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

The Proof is in the Pudding

That was premise of The Great British Bake off and many a proud cook. The same could be said for this government’s treatment of disabled people.  When Marsha De Cordova MP asked her Parliamentary Question; (quoted directly from the website theyworkforyou.com)

NHS survey data show that, under the Conservatives, 43% of those in receipt of ESA have attempted suicide. Leading academics, disabled people’s organisations and clinicians have raised concerns that the work capability assessment is causing a mental health crisis.”

The WCA is not fit for the 21st century—it is outdated and is causing preventable harm—so I ask the Minister: is it not time that the Government scrap the WCA that is pushing so many people to suicide?”

It was shocking to hear the statistic and it will fuel the anger felt across the country. 43% of people in receipt of ESA have been so utterly devastated that they wanted to die. It leads you to wonder how many have succeeded?

Unfortunately, when it came time for her response, Sally Newton, Minister responsible for the DWP, first blamed A past Labour government for instituting the WCA in 2008. Followed by the fact that they, the Tories have been following independent advice to and try reform it, for 11 years.

Can you imagine a manager in a private company seeing that 43% of a company’s product was bursting into flames when it was plugged in then ordering a step up in production?  They would be more likely to stop production followed by the person in charge being put on gardening leave and speed dialing their law firm. However, this kind ridiculous response has become standard policy from the current government:

Our chief medical officer, Professor Gina Radford, has made it absolutely clear that the NHS data shows there is no causal link between applying for benefits and people tragically taking their lives.

There it was, the standard “oh no it isn’t” response in a debate. There are many people who have told ministers what is happening.  DPAC (Disabled People against the Cuts), ROFA (Regain Our Futures Alliance), and the UN amongst many, many others. The government chooses not to listen.

The darker reality of this statement is that the current government is utterly devoid of compassion. 5% of lives lost to suicide is too many. To add insult to injury, they allowed the decimation of mental health services so there is little help out there for those who are severely depressed or suicidal.

Unfortunately, they don’t sell compassion on eBay or we all might chip in to buy some and send a true care package to Number 10. 

Kathy Bole Co-Vice Chair
First published 17th October 2018

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