18 January 2015
Newly-selected Green Party General Election Candidate for East Surrey, Nicola Dodgson, has sent an open letter to East Surrey MP Sam Gyimah, challenging him on the government's record on disability rights and health and social care:
Dear Mr Gyimah,
Some weeks ago, I noticed that you were featured in the Surrey Mirror, opening new flats at the Orpheus Centre in Godstone. This gave rise to the many thoughts which compelled me to write this letter.
The Orpheus Centre does fantastic work, creating an enabling environment for people with disabilities to live independently, take advantage of a wide range of learning opportunities, and enjoy life in a supported environment, where adapted accommodation provides safety and helps make potentially challenging daily tasks more manageable.
We are lucky to have such an organisation in the local area. My first question to you therefore must be: Do you think that the provision of a decent standard of living for disabled people should be left to luck? Or do you believe, as I do, that this is absolutely the least anyone should expect in a 'developed' country, from a fair society? If the latter is the case, then the most obvious way of ensuring this happens is to use public money to offer the same quality of life offered by the Orpheus Centre to all disabled people living in the UK. Indeed, ensuring that everyone can have a decent quality of life, to the extent that we as a society can influence this (and we do influence it, in every aspect of life,) is essentially what I pay tax and National Insurance contributions for.
I must confess that your support for the Orpheus Centre surprised me, as your government's policies are in such stark contrast to the Orpheus Centre's aims of giving young disabled people 'the skills and opportunities they need so that they can live fulfilling and independent lives', and supporting 'people’s rights to participate fully in society regardless of background or disability' (http://www.orpheus.org.uk/about-us/vision-mission-values). It has recently been reported, for example, that disabled tenants who have been affected by your government's 'Bedroom Tax'- despite having conditions which mean that perceived 'extra' space in their homes is in fact not 'spare' at all, instead in some cases housing vital equipment- will be taking their case to the supreme court (http://www.theguardian.com/society/2015/jan/10/disabled-tenants-bedroom-tax-challenge-supreme-court?CMP=share_btn_tw); I would be interested to hear your opinion on this matter.
I should also like to hear your views on the continual assessment, reassessment, and effective harassment of sick and disabled people which has been performed by ATOS on behalf of the Department of Work and Pensions for a number of years, and which has been required for claimants to even have a chance of receiving vital benefit payments. Even in cases where someone is suffering a chronic condition which doctors have stated has little to no likelihood of improvement, or even a terminal illness, people have been placed in a 'work related activity' group and told to find employment, or given 'zero points' in their assessment and refused lifeline benefits (http://www.theguardian.com/society/2013/jul/22/work-capability-assessments-criticism). Whilst the WCA is now due to be administered by a new provider, US firm Maximus, who will need to clear ATOS's huge backlog of unresolved claims, many have argued- and I would agree- that this punitive system is fundamentally flawed and a new provider (in receipt of public money, it should be emphasized,) offers little hope of a change for the better for those in need of Employment and Support Allowance (http://www.spartacusnetwork.org.uk/index.php/11-esa/12-maximusesa). I am keen to hear your views on this Mr Gyimah, along with your views on the lack of investigation which has thus far been carried out into the deaths of numerous poor, sick and disabled people who have died within a short time of being denied or threatened with denial of benefits by the DWP (http://www.welfareweekly.com/iain-duncan-smiths-directory-death/ http://www.theguardian.com/society/2014/dec/14/dwp-inquiries-benefit-claimant-suicides).
You will undoubtedly be aware of recent protests by disabled campaigners and supporters, demanding the reinstatement of the Independent Living Fund (http://www.channel4.com/news/disability-campaigners-protest-over-funding-cuts-video). I am sure you will also be aware that the fund has allowed severely disabled people across the UK the means to maintain their independence, live in their own home, and work in their communities, with money to pay for support they need (http://www.newstatesman.com/politics/2013/06/secret-cuts-part-two-independent-living-fund). In direct opposition to the Orpheus Centre's aims for which you have pledged support, your government's decision to close this fund will deny people these basic rights. Whilst funds may be reallocated to local authorities, the lack of ring-fencing and existing cuts to Council funding mean that this reallocation is incredibly unlikely to result in the same level of care and support being received by previous recipients of ILF payments. (Since the fund is already closed to new recipients, this is one example of the level of care currently experienced without ILF: http://falseeconomy.org.uk/blog/fight-for-care ) It is disappointing, to say the least, to note the absence of your signature on either of the Early Day Motions on this issue. (http://www.parliament.uk/edm/2014-15/113 and http://www.parliament.uk/edm/2014-15/655)
It has recently been reported that, according to government figures, 29% fewer adults in the UK are now receiving state-provided care than had received it 5 years ago. (http://www.independent.co.uk/incoming/number-of-vulnerable-adults-receiving-stateprovided-care-has-plummeted-official-figures-show-9592907.html) This somewhat refutes the arguments surrounding ILF replacement with local authority care, and the arguments locally of Surrey County Council regarding the threatened closure of their last 6 'in-house' residential care homes. This is a very important local issue regarding which I am keen to hear your views. We have been told by the Council that more people are now staying in their homes, and so there is a decreased need for residential care, whilst it would seem that nationally the availability of home care provision is in decline, and the need for both home and residential care is increasing. Indeed, I am sure you have heard, as I have, from the families of residents in Surrey's care homes- including Dormers in Caterham, within East Surrey constituency- that the care provided there is of an incredibly high standard, which residents' families found they could not match when initially looking for places for their relatives. You will also undoubtedly have heard from residents themselves who are very happy with their lives in the care homes, and are shocked and fearful at the thought of what is not just a care home, but their own home, being taken away. Whilst some people in need of care and support do not want to be forced into care homes, others want and need high quality residential care provision- at the moment Surrey County Council is providing that, as well as, at Dormers, day care services for cancer patients, respite care for people who otherwise do live in their own homes, and rehabilitation after hospital stays (which helps to prevent bed-blocking at hospitals- I am sure you will also be aware of the current A&E crisis, and are able to make this connection yourself). Your counterpart in Reigate, Mr Crispin Blunt, has pledged support for the Council's 'preferred option' of closing these care homes. I look forward to hearing your own position on this matter.
In order to ensure that everyone in our society receives the care and support, the standard of living, and the basic degree of respect that they deserve, we have a lot to do in terms of public provision of services like those offered by the Orpheus Centre. Your government's policies are failing our society, Mr Gyimah. It's time to up our standards.
(Nicola has now received a reply to this letter, which can be found here.)
'Nicola recently helped to draft Reigate & Banstead Green Party's response to Surrey County Council's care homes consultation, which is mentioned in the letter. The response can be found here: rbgp.org.uk/2014/12/care-homes-our-response/ along with details of other upcoming actions and a link to the consultation itself, which is open until January 31st. We encourage all Surrey residents to respond.
Nicola can be contacted on Facebook: Via Twitter: @Nicky4East_Sy & via e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org