Crippen – Heartless reforms to disability benefits defy logic

“Heartless” government reforms that will eventually scrap the “fitness for work” assessment “defy logic” and pose significant risks to sick and disabled people who cannot work, say activists who have fought for years to highlight the test’s fatal flaws.

In a nutshell, benefit claimants with significant impairments or long-term health conditions could face stricter conditions imposed by their work coach, including further benefit sanctions if they are unable to meet them.

The decision to scrap the work capability assessment (WCA), which has been blamed for countless deaths and years of harm caused to claimants since its introduction in 2008, was the centrepiece of a new disability benefits white paper published last week. The decision will mean disabled people who were previously assessed as not needing to carry out any work-related activity will in the future have to rely on the judgement of jobcentre work coaches to “determine what, if any, work-related activities an individual can participate in”.

The long-awaited white paper, Transforming Support, was published nearly four years after the government first announced it intended to reform support for disabled people who rely on the social security system.

But Ellen Clifford, disabled activist and author of the award-winning The War on Disabled People, was among many who raised serious safety concerns about their plans.

Ellen told John Pring, Editor of Disability News Service:

“After over a decade of fighting against the WCA, disabled campaigners should be celebrating the news. But we’re not – we are terrified of what is next!”

She said the measures were instead being introduced because of the failure of the WCA to reduce the number of disabled people who are not in work, and the government’s concerns about the high number of people who are not working or seeking work.

Ellen added:

“The deeply flawed strategy would inevitably result in enormous pressures in communities already pushed to their limits after more than a decade of austerity, social security reform and personal tragedies.

“The Conservatives wanted a social security system so punitive there is no safety net enabling anyone long term out of work for any reason to have anything near a semblance of a bearable life. Meanwhile, disabled people will be facing new nightmares with all their income dependent upon a single assessment known for wrongful decisions and at the mercy of a conditionality and sanctions regime that is known to discriminate against disabled people.”

Although the WCA would not be scrapped for several years – and even then, only if the Conservatives win the next general election – concerns about the welfare of sick and disabled claimants over the next few years were heightened by other measures announced in yesterday’s budget.

Budget documents pledge to strengthen the DWP sanctions regime and ensure “that Work Coaches have the tools and training to implement sanctions as effectively as possible”.

Description of cartoon for those using screen reading software.

A young disabled wheelchair user is positioned inside a large treadmill. A sign above it says ‘DWP Sanctions Treadmill’. A female is flicking a long whip at him whilst a suited colleague standing alongside of her is smiling and saying: “Try not to leave any marks – just enough to motivate them!” The man is holding a paper which reads ‘Transforming Support white paper’ and on the floor is another document reading ‘Disability News Service – more sanctions to be imposed by DWP’.

Crippen looks at those provocative charity collection figures

As part of my cartoon resurrection project, where I’m redrawing the old greyscale cartoons I created during the 1980’s and 90’s, I came across a couple of examples that included those life sized plaster models of disabled children carrying a collection tin and a slogan from one of the many charities that claimed to represent a particular impairment group.

Some of you will be familiar with the figure of the little boy that Barbara Lisicki, or to use her stage name Wanda Barbara, used as part of her comedy routine in the late eighties. She allegedly liberated it from outside of a W.H Smiths and ironically called it Chip, as in having a chip on its shoulder … a Crip with a chip!

And it got me thinking. Have you ever wondered why it’s been so difficult to change societies view of disabled people? Why we’ve continued to be seen as tragic, apathetic figures unable to shape our own futures or play any sort of positive role in society? Well, I largely blame these plaster replicas, with their tragic expressions and cowering postures. Positioned it seemed, outside every shop, clearly visible to passers by and accepted as part of the general fabric of their lives.

What was even more disturbing and what I’m sure has played an equally important part in miseducating the general public regarding their perception of disability, is the language that was used in their advertising. Terms such as ‘the spastic’, ‘the cripple’ and ‘the handicapped’, adorning these brightly painted figures. This use of the article/adjective ‘the’, still used as in ‘the disabled’ rendering us as an amorphous, characterless group, lacking individual characteristics and all tarred with the same brush.

Those disability charities still have a lot to answer for …

Crippen Cartoon Resurrection Project – Dave is currently undertaking a project which involves him redrawing the old greyscale cartoons he created back in the 1980’s and 90’s depicting the fight for civil rights by disabled people in the UK. You can find out more about this project by visiting the project page and supporting him in this important work.

Description of cartoon for those using screen reading software

Five brightly painted plaster charity collecting figures stand against a plain green background. The words ‘the handicapped’, ‘the crippled’ and ‘the spastic’ are displayed around the figures.

Crippen discovers that Pandemic ‘could be a cause’ of falling proportion of disabled people.

You’ll recall a Blog article I posted back in June 2021 about the high number of disabled people who had died due to the Covid pandemic when compared to the general population of the UK. Well, it looks a though official figures released by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) – based on the results from the 2021 census – confirms this.

In an article published in Disability News Service (DNS) The ONS confirms that the proportion of disabled people in England and Wales fell sharply in the 10 years between 2011 and 2021, possibly caused … by the disproportionate number of disabled people who died during the pandemic.

In Wales, where an even higher proportion of deaths linked to COVID-19 were of disabled people, the percentage of disabled people decreased even more sharply between 2011 and 2021.

ONS said that one of the contributing factors to the figures could have been the COVID-19 pandemic, with ONS figures showing “that disabled people were at greater risk of death during the pandemic, which could have led to fewer disabled people in the population”.

ONS has previously estimated that about 58 per cent of Covid-related deaths in England between January 2020 and March 2022 were of disabled people, while in Wales about 68 per cent of Covid-related deaths were of disabled people.

The ONS census figures released this week also show striking differences in the proportion of disabled people living in the most deprived areas of England and Wales, compared with the least deprived.

You can read more about this in the DNS article, which also carries an interesting breakdown of the ONS statistics.

Description of cartoon for those using screen reading software

A young family of four are standing outside a cage within which are two disabled people. On the cage is a sign that reads ‘endangered species’. One of the family members is holding a booklet with ‘museum guide’ printed on the front. On the floor is a piece of paper with ‘National Statistics – Less disabled people alive after Covid Pandemic’. One of the children is pointing at the cage with a question mark over his head. His father replies: “I’m not sure son – I think they used to be called the disabled!”

Crippen hears how Citizens Advice signed ‘gagging clause’ in exchange for £21 million from DWP

The national advice charity Citizens Advice have signed a £21 million contract which included a “gagging clause” that prevented it bringing the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) “unfairly” into “disrepute”, an official document has finally confirmed.

This document has only been released following pressure from our good friends at Disability News Service (DNS) who complained to the information commissioner that the DWP had resisted a freedom of information request to see the agreement.

Citizens Advice signed the Help to Claim contract last year, extending its agreement with DWP to provide support to people making a new claim for universal credit by another year. It shows that Citizens Advice agreed not to take any actions that “unfairly bring or are likely to unfairly bring [DWP’s] name or reputation and/or [DWP] into disrepute”.

The document again highlights the ongoing concerns over charities that sign lucrative DWP contracts that contain gagging clauses but still claim to represent and speak on behalf of disabled people and other benefit claimants.

Read more about this in DNS with comments from Manchester’s Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC) and Dr Jay Watts, a disabled activist and consultant clinical psychologist (@Shrink_at_Large).

Description of cartoon for those using screen reading software

The scene is set in a Citizens Advice office. A young Asian woman is sat at a table holding a piece of paper with ‘PIP’ and several question marks on it. A large question mark floats above her head. She is carrying a deaf/blind cane in her other hand. Sitting opposite her is a white male in a grey suit. He has his mouth taped up and is tethered like a puppet with strings leading to a cross piece above his head. Holding the cross piece is Therese Coffey, secretary of state for the DWP. She is standing on a large sack of money that has ‘£21 million pounds’ printed on it and is holding a document that has ‘gagging clause’ printed upon it. A large sign on the wall states that this is the Citizens Advice Bureau – the charity for the community. The word ‘community’ has been crossed out and replaced by the letters DWP!

Crippen discovers that Coffey scrapped plan for independent review of DWP sanctions

Well, she’s nothing if not consistent in her approach to her role as work and pensions secretary. As well as completely ignoring anything that shines a negative light upon the Department of Works and Pensions (DWP), Therese Coffey has now abandoned proposals for an independent review of its much-criticised sanctions policy.

The decision to further limit the effectiveness of the so-called DWP Excellence Plan is the latest example of how Coffey has watered down plans to prevent suicides and learn lessons from the deaths of benefit claimants.

Originally commissioned by her predecessor Amber Rudd MP back in 2019 this would have included a review of both policy and delivery of sanctions by her department and the adverse effect it has had on benefit claimants, especially thousands of disabled claimants.

Public Law Project (PLP), which last year published a report that found the system for challenging benefit sanctions posed “significant harm” to claimants, said DWP’s decision to scrap the review was “deeply disappointing”.

Among those disabled people whose deaths have been closely linked to the sanction’s regime was David Clapson, who died in July 2013 after being left destitute by having his benefits sanctioned.

In 2015, DWP admitted that 10 of 49 benefit claimants whose deaths had been investigated through secret “peer reviews” between 2012 and 2014 had had their payments sanctioned.

And in December 2022, MPs were warned that the “aggressive attitude” on benefit sanctions that was taken by DWP in the coalition years of 2013 to 2015 was “back with a vengeance”.

You can read the full story by John Pring, disabled journalist, in Disability News Service published on 26th January 2023.

Description of cartoon for those using screen reading software

Amber Rudd MP, former Works and Pensions Secretary, is standing alongside of the current Secretary Therese Coffey MP. On the floor between them is a torn-up document that reads ‘DWP Excellence Plan – Independent review’. Rudd is saying: “But you’re completely reversing all of my plans to make the DWP more accountable for its actions!” Coffey, with a fat cigar in one hand and an opened tin of beer in the other, replies: “And your point being?!”

Crippen discovers that assisted dying in Canada is to include those with mental illness

Since 2016, Canada’s medical assistance in dying programme – known by its acronym ‘Maid’ – has been available for adults with terminal illness. They are now looking to include mental illness within the criteria.

In 2021, the law was changed to include those with serious and chronic physical conditions, even if that condition was non-life threatening. In that first year, a little over 1,000 people received an assisted death, a number that has grown every year since. In 2021, the most recent figures available, there were 10,064 ‘Maid’ cases.

Later this year, it is expected to change again to include Canadians with mental illness. That planned expansion has ignited controversy over the assisted death programme as a whole and raised concerns that it may be too easy for the vulnerable (sic) to die in Canada. Those fears have been stoked by a recent string of reports suggesting that for some, death has been used as a stopgap for a broken social safety net, effectively letting society off the hook.

Early critics of the programme include three United Nations human rights experts, who wrote to the federal government in 2021 warning that the expanded law could devalue the lives of disabled people by implying that a serious disability was worse than death.

In Europe, Portugal’s parliament has also approved legislation to allow medically assisted suicide in limited circumstances.

For a further update on this article please go to the BBC World News site.

Description of cartoon for those using screen reading software

The scene is a high court with solicitors, barristers and members of the public clustered around a tall witness box. In the box is a while male dressed in a blue suit and looking confused. Opposite him is a white male judge, sitting in his own tall box. He is wearing a wig with a black cap perched on the top and is saying: “ I therefore sentence you to death for having a mental illness!”

Crippen and the continuing story of how the EHRC loses even more credibility

You may recall me having suggested that the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) wasn’t fit for purpose and that they had lost all credibility with disabled people by rubber stamping any government disability related issue.

Well, they’ve sunk further down in our estimation having failed to consult its own board members and disabled advisers before deciding to delay and enquiry into the government’s work capability assessment and its links with the deaths of benefit claimants.

The decision by the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) was taken only by the senior staff members on its executive group, with no attempt to consult the watchdog’s chair, its other commissioners or its disability advisory committee (DAC). The only member of the EHRC board involved in the decision was its chief executive, Rebecca Hilsenrath, papers released to Disability News Service (DNS) under the Freedom of Information Act have revealed.

The EHRC papers confirm that the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) inquiry has now been “deprioritised” and that the commission accepts that this decision could have a “detrimental impact on stakeholder relationships”.

One of the EHRC papers released to DNS reveals that among the principles the commission used to prioritise its work through the pandemic was whether it was “critical to our international standing or reputation”.

The papers also reveal that the postponed inquiry was to look specifically at “DWP work capability assessments decision making”, a focus of attention for disabled activists over the last decade and right at the centre of links between DWP’s actions and the avoidable deaths of benefit claimants.

You can read more about this in Disability News Service in an article written by disabled journalist and Editor John Pring.

Description of cartoon for those using screen reading software

Rebecca Hilsenrath is sat at her desk with a name plate identifying her a being the Chief Executive of the Equality and Human Rights Commission.  In a wastepaper bin alongside her desk is a piece of paper with the words ‘WCA deaths of claimants’ crossed out on it. She is holding a mobile phone into which she is saying: “Yes Minister, I think the term we can best use to describe what has happened to the DWP death enquiry is that it’s been deprioritised!”

Crippen trips over another new Minister for disabled people

Shuffle … shuffle … shuffle …

They’re at it again as another Tory MP is selected to become the Minister for Disabled People. This time it’s that clean cut white boy Tom Pursglove, MP for Corby and East Northamptonshire. With his big smile and shiny teeth, you’d be forgiven for mistaking him for someone who sells double glazing!

When are they going to put a disabled person in the post and leave them to do a proper job, with adequate resources to develop the role? Although this is the Tory government we’re talking about, and when did they give a shit about disabled people other than to attempt to cull us all by exposing us to the Covid virus!

Come the revolution …

Description of cartoon for those using screen reading software

A white male wearing a smart grey suit is standing alongside of a sign that reads ‘Minister for disabled people’. There is a space on the sign for the Minister’s name which the man is holding. It reads ‘Tom Pursglove’. On the floor beneath the sign is a pile of several more name boards with the names Cloe Smith, Justin Tomlinson, Sarah Newton and Penny Mordaunt. The man is saying: “They’ve told me not to bother putting my name up as I’ll be gone in a few months!”

Crippen’s original cartoons still challenging society’s attitudes

Hi folks,

My apologies for the lack of blogs over the past few weeks. I’ve been concentrating on resurrecting those old cartoons that I created back in the 1980’s and 90’s, changing them from the grainy grey scale images to my current, more accessible coloured style. Here’s an example …

I’m still knocking on the various fund-raising doors and now have Alison Smith handling this side of things for me. With her experience with the Arts Council and other arts bodies over the years, things are looking very positive for the New Year. I’m also still getting funding in from your good selves through the Crowd Funding/Just Giving platforms. Thanks for your support in this respect.

It’s been fun looking through these old cartoons, some never having made it to print as the opportunities back then were few and far between. Fortunately, I kept a lot of my scribbled notes and rough sketches for ideas based around the formation of the Greater Manchester Coalition of Disabled People (GMCDP) and the British Council Of Disabled People (BDODP).

Unsurprisingly, many of these earlier works are still as relevant today as they were some 40 years ago. Nothing much has changed really, especially with regard to the general public’s attitudes towards disability and how they expect us to live our lives.

This cartoon is one example that has had several manifestations over the years. The point being that we are still viewed as asexual beings with any suggestion that we can also have same sex and transgender experiences causing mass hysterias amongst the so called “normals”!

For those of you who may still wish to contribute to my Cartoon Resurrection Project, here’s the link to my Just Giving page. Thank you.

Description of cartoon for those using screen reading software

Two disabled women are looking down at an older white male who has just fainted and is lying on the ground. Alongside him is a clip board with a survey form on it which reads ‘Survey – the disabled and their habits’. The wheelchair user of the pair is saying: “Do you think it would have been better if I’d just left it that we are disabled women … without adding that we enjoy sex together?!”

Crippen resurrects his old cartoons

It was recently pointed out to me that my cartoons provide one of the most comprehensive records of the past 40 years of the disabled people’s movement in the UK. These cartoons cover the early demonstrations and accessible transport protests of the 1980’s and 1990’s as well as the political shenanigans of the governments of the time and the rise and fall of the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) and other legislation.

Because many of these early cartoons were created for early printed publications, they were produced in a greyscale format. Unfortunately, when attempting to use this online, there is often no clear definition between shaded areas of the cartoon, and they become inaccessible. Ideally, these all need to be reworked in order that they can be made accessible to a modern online audience.

Obviously, when I’m doing this, I’m not earning and will therefore have to look for funding to keep the wolves from the door. I’ve set up a Just Giving page so that people can towards supporting me whilst I complete this body of work.

PS: I’m sending a 2023 Crippen Cartoon Calendar (pdf) to everyone who contributes.

Description of cartoon for those using screen reading software

A white male with grey hair and a large grey mustache wearing a white lab coat is pointing at some writing on a white board alongside of him. It reads: Lecture – how the handicapped can learn to cope and come to terms with being inferior to normal people by A N Expert’. A young black male in a self-propelled wheelchair is behind him and has lifted up the lab coat to peer at his bottom. A white female is standing behind the wheelchair user and is saying: “It’s OK Professor – it’s just that he’s never seen anyone talk out of their arse before!”