Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Liberal Democrat MPs fight for blind people hit by welfare changes


The Independent reports that Liberal Democrat MPs are trying to change the new assessment process for the Personal Independence Payments  which will replace Disability Living Allowance. They believe that they may lead to blind people being denied the help that they need. This is a measure introduced by the Welfare Reform Act. The MPs are concerned that the new assessment process focuses on mobility  and does not sufficiently take into account the ways in which being blind or partially sighted can affect everyday life.

People who have sight loss need the extra help to, for example, help with cleaning, ironing or transport costs. They often need to pay for transport. If the place where they live has no buses after 6pm, then they may well have to rely on taxis in order to be able to enjoy a reasonable quality of life or to get to and from work at unsocial hours.  The money they currently receive under DLA is a lifeline.

The Independent article is written in the terms of rebellion and U-turns. However, if you look at the details, it seems to me like the sort of businesslike advocacy we would expect from our MPs. They can see that there is a problem and they are contacting the minister responsible and asking him to look again at this before the system is implemented next April. There is time to change it.

Especially interesting is that it's not just the "Awkward Squad" who are involved. The concerned MPs range from Jo Swinson, Nick Clegg's PPS, to Jenny Willott in the Whip's Office to the usual suspects like Bob Russell and Mike Hancock.

The Parliamentary Party appears to be united in its desire to have this issue sorted. For blind and partially sighted people across the whole country, it's very important that they succeed.

8 comments:

Munguin said...

Great news Caron. What a shame that its the Lib Dems (and not just the awkward squad) that voted for these welfare reforms in the first place, that have placed all these vulnerable people in this invidious situation. You do remember the Lib Dems voting for the welfare reforms don’t you Caron? Because the last time we all counted the Tories didn’t have enough to get them all passed, therefore it’s down to you and your cronies. But don’t take my word for it Caron go out on that mythical doorstep where everyone tells Nick Clegg and Willie Rennie that they understand that you are doing this in the national interest etc etc and they will vote for you. And then they don’t. In Droves! Somebody must be lying somewhere. Wonder who? Seems that the voting public are blaming the Lib Dems for supporting the Tories and their odious right wing agenda. The way you are going there wont be a Lib Dem party left by 2015. Triples all round!

Munguin said...

Great news Caron. What a shame that its the Lib Dems (and not just the awkward squad) that voted for these welfare reforms in the first place, that have placed all these vulnerable people in this invidious situation. You do remember the Lib Dems voting for the welfare reforms don’t you Caron? Because the last time we all counted the Tories didn’t have enough to get them all passed, therefore it’s down to you and your cronies. But don’t take my word for it Caron go out on that mythical doorstep where everyone tells Nick Clegg and Willie Rennie that they understand that you are doing this in the national interest etc etc and they will vote for you. And then they don’t. In Droves! Somebody must be lying somewhere. Wonder who? Seems that the voting public are blaming the Lib Dems for supporting the Tories and their odious right wing agenda. The way you are going there wont be a Lib Dem party left by 2015. Triples all round!

burkesworks said...

Pretty much what Munguin said. All these words are fine but count for absolutely nothing as long as Lib Dem MPs continue to troop through the same lobbies as the heartless Tory government that they are enabling. This is the reason why I left the party and won't be in any hurry to return.

Gwenhwyfaer said...

I have to third burkesworks and Minguin. PIP wouldn't even exist had the Lib Dem MPs not colluded with a corrupt process - in defiance of even their own membership! - to bring it about. And blind people are far from the only group who will, contrary to both natural justice and common sense, lose essential support. This is the very embodiment of "too little, too late".

Gwenhwyfaer said...

I have to third burkesworks and Minguin. PIP wouldn't even exist had the Lib Dem MPs not colluded with a corrupt process - in defiance of even their own membership! - to bring it about. And blind people are far from the only group who will, contrary to both natural justice and common sense, lose essential support. This is the very embodiment of "too little, too late".

Caron said...

Munguin will certainly know that there are aspects of the Welfare Reform Bill that I find completely unpalatable. Many of the principles - ending the poverty trap, simplifying the system etc are good, though. People have been parked on benefits and left trapped for years and that's not good for them - many people would love to work but can't and this will free them up.

I disapprove of many of the cuts to sickness and disability benefits. However, I don't disagree in principle with an assessment process as long as it's fair. The ATOS one is not at the moment fair. The letter of the legislation didn't have the exact assessment system in it. It's quite sensible that now Lib Dem MPs have seen the problems with the proposed system that they try to change it.

Gwenhwyfaer said...

(Sorry, Munguin, for misspelling your name.)

"Many of the principles - ending the poverty trap, simplifying the system etc are good"

I would disagree with that. They're superficially attractive, but also dangerously naive, and many of the proposals that are advanced using these as taglines actually have quite the opposite effect from that proposed. It's like programming. The new guy will say "let's rewrite everything!" - and the sager head will remind him that the complexity of the program as is reflects the accumulated decade of tweaking it to accurately reflect how the world actually works, as opposed to someone's necessarily oversimplistic model of how it should work. The same is abundantly true of benefits systems; the special cases and exceptions which make the system so complex to navigate are all there for a reason, and would have to be either preserved or reintroduced into a new system. At best, nothing would be gained, and at worst, decades of misery would be endured by those least able to endure it as the system recovers its lost wisdom. Politicians tinker with these things at our peril, not theirs - and knowing, as IDS apparently does, that "I am just the person to do this!" does not reflect intelligence or dedication, but a coupling of stupidity and arrogance which ought to render the bearer temperamentally unsuitable for any public office whatsoever!

I'll say that again - anyone who's actually intelligent enough to reform welfare is also intelligent enough to understand why it has to be done gradually and incrementally, with verification and trials at every point along the way. Unfortunately, that calibre of person no longer considers public office a viable use of their time.

"many people would love to work but can't"

I think you'll find that the very last thing holding them back from work is the benefits system - and for those who are so held back, the issue - that the benefits system has no tolerance of failure; that once you try something, you can't step back from it without losing everything - will not only survive into the Shiny New Replacement, but be exacerbated by it. High marginal tax rates? I haven't heard anything that will mitigate those either - and yes, I know that was supposed to be the point of UC, but the exceptions will kill that objective - but for disabled people they're right at the bottom of the heap of problems. RIGHT at the bottom.

(continued in next comment)

Gwenhwyfaer said...

(continued from previous comment)

"I don't disagree in principle with an assessment process as long as it's fair"

That's another of those seductively simplistic lines of argument. Of all people, the Lib Dems will be aware that something as simple as a 3-candidate election cannot be decided with absolute fairness; there's simply no system which exists that isn't a trade-off. How much more likely it is that a complex system such as welfare entitlements cannot be decided fairly! The question is - how much iniquity, and in what distribution, are you prepared to tolerate? Rigid guidelines, as implemented by ESA today and proposed for PIP? Some people are going to lose out hard; the complex web of disability can't be reduced to a couple of dozen box-tick criteria. So we could swing the other way, and say "right, your GP has absolute discretion over what level of benefits you get". Great, except for people like me, who are scared of going to their GPs because we don't believe we're going to get a fair hearing... and that's before we get onto those people who don't get a fair hearing from their GPs for quasi-religious reasons (eg. their GP doesn't believe in their condition, or their GP is somewhere to the right of Mengele).

Now I agree, the ATOS one is, if not the worst possible system, a good demonstration of how to achieve the worst practical system. But that's the system the Lib Dem MPs voted to introduce for the replacement for DLA - a benefit which needed reforming in the other direction; its horrendously complicated, hurdle-laden application process needed to be dramatically simplified, not made even worse by farming out a checklist with no connection to reality to a bunch of mercenaries! And if the Lib Dem MPs weren't aware that this was what was being done to DLA before they voted it through, they were frankly asleep on the job and should resign their seats immediately to let some people who are going to pay proper attention come in instead. The only sensible conclusion to draw is that any Lib Dem MP or peer who voted for the proposals understood and agreed to them, as they were discussed - not just written, but discussed. Tinkering at the edges for the groups with the biggest lobbies now is going to lead to an even more unfair system; there's no way it can't, because you're piling additional discrimination on top of a proposed system which was unfair by design. (And that's leaving aside the fact that you can't get everything right at the design stage anyway; complex systems have to evolve if they're going to work at all - another lesson from both computer science and biology.)

I'm scared stiff by the shallowness of thought surrounding the entire debate about what constitutes a good welfare system. And that include the shallowness of my own thoughts; without wishing to toot my own horn, I'm apparently pretty bright - yet I know that my own awareness of how far the complexity of the problem escapes me is far from complete. To hear people speaking about how simple it all is - bluntly - only reveals how simple they are. It's not. And it has to not be, otherwise it won't be worth having at all.

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