Tongue tied but no longer isolated

Guest post by Alan Wheatley
Member of the Green Party of England & Wales’ Green Party Trade Union Group

Alan attended the recent demo on Feb 14th outside Westminster. He sent his pics to CarerWatch and we asked him to write some words to accompany them. See below

Valentine’s Day 2012 was the day that the ConDem Government chose to send the Welfare Reform Bill back to the House of Lords, effectively for rubber-stamping after a huge ConDem majority in the House of Commons overwrote many ameliorating amendments that well-briefed cross benchers in the Lords had put to the original. The ConDem government wants to put the Welfare Reform Bill into law asap.

Today, Wednesday 15 February, the BBC has announced that UK unemployment figures are at a 16 year high. I am sure this will leave David Cameron and Tony Blair’s former welfare reform guru David Freud — the investment banker David Cameron welcomed into the Lords as a spokesperson before Gordon Brown’s ship went down — no wiser or more compassionate about the common good, only more desperate to overthrow the welfare
state and turn it into something that their cronies could profit from. They do not care about poor people who they malign as worthless.

I have been writing and campaigning off and on about welfare reform issues for more than twenty years, firstly as a disabled jobseeker and more recently as an ESA tribunal victor in the Support Group. In a February 2004 letter to Camden New Journal I argued that the then Labour Government was going about things from the wrong angle with its ‘targeting benefit thieves’ propaganda and talk of summoning all Incapacity Benefit claimants into jobcentres for ‘all work’ interviews at a time when few jobcentres were fully accessible and I as a disabled jobseeker had been genuinely looking for waged employment for over 30 years, achieving a grand total of 17 months waged employment, serially let down by inadequate statutory support. The
last eleven of my months in waged employment (May 2005 to April 2006) had been mostly such part-time circumstances that the part-time earnings forms I dutifully completed for fortnightly signing-on sessions at the jobcentre netted
me only £5 per week ‘earnings disregard’ on top of the Jobseekers Allowance that a JobCentre Plus admin in meltdown had denied my entitlement to for months on end. As I pointed out to Lord Freud at the Radar debate, I did not approve of Lord Freud’s idea of awarding private companies £62,000 for each Incapacity Benefit claimant they got into waged employment of some sort, while no government since 1988 had bothered to increase the single person’s ‘earnings disregard’ beyond the £5 it was set at then.

Back to the present day, the very slow reading and mental processing speed that has long impeded my ability to  get and hold down a job gets in the way of my reading sufficiently to respond in writing to MPs or Lords regarding my criticisms, but I feel less isolated than I did when I was last in waged employment or as a lone voice disabled jobseeker. E-mail list access helps facilitate my attendance on demonstrations called at just a day’s notice, and so I was demonstrating on Tuesday outside the House of Lords as they were beginning the latest round of scrutinising the Welfare Reform Bill.

As a Green Party member I had brought along my Green Party placard board and own placard message. There I was joined by demonstrators for Single Mothers Self-Defence, Women with Visible & Invisible Disabilities (WinVisible)
, Payday Men  , Social Work Action Network London, the English Collective of Prostitutes  and Reverend Paul Nicholson of faith into anti-poverty campaigning group Zacchaeus 2000. The highlight of comradeliness for me as an observer was the welcome that the women’s groups present gave to Revd Paul Nicholson. It is clear that while television advertised ‘payday loans with interest rates of 1737% APR and more now colonise UK daytime TV, Paul Nicholson http://z2k.org/2012/02/welfare-reform-and-tax-havens/
 is not Donald Carey. As someone has commented, ex-Archbishop of Canterbury played Pope to Margaret Thatcher’s conception of herself as God.

When the loud hailer megaphone that was necessary to overcome the traffic noise was passed to me, I got as tongue-tied as more confident speakers were at the instants that police sirens went by. Speakers pointed out that David Cameron’s experience as father to severely disabled Ivan Cameron should have sensitised him to at least some of the issues facing parents and carers of disabled children and adults, but it was also pointed out that ConDem proposals to introduce tax-breaks for middle class parents employing live-in home help would bring a return to the days of ‘Upstairs Downstairs’, while poorer folk would be forced out of their homes by benefit caps.

Away from the megaphone, a single parent who had brought her child along before moving to be nearer the child’s father in the USA commented that many ‘well-to-do’ men disguise their use of prostitutes by employing ‘escorts’. And Claire Glasman of WinVisible showed me a hand-printed placard from her supply. It said something like:

Message from Anonymous Wheelchair User: “I’m sorry I can’t make it today. The lift in my block of flats has broken down and so I really am housebound today.”

And so while I did not feel up to writing Lords and Ladies about welfare reform
issues as per the ConDems’ agenda, I was glad to be out expressing and publicly witnessing to the interests of those who ConDem government malign and misrepresent, including the anonymous wheelchair user, family carers etc who could not get there.

And on Valentine’s Day it helped me feel warmer and more wanted than the
notification of £25 for one week cold weather payment that greeted me on my return home. See also
http://www.camdennewjournal.com/letters/2012/feb/no-longer-isolated

Alan Wheatley
Member of the Green Party of England & Wales’ Green Party Trade Union Group
http://gptublog.blogspot.com/

Social Work Action Network London and Kilburn Unemployed Workers Group
http://kilburnunemployed.blogspot.com/

NB: Green Party Spring Conference 2012 on the last weekend of February will debate a motion on ‘Availability for Work’ that seeks to emphasise Green Party opposition to the Atos treatment and claimant’s diminishing ‘entitlement’.

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One Response to “Tongue tied but no longer isolated”

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