Wednesday 18 January 2012

Spartacus – what next?

How best to help people make their circumstances known
There is still a campaign to run and there are things we can still win and things we can avoid losing.

Lord Freud made a number of concessions last night, and technically he must hold himself to those. But we know already that he is a master tactician and will use any means he can to get his way. I expect no less of the rest of the DWP. I'm not by any means an expert on Parliamentary procedure but I know enough to know that there are many ways to abide by the letter of the agreement but not its spirit. For instance, it is possible to lay regulations before Parliament when Parliament is not sitting. Thereby any possible debate on the regulations is avoided.

Who's with us?
Labour were in power till May 2010. Labour were responsible for the bankers contract with ATOS (whereby ATOS, like bankers, get rewarded whether they get things right or not). This government has continued and endorsed that contract. Labour started, albeit ineffectually, the strategy of identifying IB claimants as illegitimate and getting them back onto cheaper benefits. But we don't get anywhere by blaming Labour for what they did then. They are in opposition now. It is their job to hold the government to scrutiny, and they are doing that job. (You can argue about their effectiveness.) In my case I will be allying myself with my opposition, while still working within the ranks of my own party to secure a better deal for disabled people. I think, by the way, that this is part of a longer and wider campaign. The DWP has declared war on benefits. Their tactics are underhand, their morals odious, the links with UNUM which they refuse to divulge are – well, let's just say, dubious. It's no coincidence that while the Lords were trying to defend the livelihoods of disabled people, UNUM were advertising their insurance schemes on TV.

What do we do?
As I said, there are things we can win and things we can avoid losing. We know we have a deadline for consultation on PIP. We must work to that deadline. That involves starting as soon as possible and doing the following.

We should encourage as many people as possible to respond with individual accounts.
We have to be sensitive to what people are capable of doing, but I think that what is most useful at this stage is not statements of disagreement (which the DWP will just discount) but detailed statements about the effect the proposed arrangements for PIP will have. Template letters as such are a bone of contention. The DWP has admitted that they ignored the 2500 template letters they received. So would I. You don't measure template letters by the individual sentiment, you measure them by volume. If the DWP had received 100,000 template letters, they would have thought more. So the template letter as such may still have a role to play.

What might be more useful is a to offer people a template process. Disabled people should respond to the PIP consultation with the following:

a) an account of their disability and the effect it has on their life
b) if they have a fluctuating condition, an account of what they're like when high and low
c) their own assessment of what benefit they would get under the published PIP rules
d) a statement as to whether they would lose money and how much
e) a statement of the effect that would have – as specific as possible - what activities they would lose (in particular whether giving up - work might be forced on them), what opportunities they would have to forgo, exactly how their life would be made more difficult or more miserable.

The aim in my mind is to destroy the DWP's rationale that they will concentrate the benefit on what they call the most needy. If we can demonstrate with account after account that the 500,000 they plan to deny benefits are just as needy as the others, then their rationale disappears.

Anyone who does submit evidence should be encouraged to copy the evidence to their MP, thus building up a head of pressure.  Any action that results is likely to be behind the scenes as much as in front. We saw that in action last night. Officially the DWP won the debate. But they had been frightened enough by the reaction and the publicity that Spartacus gained to make a number of mollifying moves in order to head off rebellion. If we apply enough pressure, if we have enough MPs whispering, look this is a bit much, then the same sort of thing will happen again. The DWP will claim massive support for the proposed measures while quietly amending them in our direction.

People who submit evidence should also be encouraged to copy it to Spartacus – for which Spartacus will need a central collection point. The aim of this is not only so that we can see what is happening, but so that we are ready to contest any claims the DWP might make that the consultation was overwhelmingly in favour of the proposals. The figures will not add up, but if DWP say they've got 80% approval from 5000 submissions, and we say, well, we've got 95% disapproval from the 2000 we know about, then they'll be in difficulties.

We need a timetable, to work backwards from the 15 week deadline.
Last date for submission of responses
Deadline for preparing a report on our experience of the consultation process
Deadline for preparing press releases – calculating when the most effective day to release them is: it's not a day before the end ot the consultation. (I'm not criticising what has been done – I think it's great that so much was achieved, and with such effect. I just think there are things we can improve.)

Will somebody have the time, I would say around week 10, to collate the responses we see and pull out general points which can form the basis of a sort of meta-submission, or a press release?

Other issues
List the journalists who gave us favourable coverage and keep them informed of developments. We don't need to bombard them with details, but a note or two with case studies and actions so far keeps us in their mind.

The press release I saw about the original Spartacus report was great, but it was far too long. The DWP has become expert at writing press releases in such a way that its favourite tabloids can just lift the copy straight out of the press release onto the page, preferably with headline. We need to do the same. Write the press release they way you expect the paper to write it. Supporting documentation goes in notes or on web pages to which the press release gives links.

I have other ideas but I think that will do for now.


Sam Barnett-Cormack said...

A few of us have been talking about a "spartacus response" to the consultation. This is roughly the lines as I was thinking along. Yes, time is limited, but there is time for those of us who need a week's rest to take it. The rest of us can think about what process we will follow when we get started, and then discuss the details with those who will be volunteering time once the week is out.

One thing thing to add - if we're encouraging individual submissions as well as collating, we need to encourage people to do it right. They need to actually answer the questions, but denying the premise of them where appropriate.

Oya's Daughter said...

Thank you for this and I have forwarded it to the Facebook pages. What I would wish to add to your article is as follows:

When it comes to the deadline, I would suggest everyone finish their PIP consultation views considerably in advance of the deadline; as was shown with the last consultation, it was cut off early (which we weren't even told about) and even debated two days before the final deadline. So, essentially they started collating and debriefing on information long before many of us had finished our drafts. I would therefore suggest people try to finish their responses within a 12 week period and assume that the final three weeks are moot.

I would also encourage everyone to make copies of the documents they send in as well as sharing them with a Spartacus Report database. The truth is that the disabled community isn't all online and the consultation isn't exactly being distributed to disabled people who can't get online. Therefore I've instructed people that if they know someone who is disabled but doesn't have access to the internet to print off and give people a copy, then to keep a copy themselves if they can.

I have also been encouraging social services and some employees of DWP itself to (anonymously if needed) put forth their views on the criteria in the PIP process. I was rather shocked that my son's social worker hadn't even heard of the consultation, which is rather alarming. Even more alarming was when she saw the criteria and was completely horrified at what was being proposed. I imagine it may get circulated through the office now and that will also hopefully prove that the "oh we'll they'll just get help somewhere else" isn't even remotely true. If people are on the lowest criteria, they won't "just be able to do ESA or get social care", especially if it doesn't exist.

Well done, and I'll try and get this round to people best I can as I do feel people are getting themselves into a tizzy about the criteria but are finding it difficult to put their views into words, which is what we need right now.

Fiona said...

DWP defined "standard responses" as one email/letter with same text as one other email/letter. So there could have been many many subsets of "standard response" all of which would have been lumped together, making it sound as though 1000s wrote exactly the same thing. Do we know that 2,500 said exactly the same thing? When I was involved with lobbying against changes to law on home education, Govnt discounted "campaign responses" which were all hugely varied but which they maintained had been whipped up Education Otherwise. This was quite simply not true. I was Chair of the Policy Group at the time & I told people not to bother with the consultation and to concentrate on Select Committee and lobbying MPs instead.

I guess what I'm saying is goalposts can be moved and genuine heartfelt responses can be discounted. Consultation percentages don't matter as they should. Press releases are good, with quotes + a bank of people willing/able to be photographed by journalists. There's a belief no-one will read it unless it's a sob story with high definition photo. National media will pick up on local stories, with a nudge.

Rob Parsons said...

All great responses, people -thanks. I think most of what we're talking about is being picked up over at the Spartacus page on Facebook. Fiona, I take your point about template letters. A request has been put in to get the other responses released under FOI, and I'm sure when they come out, we'll be in there filletting them.