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News and Opinions about MS, Health & Disability

Disability benefit cuts are still a real risk

This week is the first of the six-week summer recess of the UK parliament, which is a great time to look at welfare benefits for people with disabilities.

Regretfully, despite more than a year passing and a new government, albeit the same party, nothing has really changed.

In April last year, I reported that the then secretary for work and pensions Stephen Crabb was about to make a statement about government plans and cuts to welfare benefits. That was after he had said that it had decided not to proceed with planned cuts. They were unpopular with the disability community and controversial within the Conservative party.

benefits

Stephen Crabb.

A month earlier, I wrote an article headed ‘No further plans’ does NOT mean ‘no further cuts’ after Crabb spoke in the House of Commons.

He said that the government “will not be going ahead” with changes to the Personal Independence Payment (PIP) that were announced. He also said there are no further plans for welfare cuts this parliament. (Bold italics are mine).

Their words don’t always mean what you think

I warned that it did not mean PIP was safe – just that the cuts would not be going ahead in the form previously announced. And the part about ‘this parliament’, meant to take us to 2020, is now irrelevant as we have sinve had an early election and have a new parliament.

Then, on May 14, I wrote another post. It was headed ‘No further plans to cut benefits’ pledge lasts 51 days and told of new plans.

Prime minister Theresa May.

About the same time, prime minister Theresa May refused to rule out making further cuts to disability benefits. This wvas widely reported by British daily newspapers.

In March, I wrote about the meaning of the words we heard. In an article headed Don’t be fooled by government’s callous weasel words – disability benefits cuts are still planned, I reported the words of Stephen Crabb as: “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.”

Cuts to benefits – and weasel words

I also added my own comments:

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.

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

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

What has happened since then? Plenty, but absolutely nothing to prove me wrong or make me change my mind.

As for the current secretary of state for work and pensions, David Gauke, little has been heard, except a change to the timing of a planned increase in the retirement age.

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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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Wheelchair-users not able to board ships at major cruise port – so much for equality

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A woman whose husband was told that she could not board a cruise ship at Liverpool, England, has me thinking. The woman has a disability and was denied access because she could not leave her wheelchair to board her ship.

When her husband tried to book the cruise, he was informed that the port of Liverpool doesn’t have equipment to assist people in wheelchairs. So, he was told that he could not book a place for his wife on the cruise.

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Fred Olsen’s Boudicca at Liverpool Cruise Terminal (Pic: Wikimedia Commons).

Ann Fisher and her husband had wanted to travel on a seven-night Emerald Isle cruise with the Fred Olsen line.  But that plan sank when Fred Olsen said she had to leave her wheelchair and get up the gangway steps alone.

Mrs Fisher, a retired lecturer, had twice cruised with Fred Olsen from Liverpool. Now, though, a port policy change means she and her wheelchair have been left high and dry.

Speaking to cruise.co.uk, she said: “It’s quite devastating. I wouldn’t consider going from another port because of the travelling involved.”

Also, she wonders why she was able to cruise without hassle in the past, despite her disability: “It was so easy when we did it before. We got a taxi to Liverpool, and were in our cabin just over an hour from leaving home. It was ideal for someone like me who finds it difficult to travel.”

Liverpool port lacks wheelchair facilities

Her husband John Fisher confirmed that Ann’s disability had previously not been a problem. He said: “We were able to enjoy two Fred Olsen cruises from Liverpool in 2013 and 2014, occupying a wheelchair-adapted cabin.

“Access to and from the ship was easily accomplished. Four sturdy members of the crew lifted my wife’s wheelchair at the corners. Her chair is lightweight, as is she.”

A Fred Olsen spokesman said there is neither an overhead bridge nor a sloped gangway at the Port of Liverpool. As such, the company is restricted from assisting guests, who are fully confined to a wheelchair, to board ships.

I can sympathise with the Fishers but also with Fred Olsen. After all, health and safety regulations would not allow staff to manually lift a wheelchair and its occupant. It wouldn’t be safe for the occupant or the staff. Whatever happened in the past is irrelevant as it is no longer allowed. Period.

What does puzzle me is why the Port of Liverpool doesn’t have facilities to ensure people with disabilities have access. It is the 21st century, the UK’s Disability Discrimination Act requires companies to provide access for disabled people. Liverpool’s cruise terminal in only 10 years old. For it not to have such facilities is an absolute disgrace. Shame on you, Liverpool. It needs sorting out, NOW.

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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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Humour? We are falling over ourselves laughing

humour

When you live with a disability, whether through multiple sclerosis or another cause, humour can help. It may be a twisted form, but it’s still humour.

I find that, these days, laughter comes when it is least expected.

It can come after I end up on the floor at home, especially if that is because I misjudged the distance to a chair or a hand grip. Instead of sitting there and pounding the floor with my fist, while crying “Why me?”, usually I see the funny side and just laugh at my own predicament.

That’s not to say that I never ‘lose it’ and curse this damned disease but, normally, the laughter takes over. In fact, as if getting up from the floor isn’t difficult enough, often I have to wait until I can stop laughing. Then, and only then, can I begin to pull myself up again.

Out and about, I use a rollator to walk just a few yards, such as from our home to the car outside. For any longer journey, I rely on a motorized wheelchair.

That, in itself, can be another source of humour. My very first motorized mobility aid was a second-hand scooter that I bought on eBay. It opened up a whole new world but the inaugural trip wasn’t uneventful. In our local park, I messed up and almost ended up in the paddling pool. Fortunately, disaster was averted and Lisa and I ended up laughing at my near miss.

Bare butt humour

A couple of years ago, we were visiting Lisa eldest sister who lives in New York state, about a half hour train ride from the city. We enjoyed a meal with sister Gen, her husband, three children and two of her grandchildren.

After her offspring and grandchildren had left, I managed to fall in the downstairs ‘half bathroom’ which is a room with a washbasin and toilet. The problem on this occasion was a loose mat that proved too much for me and my limited mobility to handle.

I was in a confined space and managed to get to my knees but not any further. I needed help and had to wait for Gen’s son to return for him to render assistance. My trousers and underpants were both around my thighs and, being on my knees with my arms on the toilet, everyone got a great view of my butt. Much mirth and laughter from everyone, especially after Gen’s husband Billy said he’d fallen in love with it. Enough said!

Actually, earlier on that same trip, Lisa and I were in Honolulu and used a vehicle converted to carry a wheelchair. I was loaded on in my chair, secured and off we went. What I hadn’t realized was that he driver ad secured the rear of the chair but not the front.  The first I knew about that was when the driver pulled away from some traffic lights like Sebastian Vettel stating a motor racing grand prix.

No longer sitting upright

The start threw me and my chair backwards. This was unnoticed by either the driver or my beloved wife, sitting in the front.  Grabbed their attention by saying “You might like to know that I am no longer sitting upright.” Lisa looked back and saw my feet in midair. She asked if I was hurt and when assured that I was ok, she just burst out laughing, me too.

Not the driver, though. He was so apologetic, and stopped to pick me up and this time secured the chair at the front as well. The poor man was so sorry and worried that he’d lo-se his job but we were too busy laughing. We did not complain.

The lesson I have learned is that you can’t take yourself too seriously.

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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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Disabled politician condemns government’s ‘suffer and die’ policies

New Labour MP Jared O’Mara, who has a disability, has accused the Conservative government of introducing policies in the hope that disabled people will “suffer and die”. It is a view with which I find it hard to disagree.

O’Mara is now one of just a few disabled MPs, he has cerebral palsy, in the UK´s House of Commons. At the general election, he won Sheffield Hallam from former Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg. Clegg was also deputy prime minister in the 2010-2015 Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition government.

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Jared O’Mara MP.

Speaking to Disability News Service (DNS), O’Mara said he knew that his comments would be controversial. But he said he firmly believed that Tory ministers had “completely torn up the welfare system” which had previously supported disabled people. He particularly criticised cuts and reforms to disability benefits, the decision to close the Independent Living Fund, and cuts to social care.

“They want disabled people to suffer and die. That’s literally what’s happening.

“Disabled people are out there suffering and dying because they have not got the financial means and financial support and nor have they got the legal means to lead an equal life, or even to lead a satisfactory life.

“I’m not going to shy away from it, people might say I am taking it too far, but as far as I am concerned, what I have seen and what has happened across the board, it’s been eugenics1.”

He promised that he would be “taking no prisoners” as an MP, and would “call them out on this”.

He said: “There are people just like me and people who have got conditions that make things even worse for them than mine does, and they are dying and they are suffering.

“I am in it to shine a light where the mainstream (media) do not shine a light and where the Tories (Conservatives) are turning their backs.”

He said he “absolutely” endorses efforts by user-led anti-cuts groups such as Black Triangle to secure a criminal prosecution of Duncan Smith and fellow former work and pensions minister Chris Grayling.

In December, Scottish authorities decided not to investigate the refusal of the two ministers to improve the safety of the government’s “fitness for work” test. This was despite evidence that the refusal caused the deaths of at least three benefit claimants with mental health conditions.

Coroner warned DWP about disabled tests

This evidence mirrored flaws uncovered by a coroner in January 2010, following an earlier suicide. The coroner passed his findings, as a warning to the Department for Work and Pensions.  This was a few weeks before Duncan Smith and Grayling took up their new posts following the 2010 general election.

Duncan Smith and Grayling failed to act on the coroner’s warning.  Campaigners, and families of some of those who died, believe this failure led to further deaths.

O’Mara said: “The legal system is ‘innocent until proven guilty’. We need to ascertain that (innocence or guilt) with what Iain Duncan Smith and Chris Grayling did.

“If they’ve not done anything wrong then they can walk free. If they have done wrong then they can be punished.

“I believe there is a case to answer and they should go there. I support that campaign without reservation,” he said.

1 Eugenics is the idea that society can be improved by selecting those who are allowed to survive and breed (definitions of eugenics vary).

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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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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.

Gauke

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.

spinal cord

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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