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THINKING - December 2011

It’s the last day of 2011 and I am sitting at my computer thinking back over the year, meandering through items that I’d bookmarked to look at later when I came across this post from Where’s the Benefit on Things to do this Christmas to prevent the passing of the Welfare Reform Bill (WRB) in the House of Lords; the final reading is January 11th, 2012, I believe.

The Where’s the Benefit link above refers, amongst other things, to Pat’s Petition which aims to get the WRB paused. I looked at this petition some weeks ago and, looking now, am disappointed but not surprised to see less than 10,000 signatures currently on it (100,000 are needed to get the government’s attention).

Despite a full year and more of campaigning by numerous activists. with some positive inroads on media and government bodies, there is little evidence - based on campaigns, petitions and the like - that the millions of people who will be affected by this Bill are fully aware of how adversely it will impact upon them.

I do understand there has been little media focus on issues for genuine claimants, with most reporting being about overall costs and fraud; that people with disabilities have the lowest access to the internet and are often preoccupied with overwhelming health issues but the silence of millions is kind of scary, isn’t it?

Anecdotally, conversations with friends who have disabilities and, similarly, a few weeks ago in hospital, contact with people who have sundry disabling neurological illnesses echo media concerns. Even those who will be affected seem more concerned by the existence of fraud, and preventing this, than aware that, if this bill is passed, they will be reassessed, annually, by non-healthcare private company personnel, under strict orders to tighten the eligibility criteria for support.

Those currently in receipt of disability allowances and benefits think they have 'protected' status but, by migrating people from one system to another – DLA to PIP and IB to ESA - this bill will affect every recipient of state support, including those who have been disabled for many years with permanent and deteriorating conditions. All will be annually reassessed, it seems, even those with current 'indefinite' status - the incurable and terminally ill.

Whilst my small world is not necessarily representative of the wider one, the overwhelming view that if you are ‘deserving’, there will be no problem and things will be 'OK' worries me, even though I hope those adopting this approach are right.

However, reading the details highlighted by disability activists, the Welfare Reform Bill seems to be poorly thought through in its design, damaging in policy to many of those in genuine need and likely to cause considerable hardship if passed. As ever, it will all be about the application of policy, won't it? Should we be hopefully positive and do nothing or pause for thought, rework the contentious elements and protect those unable to speak up for themselves?

Find Pats Petition here and make your own mind up. I signed it.

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