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.
Linda 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.
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.
50shadesofsun.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.