WELFARE ACTIVIST IN COURT AT DUNDEE - “ADVOCACY IS NOT A CRIME”
Solidarity demonstrators will greet the appearance of Scottish Unemployed Workers Network activist Tony Cox at Dundee Sheriff Court this Thursday 23 June.
Supporters denounce Tony Cox's arrest while he was accompanying a claimant at a disability benefits test. “'This is an attack on the right to be accompanied to a benefits appointment, and accompanied by a person of one's own choosing,” declared SUWN spokeswoman Sarah Glynn.
ECAP urges everyone who can to join the protest, from 10am on 23 June at Dundee Sheriff Court, 6 West Bell Street, DD1 9AD Dundee. People are travelling from Edinburgh. Groups unable to reach Dundee on the day are organising solidarity in their own areas, from Doncaster to Kilburn, London.
Paul Laverty, screenwriter for Ken Loach's “I Daniel Blake”, winner of the Palme D'Or at Cannes film festival, supports Tony Cox: "When we were researching the material for I Daniel Blake we came across overwhelming evidence of vulnerable people subjected to great pressure both by the Department of Work and Pensions and indeed the subcontracted companies carrying out the work capability assessments. On a trip to Dundee I personally witnessed Tony Cox and his colleagues at the Scottish Unemployed Workers Network giving solid practical advice to confused and sometimes highly distressed claimants.
“I have spoken to doctors who have been infuriated by the treatment of some of their patients who have been deemed fit for work despite serious illness. In this context the work of Tony Cox and his colleagues who accompany vulnerable claimants is a great service to the body politic. ... Claimants have a right to be accompanied by an advocate of choice ..”
Dr Cox was arrested on 10 November 2015 at the Maximus assessment centre in Dundee. Multi-national Maximus hold the government DWP contract to conduct Work Capability Assessments to decide on claimants' eligibility for the sickness benefit Employment and Support Allowance. The test has been widely criticised by disability rights groups and many others as being biased in favour of finding people fit to work who are clearly not able to take up employment.
Witnesses at the first court hearing on 9 June reported that Maximus refused to allow the claimant to be accompanied by Dr Cox, and called the police. This despite DWP statements that all claimants have the right to representation at all appointments. The claimant who Dr Cox was accompanying broke down in tears while giving evidence, resulting in an adjournment till 23 June.
Sarah Glynn of the SUWN emphasised the vital principles at stake:
“There will be protestors outside the court and support protests in other parts of the UK, because everyone who is on benefits or who knows people on benefits recognises the vital need for people's right to be accompanied to be respected.
As the benefit system evolves into an increasingly punitive minefield, it has never been more important to have support negotiating the way through. The right to that support exists in law. We are insisting it is recognised in practice. No-one should be criminalised for insisting on their rights or helping others to do so. Advocacy is not a crime.”
In 2015 Dr Cox was also arrested at Arbroath Jobcentre, accompanying a claimant. But the court ruled he had committed no offence whatsoever in the Jobcentre; after the DWP witnesses had given their evidence, the prosecution decided to withdraw the substantial charge.
Other activist groups have also come up against this attempt to deny basic human rights. Esther MacDonald of Edinburgh Coalition Against Poverty, reports: “On 29 February G4S security guards physically stopped our advocate accompanying a claimant to High Riggs Jobcentre. But when we returned a week later with over 50 supporters the DWP gave in, and our advocate accompanied the claimant with no problems. Solidarity won the day.
We need more of this kind of action. But on a much bigger scale. We need to take direct action so that the authorities are more scared of us than we are of them. We need to build a counter power which can fight them back, and open up the possibility of real revolutionary change."
We will be outside Dundee Sheriff Court from 10am on Thursday 23 June.
DWP Policy oficial policy on Working With Representatives:
Includes the following:
“Customers have the right to ask a representative to help them conduct their business with DWP….”
“Who is a representative?
A customer representative is any person or organisation acting on behalf of or making
enquiries for the customer. The representative could be helping a customer in several
ways, including progress chasing, helping them make a claim, seeking an explanation of
entitlement and how it has been decided, representing them with a reconsideration or
appeal, or helping them manage their finances. This can be at any stage of the customer’s
business with DWP. Representatives may include:
• advice or welfare rights organisations
• professionals such as social workers, community nurses or doctors
• family members or friends”