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News and Opinions about MS, Health & Disability

Motability faces financial allegations but stands strong against its critics

Shock, horror. Motabilty Operations, part of the Motability charity, is facing allegations about its finances.

The UK organisation provides cars for disabled people who receive the highest level of benefit for mobility. It is accused of having enormous cash reserves and is said to pay its chief executive an outrageous six figure salary.

Extraordinary, we must investigate, say ministers and other MPs. BUT, hold on, what are the FACTS? What is the TRUTH?

The Daily Mail first revealed the allegations in a report published this week. In the Mail Online, the story was headlined “Revealed: Boss of car scheme for the disabled is on £1.7million… and YOU pay: MPs question Motability’s lavish salaries and its £2.4billion cash stockpile”.

Today, it returned to the story, quoting the Press Association saying:

A disability charity faces a double investigation after MPs raised concerns over the “grotesque” state of its finances.

Work and pensions secretary Esther McVey said she has asked the National Audit Office (NAO) to consider probing Motability amid reports it has a £2.4 billion surplus and pays its chief executive £1.7 million a year.

Labour’s Frank Field, chairman of the Work and Pensions select committee, also confirmed his panel would be launching its own “urgent inquiry”.

Allegations rebuffed

I am sure you will agree, if the allegations turn out to be true, it would be disgusting. Profiteering on the backs of the disabled. However, there are two sides to every story and Motability has hit back.

It has issued a strongly worded rebuff to the claims made against it. In its statement, Motability said:

motabilityThe Daily Mail claims there is a £2.4bn ‘cash stockpile’ or ‘spare £2.4bn’.

It’s quite clear to us that the Daily Mail has totally misunderstood what this £2.4 billion of reserves represents. It is not held as cash but is used to buy cars for disabled people. This reduces the amount of borrowing required.

It also underpins the scheme’s financial stability, protecting it from the business risks it faces, particularly in relation to used car values. The Charity Commission has today stated “that we consider the level of operating capital held by the company in order to guarantee the scheme to be conservative”.

Moving on to the issue of the salary paid to Mike Betts, the charity said:

The remuneration of Motability Operations directors is decided by the Motability operations board, based on the advice of their remuneration committee.

Successful and effective

Remuneration is reviewed against the market to ensure that it is both competitive over the long term, and to ensure that any rewards are related to performance especially in relation to the quality of service provided to customers.

The current chief executive of Motability Operations, Mike Betts, has been in place since 2003 and has been instrumental in ensuring the company is able to operate successfully and effectively.

So, we have allegations and a complete rebuff. Now, we will have to wait for the inquiries to be completed and all the facts to be established.

Until then, I’ll give Motability the benefit of any doubt. After all, like anyone else, the company should be considered innocent until proven guilty.

•  Having multiple sclerosis£££, I was awarded the top level of both care and mobility elements of Disabled Living Allowance. I chose to use the mobility element to get a Motability car when I lived in Wales. While I still have the same award, the mobility element is not paid outside the UK and so, living in Spain, I don’t receive it. However, if I moved back to Britain, I would be paid it again.

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Affiliate disclaimer: This affiliate disclosure details the affiliate relationships of MS, Health & Disability at 50shadesofsun.com with other companies and products. Read more.

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50shadesofsun.com is the personal website of Ian Franks, a freelance medical writer and editor for various health information sites. 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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Note: Health-related information available on 50shadesofsun website is intended for your general knowledge only and is not a substitute for medical advice or treatment for specific medical conditions. I am not a doctor and cannot and do not give you medical advice. You should seek prompt medical care for any specific health issues and consult a doctor before starting a new diet or exercise programme. Any opinions expressed are purely my own unless otherwise stated.

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Fury at BPS ‘influence’ and being assessed as ‘fit to work’

News that the government’s disability employment strategy seems heavily influenced by the discredited BPS disability model has prompted a furious reaction. A quite justifiable one, in my view.

In this column, on Wednesday, I wrote about and commented upon what senior civil servant Tabitha Jay revealed. She had been speaking to MPs in the all-party parliamentary group for disability (APPGD).

BPS

My blog of two days ago, that prompted strong reactions.

While doing so, she mentioned the discredited “biopsychosocial” (BPS) model, the Disability News Service (DNS) reported. Further, DNS said Jay appeared to suggest BPS was “running in parallel” to the social model within the strategy.

On Facebook, group administrator Jan Thompson wrote: “Heavily influenced?….that’s a bit of an understatement isn’t it? This why ‘sick note’ was changed to ‘fit note’ …make us believe we are ‘fit’ & not ‘sick’. I’m sick of being used as a guinea pig….when I go to my docs it’s cos I’m unwell…not because I’m fit as a fiddle. Bps psycho babble.”

In the same article, I also wrote about Welfare Weekly‘s report about disability benefit assessments. It said, in just 18 months, upwards of 220,000 people have been awarded zero points when assessed for Personal Independence Payment (PIP).

Here, too, strongly-held and equally justifiable views came in. Here are a few of them:

On my blog itself, steveu wrote: “Several occupations require you to hold a minimum medical category. As MS is a progressive disease you steadily fall down the medical categories until you no longer meet the minimum and then you are no longer employable, sometimes just the diagnosis is sufficient to move you out.”

Nearly unbearable

On Facebook, Kevin Smith wrote: “My consultant told me I’ll never be able to work again but DWP tries to go against it. Won 2 appeals but the stress was nearly unbearable and made me even worse.”

Marie Grant wrote: “Where are all our healthcare professionals in all this? Why are they allowing their diagnosis to be overturned by nurses, physiotherapists and scores of others who have a vested interest in finding the sick and disabled fit for work. I feel totally let down by them all that they have let this happen.”

Jan Thompson, again, wrote: “The savage cuts have nothing to do with saving money so to speak. It’s social experiments to convince people they’re not really ‘sick’…sadly they don’t care that it’s not working. It costs more to implement than what it actually saves.”

Marie Grant, again, wrote: “It’s nothing short of persecution of the most vulnerable people in our society. I consider myself fortunate in the fact I was able to work for so long so I am reasonably financially secure. Having said that, I have never in my life felt so oppressed by my own government. Feel so sorry for all those who have no option but to depend on benefits, the stress and worry they’re put through is inhuman.”

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Affiliate disclaimer: This affiliate disclosure details the affiliate relationships of MS, Health & Disability at 50shadesofsun.com with other companies and products. Read more.

* * * * *

50shadesofsun.com is the personal website of Ian Franks, a freelance medical writer and editor for various health information sites. 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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Note: Health-related information available on 50shadesofsun website is intended for your general knowledge only and is not a substitute for medical advice or treatment for specific medical conditions. I am not a doctor and cannot and do not give you medical advice. You should seek prompt medical care for any specific health issues and consult a doctor before starting a new diet or exercise programme. Any opinions expressed are purely my own unless otherwise stated.

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Debbie’s independent review of folding electric wheelchair: ‘The most practical chair I’ve tried’

06 in boot

To coincide with Mobility Roadshow1, that started yesterday at the UK’s Silverstone motor racing circuit and runs until tomorrow, I wanted to bring you an independent review of the lightweight folding powered wheelchair that was revealed to readers of this blog three weeks ago, on May 5 (http://50shadesofsun.com/?p=2444).

The reviewer is Debbie Schwartz who lives in Cardiff with her Canine Partner (assistance dog) Ellie (http://50shadesofsun.com/?p=2524). Debbie already has a heavier electric wheelchair and wanted to try out the new one. Shaun Atkinson, of Better Products for Disabled People, took a chair to Cardiff for her to try but had no idea that she would be writing a review.

Debbie writes:

I met up with Shaun earlier today and viewed the smaller model – BPDP 06J.

Before I saw the chair I had several concerns, mainly around safety:

  • being so light would it feel ‘sturdy’ or would it topple on uneven ground
  • the battery is an ‘unknown’ so would it offer the power that a standard powerchair offers?
  • being an (almost) ‘deckchair’ design would it be comfortable? Having no suspension, solid tyres and basic seating I was concerned about the support & comfort, certainly on uneven ground – suffering from chronic severe pair this was a major concern.
  • is it really as easy to unfold/fold as shown?
  • is it light enough to lift & fit into a standard car boot? – Is the battery easy enough to remove &/or change if required?

On seeing it the first impressions are good; it was a very neat little chair. It is only made from four different components – two motors, battery, frame/tyres and joystick. This I found quite reassuring because there are fewer things to go wrong; he even said that it doesn’t require servicing – with any fault the cause is obvious and he’d just send out the part! Each motor is attached via two screws so it’s as simple as that!

It opens and closes in one motion – I had a friend with me who tried both actions successfully and then tried to fit it in his car boot. He has the smallest boot I’ve ever seen! He has a VW Fox (smaller than a Polo). He observed that the chair was very easy to manoeuvre when folded and was light enough to pick up and lift over the high lip of his boot. The chair back can bend back to reduce the length of the folded chair, but this wasn’t necessary. The chair neatly fitted into the boot as you can see in the photo.

On trying the chair I found it to be quite powerful and offered a smooth ride after you’ve got the hang of the joystick – it was certainly more sensitive than the one on my main chair. It was raining at the time but had good grip; I took it up/down small curbs & there was no toppling, it did feel stable.

The battery was the most amazing thing! You simply remove it by taking it out of the frame, it is as simple as that! It was so light! A matter of lbs & not what I’m used to at all; batteries seem to have limited my life for some time now – in one way or another – now it can be removed and stored easily in a (large) handbag if required… It can be recharged like any other powerchair battery ie via a port on the joystick. Also, like every other chair, the motors can be ‘disconnected’ via two levers so that it can be pushed freely.

The chair was surprisingly comfortable. It comes with a seating cushion which is very basic, but I’m sure that you can change that with the cushion you would normally use. The back rest is material, but again was surprisingly supportive & comfortable.

The only criticism I might have about the chair – and it is being quite picky – is that the seat is physically quite low and this might not suit everyone2. I normally ride an Invacare Pronto3 & it’s seat was a good 6″ higher than the BPDP. In truth, it’s not going to affect me too much, being very short in stature, but if you’re taller then getting up might be more difficult. The arms easily move back meaning that you will easily fit it under a table – something my Invacare doesn’t do – but because of the low seat you still might not be comfortable at the table! I’m sure that if you had a more substantial cushion than the one provided then you would sit higher.

To sum it up, this really is everything I want from an ‘occasional’ chair. It will not take over from the Invacare because of the amount of off-roading I do day-to-day (dog walking), but to travel with the convenience seems second to none; I would say that it was the most practical chair I’ve tried.

Unfortunately, to truly know how it drives, you need to use it day to day & no-one is going to offer this opportunity for any chair; having tried the BPDP both inside & outside I was happy with the power & turning circle – again showing its versatility.

 

Notes:

1 Mobility Roadshow 2016, May 26-28, Silverstone Circuit, Silverstone, Northants NN12 8TN. Opening times: today Friday May 27, 10am-5pm, tomorrow Saturday May 28, 10am-4pm. Fully accessible and free admission! No ticket required.

2 The seat height of the BPDP 06J folding electric wheelchair is 470mm. Ian’s current chair is the Invacare Mirage which has a seat height of… 47cm – exactly the same – and he says he can easily get up even though he is 6 feet 2 inches (188cm) tall.

3 The Invacare Pronto is a powerchair, not a traditional wheelchair design.

 

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‘No further plans to cut benefits’ pledge lasts 51 days

Work and pensions secretary Stephen Crabb discloses his plans to the select committee.

Work and pensions secretary Stephen Crabb discloses his plans to the select committee.

Declaration of interest: I have multiple sclerosis and receive both ESA (in the support group) and Disabled Living Allowance (both care and mobility components at the highest rates).

 

Sneaky, very sneaky and possibly even underhanded, is the only way I can describe how the UK’s work and pensions secretary Stephen Crabb decided to reveal the government’s latest intentions to make further cuts to disability benefits.

Instead of making a statement in the House of Commons, he chose to disclose the proposals in an almost throwaway and casual style before the work and pensions committee select committee.

He told the committee that he wanted to go further than the controversial and much-criticised £12 billion welfare cuts set out in the 2015 Conservative manifesto and to ‘re-frame discussion’ around disability welfare reform.

And this, let me refresh your memory, from the same man who, after replacing Iain Duncan Smith as work and pensions secretary, announced the dumping of proposed changes to the Personal Independence Payment and said that the government had no plans to make further welfare cuts.

At the time, I warned that we should not be taken in by his ‘weasel words’.

This week Mr Crabb told the committee that he intended to set out a green paper later this year to propose further changes to disability benefits.

He explained that the measures that have either already been legislated for or announced add up to the planned £12 billion of welfare cuts but added: “Does that mean welfare reform comes to an end? I would say ‘no’. I’ve already pointed to what I see as one of the big challenges of welfare reform – and that’s around work and health.”

Mr Crabb told MPs on Work and Pensions Select Committee that he would deploy ‘smart strategies’ for cutting expenditure on disability and sickness benefits and would hopefully be able to secure the support of disability charities.

He said: “In terms of how you make progress of welfare reform there when you are talking about people who are very vulnerable, people with multiple barriers, challenges, sicknesses, disabilities – I am pretty clear in my mind that you can’t just set targets for cutting welfare expenditure,” he said.

“When you’re talking about those cohorts of people you’ve actually got to come up with some pretty smart strategies for doing it which carry the support and permission of those people and organisations who represent those people who we are talking about.

“This is why there’ll be further information in due course about this. I want to produce a green paper later this year which starts to re-frame discussion around this set of issues.”

Criticism to Crabb’s latest plans have been voiced by many including campaigning blogger Mike Sivier. Writing on Vox Political Online, he said: “He (Crabb) means he wants to cut funding to the vulnerable and make it more likely they will die, the same as Iain Duncan Smith always meant.

“This is a war of attrition; the Tories have already killed off a great many sick and disabled people and hidden the facts, in the opinion of this writer. That means there are fewer left to resist what may clearly be seen as a genocide.

“That’s why fighting these cuts is so vital. Stephen Crabb must not be allowed to think his murderous plan (whatever it is) will be easy to enact.”

Labour’s shadow work and pensions secretary Owen Smith has called on the government to dump the ESA cuts that have already been passed. He said: “The flimsy case for the cuts to Employment Support Allowance is now totally blown apart by this broken promise (that no further cuts were planned) and the Tories must listen to Labour’s calls for them to be reversed.”

 

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Nothing literal about seeing eye-to-eye

Captain Claus Andersen with me on board Anthem of the Seas while crossing the Atlantic last year.

Captain Claus Andersen with me on board Anthem of the Seas while crossing the Atlantic last year.

Amazed, bewildered and downright exasperated. Those are the feelings that dominate my thoughts as they prompt me to speak out through this blog. As regular readers know, I have severe mobility problems due to multiple sclerosis but this is about anyone who has to rely on a wheelchair.

Now, everyone who has a physical disability knows they can expect that some people they meet will speak to their attendant or carer rather than them. Some people do have that unfortunate tendency to not look down to the person in the wheelchair but, instead, talk to the standing assistant.

I have no idea how other people in my position choose to handle that but in my case it is quite easy. As my carer is also my wife, Lisa, we work as a team. If she asks a question, I expect her to receive the answer- no problem. But if the enquiry is made by me, the answer needs to be directed to me. To be fair, in my experience, this is how most people do react.

However, if someone does try to answer my question by directing his or her reply to Lisa, we let that person finish before I answer – probably adding that it would be polite if, in future, he or she could look at the person who had made the enquiry.

The feelings mentioned at the beginning of this post don’t come, however, from a person in a wheelchair thinking he is being not treated properly. Instead they come from my reaction to another person’s over sensitive view of a picture. Let me explain.

The other day I posted a blog (to read it, click this link http://50shadesofsun.com/?p=1554) about being aboard Royal Caribbean’s Anthem of the Seas on its transatlantic voyage last October and November, and paid tribute to the captain, Claus Andersen, for his coolness in command during the storms we encountered.

Lisa and I happened to meet the captain one day and I took the opportunity to ask if he would pose for a picture with me. He readily agreed, suggested a location and wheeled me there himself. He then called over a crew member to take the picture with my camera.

There was NO problem. I was not ignored in any way. We had a good conversation.

BUT someone seeing the picture – the one above – said the captain had not learned how to treat people in wheelchairs. He maintained that the captain should have crouched down to bring our heads to the same level.

What utter balderdash. Do you see tall people crouch to the height of a shorter person? Of course not!

If anybody did that to me, I’d feel demeaned and patronised. Yes, I am in a wheelchair but, where possible, treat me as you would any other person; treat me as an equal. I might need a wheelchair space or to use a ramp but please don’t be condescending by crouching to my level.

The expression ‘seeing eye-to-eye’ does not mean literally.

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