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News and Opinions about MS, Health & Disability

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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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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After PIP, second budget u-turn threatens Osborne

Chancellor George Osborne announced the 'under fire' academies plan in his budget in March.

Chancellor George Osborne announced the ‘under fire’ academies plan in his budget in March. Education secretary Nicky Morgan is on the far right of the picture.

First the UK government completes a massive u-turn in welfare benefit reform and now it looks as though it may have to complete another.

Having dropped (at least for the time being) the planned changes to the Personal Independence Payment, which would have left many people with disabilities far worse off financially, now it is having to reconsider its plans that all state schools will be required to become academies within six years.

Both the PIP changes and the schools to academies plan were part of George Osborne’s March seemingly ill-fated budget and a second u-turn would be seen as an embarrassment for him and is likely to add to calls to remove him from his position of chancellor of the exchequer.

However, a second u-turn is what the government is facing and may be forced to do – because of a backbench revolt of its own MPs.

According to the Guardian newspaper, Conservative backbenchers are calling for the policy to be dropped or at least amended to remove the part to force all state schools to become academies.

MPs have called on education secretary Nicky Morgan to ensure that the plans are not included in the Queen’s speech on May 18, following warnings from Conservative whips that they face inevitable defeat in the House of Commons. What’s more, she has been asked to appear before the 1922 Committee of Conservative backbenchers with many of the party’s own MPs demanding that she goes back to the drawing board to avoid a parliamentary bloodbath.

With a majority of just 17 in the Commons, Tory whips believe legislation on ‘forced academisation’ would have no chance of passing through parliament unless the policy was watered down and the compulsory element removed, the Guardian added.

Since the academies plan was announced, Conservatives in local government, backed by MPs, have spoken out against what they say would be an unwanted and costly ‘top-down’ reorganisation of thousands of schools, including many judged as good or outstanding by Ofsted.

Speaking to the Observer newspaper, Graham Brady, chairman of the 1922 Committee, said that there might be a place for limited legislation on aspects of school reform in the Queen’s speech – such as measures to help schools leave academy trusts they found unsatisfactory and to define more clearly the future role of local education authorities – but the element of compulsion should be dropped.

“Good academies can bring enormous benefits and it is right that we should be helping those that want to convert to do so but I hope the white paper will be adapted to reflect the need to support and ease the process, rather than impose the change in areas where schools are already performing very well,” he said.

Opponents of the plans complain that the white paper proposes that local councils would still be under a legal obligation to find places for all children in their areas, but would lack the power either to build new schools or force academies to expand in order to provide them. Many believe they will weaken the role of parent governors and put schools in the hands of remote, inexperienced new management.

Indeed, to add to the chancellor’s woes, the Conservative-dominated County Councils Network (CCN), which represents local authorities with education responsibilities, has said that the government’s new national funding formula for schools, coupled with plans to force them to become academies, could harm councils’ ability to support young children and those with the greatest need.

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Welfare benefit cuts high on anti-austerity agenda

anti austerity londonPlacards proclaiming ‘Cut War Not Welfare’  are held aloft during Saturday’s Anti-Austerity protest.

Anti-austerity protests and movements have become increasingly popular during the latter half of last year year and again this year.

Mass protests have taken place around the world, notably in Greece, Spain, France, Italy, the UK, Canada and the United States’ commonwealth of Puerto Rico. And opposition to austerity is seen as the force behind the rise of new political parties such as Podemos (We Can) in Spain, Italy’s Five Star Movement and Syriza (‘from the roots’ or ‘radically’) that is now forming the government in Greece.

And on Saturday, thousands of people again took to the streets of central London to protest against government cuts. Banners calling for UK prime minister David Cameron to quit were brandished by protesters as they marched to a rally in Trafalgar Square.

The demonstration, organised by the People’s Assembly, was also attended by the Labour Party’s shadow chancellor John McDonnell who said that a Labour government would end cuts and “halt the privatisation of our NHS”.

Importantly, for people with disabilities, Mr McDonnell pledged that his party would scrap the hated work capability assessments and also target homelessness by building hundreds of thousands of council homes.

While the UK government says austerity measures are key to reducing the country’s deficit, McDonnell described the government as being bankrupt in its political ideas and handling of the economy. He called for Mr Cameron to resign and to “take his party with him”.

“On every front now we are seeing the government in disarray – in terms of the economy we are slipping backwards instead of growing,” Mr McDonnell said.

David Cameron, or Dodgy Dave as MP Dennis Skinner prefers to call him, has previously argued that the government needs to make savings, over the course of this parliament, so that it can “prioritise what matters for working families – schools, the NHS and our national security”.

Labour’s Diane Abbott, a fellow speaker, said that fighting austerity was the “political struggle of our time”. She blamed cuts on “forcing people out of work and into zero hours’ contracts”.

Also there were Len McCluskey, general secretary of the trade union Unite, Green Party leader Natalie Bennett and National Union of Teachers’ general secretary Christine Blower.

Speaking for the Stop The War Coalition, which was chaired by Jeremy Corbyn MP from 2011 until he became Labour leader last year, Chris Nineham said: “Austerity is not about economic necessity, it is a political choice.”

Cameron’s Conservative manifesto for the 2015 general election pledged to save £12bn from welfare by the end of this Parliament in 2020. However, it has already abandoned one set of proposed cuts to disability benefits although those receiving welfare payments are fearful of the government’s next move.

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No surprise as Welfare Reform and Work bill’s benefit cuts are restored by House of Commons

Baroness Tanni Grey Thompson speaking in the House of Lords.

Baroness Tanni Grey Thompson speaking in the House of Lords.

UK Government plans to cut welfare benefits still further were, as expected, put back on track last night, Wednesday, when the House of Commons voted 309 to 275 to throw out an amendment passed by the House of Lords last week after an impassioned plea from a well-known former wheelchair athlete.

The bill, when it is finally approved and given the formality of Royal Assent, will hit people with disabilities who are assessed, often wrongly, as being fit enough to work This includes those with multiple sclerosis.

Indeed, a huge proportion of such people who have been judged as ‘fit to work’, under the Employment and Support Allowance’s Work Capability Assessment, have had their assessments overturned on appeal.

Last night, the Welfare Reform and Work Bill was back in the House of Commons as the latest stage of what has been labelled parliamentary ‘ping pong’ with the bill being played back and forth like a table tennis ball between the two Houses that together form the British parliament.

The bill aims to implement a number of changes including lowering the benefits cap, reducing support to low income in-work families through cuts to child tax credits, toughening work-related requirements for Universal Credit, changing Support for Mortgage Interest from a grant into a loan and, most controversially, cutting the Work Related payments of Employment and Support Allowance, for new claimants, by around £30 a week.

Tanni the wheelchair athlete as we were used to seeing her.

Tanni the wheelchair athlete as we were used to seeing her.

Before last night, this had been approved by the Commons, thrown out by the Lords, re-approved by the Commons and delayed by the Lords a second time on Monday this week when the Lords voted to approve an amendment, by 289 and 219, to delay the ESA cuts pending a parliamentary report on the impact on claimants.

Crossbench (unaligned) Baroness Tanni Grey Thompson, a former international wheelchair athlete, made a passionate speech urging the Lords to oppose the cuts.

If allowed to remain, the amendment would have meant that the cut could only be implemented once a full impact assessment had been carried out. The report would then be put before both Houses and they would vote on the legislation.

But the Commons, as the elected House, has rejected this particular Lords’ amendment.

 

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Government wages ‘disability war’ on benefit claims

dwp logo 

ids

For those of you outside the UK, as I am now, it must be difficult to understand what is happening there with government policies seeming to be continually targeting disabled people including those with multiple sclerosis and all other physical and mental disabilities.

Well, it’s true. It is easy enough to find news stories about various different policies striking at yet another aspect of life of those least able to contend with it.

Now, I want to make it absolutely clear that every reader of this post fully realises two things. Firstly, this is not being written from a political perspective as there are good and bad policies of all parties; and none match my beliefs entirely. Secondly, there is no element of sour grapes involved as, so far at least, the British government’s welfare cuts have not affected me.

And the key words to the whole problem affecting the UK are ‘welfare cuts’, the implementation of which has now degenerated into what should be termed the ‘disability war’.

From the government’s point of view, faced with a huge budget deficit when it first came to power in 2010, it introduced a massive programme of spending cuts across all departments.

One of these, the Department for Work and Pensions is headed by former, failed Conservative leader Iain Duncan Smith, pictured above. Its responsibilities include the administration and payment of welfare benefits including those for the unemployed and those with disabilities. IDS was appointed to head the department with a remit to cut welfare spending.

Basically, most of his actions have centred on two areas – besides state pensions that are another matter completely.

Unemployed people used to be able to claim a benefit called Job Seekers Allowance while those unable to work through sickness including disabilities were paid Incapacity Benefit. Well, in a supposed cost-cutting exercise, both of these were gradually replaced by Employment Support Allowance but, within that, it is divided into the Work-Related Activity Group, for those judged able to work, and the Support Group, for those unable to work.

People with disabilities who were previously paid Incapacity Benefit had to complete a lengthy application form and, in many cases, go through a face-to-face medical assessment, in an attempt to gain the new ESA. The problem is that many were assessed as fit to work – a decision that has time-and-again been reversed on appeal.

Completion of the introduction of the new benefit has been seriously delayed and has cost the country so much in terms of money and goodwill.

Another benefit being replaced is Disability Living Allowance. This does not depend on ability to work but by an individual’s abilities and disabilities – and not only physical. Now everyone being paid DLA, even those already granted a lifetime award, are gradually being required to apply for the new Personal Independence Payment.

Once again, all is not going well for the claimants, many of whom have lost some or all of the benefit, while the government’s own timetable for completion of the transition makes the worst bus and train timetables look perfect.

And that does not even touch the introduction of the so-called Universal Credit. That’s another mess.

 

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Uncertain future of circus animals

Thomas Chipperfield ad Lion

Animal welfare is an issue of some importance. It matters more to some people than others but the elimination of cruelty and mistreatment is important. Where it lies in relation to human rights, domestic violence and cruelty to children is another matter.

But, today, this blog will concentrate purely on animal issues, especially those animals that perform in travelling circuses.

As a young boy, my dad took me to see Chipperfield’s Circus when its tour came to our town. It featured all the usual types of acts including elephants, ponies, lions, clowns and a glamorous female trapeze artist who performed on a single swing. There was no safety net and, several weeks later, she fell to her death.

In those days, no mention of cruelty reached my ears and the show was greatly enjoyed by an appreciative audience – especially the children. How attitudes have changed over the years since then. These days, the number of touring circuses has fallen dramatically and the number of acts involving performing animals even more so.

The training of wild animals to perform unnatural tricks for the entertainment of humans is now generally frowned upon. Over the years, there have been widely-held concerns and a few allegations about training methods; concerns and allegations that have been based on the use of cruel training techniques. Another area that has come under the spotlight is the facility for housing the animals while on tour.

Now, Chipperfield’s is in the news again. In the UK, the country’s last remaining lion tamer has said he’s determined to keep touring in the face of protests from animal rights campaigners and some politicians.

Thomas Chipperfield is from a family that has been running circuses for seven generations; circuses that have included lions and tigers doing tricks on command. However, this past summer, his tour of Wales has been troubled by protesters picketing the venues and, allegedly, intimidating landowners who rent property to the travelling circus. The Welsh Government has also stated that it will investigate whether or not to ban the use of wild animals in circuses.

Mr Chipperfield says his animals are well cared for – and accuses animal rights campaigners of spreading lies. He said: “The opposition to this has existed for a long time but it’s only recently that it’s gained a significant foothold because of misinformation that’s put out and so easily spread. Animal rights groups can send out propaganda to thousands of people based on dated and carefully selected footage which has no relevance to myself.”

His travelling circus, which has two lions and three tigers, passed inspections to operate in Wales but was refused a licence to operate in England this year when the Department or Environment, Food & Rural Affairs said the big cat sleeping area was too small, and recommended it to be enlarged.

In response, Mr Chipperfield has started a crowdfunding campaign to raise the cash needed to build a new enclosure ready for next season.

There are only two other circuses left in the UK that use wild animals and, in 2007, the last major report into animal welfare in the UK found little evidence that the welfare of animals kept in travelling circuses was any better or worse than those in zoos.

Whether you think zoos are a good idea or not is another matter but, except for dolphins and whales, they don’t generally train animals to perform. And, to me, that is the main issue. Hopefully, they are trained with kindness but being expected to perform unnatural tricks for our pleasure has to be wrong.

Circuses can continue with just human acts but, if wild animal acts are banned, what happens to the animals? To be blunt, instead of being assets, they would become costly liabilities. And, in any business, costly liabilities are axed.

 

Pic: SkyNewsScreenGrab  Thomas Chipperfield face-to-face with lion.

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Showing we care

world animal day_edited

Not quite sure why but World Animal Day crept up on me; maybe it was the careful stealth of its approach – like a cat stalking its prey.

Anyway, here it is. Today, 4th October, is World Animal Day, chosen because it is the Feast Day of St Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of animals and the environment. Perhaps we should remember, too, that the Pope chose Francis as his name in honour of St Francis.

So, why do we have a world day for animals? In short, to get people involved in getting a better future for animals.

The lives of animals are profoundly affected by the actions of individuals, businesses, and nations.  It’s therefore essential that, as sentient beings, their rightful status as recipients of social justice is established and translated into effective animal protection.

And it is at this point that I feel it is necessary to state my utter distaste for the recent comments made by Princess Michael of Kent when she said that animals do not have “rights” because they cannot pay taxes.

WAD-horse-2_editedSpeaking at a literary festival in the UK, she said: “We’re always hearing about animal rights. Well, I’m a great animal lover, and involved in a lot of conservation, but animals don’t have rights. They don’t have bank accounts, they don’t vote.

“We have an obligation to animals but to say they have rights? You only have rights if you pay your taxes. You earn your rights.”

As a self-professed animal lover who once hand-reared a cheetah, Princess Michael seems to have missed the point. She is saying that as animals cannot do certain human things, they cannot enjoy the same rights as we do. But they surely do have animal rights; they are sentient creatures and they need to be cared for with kindness and fairness as well as being provided with all they need.

World Animal Day organisers say: “Through increased awareness and education, we can help develop a compassionate culture which feeds into legal reform and social progress to make this world a fairer place for all living creatures.  A world where animals are recognised as sentient beings and full regard is always paid to their welfare.

Hopefully, increased awareness linked with better education, for both adults and children, will gradually but steadily WAD-fox-2_editedinfluence attitudes of people towards treating animals in the humane and compassionate way in which they deserve and to which they have a right.

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*As writer of this blog, it is necessary to make it clear that I am in favour of the humane treatment of all animals but am not a vegetarian. I have years of experience in agricultural journalism and believe that animal farming for the provision of meat can be carried out with compassion and kind treatment. I am, however, opposed to the killing of any animals for their skins, furs or any other parts. Similarly, I reject the need for the use of animals in laboratory testing of cosmetics or any other product developed for mankind. There may be justification for limited animal use in the field of medicinal research.

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