Saturday, 17 September 2011

LIB DEMS PASS MOTION AND AMENDMENT ON ESA!!

Wow!! With elation, relief and astonishment I can tell you that the LibDems just passed motion F6 (P17) and the Glasgow North amendment on ESA, Work Capability Assessments and the proposed one year time limit.

Oh what a torturous story this is!!! One that I couldn't share with you all, one I was DESPERATE to blog about so many times. A story of bravery, a "few good men" and a whole lot of agony!

A few months ago, a nice young guy called George Potter left a comment on my blog :

"Great blog post - as always you have a way of making the situation hit home.
I've got a motion trying to change the assessment process and scrap the time limit of ESA which is going forward to the Lib Dem autumn conference to be debated and voted on and I was wondering if it would be alright if I were to borrow your words from this blogpost and use them verbatim to make the case for fixing the glaring problems with the system as it currently stands?

Before you make up your mind, the text of the motion can be found here:

http://thepotterblogger.blogspot.com/2011/06/where-ive-been.html

I really hope you'll say yes as your words are really powerful and I'm sure they would sway a lot of minds were they to be used in the debate."

Of course, I contacted George straight away and we discussed his ideas. He was a fully paid-up, card-carrying human being who had seen a terrible injustice and wanted to make it right - the very essence of political success surely? 

We worked together for a few weeks, hoping against hope that the motion would be accepted only to receive a totally re-written version, (P17) seemingly endorsed by the offices of Steve Webb and Jenny Willott, which was simply lifted from the recent Work and Pensions Committee report into ESA and Work Capability Assessments (WCAs). Of course they could endorse it, because, as you can see, it bore no relation to the original sentiments of the motion George had written. It simply parrots the coalition line on ESA. 

There was one, vital flicker of hope. One line had been left in that we need to win very much indeed :  "Opposition to an arbitrary time limit on how long claimants can claim contributory ESA"

What was to be done? Get cross? cause a fuss over a blatant attempt to silence the voices of grassroots members? Or sell our souls for that precious line? I hope you will agree in retrospect that we sold our souls. It was too important to miss with the other option being "nothing" and the few people who quietly worked on this - Me, George, Kaliya Franklin, and **Judy decided to keep very quiet and hope against all hope that whatever happened the time limiting line stayed in and was voted through. 

Not to be outdone however, George worked on an amendment to the motion, with Judy's help that strengthened the re-written wording, stating that "sanctions were inappropriate for the genuinely sick and disabled" and calling for the right to legal representation at tribunal. We felt that of all the injustices, these were moderate yet vital demands.  

A while later, Lib Dem Youth adopted the motion and asked George if they cld take it forward. With astonishing grace, George agreed, agreeing that Tom Wood, Lib Dem Youth Chair would sum up the debate. 

Just a few days before the motion was to be debated at Lib Dem Conference, we already faced the fairly bleak situation of a "Coalitionized" motion when even George's amendment was rejected. On "inaccuracies". Based on information supplied by me. I'll leave you to draw your own conclusions on that excuse. 

All our work, all our hope, gone. We had a few last cards to play, but basically, they'd silenced us all. Again. 

*Sigh* It wasn't the first time. We were beat and we knew it.

Despite all of this provocation, George stayed loyal to both sides at once, with a maturity and wisdom that WAY outshone his years. Truly, time and again he astonished me. I don't meet many people like George in this weird crusade - possibly none - and no matter what was thrown at him - and believe me every possible last goody or threat was thrown at him - he did the right thing. Every time. Whether it was for his own party or our cause, he just managed to do the right thing every time. At 21!! Wow. (Incidentally he was only 21 yesterday and WHAT a birthday present he just got!!!!)

At the final hour, a mysterious saviour named James Sandbach rode in and saved the day!! I don't know who that man is, but millions of sick and disabled people really ought to suddenly love him. He proposed this amendment through Glasgow North Lib Dems and strengthened up the coalitionized motion. 

I believe that Dr Evan Harris also worked on the amendments and if so, yet again he proves himself the rarest of politicians. 

Now, we had a motion that opposed the time limit and a really good amendment opposing the rest. I have to say the line of the amendment I loved was " A presumption that ESA claimants with serious and uncontrollable life-threatening conditions should be allocated to the support group rather than the work related activity group." I could barely believe that it might pass. It's all good though.

I'd pitched an article for the Guardian about it all which thankfully they took and published on the day I wanted, yesterday, so that I could appeal to Liberal Democrats before the vote. Of course, I didn't know what I was going to write til the day of the deadline!

Today, I actually had butterflies!! George rang me before 9am and he was already at conference!! Drooling over merchandise as we fretted over details. "I BET they call a fire alarm or something George" "I just daren't believe this will go through" George had threatened to shave his head if it didn't so had an added element of anxiety. 

4.15 seemed to take forever, then just as our debate was due, they "lost the sound connection" Judy rang me - "Ahhhh, you said they'd cause a diversion all along, I don't believe it!!!!"

Happily, our conspiracies came to nothing and Sarah Harding proposed the motion with an opening speech. If you'd like to see my live commentary, just search @suey2y on twitter and read from about 4.15pm today. 

They did us proud. With passion and conviction, Sarah Harding, Greg Judge, James Sandbach, Cllr Wendy Taylor and Shala Pessard gave moving speeches of personal experience and painted vivid pictures of how ludicrous a one year time limit would be, how inappropriate WCAs can be for fluctuating conditions such as MS (Shala Pessard) and Parkinson's. Greg Judge talked about how disability is different for every individual, how conditions fluctuate and pointed out that sickness or disability was a discussion we all could engage in. Greg and Sarah both paid tribute to George in their speeches which I think was absolutely the right thing to do. "Thank you" from me, he deserved your words.

Two people got up and tried to oppose the motion but no-one really quite understood why. Something about giving private companies a break and not giving sick people too much legal aid. They were never going to be crowd pleasers. 

Then George stood up to speak. I was live-tweeting, yet desperately wanting to watch the face of the guy I'd been hoping and praying with for 3 months. There he was! George Potter! Speaking in front of his party, with passion and confidence. I was so proud. I know, pathetic, and probably patronising but I was. 

As I tweeted furiously, he started to talk about me!! He told my story, there, up on that stage and I swear, I had no idea that he was going to.



Before he graciously agreed to let LDY open the debate, he had suggested a speech about my situation, but then his speech was cut and he only had three minutes. We agreed he would focus on time limiting or something, I can't remember. We didn't even know if George, the man who had made all of this happen would be speaking at all! We had to wait and see if he was randomly called as the debate progressed. 

He was finally called last and he was amazing!! I can't wait to post the link to his speech here and hope to be able to tomorrow. Look out for it and imagine my face as he started to speak!! Everything he'd read from us all, every important point I'd discussed with him, every last vital injustice laid bare for that conference room. Go George!!!! I was having a little cry and trying to tweet at the same time. It was a bizarre (how bizarre???) moment but I don't suppose I'll ever forget it. 

Tom Wood summed up (which, may I say, he did beautifully and eloquently) and suddenly, they were voting. "All those in favour of motion F6 please raise your hands." Every hand in the room went up. The Chair beamed. "Motion F6 is clearly passed"

"All those voting in favour of amendment 1" Most hands went up!!!!!!! "Against?" I suppose I would guess that 10% of the hands went up. *Chair beams again* "Amendment one is clearly passed"

SAY WHAT??? Say What again? We actually won something?? Oh my God, we actually WON SOMETHING!!!!!  The amendment too?? No WAAAY!!

I think there was dancing, there were almost certainly smothering cuddles from my boys, waiting with me with baited breath. The phone rang, it was Judy. We cried a bit, we screamed quite a lot, we gasped. 

I'm really tired and still a little disbelieving so I will get back to you with the technicalities of what this all actually MEANS soon, but I do know that it means Liberal Democrat Lords enter the committee stage of the Welfare Reform Bill with a much stronger hand to bargain with.

In ways that I will explain, their conference is more democratic than the other parties and has more weight to carry through conference decisions (hence the ability of LibDems to negotiate fairly hard once the Health and Social Care Bill got a hefty vote at their previous conference)

This was all I really knew, but the only way we are ever going to get any amendments to this bill is by working with LibDems, like it, hate it "meh" about it - gotta be done. 

So far I've found the one's I dealt with sterling. Caron Lindsay over at Caron's Musings burrowed away here and there, blogging to other LibDems why they should support a robust amendment LINK. 

Steve Webb? Who knows. People I liked and trusted swore with passion that he was a good guy. Did he pull the motion, put in his own and pull George's speech? Or did he engineer a rather smooth and quiet little coup that ensured no splutters too huge to be heard? Why DID the time limiting line - the one line the Tories want to stay OUT at all costs -  stay in the watered down motion? 

Every single person who spoke today - even those who opposed the amendment - opposed the one year time limit. Every one. I wonder where the amendment suddenly sprang from? Sadly, the answers to these and other questions, I do not know. 

From this point, Lib Dem Youth will be the face and impetus behind this motion and I'm convinced that they will work tirelessly to ensure that the spirit and demands of both the motion and amendment are upheld.

I'm toddling off with a BIG glass of wine and maybe I'll actually grin a bit ;)

Judy, Kaliya Franklin, Caron Lindsay & MargoJMilne in particular, worked to make this happen. 

**Judy is terrified of openly opposing the DWP as she fears sanctions. This is not her real name.

*** I realise this is all very complicated, but yes, it means we have quite a big chunk of hope to work with. If it makes things clearer, this is how the NHS bill got changed. Because Lib Dems voted for a motion AND amendment at their previous conference that opposed it, and the Lib coalition partners had to respond.

We just have to make sure ours isn't a fudge. Mostly it means there may no longer be an automatic majority in the Lords on ESA. 

25 comments:

  1. I would like too thankyou and all the other people who where involved with the motion at the confs, and your realy get blog. You give me hope as a disabled old soldier there are people fighting for us who are fearful and scared on what will happen to us.
    ivor williams

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  2. That's great =]

    Take care of yourself now, and rest (and enjoy that glass of wine!)

    Flo

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  3. disabledmedic - I'm planning a huge post for (hopefully) Monday re moving bill to Grand Committee in Lords. Mind if I namecheck you for #teamwrb ?

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  4. Excellent news. The work all of you put in is very much appreciated by many of us out here.

    Ebony

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  5. I am really brain foggy and I don't understand what you mean by 'namecheck'!

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  6. :) You have fought so hard. Thank you. You are on the side of the angels, Sue. Thank you.

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  7. Well done Sue. Hopefully now others who are being carried on by the Welfare Reforms will also see sense. It is ridiculous to have a time limit on being ill - I've been ill for four years now and there is no hope of me recovering.

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  8. Just I want to mention the amazing job you did of live tweeting the #wrb at the end of the post planned, but it's a biggie, so thought I'd better check first

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  9. Congratulations and thank you for all the work you've put into doing this. Keep fighting the good fight :) xxx

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  10. Sue, you don't know me but I've been following this fight. And thank you, thank you with all my heart, for fighting on behalf of me and all the others out there.

    Thank you.

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  11. I spoke with some local lib dem members about the inhumane system regarding ESA etc. I actually told Mr Clegg as he was getting out of his ministerial car that people had possibly died and more were going to die because of this. I spoke in a reasonable manner ( this was in the north glasgow constituency meeting . It kind of went a bit mad after that as an egg got chucked, but what struck me ( the egg did too ) was that the lib dem Scottish MSP had said that no one had spoken up about any grievances that they may have had and if they had spoken up then they would have been listened to. This was a very inaccurate picture of the days events and I am glad to see that some one from the North Glasgow branch has helped with this motion. I don't understand the technicalities of this stuff but I know that anyone who has a heart will be fighting for change. Best wishes and thanks.

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  12. Hello Sue,
    firstly fantastic! this vote is very important & i'm still shedding a few tears... you take many, many knocks & it seems George has too... I thank all of the brave speakers & those who helped.. We must let this lonely 'yes' vote by grass roots people soothe the sad, tired & terrified rejection we are going through, on top of our ill heath & disabilities...
    I am reprieved from disappearing into despair by this motion & vote but all i can keep thinking of is how it can't go further... Please respond to this if you can: If this was going to the open lords & could be voted on I might truly have real hope for the 1st time in 18 months at least! Due to the fact that it has been sidelined despite massive controversy & therefore any amendments need to be agreed UNANIMOUSLY (& not democratically voted on) does this mean that in reality it can't get any further??
    I am also amazed watching Lib Dem conference how grassroots are being prevented from democratic voice & votes!!... I will always have reason to work with good people but it is obvious my vote means nothing & i cannot just give it away...
    I do think the motion wording is good & even those thinking the system is full of scroungers may see the sense in it but if it only takes one voice against in committee will it just become symbolic retrospectively as the damage & murder reveals itself??
    I'm not being negative... It was a life saver to see grass roots vote for sense even though the vote on the NHS has them mixed up... As you say it comes from the top & this conference shows it again so clearly...
    Anyway i would appreciate your opinion & that of others on whether this can force them back into the lords for voting?
    Thankyou all so much & best wishes.. Nita

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  13. thanks to all, we can never repay the debt but eternally gratefull

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  14. Anonymous 11.02

    The bill is still in the Lords. It now enters the most important phase. Peers get to scrutinise the bill line by line and debate and discuss any faults or flaws in it.

    This is the stage where amendments to the bill will be debated and hopefully, added in.

    After this stage, we have the 3rd reading of the bill, where peers will vote once and for all to either pass the bill or pass it with amendments.

    We are very much hoping for amendments!!

    The LibDem conference motion and amendment mean that Lib Dem peers have a stronger hand to argue for amendments during the committee stage. In particular. I think it makes the one year time limit much shakier as that is in both the motion and the amendment.

    I desperately wanted the motion to pass as I knew if we have any hope at all of making any changes to the bill, we need to break the coalition majority in the Lords and focus on also lobbying cross benchers.

    This doesn't guarantee that we will get any changes, but it makes it much more likely. Our chances went from zero to "some" yesterday.

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  15. Well done and thank you for all your work on this. I almost don't regret voting Lib Dem at the last election now, good to see that there are some left with true integrity.

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  16. Hi Sue,
    thanks very much for taking time to answer.. Yes I totally agree if we are to have any chance this had to happen yesterday & it is brill & gives me extra spoons... Perhaps i'm being bit thick but what i don't understand is the discussion on net etc that came after the motion was passed on wednesday to have 'it' in a side room... I have read that the difference between where the scrutiny is (ie. in a side room rather than open lords) means not being able to vote but only to agree unanimously... have i got that wrong?... Are we having to hope now for all to accept the amendment?... Cheers 'Nita :)

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  17. P.S. Sorry but what are 'crossbenchers'? Nita

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  18. I wonder how much opposition to these insidious will be debated at the Labour Party conference.
    Well done Sue for getting your head around this minefield we call 'democracy'.

    Terry

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  19. I missed out the word 'reforms' after insidious! Ooops.

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  20. Thank you Sue for all your hard work...and all those representing disabled people...I for one am truly thankful.

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  21. This is not meant to put a downer on this achievement which Sue you have worked on so hard but -----. I'd like to make an observation. "They" always seem to win by dividing the opposition and ending up by tweaking inhumane legislation rather than discussing the ethics of what under pins it? In this case a Dr or specialist is no longer "qualified" to determine a persons ability to work or not. There is a presumption that sick and disabled people are "scroungers" who will do their best not to work if at all possible. The "genuinely sick and disabled" phrase says it all really. I guess there are 2 groups of people likely to be claiming ESA ----- those who have worked and then become ill and those who have never been able to work. If one of those groups can be appeased then the movement to get rid of ATOS testing etc will be seriously undermined whilst the principles of ever increasing conditionality remain in place and whilst those who struggle to work in the first place get trampled under foot. So I just think that we should remain thoughtful re the underlying principles of the ESA benefit.
    Sue

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  22. Hi Anonymous 09.31,
    you can be sure we will all remain thoughtful about the underlying principles of terrible ESA... I am also sure that if any of these wrongs are put right we shall still fight until all of it is fair... This really is good news.. i'm also very tired & ill from all of this but i'm trying not to sap more energy from myself just because i'm scared to hope or think one tiny change might mean the rest of the fight might be lost... As Sue says we have gone from 'no chance to some'... keep your chin up... best wishes... Nita

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  23. Anonymous 09.31.

    Are you saying we should not focus on only contributory ESA?

    If so, then, I don't. With particular reference to the time limit, it just so happens to affect people on contributory. It is also easily the biggest cut (3-5 billion)and affects 700,000 people.

    ESA and Time Limiting are just the very specific things I chose to focus on. Broken of Britain are more focused on DLA. Other groups focus on the company responsible conducting for WCAs. Yet more focus on social care or access to mobility aids or mental health care.

    It doesn't mean other issues aren't important or that we don't do a LOT of other work on the other issues. It also doesn't mean that just as others help me with ESA, I don't help them with their issues behind the scenes. That's just how it has to be.

    There are many things to fight in the WRB and I think we are successful because we've all experienced different aspects of the welfare system or NHS and therefore are experts about them.

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  24. Just want to add my congratulations to you and George on getting this through, and thanks to all of the LibDems who voted for it. Now we just need their parliamentary party to deliver the change their members have bound them to.

    I'd hoped I could help more, pushing the motion on the various Liberal websites, but it turned out I was stuck in a near-net-free zone just when I needed that net access, bah!

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