I normally try and say something humorous, or incorporate an interesting piece of trivia, to start off my blog posts, but on this occasion I thought I would just pinch a quote from someone else to pique your interest:
"Disabled people are disproportionately reliant upon benefits and state support and therefore any change that we are talking about will create interest and attract the attention of disabled people and disabled people's organisations. But the very clear objective of the government is that we are supporting disabled people to live more independent lives."
This was in fact the sentiment expressed by the Minister for Disabled People, Maria Miller MP, when she was interviewed by Guardian reporter, Amelia Gentleman, in February this year. For some strange reason, I have an image in my head of Maria perched on the edge of her chair, shouting these words to the interviewer through a megaphone, and dressed up as Lance Corporal Jack Jones from Dad’s Army; her sentences punctured every so often by screeches of “Don’t panic! Don’t panic!”, as civil servants dart about her in chaotic fashion.
Despite my overactive imagination, there must be some kernel of truth, because it is clear the Government’s assurances aren’t working and that is why the grassroots Hardest Hit campaign is now taking to the streets again.
On Saturday (17 September), Liberal Youth is tabling a motion at Liberal Democrat Conference in Birmingham, about the Employment and Support Allowance (ESA), which reflects many of our key concerns around the ESA and the Work Capability Assessment. It calls for:
1. The Government to continue to implement Professor Harrington's recommendations on reforming the WCA as a priority, in addition to an emphasis on:
a) Clearer Assessment criteria and descriptors, to make it more apparent under what circumstances ESA is paid.
b) Ensuring greater accuracy in Assessment, particularly for those with fluctuating conditions.
c) A less stressful Assessment process.
d) People with disabilities getting the support they need.
2. Opposition to an arbitrary time limit on how long claimants can claim contributory ESA.
3. All ESA claimants going to appeal to be given access to adequate representation.
Needless to say, if you are a voting member of the Liberal Democrats and are planning on attending the conference at Birmingham's ICC, please vote in favour of the motion. It has the ability to galvanise the Lib Dem backbenches, and potentially the frontbench too (someone from Clegg's office is on the committee that approved the motion for debate at the conference) in favour of our position.
If you are not a voting Lib Dem you can still help by distributing flyers outside the Lib Dem conference this Saturday ahead of the debate on the motion. Matt Davies, UK Parliamentary Manager at the Royal National Institute for the Blind is organising the leafleting (mobile: 07979 24 62 31; email: firstname.lastname@example.org) and will be attending the conference. He will be bringing 1,000 flyers with him, which will be distributed from 1.30pm onwards.
If a lot of people turn up to help at 1.30pm all the flyers could all be handed out quite quickly. We wouldn't want volunteers to travel a long way to Birmingham and then find there's nothing left for you to do, so you might like to bring along your own flyers to distribute too, and a PDF document of the Hardest Hit flyer can be obtained by emailing me at email@example.com in advance and then printing off your own copies. Please note that Hardest Hit campaign deliberately isn't doing a demonstration at the Lib Dem conference as we want to concentrate on getting our message about the motion across to delegates rather than harassing them.
There are likely to be further direct campaigning opportunities at the Labour and Conservative party conferences and a series of regional marches are planned across England on the 22nd of October. Information about the marches can be found on the Hardest Hit website: thehardesthit.wordpress.com, where you can also protest online by sending in your words and pictures.
If you are planning on attending any of the Hardest Hit events, make sure you let NRAS know so we can help publicise your activities and provide as much support as we can.
Good luck everyone!