Living with HIV just got harder

The real impact of welfare cuts.

It's difficult to write about HIV. Sympathy can come across as patronising. New treatments mean that many people with HIV are now fit and working with healthy children and long lives. If you want to reduce stigma, they must not be reduced to victims. You have to acknowledge the darkness without letting it dominate.

This challenge becomes harder when you're faced with the brutality of the government's welfare changes. The aim, to get people with HIV back to work, is laudable, but the means are devastating. Government figures show that a shocking 44 per cent of people with HIV who have completed a "Work Capability Assessment" have had their support cut off, and charities warn that it is causing destitution.

It starts with an appointment. HIV patients are seen by a company to examine whether they should be moved from the old system of incapacity benefit to the new Employment Support Allowance. Assessors have no HIV training and fill out the same tick box forms used for assessing all long-term unemployed people. Appointments are squeezed into tiny slots. People are treated with suspicion or boredom. The fact that the claimant got to the appointment is sometimes used as proof they can work. Power has no idea how humiliating it can be.

"We've had some alarming feedback about the lack of knowledge on HIV," says Sarah Radcliffe from NAT, "ATOS [the company that carries out most work capability assessments] are healthcare professionals but by their nature are generic. You can't expect people to understand. There are cases when someone's CD4 count has been really low. Doctors say they are lucky to be alive, but assessors find them fit to work."

The problem is that HIV cannot be boxed in this way. Exhaustion and incontinence are fluctuating symptoms that might not show up on assessment day but make regular working hours impossible. Anxiety and depression are notoriously invisible to private companies who are paid to cut the government's benefits bill. Peripheral neuropathy - a painful condition that affects nerve endings - affects many HIV patients but can't be picked up by the simple visual tests of assessors.

Richard has had first hand experience of this. He was diagnosed when he was twenty-three, but he is not a sob story. He is sharp, eloquent and quietly ambitious, working on a placement at the Terrence Higgins Trust. He wants to work full time, not just because it would be nice for his self esteem, but for his material condition.

But turning things around is not easy. Fluctuating arthritis means he sleeps with snack bars and pills by his bed in case he can't get down the stairs, and there are still days when work seems impossible. Combine that with changes to Disability Living Allowance and Universal Credit, and he feels crushed.

"They are hitting people who are least able to protest," he says, "I was seen by someone who was not a healthcare professional. The meeting was supposed to be half an hour but it was squeezed into twenty minutes. I had to appeal and there is evidence that items were deliberately lost."

In a shocking statistic, some 90 per cent of all appeals from HIV claimants at the charity Positive East are successful in overturning these assessment decisions. We all knew appeals against ESA were high, but they seem to be going through the roof for people with HIV. Something is going seriously wrong. Politicians might pay lip service to World AIDS Day, but let's not forget what happens after that.

London is lit up red for World Aids Day, 1 December 2012. (Getty.)

Rowenna Davis is Labour PPC for Southampton Itchen and a councillor for Peckham

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Five things Hillary Clinton’s released emails reveal about UK politics

The latest batch of the presidential hopeful’s emails provide insight into the 2010 Labour leadership contest, and the dying days of the Labour government.

The US State Department has released thousands of Hillary Clinton’s emails. This is part of an ongoing controversy regarding the presidential hopeful’s use of a private, non-governmental server and personal email account when conducting official business as Secretary of State.

More than a quarter of Clinton’s work emails have now been released, in monthly instalments under a Freedom of Information ruling, after she handed over 30,000 pages of documents last year. So what does this most recent batch – which consists of 4,368 emails (totalling 7,121 pages) – reveal?

David Miliband’s pain

There’s a lot of insight into the last Labour leadership election in Clinton’s correspondence. One email from September 2010 reveals David Miliband’s pain at being defeated by his brother. He writes: “Losing is tough. When you win the party members and MPs doubly so. (When it's your brother...).”

Reaction to Ed Miliband becoming Labour leader

Clinton’s reply to the above email isn’t available in the cache, but a message from an aide about Ed Miliband’s victory in the leadership election suggests they were taken aback – or at least intrigued – by the result. Forwarding the news of Ed’s win to Clinton, it simply reads: “Wow”.

Clinton’s take on it, written in an email to her long-time adviser, Sidney Blumenthal, is: “Clearly more about Tony that [sic] David or Ed”.

Blumenthal expresses regret about the “regression” Ed’s win suggests about the Labour party. He writes to Clinton: “David Miliband lost by less than 2 percent to his brother Ed. Ed is the new leader. David was marginally hurt by Tony's book but more by Mandelson's endorsement coupled with his harsh statements about the left. This is something of a regression.”

Peter Mandelson is “mad”

In fact, team Clinton is less than enthusiastic about the influence Mandelson has over British politics. One item in a long email from Blumenthal to Clinton, labelled “Mandelson Watch”, gives her the low-down on the former Business Secretary’s machinations, in scathing language. It refers to him as being “in a snit” for missing out on the EU Commissioner position, and claims those in Europe think of him as “mad”. In another email from Blumenthal – about Labour’s “halted” coup against Gordon Brown – he says of Mandelson: “No one trusts him, yet he's indispensable.”

That whole passage about the coup is worth reading – for the clear disappointment in David Miliband, and description of his brother as a “sterling fellow”:

Obsession with “Tudor” Labour plotting

Clinton appears to have been kept in the loop on every detail of Labour party infighting. While Mandelson is a constant source of suspicion among her aides, Clinton herself clearly has a lot of time for David Miliband, replying “very sorry to read this confirmation” to an email about his rumoured demotion.

A May 2009 email from Blumenthal to Clinton, which describes Labour politicians’ plots as “like the Tudors”, details Ed Balls’ role in continuing Tony Blair and Gordon Brown’s “bitter rivalry”:

“Disingenuous” Tories “offending” Europe

The Tories don’t get off lightly either. There is intense suspicion of David Cameron’s activities in Europe, even before he is Prime Minister. Blumenthal – whose email about a prospective Cameron government being “aristocratic” and “narrowly Etonian” was released in a previous batch of Clinton’s correspondence – writes:

Without passing "Go," David Cameron has seriously damaged his relations. with the European leaders. Sending a letter to Czech leader Vaclay Klaus encouraging him not to sign the Lisbon Treaty, as though Cameron were already Prime Minister, he has offended Sarkozy., Merkel and Zapatero.

He also accuses him of a “tilt to the Tory right on Europe”.

In the same email, Blumenthal tells Clinton that William Hague (then shadow foreign secretary), “has arduously pressured for an anti-EU stance, despite his assurances to you that Tory policy toward Europe would be marked by continuity”.

In the aftermath of the 2010 UK election, Blumenthal is apprehensive about Hague’s future as Foreign Secretary, emailing Clinton: “I would doubt you’ll see David again as foreign secretary. Prepare for hauge [sic, William Hague], who is deeply anti-European and will be disingenuous with you.”

Anoosh Chakelian is deputy web editor at the New Statesman.