DWP latest – snooping on people with disabilities

Last month Rachel Charlton-Daile, an author with a disability, columnist and activist, asked: “How much more is the government going to spend to make disabled lives worse whilst claiming we’re a drain on taxpayers?” 

The government allocated £849,475 on covert surveillance officers to snoop on benefits claimants, £64 million into WorkWell, which aimed “to assist 60,000 people with long-term sickness or disabilities to start, remain and progress in work over the 2 years of the programme”, and £22.8 million last year alone fighting Personal Independence Payment (PIP) claims. 

So the DWP is making it its business to recruit up to 25 covert surveillance officers to snoop on benefit claimants in 20 locations in the UK in order to tackle fraud. They are offering pay of up to £33,979, and the job description explains that the DWP “utilises covert surveillance to gather evidence to prove/disprove offences”. The work may include the use of “covert audio equipment” and involve unsociable hours. A whistleblower commented: “To see these covert surveillance roles being advertised makes me fear for the future of not just myself but all of the customers I support. Are we really going to go back to the years when disabled people were scared to leave their homes in case their benefits were taken away?”

The Government was trying to pass the Data Protection and Digital Information Bill this spring, which would have forced banks to hand over data on the UK’s 22.6 million benefits claimants. But it was legislation that did not complete its passage by 24th May this year and so it fell. It can, however, be introduced again in the next Parliament and, with Starmer likely to be Prime Minister and showing every sign of adopting Tory policies, it may well reappear. So more legislation and more staff to join the DWP to make life more difficult for the people with disabilities in our society. Many are struggling to survive on meagre benefits, while we all see the rich becoming richer and money squandered on projects that benefit no one.  

Gender-based violence in Gaza where giving birth is hell  

There are about 60,000 pregnant women in Gaza, and all of them fear for their unborn children, as Israel carries out indiscriminate bombing of where they may be sheltering and, of course, indiscriminate bombing of hospitals. And many are starving, a deliberate policy of enabling malnutrition as a weapon of war. Women are giving birth without pain relief and this includes C Sections, the agony of being cut open and feeling every single second of the severe pain without anaesthesia, needed to save the life of the mother and child; a child born into a precarious future, a child who may not survive. And now there are almost no healthcare facilities, neither during nor after delivery, “after delivery” being of relevance only if they survive. After giving birth, adequate nutrition is essential whether or not a mother is breastfeeding, and a carefully planned diet is often needed. Bottle-fed babies need an adequate supply of clean water, facilities and equipment to sterilise bottles and appropriate baby milk formula. Mothers can only dream of the days when these were all available or of days when they might be again. Some babies do not survive because of poor nutrition, and those who need intensive care are exceptionally vulnerable. By depriving hospitals of power and equipment, the Israelis are ensuring that new-borns are dying, that is if they are not killed in the bombing, crushed to death in the rubble or burnt alive in the fires that have been spreading through Gaza.  

Annika Flensburg who is the Head of Advocacy and press at the Stockholm based  Kvinna Till Kvinna Foundation* has outlined to Al Jazeera the desperate situation, the “gender-based violence” and the “ongoing everyday violence that pregnant women are facing”. This is a long-term health emergency and generations of trauma that will follow, but she also is able to provide a note of hope, paying tribute to the “incredible work done by local women’s organisations” which provide whatever they can to ease the indescribable traumas faced by thousands of women in Gaza.  

*“The Kvinna till Kvinna Foundation is one of the world’s leading feminist women’s rights organisations, working directly in areas affected by war and conflict to strengthen the influence and power of all women. We work closely together with more than 100 partner organisations in 20 countries to defend women’s rights, achieve gender equality and justice, and reach lasting feminist peace.” 

Let’s get ready for war – Germany’s new defence strategy

Ever since the end of the Second World War, Germany’s defence strategy has been one of relative caution. But in January last year, Boris Pistorius became the Federal Minister of Defence and took on the task of reviewing and overhauling the military, the Bundeswehr. 

This month Pistorius declared that not only will Germany need to fight but “we must be ready for war by 2029. We must provide a deterrent to prevent the worst from happening. Three issues are central to this. Personnel, material and finances. In an emergency, we need young men and women who can defend this country.”

Pistorius stressed that President Vladimir Putin has given a warning that Russia could make long-range weapons available to strike NATO targets. This is a response to some NATO members, such as France and Germany, allowing Ukraine to use their weapons to attack Russian territory. So Pistorius believes that Germany must be ready for a retaliatory Russian attack on a NATO country and has commented several times that Germany must become “war-capable”.

In the UK recently, the Tories proposed to restore national service, a policy which could well be taken up by a future Labour government. Is this an indication that politicians here are thinking along the same lines?

Are preparations for a wider war in Europe taking place before our eyes, yet unacknowledged by so many of us? We have become used to peace in Europe. But for how much longer?

Jury ignores Attorney General and Court of Appeal and finds Just Stop Oil protesters not guilty of criminal damage

In March the Court of Appeal backed the Attorney General’s call and made the ruling that the loss of life from the climate breakdown and the government’s persistence in ignoring the science are not relevant to the defence when it comes to damaging property. The establishment clearly feared that in too many cases juries were on the side of defendants and acquitted them. 

On 28th April 2022 Just Stop Oil activists, Nathan McGovern, Rosa Sharkey and Louis Hawkins, were involved in an action which blocked the entrances to the M25 Clacket Lane Services, broke the display glass on the petrol pumps and sprayed paint on them. 

However, earlier this month the jury at Guildford Crown Court found the three Just Stop Oil activists not guilty of causing criminal damage. It was a unanimous verdict from the 12 jury members and was given despite the fact that the judge ruled out their legal defence. 

Nathan McGovern spoke about the verdict: “Despite Attorney General rulings, despite losing every legal defence, despite the Conservative Party demonising those taking action to protect our communities from the crimes of oil companies – 12 ordinary members of the public have returned a resounding not guilty verdict. 

“This is a clear sign that the British public sides with those taking action to prevent catastrophic climate breakdown, not BP or the Tory party. From a jury in the heart of England, this could not make it clearer where the public lies on the need to end fossil fuels and protect all life”

We should all support these courageous young people who are risking their futures to fight for the future of all life on earth. 

Looking back in time – Orgreave 18th June 1984

In March 1984 the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) called a national strike as the National Coal Board (NCB) was planning a number of pit closures, which, despite denials, amounted to more than 70. A mass picket was called outside the Orgreave coking plant on the outskirts of Sheffield on 18th June.The police behaved in a suspiciously courteous manner towards the pickets and ushered them into a field, the “topside”, to the south where they were more or less completely hemmed in , apart from a narrow bridge leading to Orgreave village. The pickets were charged by mounted police with truncheons and officers in riot gear with shields and truncheons. Miners started to flee uphill and over the bridge, but the police attacked many of them. This resulted in a number of serious injuries and many were dragged to a detention centre which the police had set up. The police charges continued: “The police ran amok, clubbing and arresting miners indiscriminately. In one piece of TV footage a senior officer can be heard shouting ‘bodies, not heads’, but the number of head injuries sustained by the miners meant he was largely ignored.” Fifty-five miners were arrested that day at the topside and were charged with riot. A guilty verdict could lead to a life sentence. Forty men were arrested elsewhere and charged with unlawful assembly. After a number of days the trials of the defendants were abandoned as it became clear that the police were lying in their evidence and had been writing false statements. 

The conduct of the police for assault, wrongful arrest, false prosecution and perjury was never investigated and there were no disciplinary or criminal proceedings against the police. The South Yorkshire police paid nearly £500,000 in total to 39 of the miners but did not admit that they had done anything wrong. 

The media sided with the police and blamed the miners and so exonerated the police in the public eye. It did nothing for the miners, who suffered ongoing physical and psychological problems. Many lost jobs and their marriages and relationships broke up.  

Orgreave leaves us with a sense of outrage at the injustice received by the miners and was to affect police behaviour in the future: “Orgreave marked a turning point in the policing of public protest. It sent a message to the police that they could employ violence and lies with impunity.”

There has been no independent public enquiry, despite pressure from trade unions, councils, political parties and community and campaigning organisations. The Orgreave Truth and Justice Campaign and others continue the fight for an enquiry. And now, 40 years later, there is still violence, inappropriate behaviour, corruption and criminality within many police forces. The Tory Government has introduced measures to restrict our rights and our freedoms to protest and, disgracefully but unsurprisingly, the Labour Party, which is likely to form the next government, fully supports these measures. 

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