How much more surreal can this government become? #esaSOS


Surreal – suggesting or having qualities associated with surrealism, for example, bizarre landscapes and distorted objects.

Last week, we had a welfare debate which Alex Andreou described as ‘outside the realms of logic’ and the ‘End of Reason’… A national debate, orchestrated from the top down, which cares not a jot for facts or evidenceA bizarre landscape of closed blinds, and hardworking strivers.

This week, we learn of imaginary wheelchairs and benefit claimants being threatened to literally ‘swallow their medicine’ or lose their benefits!

It seems that not content with a frozen 1% increase in benefits, this government is also proposing to introduce changes to The Employment and Support Allowance (Amendment) Regulations 2012 which will further reduce entitlement to ESA, meaning that Work Capability Assessments will find even more genuinely sick and disabled people fit for work.

 A briefing, complied by a team of professional disabled people ( has been co-published by project leader Sue Marsh, a disability campaigner and author of the influential blog, Diary of a Benefit Scrounger, and the beliefs and values thinktank Ekklesia.

On the face of it, an unqualified assessor will be put in the position of judging whether a benefit claimant would be able to work if they took a particular medicine, had a wheelchair or other aid, like a guide dog or false limb.

And this is irrespective of whether or not the claimant actually has said wheelchair, medication, guide dog or false limb…

and regardless of the inherent practicalities of obtaining/suitability/or the using of the imaginary wheelchair/guide dog/false limb/medicine…

nevertheless, the claimant’s benefits might be withdrawn on that basis !

What can one add?

Chris Fry, Solicitor and Managing Partner at Unity Law” offers the following opinion:

How individuals are assessed to receive ESA could give rise to large numbers of legal claims being made against them. These changes immediately puts the government at risk of breaching article 9 of the European Convention for the protection of Human Rights, which preserves an individual’s right to ‘thought, conscience and religion’. The new rules provide for an individual to be refused ESA if they do not take any medication or accept an aid which Doctors believe could aid their condition. Essentially, they can impose a financial penalty on individuals who refuse treatment on religious. Given the very recent decision involving the Christian, Nadia Eweida and the court upholding her right to wear a cross – the government is on very rocky ground with these changes.”

As an aside and just to ‘gild the lily’ of surrealistic policy-making, the proposed changes also return us to the 17th C, the age of Dualism and Descartes… either physical or psychological problems can be considered but not both together!  Apparently, since the Coalition came into being, the mind and body have become separated again.

This would all just be absurd, were it not for the fact that hundreds of thousands of disabled and sick people will be wrongly found fit for work and lose vital financial support if government proposals, timetabled for 28 January, go through.

As Sue Marsh writes:

“Although these changes have been advertised as small ‘amendments’, they will in fact have a huge impact on the way people’s illnesses and disabilities are assessed. Many vulnerable people’s needs will suddenly be able to be overlooked or ignored, meaning they could end up losing the support they desperately need to manage their conditions.”

Simon Barrow, co-director of the beliefs and values thinktank Ekklesia, concludes:

“What the coalition is proposing in these ESA/WCA changes runs entirely contrary to its claims to be protecting and supporting sick and disabled people in a climate of austerity, cutbacks and hardship.”


The main way you can help is by spreading the message about these changes to ESA. The government have tried to sneak them under the radar – the last thing they will want is people talking about them!

Here are some great ways you can raise awareness:

1) Email your MP (you can search by name or constituency at;

2) Share this blog post on twitter (using the hashtag #esaSOS), Facebook and other social media; CLICK ON THE BUTTONS BELOW THIS POST TO SHARE ON TWITTER AND FACEBOOK

3) Email your friends and family a link to this post – or simply talk to them about it!

Again, the main way we can get the government to reconsider is by getting people to talk about the injustice of these changes. So please spread the word as far and wide as you can!

If you want to do more, please sign #WOWpetition and call on the government to think again. 
Sign here – and ask all of your friends to sign too!



First posted on


On January 28th 2013 the UK government is due to make a set of changes to the Work Capability Assessment (WCA). The WCA is the flawed ‘fitness to work’ test which assesses whether sick and disabled people can get Employment and Support Allowance (ESA): a benefit designed to help and support very unwell or profoundly disabled people into work.

Although these changes have been advertised as small ‘amendments’, they will in fact have a huge impact on the way people’s illnesses and disabilities are assessed. Many vulnerable people’s needs will suddenly be able to be overlooked or ignored, meaning they could end up losing the support they desperately need to manage their conditions.

Hundreds of thousands of sick and disabled people across Britain need your help to fight these changes!


In the fitness to work test, your needs are assessed by a ‘healthcare professional’ employed by the French private company ATOS. This assessor doesn’t just need to look at your current difficulties. For example, they can also imagine how using an aid (e.g. a wheelchair) might improve your ability to work and make a judgement based on that – without even asking your opinion.

However, soon this “imaginary test” will be able to be used for many more aids (including guide dogs and false limbs!). This means that soon thousands more people could be judged as fit to work, without being asked about why the assessor’s “imaginary aid” might not be appropriate for them.

It gets worse. Even if returning to work may clearly put you at risk, these changes will mean you can still lose your disability benefit – as long as the assessor believes that trying a new therapy or treatment might reduce that risk.  In other words: yet another guessing game, with your health at stake!

 Imagine Bert, who suffers from severe schizophrenia, but is found fit to work because a behavioural therapy may help improve his condition. Yet, in making that decision, the assessor would not have to look at several vital questions: how hard it would be for Bert to get that therapy? How long would an NHS appointment take to organize? Are there private options in his area – and could he afford them if so? What if the therapy doesn’t work, or takes a long time to adjust to? 



If the government’s rule changes go through, people like Bert who are desperate to work will find it nearly impossible to get an accurate assessment, affecting the quality of their support and even preventing their efforts to get back into work.


The government is also trying to change the way people’s conditions are assessed by dividing health problems into two separate boxes: ‘physical’ and ‘mental’. When looking at what tasks people can do, only the ‘physical half’ of the test will apply to those with physical disabilities. The same goes for the effects of treatment: for e.g., if you’re taking mental health medication, only mental health side-effects will be looked at.

This completely fails to understand the way that many disabilities and illnesses can lead to both physical and mental effects. This is also the case for many common treatments: such as those for schizophrenia, Parkinson’s disease and multiple sclerosis.

Think of Emily, who suffers severe, chronic pain because of nerve damage to her leg. Emily is among the 49% of chronic pain suffers who also suffer depression as a result of continuous pain. An assessor may see Emily as able to do some work as long as she takes strong painkillers for the rest of her life, meaning she could pass the ‘fitness’ test. Yet the painkillers may not deal with the depression caused by her condition. Painkillers have also often been shown to affect people’s wakefulness and decision-making. So taking the medication may affect Emily’s ability to do a job in a completely new way – yet these new problems would not need to be looked at by the assessor when making their decision! 


Pretending the effects of illnesses and disabilities can be separated in this way goes against all medical practice. Going even further, and using this method to ignore sick and disabled people’s needs, is at best hopeless policy, and at worst deliberate cruelty. We cannot let the government treat some of the most vulnerable people in British society in this way.


The main way you can help is by spreading the message about these changes to ESA. The government have tried to sneak them under the radar – the last thing they will want is people talking about them!

Here are some great ways you can raise awareness:

1) Email your MP (you can search by name or constituency at;

2) Share this blog post on twitter (using the hashtag #esaSOS), Facebook and other social media; CLICK ON THE BUTTONS BELOW THIS POST TO SHARE ON TWITTER AND FACEBOOK

3) Email your friends and family a link to this post – or simply talk to them about it!


Again, the main way we can get the government to reconsider is by getting people to talk about the injustice of these changes. So please spread the word as far and wide as you can!

Thank you so much for reading this far. Now let’s make sure these unwanted, damaging benefit changes never see the light of day!

If you want to do more, please sign WOW petition and call on the government to think again.  Sign here and ask all of your friends to sign too.

Dear Ed Miliband


Dear Mr Miliband by Prue
I am a member of the Labour Party and am incensed by the injustice which is happening as a result of the Coalition government’s welfare reform legislation. Earlier this year I came to Grays where I heard you speak passionately about solidarity and compassion. It is time for the Labour Party to be more visible and to demonstrate for real that solidarity and compassion are seriously at the heart of Labour Party policy. We hear so much from the current government and the media about benefit fraudsters and scroungers with the implication being that anyone on benefits is abusing the system. Most people who are now finding it difficult to access welfare support are, I believe, decent, honest human beings who by life’s misfortune find themselves in desperate need through sickness, disability or unemployment. Sadly, not only are such individuals being demonised by government and the media but some people led by such wilful attempts at creating division and hate are also joining in. They have forgotten the purpose of the welfare state which is to protect people just like them during times of serious need through, sickness, disability and unemployment. People who have forgotten too that we are all from the richest to the poorest a step away from misfortune. The following is an excerpt from the article from the New Statesman taken from this link (

‘Karen faced all of this as she battled just to survive. Endless pressure, the judgement of society, the fear of destitution, the exhaustion of constant assessments and endless forms. She was one of those who’s ESA was time-limited – and what’s more, it was limited retrospectively, leaving her with just a few months to appeal for long term support. What I want to tell you today is that she was frightened. Terrified in fact. She was terrified of the DWP, almost paralysed by a fear that if she spoke out, they would treat her even more harshly. But she spoke out regardless. She was scared for her future, scared for her family. She had no idea how they would survive when she lost the little support they relied on. Her husband works, cares for a sick wife and they had “done the right thing”. Do you hear me Ian Duncan Smith? David Cameron? Nick Clegg? Ed Miliband? Her family had done the “right thing”, at least in your narrow world of workers and shirkers. Despite her own terror, she tried to tell her country, her peers, her friends – even journalists – what was happening to her and thousands like her, but shocked tuts didn’t save her. Open mouths and disgust didn’t save Karen; they didn’t save my friend. Perhaps no one could have, but those who hold and abuse power could have eased her fear or reassured her that they own words, from the end of her final post on April 29: “We need to be passionate about standing up for our rights, and if we can make enough noise, and get enough people to listen then we can overturn the inhumane changes this parasitic government have made. If nothing else, we do still have hope and our rights on our side.”’

I challenge anyone not to be moved by this article and I challenge you and the Labour Party to start speaking out. Demonising the poor, sick, disabled and unemployed is not worthy of a civilised society and it is time to make ourselves heard. We are at a crossroads and the choices we make now will determine the future. I believed that the Labour party would have the vision to create a fairer society with social justice at its heart and your ‘one nation’ speech demonstrated your verbal commitment. Let those words now become action and a determination to prepare the ground for a fairer society and a Labour Party members can be proud of.

Disability campaigner Sue Marsh at Oct20 Rally


The extraordinary Disability campaigner Sue Marsh speaking at Oct20 Rally, in spite of her considerable health issues.  The living nightmare of government cuts to the benefits of the most vulnerable people in society must be stopped and reversed.

Friends, every last one of you that marched today believe in one thing above any other. Justice.
You couldn’t sit at home while injustice and exploitation are closing in on us wherever we look.
You are the faces, here, today, of so many millions more who are shocked and frightened by the careless way this coalition of clowns are ripping our communities apart.
But there is a casual cruelty taking place that is so inhumane, so calculating, right now, here, in the UK in 2012, that it shames us all.  
When you get home tonight, home to every corner of our nation, tired but exhilarated, weary but filled with pride – When  you see the vast,  defiant crowd, speaking with one voice, I beg you, to remember this :
For every one of you who marched today, a seriously ill or disabled person will lose the Disability Living Allowance they rely on to live with dignity and a little security.
This parliament of fools use numbers lightly. They count their losses in billions, their debt, in trillions, those thrown on the scrapheap of their incompetent policies in millions.
But THIS – this here, today – is what half a million people look like.
But there’s more :
A million more – TWICE as many as you marching here today – will be “reassessed” by the French IT company, Atos as fit for work. Their only income ripped away on the hunch of a few millionaires. Every single “report” or “committee” or “enquiry” into Work Capability Assessments have found them “Unfit for purpose”.
Coroner’s are reporting this “reform terror” as cause of deaths. Doctors demand WCAs are withdrawn immediately. Appeal tribunals warn that they are swamped to crisis point and beyond. 
Hundreds of thousands of profoundly disabled children will see their support cut by an impossible 50% while Osborne’s “Bullingdon Budget” gave millionaires £40,000 extra. Each.
The Independent Living Fund – Scrapped
Severe Disability Premiums – Scrapped
Social Care packages – slashed
They are not numbers Mr Cameron, they are LIVES!
They are our mothers; our brothers; our daughters and sons.
Disease or Disability can strike any one, at any time.
We are the sick and disabled people of the UK, so under threat are urgently crying for help against the wind, like a drowning man. 
And so, I’d like to leave you with the words of Edmund Burke :
 ”Justice will NOT be served until those who are unaffected are as outraged as those who are.”
PLEASE get outraged, because sick and disabled people in the UK need you as never before. 

#Spartacusreport shows overwhelming opposition to coalition’s disability benefit reforms


UPDATE from Sue Marsh 11.01.12   The Impact Of Time-Limiting ESA

The Responsible Reform report shows overwhelming opposition to coalition’s disability benefit reforms kept hidden by the government… and that Conservative Mayor of London was heavily critical of government’s plans for Disability Living Allowance

The Responsible Reform report was entirely researched, written, funded and supported by disabled people, and is a testament to the power of the internet in facilitating this cooperative venture without anyone needing to step outside their front door.

A report published today (9 January) finds that Government misled MPs and Peers over the hostility to disability benefit reform. It finds that Parliament has been given only a partial view of the overwhelming opposition to the Coalition’s planned reforms of a key disability benefit, Disability Living Allowance (DLA). It finds that this opposition was previously not released to public scrutiny by the Government.

The report is based on the responses to the government’s own consultation on its planned DLA reforms, which were only made public once disabled people requested them under the Freedom of Information Act. Findings included:

* 98 per cent of respondents objected to the qualifying period for benefits being raised from 3 months to 6 months

* 99 per cent of respondents objected to Disability Living Allowance no longer being used as a qualification for other benefits

* 92% opposed removing the lowest rate of support for disabled people

London’s Conservative Mayor, Boris Johnson’s objections, to the proposed changes, were typical of the overwhelming majority of responses to the Government’s consultation..

“The Mayor would call for the Government to retain the three-month qualifying period as the increase to six months will mean that people with fluctuating conditions have increased difficulty meeting the qualifying period. People with fluctuating conditions face the same barriers that all disabled face in relation to higher costs of living and DLA is essential to maintain a decent quality of life.”

“We would recommend that the passporting system remains the same as under DLA as it has worked well when signposting people to additional benefits to which they may be entitled.”

“The Mayor does not support this change, as those on the lower rate care component may have additional costs as a result of their impairment but may lose their access to this benefit as part of the proposed removal under the reforms.”

Boris Johnson added:

“The government proposes imposing penalties if disabled people do not inform the government in changes in their circumstances. However, the Department of Work and Pensions statistics give the overall fraud rate for Disability Living Allowance as being less than 0.5%. For those with fluctuating conditions asking them to report every change to their condition would prove very stressful.”

Analysis of more than 500 responses obtained through Freedom of Information requests,  suggests that the government’s DLA consultation breached the government’s own code of practice and was “highly misleading”.

Overwhelming opposition was expressed by disabled people’s organisations, disability charities, Boris Johnson and other groups to replacing DLA with a new Personal Independence Payment (PIP). The government also plans to cut spending on DLA/PIP by 20%.

The hope of the authors is that  the report will persuade members of the House of Lords to back an adjournment debate calling for a pause of at least 6 months, in order that, plans for PIP should be reconsidered with the views of disabled people properly taken into account.

The report has already been backed by organisations and disability experts including Disability Alliance, Mind, Papworth Trust, Scope, Bert Massie CBE & Ekklesia

 Disability Alliance – ” The Government has refused to provide a justification for a 20% cut in DLA expenditure and we fear that the same faulty rationale, misunderstanding of disability and higher costs of living and poor judgement exposed in this report sadly underpin the basis of the entire reform plans.”

Paul Farmer, Chief Executive of the mental health charity Mind, said:  “The ‘Responsible Reform’ report is essential reading for everyone with an interest in Disability Living Allowance (DLA) reform including the Government and Department for Work and Pensions Select Committee. It is a vital contribution to the debate on reform and a huge achievement for the volunteers who have produced it.”

 “As well as forensically deconstructing many of the arguments offered by the Government for their proposed reform, the report shows that much of the rise in claimants over recent years has been down to better access to the benefit for people with mental health problems, whose needs are often fluctuating and invisible.”

 “Rather than getting out of control as the Government claims, DLA has been increasingly going to people who really need it. The proposed 20 per cent cut to the budget will have an enormous impact on many people with illnesses and disabilities, and we remain very concerned about the unintended consequences this could lead to.”

 Papworth Trust : “Our recent survey found that almost 9 out of 10 people would have to cut back on essentials such as food or being able to get out and about if their DLA payments were reduced or stopped under PIP. We believe that the proposed 20% cut will push more disabled people into poverty. Given that this report was entirely researched, written, funded and supported by the people that these changes will affect, we believe that the questions it raises should be answered by the Government.

Richard Hawkes, Chief Executive of disability charity Scope said:  “We urge the government to listen and act on these concerns and to ensure its replacement takes into consideration all the barriers disabled people face in everyday life so they can live independently and play an active role in their local community.”

Sir Bert Massie CBE said  “I have always found the explanations offered by the Government to be unconvincing and I therefore welcome this report which analyses the evidence on which the decisions were based. It shows that rather than being broadly welcomed by disabled people and disability organisations the new proposals were subject to widespread criticism and alarm.”

Simon Barrow, Co-Director of the beliefs and values thinktank Ekklesia, said :  There remains a gaping chasm between the government’s rhetoric about maintaining support for disabled people and the actual evidence about the impact of the changes and cuts it is imposing. The voices of those at the sharp end are not being listened to in a way that shapes policy. The concepts of justice dignity and social solidarity are being eroded and replaced with a piecemeal approach to provision which sees care as essentially voluntary.”

Sue Marsh, the disabled blogger and activist who led the research, alongside Dr Sarah J Campbell, said:   “For some years now, poorly designed Social Security reforms have created a “trust deficit” among disabled people towards government.”

“We believe that reform must be measured, responsible and transparent, based on available evidence and designed with disabled people at the very heart of decision-making. Currently, we do not believe this to be the case.”

“We urge members of the House of Lords – across party political boundaries – to take note of this research and the strength of opposition to the proposals. It is not too late for them to halt these deeply damaging reforms.”

Another contributor to the report, Kaliya Franklin, said :

“Cutting spending on DLA will increase the burden on local authorities, the NHS and community services at the very time they are seeking to find savings by reducing eligibility, particularly for social care support.

Discussion of the Welfare Reform Bill is due to resume at its report stage on 11 January in the House of Lords.

Among the report’s conclusions:

* There was overwhelming opposition in the consultation responses to nearly all of the government’s proposals for DLA reform.

* The government has consistently used inaccurate figures to exaggerate the rise in DLA claimants.

* Analysis of more than 500 responses, suggests that the government’s DLA consultation breached the government’s own code of practice and was “highly misleading”. Shortened Report – Responsible Reform to Disability Living Allowance (accessible version)

The report was written by Sue Marsh, the author of the blog Diary of a Benefit Scrounger, and Dr Sarah J Campbell.

Boris Johnson’s full response to the consultation can be found here:

Related Think Left references:

Welfare reform and ME/CFS (Dr. Sue Davies)      

Welfare reform and the US insurance firm Unum (Dr Sue Davies)