There's been numerous reports about unfair Government assessments of people with disabilities, and protests in Salford outside the PIP Consultation Centre (see here).
Many people have had legitimate benefits stopped after going through, what Alec McFadden, manager of Salford Unemployed and Community Resource Centre, calls the "Frankenstein nightmare of going to a tribunal and being told they are totally fit to work and not getting a single point..."
This week, the Resource Centre, together with Unite Community, decided to do something about it by running a one day training course at Eccles Community Fire Station to build an army of volunteers to try and re-balance things; to attend assessments with people to make sure everything is above board...
"I think it's very important that people are there to stand up for people who are not necessarily best able to defend themselves in this new system of sanctions, and a benefit system that is set up basically to catch people out, force them off benefits and to criminalise and de-legitimise the welfare state" said Ben Clay, one of those who trained as a volunteer in the Salford benefit army.
"People have certain rights, and that includes a decent standard of living, being able to afford to pay their bills, their rent, and to eat food to a healthy standard" he added "Basically the Government is disregarding this, and it's got to the stage where people are signed off as being fit to work and are basically dying. And that's totally unacceptable in a civilised society."
The training involved learning about how assessments are run and the criteria used...
"All we're doing is ensuring that the Government applies its own rules and regulations to the system" Ben explained "What's been happening is that people are being thrown off the system through very arbitrary decisions which often don't fit their own criteria. Unless these things are challenged and those who make these decisions are held to account you're going to see many more injustices where people who are rightfully entitled to benefits are thrown off benefits and have no means of supporting themselves."
29 people attended the day from all walks of life, from a lorry driver to a caretaker, to people who have been through the process of assessments themselves, and now Alec McFadden is hoping that, as a result, there will be volunteers from the army to attend disability assessments with around one hundred people per week.*
"It isn't just a question any longer of people having their benefits stopped" said Alec "People are not even applying for the benefits that they are entitled to because they are too terrified of going through the process.
"You've got to judge a society by the way it treats vulnerable and disabled people, so what we are doing here is creating an army of advisors" he added "We've given them some information and skills to take it forward, and I'm really lifted by the enthusiasm and confidence, and some really articulate people working together with people who have suffered mental health problems. They're becoming a team.
"My advice to anyone facing an assessment is to never, ever, go alone..." he insisted.
All the volunteers were already members of the Unite Community branch or have since joined, and the idea is to recruit those they help to also join the trade union, to massively increase its membership and influence.
In the meantime, those who have to face 'Frankenstein' DWP assessments will have the benefit army fighting alongside them in the disability trench warfare that the Government has created...
*Anyone who would like a volunteer to accompany them to disability assessments is urged to ring 0161 789 2999. They would like two or three weeks notice of appointments.
Also see previous Salford Star article: Severely Disabled People Losing £Millions in Benefits as Salford UCRC Launches Claim Campaign – click here