From benefit cuts to tax havens – blame Dodgy Dave

dodgy dave cam dodgy dave skn     Prime Minister Dodgy Dave David Cameron and, right, Dennis Skinner, the Beast of Bolsover.

Putting aside all talk of the leak of the so-called Panama Papers, the kerfuffle which followed did result in UK Prime Minister David Cameron being labelled ‘Dodgy Dave’, not exactly a term of endearment and one that might well follow him during the rest of his political career.

It is a description that some of us might find so fitting, considering the ‘welfare reforms’ that have been pursued by his government that have led to pain, misery and even death while others have been lining their pockets at our expense.

Of course, the 84-year-old veteran Labour MP for Bolsover who coined Dodgy Dave name, Dennis Skinner, was excluded from the House of Commons for the remainder of the day for using unparliamentarily language after he twice refused to withdraw the word when requested to do so by the Speaker.

Speaker of the House, John Bercow MP orders Skinner to withdraw.

Speaker of the House, John Bercow MP, orders Skinner to withdraw.

In the Commons, Skinner said “I didn’t receive a proper answer (earlier), maybe Dodgy Dave will answer it now?”

Speaker of the House John Bercow told Skinner he’d have to withdraw the word ‘dodgy’ or face ejection from the Commons chamber for the rest of the day. But Skinner is not easily frightened. He replied: “This man has done, to divide this nation, more than anybody else. He’s looked after his own pocket – I still refer to him as Dodgy Dave. Do what you like.”

Immediately excluded by the Speaker, Mr Skinner left the chamber.  Undeterred, the MP, nicknamed the Beast of Bolsover, later expanded on his words.

The Daily Mirror newspaper’s internet service Mirror Online quoted Mr Skinner saying: “I, like most people in the country, view tax havens as dodgy.

“Cameron looked after himself by maxing out the taxpayers’ credit card to pay a mortgage on expenses in Oxfordshire and even claimed to cut the wisteria off his chimney.

“So I, like most people in the country, think it dodgy he now earns a small fortune renting out a house in Notting Hill while living in Downing Street and Chequers.

“His poisonous division of the country between ‘strivers and skivers’ was also dodgy, particularly when you look now at what he was doing.

“Cameron is dodgy. He is Dodgy Dave. He’s refused to answer questions before. I’ve no regrets calling him what he is.

“I’ve done it before so it was a bit of a surprise to be chucked out of the House of Commons. No action was taken against Cameron when he called me a Dinosaur, though I did receive dozens of letters, including one from a vicar, criticising Cameron. The truth is I thought I might be pulled up for calling him a ‘scrounger’ but that seems to be acceptable.

“I’ll let the public be the judge and I know from the working people I speak to that they think Cameron is Dodgy Dave.”

Mind you, Cameron should think himself lucky that the abuse, if you can call it that was so mild. In the USA, a few years ago, one opposition senator described the leader of the majority party as ‘a complete a**hole’.

The Beast of Bolsover was quite mild really.

Fear is real as benefit change countdown continues

 dla ending pip

Time marches on and the calendar pages turn ever closer towards the date when the UK’s Disabled Living Allowance (DLA) is phased out for working age people1 and replaced with Personal Independence Payment (PIP). DLA recipients who have not yet been invited to apply for PIP are fearful of the day when the phone rings or the dreaded brown envelope drops through the letterbox.

DLA has been the benefit for people who have extra care needs or mobility needs as a result of a disability2 but the message is clear. DLA is ending and that person’s claim will end on a specified date unless a claim is made for PIP. If a claim is made, DLA will continue to be paid until that new application is assessed and decided.

Then they have the stresses of making the claim, possibly being required to attend a face-to-face interview, and finally waiting in trepidation for notification of the decision to arrive – in another brown envelope.

Of course, there are good stories as well as bad. Some people have gone from lower rate care and no mobility on DLA to the enhanced (highest) rate in both care and mobility under PIP. However, for others the opposite has been true with worst case cases going from highest on both sides with DLA to absolutely nothing at all from PIP.

There just seems no rhyme nor reason for the decision-making process.

Official figures3 show that of the nearly 261,500 DLA claimants so far reassessed4 for PIP 74%, or 193,500, have received an award – 67% (128,000) at the enhanced rate and 33% (63,500) at the enhanced rate for both care and mobility components.

And of the 54,200 original decisions that were challenged by claimants, 28% have had their award changed through the mandatory reconsideration process.

But the success of 74% of DLA claimants in gaining PIP awards still leaves a worrying 24%, or 68,000, with nothing.

The roll out of PIP has been beset with problems. The original scheduled implementation date of October 2013 was delayed owing to assessments taking much longer than originally planned. Now, all existing DLA claimants (aged 16 to 64 on 8 April 2013) will have been invited to claim PIP by 30 September 2017, according to the DWP.

 

 

Working age means anyone aged 16 to 64 on April 8, 2013.

Disability means any kind of physical or mental disability, such as Parkinson’s, multiple sclerosis, MND, epilepsy, blindness and many, many more both visible and invisible.

3 Department for Work and Pensions: Personal Independence Payment Official Statistics, published March 16, 2016.

As at January 31, 2016 – the latest figures available, published on March 16.

 

 

Crabb set to unveil new plans for disability benefits

stephen crabb hocWork and Pensions Secretary Stephen Crabb addresses the House of Commons. Prime Minister David Cameron is watching on.

Stephen Crabb, who was appointed as the UK’s new Work and Pensions Secretary after the resignation of Ian Duncan Smith, is to make a House of Commons speech next Tuesday, April 12. He is expected to set out his (and the government’s) vision for the future. And what he has to say will probably have a significant impact on all disabled people with Parkinson’s Disease, multiple sclerosis, EDS and a host of other conditions both visible and invisible.

Rumours from the Department for Work and Pensions, as reported by leftist Vox Political, suggest that he is likely to announce renewed plans to change the descriptors to Personal Independence Payment (PIP) for aids and adaptations in August or September. That, of course, won’t mean that the government is backtracking on its statement of having no plans to make the changes dropped only two weeks ago – no, these will be ‘new’ changes.

The Sunday Times newspaper has already revealed that Crabb is expected to say that he is unhappy with the work of companies tasked with the role of assessing claimants for both Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) and PIP. It said he was looking to end the contracts with those companies – we will see.

Another possible development may be to follow the cut of £30 being made to new ESA claimants in the Work-Related Activity Group by making a similar cut to the Support Group’s payments – perhaps even, eventually, abolishing ESA altogether and instead including its payments within Universal Benefit.

Many of these welfare reform proposals appear to have originated in the right-wing Reform think-tank that published its recommendations in February. One of those was the cut in ESA for people in the Work-Related Activity Group.

In a nutshell, Reform’s plan includes:

  • Setting a single rate for out-of-work benefit. The savings from this rate reduction should be reinvested into Personal Independence Payment – which contributes to the additional costs incurred by someone with a long-term condition – and into support services;
  • Ending the Work Capability Assessment in its current form;
  • Abolishing Employment and Support Allowance altogether and rolling sickness benefits into Universal Credit with “a single online application for the benefit, including a ‘Proximity to the Labour Market Diagnostic’ to determine a claimant’s distance from work and a health questionnaire”;
  • To have all sickness benefit reduced to the same level as Jobseekers’ Allowance.

Yes, really! If Vox Political is correct, cutting ESA for people in the Work-Related Activity Group was only part of it. If the plan to roll sickness benefits into Universal Credit is implemented, then people in the Support Group – those with serious conditions that are not expected to improve within the foreseeable future – stand to lose a huge amount of their weekly income.

All this from the Conservative government that, Stephen Crabb said on March 21, has no plans to make further welfare cuts during this parliament. Of course, we must balance that with the word from the Treasury that same day; that what Crabb said didn’t at all mean no more cuts in this parliament, just none planned.

Next week, we may discover what plans there are now.

‘No further plans’ does NOT mean ‘no further cuts’

stephen crabb hoc

Isn’t it wonderful? The UK’s new Work and Pensions Secretary, Stephen Crabb, stood up in parliament and said that the government will not be going ahead with changes to the Personal Independence Payment (PIP).

So, that’s all right then. We can all relax, campaigns can stop. The government has seen the error of its ways. Benefits paid to people with disabilities, like me with multiple sclerosis, are safe….

What utter rubbish, to put it politely.

Look at exactly what he said. The bold italics are mine and highlight important points to note:

  • The government “will not be going ahead” with changes to the Personal Independence Payment that were announced.
  • There are no further plans for welfare cuts this parliament.

This was seen through straight away, not just by me but also by a series of journalists who took to Twitter:

norman smithNorman Smith (pictured left), assistant political editor, BBC News, tweeted: “So £4 billion planned savings from PIPs will not be found from elsewhere in welfare budget…for now.”

ross hawkinsRoss Hawkins (right), BBC political correspondent, tweeted: “Saying no further plans to cut something isn’t – of course – the same as guaranteeing never to cut it.”

gabby hinscliffGabby Hinsliff (left), The Guardian newspaper columnist, tweeted: “So no more welfare savings (for now anyway). If he’s achieved nothing else, you have to admit that wouldn’t have happened without IDS.”

Tom Newton DunnAnd, perhaps the most telling of all, Tom Newton Dunn (right), political editor of The Sun newspaper, tweeted: “Treasury swiftly clarifying Crabb declaration on welfare cuts. Doesn’t at all mean no more cuts in this parliament, just none planned. Ah.”

In other words, be vigilant, be on your guard, keep campaigns ready to return to full force at a moment’s notice.

The battle over the proposed PIP changes may be won but the war to protect welfare benefits, even PIP itself, is far from over.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Don’t be fooled by government’s callous weasel words – disability benefits cuts are still planned

Work and Pensions Secretary Stephen Crabb.

Work and Pensions Secretary Stephen Crabb.

Mystery still surrounds the fate of the threatened cuts to the UK’s Personal Independence Payment paid to people with disabilities. including Parkinson’s Disease, Multiple Sclerosis, blindness and mental illnesses.

Just look at the timetable:

March 11, Justin Tomlinson, Disabilities Minister in the Department of Work and Pensions, officially announced plans to make changes, to make cuts, to Personal Independence Payment.

March 16, in his budget speech, Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne gave details of the cuts the government was proposing.

Following the budget, and for a further two days, uproar ensued. Not just protests from those likely to be affected but from disability charities too. And the government, which has a majority of just 17, suddenly found itself facing almost certain defeat in the House of Commons when around 20 of its own MPs said they would oppose the move.

Back-peddling was the order of the day, publicly hinted at by Education Secretary Nicky Morgan on BBC Question Time, when she said that the proposed cut was only ‘a suggestion’; with the Chancellor saying that he would look again to get things right.

March 18 saw Iain Duncan Smith resign as Work and Pensions Secretary, calling the planned cuts ‘a compromise too far’.

Prime Minister David Cameron, in his reply to Duncan Smith’s resignation letter, said “Today we agreed not to proceed with the policies in their current form and instead to work together to get these policies right over the coming months.”

Look at that closely, read it carefully. The Prime Minister did NOT say that those policies, the cuts, won’t happen. What he did say was that they would not go ahead in their ‘current form’ and that the policy would be got ‘right’ in the coming months.

Then, yesterday March 19, Stephen Crabb was promoted from being Welsh Secretary to take over at Work and Pensions. And, on his first day in his new post, he said the cuts to disability benefits will “not be going ahead.”

Well, actually, no he didn’t! Let’s look at it carefully.

These are the words that the new Work and Pensions Secretary Stephen Crabb really said: “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.”

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.

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

Now more Tory MPs face disability charities’ anger

zac_goldsmith_037_copy_edited tania_770x344_edited

Further to yesterday’s post about Conservative MP Kit Malthouse being told by Andover and Rural branch of the MS Society that it no longer wanted him as their patron, other MPs are now feeling the heat from charitable organisations with which they are aligned.

The MPs concerned, like Mr Malthouse, voted in favour of cuts to ESA (Employment and Support Allowance) that will see many thousands of people with disabilities being new claimants of ESA, lose £30 a week, compared with current claimants in the WRAG (Work-Related Activity group), from April next year.

The Conservatives argue that stripping disabled people of financial security will incentivise them to find work quicker.

A number of Conservative MPs are coming under increasing pressure to resign their own positions as patrons for disability groups following their vote to cut disability benefits.

London Tory mayoral candidate and MP Zak Goldsmith (pictured above, left) is also facing a call from Richmond AID, a local disability charity, to explain his decision to take money off some of the poorest and most vulnerable people in society.

Lucy Byrne, chief executive of Richmond AID said in a Tweet: “Richmond AID believes that the cuts to ESA which are due to be implemented on 1st April 2017 will have a severe and detrimental impact on the lives of disabled people and will make it more difficult for people to find work.

“It must be recognised that being a disabled person means higher general expenses, for example to keep warm, travel to activities, participate in the community and travel to medical appointments. For people that are close to getting back to the workplace, add to that the cost of taxis to interviews, smart clothes for work and internet access.

“We believe this cut moves disabled people further away from the workplace and increases the social isolation of people that are already vulnerable and experiencing barriers while seeking employment.

“We are shocked and disappointed to find that both our local MPs here in the borough of Richmond (Tania Mathias and Zac Goldsmith) have voted for this cut and plan to invite both MPs to our offices to explain the impact this will have on disabled people.    Lucy Byrne, chief executive of Richmond AID.”

Dr Taina Mathias (pictured above, right), an NHS doctor, is Conservative MP for Twickenham. Zak Goldsmith is Conservative MP for Richmond Park and North Kingston, and is his party’s candidate in the London Mayoral election.

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.