Campaigners have written a damning open letter to Ed Miliband, in which they plead to Labour to “stop apologising for the welfare state” and urge the party leader to “defend the weak, the sick, the old, the poor”.
They go on to slam the party for “adopting Conservative language” and say that sick and disabled people have nowhere else to turn to for help.
The Labour Party “has a moral obligation to act”, the author of the letter writes, and reminds the Labour leader that sick and disabled people represent a “significant group” of voters who can “make all the difference at the next general election”.
The open letter reads:
“Dear Mr. Miliband,
“We never thought we would see a Britain in which terminally ill people rely on foodbanks to eat, or cancer patients miss their treatment because they don’t have the bus fare to get to the hospital. We never thought a bedroom for a severely disabled child would be seen as an undeserved luxury, or sick and disabled people would have their incomes reduced or removed for missing an appointment at the Jobcentre. We never thought people with incurable illnesses like Parkinson’s or Motor Neurone disease would be told by the Department for Work and Pensions that they would get better, and should prepare for work.
“But we are seeing all this and more. Quite simply, the sick and disabled people of Britain are facing an unprecedented crisis which we never imagined could happen in the UK. It is a national scandal.
“We are all of us caught up in a system worthy of Kafka. We are either awaiting assessments, or reassessments, appeals, or reconsiderations. Others are living in fear of being caught up in that system, and losing the means to survive. For us, there is no longer any ‘social security’, just an ever-present anxiety that at any moment the dreaded brown envelope may arrive on the doormat and put us at the brink of destitution. Some are just too ill to keep fighting, and simply give up.
“The Employment and Support Allowance fiasco has now escalated to a DWP case load of over 6 million. Over 4 million Work Capability Assessments have been carried out as part of the relentless programme of assessments triggered by the current government, and it was clear from the outset that Atos were never going to be able to cope. The human suffering caused by this reckless implementation of the over-rigorous & target-based Work Capability Assessment has now become a national scandal which demands immediate action.
“In May 2010 just 28,300 claimants were awaiting assessment: the same figure has now spiralled out of control to over three quarters of a million. Of 1.2 million people on longer term incapacity benefits tested, at least 80% have qualified under the much stricter Work Capability Assessment, showing us very clearly how ill they really are. These are the very same people who the right wing media have labelled as fakers and scroungers, and yet no publicity has been given to the fact that of these claimants, a mere 980 have been placed in work via the DWP’s Work Programme.
“It is absurd that the government are claiming success when the evidence is that over half a million claimants have successfully had decisions overturned in their favour, over three quarters of a million have reclaimed and many have ended their claims simply because they have recovered before being offered so much as an assessment.
“The DWP is using a deliberately protracted queue of claimants awaiting assessment as a means of concealing large numbers of claimants who have simply fallen off the radar, never to be caught by the National Statistics. You will appreciate the huge significance this has upon the dubious claims of historically low unemployment, currently being used to claim success for the Government’s ‘long term economic plan’.
“On Monday in the House of Commons, the Secretary of State for Work & Pensions employed lie upon lie to distract from his inability to deliver. Again and again the Coalition government has used selective or distorted statistics to provide provocative headlines which helped them to win public support on the welfare argument. We are the victims of these lies; we feel the effects in our everyday lives as attitudes to sick and disabled people become harsher, and people view us with suspicion as potential scroungers or fraudsters.
“Yet the truth is available. We can give you all the facts and evidence you need to challenge the propaganda. We need you to defend us, to defend the welfare state on which we depend, and expose the lies of the Coalition.
“At the moment Labour is sympathetic to the numerous tragic individual cases, but you are failing to take on the wider argument, be the party of truth and a real Opposition. We are looking to Labour to stop apologising for the welfare state, and to defend the social security we all need if illness or disability strikes. You could, if you used the information we have available, convince the public that they cannot trust the Coalition’s claims of success on welfare.
“As the party that established the welfare state and the NHS, many of us look to Labour to defend those institutions, and defend the people who need them most. As you have said yourself, the current government is very good at defending the interests of the strong, but very bad at defending the weak. We expect better from the Labour Party. We expect you to defend the weak, the sick, the old, the poor. Instead you seem to have adopted the Conservative language and agenda which is all about ‘hardworking people’, excluding all those of us who cannot work, or who have given up paid employment to care for a sick or disabled person.
“The Labour Party, and you personally, really need to get a sense of anger and urgency about this crisis. We have reached the stage where tinkering with the system is not enough, we need urgent and radical action. At the moment, the government is paying hundreds of millions of pounds to private companies to administer a disaster, and cause incalculable harm to people who already lead difficult lives. You must do something, you are the Opposition. We have nowhere else to turn, and terminally ill people cannot wait.
“If you do not feel a moral obligation to act, consider the fact that according to the Department for Work and Pensions, there are ‘over eleven million people with a limiting long term illness, impairment or disability in Great Britain’. In addition, according to Carers UK there are six and a half million carers. Electorally, we are a significant group. Our votes could make all the difference at the next General Election.
“Something is dramatically wrong Mr Miliband, and it is your duty as leader of the Opposition and as a prospective Prime Minister to make sure we get a fair hearing and a decent level of social protection.”
Source: New Approach