One of the great things about this party is that ordinary members can get involved in policy making. Look at what Ewan Hoyle’s achieved in getting through an evidence based drugs policy as an example. Our raising of the tax threshold policy was the brainchild of WLD member Lizzie Jewkes. Our Conference is the sovereign body of the party and means that we as ordinary members have big say in the direction of the party.
There has never been a more important time to be a member of the party. Now we have a chance to influence what the Government does. This week, I’ve been asking you to sign George’s and my petition asking ministers to make sure that all chemotherapy patients are not hassled by ATOS to do work capability assessments. A couple of months ago, I asked you to write to Lib Dem peers to make sure that they voted in accordance with the motion on Employment and Support Allowance passed at our Birmingham Conference.
The Welfare Reform Bill has been wending its way through the Lords over the past few weeks and the next few days see some critical votes. One of the most iniquitous parts of this legislation is the withdrawal of contributory ESA from people after a year, regardless of their condition. The most compelling argument on this I heard came at Scottish Conference from Ken Reed, the incoming chair of RNIB Scotland:
Ken is a really eloquent speaker and made the clearest argument I’ve so far heard against the arbitrary time limit for contributory ESA. He asked us all to imagine what it would be like if we lost our sight tomorrow. It would take us 12 months just to get used to life as a blind person. No way would you be ready to get into the job market again. You can see what he means. Imagine if it happened to you - once you’ve got over the sheer shock and can get around your own home without incident, there’s becoming fluent in Braille to consider. Maybe you could have a look at an introduction to Russian or Chinese to see how quickly your brain could learn to process different symbols properly just to get a smidgen of an idea of what that would be like.
Yet, under the Government’s plans, that newly blind person would be left without any ESA after 12 months. The person whose body is wracked from exposure to toxins at almost fatal limits as a result of chemo is unlikely to have recovered. And what of long term conditions from Depression to Crohn’s Disease? What’s particularly bad is that it’s darned hard to get decent treatment for many mental health conditions. Nick Clegg’s helped that with an extra £400 million for talking therapies, but it’s still not enough.
If you want to see our peers vote in accordance with the policy passed in Birmingham which was very clear that Lib Dems in Government should “oppose arbitrary time limits” then you need to encourage them along that path by writing to them soon. Pick as many as you like at random. Campaigner Sue Marsh, at Diary of a Benefit Scrounger, has suggested a template letter. I think it’s vital that our Peers see the strength of feeling amongst our membership on this, so please write yourself and encourage others to do so.
You can take your pick from the list here. If you know them personally, so much the better – the more you can write to the merrier.
These are a crucial series of votes which make a huge difference to sick and disabled people. Please take some time out of your day to e-mail our peers and let our party leadership know how strongly we feel on these issues.