Thursday, 27 February 2014

Wow, wow, wow, unbelievable...

Having been a keen supporter of the WOW petition from the start, I was hoping to get to London today. Unfortunately I wasn't able to and as I was busy couldn't follow proceedings too closely. When I checked in the morning it was to read snippets from the marvellous John McDonnell MP and all those of his ilk with any integrity and to see pictures of a disgracefully empty House of Commons. There was a similar poor showing for the Pat's Petition and Bedroom Tax Debates so I thought I could predict what would happen next. The MPs who care about disabled and sick people would tell their important stories to the handful of Coalition MPs who had been ordered to show up block their ears and spout the party line, and suddenly the chamber would fill for the vote, which would be won by the government. The best we could hope for, I thought, was an increase in the abstentions and rebels, so the majority was reduced.

So I was astonished when  I looked on twitter just after the vote to find my timeline full of people saying "the ayes have it". I wasn't the only one to be asking incredulously "have we won?" It was a moment of collective disbelief that this petition that so many of us have worked so hard on, not only got to  the House of Commons but was actually PASSED. And then the joy followed, we won, we won, we WON! And we won in a week where the WCA reassessments have been suspended and Atos are pulling out, and in a month where religious leaders have united in condemning the government for taking away the safety net.That's very good news indeed.

Of course, when you look at what happened, it's not a perfect victory. The house was empty for the majority of the debate, and it seemed today the government's tactic was to not even try to defend the indefensible. BUT, two years ago, this government pulled every despicable trick to whip reluctant MPs to vote for welfare reform, and when the House of Lords kept overturning their votes, they forced it through on Royal Privilege. Since then they've lost legal case after legal case, found it increasingly difficult to win votes on welfare reform, and today, it is in black and white in Hansard. The House has resolved to call on the government to commission an independent cumulative impact assessment on the impact of welfare reform and cuts on sick and disabled people. And I'm sure the tactic will be to try and kick this into the long grass, but we won't let them.

We've got them on the run now.


Monday, 24 February 2014

The Beginning of the End?

The Atos Stories Collective was formed in 2011 in response to the horror stories that were beginning to emerge at the time. Stories about people like George,  who died from a heart attack after Atos twice failed to put him in the work support group or  Matthew found fit to work even though he has limited language and understanding of the world, fuelled a desire to act. When Atos threatened to sue its critics we decided we'd like to do something about it. Two of us who met on-line formed the Collective and invited others to join in by sending us their stories.  Over the course of six month we received emails, blogposts, and information via social media, and we wrote Atos Stories, The Atos Monologues and Atos Street Theatre.

From 2012 till now, the plays have been published on-line (first at Scribd, and then later at the WOW petition), been used at demonstrations and vigils, as part of a mass action via social media and the main play has been performed by Act Up! Newham. And as time has passed, we've been delighted to see more and more people becoming aware of, and protesting about the Work Capability Assessment and Atos' involvement. Even better, we've heard that Atos has been seeking ways to get out of the contract, a sure sign that a policy has become toxic, something that was confirmed last week. (With typical gall, they claimed it was death threats from the disabled people they've been harassing that have pushed them out, yeah...right)

Today, comes the best news of all. Our friend and brilliant campaigner Sue Marsh posted on her blog that with Atos on the way out, the DWP are scrapping reassessment of WCA's indefinitely till they can find another organisation to take it on. Of course, it's not over yet. People are still getting assessed and unfortunately Atos will stick around for the time being, still using the terrible DWP descriptors and still wrongly finding people fit for work. But at least, this gives those people who have been through the process, and won their appeals a breathing space... And, given the protests Atos has faced and the damage to its reputation, one has to ask whether there's another company willing to take the risk of bidding to run such a discredited process.

It's right to be cautious, but even so this is a major victory in the battle to scrap the WCA. And campaigns are won, bit by bit. It's not the end, but it's the beginning of the end, and for that, tonight, we should all celebrate.