The issues that ACT NOW and every other disability campaign group have been campaigning about are now coming to a head as the Welfare Reform Bill makes its way towards the finishing line in the House of Lords.
This last week has left ACT NOW wondering if for the last 18 months we have been fighting a campaign on a cause that does not exist - why on earth would we wonder that you may ask?
When ACT NOW started we were extremely concerned that the cuts to budgets and the changes and reforms to benefits were going to have a catastrophic impact on the lives of thousands of people within the autism community. We rolled out our concerns and we have steadfastly campaigned in the 18 months since.
On Thursday Night, Newsnight gave air space to one of the authors of the Spartacus Report. Sue Marsh, who given the biased Newsnight reporting in favour of the Government, did what she was there to do, against the Minister for the Dept of Work and Pensions Chris Grayling.
After watching this interview, ACT NOW has been left wondering if we are in fact clueless as to what the real issues are within the Coalition Government’s Welfare Reform Bill.
Are we even right to have concerns about this Bill and why are we campaigning so ardently against it?
Chris Grayling made the following statement on Newsnight: "Let’s be clear about what we’re not doing. We are not taking away benefits from people who have no other income..."
He continued: “We are not taking away benefits from people who are not going to be able to work again. We are making changes for people who’ve got another income, or who’ve got thousands of pounds of savings in the bank...so that’s the principle of what we’re doing.”
Newsnight Presenter Sue Maitlis responded: “Sure and that was presumably understood pretty well by those in the Lords"?
It is not 'understood pretty well' by ACT NOW!
We have written to Chris Grayling many times, he has responded in writing every time and not once did he say to us that only people with 'thousands of pounds of savings in the bank' will lose their benefit or that only those with 'another income' will either.
Why is the Coalition Government not shouting this from the roof tops? Why do people need an assessment if the only way that you are going to lose benefit is if you have an alternative income or thousands of pounds in the bank? Surely looking at bank statements would show the source of an alternative income and would be the way to confirm entitlement?
We want to know what on earth Chris Grayling was talking about and why was such sloppy journalism allowed on an apparently neutral politics programme? We were almost speechless when we realised the paint job that was taking place on Newsnight - speechless but not entirely surprised. We would also like to contest what Mr. Grayling went on to say about the work programme, he stated:
"We’ve put in place specialist support to help people who’ve got the potential to return to work to do so’..."
This is not what ACT NOW is hearing from adults with autism (or their parents, carers or advocates) who are being placed on this programme - there is no 'specialist support' or at best, it's a postcode lottery.
Just last week a supporter of ACT NOW told us that a work programme provider has admitted to not fully understanding autism. As a result, an adult with autism is having to have a second interview because the adult has not fully understood the process, despite an advocate being present. The advocate will be allowed to attend for the second interview but once again, the adult with autism has to answer all of the questions without assistance. The same work programme provider has suggested the adult would be better off in a programme where staff understand autism better. Where does that leave this young person?
This is not an isolated case. We have had reports from our supporters across the UK telling us work programme providers have very little (if any) knowledge of autism.
The Government statistics rolled out after the DLA consultation did not tell the truth. The Spartacus Report has conclusively proven that and the truth was not discussed on Newsnight.
We were happy that finally the BBC and some other media groups are now talking about the Bill and it's shortcomings but it was at best severely bent and at worst it was yet another lie...
...a lie perpetrated by a Government who will not let a bunch of people, they deem to be not quite disabled enough, stop them from achieving their goals.
Lord Patel put it quite succinctly to Lord Freud: "If you are going to rob the poor to pay the rich, we have entered a different form of morality."
Here is Sue's blog post, with a reminder for everyone of the Conservative Manifesto Pledges on disability and care in 2010: Diary Of A Benefit Scrounger