UK in clear violation of Human Rights obligations

The recent report from Philip Alston the UN Special Rapporteur makes shameful reading. 

The UK is the fifth richest country in the world,  yet Alston reports; “One fifth of its population (14 million people) live in poverty, and 1.5 million of them experienced destitution in 2017.

Policies of austerity introduced in 2010 continue largely unabated, despite the tragic social consequences. Close to 40 per cent of children are predicted to be living in poverty by 2021. Food banks have proliferated; homelessness and rough sleeping have increased greatly; tens of thousands of poor families must live in accommodation far from their schools, jobs and community networks; life expectancy is falling for certain groups; and the legal aid system has been decimated.”

This is a damming indictment of the political choice of austerity, made by Tory Government. It’s important that Alston has included the destruction of the legal aid system. Without access to justice it’s so much harder for those who are victims of flawed decision making by Tory Ministers to challenge decisions at either Tribunal level or in the Courts.

Alston goes on to say; “The social safety net has been badly damaged by drastic cuts to local authorities’ budgets, which have eliminated many social services, reduced policing services, closed libraries in record numbers, shrunk community and youth centres and sold off public spaces and buildings. The bottom line is that much of the glue that has held British society together since the Second World War has been deliberately removed and replaced with a harsh and uncaring ethos.”

Clear and evidential proof that the hostile environment towards disabled and sick people really does exist.

Alston’s report is very clear about the change in the UK; “British compassion has been replaced by a punitive, mean-spirited and often callous approach apparently designed to impose a rigid order on the lives of those least capable of coping, and elevate the goal of enforcing blind compliance over a genuine concern to improve the well-being of those at the lowest economic levels of British society.

It might seem to some observers that the Department of Work and Pensions has been tasked with designing a digital and sanitized version of the nineteenth century workhouse, made infamous by Charles Dickens, rather than seeking to respond creatively and  compassionately to the real needs of those facing widespread economic insecurity in an age of deep and rapid transformation brought about by automation, zero-hour contracts and rapidly growing inequality.”

Alston writes about the effects of austerity on a number of different groups of people. His evidence is relation to disabled people is unambiguous; “Nearly half of those in poverty – 6.9 million people – are from families in which someone has a disability. Persons with disabilities are more likely to be in poverty and are more likely to be unemployed, in insecure employment or economically inactive. They have also been some of the hardest hit by austerity measures. As a result of changes to benefits and taxes since 2010, some families with disabilities are projected to lose £11,000 on average by 2021–2022, more than 30 per cent of their annual net income. People with disabilities told the Special Rapporteur repeatedly about benefits assessments that were superficial, dismissive, and contradicted the advice of their doctor.”

The Government’s response has been woefully lacking with Theresa May actually having the nerve to “disagree with the report” when she was challenged at PMQs by Margaret Greenwood the Shadow DWP Minister. Amber Rudd the new DWP Minister called the report ‘disappointing’.  Alston has, quite rightly,  accused the Government of “remaining determinedly in a state of denial”.

 Alston makes it very clear that; “Considering the significant resources available in the country and the sustained and widespread cuts to social support, which have resulted in significantly worse outcomes, the policies pursued since 2010 amount to retrogressive measures in clear violation of the country’s human rights obligations.”

 He doesn’t believe Brexit will improve things, saying; “If Brexit proceeds, it is likely to have a major adverse impact on the most vulnerable”.

Alston’s whole report is a blunt and brutal condemnation of the policies of successive Tory governments.

Labour has already promised that it will implement the UN Convention of the Rights of Disabled People. Using the convention as a basis for changing the law and improving the lives of disabled people can’t come soon enough.

Disabled people and social security austerity: structural violence and social murder

Guest Blog by Dr Chris Grover, Department of Sociology, Lancaster University

Britain has endured nearly a decade of austerity that has had a devastating impact upon the income of and disabled people. It is estimated, for example, that the result of benefit and tax changes between 2010 and 2017 by 2020/21 will be that households with a disabled adult andchild will lose £5,500 per annum; households with a disabled child £3,300 per annum and households with a disabled adult £2,400 a year. These figures compare to £1,000 per annum for households with no disabled people. Even before the George Osborne’s 2015 Summer Budget that was structured by a poor lawarian approach to benefits for disabled people, it was estimated that in the five years between 2013/14 and 2017/18 disabled people would collectively lose £28 billion in social security payments.

There is mounting evidence that these cuts to the incomes of disabled people and the ways in which they are being secured, for example, through increased conditionality and demeaning and inaccurate eligibility testing are maiming and killing disabled people. So, for instance, disabled people’s organisations have gathered evidence about deaths related to austerity, for example, Calum’s List and We are Spartacus (see also Remember the Dead).Quantitative evidence suggests that for every 10,000 Employment and Support Allowance Work Capability Assessments, there are an additional six suicides, 2,700 reported cases of ‘mental health problems’ and the prescribing of 7,000 anti-depressant items. Other evidence suggests that a majority (66 percent) of ESA recipients have had thoughts about killing themselves, while nearly a half (43 percent) have attempted to do so. This compare to 22 and 7 percent respectively of people in the general population

Such observations point to the fact that austerity can be understood as a form of structural violence. Johann Galtung argues that violence can be understood as the difference between the potential and the actual, between what is and what could be, and that violence occurs when detrimental impacts are known and avoidable. Structural violence, he argues, is ‘built into the structure and shows up as unequal power and consequently as unequal life chances.’ Austerity can be understood as violence because, as the above observations suggest, it widens the gap between what could be and what is for disabled people. It can be undersoodas structural violence because, not only has its effects been known for many years, it is a political choice and, therefore, not inevitable. Austerity is also reproducing unequal life chances. It is, for instance, contributing to increasing povertyfalling living standardsprecarious wage-labour and deepening disabilised poverty.

As noted above, austerity is also contributing to the deaths of disabled people. Drawing upon the 19th century work of Friedrich Engels, this can be described as social murder. Engels’ concern was the effects of industrialisation – low wages and poor working conditions – upon working class people. He argued that because the impacts of such conditions were foreseeable and avoidable they could be understood as social murder:

when society places hundreds of proletarians in such a position that they inevitably meet a too early and an unnatural death, one which is quite as much a death by violence as that by the sword or bullet; when it deprives thousands of the necessaries of life, places them under conditions in which they cannot live – forces them, through the strong arm of the law, to remain in such conditions until that death ensues which is the inevitable consequence – knows that these thousands of victims must perish, and yet permits these conditions to remain, its deed is murder just as surely as the deed of the single individual…

Given the evidence outlined above, similar arguments can be made about contemporary austerity – that through it the state (rather than bourgeoisie as Engels argued) is killing and maiming disabled people. It is doing this by reducing disabled people’s incomes andsubjecting them to an entitlement-testing regime that is emotionally damaging through the evocation of fear and stress and which is structured by harsher conditionality and, as a consequence, financially more punishing benefit sanctions

Engels argues that social murder is an ‘offence… more… of omission than commission.’ While, as the Disabled People Against Cuts recognise, ‘dead people don’t claim’, live people do consume, do provide jobs for other people (e.g. work capability assessors; social workers, ‘carers’ and so on) and they do have macro-economic effects (e.g. putting downward pressure on wage levels through competing for wage-labour). Governments, therefore, arguably have an interest in not deliberately killing and maiming disabled people. However, the treatment of disabled people under austere social security policy in the past decade suggests that, like many other impoverished people, their lives for ‘count for nothing’. The result is an enacting of social violence upon disabled people, the consequence of which for some is social murder.

This presentation was given at; “Social death: the impact of austerity and poverty”, organised by the land and health campaigning group Taxpayers Against Poverty (TAP) on 1st May 2019, Labour Day, at Portcullis House, on the Parliamentary Estate, Westminster. 

Click here for the video for the event and the individual presentations. 

Promoting disability or creating discomfort?

Recently, Ability Access posted an image of a woman amputee.

Facebook decided it was inappropriate and blocked the image.

Facebook told Simon Sansome who runs the page: “You will have to understand that some people see disability as disturbing. You will have to think about it like that.”

The Facebook staffer then said, “I have never come across a page that promotes disability.”

How does posting an image of an amputee ‘promote disability’? The image is of Vicky Balch. A woman who is body confident. She was a passenger in the Alton Towers crash and is now an amputee. I think it’s an awesome image. Full of strength and beauty. It shows Vicky coming to terms with her altered body.

Facebook has apologised. Accepting it was wrong to censor the image. That Facebook originally banned the image is worrying.

Disability Labour was proud to support the protest by DPAC outside Facebook’s London HQ, #DisabilityNotDisturbing had some wonderful images on their banners.

There is often debate on websites such as The Mighty and Psychology Today about ‘inspirational porn’.

Are body confident images of disabled people positive and supportive? Or are they negative and damaging?

Many disabled people hate the ‘inspirational’ tag.

Looking at the photo and reading the information about it, being photographed was Vicky’s choice. She was happy for Ability Access to use the photo. So, what’s the problem?

To suggest that the image ‘promotes’ disability is missing the point. The photo doesn’t show amputation as a choice.

It shows that becoming an amputee doesn’t take away the person you are inside.

I’m concerned with Facebook’s suggestion that some people might find disability disturbing.

Society is slow in accepting disabled people as a different ‘normal’. For someone born with Down’s Syndrome, that’s their normal. My normal is using a wheelchair.

If that disturbs other people, can I suggest that they look at themselves to ask why they feel that way? Life is not perfect, despite the pressures of advertising and aspirational blogs. We all have daily struggles, be it at work, living with a partner or raising children.

Yes, there are people who spend thousands of pounds on plastic surgery and designer everything else. That is their choice. But when life throws you a curve ball that includes being disabled, we have two choices. We either fight with and hate our bodies and ourselves so much that we land up being angry and self-destructive. Or we accept what has happened to us and learn how to live with that.

Learning acceptance is not about giving up or giving in. It’s about saying: OK, this is where I’m at, how can I make changes to ensure I have a good life and can do the things I enjoy? Adjustment is not always easy. We may have to learn new skills, or find new ways of doing things. We may need therapy. But we can have worthwhile lives.

As part of coming to terms with a disability, some disabled people find ways of being body positive. What is wrong with a photo of a woman comfortable in her body, despite losing a limb?

When I first looked at Vicki’s picture, I didn’t notice her amputated leg. Isn’t that how people should see disability? Not the core of someone’s existence, but one of the sum of parts we all are?

Facebook decided it was inappropriate and blocked the image.

Facebook told Simon Sansome who runs the page: “You will have to understand that some people see disability as disturbing. You will have to think about it like that.”

The Facebook staffer then said, “I have never come across a page that promotes disability.”

How does posting an image of an amputee ‘promote disability’?

The image is of Vicky Balch. A woman who is body confident. She was a passenger in the Alton Towers crash and is now an amputee. I think it’s an awesome image. Full of strength and beauty. It shows Vicky coming to terms with her altered body.

Facebook has apologised. Accepting it was wrong to censor the image. That Facebook originally banned the image is worrying.

Disability Labour has supported the recent protest by DPAC outside of Facebook’s London HQ called #DisabilityNotDisturbing – there were some wonderful banners too!

There is often debate on websites such as The Mighty and Psychology Today about ‘inspirational porn’.

Are body confident images of disabled people positive and supportive? Or are they negative and damaging?

Many disabled people hate the ‘inspirational’ tag.

Looking at the photo and reading the information about it, being photographed was Vicky’s choice. She was happy for Ability Access to use the photo. So, what’s the problem?

To suggest that the image ‘promotes’ disability is missing the point. The photo doesn’t show amputation as a choice.

It shows that becoming an amputee doesn’t take away the person you are inside.

I’m concerned with Facebook’s suggestion that some people might find disability disturbing.

Society is slow in accepting disabled people as a different ‘normal’. For someone born with Down’s Syndrome, that’s their normal. My normal is using a wheelchair.

If that disturbs other people, can I suggest that they look at themselves to ask why they feel that way? Life is not perfect, despite the pressures of advertising and aspirational blogs. We all have daily struggles, be it at work, living with a partner or raising children.

Yes, there are people who spend thousands of pounds on plastic surgery and designer everything else. That is their choice. But when life throws you a curve ball that includes being disabled, we have two choices. We either fight with and hate our bodies and ourselves so much that we land up being angry and self-destructive. Or we accept what has happened to us and learn how to live with that.

Learning acceptance is not about giving up or giving in. It’s about saying: OK, this is where I’m at, how can I make changes to ensure I have a good life and can do the things I enjoy? Adjustment is not always easy. We may have to learn new skills, or find new ways of doing things. We may need therapy. But we can have worthwhile lives.

As part of coming to terms with a disability, some disabled people find ways of being body positive. What is wrong with a photo of a woman comfortable in her body, despite losing a limb?

When I first looked at Vicki’s picture, I didn’t notice her amputated leg. Isn’t that how people should see disability? Not the core of someone’s existence, but one of the sum of parts we all are?

Are Police Forces Reporting Disabled Protesters to the DWP?

On 14 February 2019, Disability News Service journalist John Pring reported that;

“Tory conference police force admits sharing information on protesters with DWP” 

Disabled activists have demanded an inquiry after a police force that has patrolled four Conservative party conferences since 2010 admitted sharing information about protesters with the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).

Greater Manchester Police (GMP) has now become the second police force to admit sharing information about people taking part in protests with DWP, following a similar admission by Lancashire police.

But GMP has also admitted having a “sharing agreement” with DWP, even though the department explicitly stated two months ago that it had no such arrangements with any police force.

The admissions have followed claims reported by Disability News Service (DNS) that police forces have been targeting disabled protesters taking part in peaceful anti-fracking protests across England.

Our Reaction

This disturbing report lead Disability Labour to commission its its second research project. We wanted to determine which police forces were acting in the same way was Greater Manchester. 

We see the possibility of the police reporting those who chose to legitimately protest, on a variety of issues, to be a gross breach of civil liberties.

It is no business of the DWP how we spend our time and energy. The concept that just because a disabled person is able to join a protest, they should not be in receipt of benefits, is extremely coercive and has no place in a civilised society. 

We only collected data from the 43 county or metropolitan forces. 

The report highlights a number of concerns, firstly the failure of 12% (5) of police forces not to respond despite a follow up email.

That 79% (34) of police forces did not hold any data on whether their officers had reported disabled protesters to the DWP is concerning. Just 7% (3) forces said that they had no policies about what action should be taken in relation to disabled protesters and the DWP.

That decisions appear to be left to individual officers to determine as they see fit is worrying. Police officers, like anyone else will have prejudices. Whilst they are supposed to be impartial and the majority of officers probably are, there will always be ‘rouge’ officers who could well hold grudges. 

The issue of exactly what information was passed by Greater Manchester Police to the DWP, remains unclear. The full research report gives all the detail on this. Questions to the DWP did not result in any useful information or clarification. That is no surprise.

A disturbing trend is the introduction of Police Liaison Officers at demonstrations.

Civil liberties group, Network for Police Monitoring (Netpol) recently produced a reportadvising protests not to talk to the police officers in baby blue bibs at protests.

Police Liaison Officers(PLOs) are a common sight on many protests. They like to pretend they’re the protesters friend and claim they are there to facilitate your protest. But their real purpose is to gather intelligence on protesters. 

Would they be the sort of police officer who reports people to the DWP? 

Our advice is simple; “Be careful who your ‘friends’ are and what you tell them.” 

 

The full report and data tables are available in pdf format below. 

Disability Labour wishes to record our sincere thanks to Milena & David Zenati-Parsons for all the time and work they have done pro-bono on this research. 

 

Police & DWP Data      FOI Report Police & DWP

Words Matter – Spoonie or Energy Impaired

Last year I got an invitation to participate in the Chronic Illness Inclusion Project. It’s run by a Disability Labour member, Catherine Hale who I’ve now got to know well. 

 

The research project is exploring the validity of the concept of Energy Limiting Chronic Illness as an impairment group and as part of the Disabled People’s Movement.

 

‘Spoonie’ as a concept first came about in 2003 via a blog post by Christine Miserandino

 

More recently an article in The Mighty used the analogy of a mobile phone battery to describe Energy Impairment 

 

The choice of a spoon as part of our DL logo was deliberately chosen as an image and illustration of our everyday lives.

 

We use spoons / spoonie amongst ourselves to describe not having enough energy to do the tasks that everyone else takes for granted. Whilst this makes sense to us and it’s easy to explain to others, it’s not one that is easily recognised by medical professionals.

 

CIIP has come up with the term energy impairment to describe the difficulty that so many of us face with not having enough spoons/energy to do what we would like to do each day.


Whilst I love using the term spoonie and and have badges with a spoon on them, I can understand why some people think that we need different terminology.

 

Could there be some sort of scale to compare our energy levels to those of someone who is not energy impaired? One of the most difficult things about being energy impaired is how to quantify our inability to do things because we are just too exhausted.

 

We’re not “just tired” as people seem to think, it’s more fundamental than that.  It is literally about saying if I have a shower and get dressed today I can’t do anything else until after lunch because I’m just too exhausted to move.

 

For me it’s much more important that I keep up to date with what’s happening in disability politics and the world in general than I waste spoons getting dressed when I don’t have to go out that day. 

 

How often have I heard another spoonie say; Now I’ve cooked my meal I’m too exhausted to eat it”?

 

We need to explain to medical and other professionals that being energy impaired has a huge impact on us everyday. Energy impairment is not just applicable to those who have ME or Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. Energy impairment is a massive part of our lives if we have chronic pain, fibromyalgia or any other long-term condition.

 

Using the term energy impairment gives us a different status. It is a direct comparison against non-disabled people who do not have to battle the difficulties we face every day.

 

If I was to compare how I am on a good day with what I used to do at work running a large Nursing Home, I probably function at about 20% of my previous life. That’s without factoring in things like travel to work and and doing household tasks. 

 

That’s easier to explain to the doctor or nurse and possibly social workers or OTs, even if the latter two don’t seem to want to accept what many of us tell them. 

 

We talk about people having a visual or hearing impairment so why not talk about being Energy Impaired?

 

I’ve started to use the term Energy Impaired in papers that I write, and in the way I talk about my own conditions. I think that by doing so it could encourage medical and other professionals to better understand the way my various diagnoses impact my life

 

I want to encourage Disability Labour members and supporters to use Energy Impairment as a descriptor. It is a simple concept to grasp and could easily be used as part of describing disabilities within documents, training and policy. 

 

If disability bloggers and activists use the term Energy Impairment too, it would be a great way of populating this description across the disability community and eventually into mainstream medical terminology.

 

I hope and believe that it can help to change the way disabled people are perceived.  


Fran Springfield Co-Chair