Benefits department accused of deliberately misleading select committee and GPs

Shock? Horror? No, not really. A government department is misleading people, including an official committee and doctors.

No surprise there, as far as I am concerned, the UK government’s Department for Work and Pensions has a hit and miss attitude to honesty. It may not ‘lie’ but is certainly happy to ‘mislead’.

Again and again, the DWP has defended criticism of Personal Independence Payment (PIP) and Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) assessment systems. That’s fine, it is entitled to do that, as long as it does so truthfully and honestly. But it is misleading to claim that more than 90% of claimants are happy with their experience.

misleading

Photo: The Independent

This claim even deceived the House of Commons Work and Pensions Select Committee. While the committee criticised PIP assessments, its members were taken in by the DWP’s figures. The committee said it accepted that ‘The PIP and ESA assessment processes function satisfactorily for the majority of claimants’.

Now, though, the campaigning organisation Benefits and Work has revealed that PIP feedback is based on around 1% of claimants being asked just one single question: “How satisfied were you with your overall experience with Capita / Independent Assessment Service’.”

On its website, it says: “In most cases the claimant is phoned by a Capita or Atos (IAS) employee and asked this question. Occasionally they are written to instead.”

This way of gathering customer feedback is flawed. Those asked for their opinion know that it is not given anonymously. Additionally, they could feel that a critical response may affect assessments of their claims.

No questions asked about accuracy

misleadingWhile a question is asked their ‘overall experience’, there are no questions about the accuracy of the assessment report or whether any additional evidence was considered. I find that strange, if not downright peculiar, because those are the areas about which most claimants’ criticisms are levelled.

Not content with misleading a parliamentary committee, the DWP is misleading general practitioners (GPs) into not issuing sick notes to ESA claimants appealing a decision.

Benefits and Work says:

Claimants who challenge a fit for work decision cannot claim ESA during the mandatory reconsideration stage. They may be able to claim JSA, but many claimants don’t for fear of sanctions.

However, if the mandatory reconsideration is unsuccessful, claimants can then lodge an appeal and reclaim ESA whilst waiting for their case to be heard.

But the DWP has changed the letters that it sends out to GPs when a claimant is found fit for work. The letters tell the GP not to issue any more sick notes and no longer say they can do so if the claimant appeals the decision.

The result, as legal advice charity Zacchaeus 2000 Trust discovered, is claimants going hungry because they have no money for food. Claimants may also have to change to a new GP practice to try to find a doctor who will issue them with a sick note.

The DWP has offered no explanation whatsoever for the change in the wording of the letter, except that it was altered as a result of a ‘ministerial requirement’.

That it is a ministerial requirement that claimants be caused as much suffering as possible, regardless of the law, will probably come as no surprise to our readers.

I must say, I agree. How can any government department set out to deliberately mislead and ultimately deceive? It is disgusting and needs to stop 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 freelance medical writer and editor for various health information sites. He enjoyed a successful career as a journalist, from reporter to editor in the print media. He gained a Journalist of the Year award in his native UK. Ian received a diagnosis of MS in 2002 and now lives in the south of Spain. He uses a wheelchair and advocates on mobility and accessibility issues.

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

Government intends to record PIP assessments


This is wonderful news …. or is it? I suppose it depends on your view of the honesty of the government and its department responsible for disability benefits.

The UK’s Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) intends to record the controversial Personal Independence Payment (PIP) assessment as “a standard part of the process”. At least, that’s what it claims. If it happens, such a move would be great news for campaigners and disability benefit claimants

recordDWP also says it will make the PIP claim form more user-friendly. Not before time, if it happens.

Neither move is being made of the DWP’s own volition but because the agency has been forced onto the back foot. This followed an amazing response by claimants who answered a call for evidence by the parliamentary Work and Pensions committee.

My issue is that there is a vast difference between “intends” to record and actual action. And history shows that the DWP has made previous promises to government committees, only to break them a few months later.

Record: DLA must be held to account

One such promise was to try out issuing a warning before a first sanction is made. But the trial fell by the wayside because, it was claimed, there was not enough parliamentary time to pass new laws. A lame excuse, if ever I heard one.

What is concerning me about the DWP’s intention to record, is that it has given no indication of when it plans to make it happen. What’s more, we don’t know whether such recordings of face-to-face assessments will be restricted to official centres, or whether home visits will also be on record.

Given that intentions are not actions and no timetable has been announced, you will probably forgive my cynicism. Should parliament accept the DLA’s word? I think not!

This government and its DWP need to be held to account. Do I trust them? No, not all – but I’d be absolutely delighted to be proved wrong. It’s just that I’m not holding my breath.

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

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50shadesofsun.com is the personal website of Ian Franks, a freelance medical writer and editor for various health information sites. He enjoyed a successful career as a journalist, from reporter to editor in the print media. He gained a Journalist of the Year award in his native UK. Ian received a diagnosis of MS in 2002 and now lives in the south of Spain. He uses a wheelchair and advocates on mobility and accessibility issues.

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

Disability benefit decisions continue to use unlawful criteria

It is almost unbelievable, but it seems to be true. The people running the government department responsible for disability welfare benefits appear to have confirmed that they are either stupid, irresponsible, incapable, or all three.

As if all the mess with disability benefit claims, notably Personal Independence Payment (PIP), has not been enough – it is getting worse. Welfare campaigners Benefits and Work says the UK’s Department for Work and Pensions is:

  • advising claimants who were refused PIP before November 28 2016 to consider claiming again if they experience overwhelming psychological distress in relation to planning and following journeys, BUT
  • admits that it will turn them down again and that its decision will be based on criteria that (have) already been declared unlawful.

assessmentsOn its website, Benefits and Works’ Steve Donnison continues:

The DWP have also admitted that they are still making unlawful decisions on new claims and refusing PIP mobility to people who are entitled to it.

Their excuse is that they have not yet had the time to update guidance to health professionals and decision makers in relation to PIP mobility and psychological distress.

This follows the DWP’s decision in January to drop their appeal against (the court ruling), in which a judge held that changes to PIP mobility law made by the DWP were unlawful.

Updated guidance is expected to be available in the summer.

The DWP will then begin going through 1.6 million PIP claims, looking for all the wrong decisions they have made, and are still making, and put them right . . . sometimes we are genuinely just lost for words.

New: ‘Drive-by’ PIP assessments

I could not agree more, but it seems that the much renowned PIP claims assessors, contracted to the DWP, have come up with another wheeze. Here is Donnison again:

It’s too soon to say how widespread the issue is.

But there are a worrying number of reports, from Benefits and Work members and elsewhere, of claimants losing their benefits because a PIP assessor claims they were not at home when the assessor called.

In each case the assessor is able to describe the appearance of the house, such as the colour of doors and windowsills, and this is taken as sufficient evidence that the assessor called.

In one case The Independent newspaper contacted Capita and it was suddenly decided that the assessor had indeed called, but at the wrong time. So, another assessment was arranged.

In two cases involving Benefits and Work members CCTV evidence appears to have supported the claimants’ assertion that no-one had come knocking at the door.

These may be isolated incidents based on genuine misunderstandings and mix-ups about times or addresses. Or they may be evidence of something more disturbing: assessors under time pressure doing a drive-by of a claimant’s home and then claiming to have called.

We don’t, as yet, know the accuracy of this ‘drive-by’ allegation but it would come as no surprise to me if it is proved to true.

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

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50shadesofsun.com is the personal website of Ian Franks, a freelance medical writer and editor for various health information sites. He enjoyed a successful career as a journalist, from reporter to editor in the print media. He gained a Journalist of the Year award in his native UK. Ian received a diagnosis of MS in 2002 and now lives in the south of Spain. He uses a wheelchair and advocates on mobility and accessibility issues.

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

Have benefits assessors intimidated claimants? Tell your story

Questions are being asked about the behaviour of private sector assessors, following an allegation of intimidation. The suggestion is that a claimant was scared into giving positive feedback after a face-to-face assessment. And, if there was one, how likely is it that there are more?

This casts doubt on the honesty of statistics presented to the House of Commons Select Committee on work and pensions. The committee was conducting an inquiry into Personal Independent Payment (PIP) and Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) assessments.

These statistics were presented by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP). They purport to show that Atos, Capita and Maximus “consistently exceed” their customer satisfaction targets of 90% for PIP and 91% for ESA.

MPs on the committee have been very scathing of PIP and ESA assessments but believe the system functions ‘satisfactorily for the majority of claimants’. This belief is based on those statistics.

Appeal for evidence

assevssmentsNow, though, the member-based campaigning organization Benefits and Work is set to investigate the situation.

On its website, benefitsandwork.co.uk, it highlighted the issue. It said:

One member contacted us to describe how they had been asked to complete a feedback form by the face-to-face assessor in a way that we can only describe as intimidatory:

“She leaned over the front of my buggy so that she could see what I was writing and my signature. She hadn’t yet processed my report so I was a very good girl and gave the nice lady the top score!”

Benefits and Work would very much like to know whether you were asked for feedback after your PIP or ESA assessment – we suspect most people aren’t.

And, if you were, was it done in such a way that you were fearful that your assessor might exact revenge if you wrote anything critical?

Select Committee

In its report, the select committee had stated:

People tend only to make representations about their experiences to MPs or select committees when they are in difficulty or have had a poor experience with a public service. It is therefore unsurprising that the vast majority of submissions we received were critical of the assessment process. We did, however, receive a few positive responses:

  • I was very pleased with the service I received. The process was a lot quicker than I thought it would be, which pleasantly surprised me. I was more than happy with the assessor, she was to the point but did what she needed to do. I don’t have any complaints. Beckey
  • I thought my PIP assessment was carried out sensitively, with proper appreciation of my circumstances. I was happy with the result. Everyone I dealt with, both by telephone and at the assessment centre, was aware of how frightening the process could be and did all they could to counter that. I was very happy with the way I was treated and thought the process was properly fair and objective. Nick
  • I was rather nervous when I had to apply for PIP. However, I was pleasantly surprised to find that the assessment would take place at my house. My assessor had worked in neurological healthcare and understood my condition. He was very easy to talk to and spent four hours interviewing me. When I received the result, I was very pleased to see that I would be able to retain my Motability car. Until I saw the letter I hadn’t realised how worried I’d been – I felt an enormous weight lift from my shoulders, and burst into tears of relief. Name withheld

Explanation needed – if allegation true

I await the outcome pf the Benefits and Work investigation with considerable interest. If a large number of claimants report being intimidated into giving positive feedback, the assessment companies must explain.

Clearly, such intimidation is just not good enough. We deserve better.

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

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50shadesofsun.com is the personal website of Ian Franks, a freelance medical writer and editor for various health information sites. He enjoyed a successful career as a journalist, from reporter to editor in the print media. He gained a Journalist of the Year award in his native UK. Ian received a diagnosis of MS in 2002 and now lives in the south of Spain. He uses a wheelchair and advocates on mobility and accessibility issues.

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

Disabilities: Official papers reveal failings of assessment contractors

Devastating papers, reluctantly released by the government under the Freedom of Information Act (FOI), reveal frightful failures of a key disability benefit. In particular, the papers show the shortcomings of outsourcing contractors hired to carry out assessments of applications.

That means that critics of personal independence payment (PIP), and the way it has been introduced, have been fully vindicated. And, in those critics I include myself-

The papers, popularly dubbed the ‘PIP files’, lift the lid on what has been going on. This includes:

  • up to 180 PIP assessors employed by Capita and Atos were the subject of at least four complaints each in three-month periods in 2016;
  • 161 assessors working for Atos had more than three complaints made against them in a three-month period;

Neither Atos nor Capita, or the DWP, will say what action (if any) was taken against these assessors. Similarly, they refuse to say whether those involved are still carrying out face-to-face assessments of disabled PIP claimants.

  • that Atos and Capita contacted health and social care professionals to ask for information far less often than the government estimated would be needed.

In fact, both outsourcing companies have failed to request vital evidence from GPs and social workers. Such evidence could help disabled people secure the benefits they are entitled to receive.

Further evidence

According documents prepared in May 2012, the DWP had expected contractors would need to ask for further evidence in about 50% of cases. But the latest papers show:

  • In June and July 2016, Capita was seeking further information from GPs, consultants or social workers in fewer than one in every 50 PIP claims. That’s less than 2% of cases;
  • In June 2016, Capita sought further evidence for just 380 of the 21,554 PIP assessments it dealt with. Incredibly, just a little more than 1.75%.

The figures are contained in official reports, prepared by contractors Capita and Atos, for the UK government’s Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).

The PIP files were released under FOI to Drew Hendry of the Scottish Nationalist Party (SNP). He has been MP for Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey since the 2015 general election.

disability employmentAdditionally, a report by Disability News Service says:

Nearly one in three of the disability benefit assessment reports completed by a private sector contractor were significantly flawed, confidential Department for Work and Pensions documents suggest.

Unacceptable assessment reports

The figures were revealed through a government audit of personal independence payment (PIP) assessment reports that had been written by staff working for under-fire outsourcing giant Capita in 2016.

The audit, which examined more than 4,000 of the 190,000 assessment reports completed by Capita from April to December 2016, found that about 7.5% of them were so poor as to be deemed “unacceptable”.

But with another 14% of assessments, DWP concluded that the report was so flawed that there was “learning required” by the healthcare professional who wrote it, although the report was of an “acceptable” standard.

And in a further 12% of cases, the report needed to be amended because of even more serious flaws in the assessor’s report, although again the report was still said to be of an “acceptable” standard.

In all, nearly 33% of the Capita reports audited during 2016 were found to be of an unacceptable standard, to need changes, or demonstrated that the assessor had failed to carry out their role properly.

Shocking, right? Of course, but it is nothing that disability campaigners haven’t been saying about PIP assessments for a long time,

Sources:

Disability News Service: The PIP Files: DWP documents show ‘absolutely shocking’ failure on further evidence

Disability News Service: The PIP Files: Data shows multiple complaints made against scores of Atos assessors

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

* * * * *

50shadesofsun.com is the personal website of Ian Franks, a freelance medical writer and editor for various health information sites. He enjoyed a successful career as a journalist, from reporter to editor in the print media. He gained a Journalist of the Year award in his native UK. Ian received a diagnosis of MS in 2002 and now lives in the south of Spain. He uses a wheelchair and advocates on mobility and accessibility issues.

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

 

 

 

 

 

Drugs, risks, spending cuts, deaths, new drugs, and so much more

As we reach the start of another year, it seems a good time for me to review the last 12 months, as seen through the eyes of 50shadesofsun.com.

January

The year began by focusing on hematopoietic stem cell transplantation (HSCT). Dr Denis Fedorenko of the HSCT centre in Moscow published a guide to the procedure.

Russian Physician’s Guide to HSCT in Moscow

people withFebruary

UK government policies grabbed my attention, along with actions regarding people with disabilities and benefits to which they are entitled.

Disabilities: Government loses tribunals, then changes rules

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

More flock to accuse disability assessors of lying

March

New treatments came to the fore this month. Ocrevus gained approval from the FDA, while Zinbryta got the go ahead for use in the UK.

After Long Wait, Zinbryta Gains Approval in Areas of the UK

Ocrevus: Counting Down to Expected FDA Approval

April

Allegations had been made that new disability access policies at Disney parks was discriminatory. However, a court decided that the new way of doing things was perfectly ok.

Disney Disability Access Rules Don’t Break Law, Court Rules

May

MS treatments were in the spotlight once again. Questions were being asked about the drug safety and why many people choose to avoid them.

Mixed messages about beta-interferon safety to treat MS

Why are DMTs – Drugs to treat MS – Resisted by so Many?

June

My attention was caught by one of the UK government contractors trying to put the chaotic assessment process behind it. It chose to change its name but that was fooling no one.

I also looked at the much valued and desired matter of independence.

Atos tries to escape its past though superficial rebranding

Even a little independence is a great feeling

July

Risks appeared on two fronts. First, death and serious injuries to patients to the use of Zinbryta being limited in Europe. Second, people with disabilities in the UK were still facing the risk of benefit cuts.

Zinbryta use restricted in Europe after a death and four serious liver injuries

Disability benefit cuts are still a real risk

August

Issues with lack of balance and mobility means that falls are a frequent reality. However, not all falls are the same.

I also looked at MS treatments and how close we might be to finding the holy grail – a cure.

Falls – the good, the bad, and the ……

Cure for multiple sclerosis: Are we close?

September

Inside criticism surfaced about mismanagement of disability benefits. Nothing new to me but good to have confirmation from within. On the same tack, the UK government department responsible for benefits was trying to hide assessment problems.

Talking of confirmation, my theory the MS is linked to glandular fever, or mononucleosis, was backed by researchers.

Department helpline worker lambasts mismanaged disability benefits system

I said it 14 months ago, now researchers agree: MS is linked to ‘mono’

DWP fights to hide WCA ‘under-performance’ and PIP assessments

October

A number of drugs were labelled ‘rip-offs’ in a new report. These included MS drug alemtuzumab.

UK government officials proved they do not understand variable conditions, such as those experienced by people with MS.   

MS therapy alemtuzumab is named a ‘rip-off’ drug, report

Disability benefits stopped because government doesn’t understand variable conditions

November

The number of people wth MS in the USA is more than double that previously thought. Could that be similar elsewhere?

We knew UK spending cuts were dangerous but now we know that they have ben responsible for needless deaths.

Nearly 1 million Americans have MS, not 400,000 as previously thought – NMSS Study

Needless deaths caused by government spending cuts

December

Great to see the doctor who first suggested CCSVI treatment could help people with MS now agrees this isn’t true.

However, shocking to see that someone assessed as ‘fit to work’ died before the appeal could be heard.

CCSVI treatment does NOT work for MS, says clinical trial

Assessment disgrace: ‘Fit for work’ man dies before ESA appeal can be heard

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

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50shadesofsun.com is the personal website of Ian Franks, a freelance medical writer and editor for various health information sites. He enjoyed a successful career as a journalist, from reporter to editor in the print media. He gained a Journalist of the Year award in his native UK. Ian received a diagnosis of MS in 2002 and now lives in the south of Spain. He uses a wheelchair and advocates on mobility and accessibility issues.

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

Treasury minister blames disabled people who work for fall in productivity

Government policies relating to people with disabilities appear to be in even more disarray than usual. Once again, those with disabilities resulting from diseases such as multiple sclerosis, or any other cause, are under attack.

The department for work and pensions’ assessment system for disability benefits is ‘encouraging’ disabled people to find work. But chancellor of the exchequer Phillip Hammond seems to be singing from a different songbook. That’s because he is blaming people with disabilities who work for Britain’s low productivity.

productivity

Chancellor Phillip Hammond. pictured on budget day.

The Treasury Select Committee asked Hammond about the fall in UK productivity that he mentioned in his budget speech. In reply, the chancellor (treasury minister) said: “It is almost certainly the case that by increasing participation in the workforce.”

He stated that this includes “far higher levels of participation by marginal groups and very high levels of engagement in the workforce, for example of disabled people.”

While he followed the government line that this is “something we should be extremely proud of”, he went on to say that it “may have had an impact on overall productivity measurements.”

However, that is neither fair nor accurate. People with disabilities are not the real reason for the drop in productivity. No, the real reason is closer to home – it is a series of government policies.

Of course, the chancellor didn’t want to admit that. So, he tried to use disabled people to distract the committee from the truth. But, all that led to a more than ironic situation.

Productivity: A government-made crisis

Not so long ago, people on disability benefits were demonised as scroungers and skivers. Now, though, it is the turn of disabled people in work. Hammond is trying to demonise them for lowering the productivity of the whole workforce. That would be funny, if it wasn’t so sick.

Labour’s work and pensions shadow secretary Debbie Abrahams was quick to condemn Hammond.

She said: “It is disgraceful that Philip Hammond is scapegoating disabled people for a productivity crisis created by the Conservatives’ failed economic policies.

“This is coming from a government that has forced disabled people to pay the price of their (the government’s) failed austerity agenda, including by cutting measures that help disabled people into the workforce and scrapping their own manifesto commitment on halving the disability employment gap.

“We should be increasing disabled people’s access to employment, not denigrating their contributions. The chancellor should apologise immediately.”

I agree, Hammond should say sorry. He should apologise for wrongly blaming the disabled for the country’s drop in productivity. He should apologise for failed economic policies for which he, as chancellor, is directly responsible.

In fact, Hammond should apologise for being chancellor – and then resign.

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

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50shadesofsun.com is the personal website of Ian Franks, a freelance medical writer and editor for various health information sites. He enjoyed a successful career as a journalist, from reporter to editor in the print media. He gained a Journalist of the Year award in his native UK. Ian received a diagnosis of MS in 2002 and now lives in the south of Spain. He uses a wheelchair and advocates on mobility and accessibility issues.