Sunday, 30 August 2009
New Labour Proposes to Abolish ALL Disability Benefits - DLA and AA included
What kind of 'Labour' Government are the Trade Unions Funding?
Having already abolished Incapacity Benefit, with barely a squeak or murmur from the trade unions or labour movement, New Labour has signalled that it wants to scrap ALL disability benefits.
On July 14th New Labour published a Green Paper, Shaping the Future of Care. Reading through the spin and waffle, the message is clear. DLA is ‘inefficient’ ‘poorly targetted’ [because it’s not means tested!] and has to go.
In fact DLA is the best benefit there is. If your needs are great enough, if you cannot care and need help with bodily functions for part or all of the day (and night) you are eligible for DLA. There are 3 bands – lower, middle and higher. Receipt of DLA does not overlap with other benefits and is not counted as taxable income. The result is that people who are the most vulnerable and sick in this society see a small increase in their standard of living.
This is what New Labour hate most of all.
The proposal is to use the money for ‘individual budgets’ run by private companies, whereby the disabled, in agreement with the local authority, can spend the money in particular ways. Many people now in receipt of DLA/AA will be ineligible. The whole system will be discretionary and, of course, liable to cuts. Anyone with any experience of the already existing system of individual budgets knows what a nightmare the whole system is.
New Labour's Green Paper openly talks about abolishing Attendance Allowance which is paid to those 65 and over (AA is the equivalent of the care component of DLA). Instead they intend to force the elderly to pay £20,000 to insure themselves!! In conformity with New Labour's belief in spin they talk in the paper of 'disability benefits' as well as Attendance Allowance - a clear sign that it is not just AA which is in their sights. And of course the Green Paper dresses up its purpose with the usual New Labour waffle such as proclaiming that "our aspiration (is) to build a stronger, fairer Britain."
Well quite - abolition of disability is no doubt part of the 'aspiration' to building a fairer Britain in the eyes of New Labour's Paw Law Commissioners such as Andy Burnham and Yvette Cooper.
Anyone who believes that New Labour is anything other than an alternative party of capitalism is living in another world. The Attlee Government of 1945-51, which was a right-wing cold war Labour government, nonetheless introduced the building blocs of the welfare state which New Labour is intent on demolishing. They introduced the National Assistance Act intended to act as a safety net for those who fell below a certain level of income. New Labour has virtually abolished Income Support. Successive Labour (and even Tory) Governments have introduced disability benefits. New Labour is determined to abolish them.
New Labour prefers stuffing the mouths of bankers with gold and then expecting the poorest and most deprived sections of the community to pay for it. Meanwhile the leadership of the Trade Unions, like the three wise monkeys, hear nothing, see nothing and say nothing. And more to the point - do nothing.
DLA at the moment is used to pay for the extra costs that result from being disabled. For example my own son is autistic. One of the consequences of this is that he is always breaking things, including windows! DLA is used to remedy this. It also enables him to be taken out by his parents, to enjoy videos and DVDs and live as near as possible a normal life including holidays. This is the kind of thing that New Labour is determined to prevent and in its place will be a free-market, bureaucratically driven National Care Agency which will determine what the needs of the disabled are.
People have been confused because the Green Paper only mentions Attendance Allowance and ‘disability benefits’. However the latter is a clue. If you are going for equivalent of the care component of DLA for the elderly, it makes sense to do so with those under 65. Of course New Labour will try and spin this away so that is why it needs a massive movement to prevent this in its tracks.
Coincidentally the TUC is organising a ‘Poverty Conference’ on Monday October 19th. it is appropriately titled, because it displays the TUC's normal poverty of ideas. Entitled An Alternative Vision for the Welfare State it is organised in conjunction with the Unemployed Workers Centres Consultative Committee.
Earlier this year I resigned from the above committee because in reality it is just the plaything of TUC bureaucrats and staff. It is led by the Unemployed Centres Combine chaired by one Kevin Flynn of Gateshead Unemployed Workers Centre, which also does nothing. Every New Labour attack on benefit claimants so far has been met by silence or worse complicity.
Speaking at the TUC’s Anti Poverty Conference, will be a number of different welfare charities such as Child Poverty Action Committee. CPAG, like most charities, is politically clueless. Having previously welcomed all Gordon Brown’s initiatives such as the tax credit system, as a means of combatting child poverty, a goal which is ever more elusive, they are now paralysed like rabbits in the headlights as New Labour begins taking the axe to the fundamentals of the Welfare State.
This of course is apart from the fact that certain disabled charities like Disability Alliance actually support the government’s proposed abolition of AA/DLA. These charity heads, who have grown fat on the backs of those they purportedly serve, are now rolling over to accept New Labour’s latest spin. Also speaking alongside them will be Jonathan Rutherford of the New Labour think-tank Compass as well as Mark Serwotka of PCS, the Civil Service union. Serwotka has a reputation as a left leader of a militant trade union but when it comes to implementation of benefit cuts and Employment Support Allowance, PCS has gone along with the government without a whimper.
That is why, as Secretary of Brighton & Hove Unemployed Workers Centre, I am calling on people to help organise and join a picket of the TUC in Great Russell Street, London outside its Poverty Conference on Monday October 19th at 10.00 a.m.
Below are links to more information plus a faq sheet on what the Government’s Green Paper means in practice.
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What exactly is the Green Paper about?
The green paper is about the problem of paying for care as the UK’s population ages. It proposes setting up a National Care Service, like the National Health Service, to provide a universal system of care throughout the UK. Much of the document is devoted to discussing how to pay for this service, including:
making everyone pay a flat rate of £25,000 before or after they die, whether they ever need care or not; or
making everyone over retirement age pay into an insurance scheme; or
making people pay for part of their care depending on their means.
This is in addition to the proposal to take disability benefits off claimants and hand them over to the care service.
The National Care Service would only deal with your care needs. If you had to go into residential care you would still have to pay for accommodation, heating, lighting, food, clothes, toiletries, etc.
But at least under this system everyone would have the right to the care they need, even though it might mean getting rid of disability benefits, right?
No, not at all. Everyone would have the right to have their care needs assessed but only the most severely disabled would actually receive any care.
The way it would work is that under the National Care Service everyone in the UK would have their care needs assessed using the same criteria wherever they live. This might be done by a national body – it’s easy to imagine a company like Atos who currently do benefits medicals being employed to do the assessments – or it might be done by local social services departments all working to the same system.
As a result of the assessment, some people would be awarded a ‘personal budget’ – a cash amount that could be used to meet their needs. Many people, however, would receive no care whatsoever, because their care needs would be below the threshold set nationally or by individual local authorities.
For example you might be assessed as needing help with washing, dressing and undressing because of arthritis. But you’d be very unlikely to actually get this help from the National Care Service. Resources would be reserved for those with higher needs than yours.
One of the concerns of disability agencies, including RNIB, is that many people who are currently entitled to DLA or AA would not be entitled to a personal budget from the National Care Service. At the moment, most local authorities do not currently provide help for people who ‘only’ need help with washing and dressing.
Still, those with the highest care needs would be able to purchase whatever they wanted with their personal budget, wouldn’t they?
No, not at all. How the budget would be spent would depend on what agreement individuals were able to reach with a social worker.
If you have ME/CFS, for example, you may rely on your DLA or AA to pay for alternative therapies such as acupuncture, homeopathy, herbalism or chiropractice or you may use it to pay for dietary supplements that you know help you. However, professionals may dismiss these as quack remedies and you may not be able to use your personal budget for those sort of things. It wouldn’t be your cash to spend as you choose, in the way that DLA and AA are.
Won’t there be some sort of transitional relief for current claimants?
Yes, there may be. But you might not like it.
One proposal is to ensure that all current claimants get a care package of at least the value of their current disability benefits payments. But the amounts paid for DLA and AA wouldn’t get you very much care.
Middle rate care DLA and lower rate AA are worth £47.10 a week, for example. This might get you help with washing and dressing in the morning and getting into bed at night for two, or at the most three days a week. The other four or five days you’d have to manage alone.
If your care needs are at night, your benefits would pay for one night a week for someone to sleep in your house and not even a single night for someone to stay awake.
Lower rate DLA wouldn’t pay for even two hours of care a week. In fact it might not get you any hours at all, but instead be used to pay for aids or adaptations.
OK, this doesn’t sound great, but this is only a discussion document, isn’t it?
Yes it is, but green papers are the first step on the road to new laws. If politicians sense from the responses – or the lack of them - that disabled people and disability organisations won’t put up too much of a fight then they’ll see that as a green light for abolishing DLA as well as AA.
You keep going on about ‘disability benefits’ but what exactly are they?
Good question. We only keep going on about them because the green paper does. In all, the term ‘disability benefits’ appears 35 times in the green paper. There is no legal definition of disability benefits, as far as we are aware, but most people would agree that the main ones are DLA and AA.
So you’re just scaremongering really aren’t you, because the green paper doesn’t actually refer to ending DLA, does it?
No, it doesn’t go in for that kind of plain speaking. Instead, it talks about ‘integrating‘ ‘disability benefits, for example Attendance Allowance’ and ‘disability benefits such as Attendance Allowance’ into the care system.
We understand why people might think why our concerns are just pointless speculation and prophecies of doom. But people said the same thing before employment and support allowance was introduced and the reality is now beginning to look worse than the prophecies.
And bear this in mind. This green paper was many months in the making. It’s signed by no fewer than six secretaries of state, including the acknowledged master of spin, Lord Mandelson. It’s also signed by the chief secretary to the treasury and has an introduction by Gordon Brown himself. You can be quite sure that every phrase in this document has been carefully chosen.
If DLA had been specifically listed as a benefit that was to be axed the government, and particularly the new secretary of state for work and pensions Yvette Cooper, would have expected a much angrier response from disability groups. The use of the imprecise term disability benefits, on the other hand, allows the government to gauge the level of organised opposition before denying or revealing that they wish to axe DLA.
And remember, by passing enabling legislation which gives the secretary of state the power to withdraw any benefits and merge the funds into the National Care Service the government can pave the way for getting rid of DLA without openly admitting their intention. By the time they do admit it, it will be far, far too late to do anything about it.
I’m not convinced - I still don’t believe they would dare to get rid of DLA, so why should I get involved in this campaign?
Well, we salute your optimism. But one reason might be simply that if you’re a claimant yourself you know what a desperate struggle it is to live off benefits. Why would you not offer to support to sick and disabled claimants currently getting AA? Why would you decide that it’s absolutely fine to snatch benefits away from sick and disabled claimants as long as they’re ‘only’ old people?
At the worst you’ll spend a few hours of your time sticking up for some of the least well off in society. In fact a very recent report found that the UK’s pensioners are the fourth poorest in Europe. Yet these are the people who are being told they must suffer cuts in their already low incomes so that investment bankers, for example, can continue to enjoy massive bonuses without having to pay higher taxes.
You might even give politicians the idea that it’s not so easy to push the sick and disabled around after all.
But surely it doesn’t matter what labour proposes, they’ll be out of power by the end of next year, won’t they?
Most people seem to think so, but why would you expect the conservatives to be against the idea of cutting benefits?
Labour and the conservatives have co-operated closely over welfare reform up until now – hence the smooth introduction of employment and support allowance with its harsh new work capability assessment. The only disagreement between the two seems generally to be that the conservatives don’t think that labour go far enough with some reforms. That’s why investment banker and get the sick back to work guru David Freud deserted labour and joined the tories.
There is every reason to suppose that if the conservatives win the next election they will be as keen as labour to cut the cost of benefits rather than, say, raising the rate of tax paid by the very well off. The green paper even points out that ‘If we do not reform the system, in 20 years’ time the cost of disability benefits could increase by almost 50 per cent.’
One thing we can say with certainty, since the publication of the green paper there has been no undertaking from the conservatives that they would oppose getting rid of disability benefits.
If both parties are in favour of axing DLA and AA then there’s no point in protesting, is there?
Yes there is. There are over 4.5 million people in the UK who get DLA or AA and most of them are entitled to vote. In addition, millions have a partner, parent, carer or someone else whose life is closely bound up with theirs and who would also suffer if disability benefits were axed. Together, they make up a very large slice of the electorate.
In addition, there are literally thousands of disability organisations in this country, from the very large ones such as RNIB and RNID to very small local groups. Together, they form a very influential lobby group. No party would lightly go into an election with a huge range of disability groups condemning their proposals for disabled people.
Just as importantly, no MP or challenger wants to fight an election with a local campaign against them mounted by local disabled people. Even Labour MPs in formerly safe seats will be counting every vote. They can probably be relied on to put pressure on ministers to drop policies that are filling their post bags with letters of protest.
But you’ll never get disabled people or their organisations to act together, will you?
No, we won’t. Not on our own – we’re a tiny organisation and we aren’t set up to be a campaigning body. But our campaign will only begin if a thousand people sign up to it. A thousand people each prepared to devote a little time to applying pressure and to encouraging others to join in could genuinely begin to influence the national disability organisations and that might well start to frighten politicians.
What does your campaign actually involve . . . will it include chains and padlocks?
We’re aiming to get people to email MPs, disability groups and others with their concerns. We also want to araise awareness of the plans to abolish disability benefits in discussion forums and local media. We’ll be asking campaigners to demand that organisations that represent them put up a genuine fight against these proposals.
We won’t be asking anyone to chain themselves to anything – though if you do, please send us a pic.
Sign up to our campaign to fight the threat to DLA & AA
But haven’t all the disability groups been “bought” by the government?
Sadly, there are a number of disability bodies who rely increasingly on funding from the government. And there are some who seem to care more about being on first name terms with ministers than they do about representing their members.
But most disability organisations are hard working, decent but woefully underfunded and overstretched bodies. Some are already speaking out against the proposals to axe DLA and AA. Many others simply don’t understand the benefits system and generally try to have nothing to do with it because it’s too confusing and they don’t have the specialist staff. All that may be needed is for enough of their members to start contacting and educating them in order to get them to act.
Some will undoubtedly prefer to steer clear of controversy altogether. But most agencies depend primarily on donations and subscriptions from individual members for their funding. And all rely on being able to claim that they represent the interests of their particular group. None of them will feel comfortable about being publicly and repeatedly condemned for failing to stick up for the very people they claim to represent, because that could have a direct effect on their income and jobs.
This is all very well, but why should we trust anything you say when you’re just out to make money from people claiming DLA & AA?
It’s absolutely true that an important part of our income comes from people subscribing to the Benefits and Work website for information about claiming DLA. But you don’t have to trust us at all. We’ve published links to the green paper itself and to other sites with information about it, so you can make up your own mind.
But in our own defence we should point out that between us we have many years of experience of the benefits system as welfare rights workers, trainers and writers and that one of us is legally qualified.
We started this campaign because we are so outraged that the government wants to make people with mild to moderately high care needs give up their benefits in order to pay for the care of the most severely disabled. We think there are better ways to fund the cost of care, like making bankers with million pound bonuses pay much higher taxes. And we’re astonished that there has been so little reaction to these proposals.
But if you’re right, and we are just hard-faced business people trying to protect our income, then maybe you should be really worried. Because business people wouldn’t invest a lot of time, effort and money into a campaign like this – which will make no money whatsoever – unless they thought the threat to DLA was a very real threat indeed to their business.
OK, fair point. But as a claimant it’s safer just to keep your head down, isn’t it, rather than getting involved in protests?
We can see why people feel that way.
After all, politicians have invested many millions of pounds and years of effort into encouraging society to view those who claim incapacity and disability benefits as workshy frauds.
They happily allow the media to incite hatred towards sick and disabled claimants in a way that would see editors and producers imprisoned if they used similar language in relation to any other minority group. Indeed, it’s very often politicians who provide the soundbites and misleading statistics that fuel another round of claimant bashing
So it’s not surprising that many sick and disabled people are left feeling ashamed and afraid of admitting they claim benefits. And as the recession deepens, scapegoating of claimants as a drain on hardworking taxpayers will only increase.
And that’s the problem: if you don’t raise your voice in protest now it will just carry on getting worse. Benefits will be cut and cut again. Private sector companies will be given greater powers and bigger cash rewards for pushing people into unsuitable and unsustainable employment. And more and more stories of benefits scroungers will be fed to the media to encourage hatred of sick and disabled people, ensuring that they don’t ever organise themselves to resist.
Does that sound safer to you? Or would you rather take a chance and help make things change? And imagine how proud you'll feel if the campaign succeeds in saving DLA and AA and you've been part of it.
Sign up to our campaign to fight the threat to DLA & AA
One example of the success of New Labour's spin in the following article by Debbie Andalo in the Guardian of August 6 2009 which claims that disabled organisations are backing New Labour. Though it is a lie that they represent disabled people in receipt of DLA or AA.
Disabled people could reap huge benefits from the proposed national care service. But issues of how funds would be allocated were again top of the agenda
Disabled people and those organisations that represent them are backing the vision of a new national care service outlined in the green paper Shaping the Future of Care Together published earlier this month. But they believe that the document focuses too much on the needs and demands of a care and support system created by an increasing ageing population rather than those of younger people with a disability who need long-term support, according to the views expressed at a roundtable convened to debate the green paper.
The event was the second roundtable organised by Society and sponsored by the Department of Health. The first, held a week earlier (Society, 29 July), was devoted to the implications of the proposed national care service for an increasing ageing population. The latest roundtable, which included a minister and representatives from user groups and other organisations representing disabled people and their carers, focused on how a new national care service would meet the needs of adult disabled people.
There was also widespread criticism of the name "national care service" and the language used in the green paper, with its emphasis on "care" and being "looked after", which participants said is patronising to young adults who are seeking support to live as independently as possible. The words that resonate with today's young disabled adults were "entitlement, rights, equality, inclusion and diversity", the roundtable was told.
Participants attending the event were also concerned about the tone of the green paper, which they thought suggested that disabled people were a "burden" that had "investment implications." One participant said: "We have missed a massive opportunity to see care and support as an investment. We need to do far more to identify and communicate the cost benefits of caring because at the moment it's seen as a primary burden."
One participant said the opportunity to take part in the Big Care Debate, the title the government has given to the public consultation on the green paper, was a "oncein- a-generation opportunity to transform social care services" and offered the opportunity for a "massive cultural change". The consultation runs until November and will help inform a care and support white paper due to be published next year.
The proposals, the participant added, will give people with a disability "wraparound services", with greater personal choice and greater control. The green paper, the speaker said, "embodies the disability movement … and its vision about what it is to be disabled and what rights and equalities are all about. It's a massive capturing of a strand of thinking that some people have been arguing about... for many years, and here we have moved it into mainstream government policy. We shouldn't underestimate the importance of that cultural shift."
Single needs assessment
There was universal support at the roundtable for the green paper's proposal to create a single needs assessment for a disabled person that would be "portable" – recognised by any local authority wherever an individual lived in England. Seen as a landmark in social care policy, the new assessment would break down one of the biggest barriers to social and economic mobility cited by people with a disability. One participant described it as a "huge leap forward."
The government is optimistic that the change will help bring an end to the current "postcode lottery", where the amount of care and support an individual receives varies according to where they live – even if they have the same level of need.
But participants were less optimistic than ministers because the green paper failed to offer any details or promises about the services an individual could expect and what would be provided under the new system. One participant said: "People need to know what they have a right to and then pass that duty on to the local authority. There needs to be a nationally resourced, allocated system – everything else follows from that."
The roundtable was also worried about another key proposal. Under the new system the government would establish the level of need at which somebody qualifies for state funding. It would also decide what proportion of their care would be funded by the state, and what percentage, if any, would be met by the individual. But the green paper is undecided about how much money a person would be entitled to in order to meet their care needs.
It puts forward two ideas, which are part of the present public consultation. The first option is that it would be up to an individual local authority to decide how much money a person should receive. This option, according to the green paper, would give councils flexibility in deciding how much of their total budget to spend on care and support; it would allow a council to raise funds through council tax to help meet the costs. The disadvantage, says the green paper, is that this system still has the potential to create a postcode lottery because the amount of money a person receives could vary according to where he or she lived – even if their level of need was identical.
The second idea is that the government, rather than a council, would decide how much funding a person would be entitled to. The advantage of this scheme is that it is likely to bring an end to regional disparities as an individual would be entitled to the same budget to meet their level of
need wherever they lived. The down side, according to the green paper, is that local authorities would be committed to rigid care budgets that do not reflect the fact that the cost of providing care is very different in different parts of the country. Local authorities would also lose the flexibility to raise additional money through council tax to supplement central government funding.
Opposition to central funding
The roundtable was told that some local authorities have already warned that they would oppose any new national care service being "imposed" on them. One participant pointed out: "There are difficult issues around how we run local government finance and how money is resourced … some local authorities have [already] expressed strong views on this." Another recalled how he was at a recent meeting where a representative from the Local Government Association (LGA), which represents local councils, "made it absolutely clear that a national service wasn't on, and that there had to be local discretion because conditions, circumstances and costs were different." The participant was worried that if the influential LGA decided to "challenge one of the really valuable things about the green paper" it would win.
However, another participant pointed out it would be naive to think that any national model of care service would bring an end to regional inequalities. The person said: "Let's be real about it – the NHS is a national service but we still get a postcode lottery … don't fool yourself that a national structure brings equality."
Another issue that dominated the debate, and which was also a key concern of those who attended the first roundtable, was worry over proposals to change the system of disability benefits to fund the new national care service. The roundtable was assured that the disability living allowance (DLA) – a non means-tested benefit paid to disabled people of working age – would remain intact. But, the roundtable was told, there was no such guarantee for attendance allowance (AA) – a non means-tested benefit paid to the over 65s to help with the additional costs of being disabled that are not met by their care plans. One participant was opposed to any benefit disappearing: "For AA and DLA to be put at risk is a terrifying prospect." Another added: "DLA and AA are the original personal budget – and I would be terrified if they were to be merged into some local authority government system [of care and support]."
But one participant said during times of limited resources it was important to consider what presented better value for money and maybe there was a need to "move money from A to B" to get that. The speaker added: "We can enshrine rights until the cows come home, but the quality of provision is the thing that makes the difference."
The roundtable was conducted under the Chatham House rule: quotes are non‑attributable to any of the participants
At the table
Lord (Victor) Adebowale, chief executive, Turning Point
Professor Peter Beresford, director of the centre for citizen particpation, Brunel University
David Brindle (chair), public services editor, The Guardian
Baroness (Jane) Campbell, health and social care policy adviser
Caroline Ellis, deputy chief executive, Radar
Jane Finnerty, member, public affairs committee, National Federation of Women's Institutes
Lorraine Gradwell, chief executive, Breakthrough UK
Phil Hope MP, minister of state for care services, Department of Health
Alexandra Norrish, head of social care strategy, and head of the green paper team, Department of Health
Dame Philippa Russell, chair, Standing Commission on Carers
Patrick Vernon, chief executive, The Afiya Trust
Dame Jo Williams, co-chair, Learning Disability Coalition
See also plan to make elderly pay £20,000 to insure themselves