Northern Ireland

English Translation of article published in Junge Welt magazine – The Legacy of Brexit for Disabled People in the UK

Taken from Disabled People Against Cuts website

It’s difficult if not impossible to adequately define the outcomes of Brexit for anyone living in the UK let alone for disabled people. The result where a small minority of the electorate voted to leave the EU has so far caused massive political turmoil but no concrete proposals as the new unelected Prime Minister, Teresa May, thrashes around wildly clutching at straws.

What is certain is that the promise of an extra £350 million a week for our National Health Service has not and will not be forthcoming. In fact this promise promoted widely by the Leave campaigners in the Tory Party and a reason why many UK citizens were conned into voting to leave turns out to have been an outright lie.

Many of the more deluded disabled people who also voted to leave did so simply because they wanted to punish David Cameron the then Tory Prime Minister who was stupid enough to call a referendum in the first place. Having resigned first as Prime Minister and then a little later as a Member of Parliament I’m sure the multi-millionaire Cameron is indeed ‘suffering’. What is certain that disabled people will.

As soon as the outcome of the referendum was known Cameron together with a whole host of Leave politicians turned their backs on guiding the UK through the Brexit process – no doubt so they don’t get blamed for the ensuing disaster.

The devolved governments in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland do not want to leave the EU and in the case of Northern Ireland the Good Friday agreement and peace process means that there must be a parliamentary vote if Northern Ireland is to leave the EU. There is also a legal challenge to seek a parliamentary vote on Brexit as the outcome of the referendum is advisory only. So chaos reigns as the UK population dangle precipitously in limbo.

As well as months spent focussed on the referendum campaign, the immediate aftermath was an election for a new Tory Party Leader and a second internal party election to try to remove the previously democratically elected Labour Party leader. During these many months of political bat and ball and trips around the country by various politicians the rights of disabled people have largely been forgotten especially by the media. Serious campaigning has been put back months as the political focus has been firmly placed elsewhere.

On a plus point the fascist party UKIP which very much led the Brexit campaign on an anti-immigration stance have also fallen into disarray and appear on the verge of oblivion. There have already been several elections for a new leader with none of them being successful in finding someone who stayed more than a couple of weeks. As the old British saying goes “every cloud has a silver lining”

What is certain for the UK is that Brexit has led to a massive increase in race-related hate crime and there is no doubt those who perpetrate these crimes feel their actions are vindicated by the vote to leave. Xenophobia is rampant in parts of the country fuelled by some of the media as well as the Brexit campaign rhetoric. Disability hate crime has been rising year on year since 2010 in part thanks once again to the media-fuelled ‘useless eater’ and scrounger propaganda. For disabled people as well as those perceived to not be British hatred and abuse is only likely to increase in the post-Brexit frenzy that currently pervades the country.

Since Brexit as well the value of the pound has slumped which has already led to an increase in price for even essential daily items including for some the #Marmitegate tragedy where the price of Marmite has already risen in some cases by 12.5 % in shops.

Price increases for food and other essential items is likely to pose a particular problems for disabled people and others in receipt of UK Social Security payments as there is an austerity-led freeze on the amount of benefits which will be paid until at least 2020. The UK already has some of the lowest rates for out-of-work benefit payments in the EU so starting from a very low base rate the value of payments will fall even further as exchange rates fall.

On top of this fall in the value of the pound and freeze on increases in social security payments early in November an austerity-led cap on the total overall amount of benefit payments per household will result in massive reductions of £3,000 less per annum being paid to claimants. Many of those affected by this drastic cut will be disabled although other disabled people will be exempt from this cut.

From next April 2017 disabled people who make a new claim for Employment and Support Allowance and who are found not to be fit for work but able to undertake Work Related Activity which involved forcibly being made to jump though inappropriate and unacceptable hoops to continue being entitled to payments will also see their weekly income cut drastically by one-third. All of these changes will as already said be taking place at the same time the value of the pound falls against other currencies. Needless to say fuel prices are also continuing to rise and the number of UK residents on low incomes who have to choose between eating and heating because they can’t afford both continues to rise.

As disabled people and others wait for the mythical 35 million a day that we’re apparently saving by leaving the EU to be redeployed to help fund our National Health Service as promised we find our Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt putting in place plans to drastically reduce both the number of hospitals – down from 9 to 5 in London – and health service funding elsewhere in the UK through the implementation of Sustainability and Transformation Plans. This is very definitely not what Brexit promised for our health service. Hunt has also further undermined our NHS by stating that we want British only doctors in the near future in spite of the fact that around one-third of doctors currently are from other EU countries.

For disabled people who need personal assistance to live and take part in society Brexit is also bad news. Many people employ care workers/personal assistants from EU countries and now not only does the fall in the value of the pound affect the exchange value of wages paid but on a longer term basis no-one, neither the employers or the employees, have any idea about a future right to work here when the UK leaves the EU. It could of course be years before any more is known.

Workers rights generally are very much an unknown quantity at the moment as well. Teresa May has said the Conservatives want to protect those in place yet many people are on insecure zero hours contracts with no legal protections. The introduction of fees for Employment Tribunal hearings has also negatively affected worker’s rights to challenge unfair dismissals. All of these issues regarding employment rights continue to disproportionately affect disabled workers and the fear that once EU constraints on our employment laws are removed is causing major concerns for those disabled people who are in work.

For disabled people not in work the ending of Workfare and Work Choice schemes funded by the European Social Fund can really only be seen as positive. Neither of these schemes worked well in finding disabled people suitable or sustainable employment opportunities.

Workfare schemes in particular have been likened to unpaid slave labour which they were since claimants were forced to work for no pay under threat of having their benefits removed if they did not. Having said that there were a number of locally EU funded schemes to help disabled and other people into work which have worked well and for which there will now be no further EU funding available.

In other areas of life shared by disabled and non-disabled people the loss of European funding from the Social Fund, from the Common Agricultural Policy and from Regional Development grants will nevertheless be grossly detrimental to the overall standards of living and is likely to have a further negative trickle down impact on food prices. The idea that these funding streams will be replaced by our own government’s spending is laughable given their ongoing austerity agenda and determination to replace Trident nuclear weapons.

Memory Match – 10-09-05

Throughout the 2015/16 football season I will be contributing to the Wrexham AFC matchday programme. I will be penning a feature called Memory Match, a look back at classic Wrexham games from the past that I will share in this blog over the coming months.

10-09-05

Wrexham v Cheltenham Town

Coca-Cola League Two

Racecourse Ground

Result: 2-0

Wrexham: Ingham, Linwood (Spender), Smith, Ferguson, Bennett, Warhurst, Jones (Mackin), Williams, Walters, Foy (McEvilly), Holt

Goalscorers: Holt 8, Walters 69

Cheltenham Town: Higgs, Gill, Victory, Taylor, Townsend (Caines), Wilson, Melligan, Finnigan (Bird), Spencer (Vincent), Odejayi, McCann

Attendance: 3,671

Wrexham actually had to postpone the previous match against Lincoln City as they had three players on international duty. Michael Ingham (Northern Ireland) and Simon Spender (Wales) both reported back for duty in time for the Cheltenham game, but Dennis Lawrence (Trinidad and Tobago) was not so lucky.

The club captain had been playing for his country in Costa Rica, but his flight home had to be diverted after smoke was smelt in the cabin. This meant that our defensive lynchpin missed his connecting flight and did not return to Manchester until shortly before kick-off.

This was another headache for Wrexham manager Denis Smith as the start of the 2005/06 season had already been ravaged by injury and suspension. Lee Roche, Shaun Pejic, Dean Bennett and Lee McEvilly had all crowded the treatment room while Simon Spender and Dave Bayliss had both seen red in the opening matches.

Smith had subsequently been forced to bleed a number of youngsters and make some emergency loan signings such as Paul Linwood from Tranmere Rovers who replaced the absent Lawrence for the visit of unbeaten Cheltenham Town. Despite being promoted from the Conference in 1999, this was actually the first League meeting between the clubs.

Our patched up team certainly proved their worth with a magnificent performance full of slick passing and attacking intent to record their third home win of the season. The Red Dragons were fiery from the first whistle with Paul Warhurst and Jon Walters – whatever happened to him? – both having shots blocked inside the box.

After only eight minutes Andy Holt scored the goal we’d been threatening from the outset when he met Darren Ferguson’s corner with a bullet header that went in off the underside of the crossbar.

It was all one-way traffic as the midfield trio of Ferguson, Danny Williams and Mark Jones dictated play. In a hectic four minute period we had four chances to double our lead. Walters headed over from Holt’s cross, Robbie Foy – on-loan from Liverpool – had a shot saved by Town goalkeeper Shane Higgs, Walters was then denied by Jamie Victory’s block and his next attempt was well-dealt with by Higgs.

Wrexham’s passing and movement was exceptional, but on the stroke of half-time they were almost made to pay for not extending their lead when Kayode Odejayi saw his shot turned around the post by Ingham. The fleet-footed Odejayi also threatened early in the second-half when he raced past Linwood only to see his shot hit the side netting.

At the other end of the pitch, Walters had a penalty appeal turned down following a challenge by JJ Melligan. He was promptly booked for diving.

Warhurst, Dean Bennett and Foy all had opportunities to increase our advantage, but it was left to Walters to do the damage on 69 minutes with his first competitive goal for the club. Smith found Jones who played a superb ball through for Walter’s to dispatch beyond Higgs.

Reflecting on the game, Smith said: “I think it was a performance which deserved a better crowd than we had and people who didn’t come today missed an absolute treat. That’s as good a football game as you’ll see at most levels, never mind this level. I thought some of the football was outstanding.”

Cheltenham manager John Ward said: “I said before the game that Wrexham shouldn’t be in this League, but because of administration they are. This is a good side and anyone who gets a point or three here will have to be very lucky or play very well.”

 

Keep on keeping on

So, the Welsh Independent Living Grant (WILG) has been extended to March 2017. This is a reason for celebration and is the culmination of a lot of hard work by many people over the last 12 months to protect independent living for disabled people across Wales.

However, we cannot rest on our laurels and must start thinking about what we are going to do this time next year. We are still looking for a long-term solution to the problems that the Tories caused when they closed the Independent Living Fund (ILF) .

We also need to analyse the letter which was sent to Paul Swann at Disability Wales who acts as Secretary of the Cross Party Group on Disability. The full letter can be downloaded here:  Minister’s response to CPGD re ILFWILG.

As stated above, Mark Drakeford AM (Minister for Health and Social Services) has confirmed that the draft Welsh Government budget contains £27 million to enable WILG to continue until March 2017. However, it is clear from the letter that the current level of funding form the UK Government is only sufficient to maintain recipients’ payments at the same level as they previously received form the ILF. It does not cater for any changes in a person’s circumstances or any changes in the level of support they require. The Minister confirms that the funding provided by the UK Government does not include any funding in respect of administration costs.

The Minister does recognise that a long-term solution is required and he has confirmed that he hopes to be in a position to respond more fully with regard to the scheme within a month.

With an election on the horizon in Wales the Assembly Members will be preoccupied until May but this does not mean we can’t do our homework in building a strong case as to why we need a more lasting Welsh ILF system – similar to the ones that have been established in Scotland and Northern Ireland.

I intend on meeting my prospective AM and getting their commitment to safeguard independent living in writing, I’ll write to the Welsh national press to make this issue a political hot potato and in a change of tact I also hope to get back in touch with Ian Lucas, my local Labour MP, who has always represented me well in Westminster. I would like to ask him to press the Tories hard about the amount of money they give to the devolved governments to cover independent living. It is not good enough to simply pass on the same amount of money distributed in 2015 as this does not account for new claimants or changes in circumstances. As someone with a progressive disability, I fear that the time will come – sooner rather than later – when I won’t be able to pay for the hours of care needed for me to remain living independently in the community; The Tories must be challenged and stopped from pushing ahead with fascist plans that boil down to nothing less than systematic social cleansing.

Writing and campaigning is what I am good at. Back in December, I wrote a blog entry entitled Fighting for independent living in Wales in which I appealed for assistance from recipients of ILF in Scotland and Northern Ireland. I wanted their opinions and experiences on how their national ILF schemes functioned since the closure of the UK-wide ILF in the hope that it may prove an inspirational model for us to follow in Wales.

I received the following comment in response to my blog: 

Hi Nathan – My name is Charles Rainey and, in 2012, with my wife set up the ILF User Group NI, dedicated retaining the ILF in NI should Westminster decide to replace it. With the support of relevant charities and individual politicians we drove the decision to set up the current situation where users have basically noticed no difference going from one to the other. Send me an email and I can send you more details on our approach.

I sent an email to Mr Rainey and set up a telephone call in which I’d discovered that my new found friend from Northern Ireland had done wonders in setting up a User Group that actively lobbied for the retention of an ILF for Northern Ireland. Mr Rainey is an accountant by trade and deserves enormous credit for all his hard work in helping to create a stable future for disabled people in Northern Ireland. I wish that I could follow his inspirational lead, but I am just not cut out for all the paperwork and bureaucracy that is involved in establishing such a protest group. Therefore all I can do is appeal to any professionals with a conscience based in Wales to take up a similar challenge to Mr Rainey and help provide hope for disabled people nationwide.

On top of this I am also concerned about my own staffing situation. I currently have a vacancy for a personal assistant for 16 hours per week with every chance that this will lead to more hours. This is a great opportunity to work with a small team in a rewarding environment. Rates of pay are £7.26 (between 7am and 8pm) and £9.64 (between 8pm and 7am) and training opportunities are available. However, this position has been advertised for over 12 months with little response and even when I do receive applications from candidates and invite them for interview then I find they are far from suitable.

I believe this is a sign that we live in an increasingly uncaring society.

I guess this is a call for anyone in the Wrexham area, preferably female, with a caring attitude to read the following job advertisement and consider applying to become a member of my staff.

http://www.penderelstrust.org.uk/recruitmentDetailsPA.php?recruitment_id=5211

I don’t bite, honest.

 

Minister provides an update on the Welsh Independent Living Grant

TAKEN FROM DISABILITY WALES WEBSITE

The Minister for Health & Social Services, Mark Drakeford AM, has responded to a letter from the Co-Chairs of the Cross Party Group on Disability, Mark Isherwood AM and Aled Roberts AM.

The Minister confirms that  “the Welsh Government’s draft budget for 2016-17 contains £27m to enable the WILG to continue to March 2017 as planned.”

He adds that “I am currently re-appraising the options for long term support …and plan to confirm later this month my present thinking in this area.

“My officials have met representatives of stakeholders to identify the key information needed, including experience of providing support in Scotland and Northern Ireland. Options for a way forward will be identified by the middle of this year and will be available for the new incoming government to put into place in good time before March 2017.”

Minister’s response to CPGD re ILFWILG.

 

Open letter to Debbie Abrahams – shadow minister for disabled people

Dear Ms Abrahams

I am writing to you in your role as shadow minister for disabled people about the on going struggles across the UK to protect Independent Living for all.

As a disabled activist I have been campaigning for the rights of disabled people to independent living in Wales.  Recently we have received promising news that we are moving towards a brighter future with the forthcoming Social Services and Wellbeing Act and the fact that the Welsh Independent Living Grant has been continued until March 2017.  Please visit my blog, using the link below, to find out more information.

https://nathanleedavies.wordpress.com/2015/12/19/in-response-first-minister-carwyn-jones-am/

Even though there is more work to be done I am fortunate that I live in Wales as Welsh Labour are providing hope for the future. Whether this hope is well-placed remains to be seen. Scotland and Northern Ireland have superb Independent Living Funds in place for disabled people, but this does not mean that we should forget about the struggles of our friends in England. I am not an expert on the situation in England though I believe local authorities have received a monetary transfer of the Independent Living Funds, but the amount of support provided varies from authority to authority. What once was an independent scheme to protect and enhance the lives of all disabled people has now become nothing short of a disgusting postcode lottery.

I am therefore writing to you to ask what is being done to fight back against Tory decimation of welfare and equality?  I feel that this is such a big issue as disabled people fought for years to be treated as a valuable part of their communities.  For this to be taken away under the guise of ideological austerity is no less than social cleansing.  Shouldn’t your party be standing up for the rights of disabled people in the face of such unsympathetic treatment by the Tories?

Since Jeremy Corbyn has been leader of your party much good has been done such as the victory on tax credits and the prevention of cuts to the police service.  Are you able to do more to help bring the plight of disabled people to the public attention and ensure their rights to control, dignity and equality are met?

Speaking at the time of the closure of the ILF, Jeremy is quoted as saying:

“Today will be a day of deep anguish for many disabled people and their carers, as the government closes the Independent Living Fund. I have supported the campaign to save the ILF from the start and pledge to support its reinstatement.”

I believe your party needs to reaffirm your position on ILF and provide reassurance that the ILF system will be re-introduced nationally under a Labour government.  Sure, we have made progress in Wales but we shouldn’t have to go through such stress and I don’t believe the right to live independently should depend on where you live.  A UK-wide national system is what is needed for disabled people to look to the future with unequivocal confidence and security – wherever they reside.

Many thanks for your time and I look forward to hearing from you soon.

Nathan Lee Davies
https://nathanleedavies.wordpress.com/

In Response: Leanne Wood AM

I received the second response to my letter to the four main political party leaders in Wales from Leanne Wood AM of Plaid Cymru. I thank her for her reply to my concerns over the future of the Welsh Independent Living Grant (WILG), which I have shared below.

***

Dear Mr Davies,

Thank you for your email dated 30 November regarding Plaid Cymru’s response to the UK Government’s decision to close the Independent Living Fund (ILF). Please accept my apologies for the delay in responding to you.

Our MPs in Westminster have vehemently opposed this move in Westminster.  Our spokesperson on these matters, Hywel Williams MP, is particularly passionate about this issue as his brother benefitted directly from it and was enabled to live independently as a result of the ILF. It is a great shame that once again, the Welsh Government is forced to pick up the pieces in the wake of a UK Government intent on decimating valuable public services.

I also share your concerns about the Welsh Government’s response to the fund’s closure. Plaid Cymru has called for the Welsh Government to follow the example of Scotland and Northern Ireland in establishing its own scheme and this call was mentioned in the media. You can read about it on the disability wales website here. You can also read about this in greater detail, and about our wider approach to welfare support for disabled people, on our website here – although for clarity, this was clearly written before the decision to close the ILF was finalised.  

I hope this assures you of our position.

Warmest wishes,

Leanne Wood

Arweinydd Plaid Cymru ac Aelod Cynulliad Canol De Cymru

Leader of Plaid Cymru and South Wales Central Assembly Member 

 

***

 It’s no wonder I have a crush on Leanne Wood – she seems to genuinely understand the situation.

I am sorely tempted to vote for Plaid Cymru in May 2016 as the inspirational words and leadership of Leanne Wood make me feel safe and optimistic. This is more than I have felt under Welsh Labour in recent years, highlighted by their lack of decisiveness and clarity over the future of WILG. This inaction has left me feeling isolated, alone, let down and disposable as we enter the festive period.

In my book, Every Silver Lining has a Cloud, I describe my homesickness and unhappiness while living in Scotland. Six years after leaving the  Scottish Highlands and I sometimes wish that I still lived there now that the left-wing SNP have established control in Hollyrood and, amongst other refreshing and principled practices, have seamlessly rolled out the Scottish ILF.

I’d love to live in such a fair-minded society but as I’ve no intention of returning North of the Border I can only hope that either Welsh Labour wake from their trance and embrace the politics of their Westminster leader, or Leanne Wood and her Plaid politicians clear the deadwood and set Wales on a similar path to the one being blazed by the SNP in Scotland.

 

Fighting for independent living in Wales

ASSISTANCE NEEDED FROM PEOPLE ASSISTED BY ILF IN SCOTLAND OR NORTHERN IRELAND. PLEASE READ ON FOR FURTHER INFORMATION.

ADAPTED FROM Disability Rights UK Factsheet F698

The Independent Living Fund (ILF) was a, Government funded, discretionary scheme which helped people who had both day and night care needs and who were getting the high rate care component of Disability Living Allowance. Those helped under the scheme were able to receive a joint ILF/local authority funded care support package to help them live independently in the community rather than in residential care.

The UK-wide Independent Living Fund (ILF) has now been closed since 1 July 2015.

In England, local authorities are responsible for care provision rather than the ILF.

Meanwhile, disabled people in Scotland receive help from a new Scottish Independent Living Fund from ILF Scotland.  Northern Ireland have also set up their own ILF administered by Scotland.

In Wales we are clouded in uncertainty with the temporary Welsh Independent Living Grant (WILG) which is due to run until April 2017 – depending on confirmation beyond March 2016.

I have teamed up with a friend of mine – Sheila Meadows OBE – to launch a campaign to try to protect independent living in Wales by ensuring that when WILG finally expires it is replaced by something similar to what has been established in Scotland and Northern Ireland.

We certainly don’t want the Welsh government to follow the lead of England by giving funds for Independent Living to local authorities.  Councils are already under extreme financial pressures and the concern is that funds meant for the benefit of disabled people would be used in other areas such as education, transport or maintenance.

Therefore, I would like to ask disabled people, their families and carers in Scotland and Northern Ireland for their opinions and experiences of the new ILF packages they receive.  How was the transition from the ILF to the new Scottish administered system? Did you need to be reassessed to qualify for the fund? Have you had a reduction in your hours of care/work?  Have you experienced any glitches in the new system or is it as dependable as the former ILF?  Do you now have long term security? Has there been an increase or decrease in your personal contribution to the fund?

The answers to questions such as these would be central to our fight to create a similar system and sense of security in Wales.  Any help that you can provide would be greatly appreciated.  You can email me via the form on the Contact page, or tweet me at @nathanleedavies

ANY INFORMATION SHARED WILL BE TREATED CONFIDENTIALLY.

Many thanks and I look forward to hearing from you soon.

FURTHER READING

http://www.leaderlive.co.uk/news/149987/our-fight-to-fund-independent-lives-in-flintshire-and-wrexham.aspx#.VZu96zMTWf4.twitter

http://www.independentlivingfund.scot/

http://www.independentlivingfund.scot/northern-ireland-independent-living-fund/