I was asked by the Motor Neurone Disease (MND) Association to attend the mass #BenefitsLobby at Westminster, to campaign for changes we want to see adopted in the Welfare Reform and Work Bill, currently going through Parliament. Naturally as the branch campaigner, knowing this will affect people with MND and their Carers in Greater Manchester, I was delighted to be asked to join them.
We had two key asks of our own, and a third as part of the Disability Benefits Consortium (an Alliance of charities all present on the day):
1) To have the basic component of ESA (Employment and Support Allowance) removed from the benefits freeze. If the basic component is frozen, with projected inflation, this will cut support by £250 a year by 2020. If this cannot be removed from the freeze, we (MND Association) want an amendment to the bill to compensate people in the support group for ESA.
2) To have Carers allowance removed from the benefits cap. With changes proposed, the cap will be decreased; currently at £26,000 a year, for our area, it will be reduced to £20,000 a year, a substantial decrease. Our rationale for asking for carers allowance to be removed from the cap, is the unpaid hour’s carers for someone living with MND do. The recent Carers survey here, shows 56% of carers for people with MND provide over 100 hours a week. We feel supporting Carers should be a priority, given the value of their unpaid work to the UK.
3) The third ask, as a DBC member, is to scrap the proposal to cut almost £30 a week for new claimant’s in the ESA Work Related Activity Group (WRAG). People with MND should naturally go into the ESA support group, but we lobbied for 3) as part of the DBC, helping to apply a collective voice.
The afternoon, which commenced after Prime Minister Questions, was very busy! I’d already had agreement from a number of MP’s to meet me. In total over the day, I’d surpassed expectations, lobbying 14 MP’s, as part of the overall total of 42 we (MND Association) collectively lobbied directly!
I personally met and lobbied the following Greater Manchester MP’s: Andy Burnham (Patron of our neighbouring South Lancs branch), Debbie Abrahams, Mary Robinson, Andrew Gwynne, Kate Green, Mike Kane, Barbara Keeley, Rebecca Long-Bailey, Liz McInnes, Angela Rayner, Jeff Smith and William Wragg. I also met with passionate MND Supporter Cat Smith (Lancaster and Fleetwood), and lobbied the long serving MP Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)!
I felt the benefits lobby provided an excellent platform to get our message across, but also gave me a vital chance to build relations with Greater Manchester MP’s. I personally found it a hugely productive and worthwhile day, meeting some MP’s I’d already got to know (Debbie, Kate, Mike, Barbara, William and my MP Mary) and met some others for the first time.
Importantly, we asked all MP’s to support our asks, and comments were all supportive, helped very much by us being able to talk directly about the impact of welfare changes on people living with MND.
A number of MP’s have since tweeted, posted on FB, or written on their website about the day, so I’ve had a few mentions since! I felt all MP’s really understood my passion and desire, and want to further discuss MND locally, or have a connection to MND themselves. The lobby has provided a platform to campaign for changes to the bill, but also to build important connections for the long term.
I must give a shout for the members of Team MND present on the day, my fellow passionate volunteer campaigners, Katy & Mark Styles, Colin Hardy, David & Helen Setters, and we were brilliantly supported by the MND Association’s Alison Railton, Ellie Munro, Raj Johal and Alana Maytum. Read the MND Associations statement about the day here!
In a nutshell, a hugely worthwhile day! Westminster Hall may have been a cold place, but we certainly warmed the place up! See all the days events here, via the ‘Storify’ the Campaigns team have created of all our tweets on the day, lots of pictures to enjoy!
Greg Broadhurst 23/01/2016