Friday, September 30, 2011

Fit For Conference - Spoonie Style

We're two thirds of the way through conference season and it's fair to say the spoonie warriors are suffering badly from exhaustion. It all started with the Liberal Democrats in Birmingham, with stunning performances from speakers like Shana Pezaro, culminating in the Liberal Democrats passing a motion to challenge some of the most destructive parts of the Welfare Reform Bill, meaning that it is now official Liberal Democrat policy to oppose some of the government's plans. 

 I managed to attend the Disability Benefits Consortium event at the Liveral Democrat conference even though The Broken of Britain can't even afford stamps or cards because I happened to have a place to stay in Birmingham and a boyfriend good enough to push me to and from the event despite his personal discomfort at being so close to politicians. The Lib Dem DBC event was outside the secure zone so I could attend without a pass, but although the actual venue was very accessible, getting there was a problem. The hotel had been advised to expect disabled people, and parking in their car park made available to us...but it was impossible to drive to the hotel car park because the roads surrounding it were within the secure zone. If my boyfriend hadn't been prepared to give up his time to push me half a mile to and from the event it would not have been possible to get me there. Fortunately he stepped up and the event was well worth attending. 


Big credit to Steve Winyard from the RNIB who stood up at the end of the DBC event and called upon all the charities to focus on aggressive campaigning against the damaging parts of the Welfare Reform Bill as an immediate priority. Grassroots campaigners are now eagerly awaiting the rest of the big charities to follow RNIB's stance and remember their most important duty is to support those of us they purport to represent. 


Labour's conference was held in Liverpool which made it easier for our penniless campaigners to attend as I live close enough to drive to Liverpool and to provide the fabulous Sue Marsh with accomodation as she was there in her dual roles as campaigner for The Broken of Britain and as delegate for her local Labour party. 


Liverpool's a great city and Scousers are warm, welcoming people so we all owe our thanks to the nice car park man who I blagged free, all day parking from by explaining we were disability rights campaigners- it was supposed to be £12 a day which is far too expensive for us!

Sue had a conference pass in her Labour role, but as I am not a member of any political party it proved impossible for us to find, or afford a conference pass for me, even though Lord Prescott helpfully tweeted asking Labour to provide me with a pass. That meant I had to stay outside the secure zone until Wednesday's open day for non Labour members for which I had a pass. 


Still, we networked and campaigned as best we could. Short of both spoons and equipment Sue and I spent our time at conference sharing a mobility scooter - which unsurprisingly attracted an awful lot of attention. Thanks to Merseyside Police for smiling and waving at us rather than arresting us for inappropriate mobility scooting behaviour! 


Unfortunately, the event organised by Disability Benefits Consortium on the welfare reform bill had to be moved at the last minute inside the secure zone, meaning I couldn't attend and no-one from The Broken of Britain was able to be there to put your concerns across. It had been booked in the Albert Dock's Premier Inn - who insist they told conference organisers it wasn't fully accessible, but conference claimed of course that Premier Inn had told them it was fully accessible. None of this will surprise sick or disabled people but it did seem to come as a surprise to others. Having made up a bed to sleep in the back of my car so that I could manage to be at the event after a morning networking this was very frustrating news. 






Despite the lack of access and disappointments about welfare being whitewashed from the Conference we picked ourselves up and carried on. Monday finished me off completely and I spent Tuesday at home in a haze of pain, exhaustion and heavy medication while Sue bravely went back into battle on all our behalfs. In public Sue and I manage to hold it together and appear eloquent and in control, but my boyfriend and her husband get the uncensored version where we can't even string two words together because we're so exhausted. 


Wednesday morning in my flat was a scene to behold as Sue and I attempted to transform ourselves from pale, dark eyed, exhausted women into some sort of glamourous, publicly presentable version. Somehow we pulled it off and made it into the secure zone once again sharing the BendyBus. Fortunately there don't appear to be any photos either of Sue and I on the scooter together, or of Giles from the Daily Politics show scooting through conference with me sat on his knee! 


We met up with Dame Anne Begg for a drink to discuss welfare issues, hung out with bloggers and then went off for the main attraction of the day, the Labour open day question and answer session with Ed Miliband. 


Poor Ed. As my parent's commented, he just didn't know what he was taking on and the question Sue and I had so carefully crafted handbagged him good and proper. Being a spoonie I had to leave the Q&A session to go for a wee immediately after Ed Miliband responded to our question and poor Sue was left in the hall not knowing what had happened to me! I was followed to the toilet by camera crews from the BBC and ITN so it was a while before Sue found me and she was so worried I'd been kidnapped by the Labour party ;) 


Although Sue and I were both shaking with exhaustion at this point we couldn't hang around because I was booked to speak at Left Foot Forward's fringe event held in Baby Blue Bar....which turned out to be accessible only by a flight of concrete steps. Huge thanks go to Will Straw for his knight in shining armour role who carried me into the venue and the twitter follower who introduced himself to me and carried me back out of the venue** Sue and I both got back on to the BendyBus and arrived in style at the Labour tweet up...we were so exhausted we couldn't stay long but it was great to meet everyone and be written on by The Farm even if two days later I've still got black pen on my arm! 


So...that's two conferences attended, blagged, networked by The Broken of Britain and all without a penny of funding. Ed Miliband has been in touch to say he intends to honour his promise to meet with us and discuss sickness and/or disability issues in relation to welfare which we are all very much looking forward to. 


Next week conference season finishes with the Conservative conference in Manchester. We don't have a conference pass, and don't anticipate being able to find one at such short notice, but we'd love to meet Iain Duncan Smith, Maria Miller or David Cameron there if they are willing to match Ed Miliband's promise to meet with sick/disabled people actually affected by their 'reforms'! Assuming the Disability Benefits Consortium welfare event remains outside the secure zone I'll be attending that at Conservative Party Conference and we'll keep you updated as to any developments. 


But for now, your two exhausted spoonie warriors just want to get through the rest of today and spend a wekend resting up, enjoying the weather and a complete holiday from welfare. 






*we're working on transcripts for people with hearing impairments and United Response are trying to put together an easy read version so please give us some time to get those out

**His name's too far back in my timeline to find and thank him by name. Updated, thanks to @zephleppard

'Harriet' 1. Ed Miliband 0 Q&A at #Lab11


Kaliya: My name’s Kaliya and my question is – that evidence has overwhelmingly pointed to sick and disabled people being the hardest hit by the cuts. But this issue has been airbrushed almost entirely from the conference. Are you reluctant to use the word “disabled” because the public have been so effectively convinced that we’re all scroungers and that the Labour Party are not willing to challenge that stereotype on our behalf.

[applause]

Ed Miliband: Ok [drowned out by ongoing applause], a really good question. Let me deal with that friend who asked about disability and ill health, because it’s an important – “Harriet” – because it’s an important…

K: It’s Kaliya.

EM: Sorry?

K: It’s Kaliya.

EM: I’m sorry. Look – look, look, "disability", I'm absolutely not afraid to use the word disability and I'm determined to say that disabled people need support and help and compassion and that’s why I want to protect the welfare state. And you've got to separate out ill health and disability from worklessness and the decision not to work.

EM: And I know about the concerns about the tests that are being done by Atos Origin. I know about those concerns – it’s something Liam Byrne and I have talked about and it's not that I'm trying to sweep it under the carpet. At the same time, Harriet, I have to say to you, and it's the people from my own constituency in Doncaster North, who've made this clear to me more loudly and clearly than any other... than anyone else. They say: “Look, unless you address the issue of people who could work but don't” - I'm not talking about disabled people...

K: [hard to hear as no mic] We’re not quibbling with that, we want sick and disabled people to be able to be supported into work.

EM: So what you’re saying, and you’re right,

K: [hard to hear as no mic] We’re challenging the scrounger rhetoric which you yourself added to when you gave the example of having met a man on Incapacity Benefit who you said could work if he just tried harder. You’re reinforcing the destructive rhetoric that is coming from the coalition government…

EM: Yeah...

K: …at a time when sick and disabled people desperately need a champion to stand up for us [big applause] and had you been putting out the message that you've just given here about separating out sickness and disability from employment, we'd have been cheering you months ago.

[very loud applause]

EM:  I know Harriet, but let me ... ok, that's important, what you just said, but let me pick you up on this point about the chap I met - I don't want to particularly go into the detail, but look, let me just be honest with you, because it was a door I knocked on and I have to give you my impression, which is that he was somebody who had lost his job, I think ten years ago, right? And I'm not questioning the fact that he was genuinely, had an ailment - I'm not gonna go into the details of that. But I just have to say to you that the system didn't sort of demand that he go back to work; the system sort of wrote him off…

K: [unheard as no mic] But the system isn't working for anyone

EM: And the system sort of said "Well, look, he was - he was, he had incapacity - er - he couldn't work for a bit” and that's it. And the problem is, I met his next-door neighbours and I genuinely… and this is the story - I met his next-door neighbours and they didn't actually refer to him, but they said "Look, our problem is, we're working incredibly hard and we're already paying for people who can't work”, so I mean…

EM: Look, I - I - I take your point that I didn't say in the speech yesterday - and I should have said it, fair point - that you've got to defend people who are with disability, ill health, er, and say they shouldn't be under attack. [applause] But.. but.. but let me say... just let me say to you - and I do say that often – but let me say this to you, that I don't think, I genuinely don't think - that talking, that saying you're tough on abuse of the benefit system is a non-Labour thing to do. I think it is fundamentally a Labour thing to do.

K: [hard to hear as no mic] But when fraud rates for Disability Living Allowance are, the DWP’s own fraud rates are less than 1%...

EM: Ok. Well, look, Harriet, I'll make you this promise that after this, I promise you we'll have a longer discussion. I want to get more people in.


Huge thanks go to Suzy Jones Consultancy, TidKid and Louise Bolotin for all their hard work in providing a transcript. Once again, grassroots disability rights campaigners show how effective we can be with no funding or resources just by working as a community. 

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Why I'm No Longer A Labour Voter...



"the principle underlying welfare reform is the principle of the workhouse... you make claiming benefit so degrading and so difficult that people don't want to do it.... that was the principle of the workhouse and that is the principle that the very lovely James Purnell is introducing into welfare"Diane Abbott 'This Week' 4/12/08

As, the 'very unlovely' James Purnell is too busy claiming for his weekly grocery bill , rent and cleaners to deal with the state he left his flat in, let alone comment about his hypocrisy, I'm directing you to this post by Brainblogger which is a poignant insight into the impact of such reforms upon the lives of disabled claimants.

Income Support rate for single adult over 25: £64.30 per week.
Carer's Allowance : £53.10 per week 


Please take time today to email Labour and remind them of their role in introducing Employment Support Allowance and the politics of the workhouse. 

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

'never fall ill, never grow old, never become disabled', for if you do, not even Labour will speak up for you.'

To all our members and supporters;

The Labour party conference starts in Liverpool on Saturday. As we all know, Labour were the architects of Employment Support Allowance and the ‘not fit for purpose’ Work Capability Assessment which is so stressful and traumatic it was linked to the suicide of claimants whilst Labour were still in power. The Labour party are the official party of opposition, but they are not opposing the Welfare Reform Bill as they should be and seem to have forgotten that the 10 million sick and or disabled people plus carers, friends and family in the UK have the power to vote. It is time for us to remind Labour that they will not get any of our votes if they do not start to oppose the parts of the Welfare Reform Bill set to return sick people, disabled people and carers to a life of desperation, dependency, despair and charity.

We are asking you to help with a mass email to the Labour party to remind them of our voting power. Please include the following details in your email and send it to Ed Miliband, Margaret Curran (shadow minister for disability) and Liam Byrne (shadow minister for DWP). If you have time please also email it to any Labour MP and particularly any members of the shadow cabinet. We have provided a list of email contacts below.

Please aim to send your email at 11am tomorrow (Thursday the 22nd September) If you can’t send the email at 11am, don’t worry, just please try to send it at any time between then and the end of Labour party conference on Wednesday 29th September.

The email subject  should read “Your Silence Is Deafening”

We suggest embedding a link to this youtube video “The Sound of Silence” To embed the video into your email just copy and paste the link below.



Then please copy the following text into your email;

Dear (insert name here)

'The 10 million disabled people in this country plus their carers, relatives and friends are watching what your party do in relation to disability issues and wondering why you seem disinterested in trying to get their votes by opposing the savage attacks against disabled people being made by the Coalition government. During conference season we wish to remind you, the architects of Employment and Support Allowance to 'never fall ill, never grow old, never become disabled', for if you do, as we have found, not even Labour will speak up for you.'

If you would like to add a short, personal message explaining to Labour how you feel about their lack of support for sick, disabled people and carers then please include it after the suggested text. You might also like to include a photo of yourself, or perhaps a photo of what disability, sickness or caring means to you. Don’t worry if you don’t want to personalise the email, sending the suggested text is fine.



Ed Miliband MP, Leader of the Labour Party
House of Commons, London, SW1A 0AA
Tel: 020 7219 4778
ed.miliband.mp@parliament.uk
Shadow Secretary of State for Work & Pensions
Liam Byrne
House of Commons, London, SW1A 0AA
Tel: 020 7219 6953
Fax: 020 7219 1431
byrnel@parliament.uk

House of Commons, London, SW1A 0AA
Tel: 020 7219 8102
Fax: 020 7219 6656
margaret.curran.mp@parliament.uk
Shadow Home Secretary and Minister for Women and Equalities
Rt Hon Yvette Cooper MP
Shadow Chief Secretary
Angela Eagle
Shadow Secretary of State for Business, Innovation & Skills
John Denham
Cabinet Office and Minister for the Olympics
Tessa Jowell
Shadow Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government
Caroline Flint
House of Commons, London, SW1A 0AA
Tel: 020 7219 4407
Fax: 020 7219 1277
caroline.flint.mp@parliament.uk
Shadow Secretary of State for Culture, Media & Sport
Ivan Lewis
House of Commons, London, SW1A 0AA
Tel: 020 7219 2609
lewisi@parliament.uk
Shadow Leader of the House of Commons 
Hilary Benn
House of Commons, London, SW1A 0AA
Tel: 020 7219 5770
hilary.benn.mp@parliament.uk
Shadow Secretary of State for Defence
Jim Murphy
House of Commons, London, SW1A 0AA
Tel: 020 7219 4615
Fax: 020 7219 5657
jimmurphymp@parliament.uk

Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
Mary Creagh
House of Commons, London, SW1A 0AA
Tel: 020 7219 6984/020 7219 8766
Fax: 020 7219 4257
creaghm@parliament.uk

Shadow Secretary of State for Education and Election Coordinator
Andy Burnham
House of Commons, London, SW1A 0AA
Tel: 020 7219 8250
andy.burnham.mp@parliament.uk

Shadow Lord Chancellor, Secretary of State for Justice
Sadiq Khan
House of Commons, London, SW1A 0AA
Tel: 020 7219 6967
Fax: 020 7219 6477
sadiqkhanmp@parliament.uk

Shadow Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change
Meg Hillier
House of Commons, London, SW1A 0AA
Tel: 020 7219 5325
Fax: 020 7219 8768
meghilliermp@parliament.uk


Shadow Secretary of State for Health
John Healey

House of Commons, London, SW1A 0AA
Tel: 020 7219 6359
Fax: 020 7219 2451
healeyj@parliament.uk

Shadow Secretary of State for Northern Ireland
Shaun Woodward

House of Commons, London, SW1A 0AA
Tel: 020 7219 2680
woodwardsh@parliament.uk

Shadow Secretary of State for Scotland
Ann McKechin
House of Commons, London, SW1A 0AA
Tel: 020 7219 8239
Fax: 020 7219 1770
ann.mckechin.mp@parliament.uk
Constituency

Shadow Secretary of State for Transport
Maria Eagle
House of Commons, London, SW1A 0AA
Tel: 020 7219 4019
Fax: 020 7219 1157
eaglem@parliament.uk

Shadow Secretary of State for Wales
Peter Hain
House of Commons, London, SW1A 0AA
Tel: 020 7219 3925
Fax: 020 7219 3816
hainp@parliament.uk


Steven Timms MP

Friday, September 16, 2011

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Owls And Oramorph

It's been a busy old month, especially for a month that's not yet halfway through. So much has happened politics wise that the point of this blog - a diary of the life of someone with severe disabilities reliant on welfare benefits - has got a bit lost. Rumours that it could be found in the middle of a morphine haze are worryingly accurate as anyone who follows me on twitter already knows.

I finally got to see my rheumatologist, who'd requested to see me three months after my last appointment in December 2010, six months late is not that long a delay for rheumatology which did not benefit from the additional funding New Labour threw into the NHS by having the misfortune to be for patients who annoyingly don't tend to get better and fit into nice, target driven tick boxes. That rheumatology is the speciality covering musculo skeletal problems which keep large numbers of people out of work seems to have been thrown onto the 'who needs logic or sense' pile by both the previous and current governments.

So, back to my rheumatologist. He's ever so nice and has enough of a sense of humour to have explained that had I not thrust my my chest out to relocate both of my shoulders so loudly during the appointment that he would have been very disappointed. I'm not sure if his disappointment would have been related to the dislocating parts or the chest thrusting parts but he's lovely so can get away with either. Plus he managed to keep a straight face when I staggered sideways into the consulting room bin so he gets points for that too. We discussed the breathing problems I've been having and I've been referred for some specialist lung function tests, with emphasis on looking at the structure of the tissue around my neck and throat to ensure it works. Quite what anyone plans to do if it appears not to work brilliantly I'm not sure at this point, but as the appointment has come through for Tuesday next week either it's been sold to a fellow consultant as being someone who's 'interesting' or they are actually a teensy bit worried I might stop breathing and not be able to start again.

Nice isn't going to get me fit for work though, not that getting fit for work is really within his capabilities as to my knowledge the man doesn't have a DNA altering machine tucked away somewhere. It's completely forgiveable that some people look at those of us campaigning so much and wonder why if we can do that we're not fit for work. I often wonder that too, especially on my rare good days, then life pulls it's usual bendy trick and manages to make the point for me.

About 10 days ago, oramorph not being conducive to accuracy, I moved my head to one side. Somehow, in that "I don't know how it happened" bendy way there was a sliding sensation in my vertebrae and a snapping noise hideous enough to disturb me as it was distinctly different from the clunking noise most joints make when they dislocate or relocate. So much so that at the time I genuinely feared I had broken my neck and went to bed that night not knowing if I'd wake up a quadriplegic. No offence is intended towards those with quadriplegia, but it's not top of my current life wish list. I consoled myself with the fact that quadriplegia might be spectacularly shit to get used to but it would at least bring the benefit of a full care package...for now.

One of the big problems for those of us with rare conditions is what we're supposed to do when such acute problems arise. Friends and boyfriend all were extremely concerned, I was in agony, not making a huge amount of sense and unable to turn my head even 45 degrees each way - a huge restriction for someone with the neck movement more typically seen in an owl. Lots of suggestions were made, that I should go to my GP, that I should go to A&E but everyone understood that there wasn't actually anything my GP or A&E could do. If I went to see my GP, great though he is, he would have looked at my blankly, asked what I thought had happened and mumbled about x-rays and A&E before making sure I had enough pain relief. If I'd gone to A&E a junior doctor with no previous knowledge or experience of Ehlers Danlos Syndrome would have seen me, quite possibly thought there was nothing wrong as I had the range of motion of a 'normal' person and dismissed me. Alternatively they'd have x-rayed me, scanned me and then started making noises about manipulating my neck, which to me is an accelerated route to quadriplegia. So, I dosed up on oramporph, tweeted utter nonsense to the internet and sat it out until my physiotherapist could see me.

It's safe to say my physio was somewhat peturbed by the state of my spine. Somehow I'd managed to rotate two vertebrae (C6 and C7) around to the left where they had got 'stuck' due to poor muscle recruitment and associated spasming. So a twisted rather than broken neck. Thirty minutes later my vertebrae were back in the position they should be and my physio had got over her panic that she might wreck her day by murdering one of her favourite patients.

I'm supposed to be in Birmingham this weekend, partly to visit my boyfriend and partly to take part in a fringe event about welfare reform at the Liberal Democrat conference. No-one's especially thrilled at my driving in this state, so I agreed that if my physio absolutely forbade it that I wouldn't go...but made it clear how important it is to me. My physio's the sensible sort so she expressed her concern and we came to a compromise. If I want to go to Birmingham I have to stop twice on the way, during what is usually a 1 hour 40 minute drive if the traffic's ok. At each stop I have to stay there for 20 minutes move around, do physio and rest. Once I get to Birmingham I have to go straight to bed and stay there until someone other than myself deems me fit enough to get out. Considering my boyfriend's unreasonable standards of wellness that probably won't be til Saturday morning!

So that's my version of 'fit for work'. You can actually acheive an awful lot smashed out of your mind on morphine if so inclined, but the accuracy of those acheivements can be a bit dubious if amusing for everyone else. That's fine when you've got no-one to answer to but yourself...but something that actual employers are much less keen on.

So yeay me. Totally fit for work, with enough drugs on board to knock out an elephant. And definitely not as much sense as an elephant while so knocked out.

Where Next For New Media & Politics?

If anyone would like to come along to this fringe event during Labour Party Conference hosted by Left Foot Forward I hope to see you there on Weds 28th September at 7pm in Baby Blue Bar, Albert Dock. I'm the only girl on a panel full of political big boys ;) You don't have to be a Labour party member or supporter - I'm not!

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

URGENT APPEAL FOR ACTION NOW!

After an incredibly constructive debate yesterday in the House Of Lords the government appear to be concerned about how many Lords had significant concerns about the Welfare Reform Bill, even those Lords who in principle supported the bill had major questions they wanted answers to.

For a bill of this size and importance, convention dictates that the next stage of the bill should be kept in the main chamber of the House of Lords for debate. It's particularly important the bill be continued to be debated in the main chamber as disability access to the smaller committee rooms is very limited and people will not be able to access the committee rooms to exercise their democratic right to observe the passge of the bill from the public chamber.

At 3.30pm today the govermnent are tabling a motion to move the grand committee stage of the bill into one of the smaller committee rooms. Presumably the government are hoping that by moving a bill into the committee rooms it will be harder to scrutinise - there won't be enough space in any of the committee rooms to allow for all the Lords to participate, let alone for us to scrutinise online or attend in person.

This is an outrage - the government are clearly concerned by the level of queries and opposition to the Welfare Reform Bill highlighted by yesterday's debate and wish to quietly sideline it to a committee room where they hope it will pass with less opposition. Tabling the motion for the afternoon following PMQ's is also an underhand trick as it means it will be harder for us to object through the main stream media.

This is our call to arms. This bill affects us, our families and every aspect of our lives, as well as the lives of those currently paying into the system in anticipation of protection should they require it. If we can make enough noise in the next few hours the government will be forced to keep the passage of the bill in the main chamber of the house of lords where it can be effectively and appropriately scrutinised by all.

What you can do to help is this;

Please post copies of this blog onto your facebook, your twitter, stumbleupon, wikio etc. Please email it to everyone you know, please talk about this on your own blogs. Email or phone your MP to register your objections, email or phone the house of lords to explain your concerns, email or phone the media, local or national and explain that whether or not people are in favour of this bill, that it is a fundamental democratic right to have it debated in the main chamber of the house of lords where there is space for all who wish to attend and observe. Highlight the injustice and hypocrisy of the governments behaviour in trying to sideline this important bill into a room too small for all the Lords to attend and certainly too small to allow those in wheelchairs, or with guide dogs, the very people most affected by this bill to be able to observe from the public gallery.

If we make enough noise before 3.30pm today the government will have to drop this underhand tactic and the Bill will continue to be debated in the main chamber of the House of Lords where everyone who wishes to can attend and observe.

UPDATE 13.30
The email addresses to contact are;

anelayj@parliament.uk – this is the chief whip to whom you should send the email and cc it to the others .
bassams@parliament.uk – opposition chief whip

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Total Politics Blog Awards - Shameless Self Promotion

Thank you SO much to everyone who voted for me in the Total Politics Blog Awards - I've made it into the top 50 non aligned bloggers at number 22, and I'm the second top woman on the list. I've come in ahead of Jon Snow of Channel4 and Adam Boulton from Sky to whom I feel I should be offering lessons in 'how to throw a tantrum' to after witnessing his attempts. 

It's also fantastic to see Underdogsbiteupwards at number 3 as that's two disabled people with very different perspectives on politics and disability in the top 50! 

Thanks again everyone - these awards usually only have one name on them but they are really for all of us campaigning and trying to make a difference to politics, so congratulations to you all. 

Thursday, September 08, 2011

Remembering Our Childhood Questions...

 'But How Did This Happen? Why Did No-one Stop Them?'


First they came for the communists
and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a communist.

Then they came for the trade unionists,
and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a trade unionist.

Then they came for the Jews,
and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a Jew.

Then they came for me
and there was no one left to speak out for me.

Whilst all of us will be familiar with the words of Pastor Neimoller, particularly those of us who have Jewish blood running in our veins, we are much less aware of the actions taken against disabled people in 1930’s Germany. At a time of economic crisis disabled people were labelled with a black triangle, propaganda was issued explaining to the ‘good German volk’ how much each disabled person cost the taxpayer and the first state sanctioned euthanasia of a disabled person took place in 1938. 

As a child growing up in a Jewish/Catholic family I learnt from my grandmother how privileged I was to have been born free, how the members of my family lucky enough to have escaped persecution in Russia had recognised the signs during the 1930’s and had urged those family members who had found refuge in Austria, Germany and Poland to once again flee to safety. None heeded these warnings and all were killed in the camps. The understanding that few had the courage to speak out against the persecution of their fellow humans shaped my entire life and made me determined to never allow fear for my own safety to prevent me opposing injustice.

However, it was not until I became a disabled adult that I learnt how the Nazi’s had first experimented on the most vulnerable group of all; sick, disabled and mentally ill people. We will never know whether speaking out against the euthanasia of disabled people in 1930’s Germany would have helped prevent the massacre of millions of Jewish people, but we all know the lessons history teaches us; to never remain silent in the face of evil. 

The Welfare Reform Bill is not to be equated with Nazism, nor is it in any way appropriate to suggest the actions of any British politician are similar to those of the Nazis. However, the warnings from the past are clear. During a time of economic difficulty it is all too easy to label one group of people as less worthy than others, to dehumanise them, to mark them out as being a financial burden upon society, and that once one group of people have been singled out for such treatment, that without opposition to that it inevitably leads to other groups being so demonised. 

My Lords, I urge you to remember the lessons of all our childhoods learnt at our parents and grandparents knees. That we have a responsibility to our pasts and to our futures to always speak up for those persecuted and prevent future generations looking back to us and wondering why, of all people, those of us directly descended from those with first hand experience of such evil did not heed our childhood lessons and speak out for those unable to speak for themselves. Please remember the question we all asked when first we learnt of our history – ‘but why did no-one speak up for us?’ and vote against the Welfare Reform Bill.