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The conscious cruelty of the benefits system

I have thought about this post for quite a while, and with three showings of I Daniel Blake to speak at in the next six days, and chats with fellow activists and people in mental distress and disabled people impacted by the issues the film raises, I may raise some of this:

Ken Loach said that he downplayed the issues in the film, that he could not make it too harrowing or an audience would not watch it. The film for me, caused a rollercoaster of emotions, deep anger, distress, sadness, a deep resolve to keep fighting for equality and social justice, but also a deep disappointment, because for many who saw the film, more needs to be done to widen the support and solidarity and build the campaigns of resistance against this government and all they stand for, and to get the tragic human impact of the welfare reforms, the cuts to services and cuts to jobs out to the wider public arena, especially to people who continue to vote for a government who will destroy everything, including our human rights, which is a threat to every man woman and child.

When the film started, with Daniel going through the WCA, what we, as disabled people, and as activists fighting this pernicious system experience, is the chronic distress, fear and anxiety around this process. Many have stated the fear of the DWP Brown envelope, as I have myself, getting obsessed with the post delivery, wondering if you will get a brown envelope today, an ESA 50, a PIP 2 Form or the fact your money has stopped.

We live in fear of income insecurity, never knowing when your next assessment will be and what that will mean for us to be able to live. Attached to that, is the fear that we can lose even more; our home. When found fit for work with a WCA, your housing benefit stops too, then you face the threat of eviction and the real worry and eventual possibility that you can lose your home, the only safe space you have from this insane dark world we live in. These are continuous and real fears and worries we have day in day out. The film I, Daniel Blake is reality for hundreds of thousands even millions of us. We live this process every single day. We live the fear of brown envelopes, the fear of being called up for a WCA every day. Never knowing when it will happen, or what the government will hit us with next, its torture.

We know of many people who have harmed themselves rather than go through a WCA again, or visit the job centre. I was so traumatised by the fear of the WCA I was hospitalised before the process even started, tried to kill myself over it, a story I have shared with the media and at meetings many times. My story is one of thousands who feel the same way. Believe me.

You saw in the film the way Daniel is treated, sanctioned, no money, bills mounting up, selling his furniture to live. His health deteriorating, anger building as he is treated callously and inhaumanely. You saw Katy a single parent who had to leave London far from friends and family and move to Newcastle where rents were more affordable and housing benefit would cover the rent. We are seeing a mass social cleansing of Housing Benefit claimants out of London and elsewhere as the Benefit Cap came into force and was lowered even further last year. Who despite everything, struggled to find work, was skipping meals to feed her kids. A story that is replayed in every community in the UK. Two children in every class go to school hungry. Three years ago in London there was a story of children stealing frozen meat to eat. Foodbank use is skyrocketing, poverty is skyrocketing, homelessness is rocketing, and the deaths from the cuts are skyrocketing. That is massively important to stress.

People are taking their own lives in dreadful distress due to these assessments and the aftermarth of them. Just recently a lady took her own life after being told she did not qualify for PIP. Atos Kills again. This is a travesty, this is social injustice and this is grave and systematic abuse of human rights on a scale so big and done in such a silent way people are disbeliving it is happening, but happening it is.

Friends I have lost and are losing keeps increasing, campaigners who I fought alongside five, four three years ago are no longer with us, worn down by the constant battle against this government, and subjected to the horror and inhuamanity of the cuts themselves. Please never forget that.

This government was found guilty of grave and systematic human rights violations towards disabled people under the United Nations Conventions for the rights of people with disabilities. Those human rights abuses are still happening on a daily basis.

This film helped us as activists and battlers of this pernicious system to try and get the word out there on a much bigger scale on what is going on, but we have still a hell of a lot more to do to stop this social injustice, to get this government to face the justice it should be facing for the deaths of thousands of disabled people due to the impact of their cruel polices.

What we have to do and do more of, is support people to know what their rights are when navigating this system, if we have knowledge and know how to fill out ESA and PIP forms support people with them, know how to appeal, and support people who have nothing and terrified to go on. That is of vital importance and it will keep people going one more day, one more week.

Please do not think for one minute that we as activists are not affected. We have been impacted by the cuts, we are struggling to survive, but, fight back against this we must.

We are in a battle for the right to live, that is what I am going to say at the showings of the film that I have been asked to speak at.

Paula Peters

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