The following is a briefing statement prepared by the Black Triangle Campaign with the support of Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC) for members of the House of Lords who have supported the amendments to the Welfare Reform Bill.
If you agree with the contents of the communication simply copy and paste it to an email and send it to all Labour and Cross Bench peers on the contact list which we have published immediately below the text.
You may wish to print this out and post it by first class mail to arrive at the House of Lords tomorrow morning (House of Lords, London SW1A OAA) – to those Lords who do not have a published email address. The debate on the Commons’ response to the Lords’ amendments is scheduled to commence at 2.30 tomorrow afternoon – Tuesday 14th February 2012 – so there is still time if you act now.
The more of you who participate in this mailing exercise, the better our chances that peers will dig their heels in and insist upon their amendments to the bill being reconsidered by the Government and a compromise arrived at.
If no compromise is reached, and the bill is not passed before April, it will fail and the Government will have to reintroduce it next year invoking the Parliament Acts in order to pass it into law without the consent of the members of the upper house of our legislature.
This outcome would constitute ‘a stay of execution’ for millions of our sick and/or disabled people who will be severely and adversely affected by these cuts and would grant us precious time in which to campaign to overturn these wicked Government policies.
The tide may yet turn. We must never give up hope or our struggle to realise full respect for the human rights, inclusion and equality of disabled people within our society.
It’s in our hands. Let’s have one last push now and hope that fate and fortune will meet us halfway.
At least we will always be able to say that we hoped against hope and struggled through to the very last, leaving no stone unturned.
Whatever the outcome, we will be able to feel proud of that. And we will NEVER give up our struggle until our full human rights are restored to us.
We are the custodians of our past and today we continue to make OUR history.
Yours in solidarity always,
Black Triangle Anti-Defamation Campaign in Defence of Disability Rights
P.S. Please share and share and share and use the hashtag #reekiebrief on twitter
In recent weeks, members of the House of Lords have worked exceedingly hard to fulfil their duty to scrutinise the Government’s proposed Welfare Reform Bill.
You scrutinised the bill line by line, examining the minutiae and weighing in the balance the likely effects its proposals would have on all our sick and/or disabled people were it to pass in its current form.
The amendments which you have made to the bill are both modest and wise.
They came into being as a result of careful examination of all the facts before you and a matching degree of excellence in your conscientious deliberation upon the issues it raised.
The seven amendments which you have made are crucial to the continued preservation of the health and well-being of literally millions of our citizens, a great multitude of whom must be numbered among some of the most vulnerable people in our society today.
As disabled people, we will be forever grateful to you for voting for these amendments and for speaking out on our behalf. In so doing, you have acted as guardians of the national conscience and as a true friend of disabled people.
When we spoke to you, you listened to us carefully and you acted to protect us from harm.
For all this you must be, rightly and justifiably, immensely proud of the work you have done and we wish to thank you from the very bottom of our hearts.
The scale of opposition to the bill
As is well known, the Welfare Reform Bill enjoys precious little or indeed no support whatsoever from disability charities or campaigners; disabled people’s organisations, professional bodies, the trade union movement or religious organisations.
Nearly all of these groups have spoken out both publicly and loudly in voicing their outright opposition and condemnation of the bill and all have warned of the devastating effects it will have on our disabled people.
Taken altogether, this makes up a constituency of, quite literally, many, many millions of people across every sector of civil society.
In response, the Government for its part remained true to form in maintaining its default position of publicly portraying claimants as unworthy benefit scroungers who were “earning more in benefits” in a year than millions of “hard-working families” who went out every morning and busted their guts for a living while these ‘others’ spent their days lying in bed and claiming up to 26,000.
Truth, as they say, is the first casualty of war.
The fate of the amendments
You passed seven amendments in all in defence of the fundamental human rights, dignity and freedom of sick and/or disabled people.
We are appalled that these seven great victories for sanity, common sense, human decency and compassion were annulled by the Government in one disgraceful afternoon in the House of Commons.
It was an afternoon that must go down in infamy.
All of us were witnesses to the unedifying, disgraceful and frankly inhumane spectacle of members of the government benches yah-booing, sniggering and sniping at members opposite whilst they recounted in substantial detail the real-life, heart rending horror stories of the absolutely devastating impact that cuts to welfare and social care services are already having on disabled people and their families in their respective constituencies. This memory haunts us and should shame us as a nation.
We note also that the Government has sought to put an end to any further discussion of the bill by invoking the doctrine of “Financial Privilege”.
We have read up on and carefully considered the current legal and constitutional arguments surrounding this move and have considered the note by the Clerk of the House and the Clerk of Legislation.
Armed with this information, we call write today to call upon you not to give up your fight in defence of our human rights and to robustly reject the Government’s assertions as a blatant breach of our constitutional conventions.
Ideally, we would like to see all the Labour, Cross Bench and Liberal Democrat peers in the House of Lords who supported the amendments to reject this immoral and unconscionable Welfare Reform Bill in its entirety.
We see it as an utter affront and an outrage to our commonly held values of decency and compassion in our treatment and care for one another as fellow and equal members of the society in which we live together.
We are, however, cognisant of the reality – that to reject this bill in such an outright manner would not be an acceptable to many of you who supported the amendments and voted them through.
We are therefore appealing to you to stand firm and insist that the Government backs down and accepts these modest amendments.
Our country and, with it, the House of Lords now stands at a pivotal moment in our history.
We say that we are at a crossroads and the time has come to make a stand for what is right, just and true.
The welfare state, the British constitution, liberty, democracy and the rule of law
As a people, Britons have historically been known for a shared sense of common decency and ‘fair-play’ a keen sense right and wrong and compassion for those less fortunate than themselves.
These very same values are those which have made up the strong foundation upon which our welfare state and National Health Service were built.
We also like to think of ourselves as people who believe strongly in justice, freedom, democracy, the rule of law and respect for the fundamental human rights of all.
These are the things that have been known to ‘make us tick’ as a society throughout the entire world – whether or not the actions of successive governments have managed to live up to and reflect these values in the international arena.
These are the principles, when associated with Britain, of which most people, when questioned, say that they feel most pride in as Britons.
But now we are being robbed of this pride as all these principles are being fatally undermined by the actions of the coalition government.
We suggest that Britain today is both in a state of constitutional crisis and that there exists a democratic deficit that is the genesis of a crisis of democratic legitimacy.
Why our constitution is in crisis and is failing us badly
When our present government came to power in May 2010, it did so on a mere 23% share of the popular vote.
A coalition government was formed on the basis of agreements made between the elites of both Conservative and Liberal Democrat parties without the democratic mandate of our people.
It is a Government that is now intent on forcing upon our population extreme right-wing policies, legislation and cuts to services in the fields of welfare, health and social care and justice.
They are policies and actions for which the electorate have not voted for and which did not appear in any party political manifesto. The Welfare Reform Bill did not form part of the Coalition Agreement and runs directly counter to the expressed wishes of rank and file Liberal Democrats members who voted to pass motions to ensure that many of the amendments for which you voted are Liberal Democrat party policy.
All those Liberal Democrats who have voted with the Government have done so in direct contravention of their own party’s policies, formulated, debated and passed at an autumn conference held under the slogan “In Government, on your side”!
What is crystal clear to us now, as disabled people, is that any pretence at ‘democracy’ by this coalition government is as much of a sham as was the Government’s completely bogus ‘consultation’ with disabled people over ‘reform’ of Disability Living Allowance and the introduction of Personal Independence Payments, fully exposed in the contents of our Spartacus Report.
Indeed, Lord Freud has now been forced to admit to John Pring of Disability News Service that the Government did not even conduct the most elementary task of quantitative statistical analysis of the submissions which prove that there was in fact overwhelming opposition on the part of the vast majority of respondents to the substance of proposed changes.
The coalition’s conduct in the above matters has again, quite literally, been shown to be both mendacious and fraudulent.
These policies and actions do not enjoy the political mandate which would ordinarily flow from either sovereign political will of our people expressed through the exercise of a genuine democratic choice at the ballot box or any from any other genuine attempt at consultation with our population as stipulated by law and convention.
This coalition is now behaving, we suggest, in the manner of a ‘rogue’ government, is acting ultra vires and is completely out of control.
It’s invocation of ‘emergency’ powers, the setting of ’emergency’ budgets and forcing through of contentious and ill-conceived and poorly considered legislation on the back of these all point to this fact.
Unless and until this democratic deficit is addressed, the spectre of civil unrest and disobedience will continue to grow for when a government completely stops listening to its people, it follows that people will soon stop listening to, and turn against, their government. This is now a very real danger.
The purpose and function of a constitution in an open, free, and democratic society and the nullification of all seven amendments without just reasons or procedures
The purpose and function of a constitution and the rule of law in a liberal democracy is to establish and maintain a set of rules, procedures, conventions and ‘check and balances’ which should serve as a bulwark against the arbitrary exercise and abuse of power by the executive branch of government whilst simultaneously giving effect to the sovereign will of the people in an open, free and democratic society.
We submit that by its nullification of all seven of the amendments without giving proper reasons and its refusal to compromise on any grounds citing Financial Privilege the Government has violated constitutional convention and is, in fact, engaging in the exercise of arbitrary power and constitutes, prima facie, an abuse of power.
This behaviour must be vigorously resisted by your Lordships if our constitution and our democracy is to be preserved from wholesale emasculation.
Financial Privilege as applied to the welfare bill and the moral and ethical standards of our society
In his response to arguments that slashing welfare payments was justified by the need for deficit reduction, Lord Patel stated our ethical concerns succinctly when he said:
“If we are going to rob the poor to pay the rich, then we enter into a different form of morality.”
Baroness Hollis, speaking in a debate in which took place in November 2008, used a formulation of words that similarly reflects our current level of burning worry and anxiety surrounding the use of the Financial Privilege rule to stifle debate and opposition to government legislation in the upper house when she said:
”Would my noble friend be happy if, as a result, virtually all social security regulations were not debatable by this House because they came with a flag saying financial privilege? I find this the beginning of an extraordinarily slippery slope and I am profoundly worried.” (HL Deb, 25 Nov 2008, col. 1364-65)
Her words have proved to be prophetic because of the extraordinarily wide breadth of the privilege stated on 2nd February 2012 by the Chancellor, Lord Strathclyde, when he said that:
”Any amendment with implications for public expenditure might involve privilege.”
(HL Deb, 2 February 2012, col.1673).
In arguing that such a broad interpretation of the doctrine was untenable, Dr Jeff King of University College London Constitution Unit wrote last week that:
“The standard proposed by Lord Strathclyde would, if respected, radically constrict the range of matters over which the second chamber could reliably exercise its revising and scrutinizing function (though not from debating or passing resolutions on such matters, or examining them in committees: Erskine May, 23rd edn, p.918).”
“Such matters would include health care, education, university fees, pensions, social security, the courts service, prisons, immigration, and so much else.”
The thin end of the wedge?
This prospect alarms all of us in the disability rights movement us greatly and we feel it should alarm each and every citizen in our country today.
If no resistance is offered now, a new precedent may be set.
As disabled people who will be directly and disproportionately affected by all and any adverse changes to our NHS, we must now add to our list of burning concerns the progress of the Health and Social Care bill which is also opposed by just about everyone in civil society outside of Number 10.
We are similarly filled with fear and foreboding about cuts to legal aid which again disproportionately affects us and will translate to meaning that our fundamental human rights as disabled people to access to law, the courts and legal representation will all be denied.
The outcome of all this is that we will have a government will be free to abuse its power and act in any way it chooses, arbitrarily, imposing laws upon us unfettered by any notions of ‘checks and balances’ or regard for well thought-out and considered arguments for amendments. There will be bad laws and a great many people will suffer direct harm as a result.
Welfare ‘reform’ and the present and future status of the United Kingdom itself
Furthermore, speaking here for the Black Triangle as a Scottish-based disabled advocacy and campaign group; we say that it would be salutary for everyone to sit up and take full note of the nearly unanimous and united opposition of the people of Scotland, from every sector and strata of our society up to and including our Scottish Government, to these despicable ‘reforms’ that the Westminster government is seeking to impose upon us.
These ‘reforms’ have zero mandate here in Scotland.
We are a nation which has returned just one Tory MP and where those who voted Liberal Democrat feel deeply betrayed by a party that is seen to have sold-out its founding principles for which they voted for a chance to be ‘in government’.
At the time of writing, the SNP Scottish Government is working with Scottish Labour are to do all they can to mitigate the evil impact of this bill on our sick and/or disabled people by urgently drafting our own legislation in all the areas the bill touches upon that are within our competence, under the existing devolved constitutional settlement.
The SNP and First Minister Alex Salmond have made public statements that welfare should be an area under home control and that were this the case there is absolutely no way that Scotland would ever countenance such draconian legislation which is anathema to Scottish values of social solidarity, social inclusion and equality which have been expressed as a very rich thread running through the course of our history and culture.
We warn that it would be very foolish to suggest that the passing of this bill in its current form, without your amendments, will make a vote for Scotland’s full succession from the United Kingdom an even more likely prospect.
We must also point out that, under conditions in which Scotland regains her full autonomy and the democratic deficit north of the border is effectively cancelled out, the corresponding democratic deficit south of the border will continue to grow in like measure as the likelihood of a party offering a progressive alternative to the current regime at Westminster diminishes.
Without the Scottish contingent of Labour MP’s at Westminster, there is little chance of the Labour party ever forming a majority administration again. The entire future of progressive politics of any kind in England is therefore at stake.
Labour support in Scotland is haemorrhaging and now stands at its lowest point ever in our history.
The parliamentary party’s continuing failure to provide a genuine opposition or left alternative to the dominant ConDem narrative and ideology of the cuts and austerity which is killing our country’s economy is the root cause of this.
Similarly, the Labour front bench’s failure to take a principled stand in opposing cuts to the welfare benefits of sick and/or disabled people sooner and their acquiescence (and outright collaboration) with the narrative and consensus of the right surrounding welfare reform, keeping “one eye on the focus groups and the other on the Daily Mail” has cost it dearly here.
UK Labour’s recent support for us can be described as “qualified” at best because of its reticence to stand up for and take a lead for what is true, ethical and right for fear of upsetting the tabloids and the tide of fickle public opinion which they both create and attempt to sustain. This must end.
With each new day that passes and as the full horrific impact of the effects of these policies are visited upon our sick and/or disabled population starts to be witnessed, the anger, indignation and resentment of the Scottish people and indeed the entire UK population will rise exponentially.
We will not go quietly it to that dark night and we will fight back by any means at our disposal.
For all these reasons, we call upon you now to carry out their duty to us as sick and/or disabled people and to do it with the wisdom and compassion you have so magnificently displayed from the very outset of this debate and to do so with fierce pride and unwavering determination.
The Welfare Reform Bill is a matter of life and death for many disabled people
In summary, to the vast majority of our supporters in the Black Triangle Campaign and our sister organisation Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC), all these changes we are being subjected to very much feels like the noose being tightened around our necks and whatever sort of language one chooses to use or historical precedents one chooses to compare our present experiences to, the effect upon us remains the same: Utterly devastating.
Our freedoms, our humanity and our civilisation and so much else in our United Kingdom is being systematically attacked and undermined.
As far as we are concerned we are enduring a time of grave peril in the history of disabled people.
Our Black Triangle Campaign was begun in memory of a man called Paul Reekie who hung himself. He took his life after ‘failing’ a DWP/Atos Work Capability Assessment and having all his benefits and material means of support summarily cut off.
Since then we have become a nationally known and recognised advocacy and campaign group and have documented a great many more cases where the coroner’s inquest has identified the stress of the assessment and reassessment process as the primary cause of sick and/or disabled people taking their own lives.
These cuts have killed, are killing and will continue to kill sick and/or disabled people. This is a well documented fact that cannot and must not be denied!
“If I am not for myself, who will be for me? And if I am only for myself, then who am I? And if not now, when?”
We urge you with all our might, please act NOW.
“To defend, protect and fight for humanity with disability”
“Disabled People Fighting for Our Future: Custodians of Our Past”
Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC)
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