Published and promoted by S. Bartle on behalf of Brent Green Party and Shaka Lish and Michaela Lichten c/o 23 Saltcroft Close, Wembley, HA9 9JJ and promoted by Aidan Cottrell-Boyce on behalf of John Mansook c/o National Green Party office, The Biscuit Factory, Unit 201 A Block, 100 Clements Road, London, SE16 4DG.



21 May 2011

Kilburn Unemployed Workers Group meeting 18/5/2011: Report by Alan Wheatley

Meeting summary and overall impressions

The meeting was held at street level in a room that had wheelchair accessible doors, as befitting an event that focused on eligibility for disability benefits.[1] The speakers' central message was, "Do not let the standard 'zero eligibility points with threshold of 15 points minimum" from Atos lead you to roll over as they want you to. Instead, get informed and share that information with others as you fight back at tribunal level and on street corner campaigning level."

The Kilburn Unemployed Workers Group banner displayed behind the speakers reinforced the message that here was a group that believes in taking to the streets if physically possible and getting noticed. We were also given the message from the chair that there was a table at the back for anyone attending to display any relevant leaflets or newspapers for sale, and the Secretary and Chair and others in the audience were mutually respectful, encouraging visitors to feel welcome and get involved.That extended into the group discussion that followed on from the inputs of two wheelchair using speakers from Islington Disabled People Against the Cuts and one from Islington Poverty Action Group.

KUWG is funded by Brent Trades Council, and there were clear indications that there is strong orientation toward the Right to Work campaign, and banner steward Clarence who I know from campaigning against mental health cuts in LB Camden was selling Socialist Worker. The group is about a year old.

Meeting focus on Atos' handling of 'Work Capability Assessment' for DWP, and how disabled people can and should respond/fight back

The first two speakers were from Islington Disabled People Against Cuts (IDPAC for short here) and were followed by David, an advice worker from IPAG — that's Islington Poverty Action Group. The IDPAC input focused on background to the introduction and development of Employment & Support Allowance, while David from IPAG emphasised listening to audience people's individual case experience and queries.

Andy Green from IDPAC started by outlining the development of 'welfare reform' and global private sector involvement to the time of the John Major government in 1992. He emphasised that there has been considerable croneyism between government officials and MPs throughout with the companies such as Atos and Unum, and that much of the information he was giving out as background can be found on the Web.[2] He also emphasised that the 'Hardest Hit' rally and march on Wednesday 11 May with about 5,000 people in attendance is just a start of the fightback.

Disabled people are being lied about through smear stories that give credence to market led 'welfare reforms' being the solution to a fairer economy, he noted. "First they come for disabled people" who are being identified as either liabilities to be left alone or potential assets to be worked to exhaustion. The costs to the UK of running the Work Capability Assessment outweigh the savings, especially as a great number of claimants are now winning their tribunals, he pointed out. And Atos do not like the publicity of demonstrations such as the one that took place outside their London HQ on Monday 9 May.[3]

Worryingly for the general population, he pointed out that Atos Healthcare is now the second largest employer of medical practitioners [sic] in the UK, behind the NHS and therefore highly likely to profit from Lansley's privatisation of the NHS.

Patrick, also from IDPAC, outlined his story of going through a zero eligibility points assessment from Atos even after a deadly serious spinal problem that had him hospitalised. He launched his talk by slamming a stapled 60-page paper mountain on the table in front of him. He reassured us that it was not the script for his speech, but what I know to be known as the 'submission' from DWP relating to the claimant's appeal against a dodgy Atos/DWP decision. He had realised upon leaving the 'Work Capability Assessment' with his care worker that the Atos 'doctor' was not properly qualified and showed true ignorance regarding the name of Patrick's medically diagnosed condition.

Atos twist the language so that if a claimant states that they cannot do something they are instructed/requested to do at the 'medical', it is regarded as a refusal to co-operate. After very detailed attention to his reply and getting his MP involved, Patrick won his appeal and got an apology from the DWP. He did not need to go to tribunal.

David from Islington Poverty Action Group reported that under the Work Capability Assessment, all claimants are treated like shit and Labour started it and made it even worse. He emphasised that there is excellent self-help information available to claimants on the website of Edinburgh Coalition Against Poverty[4] but was keen to hear the experiences of claimants who were present.

One youngish single mother who has fibriomyalgia[5] reported that she had felt extremely intimidated by the tribunal panel of her first ESA tribunal that had included the presence of someone from the DWP. She lost her first tribunal. Then she developed a secondary condition that resulted from the first condition. With the support of Disabled in Camden[6] she eventually managed to get ESA for a worsened condition than that for which she originally applied. I noted that when I had my ESA tribunal in December 2009 there was no DWP representative on the tribunal panel, and my tribunal advocate had told me the DWP did not have the staff to send people to tribunals. My tribunal judge and doctor seemed more affable than hers, too.

While KUWG is sponsored by Brent Trades Council, its openness to people from outside LB Brent helped to highlight a postcode lottery regarding tribunal support. Another person had had support from Hillingdon CAB in launching his appeal from 2009, but for some mysterious reason was still waiting for his tribunal over a year later. (Note that in LB Camden, the CAB finds preparing for ESA tribunals so time consuming and stressful on the limited funding LB Camden give them, that Disabled in Camden are the only organisation giving such support in the borough.)

The IDPAC speakers left at about 8:15pm, but those remaining continued in discussion before some adjourned to the pub after 8:30pm. At that point, I left after having been made to feel welcome and especially appreciated for my knowledge and input regarding ESA matters.


NOTES
[1] Compare with accessibility of Atos Medical Examination Centres.
There is a page on the Atos website with link to details of their 'Medical Examination Centres'.
http://www.atoshealthcare.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=62&Itemid=253
Check out the further information links at the bottom of that page.
For an analysis review of that spreadsheet data, go to Benefits and Work Publishing website -
http://www.benefitsandwork.co.uk/blogs/2011/04/26/scandal-of-atos-medical-assessment-centres/


[2] Andy Green referred to the Black Triangle or Disabled People Against Cuts website.
http://www.dpac.uk.net/2011/03/bob-williams-findlaylifting-the-lid-on-disabled-people-against-cuts/


[3] For reports of demonstrations directed at Atos, go to
http://www.dpac.uk.net/2011/05/national-week-of-action-against-atos-origin-some-reports/


[4] Edinburgh Coalition Against Poverty website
http://edinburghagainstpoverty.org.uk/


[5] See
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fibromyalgia


[6] Disabled in Camden's quarterly newsletter uses the word 'disabled', whereas the website still uses the word 'disability' in its organisation name.
http://www.discnwl.org.uk/advice.html

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