I went to Chester Zoo recently. I saw some beautiful butterflies. All butterflies are beautiful – but these were particularly beautiful. What’s so very beautiful for me about these creatures is how they dance unthreateningly from one position of rest to another. They add to the world in almost everything they do.
But they do so in such a sustainable way.
We could do well to treasure their example.
There’s something else I admire about the butterfly, of course. A long time ago, I was instructed by my father – who, even today, treasures their example in much the same way I suggest above we should all aim to do – not to try and touch them ever. Apparently, their wings are covered in tiny scales – the touching of which removes an important protection.
In this, butterflies are one step away from a lingering but unstoppable death.
One touch, in fact.
Yet evolution has cared to find them a place in the scheme of things. Nature has created them and decided unthreatening, in this case, is good.
And nature, in this, at least in this case, is about as wise as it gets.
Two examples today, then, of where we human beings have become butterfly-crushing bastards.
First, Aaron Swartz’s suicide, the implications of which I hope will continue to resonate: please read these two posts from John Naughton and ensure that this indeed does continue to happen. From the second of the two, and quoting from a Matt Stoller article:
[...] What killed him was corruption. Corruption isn’t just people profiting from betraying the public interest. It’s also people being punished for upholding the public interest. In our institutions of power, when you do the right thing and challenge abusive power, you end up destroying a job prospect, an economic opportunity, a political or social connection, or an opportunity for media. Or if you are truly dangerous and brilliantly subversive, as Aaron was, you are bankrupted and destroyed. There’s a reason whistleblowers get fired. There’s a reason Bradley Manning is in jail. There’s a reason the only CIA official who has gone to jail for torture is the person – John Kiriako - who told the world it was going on. There’s a reason those who destroyed the financial system “dine at the White House”, as Lawrence Lessig put it. There’s a reason former Senator Russ Feingold is a college professor whereas former Senator Chris Dodd is now a multi-millionaire. There’s a reason DOJ officials do not go after bankers who illegally foreclose, and then get jobs as partners in white collar criminal defense. There’s a reason no one has been held accountable for decisions leading to the financial crisis, or the war in Iraq. This reason is the modern ethic in American society that defines success as climbing up the ladder, consequences be damned. Corrupt self-interest, when it goes systemwide, demands that it protect rentiers from people like Aaron, that it intimidate, co-opt, humiliate, fire, destroy, and/or bankrupt those who stand for justice.
But Aaron Swartz isn’t alone in his death at the hands of the political inversion of our public interest. Here in Britain, today, we now have plenty of evidence to hand to demonstrate how all these unsung heroes of our time – human butterflies all – are being broken by a political system that turns a very real public interest into a very private personal benefit. Some choice examples here:
The first example concerns a constituent of mine who was epileptic almost from birth and was subject to grand mal seizures. At the age of 24, he was called in by Atos, classified as fit for work and had his benefit cut by £70 a week. He appealed, but became agitated and depressed and lost weight, fearing that he could not pay his rent or buy food. Three months later, he had a major seizure that killed him. A month after he died, the DWP rang his parents to say that it had made a mistake and his benefit was being restored.
To illustrate one of those cases, I shall cite a letter I received from a constituent, Janine, in Liverpool. Her dad was thrown off sickness benefit in November after an Atos work capability assessment and was declared fit for work despite suffering from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Six weeks later, on Christmas day, Janine’s father died.
My caseworker, like those of many Members, is inundated with cases that are tragic and heart-rending. The telephone line to my office is often clogged with crying people. They often ring several times a day, as they are unable to cope with the stress that they are facing. Many have mental health problems, and are unable to cope with the paperwork. They are unsure what to do with it, and they ring me to ask for help in the most tragic and personal way.
We are all here today because constituents have come to us and told us their stories. Constituents have come to me in their wheelchairs with their carers because they have wanted me to know about the difficulties that they are experiencing. They cannot understand why, in the face of overwhelming medical evidence, they are still being called in for interviews. Some cannot understand why they have been told “If you make it to this interview, you must be fit for work.”
Thirdly, there is a category of people who are being considered fit for work although they have had, for instance, a severe stroke or are awaiting a back operation. One constituent was told that if people could move an empty cardboard box, they could go to work. Do the health care professionals employed by Atos always take account of the fact that people have to get to work in the first place, or that, while they may be able to perform an action once, they may not be able to perform it repeatedly when it causes severe pain?
Many disabled people’s groups say that the reductions in benefits have had a catastrophic effect on recipients, and there have been a number of reports of suicides and untimely deaths brought on by immense distress. In my surgeries, I have heard several harrowing and very sad accounts from constituents who have been subjected to impersonal and inhumane work capability assessments by Atos. One has been diagnosed with an aggressive brain tumour, which cannot be completely removed because that would leave her paralysed. In August and September of last year she had radiotherapy to slow down the growth of the tumour, but in October she was told that it would grow back even more quickly, and that she would have to have further radiotherapy or she would die. I should add that this lady also has polyarthritis and asthma. Why has this lady been placed in the work-related activity group? Her doctors and consultants have specified that she should be placed in the support group as she is fighting for her life. Her only concern should be winning that battle.
Another constituent contacted me who had been ill for two years and was eventually diagnosed with cancer following a serious bout of pneumonia. Prior to her illness, she had an unblemished employment record. She was certified as unable to work by her GP and had attended many DWP hearings about the employment and support allowance, with the final one being in April 2012. She won her tribunal hearing against the Atos decision. She had not received a single penny in state benefits from before April 2012 until she died at the end of November. She faced immense distress and was denied any financial assistance at a time when she was vulnerable and in desperate need of assistance.
Clearly many of my constituents have not been treated with the fairness and decency they deserve. Although I realise that we need to see whether people can work, we need a system that is humane and fair, not one that causes fear and loathing. It is time the Government realised that they are driving many sick and disabled people into poverty. What does the Minister think of Citizens Advice’s detailed year-long study “Right first time?” on the controversial work capability assessment run by Atos, which has revealed evidence of widespread inaccuracies in the medical reports that help to determine whether individuals are eligible for sickness benefits? Citizens Advice also tracked a group of people through the process of claiming employment and support allowance and looked at how their claims were handled. The report’s conclusions are stark: 37 individuals were tracked and had their reports examined, with serious levels of inaccuracy revealed in up to 43% of the reports. That level is significant enough to have an impact on the claimant’s eligibility for benefits—surely our sick and disabled deserve better than this.
Over 5,000 of my constituents are on incapacity benefit or employment and support allowance and they are facing this terrible system. I should like to give a few examples. Mr H, a double-leg amputee, was told to undertake an 80-mile round trip for his work capability assessment. Mr W, who has serious mental health problems, had a panic attack and was physically sick during his WCA but was told he was fit for work. His wife believes that he is being victimised by Atos. Mrs D, a district nurse who broke her back at work, was told that she is fit for work. Mrs M, who was treated for cancer in July 2010, was deemed fit for work before the results of the operation came through. Her appeal will not take place until next month. Mr E, who is one of the people the RNIB is worried about, had been completely blind for 16 years and forced to give up work, but was told by Atos that he was fit for work.
And finally (the bold is mine):
A gentleman in my constituency—let us call him Mr D—served in the forces for many years and is now in his late 50s. In the past 18 months, he has undergone extensive surgery to the brain, following a tumour, and in November 2011 he was informed that he required further surgery, this time to his neck, to remove the growing tumour. At the same time—in precisely the same month—Atos assessed Mr D as being fit for work. That assessment was undertaken by someone who was not trained as a doctor at a time when Mr D was going to assessments with a gaping wound in his head and still undergoing treatment. Does it not make an entire mockery of the whole process if that is allowed to happen? Does it not cast real doubt on the effectiveness and accuracy of the whole system? Most ominously, does it not reveal the system’s true intention?
Several of my constituents—far too many to be isolated incidents—have told me that they were asked by the person carrying out the assessment whether they just sat around all day watching Jeremy Kyle. I expect uninformed, unprofessional and crass comments from the likes of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, but not from medical professionals with the serious task of determining whether a person is fit for work in, presumably, an objective and non-prejudicial manner.
Too much to read you say? Too many words, distant experiences and other lives we cannot be expected to share? Well, I’m afraid there’s plenty more of the same at the Hansard link in question. And you really should read it all. In fact, I insist.
Go ahead and do it.
And then come back for a very short last couple of thoughts.
If Aaron Swartz has anything in common with any of the rest of us souls who populate this planet, it is with these human butterflies I refer to above. Struggling to understand the world as it really is, yes. Weak, in no way at all. With everything stacked against them too. For being blind only means you cannot see as the wicked do too easily.
And seeing life as it is doesn’t mean giving up on goodness either.
Even when pursuing goodness may – ultimately – mean one’s own destruction.
One final link for you to think about. This, tonight, from the Independent, takes us back to the conflict-strewn 1980s:
The Labour MP Tom Watson alleged in the Commons in October that politicians belonging to a paedophile network had used their powerful connections to escape justice.
In a short statement tonight, the Metropolitan Police said: “The Metropolitan Police Service have today, Thursday 17 January, launched an investigation, Operation Fernbridge, into historic allegations of child abuse in the early 1980s at the Elm Guest House, Rocks Lane, Barnes, London.
“The investigation will be led by the Child Abuse Investigation Command. Anyone with information is asked to contact officers on 020 7161 0500.”
Talk of breaking butterflies on wheels, eh?
This shit is everywhere, at all levels and in all countries.