News and Opinions about MS, Health & Disability

‘No further plans’ does NOT mean ‘no further cuts’

stephen crabb hoc

Isn’t it wonderful? The UK’s new Work and Pensions Secretary, Stephen Crabb, stood up in parliament and said that the government will not be going ahead with changes to the Personal Independence Payment (PIP).

So, that’s all right then. We can all relax, campaigns can stop. The government has seen the error of its ways. Benefits paid to people with disabilities, like me with multiple sclerosis, are safe….

What utter rubbish, to put it politely.

Look at exactly what he said. The bold italics are mine and highlight important points to note:

  • The government “will not be going ahead” with changes to the Personal Independence Payment that were announced.
  • There are no further plans for welfare cuts this parliament.

This was seen through straight away, not just by me but also by a series of journalists who took to Twitter:

norman smithNorman Smith (pictured left), assistant political editor, BBC News, tweeted: “So £4 billion planned savings from PIPs will not be found from elsewhere in welfare budget…for now.”

ross hawkinsRoss Hawkins (right), BBC political correspondent, tweeted: “Saying no further plans to cut something isn’t – of course – the same as guaranteeing never to cut it.”

gabby hinscliffGabby Hinsliff (left), The Guardian newspaper columnist, tweeted: “So no more welfare savings (for now anyway). If he’s achieved nothing else, you have to admit that wouldn’t have happened without IDS.”

Tom Newton DunnAnd, perhaps the most telling of all, Tom Newton Dunn (right), political editor of The Sun newspaper, tweeted: “Treasury swiftly clarifying Crabb declaration on welfare cuts. Doesn’t at all mean no more cuts in this parliament, just none planned. Ah.”

In other words, be vigilant, be on your guard, keep campaigns ready to return to full force at a moment’s notice.

The battle over the proposed PIP changes may be won but the war to protect welfare benefits, even PIP itself, is far from over.








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Andalucía: Great scenery, fantastic weather and improving accessibility for those with disabilities

andalucia name

andalucia scenery andalucia beach

There can be absolutely no doubt that the area of Andalucía in the south of Spain is a lovely place to visit on holiday. There are many places to visit, fantastic and varying landscapes plus gorgeous Mediterranean beaches.

   And all this while enjoying the very best of Europe’s weather. Of course, it is a wonderful place to live, too. My wife Lisa and I moved here last November but that is another story.

   Getting around most places in Andalucía, and elsewhere in Spain for that matter, is not a problem for the majority of people. Similarly, access to buildings is largely pretty easy and not worth a second thought.

   Not worth a second thought, that is, as long as you are able-bodied. For those who have physical disabilities, however, it is not always so easy but tourist sites and hotels are fine and generally the situation is getting better. Accessibility is something that matters to me as my mobility problems, caused by multiple sclerosis (esclerosis múltiple in Spanish), mean that I’m in a wheelchair when out and about.

   Now, in more modern towns and cities, or in developments that have taken place relatively recently, there are few problems. In Andalucía, you can see real differences.

   In many towns the pedestrian crossings regularly alternate between those at road level and those at pavement height; the latter also serving as traffic calming ramps. But, for a wheelchair-user, both are easy to cross because the road-level ones have proper dropped pavements each side while the pavement-level ones are just that, flat and level.

   However, not all dropped pavements are as good. In older towns, originally built well before the invention of motor vehicles, some facilities for the disabled have been added but not always with sufficient thought.

   To see this, we need look no further than the road right behind the medical centre in Cuevas del Almanzora, in Andalucía’s Almería province.. There, someone has felt the need to install a dropped pavement, which is a good idea for wheelchairs – so close to the medical centre. But why on earth has the bottom of it been left well above the road level? Dropped from the pavement height it may be but there is still a significant step to overcome. Words fail me.

   Then there is one pedestrian crossing with a dropped pavement on one side of the road but a full height kerb on the other. Of course, tourists and my fellow British expats may be tempted to laugh at such a situation but I could show everyone an example of something similar in the UK. There, a crossing has a dropped pavement on each side but, having crossed the roadway, you are then left on an island with a kerb to negotiate to enter the car park.

   Actually, talking about car parking, that reminds me about people from other countries using disabled parking facilities.  Disabled parking cards issued by any EU country are recognised throughout Europe but how they may be used depends on the rules of the country in which you are parking.

   So, a holder of the disabled blue badge from Britain must remember that here in Spain it does NOT give you the right to park in a ‘no parking’ zone like it does on yellow lines in the UK; it simply gives the authority to park in a bay designated for that purpose.

   Finally, a word about access to buildings. Fair’s fair, this is improving throughout Spain but we have to realise that what may be desirable may not always be possible. What can we do, for example, about an old town post office with its door at the top of five steps and with no room for a ramp or a lift? Not a lot.

   However, in the same town, the branch of one bank, Banco Popular, with a step up to its door has recently been completely refurbished, including moving the door to eliminate the step and provide a flat and level entrance. Good planning for those with disabilities and parents with children in strollers.



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Don’t be fooled by government’s callous weasel words – disability benefits cuts are still planned

Work and Pensions Secretary Stephen Crabb.

Work and Pensions Secretary Stephen Crabb.

Mystery still surrounds the fate of the threatened cuts to the UK’s Personal Independence Payment paid to people with disabilities. including Parkinson’s Disease, Multiple Sclerosis, blindness and mental illnesses.

Just look at the timetable:

March 11, Justin Tomlinson, Disabilities Minister in the Department of Work and Pensions, officially announced plans to make changes, to make cuts, to Personal Independence Payment.

March 16, in his budget speech, Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne gave details of the cuts the government was proposing.

Following the budget, and for a further two days, uproar ensued. Not just protests from those likely to be affected but from disability charities too. And the government, which has a majority of just 17, suddenly found itself facing almost certain defeat in the House of Commons when around 20 of its own MPs said they would oppose the move.

Back-peddling was the order of the day, publicly hinted at by Education Secretary Nicky Morgan on BBC Question Time, when she said that the proposed cut was only ‘a suggestion’; with the Chancellor saying that he would look again to get things right.

March 18 saw Iain Duncan Smith resign as Work and Pensions Secretary, calling the planned cuts ‘a compromise too far’.

Prime Minister David Cameron, in his reply to Duncan Smith’s resignation letter, said “Today we agreed not to proceed with the policies in their current form and instead to work together to get these policies right over the coming months.”

Look at that closely, read it carefully. The Prime Minister did NOT say that those policies, the cuts, won’t happen. What he did say was that they would not go ahead in their ‘current form’ and that the policy would be got ‘right’ in the coming months.

Then, yesterday March 19, Stephen Crabb was promoted from being Welsh Secretary to take over at Work and Pensions. And, on his first day in his new post, he said the cuts to disability benefits will “not be going ahead.”

Well, actually, no he didn’t! Let’s look at it carefully.

These are the words that the new Work and Pensions Secretary Stephen Crabb really said: “We’re not going to be going ahead with these cuts to disability benefits that were proposed on budget day.

“The prime minister has confirmed that himself. I was very clear when I discussed the offer of the job this morning we were not going to go ahead with the cuts that were proposed.”

Sounds good, right? Well, err, no. The key words in the first sentence are ‘that were proposed on budget day’. Similarly, two sentences later the telling words are ‘that were proposed’.

Now, call me a cynic if you like but I have worked as a journalist, spent time in public relations and been around politicians long enough to recognise this for what it is – the use of prepared phrases, or callous weasel words, designed to trick us into thinking the cuts won’t happen.

The government is just trying to buy time to find a way to get them through in another form and without rebellion from within their own MPs.

Trust me, despite what we are being led to believe, the cuts are still very much on the table.


Iain Duncan Smith’s resignation and government’s benefit cut ‘rethink’ may not change anything

Chancellor George Osborne presenting his 2016 budget to UK's parliament.

Chancellor George Osborne presenting his 2016 budget to UK’s parliament.

Iain Duncan Smith’s resignation from his position as UK’s Work and Pensions Secretary gives the government a chance to abandon its planned cuts to Personal Independence Payment (PIP) – but don’t hold your breath, it probably won’t happen.

Gone: Ian Duncan Smith, the former Work and Pensions Secretary.

Gone: Iain Duncan Smith, the former Work and Pensions Secretary.

In his resignation letter, Duncan Smith said that while the benefit cuts are “defensible in narrow terms, given the continuing deficit, they are not defensible in the way they were placed within a budget that benefits higher earning taxpayers.”

Every government has its finances to consider, with so much to gather in, so much to spend, so much to borrow and so on. Then there is the matter of the surplus or, more usually, the deficit that has to be controlled.

It was with all this in mind that the Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, equivalent to other countries’ finance ministers, presented his budget to parliament on Wednesday.

Of course there were lots of items in it but nothing so controversial as plans to hit disabled people who claim Personal Independence Payment (PIP). And, unlike the recent move to reduce Employment Support Allowance (ESA) from next year for new claimants, the proposed PIP changes will affect those already receiving it when their claims are next reviewed.

There is no need, here, to go into the full details but it could mean anyone affected could lose £55 a week – which is a significant amount to a person with MS or any other disability.

But not everything is smooth sailing as the often turbulent waters of parliament are threatening to get stormier by the minute.

Voices are naturally being raised against the move – and not all from expected quarters. You would count on opposition from MPs of other political parties but, now, a sizeable section of Conservative backbenchers is threatening to rebel against the government.

Maybe they have been alarmed by the massive show of public opinion that has so far led to three MPs being required to stand down from their roles as patrons of charities after voting for the ESA cuts.

Then, on BBC television programme Question Time, government Education Minister Nicky Morgan said that the PIP cuts were just a “suggestion” at this stage and that further discussions were needed.

And, although this has been dismissed by someone described as close to then Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith, her views have since been reflected by the Chancellor.

BBC News was told that Mr Duncan Smith was saying that the government is not in “concession territory”, adding: “I don’t know how Nicky is explaining what she said but she doesn’t quite seem to have understood what Iain has been saying.”

Since then, however, Mr Duncan Smith has resigned while Mr Osborne has said he will revisit the £4.4billion cut to PIP “to make sure we get this absolutely right.”

The Daily Mirror newspaper reported:

Government sources confirmed the cuts will now be “kicked into the long grass” and could eventually be scaled right back.

“This is going to be kicked into the long grass. We need to take time and get reforms right, and that will mean looking again at these proposals,” a source said.

“It’s not an integral part of the Budget – it’s a package that came out beforehand. We are not wedded to (saving) specific sums.”

A word of warning, though. It is important not to take this a face value. The planned cuts have not been dropped, “Revisiting them” does not mean they have been abandoned. Even “scaling back” does not mean dropping the cuts.

Like all politicians in a difficult place, they are wriggling, using phrases to encourage us to think the situation has changed while being just as committed to the cuts. Even though Iain Duncan Smith has gone, don’t be fooled.

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It’s time to make HSCT for MS available worldwide

The Maximov centre in Moscow is one of the leading providers of HSCT.

The Maximov centre in Moscow is one of the leading providers of HSCT.

Using HSCT to treat people living with multiple sclerosis may not yet be proven in the long-term, as is often pointed out by various national MS charities and some health professionals, but it certainly does have a whole lot of people saying how good it has been for them.

What’s more, and this is even more encouraging, whilst some in the medical profession only welcome the therapy cautiously and only for the treatment of the relapsing remitting type of our illness (RRMS), it actually seems pretty good for progressive MS too.

Fair enough, stories about great results are more anecdotal than from properly established clinical trials, but surely it should be the results that count. Results of real therapy of real patients is, to my mind, more important than ‘trials’.

I have nothing but admiration for people choosing to head for Russia, Mexico or wherever for their treatment – at huge costs to themselves. They have both courage and determination; courage to travel often long distances for what is still seen as a pioneering therapy – and determination to make life better for themselves and their families by effectively halting MS in its tracks. And that is besides their determination to find or raise the thousands of pounds, dollars or whatever, to pay for it. After all, HSCT does not come cheap.

Being at the cutting edge of a new treatment is going to require significant investment but I cannot help but wonder why the various health services around the world have not, as yet, seemed to grasp what is going on.

HSCT is not a cure for MS but the signs so far are that, while it does not repair damage already done to the nervous system, it is largely successful in halting progression. Furthermore, in a few cases, an actual improvement has been seen.

Now, I know that what I am going to say next will be a bit controversial with some parts of the medical establishment, such as neurologists, and downright opposed by the drug companies that are making so much money from sales of the MS drugs they produce. Nevertheless, it is a point of view that I feel must be expressed.

I believe that the national health services and organisations should stop hiding behind words like ‘unproved’ and grasp the nettle. They should accept, as evidence, what is being reported by people who have had the therapy and offer it to MS patients in their own countries.

In the long-term, it would be great to see HSCT being available globally but, until then, the cost of treatment in one of the existing clinics should be borne by the health services (or medical insurance companies) in the patients’ countries.

After all, the cost of the one-off Autologous Hematopoietic Stem Cell Transplant therapy is significantly less than the ongoing cost of MS drugs.


Back again

Sorry that there was no post on this blog yesterday; it was due to circumstances beyond my control. All being well, normal service will now be resumed.

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Cruise holiday finishes in New York City

Window displays are a big part of Christmas in New York.

Window displays are a big part of Christmas in New York.

Having spent the last three days concentrating on disabilities and the cuts to benefits planned for the UK, I think today it is time to lighten the mood.

A few days ago, having written about Lisa’s and my cruise around Hawaii on NCL’s Pride of America, I wrote a second blog about our enjoying the attractions of Oahu, the most populated island and home of the state capital of Honolulu.

After that, one comment I received said that he had never been there, probably never would and thanked me for sharing our trip with you all.

Well, our holiday did not stop when we flew out of Hawaii on the first stage of our trip back to the UK, where we then lived. Having left the cruise ship after it docked in Honolulu, we transferred to the airport and flew first to Los Angeles, then on to New York.

It was in the ‘city that never sleeps’ that my sweetheart Lisa was born and grew up. She loves the city and was so looking forward to showing me around and was quite determined that me being in a wheelchair, because of mobility problems linked with multiple sclerosis, was not going to stop us. Mind you it was December and, although not snowy, after our seven-day Hawaiian cruise it did feel distinctly chilly and we had to wrap up warm,

So helpful. Wheelchairs not a problem.

So helpful. Wheelchairs not a problem.

We stayed in a hotel across the road from Madison Square Garden and, being in Manhattan, most of the attractions were fairly close by – either by Lisa walking and pushing my wheelchair or in one of the city’s famous yellow taxis. Talking of the taxis, helping fold and store my wheelchair was no problem. Drivers seemed to delight in being helpful.

Lisa and I at the top of the Empire State Building.

Lisa and I at the top of the Empire State Building.

Our hotel room had a great view of the Empire State Building which is where we went after our first night in our hotel. Once again, no issues for a wheelchair user and, having completed the usual security checks, we travelled by high-speed elevators to the viewing platform. Lisa had hoped for a clearer day but I was happy to see so much of NYC.

Other places we went and things we saw during our short stay included the Christmas spectacular in the Radio City Music Hall, the festive tree at the Rockefeller Center, the Statue of Liberty via a water-taxi ride, the 911 memorial plus the new Freedom Tower, built to replace the twin towers, Times Square, Broadway, the stores’ Christmas-themed window displays and a city sightseeing bus tour that included Central Park, Harlem, the UN building and a lot more.

Just a few of the Rockettes in the Christmas Spectacular.

Just a few of the Rockettes in the Christmas Spectacular.

Of course, one minor problem or another was bound to occur and, for me, it was during a trip to see Lisa’s sister Gen and her family. Towards the end of our visit there, I fell while in the downstairs ‘half bathroom’ and could not get up. Space was very tight, so nephew Jamie came to my assistance and helped me regain my feet before I could finish putting my trousers (pants) and underwear back in place.

Christmas Day itself started in a New York deli. I just had to try a genuine NY bagel with cream cheese and lox (like smoked salmon); it was great and went down so well after the previous night’s traditional hot dogs (Yes, I had two, but who’s counting).

Finally, on Boxing Day, we returned to the UK – our Hawaiian cruise and American holiday at an end.


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Lies, damn lies, and IDS’s statistics

Ian Duncan Smith has made unreliable claims about sanctions as well as his education.

Ian Duncan Smith has made unreliable claims about sanctions as well as his education.

Mired in controversy over his handling of what the Government calls welfare benefit ‘reform’ and critics call ‘cuts’, Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith (pictured, above) is now being accused of having ‘lost the plot’ after making an incredible statistical claim that 75% of people who have had their benefits stopped under his department’s sanctions regime said it helped them “focus and get on.”

And that is something that Labour is challenging and threatening to report to the UK Statistics Authority – and that civil servants at his department have not confirmed.

Add to that the controversy over his education – and his suitability and qualification for his current role have to be called into question.

Daily-MirrorIn an article in the UK’s Daily Mirror newspaper, the sister of ex-soldier David Clapson, who died starving and penniless after having his benefits stopped said: “I don’t think my brother said it had helped him get on.”

The report continued:

After hearing Mr Duncan Smith’s comments, Gill Thompson said: “I think they’re losing it. They’re losing the plot.”

In a string of jaw-dropping claims, IDS dismissed protests against benefit sanctions as “classic buzz from the left” and that protesters were “never going to vote for us. They hate us”.

And he claimed Job Centres were “running out of people” to put back to work. Despite a fall in overall unemployment, there are currently 1.68m people out of work in the UK.

The audacity of the man is unbelievable as he made his comments to local councillor Johnny Bucknell, during a visit to London’s Belsize Park to campaign for Tory Mayoral candidate Zac Goldsmith.

framework_cnj_logoThose comments may never have been kept private had they not been caught on video and subsequently published by the Camden New Journal local newspaper.

But what of his education controversy? In Mr Duncan Smith’s biography on the Conservative Party website as well as his entry in Who’s Who, it was originally stated that he had studied at the University +of Perugia in Italy.

In 2002, an investigation by the BBC found that statement to be untrue. In response to the BBC story, Duncan Smith’s office stated that he had in fact attended the Università per Stranieri (University of Foreigners), a different institution in Perugia, for a year. He did not complete his course of study, sit exams or gain any qualifications there.

Duncan Smith’s biography, on the Conservative Party website, also stated that he was ‘educated at Dunchurch College of Management’ but his office later confirmed that he did not gain any qualifications there either, that he completed six separate courses lasting a few days each, adding up to about a month in total. Dunchurch was the former staff college for GEC Marconi, for whom Duncan Smith worked in the 1980s.

  • Duncan Smith was educated at what is now St. Peter’s RC Secondary School, Solihull, until the age of 14, then at HMS Conway, a Merchant Navy training school (since closed) on the Isle of Anglesey until he was 18. In 1975 he attended the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst and was commissioned into the Scots Guards.
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Now more Tory MPs face disability charities’ anger

zac_goldsmith_037_copy_edited tania_770x344_edited

Further to yesterday’s post about Conservative MP Kit Malthouse being told by Andover and Rural branch of the MS Society that it no longer wanted him as their patron, other MPs are now feeling the heat from charitable organisations with which they are aligned.

The MPs concerned, like Mr Malthouse, voted in favour of cuts to ESA (Employment and Support Allowance) that will see many thousands of people with disabilities being new claimants of ESA, lose £30 a week, compared with current claimants in the WRAG (Work-Related Activity group), from April next year.

The Conservatives argue that stripping disabled people of financial security will incentivise them to find work quicker.

A number of Conservative MPs are coming under increasing pressure to resign their own positions as patrons for disability groups following their vote to cut disability benefits.

London Tory mayoral candidate and MP Zak Goldsmith (pictured above, left) is also facing a call from Richmond AID, a local disability charity, to explain his decision to take money off some of the poorest and most vulnerable people in society.

Lucy Byrne, chief executive of Richmond AID said in a Tweet: “Richmond AID believes that the cuts to ESA which are due to be implemented on 1st April 2017 will have a severe and detrimental impact on the lives of disabled people and will make it more difficult for people to find work.

“It must be recognised that being a disabled person means higher general expenses, for example to keep warm, travel to activities, participate in the community and travel to medical appointments. For people that are close to getting back to the workplace, add to that the cost of taxis to interviews, smart clothes for work and internet access.

“We believe this cut moves disabled people further away from the workplace and increases the social isolation of people that are already vulnerable and experiencing barriers while seeking employment.

“We are shocked and disappointed to find that both our local MPs here in the borough of Richmond (Tania Mathias and Zac Goldsmith) have voted for this cut and plan to invite both MPs to our offices to explain the impact this will have on disabled people.    Lucy Byrne, chief executive of Richmond AID.”

Dr Taina Mathias (pictured above, right), an NHS doctor, is Conservative MP for Twickenham. Zak Goldsmith is Conservative MP for Richmond Park and North Kingston, and is his party’s candidate in the London Mayoral election.


MP told ‘We don’t want you as patron’ by MS Society

andover_kit_malthouse  ms logo   Kit Malthouse MP not wanted as patron of Andover MS Society.

Not being ones to let the grass grow under their feet, members of Andover’s branch of the MS Society has reacted quickly to their patron voting for cuts to disability benefits.

Regular readers may recall that, on Friday, I posted a blog on the issue of the patron, local MP Kit Malthouse, voting for the £30 cut to ESA Work-Related Activity Group new claimants from April next year. That blog (if you have not read it, you can follow this link: brought howls of complaint against Mr Malthouse and demands for him to be removed from his honorary role.

I said his vote in the House of Commons and his role as patron of the MS Society branch were incompatible as the society has been actively campaigning against the cut.

Andover MS Society obviously feels the same way as it has now asked the MP to step down from being the branch’s patron. Donna Birch, branch Chair, explained: “Due to recent events we no longer feel that Kit Malthouse is a suitable patron, so we have asked him to step down from this role.”

So far, Mr Malthouse has not responded to my request for a comment.

Following my first blog on this subject, the MS Society UK commented: “Hi Ian, thankyou for posting this. We have over 280 branches across the UK, some of which ask local politicians to act as patrons or presidents, which can help raise their profile. These are not formal roles within the MS Society.

“We would hope, given Mr Malthouse has accepted this role with our Andover branch, he would understand why reducing ESA by £30 a week will make life harder for people with MS who come to claim this benefit. We fundamentally disagree with Mr Malthouse’s position and we’re deeply disappointed that the Government has ignored the concerns of organisations like the MS Society and voted for the changes to ESA.

“For more information on what the changes to ESA mean for people with MS, please follow this link”