Friday, 10 June 2011

Liz Sayce's Review of 'Disability employment support fit for the future'

Hectic day yesterday, 9th June. Late on Wednesday evening, I received news that Liz Sayce's review of 'Disability employment support fit for the future' was being launched at lunchtime the following day. Lez Woodward, Remploy convenor, asked if I could mobilise the 'troops' and come along to take part in a protest outside the building, the Resource Centre, in Holloway Road.
Now I had a problem. The following day I was due at the Unite regional office for an 11 am committee meeting and had to be back in Brixton by 2 pm for another meeting.

Anyway, I managed to conduct the committee business in quick time and arrived at the Resource Centre in Holloway Road by around 12.35 pm. We spotted the contingent from about 50 meters away, Big Lez being standing out, his great moustachioed head standing out.

When I finally joined the contingent we were about a dozen. Spotting someone with a copy of review I found out I could get a copy from the first floor. After waltzing in and securing a copy of Sayce's report I realised that there was no security inside and suggested we go in and participate.

We were met at the door by one of the centre's employees who rather half-heartedly asked us if we were on the 'invited' list. Telling him I was from the TUC General Council, the Chair of the TUC's Disability Committee, the man looked seriously impressed and let us in.

The review launch was taking place on the first floor in a large conference rom. By the time we arrived the room was pretty full, mainly occupied by suits, professional non-disabled types from business and the voluntary sector.

Our small crew looked decidedly out of place - we were definitely the spectres at the feast.

Maria Miller, Tory Minister for Disabled People, opened proceedings to the accompaniment of some mild heckling from Lez. Her speech was a variation on this regime's misplaced ideology. The need to force disabled people into jobs. As usual she omitted to tell us where these jobs were. As is her wont she failed to give us any assurances that employers would be forced to obey the law and employ disabled people.

Unfortunately, I had to leave just as Liz Sayce opened her justification of her review. On the way out I saw a couple of police officers making their way to the conference. Once outside I hung around for a short while; but, nothing occurred, none of our people was frogmarched out by the Old Bill - I later found out that there was no problem.

From what I've read of the review thus far things look very glum for Remploy workers. Sayce is basically calling for the closure of Remploy factories. The report cites a £63m loss across the factories as unsustainable. There is little detail as to how they arrive at this figure. There is little or no mention of the failures of upper management to properly take advantage of opportunities such as public procured contracts.

Sunday, 5 June 2011

The ‘Protest and Survive’ meeting

The ‘Protest and Survive’ meeting was possibly small in number; I counted 30 in all. We had some good speakers, people representing different age groups and strands of the disability community in Lambeth.

The speakers’ broached subjects ranging from how Tory-led policy on social housing was, and would in the future, discriminating against the poorest, including, of course, disabled people.

Ellen Lebethe spoke of how the cuts were hitting older people. But more importantly, she told us the importance of unity and solidarity.

Roddy Slorich presented his case from the perspective of mental health service users.

A representative of People First Lambeth told of how their funding was cut earlier in the year. She and her ex PFL workmates were finding it very difficult to find work. But, she was still willing to fight.

A motion was moved by Roger Lewis, seconded, and agreed by the meeting to resolve:

  1. To convene a South London Disabled People Against the Cuts campaigning group and affiliate to the national Disabled People Against the Cuts network.
  2. To agree to support local trade unions and others taking industrial action on 30th June in defence of their jobs and services, particularly in Education, and to use the day of protest to highlight the effects the government cuts are having on Disabled people generally.
  3. To hold an event in Windrush Square in Brixton on June 30th alongside Childrens Adventure Play services and others to support the services that have already been cut locally or which are in danger of being cut, including the cut in funding to People First Lambeth, a voluntary group for people with learning difficulties.
  4. To support similar activities in other boroughs in South London in conjunction with any activities being organised through local anti cuts organisations.

A slightly discordant note was struck towards the end of the meeting when two people criticised the cuts movement for not achieving anything and leaving things too late, a reference to the three poorly attended consultations on Care, TaxiCard, and the Freedom Pass.

However, these criticisms were countered as speakers who followed gave a more positive view of successes such as Birmingham Council being defeated; others spoke of the recently successful marches, the Lambeth Assembly, etc.

As for the SWP, there is at least one member who has been involved with the Lambeth Pan-Disability Forum for quite a while; and, in fairness to him, he has and is keeping party politics out of our work.

Thursday, 2 June 2011

Lambeth and the Cuts

There is little doubt now that disabled people are taking the brunt of these Tory-led cuts; cuts that, if allowed to continue will see the demise of a welfare state once the envy of working people the world over. A welfare state, which incorporated an NHS, a scheme, which at its best, cared medically for the individual from the cradle to the grave – free at the point of need.

These cuts and depravations are raining down on us both nationally and locally. So, if the Tory storm misses you nationally, you can bet on a sustained downpour from your local council. Nationally disabled people are undergoing migration from Incapacity Benefit and Income Support to, if they’re fortunate, Employment Support Allowance or ESA Work Related Activity Group; or, if they’re unfortunate, Job Seekers’ Allowance – accompanied by a massive fall in income.

Should you be wrongly assessed onto JSA there is a strong likelihood that the DWP will deem you unqualified for DLA, thus this benefit would also be withdrawn. Anyone finding themselves in this predicament should file for an appeal, as many appellants successfully get themselves reassessed upwards.

Lambeth Council, to its everlasting shame, has made cuts of £37 million for this financial year. The cuts have hit home viciously, with organisations such as People First Lambeth, a self-help group for adults with learning disabilities losing their funding grant. This is not only a loss for disabled people in the Borough. Social enterprises and businesses will lose out. PFL were the experts in their field. Lambeth has lost something irreplaceable with the closure of PFL.

Sadly, many other voluntary groups have also lost funding. So much so that many have had to pare back their services to disabled people in Lambeth. Just as we think we’re making progress; just when we begin to feel the benefits of living in a wealthy country in the second decade of the 21st century, casino capitalists begin playing recklessly with our futures; opportunistic multi-millionaire politicians set their ideological deficit-busting in train.

While we poured money into depleted bank vaults, these banks greedily took the money, refinanced, and locked their vaults against small businesses and new mortgages. Bloated on our money these banks continued paying out obscene bonuses. Thus in saving the banking system the country took on a large deficit.

So, to who does the government pick on. Do they go to the source, the banks? No, they attack the public service jobs and services. In true Tory style, they sacrifice jobs over investment.

The government could have taken a different direction. Had they chased down tax cheats as doggedly as they pursue benefits’ cheats, the deficit would be taken care of. A Robin Hood Tax could generate tens of billions per annum while barely registering on individual speculative bank transactions.

Rather than forcing their own class in the financial services sector to pay its share; this regime places the burden on the poor. Unlike their wealthy neighbours poorer paid people and those on fixed incomes are the backbone of our economy. Disabled and elderly citizens, often, spend most of their income within their local economies. They pay more of their income on rents, a greater proportion on food, and they spend benefits on services such as care provision – employing others locally.

Disabled and elderly people and public services workers, we’re the goose laying the golden egg. The golden egg of taxes, NI and spending in the local economy. Take away these jobs, these services and benefits, and the golden eggs stop being laid.

The near future could see further cuts in areas such as care, TaxiCard, and Freedom Passes. All these three areas are currently under consultation. There is a strong likelihood that care costs will rise while individual care packages may be cut.

The TaxiCard service will become diluted. Customers will receive fewer journeys; the cost of individual trips will rise; and, the overall subsidy will be eroded. Basically, an individual journey will be far shorter; this will shrink the personal boundaries within which we live; friends and families living relatively short distances away will go unvisited.

Similarly, discretionary Freedom Passes for mental health service users could be abolished. People from these groups are predicting a rise in suicides amongst their number. In abolishing the pass the Council is in effect imprisoning many hundreds of people; unable to visit friends, families, and support groups some will find such enforced isolation intolerable.

I cannot by and let the few destroy my class! I will not stand by and see my welfare state destroyed and sold-off for short-term profit! I will resist these thieves in our midst!