Disability Activists Meet Employment Minister

This article is from the new October 2013 issue of The Young Quaker. You can read the full issue here.

By Sam Barnett-Cormack

Several weeks ago, on the 10th of September, I spent a day in London. This wasn’t some recreational trip, nor was it for work. I’d been asked to join a campaigning associate for a meeting with a minister in the current coalition government.

I imagine most of you are aware that disabled people, carers and allies have been getting quite exercised about, among other things, the state of social security (which our political class now prefer to call ‘welfare’), especially as it applies to people who are chronically ill and disabled. I’ve been involved in an informal campaigning coalition which has ended up (quite inadvertently) being known as Spartacus. Due to some strange parliamentary wrangling, Mark Hoban, Minister of State for Employment at the Department of Work and Pensions, had agreed to meet with “Spartacus” about the much-criticised Work Capability Assessment (WCA). The WCA is used to assess whether people who are out-of-work are sufficiently ill or disabled not to be expected to engage with Jobseekers Allowance, but instead receive Employment Support Allowance (ESA).

A Minister of State is a step or two down from a Secretary of State, but still a political bigwig. This is the guy with direct responsibility for everything administered through Jobcentre Plus – basically, all out-of-work benefits. He’s the politician most directly responsible for the WCA. A meeting was arranged with Sue Marsh, quite a prominent campaigner on this issue, and given the work we’ve done together, she asked me to come along for the meeting, along with Stef Benstead, another campaigner I’ve worked with on issues around the WCA and ESA.

We spent some time before the meeting working together online, and getting input from other campaigners, including some organised groups. Like a lot of groups campaigning on this, we want to see the WCA as it is stop. However, we believe that while calling for radical change to prevent harm to vulnerable people, we can also make specific, constructive suggestions that can be done quickly, to make things a bit better.