authoritarianism and neo-liberal policy prescriptions. They rely on the much-critiqued and outdated systems theory of sociologist Talcott Parsons, in which the individual and society are assigned to discrete spheres of existence. Hence they acknowledge the social and cultural dimensions of illness, but fail to consider that these and other structural and economic forces might be the dynamic causes of genuine ill health. Instead the problem of illness is located in the individual, whose beliefs and behaviour then become the focus of moral judgment and action. As Halligan and Wade argue: ‘Our model suggests that illness is a dysfunction of the person in his (or her) physical and social environment’. This follows Parsons’s theory of the ‘sick role’, which he viewed as an individual’s deviance from the social norm. He understood society as existing in a state of equilibrium, with individuals functioning in their allotted roles. The sick role upsets this equilibrium because it provides individuals with privileges and exempts them from normal social responsibilities. In order to restore balance society must recognise the sick role as an undesirable state and individuals must accept their moral obligation to recover as quickly as possible and return to work. Waddell and Aylward explain the high levels of IB claimants as arising from a breakdown in this conditionality. The sick role is now assumed to confer a ‘right’ to incapacity (p47). The solution is to change people’s behaviour by transforming the language and culture of welfare, and by using sanctions as a ‘motivational tool’ to prise people out of their sick role (p166).
    UnumProvident exposedMeanwhile, in the US UnumProvident’s business activities had been coming under increasing scrutiny. In 2003, the Insurance Commissioner of the State of California announced that the three big insurance companies had been conducting their business fraudulently. As a matter of ordinary practice and custom they had compelled claimants to either accept less than the amount due under the terms of the policies or resort to litigation. The following year a multistate review identified four areas of concern: an excessive reliance on in-house professionals; unfair construction of doctor’s or IME reports; a failure to properly evaluate the totality of the claimants’ medical condition; and an inappropriate burden on the claimant to justify eligibility for benefit.13 UnumProvident was forced to reopen hundreds of thousands of rejected insurance claims. Commissioner John Garamendi described UnumProvident as ‘an outlaw company’: ‘It is a company that for years has operated in an illegal fashion.’ 14
    To secure its financial position the company presented a public evaluation of the costs of the multi-state settlement. It estimated that there were potentially 25,000 long-term disability claims (out of a total of 275,000 claimants) that would qualify for re-examination. Between $325m and $415m was allocated to cover the likely costs. However this estimate did not include a further potential 14,000 claimants under the separate California settlement. And it was based on a deadline being imposed in early 2007 after which claimants would not be able to elect to have their claim re-examined. The company failed to make it public that this deadline had been nullified by pending multi-district claimants’ class actions in Tennessee. This was misleading because there remains the possibility that many more of the 289,000 denied or terminated disability claimants may seek re-evaluation of their claims or litigation. Such potential future actions expose UnumProvident to a potentially ruinous financial outlay.15
    In response to the outcry this caused the company has rebranded itself, and has now adopted the name Unum Group. There are reports that as the bad publicity is subsiding the company is returning to its aggressive claims management strategies in order to recover its profitability.16 In January 2007 a performance rating from Credit Suisse was low, but with an upside driven by higher than expected UK earnings and a lower than expected tax rate.17 Graffam’s strategy has paid off. UnumProvident UK, with 2.3million covered by its insurance schemes and pre-tax profits of £109.8m, provides up to 25 per cent of the post-tax operating income of the UnumProvident group of companies. The company had also played an important role in shaping a workfare culture and policy strategy in the Department of Work and Pensions. In April 2007 UnumProvidentUK changed its name to Unum.
    New Labour’s Welfare Reform Act In July 2006 the Government published its second Welfare Reform Bill (which was passed as an Act in May 2007). The aim was to radically reduce levels of worklessness amongst single parents, older citizens and those on Incapacity Benefit (IB), and a target was set of an 80 per cent employment rate amongst working age adults. Pathways to Work will be rolled out across the country by 2008. Current Secretary of State for Work and Pensions John Hutton praised the pilot schemes: ‘The largely voluntary approach of Pathways has been a success’.18 But not successful enough. 19 To achieve its target the government will need to reduce the numbers on incapacity benefit by one million, and persuade into work one million more older people, and 300,000 extra lone parents. Employers, particularly in the public sector, will be helped to create more effective management of sickness absence, and benefits will not be given on the basis of a certain disability or illness but on an assessment of the capacity to work. In 2003 the OECD reported that Britain’s benefits gateway was ‘one of the toughest in the world’.20 But it was not tough enough, and still more stringent policing was required. The new Act offers GPs and primary care staff rewards for taking active steps to get individuals back into work. ‘Employment advisers’ will be attached to surgeries to help in ‘bringing about a cultural change in the way work is viewed by families and individuals’. The PCA will be redesigned by two technical working groups, one for mental health and one for physical disability. Both groups involve representatives from UnumProvident and Atos Origin.
    In 2008, IB will be replaced by a two-tier Employment and Support Allowance. Minister of State for Employment and Welfare Reform Jim Murphy, in a Parliamentary written answer, emphasised that the new allowance will ‘focus on how we can help people into work and will not automatically assume that because a person has a specific health condition or disability they are incapable of work’.21 Apart from those with the most severe disabilities (around 15-20 per cent, who will qualify for a higher rate of benefit) ‘customers’ who fail to participate in work-focused interviews or to engage in work related activity will be subjected to a ‘motivational tool’, as suggested by Waddell and Aylward. Current levels of IB average £6500 per annum, but claimants unable to manage or refusing the motivation could lose as much as £10.93 a week, rising to £21.8 for a second refusal of work.22 There is no evidence to suggest that impoverishing people who are ill will prompt them into longer-term employment, and this is particularly true for those with mental health problems. In 2006 the DWP published a report on the impact of the Pathways to Work pilots on people with mental health problems. It concluded that: ‘the estimated impact of the policy on the outcomes of interest for those who report having a mental illness (as a single health condition) is never statistically different from zero at conventional levels’.23 The future looks bleak for those who have ‘symptoms without diseases’, or mental health conditions, and who cannot demonstrate that their illness has an ‘objective medical pathology’. Jim Murphy was blunt: ‘Work is the only way out of poverty … the benefit system will never pay of itself [enough to lift people out of poverty] and I don’t think it should.’ 24
    The future of welfare The Welfare Reform Act is short on detail, and secondary legislation delegates powers to the DWP minister to continue the reform process and tighten up rules. In 2006 Hutton commissioned David Freud, a senior banker at UBS AG, to conduct a review of New Labour’s welfare to work policies. Published in March 2007,Reducing dependency, Increasing opportunity: options for the future of welfare to work quotes Waddell and Aylward’s dictum that work is ‘therapeutic’ and provides a business model for workfare. Freud argues that the government target can be achieved by bringing in the private sector on long-term, outcome-based contracts. The contracts are central to the success of the scheme. A price per claimant is calculated on the savings in IB costs when the claimant moves back into work. Payments to providers would then be paid over a three-year period from when an individual client enters paid employment. The income generated by the outflow of people from IB would be the incentive driving business towards the government target. The contracting regime would set a minimum standard of service that all ‘customers’ would receive. However: ‘beyond this there would be freedom between the provider and the individual to do what works for them’. Those claimants furthest away from the labour market – and who are most costly to the Exchequer – will command the highest rewards.
    To carry out this transformation of welfare the DWP would need to establish a new kind of contracting system, which would open up public finance to private companies. According to Freud, the private sector is the only body capable of shouldering the financial risks and arranging the private finance that will reduce costs to the Exchequer. And using the private sector will bring in the banks, which will be able to fund the ‘extremely large investments implied here’. Private companies would take the lead in the bidding process for contracts, and in building up consortia of groups in each of the regions and countries in Great Britain. This annual multi-billion pound market, and the creation of regional monopolies, ‘would attract major players from around the world’ (p62-3). As Freud concludes: ‘The fiscal prize is considerable’. Hutton’s public reaction was to describe the report as a ‘compelling case for future reform’.25
    Welfare reform exemplifies the transformation of the old style nation state into a new kind of ‘enabling’ market state. Instead of providing social protection, the market state offers ‘opportunities’ and ‘choice’ to ‘customers’, who in return must shoulder a greater degree of responsibility for their individual predicament. Alongside this transformation in the nature of service provision is the blurring of the boundaries between public service and private business, not least in the revolving door that operates in the higher echelons of the state. The logic of welfare reform is to reduce costs by keeping claims to a minimum. To achieve this, New Labour has adopted the practices of a private insurance company whose claims management in the US has been described as ‘illegal’. With the Freud Report it has opened the door for further privatisation. 26 The workfare system that is taking shape in this country is turning the logic of welfare onto its head. It is no longer a system that seeks to help people who are sick or disabled; instead it is increasingly asking them how they can help us. The demand for performativity in return for a meagre subsistence robs people of their autonomy – but New Labour dresses it up in the language of individual career development and dignity for the disabled. John Hutton describes workfare as a ‘something for something’ approach, and Tony Blair calls it ‘mutual responsibility’. But the compact between the state and an individual whose life has been disrupted by disability or sickness is not an equal one.
    The ‘sick role’ as an explanation for a person’s actions and attitudes makes the individual who is incapacitated responsible for what are socially produced problems. The logic of the reforms serves the need of the market, attempting to turn the individual into an efficient, docile unit of consumption and productivity.
    The Conservatives have now announced their own approach to welfare reform. Shadow Chancellor George Osborne argues that David Freud has not gone far enough: ‘We should seriously consider a bold “no-win, no-fee” approach to getting people off benefits. Prime contractors, be they companies or charities, would be paid primarily if they get people back into work, and keep them there – in other words payment by results.’ In return, more will be expected from those on employment related benefits, and tougher sanctions will be introduced against ‘those who can work but refuse to take steps to get back into the labour market’.27 The history of the British welfare system has always been one of grudging, paternalistic and sometimes punitive forms of social protection. But even measured against its own limited ambitions, the future of welfare looks bleak.
    1. OECD, Transforming Disability into Ability – policies to promote work and income security for disabled people, 2003.
    2. See Steven Kennedy, Wendy Wilson, The Welfare Reform Bill, Research Paper 06/39, House of Commons Library, 2006;www.parliament.uk/commons/lib/research/rp2006/rp06-039.pdf.
    3. ‘Doctors On Call’, Private Eye, issue 874, 16 June 1995, p26. 
    4. My thanks to activists in the US, in particular Linda Nee, and Jim Mooney of corporatecrimefighters.com, who provided me with contacts and information. For the archive of the US campaign against UnumProvident seehttp://web.archive.org/web/*/http://www.corporatecrimefighters.com 
    5. California Department of Insurance Legal Division, ‘Accusation’,www.insurance.ca.gov/0400-news/0100-press-releases/0080-2005/release089-05.cfm.
    6. See the social action research undertaken by M.E. Action UK (www.meactionuk.org.uk). For examplewww.meactionuk.org.uk/Notes_on_the_Insurance_issue_in_ME.htm. See also debate in the House of Lords,www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/ld200304/ldhansrd/vo040122/text/40122-12.htm. 
    7. Mind, Welfare Reform Bill 2006 Commons second reading debate Briefing,www.mind.org.uk/…/11D7C4BC-7E8D-438E-A950-96ED5D4469C5/0/WelfareReformBill2006Mind2Rshortbriefing.pdf. 
    8. See www.helpisathand.gov.uk/resources/groups/disabilities/ability/ability-magazine-issue-52-november-2003-pdf-825kb.pdf. 
    9. ‘Research Centre Welcomed’, 2.7.04, www.cf.ac.uk/psych/cpdr/. 
    10. Malcolm Wicks, Minister of State for Pensions,www.dwp.gov.uk/aboutus/2004/01_07_04_ucpdr.asp.
    11. ‘UnumProvident Supplementary memorandum submitted by UnumProvident following publication of the Welfare Reform Green Paper’, Select Committee on Work and Pensions, seewww.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm200506/cmselect/cmworpen/616/61602.htm.
    12. Derick T Wade, Peter W Halligan, ‘Do biomedical models of illness make for good healthcare systems?’, BMJ, Vol.329, Dec. 2004. 
    13. ‘Targeted Multistate Market Conduct Examination’, November 2004,www.maine.gov/pfr/insurance/unum/Unum_Multistate_ExamReport.htm. 
    14. ‘State Fines Insurer, Orders Reforms in Disability Cases’, Los Angeles Times, 3.10.05, www.insurance.ca.gov/0400-news/0100-press-releases/0080-2005/release089-05.cfm. 
    15. Details received in private correspondence and from Yahoo message boards,http://messages.finance.yahoo.com. 
    16. Private correspondence; see also, ‘Case Reviews fall short for hurt workers’, LA Times, 12.4.07.
    17. www.newratings.com/analyst_news/article_1465881.html. 
    18. John Hutton, ‘The Active Welfare State’, speech to the Work Foundation, 16.1.06, www.dwp.gov.uk/aboutus/2006/16_01_06.asp. 
    19. For statistics and percentages of those entering work through the pathways see David Laws MP written questions to Jim Murphy Minister of State, DWP, 27.3.07, at http://www.theyworkforyou.com.
    20. OECD, op cit. 21. Jim Murphy written answer,www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm200506/cmhansrd/cm060620/text/60620w1094.htm. 22. ‘Hutton unveils benefits shake-up’, BBC news,http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk_politics/4641588.stm. Average Benefit rate in Waddell and Aylward, The Scientific and Conceptual Basis of Incapacity Benefits, TSO 2005, p85.23. Stuart Adam et al., Early quantitative evidence on the impact of the Pathways to Work pilots, Research Report No 354, DWP 2006. 
    24. ‘Only work ends poverty, says minister’, Financial Times, 28.3.07. 25. John Hutton, speech on ‘Welfare Reform in the UK’,
    26.3.07, www.dwp.gov.uk/aboutus/2007/26-03-07.asp. 
    26. Freud’s scheme may be a bridge too far for Gordon Brown. See: ‘Leak shows that Treasury has consigned Blair welfare privatisation to the back burner’, The Guardian, 20.4.07,http://society.guardian.co.uk/futureforpublicservices/story/0,,2061933,00.html 
    27. http://www.conservatives.com/tile.do?def=news.story.page&obj_id=137035.

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    • David Gillon

      an excessive reliance on in-house professionals; unfair construction of doctor’s
      or IME reports; a failure to properly evaluate the totality of the claimants’
      medical condition; and an inappropriate burden on the claimant to justify
      eligibility for benefit.

      A description all too familiar to anyone who has ever faced an ATOS ‘Health Care Professional’ in a Work Capability Assessment

    • Linda Ashford.

      I do think that little attention has been paid to the changing definition of disability that has travelled across the Atlantic in response to the American peoples’ need for a better form of healthcare than the insurance based one that they have at present and which effectively denies millions of people the right to equality in healthcare rights on the basis of their income. This has been an ongoing debate over many years that picked up in the run up to the last presidential election, and since has escalated to extreme points of view. Part of this has been the development of different view of disability from the one that we usually support in this country. As politics here and there are linked, as are policies, we have seen some of these ideas seep into decision-making, and Unum’s ideas are an example of this. Politicians are often led by the views of their ‘experts’, spads and the like who research, and often study from international sources – i.e. the material they are looking for is new, sometimes unproven, and not neccessarily appropriate to the situation here in the UK. This is further exacerbated by many of these ‘experts’, who are political researchers, never being challenged by people who are actually manning the barricades, in the case of health and welfare for people in this country, these are doctors, nurses, healthcare and social workers etc.whose evidence is rarely looked at and studied.  The relationship between the experts and private companies is also not challenged enough, even when disclosed. In short the expertise available to politicians tends to have bias towards the novel, the short-term, the economically productive, and so on. Politicians simply are not great at this stuff, and rely on other people to inform them. Among those other people are more than a few outriders of extremely predatory forces. More balance would help. If Labour can be encouraged to understand what the internal dynamic of modern politics is bringing about, then there is hope for them, but if they keep on haring off after more and newer ways to please polls, then there is little hope for us. 

      Thank you for your post. Thanks also for this discussion, and I do hope that it reaches the eyes of those who need to read is.

  • Black Triangle’s written submission to the Scottish Parliament’s Welfare Reform Committee:

    While ‘Labour’ remains unrepetant – OUR campaign will fight your neoliberal party ALL THE WAY!

    We want sovereignty over our own welfare here in Scotland! ‘Labour’ CANNOT BE TRUSTED to defend OUR LIVES!



    Please read the comment thread!


  • Under New Labour (let’s not forget who started this), one woman had her benefits cut after missing an assessment appointment – because she was in hospital having chemotherapy for stomach cancer”

    ~ Owen Jones today 18th May 2012 in The Independent http://blacktrianglecampaign.org/2012/05/18/owen-jones-hatred-of-those-on-benefits-is-dangerously-out-of-control/ 

  • VIDEO Published on May 17, 2012 by Richard Brown“Fair use – do not take down – this video is under 10 minutes and it is in the public interest for its contents to be visible to the UK public, in accordance with copyright law”.


  • Suey2y

    Maybe there’s another story.

    Labour, seduced by a false narrative on incapacity, fell for the false “evidence” that Incapacity Benefit was ballooning ( it wasn’t) and that most could work with support ( possibly but Labour had no idea of what that support really was)

    As the full horror of the Work Capability Assessment started to become clear, campaigners sprang up from everywhere to join those already fighting. 

    However, 2010 saw a change of Government and though it seemed impossible, things got very much worse. DLA came under fire, the Independent Living Fund, Severe Disability Premium, Tax Credits for disabled kids, Social Care packages and on and on and on. 

    We, disabled people, loudly mobilised for a fight to the death. We had nothing left to lose and gave everything to alerting the media, campaigning, lobbying politicians, Peers and Journalists. 

    Every utterance from Labour on Welfare met with ridicule and derision, loudly and publicly. It became more apparent that the coalition were losing the narrative that allowed them to send disabled people back 50 years. 

    Of course Labour made a political decision to play the good guys, but it’s ridiculous to think that no-one in the current shadow cabinet actually CARES about disability. I believe Anne MacGuire does very much. Cruddas is now leading the policy review, I think he cares too. Not sure Liam gives a fig, but if you actually listen to his opposition speeches to the WRB, he spoke personally and passionately at times. 

    The biggest mistake any campaigners can make is taking things personally. It’s not personal, these people aren’t your friends. If a politician changes his or her views, then all previous bets are off. If Lab choose to defend the disabled now, today, grab it and make damned sure they get it right. You can no more judge Lab on decisions taken by Yvette Cooper in 2005 than you can judge your teenager on his reception class homework. It’s gone, it doesn’t exist any more. 

    Yes, it hurts, no, OF COURSE you don’t trust them – they’re politicians for goodness sake. You push them into a position where they have to support you, which is exactly what campaigners have done. They should be proud, this is politics, and they’ve played the political game and won. If we keep playing it right, we keep winning, simple as that, and Lab have nowhere else to go. 

    Politicians are not old lovers, who spurned you, they only exist in the present, their opinions as fluid as mercury. That’s the nature of politics. Get over it and focus your energies on today. 

    • AlanGiles

      With respect, Labour is currently showing a great deal of bogosity and deceit.

      It was James Purnell, in implementing Freud back in 2009 who decided DLA would be replaced by ESA. He said at the time the changes would come into effect in 2013/2014 (I assume Purnell had enough nous to realise Labour were unlikely to win the 2010 election, which no doubt, hastened his own decision to leave Parliament – for such a money grubbing little go-getter, Opposition is a terrible curse) – that and the fact that he was a hypocrite in saying that there should be “no ifs or buts” when prosecuting benefit fraudsters,  in that he was fiddling his  own expenses. If you are going to accuse others of dishonesty and seek their prosecution, you should be 100% pure yourself in that regard.

      Duncan-Smith and Grayling are merely continuing what New Labour started – they are just Hutton, Purnell and Byrne with a blue rather than a red rosette.

      Virtually every minister – Labour and Conservative – involved in welfare reform have been exposed as expenses cheats – now here is a novel idea: if they are so concerned about public money, why don’t they set an example of good behaviour?. Tony McNulty really should have been prosecuted, and so should Purnell Smith and Grayling.

      Byrne I think is a reasonably good actor, hence the “concern” he has shown this week, but it won’t last – I know – you know – if this “softer” approach fails to win public approval in the tabloids it will be back to Iron Man Byrne, and Ed, just like Blears before him, will meet yet another man on a weekday lunchtime still in his pyjamas  with his family watching TV.

      A man with Byrne’s record (both on his previous speeches and actions and his lack of personal integrity)  should not be in the DWP job, it is a s simple as that.

      * Cal Tjader (1925-1982)

      • treborc1

        Labour wanted to end DLA it’s was IB into ESA, DLA is a completely  different benefit which can be paid to people in full time employment, Labour did think it would be means tested, then ended

    • Dave Postles

      Well done in your campaigns, Sue.  I hope that you are right.  Would it not just have been more effective and convincing to have someone completely untainted and fresh to have made this new policy statement?

    • Ben Baumberg

      Great response, couldn’t agree more.  

      In terms of applying pressure, I guess it’s important to recognise that Byrne’s speech IS a step forward – but that this needs to be kept up in major speeches (inc by Ed Miliband), and to be the platform for a real policy agenda; on its own this isn’t enough.

      So: it’s up to all of us to keep pressing Labour in the right direction. But to be happy that at least this is the right start!

    • Is this an apologia for ‘Labour’, Sue? It certainly looks like one!

      “Yes, it hurts, no, OF COURSE you don’t trust them – they’re politicians for goodness sake”

      NO! ‘Labour’ hurts itself. Disabled people are not battered husbands or wives that must ‘push for a position where ‘they’ support you’!

      Black Triangle – and I think DPAC – are warning ‘Labour’ that we will bring you down unless you behave ETHICALLY and in accord with the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.Speaking for Black Triangle in Scotland – we have no loyalty whatsoever to ‘Labour’ whom we now note have gone into coalition throughout our country with the Tories to control councils that are cutting. like Edinburgh, tens of millions of pounds from the social care budget.

      I met Ann at The Poverty Alliance annual (!) conference in Glasgow a couple of months ago.

      I asked her: “Will Labour reverse these barbaric cuts to disability benefits?”

      Her answer was that it was “too early to say” as we had to wait until that time to see what the situation of the country is financially.

      There is no ethical, bottom line as far as ‘Labour’ is concerned it seems to me.

      Don’t be surprised if, in the lack and paucity of any PASSION or CONVICTION to pursue social justice, we Scots kick your neoliberal party into touch at the next General Election.

      I speak only as John McArdle in this and not for our whole campaign. But, let me tell you, we will not ‘ Get over it’!

      Friends’ lives have been lost. ‘Labour’ is NO ‘lover’ of ours – and we will focus our energies on achieving social justice. And for us, that may very well mean campaigning hard for an independent Scotland where we can be free of both ‘Labour’, Tory and Lib Dem, neoliberal tyranny.



      • AlanGiles

        John, I have contact with disabilities on a regular, and in a couple of cases, personal basis (my oldest friend suffers uncontrolled epilepsy and has cerebral palsy).

        I have seen the fear – genuine fear – when the postman arrives with a brown DWP envelope.

        Nobody should have to be punished like this for something that is not their fault.

        Duncan-Smith could only have said what he did this week and in the past couple of years thanks to the work John Hutton and James Purnell started for him. Labour gave them David Freud – a multimillionaire banker who was promoted by New Labour as a “welfare expert” when he was nothing but a dillitante   on a mission. As late as February 2009 he was still showing his ignorance in The Daily Telegraph by suggesting it was the patients own GP who “put them on IB”.

        Purnell or Byrne or indeed no front bench Labour spokesperson bothered to correct his schoolboy errors.

        As for Byrne’s apparent change of heart – I don’t think anybody within Labour or without are taken in by anything the miserable little worm says – and I speak as an ex-Labour party member, and for my sins, even as a non-member I still support Labour – God knows why and it gets ever more difficult.

        * Martin Taylor (1956 –    )

        • treborc1

          Well yes but it was Blair that first stated cant  be right that a GP gives his patient IB or DLA at conference.

          I’m not so far gone to think my voice will make a difference to labour, but maybe my voting can, then again I live in a labour save seat which is not so safe anymore.

          But the people to blame are not the Purnell’s the blunkett’s   well the others it’s that grinning pair of ears, or the fat lad who was to thick to lead, but could give away billions and think he saved the world.

          Policies are down to leaders Miliband is proud he was brought up in a council house although he soon moved into a n expensive house, he was one who he will say moved onwards and upwards, of course without his fathers  influence.

          Labour is still new labour and it will be for me until it tells those flapping pair of ears to F*ck off.

      • Very well said John… Hear Hear…

    • Macro

      So basically what you’re saying is that politicians, including Labour politicians, are self-serving amoral scum who will say and do anything that they believe will benefit them personally and only do good things when forced, black-mailed, shamed,  or driven into doing so whenever doing anything good comes into conflict with their perception of whatever is helpful to them personally?

      If that is the case shouldn’t we be looking for and supporting better politicians rather than simply writing off the awful things they did earlier in their careers and would do again at the drop of a hat if it benefited them?

  • Doubting Thomas

    And as Liam journeyed, it came to pass that he drew nigh unto Birmingham: and suddenly there shone round about him a light out of heaven: and he fell upon the earth, and heard a voice saying unto him, Liam, Liam, why persecutest thou me? And Liam said, Who art thou? And a voice said, I am a man, a good man, who carest for his children and yet hath been on incapacity benefit for a decade after suffering an injury at work whom thou persecutest: but rise, and enter into the city, and it shall be told thee what thou must do for thy career is on the line. And Stephen Timms, Ian Austin, Anne McGuire, Gregg McClymont, Bill McKenzie, and Ray Collins that journeyed with him stood speechless, hearing the voice, but beholding no man. And Liam arose from the earth; and when his eyes were opened, he saw nothing; and they led him by the hand, and brought him into Birmingham, which city wanted no Mayor. And he was three days without sight, and did neither eat nor drink. And there fell from his eyes as it had been scales: and he received sight, and arose, and was baptised a Labour man again with fire in his belly, hope in his heart, and light in his eyes.

    • Macro

      If only.

    • AlanGiles

       and did neither eat nor drink. …”

      But the grasping, conniving old bugger would STILL be claiming full food allowance 🙂

      * Tommy Pollard (1923-1960)

    • LaurenceB

      Anybody that believe that Byrne has seen the light is a bloody fool.

  • Treating every party as enemies, even when they make very positive overtures, is not a way to have your campaign taken seriously. The main reason that politicians and parties give way to campaigns is because the publicity is bad for them. If the campaign is driving opinion enough, or they believe that it will do so, they try to get the campaign on-side, to (at the very least) avoid that damage, and if they think the campaign will end up praising them, so much the better.

    You get politicians to do the right thing not by convincing them it’s the right thing (though that can work, sometimes), but by convincing them it’s in their best interests.

  • Lornayoung13038

    Labour and Liam Byrne apparent shift in policy on disability is for the reason that most politicians do something; because it suits their own purposes. As the govt has ramped up the rhetoric on disabled “scroungers” it’s given Labour an opportunity to attack the govt. I don’t doubt that we have genuine political support across the spectrum in all main parties, but neither am I naive enough to think that Labour won’t use us fir their own political ends. I agree with campaigners like Sue Marsh I.e. let’s not get too concerned with genuineness or otherwise og liam Byrne or labour change of heart, instead lets be smart and utilise it to promote our cause. I’m

  • Janiete

    Liam Byrne has for some time been targeted for demonising disable people but I have to confess I’ve not actually read or heard any comments from him or from the Labour Party in general, that I feel would justify that. Perhaps someone could enlighten me and post some links so I could decide for myself whether the criticism is warranted.

    • AlanGiles

      Janiete: A woman once asked Fats Waller to define rythym  to her: “If you have to ask, lady – you ain’t got it!” was his reply

      With all due respect my reply to you is the same. Just read what he has said – listen to his turgid speeches.

      Did you never hear of James Purnell or John Hutton. Or David Freud??

      I think you are trolling.

      * Doug Raney (1956 –    )

    • Macro
    • And that’s just the problem, the silence withing the Labour Party has been deafening on the subject of disability and welfare reform.

      The Labour Party continually deny any involvement in bringing about the most severe and unjust assessment process a disabled person will ever have to attend.

      I have written to several Ministers,MPs to ask them about Atos and the influence of Unum on the whole assessment process, guess what? They all clam up and either deny or say they cannot remember that taking place, it’s all on record.

      The Labour Party have joined the right wing when it comes to demonising the sick, the impoverished, the disabled, Labour should be ashamed of themselves but these days what politician knows anything about admitting shameful behaviour?


  • Susieb1211

    “From everyone according to their ability.  To everyone according to their need”.  This is not even similar the the “rights and responsibilities” rhetoric.    The Labour Party needs to reinstate  clause 4 and think seriously about what it means.  The welfare state of Beveridge never sought to produce this type of society.  It was premised on a working male head of the family working and the “wife” caring for children, the elderly and the disabled.  Now we have a single worker model which applies to all except children —— even increasingly the elderly and definitely the disabled and sick. 

    Come on Labour start talking re taxing the rich and producing a far more equitable society.

  • thiswayup

    I understand fully all the scepticism about Liam Byrne et al.

    However, he has made a speech that is at least making the right noises. It is certainly a progression from jumping on the hate bandwagon again. It’s a first step and should be encouraged. Maybe, the change of heart is only because it’s perceived there are millions of votes in it – which there most certainly are. But it’s  certainly better than continuing with the scrounger rhetoric because it’s perceived there are votes in that.

    The public mood is slowly starting to shift as more and more horrific stories about ATOS, changes to DLA and Workfare failures and cost leak out. And as more and more people are dragged into the realisation that these “reforms” are just savage attacks on the most vulnerable in society and that they affect THEM not just someone else.

    It’s not just Labour that needs to wake up.  It’s disabled people as well. Many I know still believe that these cuts won’t affect them, well, because they are GENUINE, you see, not scroungers. Many, many more simply don’t know what is happening till it lands on their doorstep.

    At the next election it will be Labour or Conservative – it always is. We KNOW the Conservatives are dangerous psychopaths hell bent on pushing the disabled out of society or over the edge.
    So what choice do we have?

    We can keep screaming into the darkness, where no one cares.  Or we can focus on the chink of light and encourage it to grow.

    Who cares if it’s just to get votes, for now?  So long as we hold them to their words.

    We vote, therefore we exist.

    There are those in the party we KNOW are genuine, from following the Welfare Reform debates and on the Work and Pensions Select Committee.

    Maybe a different spokesperson would have been preferable.  But we’ve got what we’ve got.  And who knows, being forced to face up to real life stories and not media hype can transform a person’s thinking?  We can only hope. What we must not risk is the extinction of that hope by pissing all over it before the flame has a chance to catch.

    I look forward to Liam making such speeches IN PUBLIC.  I look forward to every member of the Labour party counteracting the government’s lies, incorrect statistics and press propaganda at every turn.  I look forward to us taking control of the debate and pushing it out to the ignorant masses.

    Beveridge was of his time.  When one man could easily find a job.  When that job was enough to rent or buy a house and keep a family, with a stay at home wife.  The debate needs to be reframed for our time, when jobs are scarce, full employment is only a dream, when corporations pay such low wages, they have to be subsidised by government.  When two incomes are needed to even attempt to scrape by. When house prices are artificially kept too high. These things also need to change. We can never compete with China or India by turning the population into underpaid corporate slaves, living in slums. 

    Beveridge did not envisage the demonisation of the disabled for political purposes. He would not have represented them as the supposed cause of an economic crisis. This lie must be tackled head on with cold, hard facts.

    The public need to hear the stories of those we all know. The abuse inflicted by ATOS at taxpayers expense. That more will follow under PIP. That for those disabled who can and want to work, new models of doing so can be developed. But for those who cannot, protection will be guaranteed as a right in a civil society.

    I heard recently of a man who collapsed and died in the ATOS assessment centre, after his test.
    His grieving family got a letter that he was fit for work.
    The reason why so many people on DLA are not reassessed, is because there is no need. The award has been made because the disability is severe and permanent.

    This man’s story highlights a system that is out of control. Deaf, blind, unable to speak, in nappies, unable to walk, seizures, tube fed – yet found fit for work.


    If Labour wants to get on the right side of history, let us see them speak out about such horrors IN PUBLIC.  For all.  Not just the “easy” cases – the cancer victim. Or the limbless servicemen. But for all.

    THEN I will start to believe it.  THEN Labour will have my vote.

    • AlanGiles

      Byrne making the right noises, but does he mean or believe a word of it?

      My suspicion is that his sudden change of heart is more to do with the fact that, having lost one of his jobs, he is afraid of losing the other, and so will try a different tack in the hope he will become more “popular”.

      If Byrne had been replaced at DWP last week, this is the sort of speech that would have been welcomed from his successor, but Byrne saying it…. It sounds flat, unbelievable.

      I think this man would do anything, say anything to advance his career – if he could be assured it would work, he would stroll down Whitehall in a gold lame’ pantie-girdle, to get the people of Birmingham to change their minds about having a Mayor

      * Pete Chilver (1924-2008)

  • Speirsscott

    you can see my protest twitters against the govt disabled cuts at scottspeirs3 on twitter i am trying to keep us in the public domain for as long as possible

  • BusyBeeBuzz

    If the Labour Party’s approach to sick and disabled people has shifted, then this signals that they have finally woken up to the realisation that they could get a lot of votes from vulnerable people. In his speech Liam Byrne acknowledged that: “Disability affects 11 million adults…that’s nearly one in four adults.”


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