It’s great to see that a local campaign could be mounted so quickly to demand the freedom of Steve Topley, who had been detained by police since 11th April for allegedly making a threatening comment during an Employment Support Allowance interview. DWP’s private contractor ATOS had called the police about something that must happen every day when they are subjecting people to degrading fit-for-work tests, something they have had to apologise for on other occasions. The comment, interpreted as a ‘death threat’ was about a third party not even present, and in response to a direct prompt by the interviewer. Steve, who was on JSA but had been recommended to have the interview for ESA due to illness, subsequently pleaded guilty but continued to be held. Thanks to the efforts of his family and supporters, including an independent press campaign by Indymedia and a demonstration outside the court, Steve was finally granted bail at Nottingham Crown Court on Friday 26th April 2013, at the third application. His ordeal is not over as he has to appear back at the Court in 3 weeks time for sentencing but, as of yesterday, “Steve is back with his family tonight and is in good spirits”.
At the same time that Steve Topley was being bailed, evidence has been emerging of bizarre psychological warfare by the Department for Work and Pensions on claimants by the use of a new ‘personality test’ which after a trial in Essex appears to be going national. Claimants are being warned that failure to comply with the test will result in a sanction (stopping of benefits). And this is only one month after widespread adherence by Job Centres to DWP quotas to sanction claimants were exposed. With legal aid also being denied to claimants for benefits cases it appears that the government’s gloves have properly come off and allusions to torture are not as extreme as they might first appear.
If we organise to fight back collectively the police will, not surprisingly, take sides. Previously the cops were called by ATOS Healthcare in Nottingham during a demonstration at its Stoney Street examination centre against their administration of the tests, which resulted in two arrests (charges subsequently dropped). This has been written up by the Nottingham activists involved in a well-researched booklet, ‘Too much of that sort of thing’ which should be read by everyone.
The recent mounting of support for Steve Topley has been inspiring and will continue. This kind of solidarity is made possible by the experience of local activists who are prepared to act quickly in a case like this together with the existance of communication channels like Nottingham Indymedia. More collective effort will be needed as the effects of further Welfare Reforms come to bear.