Friday, 30 July 2010

Review: 'Shed Your Tears & Walk Away' by Jez Lewis

Noticing the Natives in Hebden Bridge

A FEW YEARS AGO my grand-daughter, who lives in the working-class town Todmorden, said she was not going to secondary school in nearby Hebden Bridge because there 'Mi Mum says all the "druggies" come out in the afternoon'. At the time I thought that that was a false view or excuse to keep her out of Hebden based on 'inverted snobbery', imposed upon her by her mother who didn't really care for the middle-class incomers from the South and elsewhere who swarm round the streets of this former small mill town. I didn't at that time believe there was a drug problem in Hebden; in a way I idealised it having first gone there as a kid of ten or eleven around 1950-1, when I was shocked by the broadness of their Yorkshire dialect: living in Lancashire, I'd never heard nowt like it.

It only goes to show that not only are some things 'seen but unnoticed' but that we also hear what people say but don't digest it: 'Shed Your Your Tears & Walk Away' is a film about the genuine natives of Hebden Bridge, the folk I was once dazzled by when I went there to buy tropical fish from old Marnie with my Dad. The children and grandchildren of the people I saw and heard and so admired for their rough talk in 1951, have now been deposed by upper-class incomers.

Mostly it takes place in an exotic setting, near the park, against a dramatic backdrop of a lush green landscape both in the centre of Hebden and in the surrounding hills around Heptonstall, where a former poet laureate used to live, and another poet is buried. Indeed, a lot of the action is played out in front of a newish apartment block where till recently two anarchist incomers, one a member of the Northern Voices editorial panel, used to live. With the mills gone these lads and lassies in the film have become society's rejects - almost foreigners in their own land inhabiting a kind of nether world; a world within a world that most of us walk past without noticing. The town is full of tourists during the day, like nearby Howarth, and where there where once antique shops there are now cafes, bookshops and a sun dial in St. Georges Square.

The film is both directed & narrated by a former native of Hebden, Jez Lewis, who went to London, but came back because he was concerned about his friends from school who where dying at a frighteningly young age. People in the film attack the cultural colonisation of Hebden by incomers, it seems the jobs are just not there for people who make things anymore. Instead, there is a vegan bakers on Market Street, where now an anarcho-syndicalist member of the Solidarity Federation who works at Leeds University and comments on gender politics, goes to buy his vegan croissants in the morning.

Chris Draper commenting yesterday on the above film says that he doesn't expect to include it in his forthcoming feature on Six o' the Best Northern Films in Northern Voicies 12 because it is not a commercial film and is a documentary. There will be a more refective review in the Bit on the Side section of NV12.

Tuesday, 27 July 2010


Nearly a northerner but not quite, is the legendary Steve Winwood, from Handsworth in Birmingham. 'Had to cry today', written by Winwood, was perfomed originally by the band 'Blind Faith' which comprised Winwood, Eric Clapton, Rick Gretch and Ginger Baker. Back in the early 1970s, I saw Steve winwood at a music venue in Manchester. I`ve always considered him a great musician and song writer. Anyway, have a listen to it and make your own minds up. It makes a change for reading about dustbin men and trade unions.

Sunday, 25 July 2010


The Odd Couple Rides Again:

Of Joe Gormley, the General Secretary of the NUM, the retired miner Dave Douglass writes: 'the Daily Express, had christened him “The Battered Cherub”, and there was much of a Jimmy Clitheroe character in him, just a working-class, no-bullshit lad from Lancashire ... Joe was a giant of the miner's union too, albeit on the right... He carried the common-sense pit wit in his bones and battered the at times weak-kneed intellectual concerns and phraseology of the left. Arthur [Scargill], serious and straight-laced, a bit pompous, was Joe's favourite sparring partner, who he met with 'common sense' practicality. He managed to create an impression of being the true working-class spokesperson [sic] and Arthur some popinjay with his head in the clouds.' Dave gives us an 'hilarious sequence where Sid Vincent, his Lancashire soulmate, is trying to move a vote of thanks to him, and Joe keeps bouncing comments back, not least because he is describing a time when they slept in the same bed, “I had me pants on”, Joe interjects.'
(see verbatim record in the minutes of the 6th, July 1981 of the Annual Conference.)
GHOST DANCERS by David John Douglass price £12.95 from Christie Books PO Box 35, Hastings, East Sussex, TN34 1ZS.

Lugging my luggage up the steps at Doncaster railway station I spotted a very dapper Dave Douglass, wearing a white top and black tee-shirt, stood beside his new red Hyundai - a scrappage scheme job - looking grand with a ruddy face and well controlled hair style. Then we were off on the road to Tolpuddle to commemorate the Martyrs, via a detour round the one-way streets of Bristol. Dave, I should point out, has an awfully unhealthy relationship with his 'stat-nav' which has a seductive woman's voice: he talks to her as we drive along. I think he trusts her more than me or any other human being.

Dave, a retired coal miner and former NUM leader with those squat blond Viking looks of the North-East, was there to give a talk on his new book – the third volume of his mammoth autobiography entitled 'Ghost Dancers: The Miners' Last Generation' - invited to address the Radical History School by that charmer from the South-West; his fellow revolutionary syndicalist, Dave Chapple, who has Welsh ancestors and who stalks around left-wing trade union circles like an Celtic athlete. Dave Chapple, gets his exercise as a part-time postman, while Dave Douglass does physical jerks to keep himself in trim: what a pair they make; the tall, rude Celtic charmer and the thick set ruddy-faced Viking from the North East.

Hoisting his new 'Made in China' tent Dave brought represented a bit of a challenge when it was struck last Thursday night by freak 80-mile-an-hour gales off the English Channel. As I watched him worming his supple body in-and-out of the tent flap I thought of him down't some dark pit slithering through a coal seam: in fact my mind I couldn't help but think of his talents in relation to other holes as well. So naturally close to the surface of the earth was he; after all he'd spent half his life underneath it like some Norwegian Troll in an Ibsen play. How I envied his easy movements which to me as an electrician, use to stretching up on ladders, struck me as utterly wonderful. Last weekend, Dave was down there on his first visit to the Tolpuddle Festival keen to get cracking pushing the latest volume of his massive 3-volume autobiography. At over 500 pages published by Christie Books 'Read & Noir' it represents a giant among pygmies in the publishing world and is going to set him back a chunk of his miner's pension to put on the market.

In the book he coins the term 'Pitracide' to introduce the idea of what he says is 'Nothing more or less than ethnic cleansing is evidenced in the abandoned and forgotten coalfield communities the length and breadth of Britain.' He even has the audacity to compare the fate of the miners historically with that of the North American Indians and the Palestinians – 'without of course the mass murder, with the same social and political design.' He argues passionately that '[t]he miners' roots under the land run as deep as those of the hill farmers or shepherds who worked above it, or the fisherfolk who sailed the coasts' and claims '[m]any mining families in mining regions stretched back to pre-Norman times, and the language of those regions was the ancient dialect of Angle and Saxon, often shot through with Norse, or Britannic tongue which had predated the arrival of the English.' He then goes on in challenging style to write that '[t]hese were the last surviving direct ancestors of the island's ancient inhabitants, who took their ancient twang below ground where it continued for hundreds of years as in philological lost world.'

The question here, that a Marxist historian like Eric Hobsbawm might ask, is that Dave is simply engaged in 'inventing tradition'? like the nationalists have done with the kilt in Scotland (which Hobsbawm claims was really invented in the textile town of Clitheroe or was it somewhere around Blackburn in Lancashire: Dave on this trip, I should tell you, insisted to me that the kilt came from Northumbria, not Scotland). Or are we here – with the British miners - talking of what Benedict Anderson called an 'Imagined Community'? Dave is defiant: 'Pitracide was waged against the miners, who were in many ways almost an ethnic minority, not simply the practitioners of a trade or a skill – an ancient tradition, a way of life, of speech, of outlook, of community and solidarity.' Dave rages on: 'We have witnessed the massacre of a people's whole way of life.' Concluding on the romantic note: 'This book has been written as part of the continuing last stand of that people who – as at the annual festival of a far-flung ancient tribe – dance on, defiant in the face of their exterminators, refusing to disappear or conform to the social design of our masters.'

I had my balls chewed off after Dave's talk after I'd suggested that he kept using the word 'strategy' to describe the reactions of the miners to the program of Thatcher and her Ridley Plan when he was really talking about the 'tactics' they used responding to the Government and the Coal Board. I argued that in some ways the NUM miners in the 1980s were more backward than the South Wales miners who produced 'The Miners' Next Step' in that they had no serious answer to the establishment save to protect and preserve the status quo. At the time and later after the meeting both Dave Douglass and Dave Chapple took great exception to this. Dave Douglass kept telling me that the British miners had been the most 'revolutionary' element of our working class and I kept saying they were 'the most militant' element because they didn't have an serious practical alternative agenda: they didn't have a plan for taking over the pits for instance.

This case was reinforced the next day when Dave Chapple gave a talk on entitled 'A Revolutionary Centenary? The Cambrian Combine Strike, Tonypandy Riots [of 1910] & “The Miners' Next Step”.' Dave Chapple was trying to make out that this was a revolutionary moment in which these Welsh miners and their union overnight transformed themselves from a conciliatory force into a revolutionary body or perhaps proto-revolutionary. His use of the word 'Riot' was, I later realised, a slap in the face to the Bristol Radical History Group, which he seems to despise in some way owing to their emphasis on topics such as the Captain Swing Riots, local suffragettes and the Slave Trade in Bristol and not on trade union issues. At a meeting of this Radical History Group, Dave Chapple had asked why they had produced some 14 booklets dedicated to local history topics and that they hadn't done anything on trade unionism. The pamphlet I bought entitled 'Tolpuddle & Captain Swing: The Flea & the Elephant' (to be reviewed in Northern Voices), has some blurb on the back that claims 'This pamphlet analyses why “Tolpuddle” has taken its place in the popular memory and the far more significant events of “Swing” have been distorted and forgotten.' For some reason this kind of approach seems to upset Dave Chapple, and when in a feeble-minded way I suggested to him that it may be represented as post-modernist he said 'It might be for you, Brian, but we don't have post-modernism in the CWU (Communication Workers' Union).'

My argument, for what it's worth, which I tried to offer in a question, was that both the British and French working-classes however 'revolutionary syndicalist' they may have been in 1910, became largely patriotic nationalists in 1914 during the First World War. I tried to say they did this because they were 'syndicalists' without a vision and, though I didn't say this; I meant they were not anarcho-syndicalists. By contrast I argued that the Spaniards in Barcelona in 1909 during the Semaña Tragica challenged the Spanish War in Africa when the Madrid Government called up the reserves in Catalonia. Gerald Brenan in his 'The Spanish Labyrinth' has written: 'Since the disastrous war in Cuba and the return of thousands of starving and malaria-ridden troops, the whole country had been strongly pacifist.' It seems the reserves consisted of married men of the working classes and Brenan writes: 'in Spain no one who could afford the small sum to buy himself out was ever conscripted.' It seems that there were painful scenes at the railway station when the troops left, and the next day the whole city rose in what came to known as the Semaña Tragica 'which [he says] was a spontaneous affair, not part of an anarchist plot...' The point I was making was that in Catalonia the people in 1909 resisted a war because of their history and culture, while the French and English working-classes – despite their syndicalist background - cheerfully joined in the First World War.

It could be argued that the British and French syndicalists of the pure syndicalist school had become too workerist, with too much emphasis on material matters with not enough consideration for social and cultural transformation. This view may itself be too simplistic because though Brenan argues that Lerroux's Radical Party may have had some blame for what happened in the Semaña Tragica, he writes that the trade unions lost control of their members and Catalan nationalism against Madrid may have been a factor. The end result was that the Radical Party was ruined by the riot and the 'workmen who had followed Lerroux believed ... he had sold himself to Madrid and they abandoned his party for the Anarchists.' The result of all this was the founding of the anarcho-syndicalist CNT in 1910.

It was a good weekend down there in Tolpuddle with Dave Douglass. His diet is vegan and ought by rights to place him outside the human race: I even felt guilty licking a Dorset ice-cream in front of him. And yet, his sense of humour pulls him through; like when he described how a Welsh mining union official gave his closing address ending by saying his members ought to read 'The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists'; whereupon Dave Douglass thanking him announced that the NUM members should read the Karma Sutra so that they will know what the Coal Board is about to do to them.

Thursday, 22 July 2010

Going through the motions with Bury Binmen

LAST WEEK at a meeting between Glen Stuart, Head of Waste Management, and Simon Bagley, Head of Human Resources, the Unite Union representative, Julie Burgess, was told that the Bradley Fold binmen would have to start work earlier at 6.45am after the 90-day notice period had elapsed this coming Autumn. Management claimed they had fulfilled their obligations by doing a survey of the workforce even if they didn't get anything like a majority of the binmen to agree to their proposal. This just goes to show the management can conduct any kind of one-eyed 'ballot' or 'consultancy mechanism' to bamboozle binmen to accept their proposals, it doesn't matter that they don't get the workers support in a survey. Management claiming they are going through the motions and only following the proper procedure set down in the agreement between Bury MBC and the majority union, Unison. Glen Stuart also claimed he had had positive noises when he put his proposal forward at the Bradley Fold Working Group meeting he operates. This Working Group seems to be being used by the bosses as wedge to force through management schemes.

What is interesting here is how management can sally forth with changes without worrying about doing a proper ballot or even serious consultation of the workforce: just by going through the motions of a tin-pot survey conducted in a slapdash way they can get away with anything. While the unions have to conduct ballots with care and attention to detail using an outside body the Electoral Reform Society the bosses can do what they want. This was pointed out last night by the UCATT convener, Lawrence Hunt, at Media City in Salford at a meeting of the Manchester Trade Union Council, while giving a talk on issues of health and safety, the blacklist, and working procedures. He said that construction companies had often carried out procedures in a slapdash manner and often the health and safety of workers were put at risk. He feared that the Cameron Government might go further in cutting corners on health and safety, and was concerned at the extent of the blacklist used to keep people out of work. The meeting was told that blacklisting would not just be confined to the construction industry. The workers at Bradley Fold know of some other nasty tricks such as the practice of surveillance of workers under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act, using a hand-held camcorder, conducted some years ago by Bury MBC to sack a shop steward.

Friday, 16 July 2010


It was announced on Thursday in the Manchester Evening News (MEN) that Roy Oldham, the former leader of Tameside Metropolitan Borough Council in Greater Manchester, died in Tameside General Hospital on Wednesday 14 July after a prolonged battle against cancer.

Mr Oldham, aged 76, was until earlier this year the longest serving council leader in the country. A former engineer who once worked for British Nuclear Fuels, he was elected as a Labour candidate to Longdendale Urban District Council in 1965 and became the leader of Tameside Council in 1980. In 2000 he was given a CBE for services to local government.

Two years ago he was diagnosed with bladder cancer. In 2008 his wife Margaret (also a Tameside councillor) died, and in May, of this year, both his sister and brother-in-law were killed in a car crash. Earlier this year, after having led the council for three decades, he was voted out by Labour party members and was succeeded by Councillor Kieran Quinn, from Droylsden.

Following his death on Wednesday, eulogies from Labour hacks and other cronies, have been pouring in extolling the virtues of this former town hall Burgomeister. Lord Pendry told the MEN, "He was a great politician, perhaps the best I have known." David Heyes, the MP for Ashton-under-Lyne, told the paper: "Roy was a colossus on the Tameside political scene for more than a generation." As the MEN reported, even on his death-bed, councillor Oldham, expressed concern for his constituents in Longdendale and his hope that they would get the Longdendale By-pass that he had 'fought for' for so long. Pass the handkerchief!

Listening to these eulogies, one would never guess that not so very long ago, the M.E.N. had once dubbed Tameside Council, the 'Laughing-Stock Council.' The council's transfer of all its elderly peoples homes in 1990 to an arms-length company called Tameside Enterprises Limited (TEL), turned out to be one unmitigated disaster. In 1993, it was discovered that the company had run up millions of pounds in debt. The company Secretary at the time, Paul Stonier, the then husband of councillor Shirley Stonier (the then chair of Tameside social services) explained that this was because elderly people in the homes, were not dying fast enough. It was discovered that he and others had also been awarding themselves huge pay rises. It also came to light that the assistant company secretary in charge of finance at the time, councillor Simon Walker, (who now runs Tameside Radio) had no financial qualifications whatsoever, but had nevertheless been given a reference for the job by Roy Oldham. The Radio 4 presenter of 'Face the Facts', John Waite, who investigated TEL, said that it was story of "High office and low politics,of jobs for the boys, and bills for the taxpayer." As a consequence of this fiasco, hundreds of care workers employed by TEL, had their wages slashed and when Roy Oldham was asked how he felt about the pay cuts, he callously remarked, that the care workers should consider themselves lucky to have a job.

Roy Oldham was a man who brooked no opposition. He could be ruthless, nasty,devious, and was a past master in the exercise of power and control. He would, on occasions, announce in full council that certain members of the political opposition were in arrears with their council tax, much to their shame and embarrassment. Those councillors who trod on his toes, would find that their expenses claims had been trawled through and on one occasion, a Labour councillor found himself in the Crown Court, convicted for fraud and deception. He was not what you would call a charismatic leader: his oratorical skills were feeble. It was said that he took elocution lessons from Rocky Balboa aka Sylvester Stalone. He was one of the highest paid councillors in Greater Manchester and as the leader of Tameside Council, there were moves to increase his salary in line with the earnings of MP`s. It was once said that when his late wife Margaret was on the council, over a thousand pounds a week was going into the Oldham household in councillors allowances and expenses. His recent death also means that he has been robbed of the Knighthood that he much coveted.

A Green Party friend of mine, told me that the Tameside Green`s once wrote to Roy Oldham challenging him to a debate about green issues in the area. Roy Oldham`s response was to say: "When you are a power to be reckoned with, then, and only then, will I give you a forum." This is what Roy Oldham fully understood, the workings of power. He was the ultimate machine like politician, a town hall bureaucrat to boot.

Thursday, 15 July 2010

Triumph: 74 years late

ON Sunday, the day of the World Cup Final, the Spanish newspaper El País reported: 'La selección paraliza el país anti su histórico reto con Holland.' ('The team paralysed the whole country before its historic challenge with Holland.'). That night the Spanish football team, made up mostly of Catalans and Basques, emerged victorious but battered black and blue, after a brutal match with Holland. On Tuesday, Cayetano Ros in an article entitled 'Sticks Against Spain' claimed 'All of Spain's opponents, save Germany, tried to neutralise Spanish creativity with lots of fouls': in Holland's case 28 fouls, some of them considerably grave'. This, it seems, he thought to be 'such a sharp break with the Dutch tradition and it is not possible to speak of it being spontaneous among the players in orange, rather premeditated.' 'With Spain it is only possible to play hard, rough' one Dutch player said. But Señor Ros writes: 'Germany (committing only 9 offences to 7 by Spain) was the only team to play and to leave Spain to play.'

Yesterday, Rob Hughes in the International Herald Tribune wrote: 'There has never been so foul an intent in the 40 years I have watched the World Cup'. And he added: 'Sadly, the English referee Howard Webb added to it by handing out only yellow cards to eight Dutch players.' He argued: '... seemingly afraid of the gifted Spaniards, they (the Dutch) opted to knock them down.'

When he scored the Catalan, Andrés Iniesta, took off his jersey to reveal an undershirt with the inscription 'Dani Jarque siempre con nosotros': Dani Jarque always with us. For this act he got a yellow card. Jarque played for Espanyol, the rival team to Barcelona in the Catalan capital, and who died of a heart attack in August 2009 at the age of 26. It seems that the Spanish coach, Vincente Del Bosque, though he comes from the town of Carpio del Campo in the 'heart of Old Castile' a town full of railway workers, can't resist picking Barça players and Rob Hughes writes: 'Germany (in the semi-final) effectively lost this contest to a club side' and goes on to say 'But Barcelona is a very special club.' Vincente Del Bosque's father was denounced as a republican in the Spanish Civil War and detained for 3 years in a prison in Alava.

Next Tuesday on the 20th, July it will be 74 years since Catalonia and the anarchist trade union – the CNT - defeated military sedition on the streets of Barcelona by becoming the first people to beat fascism. Later that day, still carrying the weapons with which they had stormed the Atarazanas barracks, some of the leaders of the anarchist CNT; Juan Garcia Oliver, Durruti and Diego Abad de Santillán met with President Companys to decide what steps to take. Companys is reputed to have said to them: 'Today you are masters of the city and of Catalonia because you have conquered the fascist military ...' And yet, in the end the creativity of the Spanish anarchists of 1936-7 was squashed between a medieval native military and the forces of fascism and Stalinism. England and France, rather like the English referee Howard Webb, opted for non-intervention.

Saturday, 10 July 2010

BURY MBC'S Alice-in-Wonderland Analysis of Ballot

A 'Con-Con-Con-Consultative Mechanism' not 'An-An-Anarchy!'

Isn't our Great British local authority management 'wonderful' in the Alice-in-Wonderland sense of the word? On the 25th, May 2010, Bury Metropolitan Borough Council (MBC) at Bradley Fold Waste Depot concluded a 'consultation' of its workforce about its Head of Waste management's proposal to shift the work start time from 7am to 6.45am in a morning for emptying the bins. On June 25th, 2010, it reported that the result of this 'consultation' was:

32 against the earlier time;
22 in favour;
17 did not reply.

On the basis of these figures management claims it has the right to change the start time to Quarter-to-Seven arguing: 'Given that there was no overall majority view either for or against moving the start time to 06.45 and management believe that the proposal will be very much to the benefit of the service...' It is rumoured that the Head of Human Resources has retrospectively justified this decision by saying 'We don't ballot our workforce' on what to do, for to do so, would be 'anarchy'. He is said to have claimed: 'We are here to move the business forward', no matter what, and we need to show our political masters that we are 'doing something'. At a time when trade unions have to ballot their members through independent bodies like the Electoral Reform Society (remember the British Airways and RMT disputes) with great care; managements, like Bury MBC, can employ this upside-down logic to overturn results if they don't like them. They can, like Bury MBC, simply call them 'con-con-con-consultative mechanisms' and the powers-that-be will not blink an eyelid.

So now you know the 'consultative mechanism' in the management's 'tool kit' or 'bag of tricks' is not interested in what people think so much as in justifying what management want to do anyway. Anything else would be, to use the Greek word meaning 'without government or bosses': 'Anarchy!'. To give a bunch of binmen the right to decide, would be 'mob rule' no less, for we all know 'the boss knows best'. And British Petroleum in the Gulf of Mexico has shown what happens when management 'don't have the tools in their tool kit'.

But do management know best?

The current changes at Bradley Fold, Bury, have been the result of management failing to listen to the workforce last year and insisting on enforcing a scheme based on a computer software model that, in the end, brought forth accusations from the binmen of bullying by management, victimisation and a strange accident proneness on the job owing to the pressure from management (a bin waggon blowing up in Radcliffe; a crushed foot; squashed arm; and this week, the police were involved when a rushed binman was caught urinating up a back-alley). The Unite the Union shop steward, Alan Stewart, raised these pressures with management last year soon after the new scheme was introduced, but last week after an appeal he has been dismissed in a contested case on grounds of disability. Alan Stewart, is the second Unite shop steward on the bins to be dismissed at Bradley Fold; he follows the notorious case of the sacking of Joe Cleary, the Unite shop steward who was got rid of after a questionable surveillance exercise by Bury Council that got into the newspapers.

At the time of writing Julie Burgess, the Unite officer is challenging the management handling of the 'ballot', but Steve Morton, the UNISON representative with a handful of members at Bradley Fold, has yet to comment.

Monday, 5 July 2010

Professor Warns Sick Scheme in Danger of Collapse!

An economist who helped to design the Employment and Support Allowance (ESA), which was introduced (by former Work and Pensions Secretary,James Purnell)to replace Incapacity Benefit in October 2008, has warned that the scheme is in danger of collapse unless radical reforms are implemented.

In a recent report by The Times newspaper, Professor Paul Gregg, an economist at the University of Bristol, says that the government should suspend plans to move 2.5 million Incapacity Benefit claimants on to ESA in October because serious errors need to be rectified. Professor Gregg told the paper:
"To go ahead with these problems is not just ridiculous, it is in fact scary." He added: "Introducing the ESA system for new claimants in 2008 was effectively a pilot, and all the signals from the pilot are that a lot of adjustments need to be made. There are serious problems with putting people who failed the test but still have serious health issues straight on to Jobseeker`s allowance, where there is no special help."
Since October 2008, all new claimants who suffer from ill health, have had to apply for ESA which includes a stricter medical test. More than two-thirds of applicants are failing in their claims. On average only 5% of claimants are deemed unfit for work and eligible for the ESA. A further 13% are referred for "work-related activity" but are still able to claim ESA, while 39% are judged fit for work, and the rest do not pursue their claims. Under the new rules, many claimants have been deemed fit for work while suffering from Parkinson`s Disease, Cancer and Multiple Sclerosis. In one case, which The Times referred to, a woman who could barely walk or breathe was judged fit for work just five months before she died of lung cancer.

The new medical tests (50,000 a month) are being undertaken by doctors and nurses employed by Atos Healthcare, a private company. On average it finds that only 5% of claimants are unfit to work. However, around 8,000 people a month are now appealing against these decisions at the tribunals and almost half are winning their cases.

In October 2009, a Manchester GP, Dr. Tim Greenaway, wrote to The Guardian about three of his patients who had all been refused ESA. One patient was psychotic, another patient who had been tortured in Iran suffered from post-tramatic stress disorder, and another patient was an alcoholic. In his view none of them were fit for work, but as he pointed out, the Department of Work & Pensions, no longer asks GP`s for their opinion.