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News and Opinions about MS, Health & Disability

Atos tries to escape its past though superficial rebranding

There is a new company providing assessments of people claiming government disability benefits in the UK. Well, no, there isn’t.

You see, the new name, Independent Assessment Services, is just a rebranding exercise.

True, the name is new but it is the same bad old company.  It is still Atos Healthcare but now in disguise. No doubt it hopes to escape its reputation. as Atos has been the subject of numerous allegations.

atosIts assessors have been accused of numerous, serious and harmful failings in the way they have carried out assessments. The most recent example is that one of its assessors left a disabled woman to sit in her own urine for nearly two hours. Now, Atos launched an investigation.

This was after a Disability News Service (DNS) investigation that found many cases where claimants described how assessors from both Atos and the other assessment company Capita, filed dishonest reports of face-to-face assessments.

According to DNS, Gail Ward, from disability activist Black Triangle Campaign, responded to the rebranding by accusing Atos of “trying to create a “smokescreen” to cover up its “incompetence” in carrying out assessments.

She said: “Atos can rebrand all they wish. We will still call them Atos at every opportunity.”

She stated that Atos’s actions had left many disabled people trapped in their own homes, after losing their entitlement to Personal Independence Payment (PIP), with many having to return their Motability vehicles.

Many grassroots campaigners were receiving requests for help in dealing with “fabrication of facts” in Atos PIP assessment reports. This had caused many sick and disabled people “a great deal of distress”.

Her Black Triangle colleague John McArdle added: “Atos has not changed its spots and is still working as the government’s henchman.

“We see the same litany of wrongdoing reported by DNS. Fraudulent reports, and catastrophic harm being caused to disabled people.”

He said the attempt to rebrand itself as a “respectable organisation” would fail6. He added: “Atos is infamous for carrying out systematic abuse of the fundamental human rights of disabled people.

“It is a toxic brand. It is a byword for corporate wrongdoing worldwide.”

Atos defends new name

An Atos spokesman said last week: “We believe the new name better reflects the role the company undertakes on behalf of the Department for Work and Pensions and the assessment work the company carries out.

“The change also follows the first independent review by Paul Gray which recommended a number of changes to claimant communications.

“It was planned and implemented in consultation with a number of disability representative organisations. They are supportive and welcome the change.”

However, DNS denied that. It said: “The two disability organisations Atos said supported the name change told DNS that they did no such thing.”

Interesting!

The spokesman added that policies – and assessment procedures – remain unchanged,

Now, that is a shame, because it seems that all the problems stem from those policies and procedures.

Changing the name is not enough. It is superficial. The company needs to change how it does its work, its culture.

People who are responsible for dishonest assessments, whether individual assessors or in management, have no business being there. Heads should roll.

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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 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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New welfare boss is either loyal party stooge or genuinely uncaring

David Gauke is the new man in charge of the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) in the UK. He has been appointed by lame duck prime minister Theresa May.

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David Gauke MP. (Picture: South West Herts Conservatives Association).

So, as the PM works on a deal with the Democratic Unionists, can we expect more compassion from the DWP? Regretfully, the answer is ‘no’.

Look at the way Gauke has voted on welfare and benefits in the House of Commons to see the truth.

Gauke’s voting record

TheyWorkForYou.com says this is how David Gauke voted:

  • Generally, he voted to reduce housing benefit for social tenants deemed to have excess bedrooms. Labour describes this as the “bedroom tax”. 11 votes for, 0 votes against, 6 absences, between 2012 and 2014.
  • He consistently voted against raising welfare benefits at least in line with prices. 0 votes for, 5 votes against, in 2013.
  • Almost always, he voted against paying higher benefits over longer periods for those unable to work due to illness or disability. 0 votes for, 13 votes against, 2 absences, between 2011 and 2016.
  • He consistently voted for making local councils responsible for helping those in financial need afford their council tax and reducing the amount spent on such support. 4 votes for, 0 votes against, in 2012.
  • Almost always, he voted for a reduction in spending on welfare benefits. 45 votes for, 1 vote against, 8 absences, between 2012 and 2016.
  • He consistently voted against spending public money to create guaranteed jobs for young people who have spent a long time unemployed. 0 votes for, 9 votes against, between 2011 and 2014.

Still no care at top?

That means David Gauke is loyal and votes as he is told by his party. Either that, or he is as genuinely uncaring as his Conservative predecessors.

Whichever is true, his appointment seems likely to prove disappointing for all who receive welfare benfits. And that includes everyone who is elderly, has a disability, has a low income, or is without a job.

Source of voting record: TheyWorkForYou.com. For an explanation of the vote descriptions please see the FAQ entries on vote descriptions and how the voting record is decided.

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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 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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Loss of spinal nerve fibres not only cause of disability in MS – new research

Disability from multiple sclerosis may be caused by more than loss of spinal nerve fibres, new research shows.

This could mean the use of MRI scans to predict disability from MS may not be as reliable as thought.

The research questions the belief that, in MS, loss of spinal axons, or nerve fibres, is the key factor in levels of chronic disability.

This has led to the wide use of MRI to measure the cross-sectional area of the spinal cord in order to predict disability. But researchers from Queen Mary University of London have now sampled spinal cords of 13 people with MS and 5 healthy controls. They found that spinal cord cross-sectional area is not a good predictor of axonal loss.

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Klaus_Schmierer.

Results of the research “Axonal loss in the multiple sclerosis spinal cord revisited” were published in Brain Pathology on May 7.

Lead researcher Klaus Schmierer said: “The lack of association between axonal loss and spinal cord cross-sectional area significantly changes our understanding of chronic disability in MS.

Disability imbalance between MS and spinal cord trauma

“The nature of the spinal cord needs to be appreciated as a highly organised and largely autonomous network . We need to identify other factors over and above axonal loss. Factors that determine the collapse of the spinal cord network and lead to the functional deficits seen in MS.

“In spinal cord trauma, people with less than 10% of axons, may still be able to have lower limb movement. But MS patients with up to 40% of their axons retained are almost invariably wheelchair-bound, as shown in our study. So, there is clearly something happening here which we’ve yet to understand.”

Finding other factors causing the chronic disability seen in MS, it could help identify targets for new treatments.

The team’s preliminary results indicate the loss of synaptic connections in the spinal cords of people with MS is substantial. It is possible that further research could determine is this is the missing link that is driving disability.

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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, who has enjoyed a successful career as a journalist, from reporter to editor, in the print media. During that career he gained a Journalist of the Year award in his native UK. Diagnosed with MS in 2002, he continued to work until mobility problems made him retire early in late 2006. He now lives in the south of Spain. Besides MS, Ian is also able to write about both epilepsy and cardiovascular matters from a patient’s perspective. Besides that, he is a keen advocate on mobility and accessibility issues.

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Election: Which Party will be Best for People with Disabilities?

I have an interest in elections and politics that started more than 50 years ago. And, yes, I have delivered leaflets and even canvassed for candidates.

Today, though, I decide election by election how to vote and support the party that has policies with which I agree.

And that’s why on June 8, I shall be voting in the UK general election as someone with a disability. But who to vote for? The one that give people with disabilities a fair deal.

For the last seven years, the UK has seen nothing short of government persecution of disabled people. For the first five years it was a Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition then, for the last two, the Conservatives alone.

Regretfully, there is no sign of a change of heart.

labourNow, let’s look at the official opposition; the Labour Party.

The party’s manifesto has not been published yet, but a copy of the draft has been leaked. And what it contains is revealing.

For the many not the few

Titled “For the Many not the Few”, the leaked draft says:

Labour will act immediately to end the worst excesses of the Conservative government’s changes. We will:

  • Scrap the punitive sanctions regime.
  • Scrap the bedroom tax.
  • Reinstate housing benefit-for-under-21s.
  • Scrap bereavement support payment cuts.

We will also review the cuts to work allowances in Universal Credit, and also review the decision to limit tax credit and Universal Credit payments to the first two children in a family.

The Tories haven completely failed on their promise of making work pay, of tackling the barriers to work faced by disabled people.

Labour supports a social model of disability. People may have a condition or an impairment but are disabled by society. We need to remove the barriers in society that restrict opportunities and choices for disabled people.

We will build on the previous Labour government’s commitment to disabled people in 2009 as signatories to the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, and incorporate it into UK law.

Labour: Social Security Bill

Labour will repeal the following cuts in social security support to disabled people through a new Social Security Bill published in our first year of office to:

  • Increase ESA by £30 per week for those in the work-related activity group and repeal cuts in UC LCW (Limited Capability for Work Element).
  • Uprate carer’s allowance by £11 to the level of Jobseekers Allowance.
  • Implement the court decision on PIP so that there is real parity of esteem between those with physical and mental health conditions.
  • Scrap the Work Capability and Personal Independence Payment assessments and replace them with a personalised, holistic assessment process which provides each individual with a tailored plan, building on their strengths and addressing barriers.
  • End the pointless stress of reassessments for people with severe long-term conditions.
  • Commission a report into expanding the Access to Work programme.

We will change the culture of the social security system, from one that demonises people to one that is supportive and enabling.

As well as scrapping the Conservatives’ punitive sanctions regime, we will change how Jobcentre Plus staff are performance managed.

Labour will strengthen access to justice for disabled people by enhancing the 2010 Equality Act enabling discrimination at work to be challenged. We will ensure that under the Istanbul Convention, disability hate crime and violence against disabled women is reported annually with national action plans to address these.

Decision time

I have never before used this website to urge support for one party over others.

I am not a natural Labour voter.

But, having lived through seven years of cuts and read that draft manifesto, I shall vote Labour on June 8.

If you have a vote in the UK election, join me and vote for the caring policies, vote Labour.

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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, who has enjoyed a successful career as a journalist, from reporter to editor, in the print media. During that career he gained a Journalist of the Year award in his native UK. Diagnosed with MS in 2002, he continued to work until mobility problems made him retire early in late 2006. He now lives in the south of Spain. Besides MS, Ian is also able to write about both epilepsy and cardiovascular matters from a patient’s perspective. Besides that, he is a keen advocate on mobility and accessibility issues.

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Disabilities: Government loses tribunals, then changes rules

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Unhappy about two decisions made against it in legal tribunals, in relation to assessments for a disability benefit, the government now plans to change the regulations to get its own way. Is that a cynical response? Yes. It’s like changing the rules of a sport halfway through a game because you don’t like the referee’s decisions.

It all stems from decisions made last rear by the Upper Tribunal that had the effect of widening the criteria for qualifying for different elements of the UK government’s Personal Independence Payment (PIP). The benefit is claimed by people with MS and many other disabilities.

There is no doubt that the tribunal was entitled to make its judgments in the way the law was written but they did not fit in with the government’s view. So the regulations are to be changed to put things back the way they were.

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Minister for Disabled People, Penny Mordaunt MP.

Interestingly, and this is puzzling, in a statement made to the House of Commons on Thursday, minister of state for disabled people Penny Mordaunt said: “This (the changes) will not result in any claimants seeing a reduction in the amount of PIP previously awarded by DWP.”

Does that mean that anyone who has benefited from the tribunal decisions will keep their payments but that new applicants will have to abide by the changed regulations, once they come into effect? Don’t hold your breath!

The MS Society says: “The planned changes will affect the way that someone’s level of PIP award is calculated. They affect one of the 10 ‘daily living activities’ (which determine eligibility for the daily living component), and one of the two ‘mobility activities’ (which determine eligibility for the mobility component).

“The affected activities are Daily Living Activity 3 – Managing therapy or monitoring a health condition, and Mobility Activity 1- Planning and following a journey. The changes make these descriptors slightly more restrictive. They could impact the awards some people get.”

What that the extent of the impact for people with MS or other disabilities is not yet known but various disability groups will be working to establish how they will affect their communities. 

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ian-skype_edited50shadesofsun.com is the personal website of Ian Franks, who is Managing Editor (columns division) of BioNews Services. BioNews is owner of 50 disease/disorder-specific news and information websites – including MS News Today. Ian has enjoyed a successful career as a journalist, from reporter to editor, in the print media. During that career he gained a Journalist of the Year award in his native UK. He was diagnosed with MS in 2002 but continued working until mobility problems forced him to retire early in late 2006. He now lives in the south of Spain. Besides MS, Ian is also able to write about both epilepsy and cardiovascular matters from a patient’s perspective and is a keen advocate on mobility and accessibility issues.

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Disabilities: Government warned forced activities ‘could make health worse’

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Plans for people with disabilities to be forced to undertake ‘mandatory activities’, even though they have already been assessed as being unfit for work, is being opposed by disability groups such as the MS Society.

It is good to see the society urging the UK government to scrap plans, included in the Green Paper Improving Lives, that would require people in the support group of Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) to participate in those activities or risk facing cuts to their benefits.

disabilityThe ‘Green Paper’ is a supposed consultation document that sets out what the government calls its 10-year vision for helping people with chronic conditions – who can and want to – find and stay in work. It also includes other areas, such as health and changes to disability benefits.

In a statement issued on Friday, the MS Society said: “We’re really concerned about changes to disability benefits proposed in the Government’s Green Paper on work, health and disability. And we let them know in our detailed response today.”

Society policy manager Laura Wetherly said: “The government must recognise that many people with MS simply can’t work because of their condition and may not be able to return to work in the future. For these people, work has become impossible and in some cases could actually make their health worse.

“Putting pressure on people already deemed unfit for work won’t help their condition improve, will only make the system more stressful for them, and won’t help to close the disability employment gap. We’re urging the Government to make the welfare system make sense – the most vulnerable people need to be properly supported.”

According to the government’s own figures, of the people with MS claiming ESA, 92% are in the support group and are currently people not expected to carry out any work-related activity.

The MS Society says its January survey of more than 1,300 people with the disease revealed:

  • Almost two thirds of respondents (64%) say they are not employed.
  • Over half (53%) of this group say they would ideally like to work, but the vast majority (77%) say their MS means it’s not possible for them to work.
  • 62% of those not working feel they couldn’t return to work even with appropriate support.

According to Government figures, of the people with MS claiming ESA, 92% are in the support group. Currently people in this group are not expected to carry out any work-related activity as they tend to have the very highest support needs.

On its website, the society highlights the story of Carole Bennett, who is 58 and from Leeds, was diagnosed with MS in 2003. It says:

Around five years ago, she had to give up her job as a local government officer because her symptoms became too severe to carry on. Shortly after, she started receiving ESA.

Carole says: “I wouldn’t be able to do anything without this money – it’s my main form of income. I do very little as it is because the amount I get is only just enough to get by on. I enjoyed my job and if my health was better, I’d love to get back into work. But MS is so unpredictable – some days are better than others and I never know when I’m going to be ok. If I were forced to look for a new job now, the stress would make my symptoms worse and my life would be even harder than it is at the moment.”

I firmly believe that the plans should have no place in what, in the 21st century, should be a caring, tolerant and decent society.

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ian-skype_edited50shadesofsun.com is the personal website of Ian Franks, who is Managing Editor (columns division) of BioNews Services. BioNews is owner of 50 disease/disorder-specific news and information websites – including MS News Today. Ian has enjoyed a successful career as a journalist, from reporter to editor, in the print media. During that career he gained a Journalist of the Year award in his native UK. He was diagnosed with MS in 2002 but continued working until mobility problems forced him to retire early in late 2006. He now lives in the south of Spain. Besides MS, Ian is also able to write about both epilepsy and cardiovascular matters from a patient’s perspective and is a keen advocate on mobility and accessibility issues.

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More flock to accuse disability assessors of lying

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Isn’t it amazing how the number of people who choose to speak out about injustices multiply once the first reports are published

Many more disabled people have come forward to describe how the healthcare professionals who assessed them for the UK government’s disability benefits lied in the reports they compiled. The benefits are paid to people with many different disabilities including multiple sclerosis.

Their evidence further confirms the results of a two-month Disability News Service (DNS) investigation, which revealed last week how assessors working for the outsourcing companies Capita and Atos – most of them nurses – had repeatedly lied, ignored written evidence, and dishonestly reported the results of physical examinations.

disability-news-serviceHaving seen the first revelations of the DNS, more personal independence payment (PIP) claimants have come forward with their own evidence of dishonest assessors.

The second DNS report said:

One PIP claimant, who has impairments including ME, fibromyalgia and a heart condition, has described how his disability living allowance (DLA) award of the higher rates for both care and mobility was lost after his PIP assessment left him with zero points (a claimant needs eight for the PIP standard rate and 12 for the enhanced rate).

He remembers his assessor telling him when she arrived at his home and he asked if she knew anything about ME and fibromyalgia: “I’ve dealt with a couple of people with yuppy flu before.”

He said: “When I received the assessor’s report I thought it was for another person as it contained so many omissions, inaccuracies and conjecture. There were also several instances of fabrication.”

Information from his previous applications for incapacity benefit, DLA and employment and support allowance (ESA), and his successful appeal decisions for DLA and ESA at tribunal, had been omitted from her report.

David told DNS: “The report states I carried out tiptoe and ‘balancing on each foot’ tests and had no problems walking. I did not walk a step and did not carry out the tests described.

“The report states that I turned around in my chair and picked up a bottle of medicine from the surface behind me – the surface behind me was an oven hob and all my medication was on the table in front of the assessor.”

When he described how his medication had sent him to sleep in his back yard, the assessor claimed that he said instead: “I wonder [sic]round the fields outside my house,” while being able to open a ring-pull can was interpreted as “able to prepare a meal”.

He is appealing the decision, and is complaining about his assessor to the Nursing and Midwifery Council.

David said: “Since receiving the report, the consequences of dealing with the complaints procedure and making another tribunal appeal have been a noticeable deterioration in my health and have put a strain on both my wife’s and my own mental health (loss of peace of mind, anxiety, knocks to self-confidence and a feeling of being discriminated against because of the nature of my disability).”

Many other claimants came forward and told similar stories.

A DWP spokeswoman told the DNS:

“We expect the highest standards from the contractors who carry out PIP assessments.

“We do not accept it to be the case that there is dishonesty amongst them.

“As we said, we are committed to making sure the PIP assessment process works fairly and effectively, which is why we welcome independent reviews such as the ones led by Paul Gray, the second of which is expected in April 2017.

“Anyone not happy with their benefit decision can ask for it to be looked at again, and then appeal to an independent tribunal.

“There is also a comprehensive complaints procedure in place for claimants who are not happy with the service they have received from providers.”

So many tales of wrongdoing, yet the government department does not accept there is dishonesty among its contractors’ assessors. What is wrong? It is high time that government ministers and civil servants opened their eyes, ears and put whatever brains they have to good use. In fact, the evidence exists, they just need to approach it with open minds. It is time for action not complacency or denial.

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Disability Employment: Nothing Changed in Ten Years

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It is now 10 years since my disability, serious mobility issues caused by multiple sclerosis, caused me to leave my last full-time employment.

For a few months, I hung onto the notion that there must be some role for me; one that could be done sitting in an office without too much moving about. Back then, there was no wheelchair in the equation, just a walking stick – or cane as my American wife prefers to call it.

Employment hunting was not easy, however, and it soon became clear that a pattern existed. And it was often carefully disguised as an equal opportunity (EO) policy. In short, although you could avoid mentioning your disability on the application, they discovered it on the EO form. Strangely, despite being well qualified and experienced, whenever an equal opportunities form was involved, I was never invited for an interview.

Then there were other companies without an EO form. There everything went fine until they asked those of us being interviewed to complete a medical questionnaire.  Then the shutters dropped and, suddenly, another candidate was better qualified. Really? Every time?

Frustrated, I explained the problem to my employment adviser at the local Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) Jobcentre. She answered by suggesting I transferred to what was then called Incapacity Benefit, which I did.

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Johnny Mercer MP speaking, Lisa Cameron MP, Philip Connolly of Disability Rights UK, and Lord Addington.

Fast forward 10 years and you could reasonably think that things would have changed, that it would have got better. But no, it seems to be the same.

The deplorable situation has been highlighted as part of a new report by the UK’s all-party parliamentary group for disability (APPGD) – which has cross-party support. The report said people with disabilities are facing “institutional disablism” at the hands of both public and private sector employers.

It suggests that the government needs to take a far tougher stance on dealing with employers that discriminate against disabled staff and would-be employees.

The Disability News Service said that the Ahead of the Arc report – which is supported by MPs and peers from seven political parties – calls on the government to drop its opposition to regulatory action that would force employers to take action.

The AAPGD report says: “It is time to consider abandoning a voluntary-only approach towards requiring employers to measure and to increase disability employment.”

Evidence suggests that the failure of public and private employers to provide appropriate support to disabled people in the workplace and to offer fair access to start-up funds, business advice and business networks amounts to “institutional disablism”, the report says.

It goes on to suggests that employers found to have discriminated against disabled people should face lesser penalties if they have “substantive” equality policies in place.

And it says the government needs “a tighter legal framework” to ensure that disabled employees are no longer “managed out of the workplace” by their employers, something that is happening to an estimated 35,000 to 48,000 disabled people every year.

Based purely on my own experience, I would say that “substantive equality policies” are not enough. They are worthless if not implemented. Implementation needs to be rigorously monitored and enforced with severe penalties for employers failing to deliver.

Anything less than that is a complete waste of time.

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ian profile50shadesofsun.com is the personal website of Ian Franks, who is Managing Editor (columns division) of BioNews Services. BioNews is owner of 50 disease/disorder-specific news and information websites – including MS News Today. Ian has enjoyed a successful career as a journalist, from reporter to editor, in the print media. During that career he gained a Journalist of the Year award in his native UK. He was diagnosed with MS in 2002 but continued working until mobility problems forced him to retire early in late 2006. He now lives in the south of Spain. Besides MS, Ian is also able to write about both epilepsy and cardiovascular matters from a patient’s perspective and is a keen advocate on mobility and accessibility issues.

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Shameful that charities ‘sell out’ people with disabilites

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Several leading disability charities are being criticized, by a user-led disability group, for flirting with the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) and  seeking to gain UK government contracts. The Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC) said that the charities are ‘selling out’ and that there is no way that the charities could speak out strongly against DWP if they won multi-million pound contracts under the new programme. It is shameful that the charities are even considering such actions.

disabilitiesLinda Burnip, DPAC co-founder (pictured, left), said: “It is clear to everyone that organisations taking money from the government to provide services of any kind will not be in a position to campaign in any effective way against its policies on welfare reform.

“These contracts are rumoured to be worth between £2 million and £30 million and once part of propping up the system, any independence to criticise it will be lost. It is shameful that organisations supposedly existing to benefit disabled people are willing to sell them out in such an abhorrent way,” she said.

I agree with Ms Burnip and think it is disgusting  and deplorable that the ‘big seven’ disability charities – most of which are not user-led – all admit they have not ruled out seeking such contracts.

All seven have told the Disability News Service (DNS) that any contracts they win from the government will have no impact on their campaigning work, including whether they speak up about social security reform, including cuts to disability benefits and back-to-work policies for disabled people.

But their generally supportive responses to the government’s work, health and disability green paper – which was published on October 31 – could suggest otherwise. Indeed, one of them – Mind – has already been “caught lying”, according to the DNS, about its interest in seeking DWP contracts under the Work and Health Programme.

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MIND chief executive Paul Farmer is confronted by protesters.

It says: “Paul Farmer, Mind’s chief executive, told protesters on October 31 that the charity had ‘no contracts with DWP’ and that he was ‘not interested in future contracts at this stage’.

“His lies were exposed when a disgruntled employee leaked internal documents showing that Mind was applying to join a DWP framework that would allow it to bid for contracts.”

Last month, the charity’s policy and campaigns manager, Tom Pollard, joined DWP on secondment as a senior policy adviser.

Asked whether winning DWP contracts would impact on its campaigning work, Mind said that it “always speaks out about the issues that we believe impact on people with mental health problems, and we don’t enter into financial relationships which would prevent us from doing this”.

The DNS investigation came as the Charity Commission confirmed that it has written to Mind’s trustees following a complaint about the charity’s close links with the government – and about Farmer’s lies – by Dr Minh Alexander, an NHS whistleblower and former consultant psychiatrist. A Charity Commission spokesman told DNS: “The Charity Commission can confirm that a concern was raised with us regarding the charity Mind.”

The DNS contacted the other six charities. Leonard Cheshire Disability  said that it already provides services under the government’s Work Choice programme, but refused to say if it was seeking contracts under the Work and Health Programme, or if any such contract would impact on its campaigning work.

RNIB said that it was “exploring” possible involvement in the Work and Health Programme as a “specialist sub-contractor”, although only if any programme was “entirely voluntary” because “we don’t support the sanctioning of individuals’ benefits if they do not attend a programme”.

Action on Hearing Losssaid that it “may consider DWP contracts in the future”, but denied that this would impact on its campaigning work.

Scope said that it had “yet to make a decision regarding upcoming opportunities to deliver employment support but hope to make an announcement in the new year”. A spokeswoman said: “We have been and will continue to speak out on the issues that matter to disabled people.

Disability Rights UK (DR UK) said it was too early to say if it would bid for contracts, but if it did “it would likely be in partnership with other disabled people’s organisations”, and that it would “never compromise on being able to speak out about issues of welfare reform”.

Finally, Mencap’s head of employment, Mark Capper, said the charity was “disappointed” to see that the framework for the main contracts “appears to favour large businesses rather than third sector providers who can offer specialised support”, and that it would not want to be involved “unless significant changes were made to involve third sector providers”. But a spokesman added that the charity “may” consider smaller contracts “if we believe they will allow third sector providers to support people with a learning disability into employment”.

The green paper includes the possibility that DWP could in future force all sick and disabled people on out-of-work disability benefits to take part in “mandatory” activity, including those in the employment and support allowance (ESA) support group.

Leonard Cheshire Foundation, RNIB, and Action on Hearing Loss all welcomed the publication of the green paper. The other three charities were more critical, although none of them could be said to have attacked the green paper. DNS reported: “Disability Rights UK criticised elements of the green paper, pointing to its failure to announce any new incentives or requirements on employers, calling for more enforcement of the Equality Act, and warning that the government appeared to be cutting funding for employment support.

Mencap welcomed much of the green paper but was critical of the planned £30-a-week cuts to ESA, and said that the possible changes to the support group “could cause deep concern to sick and disabled people”.

Mind also welcomed parts of the green paper but, like Mencap, was critical of the support group measure, while it also criticised the government’s failure to consider “a fundamental rethink of the way conditionality and sanctions are used”.

Multiple sclerosis charities the MS Society and the MS Trust both guardedly welcomed the green paper, as I have previously reported.

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ian profile50shadesofsun.com is the personal website of Ian Franks, who is Managing Editor (columns division) of BioNews Services. BioNews is owner of 50 disease/disorder-specific news and information websites – including MS News Today. Ian has enjoyed a successful career as a journalist, from reporter to editor, in the print media. During that career he gained a Journalist of the Year award in his native UK. He was diagnosed with MS in 2002 but continued working until mobility problems forced him to retire early in late 2006. He now lives in the south of Spain. Besides MS, Ian is also able to write about both epilepsy and cardiovascular matters from a patient’s perspective and is a keen advocate on mobility and accessibility issues.

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Motability scheme improvements? Really?

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How can they do it? That’s the question being asked, and for good reason, after a UK government minister’s amazing statement last week.

And I’d say that not only is Penny Mordaunt, minister for disabled people (and that includes those of us with MS), on thin ice but that she is in danger of crashing right through it – because what she told MPs is really unbelievable.

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Minister for Disabled People, Penny Mordaunt MP.

According to Mordaunt, she is planning to:

  • Allow claimants to keep their Motability vehicle whilst appealing a decision that they do not qualify for the enhanced rate of the mobility component of PIP.
  • Allow claimants to continue receiving the mobility component of PIP if they are abroad for more than 13 weeks, even where the reason for absence is not connected with medical treatment.7
  • Allow claimants to access the Motability scheme even if they are not in receipt of the enhanced rate of the mobility component of PIP.

BenefitsandWork.co.uk says: “That the DWP is considering letting claimants to keep their Motability vehicle whilst appealing – where they will have around a 60% chance of success – is surprising,

“But it is the last of these suggestions that is the most remarkable. The standard rate for PIP mobility is £21.80 a week. The enhanced rate is £57.45.

“If Mordaunt is suggesting that claimants getting the standard rate should also have access to Motability then the obvious question is: how will the shortfall be made up?

“If the proposal is that simply that standard rate mobility recipients can get a Motability vehicle provided they make up the shortfall of £35.65 a week themselves, then this is not much of a gesture.

“On the other hand, it is very hard to see how the cost of a Motability vehicle could be reduced to just £21.80 a week.”

motabilityThat’s exactly the problem. This government, under both former pri.me minister David Cameron and replacement Theresa May, has proved itself keen to cut the budgets for welfare benefits – and now one of its ministers is suggesting spendi.ng more money in support of its Motability scheme. Or maybe she is alternatively putting forward an idea that will cost each claimant more than £35.

Either way, it shows an amazing level of political naivety and an astounding lack of understanding of, or compassion for, people with disabilities.

BenefitsandWork.co.uk says: “Worryingly, Mordaunt referred in her announcement to people in receipt of the ‘higher Motability component’. By that, the minister appeared to mean the enhanced rate of the mobility component.

“A minister who has yet to master even the most basic terminology relating to her portfolio is not one who inspires confidence . . . let alone hope.”

There, I have to agree. Totally.

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ian profile50shadesofsun.com is the personal website of Ian Franks, who is Managing Editor (columns division) of BioNews Services. BioNews is owner of 50 disease/disorder-specific news and information websites – including MS News Today. Ian has enjoyed a successful career as a journalist, from reporter to editor, in the print media. During that career he gained a Journalist of the Year award in his native UK. He was diagnosed with MS in 2002 but continued working until mobility problems forced him to retire early in late 2006. He now lives in the south of Spain. Besides MS, Ian is also able to write about both epilepsy and cardiovascular matters from a patient’s perspective and is a keen advocate on mobility and accessibility issues.

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