Monday, 23 December 2013

The WOW factor makes for a good early Christmas present, but we must keep up the fight against the erosion of the welfare state

A year and a half ago I wrote about John Burns, a courageous man who, having suffered a terrible water sports accident, had been paralysed from the neck down. I was privileged to hear Mr Burns speak of his experience of spinal cord injury (SCI) at the AGM of the All Party Parliamentary Group on SCI in June, 2012.

The august surroundings (the AGM was held at Portcullis House in the House of Lords) only made Mr Burns' tale all the more poignant. After his accident, Mr Burns was forced, through lack of any alternative, to live in institutional care. Deprived of his family life, missing anniversary celebrations and seeing his sons grow up, he regarded this as a prison sentence.

We must oppose the war on welfare


Listening to Mr Burns was moving and inspirational in equal measure. On the one hand, everyone present admired his courage; on the other, we couldn't help but feel angry at the treatment of those with disability in this country. Time and again those who suffer an SCI are packed off into homes and forced either to use their savings or sell family assets to pay for their treatment. They're forced to live alone, away from their families and friends - despite having worked hard and paid their taxes, and despite Britain's longstanding and much admired commitment to welfare.

In fact, the present government has been engaged in a war on welfare for some time. If it had its way, the sick and those with disability would be even worse off, thanks to cuts proposed by the Department for Work and Pensions. Our cherished welfare state is under threat as never before.

But the year could be ending on a positive note - thanks to the WOW factor.
#WOWdebate2014 to stop the War on Welfare

WOW stands for the War on Welfare campaign. Its campaigners ask the government to carry out a Cumulative Impact Assessment to look at the overall effect of cuts to sick and disabled people, as well and their families and carers. They also ask that MPs are given a free vote on the repeal of the Welfare Reform Act. Other laudable campaign aims are to end the Work Capability Assessment, and the launch of an independent inquiry into issues including charges for care homes, ATOS, and the closure of Remploy factories.

Success for WOW


WOW launched an e-petition, supported and submitted by actress and award-winning comedian Francesca Martinez. In a piece of great news just before Christmas, the petition secured its target of 100,000 signatures with 12 days to spare before it closed. Celebrities including Stephen Fry, Russell Brand and Yoko Ono lent their support and helped garner the momentum for enough signatures to compel a parliamentary debate.

For Francesca Martinez, the key issue is clear cut. As she puts it: "The Government are using this recession as a cover for implementing cuts and eroding vital services that people fought long and hard for, and we need to get together and protect these crucial support networks."

I agree whole-heartedly. The government's hostility to the sick and disabled is a disgrace. Moreover, it's a human rights issue. We should all continue to support WOW - for example by writing to our local MPs. We must do our best to preserve what's good about our society - not stand by and let it be taken away.