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News and Opinions about MS, Health & Disability

May’s ‘extreme’ bedfellows may be good for welfare benefits

government

Prime Minister Theresa May.

It is no surprise that Theresa May wants to hold on to the keys of 10 Downing Street. After all, it is the official home of the British prime minister. But she needs help, her Conservative party fell several seats short of an overall majority in last week’s general election.

As I write this, talks are continuing between the Conservatives and the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP). The DUP is the only other party that is willing to support a May government. And that could be interesting as far as disability and other benefits are concerned.

So, what is the DUP and what does it stand for?

Right-wing, ‘extremist’

DUP leader Arlene Foster.

It is Northern Ireland’s right-wing, unionist, protestant party. It’s the largest political party in the province and is the fifth largest in the UK’s House of Commons. It is an organisation that was born out of controversy, being founded in 1971 during the worst of the troubles. The founder and first leader was the late firebrand Rev Ian Paisley. Some label it ‘extremist’.

But what does that mean for all of us, wherever we may be?

The DUP is Eurosceptic and an advocate of a hard Brexit. It is a fierce defender of protestant unionism (with Great Britain) against Roman Catholic Irish nationalism (merging with Ireland). It opposes both gay marriage and legalised abortion.

Voted against government’s benefit cuts

Interestingly, however, while the party’s MPs might not always be in the House of Commons chamber, when they were there during the last parliament, they consistently vote against the Conservative’s cuts in welfare benefits.

Any deal between the two parties looks set to be on a case-by-case basis, not a formal coalition. As such, it could mean that the Conservative minority government might be outvoted if it tries to impose any further cuts in this sensitive area.

Now, that would be a step forward for those of us who rely on those benefits because we have a disability, or are elderly.

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50shadesofsun.com is the personal website of Ian Franks, a Features Writer with Medical News Today. He enjoyed a successful career as a journalist, from reporter to editor in the print media. He gained a Journalist of the Year award in his native UK. Ian received a diagnosis of MS in 2002 and now lives in the south of Spain. He uses a wheelchair and advocates on mobility and accessibility issues.

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MP’s vote for benefit cut is incompatible with being patron of local MS Society – he should step down now

Kit Malthouse MP.

Kit Malthouse MP.

News that the UK government in the House of Commons forced through the welfare benefit cuts it wanted is not surprising. It used the established procedure known as ‘financial privilege’ to by-pass the opposition in the House of Lords. Anything said to be covered by financial privilege means the House of Lords cannot stop it.

And, as such, it should not be thought strange that most Conservative MPs would follow the government’s ‘party line’ and vote to support the measure which will reduce Employment and Support Allowance paid to people with disabilities in the Work-Related Activity Group from £103 to £73, the same amount that is paid to the unemployed, from April next year. The cut is for new claims only and will not affect existing claimant, the government says.

This cut, along with many others, has been opposed by the MS Society and so, what is surprising is how one Conservative MP can square his support for his party and government, by voting for the cut, with his position as patron of the MS Society in his constituency.

The MP, Kit Malthouse who represents Andover in Hampshire, voted in favour of the cuts and is unrepentant. He said: “This government is trying to break away from the low and limiting expectations previous governments have had for disabled people. 64% of people on ESA want to do some kind of work and we’re putting resources into helping them fulfil their potential.

“I’m disappointed at the misinformation and scaremongering about the changes. There will be no change for people already claiming ESA. There will also be no change for those people who are unable to work. The changes only affect new claimants from April 2017 in the Work Related Activity Group. From that date they will receive the same direct level of financial support as those on JSA (Job Seekers Allowance) with extra help to overcome challenges they face. The government has also lifted the time limit on receiving ESA which means many people will be able to continue to work up to 16 hours a week and now receive this benefit indefinitely.

“I support the government in believing that we shouldn’t write people off and I will be holding a summit for employers in April designed to help them be confident about employing people with disabilities.”

Reaction from the MS Society branch of which Mr Malthouse is patron has been somewhat muted in the form of brief statement from Donna Birch, Chair of Andover’s MS Society. She said: “We feel sadly let down by our patron’s actions. Enough stress has already been put on our members by the upheaval of the benefits system, this just adds to their worries.”

It cannot be right to criticise Mr Malthouse for voting in support of a policy which he clearly believes is right but I would suggest that his vote makes his role, as patron of his local MS Society branch, completely untenable. He should take the honourable course of action and resign from being patron or, if he declines to do that, the branch should remove him.

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