The WOW Petition Campaign, led by disabled and sick people and carers, including comedian and actor Francesca Martinez, secured nearly 105,000 signatures on an e-government petition calling for a cumulative impact assessment of welfare reform on the most vulnerable, along with other measures of scrutiny and accountability.
The outcome, after months of campaigning, was a Commons debate yesterday, which had been backed by 250 MPs of different parties - though far fewer attended.
While there was anger that most coalition government MPs who have supported six major welfare changes and billions of pounds worth of cuts were unwilling to attend a Commons debate to look at the impact of their decisions on sick and disabled people particularly, campaigners were encouraged by the thoughtful and passionate contributions during the discussion.
In the end the government did not oppose the WOW motion, though it was made clear that they disagreed with it. One Conservative MP was heckled from the public gallery when he suggested that the changes in their current form would be beneficial.
Minister of State for Disabled People, Mike Penning, said in the debate that he was willing to work with the Centre for Welfare Reform, one of the NGOs backing the WOW (War on Welfare) demands. CWR's revealing analysis of DWP datasets has raised important questions about whether the government has an serious capacity to understand the impact of its legislation and budget reductions.
Simon Barrow, co-director of the Christian political think-tank Ekklesia, which has also been actively involved in supporting the WOW Petition Campaign, commented: "A publicly-triggered parliamentary policy debate, and the tacit allowing of this motion on cumulative impact assessment, is a huge victory for disabled and sick campaigners, carers, and their supporters.
"However, this is but a stage in a long journey. The policies that are causing so much distress and harm continue, the government appears to be listening only cursorily, propaganda seeking to blame the poorest in society continues, a Westminster elite is effectively wringing its hands while people suffer, and the need for practical, compassionate alternative policies which make the welfare of all a political and economic priority for a decent society is as strong as ever.
"As the WOW Campaign, the Spartacus network of disabled researchers and the detailed work of bodies like the Centre for Welfare Reform (which wants to improve and redesign welfare, rather than fragment and demolish it) all show, different solutions are out there. They are to be found in civil society and in the experience and expertise of those living at the sharp end of society.
"In the light of this debate, Ekklesia will continue to press a narrative of public good and mutuality, rather than blame and 'me-first'; to seek proper scrutiny and assessment of welfare policy impact; to encourage the churches and belief bodies to speak and act in solidarity with the poorest in society; to argue that disabled and sick people and carers themselves should be the engine of reform and policy-making; and to articulate the theological case for a politics of common wealth," he said.
The WOW Petition Campaign, backed by Ekklesia and others, can be found here: http://wowpetition.com The initiative secured over 104,000 public signatures on an e-government petition calling for a cumulative impact assessment of current welfare reform policies.