Tuesday, 14 February 2012

Cowardly excuses

I read a comment on one of my blogposts this lunchtime and it's sent me off into something of a rant. Such a rant, in fact, that it won't fit in a comment box. So instead I'm going to  post both the comment and my reply here:


Original comment:

"Preserve your party, no matter the cost"

Well, when the cost is being unable to influence government policy because of the navel gazing noise generated by stories of splits, then yes party unity matters.

As for morality and conscience, I think you need to get off your high horse. Politics is about making very difficult decisions. Spending £2bn on ESA may seem 'moral' to you, but that money has to come from somewhere in the DWP budget. Would you rather it came from poor children perhaps, or disabled people able to work, or impoverished pensioners on Pension Credit? Which is the 'moral' answer?

Of course you can dodge the question and argue about HS2 (deferred expense, generating investment) and so on. But that wasn't a question which our parliamentarians could tackle in the WRB. They had to make £12bn of cuts. I actually think that those on contributory ESA who have another source of income or savings are better able to bear this than other places where £2bn might be saved from a Department which spends a huge amount of money on sick, disabled, poor and old people.

We can agree to disagree, but it's those kinds of decisions which define politics.

My reply:

Ben, there wouldn't be even a potential of stories of splits if our MPs had listened to conference in the first place. To be blunt, when conference unanimously supports one policy and principle, and 46 of our MPs vote exactly opposite to that without any attempt to find a compromise, then we definitely have a split in what the party thinks acceptable and what our MPs think acceptable.

This isn't about spending extra money, it's about not cutting support to vulnerable disabled people. And yes, there are more vulnerable people - if I show you 100 terminally ill cancer patients then some of them will be in a worse situation than the others. But that doesn't for one moment make it right to keep following the lowest denominator and taking support away from people who need it while using the utterly pathetic excuse that otherwise you'd have to take it away from people who need it more. Quite frankly, that's bullshit.

Enshrined in our constitution, and on your own membership card, is a committment to building a fairer society where none are enslaved by poverty.

Well many of the 280,000 people who are going to lose support (and, please note, despite being ineligible for ESA they will still be ineligible for stuff like JSA) genuinely need it. And support to the sick and the disabled, to these ESA claimants who have been found unable to work, should be based on need and not on cost cutting.

Have you ever tried supporting an entire household on an income of just £7,500 a year? One with a disabled parent and two young children? One where the other parent has to work a job to bring home a meagre income and then act as carer for their partner and their children? Where they've already suffered two mental breakdowns? Because, let me tell you, this is what this means. I know families in exactly that situation.

This is taking support away from people already living with debilitating conditions, people who are already disproportionately likely to be living in poverty.

This is a question of priorities. We entered government on the claim that we would bring fairness and protect the vulnerable. That claim will be a total lie if we push ahead with these cuts to disability benefits. Because we can afford it if we want to. Quite frankly it was utter idiocy to insist on forcing the same proportion of cuts on every department when the impact of those cuts will differ enmormously between departments. Yes, if we kept the cuts to the DWP the same then we'd have to take the money elsewhere - from wealthy pensioners perhaps, or by means testing stuff like free bus passes and the winter fuel allowance.

But that's a fool's game because the simple fact is that £2 billion over five years is incredibly easy to find in the context of the overall budget. If we actually put some effort in on this then our MPs could find the money. After all, when the Olympics budget keeps on overrunning we don't see the government say "oh, we'll have to cancel them, there's no money left" do we? Instead the government finds the money to pay for it because it deems it a high enough priority.

And that is what this is about. Priorities. Fucking priorities and fucking principles. If we think it's acceptable to take support away completely from 280,000 people, whilst also cutting disability benefits for people in work by 20% and whilst halving support for disabled children living in poverty then we have failed utterly.

Because make no mistake, people will die because of this. Sometimes it will be through subtle things like stress, or pneumonia due to being unable to afford to heat their house (costs which are higher for people who are forced to stay at home all day due to their disability). And some will be the very direct cases of suicide due to people deciding that death is actually a better prospect than the misery they're living in. I know that because it's already happened on several occasions. Disability campaigners are very noble and decent people who are determined to campaign on the facts rather than heart sting tugging but I'm less scrupulous than they are because I know that this policy will mean blood is on our hands.

So, please, don't give me a load of bollocks about our parliamentarians having no choice because they did. If they'd put the effort in, if our leadership had given the slighest damn about the vulnerable and about conference then they could have done something at least. And, even if they found themselves unable to do anything, then at least they'd have tried their best. But they didn't do that. They didn't even fucking try.

And yes, you are absolutely 100% right. These kind of decisions do define politics. And I believe that deciding to take support away from 280,000 long term sick and disabled people, people who are unable to work, people who are already likely to be living in poverty, just because their partner has the temerity to earn £7,500+ a year, is wrong. We're a rich country, we can afford to protect the vulnerable, even in times of austerity. And I believe that we have a duty, as human beings, to look after those who are unable to look after themselves. Like it or not, those are fundamental liberal principles which are enshrined in our constitution. And, whilst I'm perfectly happy to compromise on policy, we should never, never, never, ever compromise on our principles. Especially when lives are at stake.

So, go on, support this policy if you feel like it. Support it because you think it's politically expedient (despite the fact that we've just permanently alienated 3 million sick and disabled voters). But if you do so then you are not a liberal and you clearly don't believe in liberal values. And you are in the wrong party.

Accuse me of being on a high horse all you like. But if you do then I'm proud of it. I'm proud of it because I still have enough integrity to be furious when small minded idiots in power decide to penalise disabled people for a financial crisis that they had no part in creating simply because it would be slightly harder to do the right thing and protect them. And if you don't like that then I'd say that that reflects badly on your own character and integrity rather than mine.

(Apologies for the swearing as you might not particularly deserve being sworn at but I am completely and totally fed up with the kind of cowardly, feeble, immoral excuses that what our MPs have done is in some way acceptable.)

26 comments:

  1. My personal thanks to you as a disabled woman facing destitution from these Cuts; anyone who thinks otherwise will face a rude awakening in the coming months

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  2. Thank you, as a disabled person with a partner who cares for me (which limits his ability to work) these cuts hit us hard.

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  3. I can't believe it, some common sense at last. Thank you George, your right and we are aware that we are a rich country and the cuts to the disabled are uncalled for, inhumane, disgraceful, cowardly, inappropriate and on and on. NO EXCUSE for doing what is being done to the DISABLED. I can't for the life of me understand how anyone could treat the disabled in the many this government has treated them; I'm glad I don't understand it would make me like them and that I don't want. I sleep with a clean conscience.

    Democracy and Liberty are at Stake! http://youngspartacus.files.wordpress.com/2012/02/briefing-for-peers-re-welfare-reform-bill-14-february-20122.pdf http://diaryofabenefitscrounger.blogspot.com/ #democracy #liberty #spartacusreport

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  4. As ever George i am always reminded by this

    First they came for the Communists,
    and I didn’t speak up,
    because I wasn’t a Communist.
    Then they came for the Jews,
    and I didn’t speak up,
    because I wasn’t a Jew.
    Then they came for the Catholics,
    and I didn’t speak up,
    because I was a Protestant.
    Then they came for me,
    and by that time there was no one
    left to speak up for me.

    Unlike that Poem - You do speak up and brilliantly so, with passion and conviction. You do not do this because you might be sick and disabled you do it because its important and right. Thank you

    Beth

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  5. I agree with everything you said and I'd just like to make one wider point: arbitrarily cutting around 20% from each department disregards the impact cuts on one department will make on another. Cuts thanks to the WRB could easily result in extra health costs on the NHS, children potentially being taken away from families who can no longer support them and part-time carers being forced to quit their paying job because other support is being cut.

    It seems to me that cuts have been made in the 'bubble' of each department and that politicians have no clue of what a domino effect actually is.

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  6. The Drug Sniffing Dog14 February 2012 13:55

    Wow George. Just wow. I concur heartily with all that. I hope the majority will wake up to what these bastards are doing to us. Robbing the poor to pay even more to the rich is not what we should expect from our government. As you quite rightly point out, this is a rich country.

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  7. George Potter, you restore my faith in humanity! Again and again.

    Your courage, integrity, guts and compassion are exemplary.

    Can I just say...it is Valentine's day after all...I love you man!!!
    : )

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  8. I don't want to say it, but I'm afraid your reply has just reinforced the original poster's view about your "high horse".

    Your best point here is about the Olympics.

    Whilst I agree with you in practice, I don't remember making you the arbiter of liberal principles, nor giving you the right to tell anyone that if they disagree with you they're in the wrong party. That's exactly the kind of attitude that defines Labour and the Conservatives. You debase yourself.

    (And as someone who's family is directly affected by these decisions, please don't assume I don't know what's at stake either).

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    1. I'd say that the arbiter of liberal principles is in the preamble to the party constitution. And I have yet to hear a convincing argument that these cuts are in any way compatible with either the constitution, the principles of the motion passed by conference in September or even basic principles of human decency.

      You're right that I'm not the arbiter of who belongs in the party or not - that's a decision for each individual member. But I can say whether or not I think someone's values match up with those the party stands for and that's what I'm doing here.

      Delete
  9. Well done George, and you are right people will die and they have to be highlighted to the Govt. It saddens me so much that we do not care anymore

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  10. Orwell’s Animal Farm ends with the realisation that there was no longer any difference between the men and the pigs and the same soliloquy can be seen in most views about what power does to the people that acquire it and to that extent, Lib-Dem politicians are no different to their red and blue counterparts. Darwin sums it all up pretty well.

    The problem is that politicians have proved over and over again that they cannot be trusted – trusted to tell us the truth, trusted to do what is really in our best interests, so it is impossible to know which numbers are true – spin is without doubt the scourge of the 21st century and will result in our downfall as everyone progressively looses hold on what is real.

    So you are left with the concept of priorities and the knowledge that if they had to do something they would, so I’m pretty much with George - money can always be found from somewhere when the need is deemed great enough – reinstating weekly bin collections vs. Benefit cuts is an easy call for anyone to make surely?

    It is the typically Tory ploy to take money from the poor to give it to the very poor on the basis of equality. There is no point in having subdivisions of “them” when the only distinction that really matters is between them and “us”. No, we are not all in it together.

    The random things I do know and which determine my judgement ultimately are the things I can see and touch:
    • MPs themselves have experienced no hardship whatsoever and continue to indulge themselves even with heavily subsidised lunches, let alone second homes.

    • The John Lewis Partnership and Waitrose continue to trade well.
    • MoD managers think it is OK to pay £26 for a light bulb.

    • DWP thinks it’s OK to give £112k p.a. to Atos and fund £60k+ p.a. to correct the errors they make.

    •Every aspect of Government I personally come across is riddled with inefficiency and self-interest to an extent that is hard to believe. They could not organise the proverbial piss-up in a brewery without consultants to set it up and a private sector “business partner” to run it.
    • Etc.

    More specifically, even if I were to accept the cuts being made to DWP costs, the deceit and dishonesty in their approach is simply a disgrace. If they wish to promote a particular political dogma, they should at least have to balls to say so. As it is, they either fabricate evidence of just lie over its existence to substantiate what they are doing. Iain Duncan-Smith gives the game away with his belief that “Arbeit Macht Frei”.

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  11. Great piece George. Shame that the Google ads on your blogspot side found a way to piss on your chips;

    http://yfrog.com/5c2svzp

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    1. Yeah - I wish I could find a way to get rid of the unum adds >.<

      Delete
  12. Thank you George. This is the kind of thinking which used to be associated with the Liberal Democrats.

    We knew that when more Lib Dem MPs got elected they would make big compromises, but the scale and venality of it has been appalling. Did Lib Dem MPs never actually believe in their own principles, or have they simply failed in their job; which is to enact their party's policies and respond to the concerns of the people who elected them?

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  13. @ AnonymousFeb 14, 2012 06:14 AM

    I believe we still have free speech in this country (at the moment) and I also believe this is Mr Potter's own Blog. He can say what he wants!! If you don't like it, you don't need to read it further.

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  14. Right on, George!

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  15. If visitors do not want adverts.Then use a add on such as adblock plus and better privacy for firefox.I see no adds at all.

    BTW,keep the faith George.All those that attack you are not worth your spit.

    You are a LibDem,as one of many who do not wholly agree with with their leaderships direction.In a democratic party you should be entitled to your opinion without suffering abuse from members who disagree with you.Your party is not a Dictatorship.

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  16. Hi George,

    The MPs are doing what serves their best interests rather than what the conference voted for - they don't care about the conference or the voters. Just like the MPs don't vote how they promised to before the election. I did post this in the "what the MPs did today" blog, and would like your thoughts...

    George,

    I, like a lot of my friends, voted Lib Dem last time round and unseated a Labour MP, who was replaced by a Tory. We did not expect that our vote would be used to support being mean and spiteful to the poor, the disabled and the dying. There is comparatively little money in this and a very low abuse rate - it is just mean spirited and vindictive, especially when their are bigger targets to tackle. We did not expect that our vote would be used to firesale the NHS to the private sector, or to triple tuition fees (the MPs signed a pledge for goodness' sake). A lot of us wish we could have our time again and vote the other way and feel at least as let down as you seem to. If the Lib MPs thought as you do and hadn't sold out your party then none of the above would happen. No one is going to vote Lib next time as they colluded with the Tories in doing the above. When the Libs are wiped out at the next election a coup by someone who thinks like you might be too late. I hope not.


    Ed

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  17. Once again, you are saying what Liberal Democratically minded people in the country are saying.

    If I were not passionate about Scotland becoming an independent country, I would have been a Liberal, because I believe in Liberal policies. Indeed I have voted Liberal in the past and once we are free I probably shall again (well, if they get some decent people).

    I would, however, chew my own foot off before I would vote for what the Liberals have become since they joined forces with the Conservatives.

    We all know that £2 billion is a lot of money, but with a low rate of fraud, it is clearly money which is being well spent.

    You're right about the Olympics. When it appeared that the opening and closing ceremonies for the games were going to look tacky in comparison to China's, Cameron simply doubled the budget. When it looked like there might be another summer of discontent and riots might erupt, the security budget was doubled and then some. it doesn't matter what it costs to block of roads and make people work from home. Money is simply no object when it comes to Cameron showing off to the world.

    But surely, if you have some decency about you, you can't go around taking money from people who are ill, and in some cases dying, with their hair falling out and hardly any flesh on their bones and say... "Oh sorry, it would have had to come from the DWP budget; it would have had to come from poor cold pensioners."

    because it's not true. It could have come out of the £50 billion of QE 3 or 4 or whatever we are on now. At least most every penny of it would go back into the economy, unlike what will happen to the it under current plans.

    Or maybe it could have come out of the money that Lansley is going to waste reorganising the NHS in England; or the renewal of the nuclear deterrent that we pay for and America controls.

    Or we could have sold Chequers and Chevingham, or Kensington Palace, St James's palace and Clarence House, and made the royals all live in Buckingham palace or Windsor Castle. Surely it is preferable to keep people fed than that the top people have 2, 3, 4 or 5 homes.

    So no, it's no excuse that the DWP's budget couldn't take it.

    Bravo once again for standing up for Liberal Democrat policies that most of the rest of your party seems to have forgotten about, George. You can have no idea how much you are admired.

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  18. George,

    I'm not disputing that cutting welfare is tough and I personally find it very hard to support. If I was a MP, I don't know if I would vote for it. I was pointing out a bit of wider context to explain why MPs take decisions which might seem abhorrent to any given person or affected group, but decisions which have to be taken.

    But I do think you are not fully informed about how the system works.

    For example, you suggest that a family with two children and one earner who receives a salary of £7,500 would have to manage on that salary alone, without the other parent's ESA. That would be a dire circumstance, but thankfully it's not true. A family in that situation would also likely be receiving approx £9,000 in tax credits, £1,700 in Child Benefit, council tax benefit, housing benefit, plus any disability benefits for the parent on ESA (such as DLA) plus discretionary benefits. I'm not downplaying the loss of ESA: it will be significant for poor families. But to imply that this is the only income for a family in that situation is very misleading. In reality they'd still have a post-tax income of around £21k plus housing support. Our party believes in evidence based policy making, so please recognise actually how the welfare and benefits system works if you're going to blog about it.

    You write: "I believe that we have a duty, as human beings, to look after those who are unable to look after themselves. Like it or not, those are fundamental liberal principles which are enshrined in our constitution"

    I 100% agree with you, George. The point of a means test is to find the people who can support themselves. We could disagree about what a reasonable level of support is (and I stress that I would much rather the means test for this and JSA was higher - I agree that 24 hours (which only equates to £7,500 if you are on minimum wage; many will have an effective means test nearer £9k or upwards) is very low), but still agree that we should support those unable to support themselves. I am a liberal, not a libertarian, for a reason.

    You also appear misinformed on how the Departmental budgets were cut. Why do you seem to think they were cut by uniform percentages? They weren't. Local government, for example, was hit v heavily but Health was ringfenced. If DWP bore an equal share in percentage terms, far more than £12bn over five years would be cut. Thankfully, DWP was protected from the truly deep cuts which I am sure Osborne would like to make. Small mercies, perhaps, and I do appreciate that those on the receiving end won't think the bigger picture justifies it. That's fair enough, but doesn't make it immoral.

    You also seem blind to what our party has achieved for sick, disabled, unemployed and poor people. Did you not notice it was the Lib Dems who ensured that out of work benefits like JSA and ESA will be increased by the full inflation rate (5.2%) in April rather than being frozen as Osborne wanted? Did you not notice the role that Celia Thomas played in ensuring that DLA/PIP assessment returned to 3/9 months rather than 6/6? Did you not notice Nick Clegg being the only politician with the balls to face down the grey vote and suggest recently means testing bus passes and winter fuel allowance, precisely what you call for? Did you not notice that Lib Dems kicked inheritance tax cuts into the grass and cut income tax for the lowest earners instead? I could go on.

    I appreciate you wanted to respond to my comment. I've tried to overlook your unnecessarily insulting, histrionic language and tone. And I've given some reasons why I (and a lot of others, if you look at polling) can disagree with you on some points but still be a liberal who believes in the welfare state. By all means, say I shouldn't be a member. But please get your facts right, and open your eyes that you might not be right on everything, and might not be the only person able to interpret the Constitution.

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    1. Ben,

      First of all I want to apologise for the tone I used. It really wasn't warranted towards you as an individual and it was more me venting my frustration at some of your arguments in general rather than at you personally. But that doesn’t justify it so I’m sorry.

      Now, I can assure you that I am fairly well informed as to how the system works - but writing down every single one of the qualifications on every single point takes up quite a large amount of room. That family I mentioned can get additional support. But the fact is that, in a family with a disabled mother and a father working longer than 24 hours a week, they might be able to receive working tax credits for the father, child tax credits for the children and council tax rebate and housing benefit, but there won't be any support available at all to support the mother - despite her being disabled to the extent that she is unable to support herself.

      You mention DLA. But there are two problems with bringing that in. The first is that it is a general working benefit and goes both to people well enough to work and those who aren't well enough to work. The point of it is to cover the additional daily costs of disability but not to provide an income for those whose condition prevents them from working - that's what ESA is for.

      That of course, was the old system of DLA. But, in addition to that, the DWP is replacing DLA for disabled people of working age with PIP - and, in the process, cutting the budget by 20% by 2015, abolishing the lower rate of it and introducing an assessment system for it which looks likely to be modelled on the "unfit for purpose" (as described by its own designer) Work Capability Assessment used for ESA.

      I'm sorry if you thought that I was implying that the family would get no support because that was not what I meant or the point that I was making. The point I was making was that ESA is designed to support those who are unable to work because of illness or disability. To say that people who are unable to work don't need or deserve support just because their partner earns as little as £7,500 a year is wrong. Above all, I think it fundamental that support should be given based on need and not on the basis of budget balancing.

      Please could you go and read my email correspondence with Tim Farron on this issue as it goes into much more detail on the reasoning of our MPs, and my disagreement with that reasoning, than either of us could probably go into here.

      http://thepotterblogger.blogspot.com/2012/02/tim-farros-reply-to-my-questions-on-wrb.html

      I don't think that every department received exactly the same cuts. But what I do think is that, aside from the health budget and foreign aid being ringfenced, every department had, give or take a percentage point or two, approximately the same percentage cut from its budget.

      In the case of the DWP, the desire to save £3 billion through cuts to disability benefits (none of which have any convincing justification other than cost) is motivated solely by the fact that the treasury refused to pay for the additional cost of setting up the Universal Credit system and forced IDS to pay for it out of his own budget. So the decision to cut disability benefits is motivated pretty much entirely by the objective of finding a way to pay for the minister's pet project by taking support away from somewhere where they probably didn't expect people to be able to fight back.

      I'm not blind to what our party has achieved but the inflation link was a party priority in general, not something for the disabled in particular and all the other changes they have made directly to disability benefits amount to nothing more tinkering around the edges, or, to put it in a cruder term, polishing a turd.

      cont.

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    2. Continuation:

      Now, I'm proud of achievements our achievements in government, I really am. But raising the tax threshold does nothing for the poorest. And, if the price for our other achievements is taking support away from sick and disabled people who desperately need it, then I don't consider that a price worth paying.

      More pertinently, I also don't see how anyone who considers that a price worth paying can possibly call themselves a Liberal Democrat.

      Delete
  19. Hello, me again. I had no idea my rebuke to Ben would cause so much trouble. Sorry about that, George.

    First of all, I am not a LibDem party member, although I have voted that way in the past. So Ben's point about party unity passed me by, especially given the use to which said unity is being put.

    Secondly, it seems that I am the one on my 'high horse', from the comment. Regrettably, Ben, my 'horse' is quite low, as I was pensioned-off some time ago for medical reasons, and now I am in the ESA support group (lucky me). If you think that particular horse is high, I suggest you give it a ride.

    I don't think I need to analyse in detail a viewpoint that considers any thought of adhering to morality and conscience in politics as a 'high horse', do I? History has plenty of examples of where such thinking leads.

    Thanks again, George.

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    1. Sorry, a bit late with this reply but, to whomsoever you are, Ben, challenging George, and advising that you do know what you're talking about, I'd say all evidence to the contrary - and I've been researching the links between the DWP, Atos Healthcare and UNUM Insurance for the past two years. I am also very disabled and a War Pensioner - and I don't pay tax as I don't earn any income...
      These atrocities - as atrocities is what they are - is so that the British healthcare service can convert to the American system, to be funded by private insurance....but that's a little way in the future and various Lords in the know claim it's already "a done deal."
      If you had £500 saved for a holiday, then had a very large electricity bill arrive, would you still go on holiday or pay the electric bill....??
      Yes, we have clearly defined gvt budgets. HOWEVER, we also have clearly defined disgusting practices, with heads burried in the sand, so that the UK gvt can be owed in excess of £25 BILLION in unpaid corporate taxes whilst Lord Freud, and now it seems the Lib Dems too when in gvt, agree to slaughter the welfare state, to reduce the most vulnerable people in society to grovelling for the limited benefits that permit bare survival.
      WHY is it necessary to have another Atos assessment within 6 months of a previous assessment that proved that the vicitm is incapable of working? WHY do the gvt permit the use of the Lima softwear when it is demonstrably bogus? WHY is it necessary for the DWP to send out threatening letters to some of the most vulnerable people in society?
      www.whywaitforever.com/dwpatosveterans.html#report refers.
      This gvt, and all those before them back to Thatcher who introduced this nightmare, has totally ignored EVERY professional report that have ALL condemned the Atos medicals, be they the consecutive annual reports by HH JUDGE Robert Martin, when President of the Appeal Tribunals, from various W&P Select Committees, from all national frontline welfare charities such as Macmillan and the CAB, from academics and from the multitude of evidence from the social media groups and concerned retired professionals like myself.
      Your arguement doesn't stand up Ben and the Liberals, in gvt with the Tories, are a disgrace.

      Delete
  20. "And some will be the very direct cases of suicide due to people deciding that death is actually a better prospect than the misery they're living in. I know that because it's already happened on several occasions."

    http://calumslist.org/

    The proof of the pudding George :(

    Phil

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  21. George, people HAVE died! just go to;http://dwpexaminations.blacktrianglecampaign.org/phpBB3/
    Look for Calums list, there you will find a list of people who have died or taken their own lives due to the welfare reforms, and those are the ones we know about.

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I'm indebted to Birkdale Focus for the following choice of words:

I am happy to address most contributions, even the drunken ones if they are coherent, but I am not going to engage with negative sniping from those who do not have the guts to add their names or a consistent on-line identity to their comments. Such postings will not be published.

Anonymous comments with a constructive contribution to make to the discussion, even if it is critical will continue to be posted. Libellous comments or remarks I think may be libellous will not be published.

I will also not tolerate personation so please do not add comments in the name of real people unless you are that person. If you do not like these rules then start your own blog.

Oh, and if you persist in repeating yourself despite the fact I have addressed your point I may get bored and reject your comment.

The views expressed in comments are those of the poster, not me.